Saturday, April 25, 2015

Final Stats First Winter South

     Although we have been on the road since last October, perhaps this should more appropriately be called Final Stats since January 1st of this year.  Since January 1st we have been on the road 119 days throughout New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and back to Michigan once again. 
      We have taken advantage of boondocking, and even moochdocking whenever available.  We utilized solar whenever possible.  In fact our newly installed truck solar panel setup significantly improved our off grid performance.  It not only added 230 watts of power through our Solar Controller to the truck mounted battery bank in camp when set tilted, but provided dependable, continual recharge power in the 'flat position' as well on travel days.  Generator recharge was not often utilized.
      We arrive home with many life changes, but nonetheless satisfied with our off grid setup so far.  We were on the road all 119 days this calendar year, 66 of which we boondocked.  Minus generator gas we saved $1887 out of a possible $3570; over half!  Again these boondocking stops are rarely primitive, lacking only air conditioning and microwave (without generator) on a 31 foot travel trailer.  A pretty fair deal.  We are home now, not necessarily eager, but ready to attack all the challenges that await us here at home as we rest and regroup this summer in beautiful Northwestern Michigan. 
      We look forward to once again starting out on the road this fall ready to seek new routes, new adventures, and all the new discoveries that we may find.    

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Voyage East: Friends, Prospecting, and Pet Loss....

      We ended our visit to mom's and began our journey east.  Our first day was a leisurely drive 160 miles east over White Pass to Yakima, WA.  There was very little snow on the top; in fact the high Cascades are just the latest range of mountains with a lack of real snow pack this year.  We boondocked in Yakima overnight at the Wal Mart just off I-82.  This is a real nice place for an overnight stay.  There is some highway noise and a lot of trucks use it, but the store allows anyone to camp for up to 3 days.  There is more than ample parking room near the lawn/garden area.  One thing you can nearly always count on in Yakima......lots of sunshine.  We set up boondocking solar protocol, jumpered to the RV, and we were ready to go.  The local security patrol checks up on the entire lot, including RVs hourly and there are plenty of garbage cans along the curbs for your trash.  The McDonalds next to WalMart has WiFi with plenty of signal to use.  The night we stayed we were part of about 7 semi-trucks and another 9 RVs. 
      My purpose for this overnight visit was to visit another high school buddy, Mark Kunkler.  We had not seen each other in 44 years, but it didn't take long to fall back into the old act.  Mark is the City Attorney for Yakima and his wife Lori teaches Math at a local Adult Learning Center.  We chatted for nearly 2 hours reliving old times, catching up, and solving pretty much all the world's problems.  Another episode in a long list of friends revisited this trip......a great time! 

      The next day we were up bright and early and after our morning coffee at McDonalds on our way further east.  I was delighted to fill up at George, WA (yep, that's right George, Washington) with diesel at $2.58/gal., our lowest price since Texas.  This was welcome cause the initial headwinds today beat down our gas mileage pretty good, but in the end we perked back up to 11.3 mpg.  I do have to comment that there are many rest areas in Washington State that also have free RV dump stations, fresh water refills, and overnight boondocking available, quite a nice perk when available.    310 miles later we set up boondocking operations at the Lincoln $50,000 Bar & Casino in Haugan, MT. 

      Located just off Lookout Pass in the Rocky Mountains on the Idaho/Montana border this micro-town has a truck stop, restaurant, and casino/gift shop.  There is ample RV parking out back with  FREE ELECTRICITY and even horse corrals if you happen to be hauling livestock, which happens frequently in these parts.  Water is available at the truck stop.  This place is unique as an 'old west type' saloon, but is adorned with 50,000 worth of silver dollars throughout the bar.  We arrived to nearly 60 degree temps with sunshine and two furbabies that longed to frolic outside in the sun. 
Photo courtesy of Lincoln's $50,000 Bar

      We settled in for some Turkey Stuffed Bell Peppers, Fingerling Taters, and Steamed Broccoli.  Barb got a chance to wrestle some one armed bandits inside the casino for a bit and then bedtime.  This was just an overnight stay.  The next day we set sail once again for Ruby Reservoir near Dillon, MT. 
      Our stay at Ruby Reservoir was very nice.  The BLM boondocking area is clean and the restrooms are very nice.  We stayed 5 days (another blog chapter).  On our departure the truck digital driver's display informed me that the Emission Control System needed service and that we had 175 miles before our speed would be automatically reduced to 65 mph.  Unfortunately, within another 10 miles it then informed me that the exhaust filter was being cleaned and that the engine power was being automatically reduced!?!?  What this equated to was that the next 95 miles into Bozeman, MT we were only able to maintain about 25-30 mph on the flat lands and no more than 9-10 mph up the hills.  There are 3 passes between Ruby Reservoir and the trip took us nearly 5 hours.  Once in Bozeman we checked into an RV Park for the night.  Unfortunately, the news from the dealer was NOT good.  I had a bad injector and bad turbo.  These were ordered and best case scenario was in the neighborhood of a week wait.  Fortunately, they said everything would be covered by warranty.  I got a rental car.  Nothing like a Toyota Corolla to make you feel out of place for awhile.  We got the truck back after 5 days and it is completely road worthy ready again.  Warranty covered nearly everything including the rental car. 

      God wasn't done with us yet.  For the past 7 months our 13 year old Brittany, Dharma has had a growing cyst that was been recently re-diagnosed as malignant.  What began as a small golf ball size has grown into a tomato size sack on her right hip.  We met with a Veterinarian Oncologist at Mom's in order to find the best possible treatment to get her home to Michigan where we could decide further.  Unfortunately, Dharma's tumor sack had begun to leak blood a couple of days ago and our first night in Bozeman it became clear to us that the bleeding wasn't going to be controllable much longer.  We made the inevitably tough decision the next morning and let her cross the Rainbow Bridge.  We will take her ashes with us as we leave, but it did unfortunately damper the remainder of our trip.  She will be missed.  We'll see you soon, you big old sweetie. 
      We were treated to nearly a foot of snow our 4th day in Bozeman which we hadn't expected or wanted.  At home in Michigan the temps were in the 60s and everyone was raking up their winter yard debris and cranking up the BBQs.  Karma perhaps? 

      Finally, our cat Bodhi had been losing weight for the past 6 weeks, due mostly (we thought) to the stress of Dharma's illness.  Lately, his appetite had been seriously declining as well.  We could only get him to eat baby food and some treats, but not much.  The day after Dharma's passing we took Bodhi into the Vet for a cold he had contracted since our arrival.  We were nowhere near prepared for what we found.  He had lost over half his body weight and blood work revealed only about 15% red blood cells and virtually no platelets.  He did test negative for feline leukemia when he was a kitten, but Bodhi's issues now did seem to stem from his bone marrow.  They checked him in and put him on an IV drip for nourishment and Prednisone to try and fight this.  We checked on him every day.  He was eating their 'Critical Care Cat Food' and sleeping comfortably on his heating pad.  Further diagnosis showed that it was not leukemia at all, but a fungus or infection he picked on our journeys throughout the southwest.  It had infected his lungs and caused his weight loss from 12 to 5 pounds.  He was started on an anti-fungal/antibiotic IV. 
     Bodhi fought bravely throughout, but in the end his little body couldn't fight anymore.  He passed away peacefully in his sleep just 4 days after his sister.  Bodhi was a stray, part of a litter that was dropped off near our farm in the country.  We gave him 11 good years of a loving home and family he otherwise would have never had.  Things have been rough here this week and it will take awhile before Barb and I are back to normal.  It has just been too much pain too fast.  All the wonder and happiness of the last 12 months of retirement travel have been deeply wounded.  We will pick up Bodhi's ashes as well so he can be laid to rest on the farm he loved. 
      We will leave here heading straight home.  Time to start over. 
WiFi courtesty of Sunrise RV Park

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sir Scott's Oasis Steakhouse...Manhattan, Montana

      No journey through Montana would be complete without a meal at one of the MANY good steakhouses in the area.  I had several recommendations from a good friend of ours, but finally narrowed it down to one, Sir Scott's.  One of the deciding factors about our decision to dine here was the proliferation of an urban legend that Barb and I fell in love with. 

      Sir Scott's is located in the small town of Manhattan, MT located about 20 miles west of Bozeman on I-90.  It has been a local favorite and famous throughout the area for many years.  They do take reservations and often there is a wait, especially in the summer tourist season.  Their menu is quite diverse with everything from Alaskan Snow Crab, Pacific Oysters, Halibut, Scallops, Shrimp, and of course every possible steak cut in the 'known delicious universe'.  A meal averages from $11-$30.  We arrived early on a Thursday at 4:30.  It filled up within the next 30 minutes.
     The front door leads you into the lobby; the bar is on the right, with dining area to both the left and right, dining for larger parties is straight ahead. You can also eat in the bar if you like.  It already had a fair population of local cowboys sipping their Barley Pops. We were seated promptly in the dining room on the left by an extremely friendly and efficient host who put a squeeze bottle of ranch on our table, handed us menus, and told us our waitress was on the way.  There is also a relish tray and cracker tray with butter already on each table.

      As we looked around at the brown wood walls we noted they were stained the perfect rustic backdrop for the Charlie Russell prints adorning the walls. The ceilings are sawn wood with exposed beams and the country-curtained windows face Main Street. The tables are covered with vinyl cloth and the placemats are paper with local ads on the borders surrounding the Sir Scott’s Oasis center ad, all contributing to an unpretentious setting for some of the best steak you may ever experience.
      After getting myself a cold brew, Barb kicked off the evening by ordering the 12 ounce NY Strip and I dove head first into the 16 ounce (small size) Steak Fingers!  Each meal comes with choice of potato, soup or salad, AND DESSERT! 


      Barb loved her steak and my steak fingers were 'melt in your mouth' delicious.  The steak fingers come with cocktail sauce, something I am usually not fond of, but as a dipping sauce for the entrĂ©e was unbelievable! We have eaten plenty of good steaks in Wyoming, Washington, Oklahoma, Montana, and Texas.....this is as good and maybe even better than any I have ever had!  I seriously doubt that you could ever have a bad meal here. 
     The portions are so generous we took half our meals home.  I just love the doggie bags because they are so basic....just a grocery store veggie bag and a paper bag. Invert the plastic bag over your hand, pick up your leftover item, and revert the bag back off your hand and into the sack it goes.  Sound familiar?  Unbelievably we had room for the small fudge sundae.  Total for this meal including drinks....$48
      But, I digress.  You are by now still curious and left wondering about the local legend.

A lady was at the restaurant with friends waiting for a table.  The wait was about 45 minutes. Lots of other rancher types and spouses already waiting. In comes Ted Turner and Jane Fonda. They want a table. The hostess says they'll have to wait about 45 minutes.  Jane asks if she knows who she is. "Yes, but you'll still have to wait 45 minutes."  "Is the manager in?" she says. The manager comes out, "May I help you?"  "Do you know who I am?", ask both Jane and Ted. "Yes, but these folks have all been waiting already and I can't put you in ahead of them." Then Ted asks to speak to the owner. The owner comes out. Jane again asks "Do you know who I am?" The owner says "Yes, I do. Do you know who I am? I am the owner of this restaurant — and a Vietnam veteran. No only will you not get a table ahead of all my friends and neighbors here, you also will not be eating in my restaurant tonight or any other night. Good bye." 

There are several variations of this same story, but in the end the result is delightfully the same. 

 Only in America?  ONLY IN MONTANA! 

WiFi courtesy of Sunrise RV Park

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ruby Reservoir: Garnets & Sapphires

      We love Montana. We come back whenever we can, which since retirement is working out just fine. Montana is the 'Treasure State', which provides Barb and I with plenty of opportunities to rockhound in a setting of pristine western wilderness. This trip we wanted to try our hand at something new in an area we had not previously visited.
      We arrived at Ruby Reservoir averaging a very nice 14.1 mpg towing through the valleys between mountains. The reservoir is located about 50 miles south of Whitehall, Montana between Dillon and Virginia City. Nine miles north of the reservoir lies the little village of Alder Junction which has a bar, RV park, and a small store that has a pretty decent supply of just about anything we'd need including food, water, firewood, diesel, and propane. We watered up the RV for free. This area is known for a good supply of the gemstone Garnet, a cousin of the Ruby. In fact one of the largest Garnet mines in the world is located near here.
      On the east side of Ruby Reservoir is an area of BLM land that is set aside for primitive camping. There is a very nice, clean vault toilet and an abundant area to camp, including some rock style firepits and areas to launch boats or canoes. There is no water supply. We camped on a fairly level piece of gravel near the boat launch area behind some shoreline trees that gave us protection from North winds. We set up our boondocking protocol, positioned the portable solar for the onboard battery, gathered some more rocks to reinforce our firepit, as well as some firewood left by prior campers. The next morning I positioned the truck and tilted up the big solar panel.
      The first day we worked the cut banks of the east shoreline, checking the fallen material as well as working the side bank with our rock hammers. The reservoir was built to provide the local farmer and ranchers with water for hay fields and livestock so the lake levels fluctuate throughout the year. The lake was high due to spring time so checking further out wasn't an option. Barb did find a few Garnets near the waterline, but all were of a small flake, BB, and sliver size. As a bonus we found some Sapphires which were larger, but not much.
      We did talk to a couple of fisherman who were doing a very fine job on the local Rainbow Trout. They told us the size of our Garnets were about average and that the largest they had seen was only about the size of a pea. They also told us that the best area for prospecting was currently underwater and that most folks employ a shovel gravel, sift twice, and pan or tweezer method to find gems. This is very much the same method used for Sapphire mining we have done in the past. From then on this is method we used.
      I had absolutely no luck with the Garnets, but did find a few Sapphires. Barb's 2nd day went better and she began to fill her little vile. That evening we sifted gravel from washed waves at the local boat ramp as this is where Barb found her first stones. Our total bounty was not anywhere near what we had hoped for, but the time was relaxing and well spent. The Ruby River Valley is beautiful and even Dharma and Bodhi seemed to enjoy the area. The next two days Barb searched out small coves that had lots of exposed gravel and this strategy worked very well as she began to find larger stones. In the end Barb had collected about 3/4 ounce of Garnets.
      Our total stay was 5 days. The days were pretty fair with temps in the 50s, but the nights were very cold with temps in the 20s & 30s with the battery bank, propane, and RV heater working overtime. Except for our first night where battery bank useage approached 40% and required some generator time for battery bank top off, the solar panels kept us in good shape the rest of the time. There was no signal for phone or Internet of any type so this blog was updated at our next stop. Our plan was to move on to the Yellowstone River from Livingston to Sidney in search of our favorite: Moss Agates.  However, as plans often do.......we were in for a change. 
WiFi courtesy of our Sunrise RV Park
Bozeman, MT