On being gone

Life changed dramatically for Leslie and I this year. On January 12th our first grand child was born to our son Patrick and his wife Mysha. Ronan Michael Baker may be the cutest kid ever, of course I may also be slightly biased.

I stepped down from my role as Group President for ASSA ABLOY EMS & HS on March 1st. I have been with Securitron since 1984, we sold to ASSA ABLOY in 1998 so it has been a great run. But time for me to dedicate to Leslie and the family.

We leased our home in Phoenix the beginning of May and moved full time into our 44′ long Newmar Dutch Star! So we are on the move and look forward with great joy to spending more time with friends we have made all over this country. Hope so see you on the road

Reno/ Sparks area – July 1 through August 26, 2020 – Part 1: General stay details

This is an older picture, but some of my friends have asked that it be posted so they could understand what we live in

There will be 3 parts to my Reno/Sparks posts. This first post will cover some basic stay details and an overview. The next post will cover our Grandson Ronan and our time with Patrick and Mysha. The third post will give a few photos and details of our visits with our friends there.

Leslie’s sourdough pancakes, made from the base sourdough starter she has, were a big hit with me and anyone else who had tried them.

After a one night stopover in Elko, we arrived in the Reno/Sparks area for our extended stay on July 1. We booked a spot at our preferred area RV Park, Sparks Marina RV Park, and stayed there the entire month of July. The location is convenient, pretty central to all of Sparks and Reno, with nice shopping and amenities close by. While the RV Park itself is not super high end, it does all the basics well and the sites are just large enough to entertain outdoors, which is always important, but particularly so during these COVID times. Normally the month of July is “Art-town” for Reno with wonderful music, shows, local art, and other festivities but it was basically cancelled for obvious reasons.

Patrick, Mysha and Ronan came to our coach our 2nd evening. We hadn’t seen them in months and it was great to spend so much time with them.
Patrick made these “whiskey” cookies for us. While I’m not much of a drinker these were delicious

The Reno area is our legal domicile as we lived there full time for 18 years, and our son Patrick lives there with his wife Mysha and our grandson Ronan. Also many of our best friends live there, so this area really is home for us. And in addition to our long time friends who live there, we also had our new friends Mike & Bridgette Lancaster meet us there for a couple of weeks. They are also full timers (or are about to be) in a beautiful Newmar London Aire, which is a step up luxury wise from our Newmar Dutch Star (which is still a fabulous rig).

Lexi (Mike & Bridgette’s cute Pomeranian dog decided my recliner was now hers.

After a month at Sparks Marina we moved over to the RV Park at GSR (Grand Sierra Resort). GSR is a casino/resort in the middle of Reno. We stay there in part when we have friends coming in from out of town, which in this case were our Sacramento based best buds, Rich & Dominic. While Dom & Rich were there a reunion of sorts was set up from our river cruise last October. Jim & Ruthie Garaventa hosted a quasi pot luck in their backyard for those of us in the area who were on the cruise. Darren Krok also flew up for a couple of days from Phoenix, but we were still staying at Sparks Marina at the time.

We did not enjoy the GSR RV Park as much as Sparks Marina, but it was still fine. We will only stay there in the future if we have out of town friends staying the the hotel there.

We left GSR on August 11 and moved over to the RV Park at Gold Ranch. Gold Ranch is right at the Nevada/California border just off I-80. This was our first stay at this park and it is spacious and has more of a camping feel than the city central places. It is about 15 miles west of downtown Reno, and there isn’t much in the local area. So extra driving is required almost no matter where you go, but at least the traffic is very light. Otherwise the park is very nice with large spots and is right next to the mountains with some great hiking right near by. This was hampered some by the wildfires which had started in mid-August and made everything so smoky any outdoor activities were tough. We finally left the are August 26 already missing our friends and family, and looking forward to our next stay.

Heber City, Utah – June 22 to June 30, 2020

January of this year we stayed in Chandler, near Phoenix, and met a couple in another Dutch Star right next to ours. Jordy and Kim have since become great friends. They live in Salt Lake City and recommended this RV Park about 45 minutes away from the city in Heber City, which is actually very close to Park City.

As soon as we arrived we knew we found a real gem. The town around the RV Park is small and quaint but still has every type of store and convenience as it is a year round tourist area. The RV Spaces are very large compared to most, level and have quality hook-ups. The back area of the park has even larger spaces that are completely cement allowing for a large entertainment area around each coach. Also the back area has a separate pool, and other features that are adult only if you’re looking to be separate from the little ones. I even played my first round of golf in 5 months while there. I was supposed to play again later in the week with Jordy, but the weather turned on us and we never made it.

Leslie and I were there for eight nights and on only our 2nd day knew we liked it enough that we reserved a spot in the back area for the entire month of June, 2021! we got to know some of our neighbors walking around the park, including a couple in a 2002 Prevost conversion that still looked high end and had a unique orange paint job. We had noticed their distinctive rig during our stay at Elkhorn Ridge in South Dakota, and sure enough it was the same rig. Lisa and Tag are from the Portland area and because of COVID he is on hiatus from his job as a pilot for Alaska Airlines. We had a really nice evening over cocktails. Drinks were spilled & glasses were broken, so you know a good time was had.

Kim and Jasmine. Jasmine is a Bichon Frise breed.

As Jordy and Kim live only 45 minutes away they wanted us to drive to their place for dinner and to see their airplane hanger. The hanger doesn’t have an airplane inside, instead it is Jordy’s extreme workshop/garage. Jordy and family have been avid Motocross racers and extreme climbers for many years. The hanger houses all of his bikes, machinery to build parts of any description, and all around toy shop. He also stores his Dutch Star in there when they’re not on the road.

Jordy’s hanger. That’s Jordy on the left and me drooling next to him

Jordy and Kim also drove their rig out to see us and spent a few nights at Mountain Valley as well. Jordy is very handy and fixed a broken grate stuck in one of our slides, a latch on one of my slide out trays in the storage under the coach, and showed me how to use my high pressure hot water outlet and air pressure outlet. We made them dinner and drinks in return and had a great time together. I would say we had such a great time that Kim had to go back to her coach at 7:00 pm one evening as she had started a little too early on the “good time” part of the evening, and the same evening we had to walk Jordy back as he was none too steady himself!

The great Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah near the border of Nevada.

We left Mountain Valley, excited that we are going back next year, and started on our final legs to get to Reno. We stopped briefly to view the salt flats, and spent one night in Elko at an RV Park as the drive was further than we wanted to do in one day. But next we arrived in Reno/Sparks to see our son Patrick, his wife Mysha and their adorable son Ronan. Plus of course our many close friends from when we lived there. All about the nearly 2 months we spent in Reno/Sparks on my next posts.

Mt. Rushmore & The Kellys come to South Dakota

The main reason we wanted to spend time in the Rapid City area was our desire to see Mt. Rushmore and spend some time in Custer State Park. But the next major trip was planned to see the city of Deadwood, basically a tourist version of the original mining city featured in the HBO TV show and of course the place Wild Bill Hickok was killed. But we spent very little time there as most other visitors were not wearing masks and not respecting social distancing. I don’t think we missed much as we did walk through the main street and it is really just hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

No caption needed

As Leslie was talking on the phone with her sister Kelly, Kelly expressed that she and her husband Pat have also always wanted to visit the area. Since schools were closed and social interaction locally was so limited, Pat, Kelly and their younger son Devin decided to drive the 20+ hours and almost 1,400 miles to stay in one of the cabins that are also at the RV Resort we were parked at, Elkhorn Ridge.

Gathering around the fire pit. Leslie took the photo as Pat & Kelly sat opposite me to observe social distancing. That is Devin in the background taking a selfie of the lightning behind him.

We had a great time with the Kellys but were basically limited to hanging out. They went out one day and visited some of the places we had already seen, like The Badlands, Wall Drug, and Deadwood. The evenings were fun as Devin picked up a bunch of firewood and we sat outside around great fires he built in the designated pits at the RV Park. The only detriment (and frankly part of the fun) was the weather every evening was very windy, rainy and sometimes incredible lightning storms across the mountains around us.

It got cold but that didn’t stop Leslie from toasting everyone
Devin builds a great fire

On the day we visited Mt Rushmore we first wanted to do the a similar large mountain sculpture in the same general area of Chief Crazy Horse. Leslie and I paid $24 to enter the Memorial (the Kellys paid $30 as they had a third person the their car), but it turns out this only gives you access to the museums. You have to pay an extra $4 per head for a bus ride further up the hill to see the monument up close! Well we barley went in the museum as it was crowded and had the same mask problem as Deadwood, Wall Drug and almost everyplace else. And we certainly weren’t getting on a public bus to go further up the hill! It also felt like a bait and switch ripoff just to get more money from us. As it was we spent $54 between and saw almost nothing.

Crazy Horse Memorial - Wikipedia
The Chief Crazy Horse Monument
Yes we really were there

We left the Crazy Horse Memorial and drove over to the Mt Rushmore monument. To make a long story short (since it is basically a repeat story) it also was too crowded with too may people not wearing masks. But I wore mine and got as close as I could away from the crowds and had a nice view and took some nice photos. But we didn’t do the museum or gift shops as we normally would and left within 20 minutes of arrival.

It really is even more amazing in person

We next drove through Custer State Park with some fabulous view spots. We even ran into a traffic jam of the Bison variety as they blocked the road for a while. Although I have complained about the negative effects of the pandemic and the lax attitude of many people in the area, it was still a fun and memorable trip.

Oh give me a home…
A traffic jam South Dakota style

The Kellys left the next day to head south, then back west for home. Leslie and I left a couple of days later. We were heading for Utah, but stopped at the KOA in Rawlins, Wyoming for a couple of really boring nights to break up the trip. The only nice part of the trip was there was massive numbers of antelope in view from the highways. Leslie stayed on watch the entire drive to make sure none dashed in front of the rig. It worked as we didn’t hit even one antelope the entire drive!

One of thousands of antelope we saw.

The Badlands are Bad, man

OK, OK, I know this title is a little trite. And not even that accurate really. But it popped into my head as we were driving through The Badlands National Park and it tickled me, so I’m sticking with it.

10 Rugged Facts About Badlands National Park | Mental Floss
The Badlands

As I said on a prior post we spent 2 weeks in the southwest corner of South Dakota and became very enamored with the entire area, especially the nature areas like The Badlands, the Black Hills, Custer State Park, and of course Mt. Rushmore. Our first outing was to The Black Hills, referenced in a prior post. The next outing was to the little town of Wall and then a drive through the Badlands.

Wall Drug
Much larger than this photo shows, the entire place covers several blocks.

The town of Wall is about 40 miles east of Rapid City and at the entrance to The Badlands. The fame of the town rests exclusively with Wall Drugs, a very large tourist type store (or more accurately a series of shops inside a larger store). It became popular due to the innovation of free ice water and cheap coffee, both of which apply to this day. It has expanded to a several block area as it became very popular and now is a tourist destination. The only problem for us was (as Leslie likes to say) “COVID ruins everything”. Even in the midst of the pandemic the store and area were pretty crowded and almost no one was wearing a mask (expect us and the store employees). Granted this area had yet to experience any outbreaks of significance, but we were not comfortable and spent almost no time there, only going inside for less than a minute before leaving.

Wall Drug Store, Inc. | Travel South Dakota
Inside one of the Wall Drugs shops

The entrance to The Badlands is just down the road from the town of Wall. A couple of years ago I bought a Lifetime Senior Pass for entrance to all National Parks and National Monuments. It has come in handy several times and this was another.

The entire Park is a vast, rugged and harsh environment. But also truly stunning.

The entire park really is stunning and more interesting than I expected. It isn’t tree filled like many other National Parks, but it still represents a unique and fascinating ecosystem. The views were spectacular in every direction and there was more wildlife than I expected, mostly in the form of Bison and bighorn sheep. We saw many more Bison later in the Custer State Park, but this was still very cool

Bison (Buffalo is NOT the correct name) still roam the wide open Badlands

Contrary to the song “Home on the Range,” buffalo do not roam in the American West. Instead, they are indigenous to South Asia (water buffalo) and Africa (Cape buffalo), while bison are found in North America and parts of Europe. … 

So how do you tell the difference between buffalo and bisonBison have large humps at their shoulders and bigger heads than buffalo. They also have beards, as well as thick coats which they shed in the spring and early summer. Another simple way to tell a buffalo from a bison is to look at its horns

Bighorn sheep are the other large mammal roaming the badlands in large numbers. Leslie walked up pretty close for this picture

Enough mammal lessons for now! Anyway I just copied most of the info from the internet. More on our stay in southwest South Dakota soon.

Spearfish, South Dakota – near Rapid City- Elkhorn Ridge RV Park- June 6-20, 2020

Leslie had wanted to go this area ever since I can remember. We found this RV Park through Newmar, who recommended it as ideal for big rigs like ours. The park was very large and the sites were also large and easy to use. The RV Park also had a few cabins so we could get non-RV vacationers (which we had later from Leslie’s sister Kelly, her husband Pat and their youngest son Devin).

Leslie takes a selfie with me, Bridgette, Mike and of course little Lexi

On our drive back west from Indiana we met another Newmar couple who had been at the Service Center the same time as us and they had arrived at Elkhorn Ridge a few days before we did. Mike and Bridgette have a very nice London Aire which is a step above our Dutch Star. We became good friends very quickly and they also planned to meet up with us when we got to Reno in mid-July. We even went out to dinner one night with them, making only the second time we went out since late February, and the first with another couple. The bad part was that we were severely chastised by our daughter Madison for not being COVID compliant.

Lexi, the adorable dog that travels with Mike & Bridgette.

The area around Spearfish/Rapid City is filled with tourist attractions and parks. Of course the most well known is Mount Rushmore, but also in close driving distance is The Black Hills, Custer State Park, The Badlands National Park, the tourist city of Deadwood, and the famous Wall Drug store.

Our first hike was to the Spearfish Canyon Falls

The first outing we did was a hike to the Spearfish Canyon Falls, which Leslie found through an hiking app named “AllTrails”. This app has turned out to be very handy as it gives details of all of the hiking areas around your location, including descriptions and ratings. The hike had more altitude changes than we expected but offered great views and while it provided a good workout wasn’t too difficult. And the views and nature trails were worth the hike.

The hike was about a mile each way and well worth the effort
The Spearfish Canyon Falls in the Black Hills area

I will cover our visits to other areas in separate posts to avoid making any post too long. While we loved the RV Park the only negative was the heavy winds and lightning storms, which never seemed to end. In our two weeks there we had heavy winds every evening but 3, although the weather during the day was mostly very pleasant.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota – June 1-5, 2020

After only one night in Madison we moved on to South Dakota for almost 3 weeks. Our first (of two) stops was in Sioux Falls. We stayed at another KOA right on the city edge. As I mentioned previously Leslie suffered a rib pull injury on our way east towards Newmar in Indiana. By the time we arrived in Sioux Falls she was still in so much pain we started to worry it might be more serious. So Leslie found a local Urgent Care and they were able to see her that very afternoon. I wasn’t able to go with her due to COVID restrictions, but she was very pleased with the kindness and service she received there. They didn’t find anything more serious than we thought which was great news. The only cure was time and being careful. She actually started to really improve while we were in Sioux Falls and we were able to see a couple of sights.

A long view of the falls
Close up on the largest drop

South Dakota was one of only two states I had never been to, so after this visit only North Dakota remains. While the largest city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls still only has less than 200,000 people. But it is modern with some nice things to see and friendly people. The most striking thing to see in the city is of course the falls which are easily accessible and part of a great park complex called (shockingly) Falls Park. It is also the home to Smithfield Foods, a very large national processed meat supplier for brands like Farmer John, Nathan’s, Armour and many others.

The restaurant we went to was located inside a converted farm equipment supplier. But farming is still a large part of the states economy

As we were there starting the beginning of June many businesses had started to open again and South Dakota had not had much of a breakout of COVID. So we decided to go out to dinner at a local casual restaurant for the first time in 3 months. While all the employees were wearing masks, and the closet table to us was about 12 feet away, Leslie and I still din’t feel fully comfortable and decided to not do this again for a while. While we limited our adventures in the area we still enjoyed it and would gladly go back.

Dinner out finally! This view form our table shows how many tables have been removed for social distancing.

May 31, 2020 – Leave Newmar for Madison, WI at the Madison KOA

After we picked up our coach on Friday the 30th we were allowed to stay one more night at the Newmar Service Center RV Park, and left on Saturday. Leslie has always wanted to go to the Rapid City, South Dakota area as that not only is the home of Mt. Rushmore, but also Custer State Park, the Black Hills, Badlands Park, Sturgis and Deadwood. So we started our journey back west by first going northwest up through the Chicago area and on to Wisconsin to take I-90 across the northern states.

Of course first we had to get out of Indiana. While we mostly enjoyed the state, the tolls on the freeways were crazy. We got on I-80 near South Bend and in only about 80 miles we went through 3 tolls that cost a combined $60! We were charged as a 5 axle vehicle, the 3 axles on our motorhome plus the 2 axles on our Jeep that we tow. Illinois had their tolls too, but were much more reasonable.

Driving through the Chicago area is always interesting as it has one of the great sky lines in this country as we left I-80 and went north on I-35. The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful expect for the amount of roadkill we saw in Wisconsin. It seemed as if there was a roadkill deer on the side of the freeway every 5-10 miles. We saw a road sign that said 18,000 deer were killed on the road last year, or an average of about 50 a day!

The sign in front of the cheese shop

The Madison KOA was fine, but with the real draw was the Cheese shop right near the entrance. So we put on our masks and went over. We picked up some of the best cheese either of us has ever had. The store wasn’t allowing free samples anymore, everyone was wearing masks and the counter staff was behind Plexiglas.

5 nights in Nappanee

In truth only our coach was all 5 nights in Nappanee, as Leslie and I spent 4 nights in the Fairfield Inn in Goshen, Indiana. But I liked this title for the blog so I’m sticking with it.

Welcome to Nappanee

Nappanee, Indiana is the location of Newmar, the manufacturer of our motorhome. As I have referenced in prior blogs we went back at the end of our one year ownership anniversary in order to get some warranty items worked on plus some other modification we wanted to make to the coach. They have a full service RV park at their repair facility and the normal procedure is they come get the coach every morning at 6:00 am and return it to the RV Park at 2:30 pm that same afternoon. This is repeated as long as your repairs or other work continues. But thanks to COVID normal procedures don’t apply. We originally planned to use the time every day to be tourists in north central Indiana, maybe even going into Chicago for a day as it’s only a couple hours away. But this is not possible for us during lock-down times, and although some states had started to open up again when we arrived on May 25th, Leslie and are are playing it safe and only going out when required, mostly for groceries and always wearing masks.

The Newmar RV Park at their Service Center
This part of Indiana is very much farm country, and in this case it appears to be an Amish or Mennonite farm

So we decided to stay at a nearby hotel and that way we could stay in the room as needed or go out if we felt safe. Leslie had suffered an injury to some ligaments in her ribs (by reaching out too far for something while driving and belted in place) and we wanted to restrict her movement anyway to expedite her healing process. This also allowed Newmar to keep the coach in their shop at night saving 15 minutes at the front and back of each day allowing them to get more done faster.

There are no freeways in this area, all the roads look just like this and if you run across the buggies you pass very carefully

The whole north central Indian area is just beautiful and very quaint. The Amish and Mennonites dominate much of the area around Nappanee (which is very small), but the area is still modern in most respects. The biggest difference is the many Amish driving the roads in their horse and buggy combination. Parking lots have spaces for cars and separate areas for horses, like a hitching post. The only real outing we had was a trip to a local market/deli run by local Amish families (or just women as that’s all we saw in the store). We got fantastic sandwiches, but we didn’t buy anything in the market. I would love to go back and shop there as it is filled with all local products and produce. For example: flour; many different types of pickled vegetables; pasta; candied; jarred preserves; etc., etc.. Also there were cabinet and wood working small businesses all over the area. We hope to go back next year post COVID and really see the area.

A Napenee traffic jam
The parking lot of a local deli/market

Back to the main reason we were there, our coach. We have been very happy with Elsie, our Newmar Dutch Star, since we picked her up at the end of May 2019. And the few times we called Newmar for help they were always great. But this visit really went to the top of proving our good feelings. The was no argument (or even really discussion) on our punch list. They just dove in and fixed everything. They also had quoted us pretty high prices for the modifications we wanted, but actually only charged us per hour and the cost ended up being about 75% less than they had quoted! They sent us an email update every afternoon telling what actions they had taken that day. Of course the pandemic plus Leslie’s injury put a bit of a damper on things, but all in all the entire visit was beyond our expectations. We will be going back.

Inside the Newmar Service Center

Indio to Indiana Part 2: Amarillo; Oklahoma City; Marshfield, MO; Effingham, Illinois;

We left Albuquerque early on the morning of May 19 to continue our journey east to what most Newmar owners call “The Mother-ship”, the Newmar Service Center in Napenee, Indiana.

The drive through New Mexico, the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma had one distinctive characteristic: armadillo road kill. It seems like we saw one every few miles. Other than that while the countryside is pretty but there isn’t much going on. And with COVID we didn’t feel comfortable stopping at any of the roadside attractions.

Our next stop was at Big Tex RV Park in Amarillo. I had never been there before but that previous day they announced they had a large COVID breakout in the meat packing plants there so we decided to hold up in our rig and never went outside of the park. The only other point of note was an employee of the park pounding on our door after 8:00 pm to tell us the guide who showed us to our spot took us to the wrong spot. They just took the new customer to the spot originally intended for us so we didn’t have to move. This employee just wanted to emphasize that the other employee who took us to our spot had messed up. Strange.

Two nights in Amarillo then on to Oklahoma City and the Mustang Run RV Park. OKC is a terrific city but again we didn’t really see a thing. Nice park though. This was followed by a short overnight stop at a roadside RV Park in Marshfield, MO named RV Express. This place was interesting in that is was just designed as a one night roadside stopover for people like us. Served its purpose but not much else to say.

The nightly Mississippi

Our last stop was part of Harvest Host again. Tuscan Hills Winery in Effingham, IL was still closed for COVID but told me via email they were fine with us stopping there for the night on our way across the state. It is a beautiful property and there were actually 3 other RVs staying in their parking lot that night. We were sorry they were closed but will certainly go there again if we get a chance.

Notice that Illinois and Indiana are fighting over Lincoln.

Indio to Indiana– Part 1: Phoenix, Flagstaff and Albuquerque

Before all the pandemic closures we had made plans and reservations to take Elsie, our Motorhome, back to the Newmar factory in Napanee, Indiana for the one year maintenance and some simple warranty issues. For a while we figured that wasn’t going to happen and were worried our one year warranty date would pass and we lose any claims. But with the exception of a de-laminated window issue our problems were pretty minor. But as time went on, the factory reopened with what we thought were strong safety measures, and they told us they were honoring our claims. So we decided to drive Elsie back and break up the monotony of our days if nothing else.

We did a lot of planning and set up enough time for us to drive 250-350 miles per day and stop for 2 nights in some places to make the trip easier and more relaxing. So we left on Saturday May 16 for our 1st stop in Candler, Arizona which is just outside of Phoenix. We stayed at the Motorcoach Resort, where we have stayed several times. On the evening we arrived our oldest son James drove down and brought 2 pizzas, one for us and one for him. We sat outside to maintain social distance but had a great time and really enjoyed seeing him in person again. The next morning our good friend Butch came by early for a quick cup of coffee before we hit the road for Flagstaff.

The drive to Flagstaff from Phoenix is just about 3 hours and we stayed at the KOA in Flagstaff. Decent place but nothing special. We were only there for one night and didn’t leave the RV Park.

Leslie has traveled extensively in her life but this was her first time in the state of New Mexico

The next morning we left for Albuquerque. Our good friends Darrell and Nancy Frisse live there and have an alley type of area right next to their house. So we were able to squeeze our rig into that alley and spent the night there. They made a terrific dinner that we had outside on their large patio that included some roasted vegetables and a sauce that I have now stolen and will call my own in the future. While there we also had one of our group video chats with our mutual friends Dominic, Rich, Joe and Craig. Even though we didn’t go into their house, and stayed at least 6 feet away from them, it was great to spend some time in person with these wonderful people.

Darrell & Nancy in front of Elsie, which is parked in an alley next to their house