Minuteman Missile Site

Minuteman Missile Silo

Minuteman Missile Silo

We are finally in South Dakota enjoying our vacation with our family in the area around Custer State Park.  This park is one of my favorite places to visit as there is so much to do here.  Before I take you on a tour of Custer, here is a video from one of our first expeditions into the plains around Rapid City to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Note:  I am working on improving the audio and believe that I have figured it out.  Future videos should have noticeably better audio.  Please bear with me until then.

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We’ll be coming over the mountain… we hope

So there I was, an overheating engine on one hand and an overheating Storm on the other.  After successfully running his own shop for years, Storm has no patience for what he perceives as disorganized service.  They took that clamp off 2 days ago and are just now telling us they need help finding a replacement?? They are supposed to put it all back together tomorrow!

Leaving Grand Junction

Leaving Grand Junction

All sightseeing ceases as we devote ourselves to making sure there are no more hiccups in the reassembly of our cooling system.  Our dedication pays off as around 2pm on Friday we test drive the repairs and return to the shop with no embarrassing puddles spreading under the coach.  After checking to be sure that we have everything back in ride mode and properly stowed, we merge onto I-70 headed to the other side of Denver.

Did I mention that our drive on I-70 toward Denver takes us across Vail Pass and Loveland pass.  Vail is 10,662′ and Loveland is 11,990′.  For those keeping score, we almost spontaneously com-busted trying to surmount very low summits in Death Valley.  We can’t remember the highest elevation we reached there, but at one point we were below sea level.  We temporarily forget our mountain climbing concerns as we enter Glenwood Canyon and find ourselves on the most scenic road we have ever ridden (and this is an interstate!).  On one side the raging Colorado River with whitewater thrashing and exploding beside us and on the other side, the eastbound lane of I-70 is a suspended ribbon through the rugged mountains.  I almost forgot how terrified I was that we were going to meltdown on the 1o mile 7-8% grade coming up.

We normally don’t like to be on the road after dark, but we chose to leave Grand Junction drive through the night counting on the lower night temps, the repairs to our cooling system and Storm’s expert use of the transmission cooling (high RPM’s equal lower torque and a cooler engine) to get us over that pass.  Not sure which helped more (temps were 64 over Vail as opposed to 105 at Death Valley), but like a giant mountain climbing tortoise we made it over both passes AND we made it through the interminably long Eisenhower Tunnel (1.7 miles all uphill).

Hello Wyoming

Hello Wyoming

Traffic through Denver was a breeze at 11pm – we definitely avoided the rush hour although the swerving drunks were a challenge.  Storm and I are ready to rest and finding a place to stop is getting critical.  “OK Google – find a Wal-mart near me.”  Three calls to upcoming Wal-marts and no luck.  I politely asked if we may park in their lots and am politely told that if we do the city police will ticket us because towns in Colorado do not allow overnight parking.  There goes plan A, now we are down to truck stops or rest stops.  Just across the Wyoming line, a gleaming new and roomy rest stop beckons.  As soon as Storm nestles us between two big rigs and applies the brakes, we are in the sack… what a week (and a half)!

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Grand Junction – Killing Time

Monday dawns cool and clear – perfect weather to merge onto I-70 and get across the high mountains at Vail with less stress on our engine.  Thermostat is replaced and leaky hose checked and tightened again so off we go for a test ride. Engine temp stays below redline on grades (whether due to cool outside air or successful repairs we don’t care) so we return to shop to hook up trailer and start rolling toward South Dakota.  As we are hooking up, I notice that there is ANOTHER puddle of antifreeze under the engine.  They have “fixed” this leak a couple of times while we have been in Grand Junction.  Finally a close look at the radiator reveals the hose they tightened is not the problem.  Turns out the radiator itself has a transmission cooler fitting that is leaking and can’t be repaired in place.  So what do we do?  Radiator replacement is more $$$ and time (3 weeks – God, no!), can it be repaired?   Storm and the radiator expert closely examine our existing radiator and determine that fixing will work as the radiator is in good shape.  So now we are looking at spending all week in a hotel in Grand Junction while the RV is radiator-less in the shop.  Although we are retired and should be able to take this in stride, we are supposed to meet relatives for their vacation in South Dakota in a week – our time cushion is deflating.

Lovely Architecture

Lovely Architecture

Trying to remain positive, we make a plan to find someone with vodka and turn our lemons into a party. We check into the Springhill Suites downtown and spent a couple of days enjoying the artwork on every corner there.  The city cleverly lures folks downtown during the week by offering free admission for 2 to the downtown theater movie night when a receipt for your Tuesday dinner from a downtown restaurant is presented at the door.  We took in Zootopia free of charge which only marginally offset our impending repair expenses.  The next day we decided to expand our travel area. Based on advice from the hotel maintenance guy who abandoned a luggage cart on the elevator so he could share his travel tips with me in the hallway, we headed up the Unaweep-Tabagauche scenic highway about 50 miles to Gateway Auto Museum.  This unique museum is located at Gateway Canyons, a resort built by John Hendricks, the creator of the Discovery Channel. At $700 per night for rooms (minimum) we did not stay at the resort overnight, but we loved the museum.

Storm Clouds

Storm Clouds

We had hoped to walk on the resort’s very short hiking trails and then take a drive down John Brown Canyon ( a dirt road, but the Prius OHV was up for it) before returning to Grand Junction. A garbled phone call from the shop yanks us back to reality.  From what Storm can gather, there is a part required for tomorrow’s re-assembly that they haven’t located in 2 days.  Now they want him to help find it.  As I steer the Prius back up through the scenic valley, Storm frantically tries to get a cell signal.  I glance over in the passenger seat, the Storm clouds are building.

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Grand Junction – The Good, The Bad and The Costly

On the way back to Moab from California, we searched online for the closest Cummins Repair Shop in hopes that we could get our overheating engine problem remedied. _DSC8828We found just such a shop in Grand Junction Colorado and since that was in the direction that we wanted to go after leaving Moab, we made an appointment to have our cooling system checked the following week. Jim predicted that we would love this town as it has all the shopping that we were used to in NC without any of the traffic. He was so right about that and when you throw in the thriving downtown, many parks and numerous wineries we were thrilled that we added this town to our travels.
While our coach was in the shop for the first round of repairs (the bad and costly part), we were able to dry camp in their parking lot (they did have 50 amp service – no water or sewer though) so at least that was free if you don’t figure in the repair costs 🙂 After 2 days of working, they fixed a ride quality problem we had developed after Storm replaced the bushings on our sway bar (he did not have tools to adjust), but the engine continued to overheat on hills. So $1000 and 3 days of downtime later, we were stranded in Grand Junstion until Monday when they could work on it again.

At Colorado National Monument

At Colorado National Monument

We tried to make the best of things by visiting as many local attractions as possible including taking a couple of rides through the Colorado National Monument, hiking the Trail Through Time, driving up to Grand Mesa, picnicing at Vega Lake and visiting local wineries.  Several of the wineries were located in the same facility so all we had to do was stagger from one tasting room to another – an added convenience.

We spent one evening researching our heat problem and learned that replacing the radiator cap and thermostat might help so we picked up parts to have ready Monday hoping we could hit the road headed north before Tuesday.

Photos from our weekend in Grand Junction – click on any one photo to open a slide show:

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Return to Moab

We pulled into Moab where we once again hooked up with Jim for some local fun.  Our first night back, the rodeo was in town so we hiked over for a night’s entertainment.

Click here to check out Jim’s blog for video of the racing tots at the event.  They were by far the stars of the show!

The next day, Jim talked us into taking the Prius off road again for a ride up into the LaSal Mountains to escape the heat in Moab.  Taking a dirt trail out of Sandy Flats, we passed a group of jeeps going out who warned us to watch out for ranchers moving cattle up ahead. The road circled back around and joined the LaSal Mountain Loop allowing us to arrive at Warner Campgound in time for a cool and refreshing lunch.

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Prius OHV

As you can see from this video, the Prius is not afraid to go off road and hang out with jacked up Jeeps:

However upon our return to Moab, Jim insisted that we address our lack of suitable backcountry transportation for the Moab area. We had been planning some upgrades to the Prius to correct that deficit and on this visit we finally found time to get everything done. Introducing the modified Prius Hybrid OHV!

Special Toe-in suspension "grabs" the rocks

Special Toe-in suspension “grabs” the rocks

Solar Panels help this OHV keep running no matter how remote the ride

Solar Panels help this OHV keep running no matter how remote the ride

This OHV has toe in tires for extra rock crawling grip, lift kit, winch and roof mounted solar kit so no fuel is needed on those remote rides.

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Starry, Starry Night

Night Sky at Goblin Valley State Park

Night Sky at Goblin Valley State Park

Once back in Utah, we tried our first night of boon docking on BLM land atop a lonely hill outside Goblin Valley State Park. Wow – how cool to be out in the desert with only a big beautiful sky full of stars and peaceful antelope in the front yard at dawn as your neighbors.  My sky picture does not begin to capture the canopy of stars we found ourselves beneath.  We almost fell asleep outside staring up as we could not believe the millions of light points that have always been hidden from us by light pollution.  We want to do more of this type of camping (after all it is free..and peaceful…and as close to nature as these two east coast campers have ever been).  I have learned a lot about water management from the web and hope to continue honing my skills until we can go at least a week without refilling water and dumping out black and grey tanks. Electricity is not a problem as we found staring at the stars, satellites and planets to be so much less stressful than watching TV all night.  So if you don’t see any updates on this site for a week, you will know that we finally found a remote site from which we could not pull ourselves away, then just turned off the phones and lights to enjoy.

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