Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We mentioned in our last post that it would be the last for the trip unless something noteworthy happened. As an avid RV-er we think something noteworthy has happened. Also one of our followers, George F., sent us an email stating he was saddened to hear we had made our last post for the trip. George this post is for you.

We have an aftermarket device installed on our motorhome called a Blue Ox TruCenter. It is a large hydraulic cylinder with an adjustable center location. If there is a strong side wind or excessive crown on the highway a switch can be depressed by the driver to relocate the center position of that cylinder. That helps reduce the effort required to hold the steering correction necessary to compensate for the wind or crown. The TruCenter is also a safety device in the event of a front tire blowout because it resists violent steering wheel movement. At the beginning of our trip we noticed that we could no longer adjust the center position of the TruCenter. The Blue Ox factory that manufactures and sells the TruCenter is located in Pender, NE. It was convenient for us to stop at the factory on our way home so we called an made an appointment.

Blue Ox has a customer service campground located at the factory for folks who come in for repairs or installation of their products. This is where we think the noteworthy thing happened. We were not prepared for how nice the campground was and what a pleasant experience our stay would be. When we made our reservation we were scheduled to arrive on Sunday on site #9 and stay until Tuesday morning. The camping is free to Blue Ox customers but at a commercial campground you would pay $50 or higher per night for a sight with these amenities. The site was first class with a large concrete pad and full hookups surrounded by concrete. In fact we have never seen the hookups surrounded by concrete before.

Now the icing on the cake came when we went to pay our bill. A very nice and competent technician came by our site on Monday morning and removed the TruCenter and then sped off to the shop to test and repair it. He came back in less than an hour and re-installed the TruCenter and checked our electrical installation. We had wired it to "ignition hot" power and he suggested that we connect it directly to the chassis 12 volt system with a fuse. We had the parts with us to do that and quickly made the change. The problem with our TruCenter was a bad solenoid and we can now hear if the solenoid is working by pressing the switch without the engine running. The total bill was $30 labor plus $1.95 tax. The solenoid was free. I don't know of anywhere we can camp for two nights in such a nice site for a total cost of $31.95. An on top of that we had a great time Sunday evening visiting with the other customers and telling RV stories at one of the sites.

Our campsite at Blue Ox

Notice the nice concrete pad

Hookups surrounded by concrete

There was one site complete with two tables, a fireplace, a refrigerator, and a gas grill. No one camped in that site during our stay and maybe it is used to calm irate customers.

Upscale camp site

When arriving at Pender, NE the sign reads population 1002. We have more people than that in our church back home. There is no reason to come to Pender unless you need to visit Blue Ox. The only place to buy groceries was in a convince mart. They did have a Subway, Ace Hardware, NAPA Auto Parts, and a large John Deer dealer. Don't look for a Walmart or any other big box store. Everyone we met was friendly and immediately knew you were visiting the Blue Ox plant. Blue Ox is a major employer in the area and originally started as a farm implement company in 1925. During the early eighties the company was experiencing economic problems and entered the RV towing and accessory market. That turned out to be a good move and today they are a major supplier of towbars and accessories.

Blue Ox

The country side in the vicinity of Pender is true Nebraska with corn and soybeans dominating the vistas for miles.

Lots and lots of corn

Soybeans to replace the nitrogen the corn robbed from the soil

It is Tuesday morning and almost time to start the journey home. It has been a once in a lifetime experience traveling to Alaska and back in an RV and now life must revert back to a more normal routine.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Since we were camped about two blocks from the Minnesota Zoo we decided to check it out. It turned out to be a spacious zoo with most animals housed in a simulated natural environment. We saw a number of species we had never seen before. Some were near extinction in the wild. For example the Amur Leopard. An information plaque at the zoo claimed that by 2008 only 30 remained in the wild at the tip of Russia's Pacific coast.

Amur Leopard

Another endangered species we saw was the Komodo Dragon. This big lizard is the largest in the world and adults grow to more than 8 feet and weigh over 200 pounds. I like the little blue-tailed lizards that live around our garage door but glad these monsters live in Indonesia.

Komodo Dragon

Everyone is familiar with the marsupials Opossum and Kangaroo but we were surprised to learn there is a Tree Kangaroo. The zoo had a Matschie's Tree Kangaroo that lives in a very small area of New Guinea. This animal is also endangered due to human activities such as mining and coffee farming.

Matschie's Tree Kangaroo

Another odd creature we had never seen was the Takin. The Takin is mostly found in China and are adapt at climbing in rocky, mountainous terrain like goats.


We learned an easy way to tell a monkey from an ape is that apes do not have tails. Most of us think apes are larger than monkeys and most of the time that is true. At the Minnesota Zoo we were introduced to the Gibbon, a small ape that looks like a monkey. They are the fastest and most agile of all tree dwelling mammals and we saw this demonstrated by the two Gibbons at the zoo. It was amazing to watch them swing and jump from branch to branch. Wikipedia says they can swing up to 50 feet at speeds as high as 34 MPH and make leaps up to 26 feet.

Female Gibbon

Male Gibbon

When we think of a camel most of us visualize the single hump species from the Middle East like the one these children are riding at the zoo.

The Bactrian camel native to Asia has two humps. Notice the green algae clinging to the side of this camel. The day we visited the zoo it was hot and humid and many of the animals were taking cover in shade or otherwise attempting to stay cool. We were not able to see some of the animals because they were out of site in their habit. The Bactrian camels were cooling off in a pond covered with algae.

Bactrian camel

Cooling off in the pond

Brown bear digs a bed in the dirt to stay cool

 The music icon Prince was born in Minneapolis and his home, the famous Paisley Park, is located a few miles west of the city in Chanhassen, MN. Since we were so close we made the drive over and walked the fence in front of the estate. It was obvious that thousands had preceded us since his death. Almost every square inch of the fence was adorned with a tribute. We even saw one from New Zealand. The list of famous musicians who have died as a result of drug use is long. Three immediately come to mind, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Notice concrete barriers have been placed between the curb and the street to protect visitors from traffic.

Unless something noteworthy occurs, this will be our last post for this trip. We are at the North Sioux City KOA mainly because we have an appointment Monday at the Blue Ox factory in Pender, NE. This area is referred to by the local media as Siouxland because there are three cities in different states in a single metropolitan area. They are Sioux City, IA, North Sioux City, SD, and South Sioux City, NE. Yesterday we drove to the nearest Walmart using "Ok Google", a distance of 8.7 miles, and were welcomed to Iowa and Nebraska by the female voice as we made our way there.

We will start the journey home on Tuesday making approximately 300 mile daily jaunts and expect to arrive Friday afternoon.

Friday, August 12, 2016

On Tuesday we left Bemidji and drove down through the center of Minnesota to our present location at Lebanon Hills State Campground. Minnesota is truly the land of 10,000 lakes as we saw lake after lake during our journey. This is our third visit to Minnesota and our second visit to the Minneapolis/St Paul area. Last summer we attended the FMCA International Rally in Madison, WI and afterwards decided to check out Nodine, MN and the Mall of America near Minneapolis.

Yes, there is a town named Nodine just across the Mississippi River in Minnesota. We have known about this town for some years and always thought we needed to make a visit and check it out. After all, it could be named after a famous relative. Since Madison, WI is so close we felt compelled to drive over to Minnesota. When we arrived in the small community of Nodine we saw a young man mowing his lawn. We approached and ask him if he knew anything about the history of the town and if it was named after a Nodine. He told us his brother had done some research and the town was not named after a person but was named by the Minnesota Highway Department. Seems they were in the area and looking for a place to eat. Since there was nowhere to eat at this location they named it "no dine", hence the name Nodine. Was my bubble ever burst!
Looking for a place to camp close to the Mall of America we discovered Lebanon Hills State Recreation Campground. It is rare to find any decent campground in a major metro area, let alone a state campground with 50 amp full hookups and free WiFi. Lebanon Hills is a beautiful and well maintained campground at the edge of the Minneapolis/ St Paul metro area and within a reasonable distance of attractions. Wikipedia says the metro area has a population of 3.5 million and is a major economic center between Chicago and Seattle. This link to a google map shows our campsite and some of the places of interest in the area.


Entrance to Lebanon Hills

Campground office

Our campsite

This morning we are moving further south and slightly west to North Sioux City, SD and need to wrap things up and get ready to travel. We will make another post about our visit to this area in the morning.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Today we drove over to the Mississippi Head Waters Visitor Center. The mighty Mississippi that we see in Memphis is a small stream as it begins flowing out of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota. Lake Itasca is 1475 feet above sea level so the Mississippi has a downhill path on its 2552 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. This is what the Mississippi looks like 600 feet from it's beginning at Lake Itasca.

Here is Pam walking across the Mississippi at its beginning.

Here we see the first road to cross the Mississippi and the size of the river under the bridge.

The Mississippi actually starts flowing north until it enters Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji. She flows out of Lake Bemidji and soon takes a southern direction. The city of Bemidji is the first town on the Mississippi River. At the connection between Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji is the town of Bemidji's Visitor Center and the Paul Bunyan Park.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue Ox

Lake Bemidji

Thursday, August 4, 2016

We are happy to report that the engine is running cool now and our drive to Billings was uneventful. We stayed at the Billings KOA in almost the same campsite we were in two months ago on our way to Alaska. We had planned to spend some time in Rapid City South Dakota on the way home but when we called to make reservations found the campgrounds booked up. One place said we could stay Thursday but said they were going black on Friday due to the Sturgis Bike Week. We decided to stay high on I-94 and retrace our path in May.

We are spending the night back in Medora North Dakota and this afternoon drove through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We did not have time to do that when we were here last as we left with the group the next morning for Billings. We saw a lot of bison and a few other animals but did not see any elk. We had hoped to see elk but unfortunately they did not seem to be near the roadway.


Mother nursing calf

Young calf

Pam read in the information that feral horses live in the park and sure enough we came across a small herd and a lone white stallion.

We also saw many prairie dogs, a mule deer, and a group of antelope.


Prairie Dog

Mule Deer

Tomorrow we continue east and plan to spend three nights in Bemidji Minnesota exploring the headwaters of the Mississippi River and the town made famous by the FX series Fargo. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Yesterday we dropped the dogs off at Petsmart for their appointment and then headed downtown to explore and visit the Cathedral of St Helena. Construction of the cathedral was started in 1908 and completed 10 years later. Here are a few exterior photos of the cathedral.

Here are some interior photos.

View toward altar

View from altar


After grabbing a bite to eat the dogs were ready so we headed back to the campground to clean the radiator and change the air filter on the motorhome. First we stopped at a thrift store and purchased a long sleeve sweat shirt to wear while working under the motorhome. We already had a pair of jeans for that purpose but needed something with long sleeves to keep the grease and dirt off my arms. We also purchased a one gallon garden sprayer to apply the cleaning solution to the inside of the radiator. This is accomplished by removing a panel in the closet and spraying the radiator form there and underneath the motorhome. We let the solution soak for fifteen minutes and then spray down with water using a long hose wand placed between blades of the fan from both the bedroom and underneath. We then started the engine and let the fan blow out the soap and water.

When we opened up the fan access in the bedroom closet and shined a flashlight we were surprised to see a large piece of insulation in the bottom of the shroud that had broke loose above the fan housing. There was another piece of insulation rubbing against the fan at the top. We were able to use a long grab tool and an awning wand to remove both. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the overheating problem is now resolved. We are heading to Billings in the morning and unfortunately the weather forecast is predicting very strong winds.