Category Archives: Travels

Mount Blanca

Mount Blanca. 14,344 feet high.  Still a small amount of snow and it’s the middle of July. Seen along Highway 160 while we were driving from Pueblo to South Fork, Colorado.

We took Highway 160 because it was the most direct route from Interstate 25 to Cortez, Colorado.  In retrospect we probably should have taken a more southerly route even if it was longer.  Route 160 reaches 9600 feet altitude before we reached Mount Blanca and Fort Garland.  We stayed in a campground near South Fork, at an altitude of 8400 feet.  The next day after we left the campground to head for Cortez we climbed to 10,800 feet  before we reached the pass.  It was slow driving up to the pass and necessarily slow driving down (7% grade! and the downhill speed limit posted for our motor home was 25 mph!).

I’ve told Susan to whack me upside the head if I ever suggest a “scenic route” for the motor home.  I thought we were taking the most direct route and although I looked at it relatively closely I didn’t realize just how high up we’d get while traveling it.

We broke down and we had to be towed

We were driving from Limon, Colorado to Fort Collins and had taken some back roads partly because there was an expensive toll road coming up we wanted to avoid and partly because we’d been driving exclusively on Interstate 70 since Missouri.

We got to Fort Lupton and got an error message on the motor home’s dashboard display that basically said stop the engine immediately.  I found a spot to pull over and the engine stopped before I could stop it.  We were blocking a business’s driveway and after a couple of minutes of sitting I was able to start the engine back up and limp into the back of their property.  I called Freightliner and they thought it was a coolant level problem.  I had some coolant and added it to the reservoir and we waited a half hour before we started the engine again.

Everything seemed okay so we pulled back out on the road only to find that the top speed we were able to reach was only 30 MPH.  I pulled over again as soon as there was an open spot and then looked up the closest Freightliner facility, which was Transwest in Brighton, Colorado.  I thought we could limp over there since it didn’t seem that far on Google maps (Google maps lied!).  We continued down the road but our top speed kept dropping until we were down to about 5 MPH.  Fortunately we were right next to a park with a large parking lot and we pulled in there and made arrangements for the motor home to be towed.

It took a couple of hour before the tow truck arrived, and a half hour of work for the driver to get our motor home attached.

It was an involved process that included him having to remove the drive shaft, lift and lower the front of the motor home a couple times to get the right adapters in place, remove the rear rock guard and put on some directional signals on the rear.

We then drove to the Transwest facility which turned out to be closer to 12 miles away, where the driver then spent another half hour unhooking us.

We spent Thursday night in the parking lot, and the next day they re-attached the drive shaft (it needed to be torqued so the tow truck driver couldn’t do it) and we backed up in front one the repair bays.  On Friday they identified what appeared to be the main problem and that was our Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) had failed.  They ordered a new one, but we had to wait over the weekend, until a new one was delivered on Monday.  Fortunately they let us live in our motor home over the weekend and it turned out to be the longest period we’ve dry-camped in it.  They replaced the DPF on Monday and it looked like we were good to go, but as we started to drive away again our max speed dropped to 30 MPH, so we returned.

They came out and ran diagnostics again and found that the pressure sensor for the DPF had failed, and they replaced it on the spot.  I again tried to leave, but still found our top speed limited to 30 MPH and returned again.  This time there was nothing in the computer diagnostics and it wasn’t until we tried revving the engine with the brake on that one of the techs noticed what was wrong.  There is an air intake tube that runs to a vent near the top of the motor home.  The air intake tube had fallen down and the end was being blocked and starving the engine of air. They re-attached the tube and strapped it in place so it wouldn’t fall down again and finally, we had speed back and were able to leave.

Fortunately on Saturday we were able to drive to Berthoud to visit our friends, Tom and Kathy, who were the reason we were in the area to begin with.  On Sunday, Tom and Kathy drove to us and took us on a tour of the region.  So despite the problems we had with our motor home, we were still able to have a good time.

Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri

We’re camped in St. Simon, Missouri, about a 20 mile drive to St. Louis.  On Tuesday we drove into town to see the Gateway Arch.  They were doing a lot of road work and for this reason the usual directions to it didn’t work.  It took us a while to get next to it and then to find parking and then to walk over to it.

The Arch is right next to the Mississippi River and is very dramatic.  We first came up to it from the northern side (after huffing and puffing to get Susan’s wheelchair up a very steep hill on a cobblestone road).

It was more dramatic up close.

And dramatic looking up from the center towards the sky.

The visitor center was undergoing renovation and the museum associated with the Gateway Arch was closed so other than walking around and under the arch there wasn’t much for us to do.  There is an observation deck across the top of the arch and a tram/elevator that gets you there.  Neither Susan nor I are terribly fond of heights so we turned that down.

Despite the fact that there were ramps down to the waterfront I’d have to give it a C- at best for handicap accessibility.  The ramps were steep and there were no pauses along the way. Without assistance there’s no way that anybody in a wheelchair could get from the waterfront to the Arch by themselves.  Ditto on getting down.  Because of the renovations there were no restrooms, only porta potties, and there was at least one handicap accessible one, so I’ll give them some kudos for that.

The Gateway arch is very dramatic and worth a visit if you’re in the area.  Once the renovations are done it’ll probably be worth a visit even more.  We’re not sorry we went and I certainly got my share of exercise for the day getting Susan to and from it.  One recommendation is to locate the Gateway Arch on a map first so you have a good idea where you’re going and not to depend so much on the signage since the signage is misleading.

I will also add that we saw this sign several times while driving and trying to find the base of the Gateway Arch.

We didn’t actually see anybody “aggressively begging” in St. Louis while we were driving through it, but this is a phenomenon we see all over the country (although more in the southern cities in the winter than otherwise).  During the winter In Tucson it’s hard to drive any distance without seeing somebody or several somebodies at an intersection with signs asking for money.  I can’t say whether there really are more people who are truly down and out or whether this has become an accepted a way for some of them to eke out a living.

I’ve had mixed experiences with this.  In particular when commuting in Boston there were several “beggars” who had staked out their particular territories and I remember one who “owned” a spot in the Back Bay T station pulling out his IPhone once and chatting with somebody about his weekend party plans.  A nurse friend of ours who worked with the disadvantaged in San Francisco said that 95% of the men and 90% of the women panhandling have a drug habit and whatever you give them goes to support that habit.  I can’t say whether or not that’s true, although it’s certainly plausible, but I will say that if and when a person drops off the financial edge into poverty and homelessness for whatever reason there is no easy way back.  I don’t have any kind of an answer for this phenomenon and can only comment that it appears to be occurring across the country in all of the cities that we’ve visited.


Carnegie Museum of Art and Architecture, the Art part

As I already mentioned, we didn’t realize that the Carnegie Museum of Art shared the same building(s) as the Museum of Natural History so we weren’t really prepared for it.  The Museum of Art has pretty much the entire second floor of the Museum complex.  What was immediately striking, were the art nouveau murals around the second floor lobby we saw as soon as we got off the elevator.

A couple of the murals around the lobby on the second floor
Another mural around the second floor lobby
Another mural from around the second floor lobby
Wall of murals from around the second floor lobby

Continue reading Carnegie Museum of Art and Architecture, the Art part

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

We are camped at an RV park in New Stanton, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles away from Pittsburgh.  We drove in to Pittsburgh on Thursday to see the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  Not surprisingly, they had “museum quality” fossils.

Triassic Crocodilan

They were mostly arranged with painted backdrops with a lot of attention paid to natural poses.

Diplodicus stalked by a carnivore

Many of them were dinosaurs that were popular (so to speak) when I was growing up.  I remember having about a half a dozen or so molded plastic models of them.


Continue reading Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Hershey’s Chocolate World

We’re staying at an RV campground in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles from Hershey, Pennsylvania, the home of the Hershey Chocolate Company.  The company is named after it’s founder, Milton Hershey and the town was originally named Derry Church but was later re-named for the company.  The Hershey Theme Park is here but we’re too old for the rides.   There is, however,  a very large Hershey Candy store called Hershey’s Chocolate World located next to the theme park.  Being confirmed chocoholics we of course had to stop and see it.

Susan with her loot from Hershey’s Chocolate World

There were several bus-loads of kids in the store (it’s summer, what did you expect?) which made it a bit noisy and chaotic, probably in keeping with the atmosphere of the theme park itself.  We wandered around for a while and settled mostly on an assortment of dark chocolate bars.

The one thing we couldn’t find was baking chocolate, which was a bit disappointing.  I make brownies regularly and have found Hershey baking chocolate to have a better flavor than the brands that are usually in the supermarkets.  For whatever reason I have difficulty finding it where we shop in Arizona and I usually have to order it from Amazon so it would have been nice to be able to pick up a case or two of it while were there.

Tularosa Basin Museum of History, Alamogordo, New Mexico

We saw this museum on the corner of 10th Street while driving through Alamogordo on our way to our RV park.  We hadn’t noticed it the last couple of times we’ve been through Alamogordo and since we had some time after having lunch we visited it.

Although small, it was reasonably well organized, mostly chronologically but also by subject.

Indian baskets and pottery
The Cowboy Past
The railroad line from El Paso and the logging railroad that went up to what is now Cloudcroft were big influences on the area around the turn of the prior century

Continue reading Tularosa Basin Museum of History, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Had to replace the batteries too

I’ve known for a while that the house batteries (a bank of 4 6-volt golf-cart batteries that keep the motor home supplied with electricity when we’re not hooked up to anything) were in poor shape.  It’s been a while since we’ve been unplugged however, and while we were waiting for our tires to be replaced I watched the battery charge indicator go from 100% to 20% in about 15 minutes.  Needless to say, that meant the batteries needed to be replaced.  After the tires had been replaced I made arrangements with Shannon’s to replace the batteries too.  We came back on Friday and had that done.

The starting batteries were still working okay, but they were factory-installed originals and are now almost 10 years old, so I had them replaced as well.  Like the tires, not cheap, but necessary.

Replacing our tires

I’ve been getting our motor home ready for traveling.  One of the most important things that needed to be done was to replace the tires.  They were overdue for being replaced since they are nearly 10 years old.  We would have replaced them last year but since we ended up staying the entire summer it didn’t make any sense to do that then.

I had gone to Love’s tires first but they ended up saying they couldn’t find tires with a high enough load rating.  Our tires need to be able to handle 7160 pounds for a single tire and 6000 pounds for a double tire and this is very high end of what you can get for 16-ply tires and most trucks don’t need that high of a rating.  The staff at Love’s suggested I go to Shannon’s in Benson since they work on motor homes all the time.

Shannon’s was able to find the tires we needed and ordered them.  Last Tuesday we drove down and had them replaced.  I had to back the motor home so that it was under their front awning and there was just enough head room to do this.

They had to get under the motor home to place the jacks, which is something I’m glad I didn’t have to do since it is a tight fit.

Here’s what it looks like with the back tires off.

And here’s what it looks like with the new tires in place.

They only took about two hours to get this all done.  Not a cheap process but I feel much safer now that it has been done.

Installed a lip on top of our cabinets so things won’t fall off when we drive around

I’m slowly getting us prepared to hit the road again.  We’re aiming at the beginning of May but don’t have a definite date yet.  I’ve been working on a number of projects and have repair parts on order for a number of things that need to be fixed.  We’ve been sitting in one place for so long it was easy to put these projects off, but now I have to get them done and it’s been keeping me busy.

We have built-in cabinetry in the bedroom and the kitchen.  Since they’re convenient spots we of course use them to put stuff like kleenex boxes and whatnot.  The problem is that when we travel, unless we take everything off them and keep everything off them, whatever we put there tends to fall off when we travel.  The solution I came up with is to install a lip on top of them so things won’t fall off so easily.

I got some 1″ x 1-1/2″ oak boards and rounded the corners and mitered the ends and then drilled holes for screws to go through.  When that was done I stained them and coated them with polyurethane.  Today I installed them in both the bedroom and the kitchen.   This is what the kitchen unit looked like before I started.

It has a Coriander top which I drilled into.

And then screwed the oak board into the holes, edge on.

The new edge can’t prevent things from flying during a panic stop (you’d be surprised how many thing end up in the front of the motor home after you have to stand on the brakes so you don’t hit the idiot that just pulled in front of you and then came to a sudden stop for no particular reason), but during routine travel everything should stay put.