Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Adventures in Death Valley!

Since starting our fulltime adventure in 2014 we have spent every Thanksgiving in Utah. 2014 at our daughters house in Sandy, Utah, 2015 at Zion National Park with both our kids and their families. 2016 you ask? Well the Cabela’s parking lot in Lehi, Utah of course!
A lot has change for us here in Utah in the past year. Our son, Forrest, and family hit the road in May and are currently in Bend Oregon where Somer has temporary job. Jessica and her family are in Green Castle Pennsylvania where they recently moved for a new job. So that leaves us all alone here in Utah having Thanksgiving in the Cabela’s parking lot. This also marks the first time Barb has ever cooked a turkey in our RV oven. For those of you with RV ovens you know this can be a tricky proposition.
We have had mixed results trying to cook or bake using the oven. Maintaining an even temperature is probably the biggest challenge. We installed ceramic tiles and an oven thermometer and have been having better success. I am happy to report that Barb slammed it out of the park with the Thanksgiving dinner! Turkey, potatoes, stuffing and scalloped corn were all delicious!

Cabela’s was having a Black Friday sale with the first 500 people receiving free gifts. The doors open at 5:00 am so I thought, what the heck if I woke up early enough and it did not look like there were 500 in line I might jump in line as well. Well….when we took the dogs for a walk at about 6:30 pm the night before people were already lined up! In chairs, in sleeping bags, in tents….needless to say I did not even bother getting in line but when we woke up at 4:00 am the next morning and looked out the parking lot was packed! Craziness…..
Now that we had picked up the Jeep and Ranger, Barb and I would be driving separately. (Which sucks) So the next morning we jumped in our respective vehicles (Dakota and I in the Jeep) and headed south. Our original plan was to head towards Great Basin National Park but the forecast for the next couple of days ruled that out so now our destination would be Death Valley. We stopped for fuel a few hours down the road, Barb headed to the truck lanes and I to the regular pumps. After I had filled up I looked over and notice an attendant talking to her as they are looking at the front passenger tire. Ends up we had a big flat spot on it and did not look good. He offered to change the tire replacing the bad one with our spare for free if we had Good Sam. Since we did, we took him up on his offer. Ironically I was looking at tires the night before as we have almost 60,000 on this set and we still had that plug in one of the back dually’s from the flat we had in Alaska.  We currently have Michelin LTX M/S2 17 80 235 and wanted to replace them with the same. The guy tried to sell us new tires but he did not have those so we passed and headed down the road. Before Barb even got off the on ramp she radioed me saying that the truck was shaking like crazy so we took the next exit and went back to the truck stop asking the guy if he could balance the spare. He did it again for free and we were good to go!

We rolled into the Walmart in St. George Utah about 5:00pm and low and behold across the street was a Discount Tire. 45 minutes later I drove out with 6 new tires, the spare back where it should be and a $100 rebate!
Arriving at Death Valley National Park we drove to the town of Furnace Creek. There are three campgrounds in the area; Furnace Creek, Sunset and Texas Springs. One thing we did not think of was the fact that it was a holiday weekend, we realized this as soon as we entered the park and saw the hordes of people everywhere! We headed to the Furnace Creek Campground and got in line behind about 5 vehicle to check in, when we got up to the window and told them we did not have reservations they said all their full hook up sites were taken but they had 6 dry sites ($22/night) left only one of which was big enough for our rig so we took it. We just chilled the rest of the afternoon and drove the jeep over to the two other campgrounds to check them out.
Site 14 at Furnace Creek CG
The following morning we had to move sites and we had decided to move entire campgrounds. The Sunset campground is not quite as nice but was much less crowded and only ($14/night).

This guys was a constant visitor at Sunset....beep beep!

After setting up we headed out to our first Death Valley excursion. Death Valley is known for two things; being below sea level and being very, very hot. July is the hottest month, with an average high of 115 °F (46 °C) and an average low of 88 °F (31 °C). Luckily it is late November with the highs around 65 °F (18 °C). It should come to no surprise to you then when I tell you on our first adventure into this national park we ran into a snow shower. Yes, only we could manage to find a snow storm in one of the hottest places in North America!
We were headed to a place called Titus Canyon when it started raining and slowly turned to snow. At first it was melting as soon as it hit the ground but soon it was sticking to the ground and the mountainsides became white with snow. After about ½ hour of snow, the sun returned and all the snow was off the mountains in less than 5 minutes.

Titus Canyon Road is a 27 mile one way road winding though some rugged but beautiful country and was the perfect way to spend our first full day in the park. This adventure concludes at the Titus Canyon Narrows, a 1 ½ mile section where the canyon walls close in on the road making for a very cool drive!

The following day we left the dogs at home and managed to get in a couple short hikes. The first hike was Salt Creek Interpretive Trail a short ½ mile boardwalk hike along a small steam. Rumor has it that the rare Pupfish can be found in this stream but we did not see any.

Pickleweed is about the only weed that grows along the stream
Next up was Mosaic Canyon a 2 mile hike up a narrow canyon lined in many places with white marble.

We ended rounded out of morning adventure hiking on the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes.
Sand blasted and polished by the wind

We headed back to the rig for a late lunch and let the dogs out before we hit the jumped in the jeep again to catch a couple of the more popular attractions in the park; Natural Bridge, Devil’s Golf Course and Artist Drive.

Devil’s Golf Course is a large open flat area covered with rock salt that has eroded over time. It has forms jagged edges that are crystalized making for a very unique landscape.

Natural Bridge is another short hike of only ½ mile to a tunnel or “bridge” that spans the canyon. Although it is huge it has many cracks in it and looks like it could come down at any time.

Last but not least was Artist’s Drive. We had not planned on taking this 9 mile one way drive as the park map said it was closed for renovations but the road gates were open and traffic was going in so we headed on in. We hit it right as the sun was setting and what a beautiful drive! The highlight was seeing the mountainside called Artist’s Palette in just the perfect light ….the colors of the rock formation was incredible.

Look at all the different colors!
Day 3 was a Dog Day. Since they had spent most of the day in the rig the day before we planned an adventure they could at least ride with us on. One of the things I was most looking forward to and find most interesting about this park is a place called “The Racetrack” where rocks move across a dry lakebed leaving a trail behind them. The road itself is 26 miles long and very rough but we wanted to see  these moving rocks for ourselves.
How random is this?

It was hard to get pictures of the trails that some of the rocks had left but it was very interesting nonetheless. There have been numerous theories on exactly how these rocks move but they were nearly impossible to prove as some would not move for over a decade. That is until 2013 when a research group saw them move first hand and explains the conditions under which they saw the rocks move. First, the playa fills with water, which must be deep enough to allow formation of floating ice during cold winter nights but shallow enough to expose the rocks. As nighttime temperatures plummet, the pond freezes to form sheets of "windowpane" ice, which must be thin enough to move freely but thick enough to maintain strength. On sunny days, the ice begins to melt and break up into large floating panels, which light winds drive across the playa pool. The ice sheets shove rocks in front of them and the moving stones leave trails in the soft mud bed below the pool surface.

If you are going to take this trip plan at least 5-6 hours as it can take quite a while to navigate the 26 mile washboard road. There was a lot of evidence of flat and shredded tires along the way so you want to make sure you have good tires and a spare!

Our final day in the park was much more laid back, we had a quiet morning and got a few chores done around the rig. The first order of business was to get the new hub covers on the tires. Using the jacks to lift the tires off the ground I removed each of the tires and replaced the covers.
My duct tape temporary fix was still in place!
I did not have a wrench, socket or channel locks large enough to tighten the new covers but an oil filter wrench did the job in a pinch...
Our last adventure in Death Valley was our visit to Zabriskie Point. This is a very popular attraction in the park and only 100 yards from your car for views like this.....

Next up....Mojave!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We Stayed in the North Country a Little too Long!

Restlessness, snow, winds, and two equipment malfunctions is what we encountered since leaving North Dakota.  We left when we did to avoid forecasted snow, wind and freezing temperatures so what did we run into? Snow, wind and freezing temperatures of course! The storm that was supposed to track north must have heard about our plans to avoid it so it decided to head south and meet up with us.
From North Dakota we drove 6 ½ hours south to Wood, South Dakota to meet up with a couple of friends from Wisconsin who were spending the week deer hunting on the Rosebud Reservation. We had not seen friends Kevin and Tom in over a year and although we told Tom, Kevin did not know we were coming, the look on his face when he pulled in from hunting and saw us was totally worth the trip! We spent two days with them and I was able to tag along while they hunted. The second night is when we ran into the nasty weather. It snowed most of the night and we woke up to 5 inches of snow and 30-40 mph wind gusts. The snow stuck to the side of the slides and piled on top of the slide toppers. I had to get up there and clean them off as best I could before we put the slides in. Even with that when we pulled the slides in a fair amount of ice and snow followed them inside the rig. Next up was trying to get out of the field that we had parked in. It took us 3 runs in 4 low to get up the hill but we eventually were back on the road. Hunting was great for the guys, overall they went 5 for 5 on some really nice whitetail bucks and had a great trip.
The picture says it all!
Barb got out and took a few pictures before the snow storm.....
The old grain building in Wood

Not sure what this building was
 From Wood we headed west where our plan was to drive 3 ½ hours to Custer where we would spend a couple more days continuing our land search. As we were driving I commented to Barb that the truck felt sluggish. I attributed it to the high winds and kept on a truck’in. 30 minutes later the engine light came on and displayed “Reduced Engine Power” and immediately would not let us go over 30 mph which turned into 10 mph going up hills. Barb got on the internet to try and diagnose the situation. At first we thought it might have something to so with the cold and the diesel gelling but it really wasn’t that cold (it was 18°) and according to the internet we should have received a different warning message. The only thing she could find that was similar to our situation had to do with air flow with a recommendation to clean the Mass Airflow Sensor on the intake. The short term fix said to stop and let it rest for a while and try it to see if engine power was still reduced. We limped into Murdo, SD where we stopped at a Pilot fueled up and put in some diesel additive (just in case) then parked and had lunch. After an hour we started the truck back up and hit the highway hoping for the best. Although the engine light stayed on we were able to go as fast as we wanted and made it to Custer…Whew!

The Black Hills area probably has more campground per square mile than anyplace we have been but arrive in mid-November and you will find a completely different scenario. There was one park open in Custer; FrenchCreek RV Park so we called ahead to make sure we would fit….No problem they said. Due to our delay, we arrived after dark and if there is one thing we don’t like it is pulling into an RV Park in the dark. Luckily there was only one other rig in the park and we were able to pull into a site without a problem.

The next day when we woke up we had no running water! We turn on the faucet and nothing, no water, no sound of the pump running....nothing. We were completely froze up. It had gotten down to 10 the night before and although we had the tank heaters on and the furnace ran on and off all night we were still froze up. It was supposed to get up to 40 that day so we headed out on our land search after stopping by the automotive store and picking up some Mass Airflow Sensor Cleaner (who knew it even existed?) By this time the engine light was no longer coming on but we cleaned the sensor anyway. When we got home that afternoon I turned on the water pump, tested the faucet and we had water! Everything had thawed and we were good to go!
We spent two days looking at different pieces of property. With snow on the ground it added a different element to what we were used to in the area made it look even more beautiful. You can expect to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000 per acre depending on the view, location and whether the property has electric or water. Many of the homeowners in the area don't have wells and haul their water in using big tanks in a trailer or the back of their trucks then store it in an underground tank. We are open to this since it is a lot like RV living and we are already used to the concept of limited water and finding it when necessary. Ideally we would like a piece bordering Forest Service property with a view, a well and electricity but those pieces are on the high end ($10k-12k/acre) and usually larger parcels (40+ acres) which put them outside of our price range.  Of the 20 or so pieces we looked at 4 are still on the short list and two that we are seriously considering.....

40 acres outside Pringle. We could live with this view.....
....or this one! 22 acres outside Hill City
A cute little Fixer Upper on 10 acres, ready for horses and chickens!
 We ended up staying a day longer than we had anticipated waiting for a package to arrive from MORyde which leads us to our second equipment malfunction. We had new axles installed by MORyde in the spring of  ‘15 and was not expecting any problems. So imagine our surprise when I had removed each of the trailer tires to inspect them and discovered that 2 of the 4 plastic hub covers were broken and rolling around inside the dust cap. How long had they been like that?!?!? Again Barb jumped on the internet and found that this is a known issue with the type of hub covers MORyde used for a several month period in early 2015 and was sending replacements out for free. For now I cleaned out the hubs, added some grease and duct taped the old covers back on until I can get the new ones on. We have been watching the temps on our tire pressure monitoring system just in case.

The hub covers

The treads (white ring) had broken off and were still in the hubs
2 of our 4 new hub covers
The restlessness comes from the fact that Barb and I have had a hard time relaxing and getting into FT RV’ing mode again. After being busy pretty much every day in North Dakota for so long it has been hard to get used to just chill’in. I have to say we both honestly miss the farm life and being busy all the time but a little over a week later we are settling down, reading books, going for walks and adjusting to being on the road again.

With another snowstorm forecasted that night, we left Custer and arrived in Casper 4 hours later just as it started raining, which later turned to snow. From there it looked like we had a one day window to get to Salt Lake before the next system moved through. The roads were good for the most part although we did run into some slushy ice covered roads early in the morning outside of Custer as well as in the higher elevations along two passes.

Some spots were a little sketchy

But then the sun came out and warmed things up......everything was right with the world again!
So after an 8 hour drive we arrived at the Cabela’s in Salt Lake getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with….wait… there is no one here…..both our kids have moved away! Boy, is this weird!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

What's on Your Holiday Wish List?

With the Holidays fast approaching Barb and I have been thinking about Christmas and what to get each other. As of right now I have no idea what to get her. She already has a toaster…. Buying Christmas, birthday or really any kind of presents is stressful for me as it seems as though if we find something we want we don’t have the patience to wait for the appropriate holiday.
So as I ponder what to buy her for Christmas (I am open to suggestions) I thought I would list some of the most useful RV and non-RV related items we find we get the most use out of and would buy again. I have provided links to these items using our Amazon link and as always we appreciate it when you use our Amazon link on the right sidebar of our blog page when shopping and making purchases.

Our #1 item so far this year is our PizzaPizazz. Maybe it is because it is still so new to us or the fact that we have been so inept at using the oven in our rig without burning anything. So far, in addition to cooking pizzas we have prepared Tollhouse cookies and the ever famous tater tots!
#2 was our Carefree Awning Sunscreen we bought while in Quartzsite last year. We initially did not think we needed one but after buying Barb’s inversion table we decided we wanted a little more privacy in the front of our rig. It came with a bonus application that we did not even think about in addition to privacy and reducing sunlight, it also deflects the wind and makes it more comfortable to sit outside.

#3 Speaking of Inversion Tables, we bought Barb one last winter. Barb has a bad back and it helps relieve pain when she uses it on a regular basis. Not only that, it helps me relieve minor neck tension from time to time and have had multiple friends use it as well. 
#4 Dyson V6 Animal Stick – Our most recent purchase Barb has been wanting one for over a year. Our in-house system does a horrible job at picking up dog hair, it was amazing what the Dyson is picking up the other vacuum missed.
#5  Epicurean Cutting Board - This is by far the best cutting board we have ever owned.  These boards are durable, nonporous, knife friendly, and dishwasher safe.

#6 Solar Christmas Lights – Whenever we are somewhere for more than a couple of weeks we set up our solar lights. It not only creates a festive atmosphere, it helps us find our rig at night after happy hour at a neighboring rig!
#7 Stainless Bowls with Rubber Bottoms - I don't have a lot of input on this one but when I asked Barb to name a few things that she liked that she would purchase all over again these were one of the first things she mentioned.

#8 Cordless Drill Kit – Learning what tools are needed while on the road is challenging at first. I have tools that I bought in preparation of FT’ing that I have never used. I do however frequently use my cordless drill and the Driving Kit is a must have as it includes every bit I have needed so far.
#9 Yeti Tumbler/Can Coolers – We bought both the Yeti 20oz Rambler and the Colster. The 20oz Rambler keeps your drinks cold and your coffee hot and we get a lot of use out of them. The Colster not only fits 12 oz cans but it works for bottles as well. There are less expensive knock offs, not sure if they work as well but we are very happy with ours and would buy them again.

#10 Lasko Ceramic Heater – We don’t use it a lot as we are rarely plugged in but those times we are the Lasko comes out of the closet and keeps us warm and toasty while saving propane!
What's your favorite RV or non-RV related purchase for the year? It might give me an idea for Barb's Christmas gift and if you are ordering from Amazon and make your purchase before December 23rd, you might have one of our RV friends pick your order!  
By the way Barb..... if you are reading this (I really don't think she does) my wish list includes a wireless speaker for the TV that I can put behind the recliner so I can hear what is going on without having the volume maxed out...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch.....

Well, really the farm.....which got me to thinking....what’s the difference between a ranch and a farm? When I think of a ranch, I think of a huge spread of land with a predominant livestock operation, while when I think of a farm I think predominantly of croplands and perhaps a dairy operation. Curious, I looked up the terms using Google and confirmed my initial thoughts: a farm is an area of land primarily used to growing crops with a small focus on rearing animals while a ranch is just the opposite. What made me think of this title was one of the activities we took part in this week. Moving some livestock!

We have occasionally seen cattle drives where cattle were being moved from one location to another but we had never taken part in one. The day started with no plans to move cattle at all. There is never a lack of things to do on the farm, in fact there is usually more things to do than there is time in the day. We had plans to work on some equipment and get out and do some field work. Then Chris received a call from one of their neighbors asking if they would be willing to help him move his cattle from one pasture to another. Without hesitating he said we would be there and the three of us jumped on some 4 wheelers to help. This simple fact truly amazes me and makes me love this area and culture even more, a neighbor calls for help and you drop everything you are doing to help them out. That’s just the way they roll around here.

The cattle drive itself was very interesting, there were 4 of us on 4 wheelers and two people in vehicles. The role of the two vehicles was to have one in front of the drive and one in the rear to alert traffic while the 4 wheelers were there to guide the cattle, round up any of the cattle that wanted to break away and generally keep them moving.
The first challenge was to even get the cattle moving. The cattle were bunched up along the edge of the fence where we wanted them to start and the fence was taken down so we could get started. Even though the fence was down they did not want to cross that imaginary boundary to leave the pasture. It is very difficult if not impossible to get cattle to do something they do not want to do, the key is to get them to think it is their idea to do it. So we sat there for about 20 minutes until one of them finally decided to walk out of the pasture and the rest quickly followed.
Refusing to cross the imaginary fence
The first leg of the drive took the cattle down a blacktop county road for about 2 miles. There was minimal traffic with probably only a dozen cars slowly passing through the herd. We tried to keep them in the ditch as much as possible but there were stretches where the terrain forced us to use the road through certain sections. By the time we had gone ½ mile the faster cattle were way ahead, the slower ones were way behind and we lost one of our vehicles who had to stop for a cow who stepped in a large hole and just laid down in the ditch and would not move. Another thing I quickly learned is that nervous cattle get really “loose” and they start crapping pretty much constantly so you have to watch yourself!
Finally headed down the ditch.......
....and onto the road!
That's a dump truck sneaking by ahead on the left
After the first two miles we turned onto a gravel road so the traffic was really minimal but now the slower cattle were really slow and we were probably stretched out for almost a mile. In all it took us over 2 hours to move them the 5-6 miles to their new pasture. The cow that went down eventually got up and made it back an hour or so after the rest and it was another adventure I can cross of the bucket list!
As much fun as that was the primary focus this week was to get out hunting as much as possible between farm chores. We got out duck hunting several times and although the weather was way too warm we did manage to get our share of ducks throughout the week.
We got quite the variety of birds; Geese, redheads, buffleheads, scaup, pintails and gadwalls
I got out bow hunting a total of 7 times and saw deer almost every time. Anytime I get out is special as I never know what I am going to see. Like the time I had 1,000 snow geese land within 100 yards of me (check out video below), or the time a coyote came within 20 yards and ate a couple of apples in front of me and never knew I was there. Who knew coyotes ate apples?!?!? 6 of those times I saw does/fawns, small bucks or nothing at all but the day before rifle season opened I was fortunate enough to harvest a nice 10 point buck we had seen on camera several times.

Video of Snow Geese

Coyote poses with an apple in its mouth

I caught up with this guy 10 days after this picture was taken and now have a freezer full of venison!
Dakota and Daisy are really starting to bond. For those of you who know Daisy, you know she has to be sitting on or touching someone pretty much constantly in fact she used to lay or sit on top of Bailey all the time. Although she has not taken to laying on Dakota, she does love to sit on her.

Dakota did have one naughty moment when we left her out of her kennel when we went to watch football over at Chris and Holly's. She did not like the fact that we left her alone and she let us know it........

$50.00 later we had a new remote
Barb has been busy with crafts, projects and other activities. Apple pies, apple strudels, chocolate chip cookies, crocheting, making a new tie blanket, bingo nights in Minot and has even taken to woodworking! Copying a template from Dino and Lisa, she used a jig saw, drill and belt sander to make a clothes dryer that connects to the ladder on the back of our rig. (Bob and Deanne, if you are looking for the small strip of plywood you had in your loft, you now know where it is!)

Barb can tie a mean knot!
We had dinners over at both the Finken's and Sobieck's,  Holly fixed chicken fajitas and Deanne invited us over to dinner one night for our second ever meal consisting of Fleischkeukle. We first had this meal several years ago in October of 2014 when Deanne first introduced us to this German dish. Since this introduction we have seen it on several menus as we have travel the country and enjoyed it both times we had it. She also got a new car! She has wanted a VW for a while and she finally pulled the trigger the day before we left. Well deserved..... We got out to dinner with Bob and Deanne the weekend before we left to.....wait for it....a brewery! We traveled to Minot where we had dinner and a few beers at Souris River Brewing. Thanks guys!!!!!
Deanne and her new Bug!

Last but not least there is the never ending farm work. So many different things to do.....Taking advantage of the unusually warm weather, Bob and Chris started preparing the fields for next spring. Harrowing, Pro-Tilling, pulling more fence and cutting and burning dried up sloughs. The Finken family has been farming many of these fields since 1916 and there is a constant ebb and flow with the lands. In this part of the country there are countless potholes and sloughs throughout the area. On wet years they can lose hundreds of acres of croplands, on drier years following regulations they are able to reclaim some of the sloughs back to farmland. One method of reclaiming the sloughs is to break up the ground around the edge of the slough and start it on fire. Using a propane torch, my job was to go along the edge of the sloughs and start them on fire. Once lit, I watched the edges to make sure everything was contained in the burn area.

Before burn........

After burn....ready for tilling

This is what happens when you get too close to the water...
With the warmer than expected weather, we were able to extend out stay and extra 10 days but with snow and extended cold weather forecasted for tomorrow it is time to head south. So after 7 weeks,we packed everything up said our goodbyes and headed down the road. The Finken/Sobieck crew probably thought the cold weather would never get here and push us south and were probably doing the "Happy Dance" as we were headed down the driveway. We had a great time and the time flew bye. We are going to miss everyone, thanks for everything and see  you next year!!!!!