Swope Park

Sue and I want to give Swope Park a mention. Swope Park is a fairly good size county park located 5 miles from the entrance to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.

swope-park

It has 5 RV sites with electricity and water for $15 per day with clean, well maintained showers and bathrooms, multiple fields for baseball, a deluxe Frisbee golf course and a section to honor our veterans.

We have been amazed at the size of the county parks in the midwest and by the amount of community involvement that surrounds them. Everyday there were people in the park. After school, kids were screaming and playing in the playground. In the mornings, Grammys pushed toddlers in strollers. Every evening at dusk, a dad caught softballs pitched by his teenaged daughter. People of various sexual orientation and national origins walked the frisbee golf course. We could hear the occasional ‘ka-chang’ as the frisbee hit the chains.

County employees were in and out often and local law enforcement made regular passes through so we felt very safe. Everybody we encountered was friendly and helpful. We met a retired ranger from Tallgrass Prairie who was working at the park when the buffalo arrived in 2009.  He was very interesting to talk to. He told us how difficult it was to get the buffalo herd started and where the best hikes were at the preserve.

We used Swope Park as are home base as we explored Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

Don’t worry Dick and Winnie, I did not let Susan get any closer to those beasts. 🙂

We also explored the surrounding area. Council Grove, Kansas is home to the Custer Elm which was interesting to me at least. I at first thought “how do they know this” but the retired ranger told me it was true.

Our time at Swope Park was lots of fun and we would definitely come back.

 

Blackhawk Memorial County Park

We’d never been to Wisconsin and the weather was nice so we decided to go north after Iowa City.

Our first stop was a campground called Blackhawk Memorial County Park . It was no doubt one of the more beautiful camping areas we’ve come across.

We’re calling it a Gem despite all the “official” campsites being flooded out and my getting Shiny stuck in a wet area.

Thanks to Coach-Net, a 2 year road side assistance insurance policy which came complimentary with the purchase of Shiny, we were winched out an hour after we called thanks to Al of Al’s Towing and his two trusty helpers.

Tow truck

We spent the first night stuck in the field. After getting winched out we moved to firmer ground right beside the lake.

The place was quiet and peaceful. Fish jumped completely out of the water in search of a bite to eat. There were herons and egrets. Canadian Geese were landing, playing, and taking off in front of us. Ducks casually swam along and turtles lumbered across the pathways.

The park itself is on the site of an 1830’s battle between local militia and Native Americans led by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader. Part of the Blackhawk Wars.

It is hard to believe a battle had been fought here. A small memorial monument and a sign saying ‘Bloody Lake’ reminded us that the European settlement of this area came at such a price.

We stayed 4 days alone here in this quiet, tranquil little corner of Wisconsin.

Finding the Peace Rock might be a little tricky this time. It also might be the last time we hide it since we can’t find it. We’re looking!

Linder Point Campground

Linder Point Campground is in Iowa City, it was our destination so we could visit Sue’s brother Pat and his wife Beth, her nephew Shane, and his wife Julia.

Iowa gang

As it turned out there was a big football game happening between the Hawkeys and the Badgers so we could only get a reservation for 3 days and we were lucky to get that.

Linder Point Campground is part of the Coralville dam complex. There are 5 or 6 separate campgrounds situated around the dam but due to high water some sites were flooded.

Causeway

According to a movie we watched at the visitors center the emergency spillway has only been breached twice since the dam was built in the 50’s. The first time it flooded was in the 1990’s. The overflow wiped out the lower cottonwood campground and so doing uncovered a fossil graveyard. It’s hard to believe that Iowa was actually the floor of an ocean millions of years ago.

We were wined and dined by Pat and Beth and they they gave us a great tour of the city which included the Black Angel tombstone!

Black AngelLarry and I both had bad colds while in Iowa City, so, we are a little shy on photos and, alas, no photo with the Peace Rock hidden! So this is a good opportunity to explain a little bit about said rock.

The rock was given to us by Laurena Will, a fellow Airstreamer, at Fish Creek Pond. Laurena paints these rocks herself and passes them out to friends and leaves them at places as she travels. Here is a close up of our painted rock given to us by Laurena.

IMG_2892

We’re new to the painted rock phenomenon but basically people paint rocks then hide them at campgrounds. Other people find them, pick them up, leave them alone or rehide them somewhere else. There is even a Facebook group devoted to painted rocks called RVers Rock! Not all campgrounds want painted rocks deposited on there grounds so getting permission is important.

We are participating in this game but giving it a different twist by hiding our rock in pictures along our journey. See Fish Creek Pond and Wabash.

We came across our first painted rock at a campground in Wisconsin. It’s hard to see in this picture but it was a pretty butterfly.

painted rock

Finding Places for Shiny to Stay

I’m asked, quite often, how we find all the neat places we stay at.  I do most of the campsite research and the first thing I’ll say is that it does take a little time. I usually get up in the morning first to get the coffee going and that’s when I do the “finding”. I enjoy the hunt while Susan doesn’t so much, so the system works out good.

First we discuss the general direction we want to go in then the hunt begins. As a rule we do not make reservations ahead. Even so, we seldom have to scramble to find a site. If we do have trouble it’s usually on Friday or Saturday and it’s almost always at State Parks or government run campgrounds like National Parks or US Army Corps Of Engineers campgrounds. Spring Break can be a problem time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we like to camp as inexpensively as possible. This means it galls us to have to pay for a private campground. Basically we only use private campgrounds when we have to do laundry or dump our tanks. Last winter we were traveling from January to May and averaged less then $15 per day in camping fees. I aim to do better than that this time out!

There are many more but these are my favorite sites, some have phone apps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Must Have Gadget #9 Converter Upgrade

On our 6 month excursion last winter, we learned that when boondocking, it was impossible to charge the batteries up to a satisfactory level using the generator.  If the sun was shining and the solar panel was working all day there was no problem.

IMG_2283.jpg

But if we were parked in a shady spot or it was overcast the generator wouldn’t charge the batteries fast enough. After 4 hours of running the generator the batteries were only 75% charged at best! That matters because discharging the batteries below 50% will damage them.

IMG_2456.jpg

It forced us to find electricity and pay for private campgrounds more often then we wanted to.

IMG_2570

Not fun sometimes.

I thought about lithium batteries but they would cost about $2000 for two batteries. Ouch! AGM batteries are better then deep cycle batteries but not nearly as expensive so we compromised and went with two new AGM’s. So now we have batteries that will hold a charge longer but that doesn’t solve the problem of the generator not charging the batteries fast enough. That was solved, we hope, with the upgrade to a multi stage converter.

IMG_2799-4105549397-1535208912877.jpg

Here’s the deal as I understand it. The converter that came with our Airstream was, well, not the best. It had one charging mode and that is slow. That’s ok if your staying at private campgrounds and hooked up to electricity (shore power) all the time. But we like to boondock not only because of the secluded camp sites but also most of the time boondocking is free!

So I ordered a new converter and called my buddy Jimbo to help with the installation. I say help me but actually he did all the work. 🙂 It was a fairly easy installation though. We took out the Parallax 8355 55 amp single stage converter that came with Shiny and installed a Progressive Dynamics PD4655 VL multi stage converter and a remote pendent PD92201TV from Bestconverter.com. 

IMG_8201

The new PD4655 VL converter also comes with a toggle switch for lithium batteries in case we decide to ever go that route. Sweet!

Here’s what the old converter looked like after Jimbo got it out.

IMG_2800

Not much more than those 4 wires to get that beast out!

So what did we get with this upgrade?

Instead of a converter that charges at a rate of a little over 13 volts no matter how discharged the batteries are we get these modes of charging.

IMG_2797.jpg

Here is an interesting quote from Randy at Bestconverter.com.

The last 10% is always the longest. Many folks that boondock for extended periods use a 50-90 rule of thumb meaning they try to not go below 50% SOC (State Of Charge) but only attempting to get back to 90% on a daily basis saving that last 10% for an over night charge when you get back home. Charging from 50 to 90% should only take 2-3 hours with a modern 4 stage converter.

We should be able to avoid the expense of private campgrounds more often. We won’t have to avoid that many (about 12) to pay for the converter upgrade which was about $240 and the two new AGM batteries which cost about $350.

We’ll let you know!

Holding Pattern

We’ve been home here in NH enjoying our new grandson Connor. He’s growing fast but still needs a lot of tender loving care. Brooke, Dan and Sue are doing the bulk of that.

Meanwhile we’ve been thinking about our time on the road and our blog. We decided to hire an artist friend from Denmark, Jesper Deleuran, to create an image for us that we could use for the header. Jesper’s work is phenomenal. He created the logo for my website Slippery-Hill.com.

Here is the finished image for our blog Streamin-In-Shiny

Shiney in space

At first we thought we wanted a long never ending road as the background. Then Sue came up with the space idea. When I first saw this image all I could say was WOW!

We wanted to get back on the road by Labor Day weekend but Sue was picked for jury duty so that is now up in the air.

When we depart we plan on taking a route that traverses the northern states to the West Coast. Work our way to the Southwest again for the winter.

We’ll see!

Home For A Bit

I guess it’s time for us to tell why we had to scoot home so quickly.

IMG_2613

Connor Lawrence Foley appeared in this world a little earlier then everyone expected. But don’t worry everyone is doing real fine and Sue and I are very, very happy grandparents.

Sue flew home from Austin, TX on May 2nd  to go to Brooke’s baby shower and low and behold, Connor was born on May 3rd so she got home just in the nick of time! I drove home from Austin with Shiny via Jackson Center, Ohio.

What’s in Jackson center you ask? Well that’s where they make Airstreams! And they have a huge top notch service center and Shiny had developed a grinding noise in one wheel that sounded very serious.

Shiny was repaired the day after I got there. It turned out to be a brake problem in one wheel. They put new brakes in all 4 wheels. I’m happy with their service department. Not happy with the dealers who blew me off as soon as they heard the word “warranty”.

The Mother Ship was an interesting place. There were plenty of full hookup sites free to anyone there for service. $10 if your just passing through.

In a way it was a depressing place because if you are there it’s because you’re having a problem with your Airstream and so I had to listen to all the problems that people were having with there RV’s. But I did meet some very interesting people here.

I left Jackson Center and drove straight home sleeping in truck stops along the way.

When I got home Sue came running out, ran right past me and gave Shiny a big hug. 🙂

IMG_2652So, we are camped out in Shiny in our yard for a while and plan on making some short trips this summer. We already have the itch to get back on the road for a long trip. Maybe we will head out in September. It’ll depend on which way the wind blows.

Texas VW Classic

All the Texas State Parks nearby were full for the weekend so we scrambled to find a place to park for 2 days. We were told, after the fact, that it was a miracle we were able to get a reservation at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park but somehow we did. And by doing so landed in the middle of the biggest VW rally in Texas.

And we had fun!

We were packed in like sardines and it was noisy as all get out, but we didn’t care.

The crowd was just a bunch of local Texas boys and girls out having a good time. Everyone was friendly and hospitable. Flannel was an acceptable outer wear. I fit in quite well.

People paraded their VW’s around all day and half the night showing them off.

This was not something we would have chosen to do ahead of time but this slice of Americana turned out to be a very memorable event.

Sue got to walk around in a haze of nostalgia remembering the VW’s of her youth.

VW-9

Kickapoo Cavern State Park

No cell service, anemic WiFi, and no trash removal, that’s all the downside (if you can call it that) we can think of for Kickapoo. Sue and I loved this park. It’s a Gem!

Fence

The bathrooms and showers were kept in pristine condition. There are five full hookup sites. There is a guided cave tour on Saturday mornings. The rangers were friendly and helpful. The camp host went out of her way to make sure we were happy.

Group 6

Deer, javelinas, birds galore, few people, and eighteen miles of trails.

 

 

The most amazing thing of all, though, was the bat cave. It is home to over three million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. These bats are considered to be one of the most abundant mammals in North America. That’s something to think about! We drove to the cavern at dusk and on the way we saw clouds of what we thought were flocks of birds. But, no, they were bats!! When we arrived at the cave opening we were greeted by wave after wave of bats leaving the cave for the night. This went on for over an hour. When the bats were finished leaving for their night of hunting, cave swallows flew in for their rest. The smell of the guano was pretty overwhelming.

To borrow a phrase from Arnold Schwarzenegger “we’ll be back“.

Here is a meditation drumming in case you need to calm down after seeing all of those bats! Click here!

Brantley Lake State Park

Our first impression as we drove into Brantley Lake State Park was that it was an ugly place. It turned out to be the Ugly Duckling of our trip. We stayed 5 nights the longest of any campground yet.

Sign

It was ugly at first because of the stark  landscape. The campground sat up on a knoll and could be seen for miles around. The man made Brantley Lake in the middle of this desert seemed so out of place.

IMG_2508

But there was beauty on this ugly knoll. As we sat at our campsite we were entertained by a parade of wildlife. An assortment birds including quail, morning doves, and road runners, rabbits, jack rabbits, and lizards all passed us by.

The night skies clear, dark and just plain amazing, as were the sunsets and the sunrises.

Sunrise

Here’s a shot of the Star Ship Enterprise caught from our campsite.

IMG_2499

Every afternoon around 4:00 the wind would pick up. One day it was especially fierce and so we spent about 45 minutes erecting a wind block out of our camp rug. It worked (kind of). Sue was very proud that her knot tying skills were up to the task!

Wind

We took a side trip to Sitting Bull Falls. It was amazing to see this 500 foot water fall surrounded by an arid desert.

In the state of New Mexico you can buy an annual pass for $210 that will get you into the state parks for one year. Yes that’s right, you can actually camp in New Mexico for one year for $210. Now that is a good deal. While I was in the shower room one day I met a truck driver who buys the pass every year just for the showers!!

Here is a meditative rattling session from Brantley. Please enjoy. Click here