Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park

We spent the morning at the Great Sand Dunes National Park located near Alamosa, CO. This is an amazing place and you begin to get an idea of the scale of the place when you are still 14 miles away as we were when this first picture was taken. You can see the dunes at the bottom of the mountains and at first, you believe they must be foothills, but they are not.

Cody and I finally were able to welcome us to the National Park! This area is a very flat plain that is at about 8,000' in elevation and mountains all around rising to 13,000' or more. We learned that the dunes cover some 30 square miles and rise to a height of 750'! These are huge. Cody even found this interesting plaque which notes that the Dunes Park is at 8,166' above sea level.

Orinda and Cody are standing on a dry river bed (which flows in the spring) about 1/2 mile away from the nearest dune. The sand is very fine and easily blown. In fact, the rivers, one on each side of the dunes area, move the sand west during the spring and then the wind blows it back during the dry summer.

This was a great place to visit and well worth the morning we spent there.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Top of the Rockies - what a road!

We took a scenic drive today on the Top of the Rockies byway. This starts at I70 near Vail, CO and travels south on highway 24 through Tennessee Pass to Leadville, Then, you will travel west on Hwy 82 through Aspen by way of Independence Pass.

Most of the road is over 9,000 feet in elevation with the top portion touching over 12,000 feet!

The road winds though beautiful stands of aspens and offers one great view after another. One big surprise was when we passed the site of Camp Hale which was the training site of the WWII 10th Mountain Division that specialized in winter combat. Camp Hale housed some 14,000 men during late WWII and filled this valley with barracks and other buildings. It was very interesting to explore the many information kiosks and learn about this important aspect of the WWII era.

Leadville is the next stop and is a very interesting city. Called the Cloud City, it is at over 10,400 ft in elevation and is the highest incorporated city in the USA. A great place to get a snack or fillup the car.

We now turned onto Hwy 82 which is a much smaller road and limited to vehicles less than 35' (no coach here!). We began to climb from the 10,000 foot level to make Independence Pass which is crossed at 12,095'! Wow -- magnificent views rewarded us as we looked over the alpine setting. We looked quickly, though as a snow shower hit! Seemed like a great time to continue to Aspen.

After this wonderful drive, we had a great dinner with friends back in Eagle. A great day to be sure.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Exploring Colorado and the Top of the Rockies

We will spend a couple of days in Colorado and will do some exploring in the Vail/Aspen area. Our first stop was in Hudson, CO which was OK for an overnight, but not fancy at all. The next day we did have a chance to stop at a Welcome Station and explored the brochures. Orinda was intrigued by this statue which was abstract to say the least.

An amazing part of this trip is the passage through the Eisenhower Tunnel, which is the highest vehicular tunnel in the world at over 11,150'. This 1.6 mile tunnel is an amazing engineering feat and is quite a trip to travel through.

We spent the night in Gypsum, CO at the River Dance RV Resort which was a reasonable site, but rather expensive for the amenities. Of course, property values in the Vail area are incredible. You can see the amazing photo dog in the doorway of the coach showing his approval of the site.

The scenery is wonderful and the aspen trees are in full color which provide a slash of color against the mountain. We are looking forward to traveling tomorrow to explore this area.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Visiting Scout's Rest -- Buffalo Bill's home!

This blog entry starts with a reminder to everyone who tows a car behind their motorhome -- be SURE that the tow car's brake is OFF and the transmission is in neutral! You can see the tire tracks here where the tow car was towed with the rear wheels NOT turning. Bummer! They (NOT US!) towed the car around most of the
RV park before realizing the problem. Hope there was no permanent damage.

We had a great time visiting Scout's Rest which was Buffalo Bill's home in North Platte, NE. This is a beautiful, restored home and ranch that is now run by the Nebraska State Park system and really gives some insight into Buffalo Bill's life. He was perhaps the best known American of his time and an amazing person.

Scout's Rest Ranch is on the north side of North Platte and is really worth a visit. In fact, you will be on the north side of the North Platte river while the South Platte river is just on the south side of the town (which obviously sits in the middle). Buffalo Bill bought several thousand acres here when he came in the 1880's and established the ranch. This was the location that he used when resting between his many Wild West Shows which traveled world wide.

The house is beautiful and full of interesting pictures and artifacts from Bill Cody's life. The barn, which is huge, contains original posters, like the one Rick is standing next to, as well as many other exhibits.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Union Pacific Railroad Bailey Yard!

We visited the amazing Union Pacific Railroad Bailey classification yard in North Platte, NE today and had a great time.

North Platte is the ultimate railroad town and was the site of one of the original "Hell on Wheels" towns while the transcontinental railroad was being built.

This rail yard is the largest classification yard in the world and classifies over 15,000 rail cars a day! There are also hundreds of engines, support facilities and more. To see the 2,850 acre facility, a new visitor center called the Golden Spike Tower has just been finished. Standing 8 stories tall right next to the yard allows you to have a real bird's eye view. There are two visitor observation decks; an open air one on the 7th floor and a glassed in deck on the 8th floor. This is a railfan's dream!

Finally, we dropped by Cody Park to see the UP Challenger display -- an impressive steam locomotive.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Union Pacific RR and the Dodge House --COOL

Today we took the morning and tooled into Council Bluffs, IA to visit the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs. This was the location of the starting point for the Union Pacific Railroad that built out across the west to link with the Central Pacific RR to form the first transcontinental railroad in the USA. An amazing effort that is well documented in the UP museum. Be sure to visit the Veteran's Square across the street which features this beautiful fountain.

The museum is in the old Council Bluffs library which is a beautiful building. They have many displays inside covering over 150 years of history, so there is plenty to see -- plus, admission is FREE!

After visiting the museum, we traveled a few blocks to the Dodge House, which was Gen. Grenville Dodge's mansion. He was, among other things, the Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific RR and determined the route for the railroad. He was a fascinating person and the house was amazing. Completed in 1869, the house was a marvel of design and included indoor running water, central heat, and all the things we take for granted today. The 10,000 sq. ft. home cost over $35,000 in 1869 -- must be millions today!

Finally, we decided to park at the Harrah's Casino in Council Bluffs. They are very welcoming to us and allow us to park for free in their lot (no hookups - but we don't need any). We enjoyed the buffet and the quiet overnight area overlooking the city of Omaha.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Leaving Forest City -- arriving at Shelby, IA

We had the troublesome microwave oven replaced yet again, hopefully for the last time. Anyway, we are ready to roll and headed west toward Council Bluffs, IA. We ended up in Shelby, IA at a nice overnight park right next to the interstate.

Before leaving Forest City, we took a walk around the courthouse square and took this picture featuring a Civil War statue that honors the service that the city residents offered during that conflict.

Orinda looks happy to hit the road with her oven now 100%. We had a nice drive toward Council Bluffs except for a heavy crosswind that kept Rick busy! Fortunately, the coach ran well and we arrived without issue -- except for the minor detour we took when the first RV park we choose didn't pan out (what a dump that was!).

Tomorrow, we are planning to visit the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in the morning and then head down the road toward Council Bluffs. Should be fun!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Touring Emmetsburg and on to Forest City, IA

We enjoyed our free breakfast this morning and then toured around Emmetsburg, IA which is a small town in northeast Iowa. We were surprised to learn that the town is named after Robert Emmet, an Irish patriot and orator in the late 1700's. Mr. Emmet has the unfortunate distinction to be the last person condemned by the British court to be hanged, drawn and quartered! Wow -- this gave me the chills.

We learned that there are only 4 statues of Mr. Emmet in the world, including this one in Emmetsburg. Emmetsburg was settled by the Irish and it was natural to name the new town after their great patriot.

Located next to the statue is the Blarny Stone, which Cody thought was very interesting. He also was enthralled with the beautiful lake that is located at Emmetsburg. This looks like a very nice town to live in.

After an enjoyable morning, we headed for Forest City which is about 70 miles away. This was an easy drive in the coach and so after lunch, Orinda humored Rick by joining him for 9 holes of golf (Orinda does not golf, but provides advice!). We tried the Forest City club which was beautiful and a fun place to play. Rick had a good time, but I don't think he is quite ready for the PGA Tour. That said, he did have some good shots including this par 3 where his tee shot ended up about 6 feet from the pin (yeah, he missed the putt!).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Time to Leave Sioux Falls!

We had a great morning today as Orinda visited with her doctor who said she was doing great after her surgery and could hit the road. The physician was very interested (and a bit wistful) about the idea of fulltime rving and was very supportive of Orinda moving on. She is still a bit sore, but ready to go. We enjoyed staying at the Fairground in Sioux Falls as you can see by Cody's happy expression. There were a few rigs in the park, but plenty of room for many more.

We headed out towards Forest City to have the troublesome microwave replaced next Monday, but decided to stop in Emmetsburg, IA at the Wildrose Casino and RV park which is on the way to Forest City. Our first stop in Iowa was at Estherville where we stoped and had lunch in the coach. Cody like the impressive city identifyer and wanted it recorded.

We arrived at the casino and found only 4 coaches in over 70 sites -- plenty of room. The casino was very big and only a couple years old, so it was a nice stop over. Plus, the site only cost $16 for the night which included breakfast -- a nice deal (of course, we made a donation at the casino!). We also enjoyed the site right on this small lake which was loaded with Canada geese.