Our Wandering Return Home from Colorado…
(This is page two of our Denver adventure. Page one is here .)
Day 8, Tuesday, May 31, 2016, Greenwood Village, CO to Scottsbluff, NE via I-25, I-76, SR52, SR71: 234 miles
The morning of Day 8 would mark the end of our lovely visit with the kids for this trip. We began the day with coffee in the living room as usual. But the kids would be going to work around 0900 or so and we’d leave before them.
We had to round up all our stuff that found its way into the house during our almost five day visit and return it to the coach. The coach had to be readied, as well. I unplugged from the free electric plug we were getting addicted to, rolled up the electric cord and powered in the slides, etc. By 0830 we said our farewells, climbed into the coach and were on our way to Scottsbluff, Nebraska.As we drove through the metro Denver area we were mighty pleased to be leaving the chaos of the big city and heading for the wide open spaces beyond!
The drive was along new highways and byways for us and we surely enjoyed the scenic drive. We stopped at a Mickey D’s in Brighton, CO and had a delicious junk food breakfast for a change. I enjoyed a sausage, egg and cheese McGriddle. Lavonne had a bacon and cheese biscuit. And a piece of apple pie. mmmmm. I also got a large coffee to go and we ate, naturally, in the coach where we always feel at home.I thought this entrance to the Prairie Center shopping area and Mickey D’s was a bit much, but they must be mighty proud of the place and it was a lovely area.Beautiful Colorado along SR52 well beyond the hassle and hurry of the big city. Traffic was so light we were reminded of Nevada’s lonely US50.
Along Colorado’s SR71 we drove by this very strange formation. I supposed it was formed by water running down the cliff.We were welcomed to beautiful Nebraska.
Click on the photos above for some lovely sights we saw as we drove through Nebraska. We were very impressed by the beauty of the place.
For lunch we ate at Dale’s Diner in Scottsbluff where we stopped for the night. The cute lil’ waitress/cook whipped up a meatloaf sandwich for me. We arrived early at Scottsbluff’s Walmart store and took our sweet time all afternoon on the computers. I tended to some projects around the coach and we both went into the store for some shopping.
Our afternoon and evening there were very pleasant as the temps were in the mid 70s and a brisk breeze blew all afternoon. Sundown at Scottsbluff, Nebraska as we began our round-about trek home from visiting the kids in Colorado.
We spent the evening aboard as usual. Lavonne played her word game and visited her favorite sites. I edited photos and brought this blog up to date. For dinner Lavonne zapped a couple of small enchiladas and made a small salad. We like traveling on the cheap and one of the best ways is to eat meals in the coach. It’s also a good way to stay on our diets.
Later in the evening I mixed a couple of cool ones and watched more of that great WWII documentary A Fighter Pilot’s Story. It’s a shame that later generations know so little, if anything, about the Greatest Generation and their struggles during the Great Depression, then winning WWII against staggering odds. We owe them so much and so few of them are still with us.
Around 2200 Lavonne called it a day and I joined her about an hour later. We had chosen a quiet corner of the Walmart lot and we slept very well.
Day 9, Wednesday, June 1, Scottsbluff, NE to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and Rapid City, SD via SR71, SR79, SR40, US16: 224 miles
We were up and around by 0600 after turning the heater up to warm the coach after a cool night. And the batteries worked perfectly! With the new batteries we had plenty of power all night long with plenty to spare in the morning. We brewed morning coffee, as usual, and turned on the ‘puters to see what was going on in the world. We whiled away a couple of hours on the computers checking our favorite sites. I can’t seem to begin the day properly without checking my online comics.Morning ‘puter time aboard Cecil the Diesel in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
We frittered away quite a bit of time in Scottsbluff. After our leisurely ‘puter browsing, it was time to find some propane as the tank was down to an eighth. Or so the gauge said. I followed the navigator to a gas station that carried propane, and they pumped on a bit over 22 gallons. With a usable 31 gallon rating and only an eighth left, something didn’t add up. But when the gauge read full, I didn’t worry about the math. I paid the man. He advised that they had a RV dump available for free with our purchase. Although I didn’t need to dump yet, I did so. I like free, and didn’t want to pass it up. So we had a fresh start with empty holding tanks and full water and propane tanks. What a deal!
By the time we were done it was past our usual breakfast time, so we pulled into an empty parking lot and whipped up breakfast. By the time we left town it was after 1000.Leaving the town of… well, you know.Lovely and lonesome Nebraska SR71. This highway made Nevada’s world famous “Loneliest Road in America” seem busy by comparison. I loved it!One of many scenic views along SR71.
The travelin’ Gillespies at the only rest area we saw all day. We stepped out to stretch our legs a bit. That cute lil’ travelin’ buddy of mine brewed a cup of coffee for the driver.A beautiful Nebraska spread on the grassy prairie. That must be a great place to live. We drove through the vast and very green prairie for miles and miles. It was a wonderful experience.
As we drove along we decided to take a detour of about 30 miles or so to visit the famed Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. We may never be so close again and the day was young. Why would we miss such an opportunity?! So we set the navigator to take us there. It was a beautiful drive and a long climb up into wooded forests and craggy mountains.The entrance to Mount Rushmore. There was no charge to enter, but we paid $11 to park for about an hour!Shortly after buying the coach I removed the TV above the windshields and installed a blackboard to cover the opening. Lavonne writes appropriate comments on the board from time to time, and I thought it would be nice to take a photo of her latest as we prepared to visit Mt. Rushmore. Kinda cute, eh?Our official Mt. Rushmore portrait. No photo can do justice to the massive sculpture. Visiting the place was quite an experience.It seemed only right to include our Cecil the Diesel in at least one photo of our visit to Mt. Rushmore. Note the sculpture in the background.
We tired pretty quickly up there at about 5000′ when we had to walk up a bit of a grade from the RV parking lot to the main area. We spent less than an hour there, and it was well worth the effort. We then continued our drive to Rapid City, SD where we would spend the night at a Walmart, naturally. We arrived at 1600.Jacks down at the Rapid City, SD Walmart for the night. It had been a long and interesting day.
Unfortunately, there was a Golden Corral buffet right next to our parking spot. We checked it out since we hadn’t had lunch yet, and it was nearing dinner time. We decided to pass, as it wasn’t the neatest buffet we’ve ever seen. But after Lavonne zapped herself a frozen dinner, I just couldn’t get the fried chicken at Golden Corral out of my mind. I walked over and bought two big, juicy, deep fried thighs, mashed taters and gravy, mushrooms and sesame chicken. My gosh! It was good and I ate it all! I would have to crawl back onto the diet wagon for the rest of the week!
As always these days, we called ahead to the Rapid City Walmart to be sure they allowed RVers to park overnight. As usual they said they did, but that the city had an ordinance against it. I presumed the local RV parks had the city council in their pockets for such nonsense to be passed and I’ve seen this many times before. We parked for the night along with several other RVers and, as always in the past, nobody bothered us. The cops, after all, have bigger fish to fry than law abiding RVers who spend money in their town.
We spent the evening as we usually do, mostly glued to our computers. Lavonne went to bed around 2200. After watching the rest of the WWII documentary A Fighter Pilot’s Story, I joined her at 2300.
Day 10, Thursday, Rapid City, SD to Badlands National Park and back to Rapid City via SR44: 105 miles
Our 10th day on the road dawned clear and bright and calm. We were up and greeted the day at 0600 and looked forward to a drive through the South Dakota Badlands and the Black Hills. But first we logged onto our ‘puters for an hour or so after the morning chores.
After my morning walk around the lot and inside the store, we did a bit of shopping for some items we needed. After preparing the coach for the day’s drive we drove just across the street and fueled up for $2.18 per, our cheapest diesel this trip and likely the last so cheap we’d see for a long time. After fueling I pulled into a vacant parking lot nearby and Lavonne zapped a breakfast sandwich for me and made oatmeal for herself.Pumping on cheap fuel at $2.18 per in Rapid City. Cheap is good!
After breakfast we headed south on SR44 about 50 miles ’til we reached the Badlands National Park. They were surely bad lands, but we caught them at just the right time of year to find grass growing. I’m sure that after hot summer weather begins the grass will be brown.Entering the Badlands. The grass was green, but not for long. (Pardon the terrible photo.)
The Badlands were sure bad what with extreme temps, wild topography and little or no water. Click on a photo to see them enlarged.
As we began the trip back towards Rapid City to continue on through the Black Hills to Miles City, Montana, the “Check Engine” light lit up. Uh-oh. I knew I was a tad low on coolant, so we began the search for a truck stop or dealer to buy some coolant. Automotive coolant won’t work as diesel engines require a low silica mix and most places don’t sell the diesel stuff. As we entered Rapid City after our drive home, Lavonne spotted a Freightliner dealership and we pulled in. They were also a Cummins facility. I paid my $10 for a gallon of coolant and poured in what I needed. The light stayed on. Uh-oh. I went back to the service desk and inquired about a computer read out on my engine. I was relieved that they said they could get right on it, and they did. The issue was a low reading on the exhaust pressure sensor. We needed either a new sensor at $110 or a tube cleaned out. I gave them the Ok and signed on the dotted line.
During our drive back to Rapid City with the “Check Engine” light shining brightly, we caught this quick glimpse of a dinosaur just outside the Badlands! Geez! Could the Badlands be home to dinosaurs? The photo was taken quick and blurry, but it was unmistakably a dinosaur! During our drive through South Dakota we also saw a giant jackalope, a mastodon (or mammoth?) and another dinosaur, a triceratops, I think. Had we driven through a time warp?! Click on the photos to enlarge.
After a couple of hours of waiting and watching the mechanic work on the engine in our bedroom (Yes! The engine is under the bed!), he announced that he could not remove the tube without possibly stripping the threads in the exhaust manifold, requiring a new manifold – which they didn’t have and which the Cummins warehouse didn’t always have available. He did run a wire into the tube to clear it but said he didn’t succeed. To add insult to injury, he also advised that if we didn’t fix it, the computer would “derate” the power by about 25%. What to do, what to do?!
We would continue our trip. If we lost 25% of our power we’d still have 240 of our 300 HP to get us home. We might lose some speed on the uphill pulls, but I’ve driven 80,000 pound trucks with just 262 HP and I could deal with the lower power. Three hours after stopping in for some coolant, we pulled out over $300 lighter. I don’t blame the repair outfit, they seemed very diligent and (hopefully) gave good advice about continuing our drive.Back at the Walmart lot in Rapid City after a rather frustrating day. But we did see the Badlands of South Dakota and we were comfortable with the air conditioner running all the hot afternoon. We’d see the Black Hills and drive to Miles City, Montana a day later than planned, and we’d be back on the road!
We planned to drive to Miles City, Montana after the sightseeing through the Badlands and the Black Hills, but at around 1600 it was getting late; we chose to drive back to the Rapid City Walmart for another night. We would begin again in the morning and hope the Cummins people gave us good advice.
The day was quite warm and we ran the dash air conditioner as we returned from the Badlands. As we waited at the Cummins dealer and ’til after dark at Walmart, we kept the generator/house air conditioner running constantly.
Our evening unfolded as usual with both of us on the ‘puters. I had a sandwich around 1600 and that was it for lunch and dinner. I guess the Cummins issue took our minds off eating. That’s not all bad.
I also noticed that besides the Cummins issue, we had developed a small crack in the windshield. I suspected it was caused by the crazy hail storm we encountered during our drive through Nevada on Day 2. It was about as long as a dollar bill which is the limit that can be fixed. We’d have to get that repaired the next day if possible!
After my ‘puter time, I mixed a couple cool ones, then watched the rest of my Merle Haggard DVD that he recorded back in 2004. What a show he put on there at Billy Bob’s in Texas back then! It seemed appropriate to watch Merle as he recently passed away, on April 6, his 79th birthday.He was one of my favorites. Afterwards I headed to bed about 2300 and slept well in spite of the stressful day we had.
Day 11, Friday, Rapid City, SD to Casper, WY via SR79, SR18, I-25: 281 miles
We awoke to a very breezy morning in Rapid City. As I began my morning walk a nearby RVer told me that it blew so hard that the several grocery carts along a nearby traffic barrier had been blown there overnight. Years ago as we overnighted in an Oklahoma Walmart, we watched carts traveling about 15 MPH across the lot all by themselves, blown by high winds. We were lucky none of those carts hit us during the night. We slept through it all.
After morning chores I took my morning walk in the store as it was too breezy to enjoy a walk outside. When I returned to the coach I checked the weather for our continued trip on through Montana and beyond. But… wait! Winds in Miles City were predicted to gust to 40 MPH! The wind we experienced must have been sweeping the entire area. No way would we head into such weather just to see the sights. We’d have to drive all day in a northwest direction, the abominable north wind trying to blow us off the road the whole time. We talked it over and decided to head south to Casper, WY and on home from there. We’d see Montana another time.This landscape pretty well represents South Dakota along SR79 and SR18. The drive was a cruise through an ocean of green grass. It was a lovely drive.
This four lane highway could also represent the traffic through South Dakota along our route. It was sublimely empty and lonely. It was my kind of driving!
As we left town we stopped by the local Safelite windshield shop hoping the crack could be repaired. It was a bit too long already. Rats! I just replaced a windshield on Big Blue a couple months ago for about $1200 and here I just found another that needed replacement. (Thus began a comedy of catastrophes: Back home after the trip I ordered a new windshield. It was broken during shipment to our local glass shop. They sent another. It lasted only one trip, cracking during my visit to Oregon two months later. It was covered by warranty and a third windshield was installed in August. If there is a windshield fairy I don’t think she likes me!)
We continued down the road toward Casper. The traffic was so light and the green grasslands so beautiful that we were loving every mile of the long, lonely highways.Not far from Rapid City we drove by three huge busts of past presidents. Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush stared out at the highway from a grassy field. We were not that many miles from Mt. Rushmore and perhaps someone was trying to carry on the tradition.
A short way beyond the presidential busts, we pulled into a country store/gas station and had breakfast in Dale’s Diner. There, out in the boondocks, we found yet another one. We ate a fairly quick breakfast and continued on.How do they teach those elk where to cross the highway?! Those South Dakota game wardens must be really good!
Did I mention that it was a very windy day?
The best moment of the last two days took place about 230 miles into the day’s drive; the “Check Engine” light went off! What happened? Maybe the plugged tube cleared after that many miles since the mechanic ran a wire up into it, trying to open it but thought he failed. Whatever happened, the next time I started the engine I watched carefully that the many warning lights came on and went off as they usually do, and the culprit light did come on and then turned off with the rest of them. Yes!!! We just hoped it would stay off! There was no issue if there was no light! And after driving about 280 miles since the light came on, and noticing that there was no loss of power, it seemed very unlikely that we actually had a problem. The whole warning light issue may have been nothing but a fluke that cost us $300. Time would tell.Parked at a Wyoming rest area to brew some coffee. Note the flags!
As we approached the small Wyoming town of Douglas, we decided it was time for lunch. Douglas had the only Mickey D’s we’d seen the whole drive since Rapid City. I had just weighed in that morning at the lowest I’d seen in years at 179! What better way to celebrate successful weight loss than having a pig out?! They had a two sandwiches for $5 special, so I got two specials. Lavonne had one, another would be my dinner and I ate the other two for lunch. Ugh. But they were delicious.
As we pulled into the little town I noticed diesel selling for $2.09! I had over a half tank yet, but I had to get some of that! After lunch I pumped on 36 gallons of the stuff and was mighty pleased with myself. A short time later I saw it selling at a Flying J for over $2.40!
We continued on, finally reaching I-25, the first Interstate we’d seen for miles. We drove it to Casper where we pulled into a Walmart near the Interstate. Unfortunately the parking lot was being repaved and the place was a very busy and smelly mess. Another Walmart was about seven miles from the highway, and we opted to drive there to avoid the messy construction.At 1545 I dropped the jacks at the Walmart on the far side of Casper, Wyoming and we were home for the night!
Our evening was pretty much the usual. We spent time on the computers, I took my evening walk around the store, and I finished my chicken McNuggets from lunch and called it dinner. Lavonne considered lunch to be dinner, too. After the ‘puter time we sat back to watch a DVD movie, Neverland, or some such title. We found it slow and gave up.
Lavonne went on to bed and I watched a DVD of some MMA action I recorded about 10 years ago. I fell asleep on the couch, as I often do, and woke up to go to bed.
Day 12, Saturday, Casper, WY to Park City UT via SR220, US284, I-80: 384 miles
Our night at Casper was quiet and we slept well. After morning chores and my morning walk, we sat at the ‘puters and checked our favorite sites.We had accumulated a bug collection that would have made the UC Davis entomology lab proud. I dealt with those bugs severely.
Two other notable events took place that morning:
First, this “Check Engine” light came on again… (As it turned out when I returned home and took the coach into the shop, the exhaust manifold pressure sensor needed replacing, another $400! The red warning light (above) just showed that the parking brake was on when I took this photo, and so was the cruise control.)
When starting the engine, this is the splash of colored lights that come on briefly to show all warning lights are working…
And this is how the panel should look when cruising without the cruise control on.
Secondly, this very cool, miniaturized ’57 Chevy drove by in the Walmart lot just before we left. This little car was very cool, and believe me, the sound told me it had a very serious Chevy V-8, too. I’d never seen anything quite like it!
We pulled out of Casper, WY at 0920 heading for Evanston, Wy. However, when we got there the place was overrun with big rigs for some reason, and a busy RR track was next to our parking area. We decided to drive another hour to Park City, UT where we spent a night the prior week as we drove east. Our day’s drive was without incident other than the darn engine light. The night at Park City was quiet and comfortable although we had to run the house air conditioner for some time in the evening.
Photos of beautiful and spacious Wyoming are below; click to see them in full size:
And here are a few more photos of Utah as we retraced last week’s trip east (click to enlarge):
Day 13, Sunday, June 5, Park City, Ut to Winnemucca, NV via I-80: 382 miles
Park City was cool and crisp on that June morning, registering only 51° on our outdoor thermometer. And being Sunday morning, it was unusually quiet as well. After our usual morning chores our main issues of the day were to get the holding tanks dumped and the fresh water tank filled. The nearest Flying J Travel Plaza was about 47 miles away in Tooele, UT as we continued west toward Nevada. We pulled out at 0730 and that would be our first stop of the day.
Jacks down at the Park City Walmart. Note the Olympic (2002 in Utah) ski jumps again, as last week, in the background. I took a telephoto shot of them as well. Click on the photos to enlarge.
As we pulled out of Park City’s Walmart lot, we saw two hot air balloons high in the sky. What a way to start a Sunday for those folks!
The drive from Park City to SLC is mostly downhill through some beautiful country. When we reached the big city, the view looked something like coming in for a landing on a plane!
Our drive through the big city was unobstructed on that beautiful Sunday morning when the traffic is probably the lightest all week. Beyond SLC lies the city of Tooele and the Flying J we planned to visit to relieve Cecil the Diesel. The early morning was a good time to pull up to the RV dump station and pony up the $7.50 to dump. I filled up the fresh water tank as well and we were set ’til we got back home – probably Wednesday.
I had been hankering for a fried egg for several days, having not had one for at least two weeks. Like most Flying Js, that one had a Denny’s restaurant, so we parked the coach and headed in for breakfast. I don’t know how Denny’s can serve up two eggs, pancakes, a muffin, sausage and bacon, orange juice and a cup of coffee for $8, but they did! I wondered if our lil’ waitress just didn’t know the menu, but she was sure of herself. It was a grand breakfast. We pulled out of Tooele after breakfast and continued our journey west through the great salt flats of Utah.Pass the salt, did you say? Wow! Did we pass the salt! We drove through miles and miles and miles of the stuff. Here is a Morton’s salt factory on the salt flats. Imagine that.
The drive across the salt flats to Wendover and Nevada is about 100 miles. There’s not much to break the monotony of the drive. Utah has posted several signs encouraging drivers to pull over if they get sleepy. This view is about all one sees for over 100 miles. Over the years I’ve seen many a set of car tracks of folks who have dozed off and driven into the salt. Most drive right back out but some folks get stuck. Some get even worse.This artsy “tree” out on the flats near the highway was donated to Utah by a Swedish artist in 1989. It’s a rather strange story, but the thing does break the monotony. Check it out here.
At the west side of the flats there is Wendover, UT and Wendover, NV on the state line. No doubt the attraction that brought a town to such a desolate place was the legal gambling in Nevada. Utah residents take many a long drive to Nevada to gamble and party.
We thought we might stop at Elko, NV for the night, but it was still early so we drove on to Winnemucca’s Walmart, the same one in which we spent our first night of the trip.We were mighty pleased to have found a bargain in little ol’ Battle Mountain, Nevada. Diesel was just $2.45 per at this Shell while Flying J was selling it for $2.72 just a block away. Note those ominous clouds that would soon bring us a wonderful storm.
Our next stop would have to be for fuel. I checked prices on the ‘net but couldn’t find any bargains. Flying J, what I once considered the price leader for gas often seems higher for diesel. We pulled off at Battle Mountain, NV to see if we could find a good price, although they had but one or two stations. Flying J was selling diesel for $2.72. We drove past hoping to find another and we saw only one other, a Shell station. I was shocked to see its diesel price at $2.46 because at home, Shell is always the highest. We pulled in and pumped on 72 gallons to fill ‘er to the cap.
The weather had been threatening much of the afternoon, and before we reached Winnemucca, the threat was carried out. It rained! It blew! Lightening flashed and thunder rolled! We had quite a show put on by Mother Nature and when we finally reached Winnemucca we could only sit and watch the rain fall and the wind blow. We loved it!One block from Winnemucca’s Walmart store this flag, at half staff for Muhammad Ali’s passing, I presumed, was upright in the wind and rain.
We just sat in the coach and watched the storm when we first arrived at the Walmart store in Winnemucca for the night.
In time the weather calmed down. I set up the coach for the night, then took a walk around the inside of the store. We had dinner aboard the coach, and after our time on the ‘puters, we sat back and watched TV ’til bedtime. Our far corner of the lot was quiet while every other RVer, about five others, stayed in another area where several big rigs were parked, some of them were reefers that no doubt ran on and off all night long. We slept well in our quieter area.
Monday, Day 14, Winnemucca, NV to home via I-80, SR99: 356 miles
Since we had driven to Winnemucca, farther than we had planned to drive, we were that much closer to home. We usually drive to Winnemucca on the first day when we head east, including this trip. We decided that home was an easy drive, so why not? And we did.
We wanted to arrive home as early as possible because unloading the coach is a pretty big job – and the temps were to be in the 90s. So, we were up and around a bit after 0500 and got right after the morning chores, set up the coach for travel, and pulled out of Winnemucca at 0700 – one of our earliest starts of our 14 day adventure.
Before we left I walked into the store and bought some breakfast rolls that we enjoyed before leaving. We didn’t stop for lunch since we would likely be home in time to eat there. We stopped once along the drive to brew some coffee, and that was about the only stop of the drive home.