Day 8 – Yellowstone to Tetons and back

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park

This is our 4th and final day at the wonderful West Yellowstone Grizzly campground which we grade a 5-star class resort campground.  On our 8th day of vacation but 4th day at Yellowstone we left the campground and drove down to the Tetons via Yellowstone and came out the South entrance.  We had paid $30 for a weeks entrance fee to Yellowstone which covered our fee to the Tetons NP as well.

Welcome to Tetons National Park
Welcome to Tetons National Park

This was supposed to be a 2.5 hour trip, but due to road construction and wildlife sitings it took closer to 3 hours to get to the entry of the Tetons NP.   There was a very nice young couple that asked us to take their photo together at the sign, and they reciprocated. with the photo here.  The park had been highly recommended, and it was obvious why once we got to the point where we could see the sharp snowy mountains the the clear calm lakes below.  It really was breathtaking.

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We arrived in the Tetons National Park around 1:00 pm local time and had lunch at a first class diner in the Signal Mountain Lodge.  The service was good and food was even better.   They had a few things that Steven could eat as well.  We had a blackberry pie for dessert which was AWESOME.   The waiter didn’t understand what blackberry cobbler was, so he wanted to clarify that this would be pie, not cobbler 🙂    I was happy with either.

We consumed about a 1/2 tank of gas making the round trip which consisted of an outer Yellowstone return to West Yellowstone Grizzly campground.   It took about 3 hours to get there, and we visited for about 3 hours, and the return trip was a bit longer since we took the long way back to see different scenery.   We saw more real life scenery coming back through Idaho back into Montana.   There were ranches, farms, and fields of “mint” that smelled wonderful.  We didn’t know what it was at first, but the aroma and a little google searching confirmed it was mint.

Please enjoy a few of the photos we took from today below.

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Day 7 Yellowstone – zip line and white water rafting

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Today was the day to do what our son had selected as his adventure for the trip.  When we were planning and budgeting, I told him that if he was going to some of the RV driving and all the toad driving at each destination on our “tour-de-America” trip, then I would join him on his selection.
He selected zip lining and white water rafting.  He signed up for both of us to do the zip lining first while the morning was still cool in the mountains.  The plan was for us to do the white water rafting adventure in the afternoon when the sun had heated the day up (but the water was still ice-cold).   I am not a high adventure kind of guy.  My idea of high adventure is to try to beat the crowd to the buffet.
all-on-the-platform-smallWe selected Montana WhiteWater in Gardiner Montana because they offer both adventures from the same location.   They are located just outside the North entrance at Yellowstone in a small little town of 600 population.   This was about 2 hours from our west side campground but is still a breathtaking view of scenery and wildlife.
Our zip line guides were Chris and Libby and they couldn’t have been better.  They made it seem like there was nothing to it and inspired confidence in even this old fat man.  One guide would go first to make sure to catch us as we get to each stop platform.  The other guide then would stay with us and make sure we were each properly connected to the line and send us off and join the group last at each landing.
The one detail that the didn’t tell us is that when we arrived at the last platform which was 60 feet off the ground, there are no steps to get down.   We had to free jump with nothing but a rope inside a self breaking pulley mechanism.  This old fat man did not like that part as it was a free fall for the first 1/2 the way down, then it worked by slowing you down before you hit the ground.  Clearly since I am writing this article, I lived to tell about it.
The white water adventure was later in the day after the sun had heated the day up.  The water was still around 50 degrees, but the company provided wet suites, and vinyl pull over coats that provided adequate insulation from the water.   That made the trip much more enjoyable.
use-this-one-3There were 4 rafts that took the tour at the same time with each raft having its own guide.  I found this to be fun once we were headed down the Yellowstone river.  This adventure to me was much more like work as we had to carry the raft to the river from the bus.  Then we had to do a lot of paddling forward and back during most of the trip.   I was quite tired and am now sore as a result of this activity.  However, All-in-all, it was fun.

Days 5-6 at Yellowstone

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Well, we arrived after a long day of driving from Mt. Rushmore via Rapid City to I-90 since there were width and height restrictions on hwy 385.  This cost us a few more miles, and time, but not worth the risk of having to back out of a tunnel that you don’t fit through.  We took I-90 from Rapid City to hwy 191 and drove down the mostly easy 2-way traffic but had wide lanes and very few hills to worry about.

We arrived at our reserved campsite at Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park.   The greeters were EXCELLENT, friendly and helpful.  We were concerned that we were arriving too late to check in at around 7:30 pm. but they stay open until 9:00 pm for late arrivals.   We had reserved a pull through site, and it was convenient to everything and only about 3 blocks from the West Entrance to Yellowstone NP.

Mike, Venita, Hanna, Hope, and Luke.
Mike, Venita, Hanna, Hope, and Luke.

Our good friends from our home town in Alabama had planned a very similar tour of the U.S. without our knowledge until they saw our post on facebook and they called to tell us they would be at Yellowstone for part of the same time we are here.   They gave us great tips on what to do and see and where to eat.   We met them for a meal the night we arrived and they seemed to have an abundance of good times to share with us.  I only wish we had more time to absorb some of their great stories.

 

We began our first real day of adventures by entering the park at around 6:30 a.m. on the West entrance and headed directly for the lower geyser basin which is the south loop through the NP.   We saw osprey perched in the top of a tree overlooking a river that you would expect to see people fly fishing in – shallow, wide and gently flowing.  Shortly after that we saw some buffalo followed by another buffalo or two, then a herd of buffalo, and some more buffalo scattered out among the flat areas before we saw the larger herd of buffalo.   Did I mention seeing buffalo too?

There were several basins, springs, geysers, and mud pots, heading to our primary site of seeing Old Faithful.   The NP is well marked with street signs and arrows pointing you in the right direction, but it does help to have one of their printed maps that we picked up at the campground.  There are also a few scattered gas stations and facility rooms around the park.  When we arrived at Old-Faithful we found a gift shop, restaurant, lodge, visitor center, and a bit of parking lot construction going on.  It was laid out and organized fairly well, but I don’t recommend driving the bit rig in, as it wasn’t THAT roomy.   The Visitor Center and gift shops posted when the next expected eruption was to take place and it was accurate to within a minute.

ONLINE-Old-Faithful-WebCamWhile we waited for the next eruption, I spotted the camera that the park uses for their live streaming web-cam of old-faithful. So as cheesy as it sounds, I called my friends back home to let them see that we were actually here safe and sound via their web browser.

Please enjoy these photos  of our tour in Yellowstone that we have enjoyed so much.   We have driven 681 miles in two days.  This covers both the North and South loops and Lamar Valley where we saw most of the wildlife.  We did get out for some short hikes, but mostly just site seeing, and taking hundreds (maybe thousands) of photos.

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4th day -Needles Highway and Wildlife Loop

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On our 4th day (Saturday) we are still at Horse Thief Campgrounds near Hill City SD.  This allowed us to visit Mt Rushmore quickly, and also was very close to Needles Highway and the Wildlife loop.  We took the whole day just to drive and see some AMAZING sites and spectacular scenic views.

Needles Highway viewing was highly recommended to be done “IN THE CAR/toad”, not the RV !!!  You would never make it through the tunnels which are barely big enough for a standard size pick up.  We witnessed several F250 go through and had to fold in their mirrors to keep from breaking them off.

We saw buffalo, prairie dogs. antelope, deer, turkey, sheep, and a lot of magnificent scenery.   It took an entire day to drive both routes, but was well worth it.  ( see photo album below ).   Then after we returned to Horse Thief campground we connected the toad in prep for leaving on Sunday morning around 6:00am trying to not wake everyone else up.   The diesel is loud enough without the clanking of hitches and chains that early.

View the small percentage of photos actually taken below.   Sunday we drove to Yellowstone.   Come back soon to hear about the adventures getting to Yellowstone from Mt. Rushmore.

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3rd day leaving Sioux Falls to Mt. Rushmore

The Falls from the viewing tower at Sioux Falls SD.
The Falls from the viewing tower at Sioux Falls SD.
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We got up early Friday morning, and disconnected the “toad”.  We drove the car from the Wal-Mart parking lot where we dry docked just off the Southern exit of I-29 and drove up I-29 a couple of exits to the Sioux Falls Park which was spectacular.  The park and the surrounding downtown area was just as we expected.  Clean, nice  friendly people, and beautiful.

After we walked around the entire city park and purchased a few souvenirs for the grand kids, we quickly drove back to the camper at Wal-Mart, hooked up and off we went to see Mt. Rushmore.

As we typically do, we drive a couple of hours then stop to stretch, and take care of any needs we have, fuel, coffee, restroom, etc.  and then back on the road.  We typically don’t stop for longer than 15 minutes just to get our blood flowing again.  However, on this particular trip we did want to see the Corn Palace, and Wall Drugs which we had heard about and saw a lot of bill boards on the way.   So we spent a little more time than usual seeing these “tourist trap” but very nice points to see along the way.

Wall-Drug-tourist-trap

 

It took approximately 8 hours time total including stretch breaks to arrive at the “Horse Thief” campground and RV resort.  We collectively give them a 4 out of 5 “shade trees”  score because the park was convenient to everything we wanted to do, and fairly easy to get to in our big rig with a toad.  However we don’t give it a 5 due to no internet access even though they offer it as included, it did not work at all.

MtRushmore-LitUp We arrived Friday night and got setup early enough to find our way to Mt. Rushmore for the nightly lighting and flag lowering ceremony.  It was AWESOME.  They had all the military in the audience come down and participate in the flag lowering ceremony and it was an intensely reverent few minutes.  Then they lit the monument and had a film documenting the reason each president was chosen to be honored and memorialized.  We then went back to the campground and slept soundly with plans to see Needles Highway and Wildlife Loop road on Saturday…… keep tuned.

 

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Second Day – Mt Vernon IL to Sioux Falls SD

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We started the day early (7:30 a.m.)  and were still a bit tired with only 5 hours sleep, but we are anxious to get on to the major points of interest.   While we were driving we saw things like the Kansas City Royals stadium, the St. Lois archway and a lot of interesting scenery. With Steven driving part of the way, we arrived at Sioux Falls SD at 10:00 p.m. but it was still pretty much daylight outside.  We dry docked in a Sam’s Club parking lot next to the Wal-Mart because there was still a lot of traffic in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

We saw deer, landscape that looked like “The Shire” in the Hobbit, two large round bails of hay in the middle of the interstate that apparently had just been dropped.  Everyone in front of me was slamming on their breaks, and I had to as well.  Just so happened Norma was up in the RV at the time, and she fell and cut her foot.  We also found that there is more sections of road IN ROAD CONSTRUCTION, than not. !!   Some spots I was sure we were going to hit the concrete barriers because they were so narrow.

Just as we were leaving Iowa and about to reach the South Dakota state line,  we were met with all our cell phones alarming a weather alert.  Tornado warnings, tornado in the area. (see images in the slide show).   So we pulled the RV off the interstate at the first exit along with all other interstate drivers.   We did see that the McDonald’s could accommodate large vehicles so we pulled in there and waiting till the excitement was over and the siren stopped alarming.   See slide show below for today’s photos.

Starting today with a drive to see the Falls at Sioux Falls.

Heading out – first stop Mt. Vernon IL.

We left out of the driveway at 6:30 pm ( intended to leave at 6:00 ) had blinker bulbtiny-loaded-ready-to-go issues.   Got all that worked out and was attempting to make it through Nashville avoiding rush hour traffic.  HA! apparently there is no non-rush hour in Nashville.

It rained just a tiny bit during the Nashville non-rush-hour leg of the trip. Other than that, everything was perfect.  The Newmar did an ourstanding job, and was very comfortable.

tiny-wal-mart-mt-Vernon-ILWe spent the night in the Wal Mart parking lot arriving at 1:30 am (very tired).  Slept well, and about to head out on day 2.

382 Miles into the trip and 7 hours behind us and a long way to go.

Embark on a new Adventure

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Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas — get ready, here we come.   We have been planning and budgeting for this trip for over a year now.  This is one of our “bucket list” dreams is to finish visiting all 50 of these Blessed United States.   After this trip we still lack Maine, and Connecticut.  However, this marks off a lot of the remaining states for us.   I can’t wait.

We have planned 3 weeks +/- of vacation time for me.  My wife gets every summer off from the school system so she won’t have to burn any of her vacation time.  We are leaving after I work a full day to get a head start on the first leg of our drive.   We hope to get to Mt. Vernon Illinois the first night, then wake up early to drive another 12 hours the next day to get to Mt. Rushmore.  Our 2 night stay should be enough to see the monument and take several photos and then head on to the lengthiest stay of our journey which will be Yellowstone National Park.

yellowstone3 yellowstone2yellowstone1

We hope to see a lot of Yellowstone, but realize that the size of the park is just too large to see everything.   Norma has planned for us to see the highlights at least.  Starting with Old Faithful,  Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Heyden Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake, North Geyser Basin, Lamar Valley, Tower Falls, Lower Geyser Basin, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and all the wildlife that we can photograph with a zoom lens.  You won’t hear about me on the news being trampled by a buffalo, or mauled by a bear.

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We will be using a combination of dry docking, or boondocking, and paid for locations at each park.  We plan to see Mount Rushmore first Rushmoreas we rotate counter clockwise through the country.  We have friends that have given us advise on what to see and how to navigate around the hills area.  I will post later where we stay at each stop and how it measured up to our standards.  We have everything booked, reserved and first night paid for at each stop.
Then we move on to Yellowstone National park and invest the largest single amount of time of our 3+ week tour.  We plan to stay 5 nights and 4 days to see as much as we can.   I have promised my co-workers that I will call them while standing in front of the live web-cam at “Old Faithful”  and wave so they can see that I haven’t been just making this up :-).  Check out the live streaming web cam here.
StHelensThen we move on to Mt St Helens in WA state.  This will be another 2 day drive from Yellowstone to Mt St Helens, and we will dry dock again one night to get us by until we get there.   Another webcam is available here but it is not a live streaming video feed, just a static image that refreshes every few minutes.  Still a nice view.
More to come……

Recent RV Adventure

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First RVing adventure of the season.

Well,
As usual the week started out beautiful, warm, and sunny as I witnessed from my office.  My wife is also off work this week for Spring Break so what better time to get in the RV, hook up the tow car (toad), and head out on another adventure.

Newmar Dutch Star

We wanted to go somewhere we haven’t been for a while.  We spent a couple of days searching, and reading reviews on several places within an hour or two from the house.  The decision we came to was to leave Thursday and stay the weekend at Desoto State Park in Fort Payne Alabama.   It has beautiful scenery, and is a difficult enough drive for us to test towing the car up mountains and around fairly tight curves and obstacles.

[Photos of RVing at Desoto State Park]

So, the 100% guaranteed forecast every time we go camping, it turned off rainy, foggy, and cold.   BUT ALAS, that did not deter us from our long awaited adventure and getting out and enjoying our RV.   So much for sunshine, and warm weather.  IT IS GOING TO RAIN IF WE GO RVing !!!!

Told you it was foggy !
Told you it was foggy !

We are very blessed to have several friends that decided to join us and we followed each other to the beautiful Desoto State Park.  Traffic was mild as we had hoped it would be since we decided to drive after the 8:00 rush hour was over.  We had no issues driving up the steep mountain other than one of those huge oversized crane’s that have 10 axles was going 15 miles per hour up the mountain to the campground.   When we arrived we were greeted with hostesses that were exceptionally helpful and friendly.

We were checked in by 10:30 in the morning and were driving to the pull through sites which both of us benefited from.  However once we got everything disconnected from the tow car, and his truck disconnected from his fifth-wheel.  We realized the sites were a little more uphill than they appeared.   My camper had to sit the front bumper on the ground by evacuating the air from the suspension, while raising the back jacks to the point that the rear tires are just barely off the ground <yikes>.   But, again, I am happy to be RVing with my wife and friends.

After about an hour of levelling, and hooking up electric, water, sewer, and putting the slides out.   We also stretched out the awnings for the first time since last season.   I ALWAYS get my wife to check the faucets while I turn the water on ( read other pages to find out why ).  The kitchen faucet blew completely off the sink due to over pressure and it appears it may have frozen and cracked over the winter.   Anyway, no big deal, there is a Lowes at Fort Payne and we picked up a repair part and replaced the sink nozzle.

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Our friends also were working out some kinks from their winter storage too.   They got settled in just to find out they have no hot water.   So we worked with that for a short while.   GOOGLE is great for troubleshooting, but in this case everyone who posted their problems, and their fixes were all unique.   Nothing in common with his problem.  So my fall back strategy is to take things apart one screw at a time until I find the problem.

We checked fuses, circuit breakers, power, tried lighting the gas pilot light with a manual charcoal starting lighter.  All to no avail.   I started taking things apart to see deeper into the problem, and the only thing I noticed was that their was a normal oxidation from being an outside appliance.  There was normal wear and tear from a gas burning element which left a little rust like residue inside the burner tube.   We vacuumed that out, and cleaned everything we could find with a steel bristle tooth-brush.  When we put it all back together we asked the ladies to turn it on and see what might happen, and POOF.   It light right up immediately which I wasn’t really expecting because we didn’t really do anything but scrub off the oxidation and put it back together.

Summary after thought was that cleaning everything and tightening everything back must have grounded wires back to a better surface connection.   For whatever reason, it works so we took credit for fixing it like we knew what we were doing.  Our wives were happy that their skilled men fixed a critical and life dependency for hot water.

No better day than today to go RVing!   I love my camping adventures.!!!!

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Learn from our Years of RV Experience

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Retiring and travelling the country in a 42 foot RV and towing a “dinghy” was not alwaysUnited States Visited our dream.  But, as we get close to the point of retirement we find that there are many benefits and positive reasons that point us in this direction.   We looked for an affordable class A RV for years, and our standards were higher than our savings.  We eventually found one that was exactly what we wanted, and in our price range.

As many of you may have done, we started our camping adventures at a young age.  We began in our 20’s when our young son was in the Scouts and our daughter was too young to believe that girls don’t go camping.  She picked that idea up later in life around 12.tent_

Tent Camping

We began with a SMALL tent which was all we could afford, but was also required by the Boy Scout program.   This was great for hiking for miles up-hill both ways to and from the camp site.  We learned after the first trip that an inflatable mattress was also an essential part of our camping gear.

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Pop-up Camping

After my wife and our daughter slept,  ooooh I would say about 30 minutes,  in the scout tent they decided it was time to graduate to the next level.  This was in the late 1980s and pretty much ended our dream of “living off the land”.   So we invested all our life savings into a Coleman pop-up camper that we pulled behind our Pontiac Bonneville  until I could afford a truck worthy of towing our new prized possession.

An image of our first REAL CAMPER.  had an air conditioner, an awning, and one side was a king size sleeper mattress !!!!   Who could ever need anything more than that ?

1980 Coleman Pop Up
1980 Coleman Pop Up

This worked for years, and we enjoyed many trips together to enjoy family time together.  We went so far as to take a two week summer trip from our home in North Alabama to stay one night on the Pacific Coast in Los Angeles at Will Rogers State Beach.

Along with us and a few Volkswagon love buses 🙂 like this one. california-love-wagon  The campground was nice when looking at the coast, and the wife and kids enjoyed it immensely.   Then there was the hourly passenger train that blew by the campground at about 100 miles per hour and the Ventura Freeway that was just beyond the tracks.  Then there were the portable potties that had not been emptied in a couple of decades and the gentle ocean breeze that was trying to use my pop-up as a kite.  But other than that, we all loved it.

Oh yea,  there was an issue with the exit that we needed to take to get off of the interstate was closed for construction.  The next exit put is smack dab in the middle of down town L.A.   Did I mention we were in a pick up towing a pop-up with Alabama License Plates ????   The fact that we were lost, and going 1/2 the posted speed limit when everyone else wanted to go about twice the speed limit led to a lot of interesting and educational gestures from the onlookers.

Other than that, it really was the most memorable family vacation we had ever taken.

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Travel Trailer

Jumping forward in time to the mid 1990’s we decided that going to the bath house to use the restroom or take showers was unacceptable because we can’t allow anyone to see us before we are beautifully adorned.   It would be embarrassing to have others think we are less than perfectly groomed and clothed with our wrinkle free pressed shirts and polished shoes – right?

So for our next step in the maturing process ( speaking of camping equipment of course ) was to upgrade to something that require stabilizers, and a larger truck to pull.  It must have a bathroom, couch for a nap, and a TV for “the game”.

My parents had a 28 foot airstream camper and a membership to one of the nicest resort campgrounds on Guntersville Lake.  We figured if we spend all our money on a used ( but new to us ) camper to fit in with the upper crust membership only camping clubs.  We purchased a 1989 Holiday Rambler which was a very nice, very well built, but very heavy camper.holiday-rambler-image

We pulled this Holiday Rambler ( named “HOLLY” by my wife ) with a Chevy extended cab Silverado truck for several years.  We pulled this one to Orlando to Disney World, and Pensacola Florida with my parents where we were entertained every day by some gentleman who was very talented with the bagpipes.  But, Alas,  The pain finally hit when our children both reached their teens that this too was not large enough to meet our needs.  All the other camper owners had a new technology called “slide outs” which made the living area and bedrooms actually larger that our brick and mortar home !   Even though we had many good times, adventures, and experiences in the Holiday Rambler we were undersized yet again.


We soon moved up to a larger 1998 Sunny Brook camper (named Sonny) with slide out and everything.  This was to support our growing family and had much more room to relax and take naps, and enjoy time with the family.2001-Sunnybrook

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RV and Dinghy camping

We have good friends who have a motor home, and enjoy towing a dinghy behind them as they travel all over the country.   This is what we hoped to be able to do in our retirement years.  In 2014 we were blessed to accidentally find the motor home of our dreams.  We had been looking for years, but not with any real hopes of finding anything we wanted AND could afford.   We just continuously browsed the internet in a daze, dreaming like a child would do before Christmas.

One Friday evening I was just cruising the internet, and Google searching for motor homes for sale by owner, and bank repo’s and the like.   Mostly dreaming and killing time before bed.  To my surprise and shock I found something unusual.  More like suspiciously wrong!

Normally I could divide my findings in to two categories.
(1) Junk that I would not want, and
(2) what I want but couldn’t afford.

We wanted a Class A RV similar to our friends, and preferred a diesel pusher RV due to long trip durability.  It had to be new enough to have slide-outs and plenty of room for grand children.   We really wanted something that would last through our retirement years that we were about to enter.

For the first and only time I found one that crossed the boundaries of both categories.   One that we could afford, and it was what we wanted.  Class A RV, low miles, like new, had been in the garage most of its life, and was close to where we lived.

Well, you can imagine my doubts, and I called my wife in to show here just to make sure I wasn’t delusional.  She read the ad, and didn’t see anything wrong either except what is one this nice doing at that price??????  The motor must be frozen up, or no transmission or something.  We just are not that lucky.

I called the owner because we both had agreed that something must be wrong or a typo in the ad or something.  When the owner answered the first question after confirming I had the correct number was “What’s wrong with it?”.   He promptly said nothing and explained his need to quickly sell the motor home.   It was a terribly sad story that I won’t go into, and that in itself made me feel guilty about the reason he was selling it.

Well, I quickly got over that, and we took off like Batman leaving the bat-cave, and drove to look at it.   It was about an hours drive, and it was as nice as the photos represented it to be.  We took it for a spin and the owner let everything in it go with it.  We also got lawn chaGSV-motorhome-shotirs, lights, dishes, coffee maker, silverware, aluminium foil, tools, grill, etc.

When we sealed the deal and purchased it, we immediately drove it to Monte Sano State Park and only purchased food items and enjoyed a fully stocked motor home without needing anything else.  My wife named this one “Newman” since it is a Newmar Dutch Star.   She names every vehicle and becomes personally attached to them. (nuts I know but I still love her)

GSV-anothersunsetWe love to watch sunsets over Guntersville Lake State Park, and drive up to the lodge (walking is out for me – too old and fat).   Either way when you get there the view is breathtaking.

 

Our motor home is down there somewhere 🙂

GSV-view-from-lodge2015
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