Friday, August 30, 2013

Trail Ridge Rd, RMNP - 08/30/13

Friday – August 30, 2013
Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park

We spent a wonderful, restful, night here at the Timber Creek campground in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Today will be one of exploration.

The mountains here create their own weather. Frequent thunderstorms with lightening can occur quite rapidly during the summer months, so dressing in layers and having rain gear available is a necessity. We observed evidence of this phenomenon on our tour along Trail Ridge Road to the east entrance today. We went from a sunny sky with clear roads to an overcast sky with rainy weather to snow covered mountain meadows at the higher elevations.

The drive along Trail Ridge Road is breathtaking. The visitor is introduced to the various ecosystems of the Rockies:

Alpine – Above 11,400 feet
Alpine tundra occurs above treeline where the climate is extremely harsh. Fierce drying winds, bitter cold, intense ultraviolet light, thin soil, and a brief growing season let only specialized plants and animals thrive. Alpine plants are tiny, growing close to the ground. Many have waxy leaf surfaces to resist moisture loss, or dense, tiny hairs, to trap warmth against stems and leaves. Plants just inches long may grow taproots six feet long to get moisture and anchor them against the wind.

Subalpine – 9,000 to 11,400 feet
Long, cold winters, short cool summers, and high annual precipitation – 30 inches or more – characterize its climate. It is the highest, windiest, and snowiest forest. Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir dominate the landscape. The abundant moisture produces a rich understory of broom huckleberry and juniper shrubs and many colorful wildflowers.

Montane – Below 9,000 feet
This ecosystem is dominated by pine forests and beautiful mountain meadows. Open stands of ponderosa pine dominate the drier south-facing slopes of the montane. Mature trees can be 150 feet tall and 400 years old. The openness of the ponderosa forest allows sunlight to reach many of the grasses, shrubs, and flowering plants that thrive here. North-facing slopes escape the drying effects of the sun. Dense stands of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and occasional Engelmann spruce cover these hillsides. Shade-tolerant plants grow on the forest floor. Interspersed within the forest are large, expansive mountain meadows with streams and wetlands. Grasses, wildflowers, and water-loving small trees thrive here. Dense groves of aspen can be found at meadows edge. Meadows, created long ago by glaciers, provide rich and diverse habitats for wildlife in the park.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rocky Mountain NP, CO - 08/29/13

Thursday – August 29, 2013
Rocky Mountain National Park – Estes Park, Colorado

We departed Boyd Lake State Park in Loveland, Colorado at 7:15 a.m. Time to head to a cooler climate in the mountains of Colorado.

We arrived at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, located a short distance from the east entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park, at 10:00 a.m. We picked up a park map and visitor information in preparation for our extended visit. This visitor center and the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at the west entrance provide free WiFi Internet service.

There are four campgrounds located within the park that will accommodate RV’s: Asplenglen, Glacier Basin, Moraine Park and Timber Creek. All campsites at Asplenglen and Moraine Park are reserve only sites. All campsites at Glacier Basin and Timber Creek are first-come, first serve. The Glacier Basin campground is closed for 2013 due to the U.S. government sequestation. The campgrounds provide restroom facilities with flush toilets, but no showers. There are no electric or water hookups, but water spigots are dispersed throughout the campgrounds. Moraine Park and Timber Creek campgrounds have dump stations.

Since we did not have reservations, we selected the Timber Creek Campground as our home base and arrived there at 11:30 a.m. This campground is located on the west side of the park, 40 miles from the east entrance. To reach this campground, visitors must take the Trail Ridge Road, starting at an elevation of 7,840 feet and ascend to an elevation of 12,090 feet and then descend to the campground elevation at 8,900 feet. Trail Ridge Road is a nicely paved two-lane road, with steep drop-offs and no guardrails. Higher altitude sections of this road will provide a tense-driving situation for some drivers. It is not an uncommon sight to see some drivers driving down the middle of the road or driving on the center yellow line, when no oncoming traffic is present.

Due to the Bark Beetle infestation, all of the trees have been removed in the Timber Creek campground. Bark beetles are native insets that have shaped the forests of North America for thousands of years. Bark beetles range from Canada to Mexico and can be found at elevations from sea level to 11,000 feet. Rocky Mountain National Park is just one relatively small area where trees are dying from the beetle epidemic. There is no effective means of controlling a large beetle outbreak in such a vast area as the park’s backcountry, which comprises about 95% of the park. Therefore, in the backcountry, bark beetle populations are allowed to fluctuate under natural processes.

The lack of any shade trees at the Timber Creek campground is not a deterrent for us. The cleared area provides an excellent source of constant sunlight to power our solar panel and a clear view of the southern sky for our DISH satellite. In addition, the temperature is in the mid-70’s during the day and in the mid-40’s at night, so this makes for some very pleasant and comfortable weather.

We selected campsite 59, which is a very nice site with a clear view of the majestic mountain peaks towering before us. We will spend seven days here exploring the awe-inspiring mountain vistas of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Before turning in for the night, we decided to take a walk around the campground. Walking at this altitude, especially at our age, tends to leave one short of breath with very little physical exertion. We were rewarded for our effort with the sighting of a moose with her calf, grazing alongside the edge of a stream close to the campground. A perfect ending to our day!

Camping Fee: $10.00 per day with our Golden Age Pass.

Total miles traveled today: 104

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Model RailRoad Museum - 08/28/13

Wednesday - August 28, 2013

We spent a wonderful three hours at the Greeley Freight Station Museum in Greeley, Colorado. It opened to the public in 2009. This is a huge world-class model railroad museum containing a layout of 5,500 square feet. There is a staging yard with a total of 14 trains of up to 90 cars in overall length. The train equipment consists of 2,000 cars with 150 locomotives. The train layout is based on the OC&E as it might have run between Klamath Falls and Lakeview, Oregon in 1975. The theme is mountainous, bridge line railroading in Oregon’s open and vast timber country. There are 15 bridges and 12 tunnels including several spectacular high-wooden trestles. There are 23,400 trees; 14,000 fir, 6,000 deciduous and 3,400 aspen, all hand made.

During the weekdays a computer controls the control panel that operates the trains. On the weekends, an engineer manually operates the control panel. The design and construction of the train layout is authentic down to the smallest detail. Fans of model railroads will absolutely fall in love with this museum!

It is a 25-mile drive from our campground at the Boyd Lake State Park in Loveland, Colorado. On our return trip to the campground, around 4:00 p.m., we spotted a Cracker Barrel Restaurant. Time for an early dinner! We both ordered the chicken fried chicken with three sides. We returned to our campground with our appetites totally satisfied. Another enjoyable dining experience at Cracker Barrel.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Boyd Lake SP, CO - 08/27/13

Tuesday – August 27, 2013

We departed the Buffalo Bill State Park campground in North Platte, Nebraska at 10:20 a.m. (CT). this morning.

We had a wonderful time visiting the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard and the Union Pacific Museum & Depot Display at Cody Park. Time for us to leave the hot humid weather in Nebraska and head for a cooler climate in the mountains of Colorado.

We arrived at the Cottonwood Shores Campground in Boyd Lake State Park in Loveland, Colorado at 3:00 p.m. (MT). We will spend two nights here. Our purpose in stopping here is to visit a model railroad museum in Greeley, Colorado about 17 miles from here.

The campground has 148 paved pull-through campsites with electric hookups. There are three restrooms with flush toilets and pay-showers. The showers are coin operated; $0.75 for the first 3-minutes and $0.25 for each additional minute. One of the restrooms has a laundry facility. There are two washers and two dryers that cost $1.25 each. There is one dump station available. The campsites are close together, offering very little privacy between campers. Small shade trees are dispersed throughout the campground providing minimal shade to the majority of the campsites. There is a wonderful paved walking/bike path that circumvents the park. The campground borders a boat marina and a decent size lake that accommodates jet skis and powerboats.

This is our first time camping in a Colorado State Park and we were anticipating a more rustic type campground with an abundance of shade trees and more privacy between campsites. It did however, serve its purpose as a base camp for our two-night stay.

Camping Fee: $20.00 per day camping fee plus $8.00 per day state park entrance fee.

Total miles traveled today: 256

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cody Park, NE - 08/26/13

Monday – August 26, 2013

Cody Park

While we were at the Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center in North Platte, Nebraska, one of the volunteers at the visitor center suggested we visit the Union Pacific Museum & Depot Display at Cody Park in North Platte. This turned out to be an excellent recommendation.

Admission to the park is free. The park contains a zoo, campground and the museum. The campground does not have any hookups or dump station.

There are two engines on display in the museum portion of the park; Challenger Engine #3977 installed in October 1968 and Engine #6922 installed in August 1985.

The Challenger Engine was delivered to the Union Pacific Railroad in June 1943. It was one of 105 such engines built by the American Locomotive Company of New York. There are two remaining "3900" class locomotives and the only one on public display is the Challenger Engine #3977. The total weight of the engine fully loaded is 1,069,800 lbs. These engines were designed for both freight and passenger service and for speeds up to 80 mph. The first source of energy used was coal, but in 1945 the engine was converted to an oil burner. The Challenger was the largest engine on the rails for a time. Her first assignment was hauling freight between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City and from Los Angeles to Caliente, California. After diesels took over, she was assigned to the Wyoming Division and then to the Nebraska Division until her retirement in 1961. The Challenger is attached to a crew car, mail car and a caboose.

Entry into the engine compartments, railroad cars and the depot are permitted. The area surrounding the depot and train is landscaped and a crossing sign lends an authentic look to the display.

The Union Pacific Railroad Museum portrays a history of the Union Pacific Railroad in North Platte and surrounding communities.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Bailey Yard, NE - 08/26/13

Monday – August 26, 2013

Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard

We visited the Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center today. This visitor center, eight stories high, provides a panoramic view of the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska. It is considered the world’s largest train yard. Whether you are a railroad buff or not, this is a fascinating place to visit. Admission fees are $7.00 for adults, $6.00 for senior citizens and $5.00 for children.

Bailey Yard’s massive rail network handles 10,000 rail cars every day on 2,850 acres of land stretching out eight miles. Over 100 separate trains roll through this massive area every day.

Bailey Yard never closes. Mondays and Tuesdays are it’s busiest days because the largest number of East Coast-bound and West Coast-bound trains start their cross-country journeys on Fridays. In general, trains will stop through Bailey Yard for about an hour to be refueled, to pick up sand that is used to gain traction on slippery steel tracks, and to get maintenance service.

One of the most important operations at Bailey Yard is separating rail cars coming from a wide variety of destinations into others heading for a large number of other destinations. If, for example, a train pulls into North Platte from Salt Lake City, each of its cars may have a different destination, with cities like Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, and others on the manifest. That's where the East hump comes into play.

On one side of Bailey Yard, a 34-foot-mound rises to a small plateau. There, locomotives push trains full of rail cars to the top, where workers manually separate the cars and send them slowly, and individually, downhill onto one of 64 different "bowl" tracks. Each track has a designated destination, and the cars roll gently, at 4 miles an hour or less onto those tracks where they connect with other cars heading to the same cities.

There's a similar hump for west-bound traffic, but because the bulk of the cargo Union Pacific hauls is heading east, the West hump is a smaller operation. Its mound, for example, is just 20 feet high.

Some trains don't need to be sorted. Known as "unit cars," these are trains carrying a single kind of cargo going to a single destination. Instead of being routed through the hump, they are put through Bailey Yard's giant service track, where they are re-fueled, filled with sand, and sent on their way.

The average train that rolls through Bailey Yard is about 100 cars long, hauling all kinds of cargo. If it travels by rail, the people who work at Bailey Yard have seen it. Even the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes through several times a year.

Bailey Yard is so large that it has 315 total miles of track and 766 turnouts. Each month, it services 8,500 and repairs 1,200 locomotives, and uses 18 million gallons of diesel fuel. It has 18 tracks for nothing but coal trains that have to sit idle for a while.

The massive locomotives actually run on electricity. The big diesel engines aboard the locomotives turn a generator, which in turn produces electricity. The electricity runs the electric motors that turn the wheels. Much like an electric train set, the engineer adjusts the amount of the electricity going to the wheel motors to control engine speed.

Bailey Yard is a wonderful place to visit. The sheer volume of trains inside the yard at any one time is mind boggling, yet every day, this facility manages the logistics of servicing hundreds of trains.

Our adventure continues!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Buffalo Bill SP - 08/25/13

Sunday – August 25, 2013

We spent a restful evening last night at the 24-hour Walmart in North Platte, Nebraska. It was quite windy, but nice, as it provided a cool breeze throughout our trailer. We awoke to a warm sunny morning. A warm front has entered the area and the heat index is expected to reach 100 today. Time to find a campground with electrical hookups.

The Nebraska State Parks guide showed a Lake Maloney State Recreation Area, six miles south of North Platte. The guide stated it had 56 campsites with 30-amp hookups and 200 non-electric sites. We decided we would check it out. What a disappointment! There were no electric sites that we could see, the campsites were not well maintained and just in general not a campground we would stay at. So, on to Plan B.

The state park guide showed a Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area, five miles north of North Platte. This park was much more to our liking. There are 23 gravel-pad campsites with 30-amp hookups and 20 grass-pad non-electric sites. There is one water source, with a threaded spigot, at campsite #5 in the campground. There is one vault toilet, no modern restroom facilities or dump station are available. The downside to this campground is the one-mile washboard gravel road into the campground. It definitely needs to be graded.

Campsite #6 will serve as our home base for two nights while we visit the Union Pacific Railroad's Brady Yard in North Platte.

Camping Fees:
Electric Sites: $13.00 plus a $5.00 daily entrance permit.
Non-Electric: $7.00 plus a $5.00 daily entrance permit.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

North Platte, NE - 08/24/13

Saturday – 08/24/13

O.K., time to restart our travel adventure to Colorado, Utah and Arizona. We departed the Chicago area at 6:35 a.m. Our first stop was to our local McDonalds for two caramel cappuccino lattes. These high sugar, high caffeine beverages should fortify us for the long drive we have planned for today.

We arrived in North Platte, Nebraska at 8:45 p.m. and had a late dinner at the Ruby Tuesday restaurant. Refreshed, we settled in among several other RV’ers for a well-deserved night’s rest at the 24-hour Walmart.

Total miles traveled today: 717

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chicago, IL - 08/22/13

Thursday – August 22, 2013

We awoke to a bright sunny morning here at the Fort Kearney Recreation Area campground in Kearney, Nebraska. We decided we would return home to determine if Sharon had left her wallet there. Her wallet contained her driver’s license, bankcard, credit card and Medicare card. We debated the night before if we should assume she had left her wallet at home and continue on our adventure or return home to be certain it was there and not lost somewhere along the way on our present journey.

We departed the campground at 11:00 a.m. This would be a 600-mile straight through drive back to the Chicago area. We arrived home at 11:00 p.m. Thankfully, we found her wallet on the seat of our car that was parked in the garage. Needless to say, we were both thrilled to have found her wallet to be safe at home and not lost somewhere.

So, our plan now is to spend Friday at home and restart our adventure to Colorado, Utah and Arizona on Saturday morning.

Total miles traveled today: 614

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fort Kearney RA, NE - 08/21/13

Wednesday - August 21, 2013

We departed Lake Anita State Park in Anita, Iowa at 10:00 a.m. Our destination today is The Great Platte River Archway in Kearney, Nebraska. We discovered this location while researching interesting places to visit in Nebraska. It is featured in the book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die." After our visit here, that will leave only 900 plus more to go. Time is running out on us, hope we make it!

We arrived in Kearney, Nebraska at 3:00 p.m. and paid a visit to the local Walmart to exchange a pair of shoes and purchase a few items. While in the checkout line, Sharon discovered her driver’s license, credit card, bankcard and Medicare card were missing. She carries these documents in a separate wallet and carries the wallet in her purse. This was the first time Sharon had her purse outside of our trailer since we had left home on Monday, August 19, 2013. Prior to our leaving home, Sharon had gone to our local Walmart to pick up a few items and took just her wallet with her. When she arrived home she was sure she had put her wallet in her purse. What a horrible situation we are faced with. What to do? Here we are over 600 miles from home. Do we return home to see if her wallet is there, or, do we roll the dice and take the chance that she forgot to put her wallet in her purse? We decided we would sleep on it. Decision time tomorrow, stay tuned folks!

In the meantime, we visited The Great Platte River Archway. The Archway spans Interstate 80, similar to the Oasis rest areas on the Illinois Tollway. A fee is required to go up into the Archway. It was $10.00 each for Senior Citizens. We decided not to go on this leg of our trip since it was 4:45 p.m. and they close at 6:00 p.m. We did not feel there would be enough time to see all of the exhibits.

The Archway offers free dry camping for RV’s. Unfortunately, a warm front with high humidity came through the area, so dry camping is not an option. We need a camping site for the night with an electric hookup to run our air conditioner. We found the perfect campground at Fort Kearney Recreation Area. This is a very nice campground with plenty of campsites with shade. The recreation area comprises 186 acres dotted with seven water-filled sandpits. These sandpits offer anglers everything from largemouth bass and bluegill to trophy channel catfish and wiper.

The Fort Kearney Recreation Area has 110 camping sites, 75 with 30/50 amp hookups, modern restrooms with showers and a dump station. The showers are coin-operated; $0.75 for the first three minutes and $0.25 for each additional minute. There is a fishing pier, nonpower boating, nine-hole disc-golf course, nature trail and a 1.8-mile hike/bike trail.

Camping Fees:

$18.00 per night plus a $5.00 daily non-resident permit fee.

We found the perfect campsite at site #55, or so we thought! It was a shaded campsite with plenty of privacy and very quiet. Shortly after we were set up at this lovely campsite, I heard what I thought was a farmer’s tractor that just started up. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a generator pumping water to farmland that runs adjacent to the campground. Thankfully, the sound from our air conditioner drowned out the noise coming from the generator, so we elected not to move to another site.

Internet access was not available at this campground through our T-Mobile service provider. Nebraska rest areas do not offer WiFi service as Iowa rest areas do.

Total miles traveled today: 279

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lake Anita SP, IA - 08/19/13

Monday – August 19, 2013

We embarked upon our late summer – early fall adventure today, departing the Chicago area at 11:00 a.m. This adventure will take us through Colorado, Utah, Arizona and perhaps New Mexico. In our travels, we seldom plan to be at a certain place on a particular date. We prefer to explore interesting places along the way and rely on first-come-first-serve campgrounds at State Parks, National Forests and National Parks. This trip will be no exception, so we are prepared to take our chances on finding campground accommodations at the popular areas we plan to visit.

We enjoyed pleasant sunny weather with a mild temperature in the mid-80’s and low humidity, during our travel west through Iowa on Interstate 80. Evening was approaching, time to find a place to spend the night. Our Iowa camping guide brought us to Lake Anita State Park. This state park is located approximately 50 miles west of Des Moines, Iowa and 5 miles south of Interstate 80. We arrived at the park at 6:00 p.m. We were quite pleased with this park and decided we would spend two nights here.

Lake Anita State Park opened in 1961. The 1.062-acre park features a beautiful 171-acre artificial lake which was formed by creating a dam on a branch of the Nishnabotna River. Lake Anita offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass, crappies and bluegill. Two boat ramps are available for easy access. Any size boat motor may be operated at "no wake" speeds.

There is a very nice swimming beach, with a sandy bottom, located within the park. It is a fair distance from the campground, so access to it by car or bicycle is definitely required. There is a paved bicycle path that circles the entire park. My educated guess is the bicycle path is at least a 15-mile round trip.

The campground contains 161 camping sites (includes 52 sites with electric and 40 with electric and water hookups). All sites with utility hookups have a view of the lake, whereas the non-utility sites do not. There are two modern restrooms with showers.

Camping fees:
Non-electric: $11.00
Electric: $16.00
Electric & Water: $19.00

Internet access was not available at this state park through our T-Mobile service provider. We will just have to wait until our next stop. Of interest, most of the rest areas in Iowa provide free WiFi service.

We look forward to a pleasant stay in this lovely state park.

Total miles traveled today: 384

Tomorrow another adventure begins.