*****

Idaho Sunset 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

Let the month begin


Our drive from Victor, Idaho, just outside Grand Tetons National Park, to Valley View RV Park in Island Park Idaho, was only 90 miles, and went quite smoothly.

I like it when we take our time driving across a state on the smaller two lane highways because we get to really see the countryside, and understand more about an area than we could from Interstate highways. The Interstates are wonderful if you need to go long distances quickly, or if you already know an area quite well and the destination is more important than the journey. All of my life, Idaho has just been a funny shaped western state that produced my favorite potatoes for baking. Now after a couple of weeks camping in her parks, I have come to appreciate this beautiful state, and have many treasured images of her countryside.

Valley View RV will be our home base for the month of July as we explore Yellowstone National Park and the many special places nearby. 

But we are not rushing over to Yellowstone these first few days of the month. Many working people and families choose the weeks before and the week after the Fourth of July holiday for their vacation period. I know the park will still be crowded after this time, but we can wait for some of them to go back home.


When we arrived at the park on Wednesday, we were surprised to see two other Alfas, one in the spot next to us! After getting settled in I notice the lady outside and went out to say hello. What a wonderful treat! Betty had just found my blog the day before by following the link to the post about the radiator, that Craig had put onto the Alfa DP Yahoo group. She then went back and read some of my other posts when she realized we were heading her way. 

I called Craig out, and she got her husband Joe to join us. After introductions the men started chatting, and Betty and I gabbed like old friends. We all went into their Alfa See Ya, and spent a great two or three hours together. What great people! They will be here until the 9th, so we are sure to have some fun times. I hope we get a chance to meet the people in the third Alfa before they leave. If I see them out I will stop by.


I've mentioned my love of fun socks before, and I am always on the look out for new ones to add to my collection. I bought both of these in the Lodge at the Grand Tetons. Maybe they will bring me luck and I will see a real moose this month.







Odds and ends: although we limit our shopping to "essential" items, there are still a lot of little things we need to procure. We use Amazon Prime and other online shopping venues for many purchases we can't find in local stores, or just don't feel like looking for. However, when we are moving frequently, or staying in state, national, or local parks, getting Amazon deliveries can be a little tricky. We can easily get our mail forwards at US Post Offices, but UPS and FedEx are not generally delivered there. This is no problem at most commercial RV parks, UPS delivers to the office, so we try to wait until we are at one before placing orders. If something is not needed ASAP, it goes on the Amazon wish list.

Today was order day, and next week will be like Christmas with a dozen things arriving both from Amazon and other vendors. We were also able to request a mail forward here. It's nice to have an address again!

Every time I ignored the dust buildup on the window frames, I promised myself I would do detailed cleaning of the Alfa once we were settled here. Thursday afternoon I washed half of the inside windows, and Craig did the same on the outside. Friday I did the other half in the morning before the sun heated up the windows on that side. 

The weather has been nice for that kind of job. The air temperatures are in the 70°s - 80°s, and the sky has been crystal blue. This is a good place.


Neighbor at Valley View CG 
For my Wisconsin friends: the best flag to fly below the Stars and Stripes!













Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Near the Grand Tetons National Park

We stayed for several days at the Teton Valley RV park in the little town of Victor, Idaho. It is just west of the Teton Pass which leads to Jackson Hole and the park itself. Because our next stop is also on the Idaho side of the parks, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, we chose to drive the Jeep into Jackson rather than take the Alfa up the series of 10% grades and sharp curves of the pass. I'm sure she would have done fine with our clean radiator and all, but no sense in tempting fate!  Besides, I was too late to get an RV spot in Grand Tetons when I was making reservations a few months ago.

One of our favorite things to do is to have a meal at the premier dining room of the main lodge in each National Park we visit. Although quite expensive, it has always proven to be some of the best dining we have experienced anywhere. So, Sunday I made lunch reservations at the Mural Room of Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Tetons NP. We left about 10 AM, drove the pass, stopped at the Jackson visitors center and then drove the main highway through the park, stopping at all the marvelous view points.



Originally the Grand Tetons were called les trois t├ętons (the three breasts) by the French Voyageurs. They had good imaginations, and must have needed more women in their lives!

The lodge itself was more modern than the ones in other National Parks we've visited, but was elegant in its own way.


The glaciers on Mt. Moran and the other Tetons were softened by a bit of haze, but the view was still exceptional from our window table in the Mural Room.



Anyone can see the view. This day was all about the food!



Craig had the Chef's Special Seared Ahi Tuna,



and I had trout. The roasted tomatoes were unlike any I have had before. I wish I had asked what they were seasoned with, but one can never really duplicate a master chef at home.

We rarely eat desserts, but Craig could not resist this warm Huckleberry Crisp with fresh homemade vanilla ice cream. We did get two spoons.  Yummy!




The drive back was also very scenic and on the way we saw a turn off for Death Canyon and wondered if there were any easy hikes up that way.

The next day, after doing a little reading, we decided the hikes to Death Canyon might be too much of a challenge for Craig's knee, and planned to take the 3 mile hike from the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve in the Southwest part of the park instead. We have not hiked for some time, and Craig is favoring a strain in his knee, so we wanted to keep it "easy." The weather played a part in our decision as well. Although a bit cooler than in the valley, the afternoon temperature ended up near 90°.

We never have been, and probably never will be, early risers. We both know the best time to see wildlife, catch cooler temperatures,  and avoid crowds is early morning. But knowing and doing is not the same thing. We arrived at the Laurance Rockefeller parking lot just before noon, and were greeted by park employees who told us the lot was full, but we could stand in a car queue and wait for a space. There were six cars ahead of us. We decided to wait. At Arches we played the "circle the lot slowly and watch for someone who looked like they were about to leave game". At one lot I got out and followed some people to their spot on foot, so we could claim their parking place. Standing in a car queue, with the engine off is somewhat better. People either waited their turn, or left. The park staff was there to see to it no one pushed ahead. 

We waited about 45 minutes to park. 

Would it have been better early in the day? Who knows? As it turned out there was plenty of empty spaces at 3 PM when we returned from our hike, and still hours of good daylight left. 

Something to think about next month in Yellowstone. If we can't park early, we might try going in late.



Once we were parked, on the trail there were no crowds. Close to the Visitor Center, we encountered a few families and other hiking couples, but the further up the path we went, the more alone we were. I have a book about hiking in Yellowstone that suggests if you want to get away from the crowds, take a hike. But there were a few, which was good because the more people, the less likely it is to run into a bear on the path.



Some of way was along a roaring creek fed by the glacier snows on the mountains above.

The trail was a loop, with the farthest point being an overlook of Phelps Lake. There was a nice bench and stone landing that provided a comfortable place for our picnic lunch. After lunch we walked along the edge of the lake and saw one family wading and swimming in the (presumably) icy water. There were no boats on the lake, and as far as we can tell from the maps, there is no road access. Fishing is by permit and catch and release only.


No sign of man!
As we walked, I was delighted by the many hues of columbine flowers along the path. There were white ones, pink ones, yellow ones, blue ones, red ones, and my favorite these purple ones. So delicate, and no two plants the same. 



I don't like to end this post with a negative feeling, but as we walked in this beautifully peaceful Alpine forest, surrounded by these dainty flowers, my thoughts went back to the tragedy of that school day in Columbine Colorado, when two boys with their rifles killed so many of their classmates. 

I will write no more, just that I remember.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

We Called the Sheriff

We were at a small county park outside of Shelley, Idaho Friday night. There is no one on duty at the office, and check-in is via an envelope drop in the door.

During the night we were awakened by the mournful howls of several dogs. Not barking. Crying! We heard them several times. 

In the morning it became apparent that they were locked in the older class C camper in the spot next to ours. No people were present, but there was a BBQ on the picnic table, and a leash tied to the tree. The dogs continued to cry on and off. 

I met the couple who were in the rig on the other side of the Class C as they were preparing to pull out. They said there were three dogs inside, they had seen a car there Thursday, but not since,  and that they had called the park office and left a message about the dogs.  It was now 9:30 Saturday morning.

What to do? 

The windows were open, but it had to be hot in there during the day. If the person responsible had not been there for at least 36 hours, the animals must have gotten short on water. Not to mention needing to go potty. To hear them cry was heartbreaking.

We speculated the owner might be in trouble somewhere and unable to get back. A car breakdown or accident? A heart attack? There were two doggie biscuits on the picnic table next to the BBQ. He must love his companions. 

Since we were planning on pulling out within an hour, we did the only thing we could think of, and called the county sheriff to check the situation out. If the owner is OK, he will be in some trouble. If he is not, the dogs will be taken care of.

The sheriff stopped by before we left and told us the rig was registered to someone in Shelley, and that he would call the police to contact them if possible.

As we were leaving the park we saw a car pull into the spot with the class C and someone go to unlock the door. We did not stop to find out what had happened, it was enough to know someone was taking care of the pups.

What would you have done?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pocatello Idaho

Craig says we are "sneaking up on Yellowstone".

I made reservations to cover June, but when we decided to deal with our overheating problem, I cancelled some of them and rescheduled others so that we ended up with a block of days "open". One thing I did need to get was a mail delivery before the first of the month, and looking at the map a week ago, I choose a small town called Shelley for that.  It seems there is a small county park there that is convenient and inexpensive. I was once told that for USPS general delivery, the smaller the town the better. With this in mind, as well as the World Cup games, we are slowly making our way north. 

Wednesday and Thursday found us at a funky little mobile home park called Sullivan's in Pocatello Idaho, where we are in one of  two, possibly three RV spots available for short stays. The rest of the place is full of very old mobile homes and RVs that are encased in collections of old wood and unfinished particle board. I called ahead and when we arrived both the owner and his wife were there to welcome us and guide us into our site. The husband helped Craig get plugged in and dumped. (Downata Hot Springs did not have a dump station). Later I met a couple of the residents and they seemed like decent folk. Price? $16 per night with Passport America.

Pocatello ... Pocatello... What is there to do in Pocatello? Craig checked Trip Advisor and found a "Must See" museum.



Yes! the Museum of Clean, 74,000 square feet (much of which is not yet filled) of wonderful exhibits and collections of cleaning materials and equipment. My grandson would have loved this place ten years ago when he was a four-year-old obsessed with vacuum cleaners.

The best part of our experience there was the personal tour led by the 80 year old collector/founder, Don Aslett. He has written 40 books and appeared on many TV programs doing spots about organization and cleaning.  His knowledge, humor and enthusiasm were fun.
We saw lots of antique cleaning machines, products, and  advertisements.  

Throughout the museum there were many humorous constructions made from cleaning tools, or in this case clutter.  
If you find yourself driving through Idaho and have a few hours to spare, The Museum of Clean is well worth the $4 (senior) admission price. Open Tuesdays - Saturdays and there is parking for your motorhome or camper.

After a snack at a little eatery around the corner (fried pickles for Craig, and a cup of tortilla soup for me) we sought another small museum listed on Trip Advisor. The Idaho Museum of Natural History located on the campus of Idaho State University.

Giant Bison
Although the overall museum was small (two large halls), there were some great skeletons of prehistoric creatures and a comprehensive special exhibit and timeline, starting with the formation of the earth and showing the evolution of life. Man has been here for a very, very short time!

We like small museums, be they historical, product-oriented, or industrial, and we try to visit them whenever we find them. I guess "sneaking up" is more fun than just blasting our way across the state. I will have to try to remember this when I feel insecure about not having reservations weeks in advance.

After all, you have to be somewhere every day, it might as well be some place you never imagined visiting and off the beaten path!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Big Wheels are Rolling Again!

YEAH! After two medium length drives, up a few inclines, the Alfa seems to be running very well. It's as if she can finally breathe!

We stayed in the Freightliner parking area Friday night so we could get an early start on Saturday.


Sunday's weather forecast cited 100° temperatures in Salt Lake City. Time to move north. My aim was to find a place that was not too far away, but in cooler terrain.  

I found what sounded like a delightful place listed in our Passport America book. 140 miles north, the Cub River Guest Lodge and RV park is in Idaho and is just on the edge of the mountains. We called ahead and reserved the last of their twelve RV spaces.

It was fairly easy to find and get to. Except for the eight miles on the small Cub River Road, it was not much off our chosen route. 


Personally, I liked the place very much. After several nights in the city, in a hotel and in a parking lot, I was ready for a few days at a mountain retreat such as this. Small, friendly, cool!  



What more could you want?

The answer was a clear view of the sky so Craig could get the broadcast of the Women's World Cup soccer games with our rooftop Winegard satellite dish. I have to point out that it's rare that  the dish can't see the satellites, but of course this had to be the time when it was not possible with all of the trees overhead and the sheer mountain wall that loomed over us to the south.  Most of the time, Craig would be OK with not being able to get TV for a few days, but this is Women's World Cup time, and watching the games is a major pleasure for him. 

We solved Saturday's dilemma by driving south 30 miles and going to a Wild Wings Sports bar in Logan Utah to see the game. If this happened more often he would probably invest in a secondary portable dish, but finding a sports bar is much less expensive. The hot wings were good, and their TVs were top-notch!

There are several more important matches on in the next few days, so Sunday morning we again packed up and sought a park with fewer trees. There was another park that accepts Passport America  about 40 miles away, and Craig called to ask if they had a spot with a clear view of the sky. They answered "yes".

Downata Hot Springs is a little, older park with a variety of activities. They feature a large heated pool, water slides, spa, and two large hot spring fed soaking pools. 

But when we pulled into our assigned 50 amp RV spot, we discovered there was a big tree that prevented the dish from seeing its satellites. Craig walked the rather empty RV parking area and found a spot that looked better. It was no problem getting reassigned. The new spot is only 30 amp, so we have to be a bit careful with what we have on when the AC is running. 

After a nice dinner of grilled fresh salmon, we noticed the sunset was developing. To the west of our site there is a large grass pasture with several horses. I decided to try to get a picture of both the horses and the sunset. I may have done better with our big Nikon camera, but these are what I got with my little Sony:



Looks like a good place to be a horse!



This guy was pushing his nose as far under the fence as he could get to reach some of these thistles. I pulled one and put it up on the top rail of the fence and he quickly chomped it down. 



I think he would have liked me to pull more for him, but I don't think it is right to feed other people's animals if you don't know what is good for them.

It was very cool Sunday night and we enjoyed sleeping with the windows wide open. Monday's daytime temps were in the high 70's. Sweet!

On Monday we enjoyed the hot spring waters in the early afternoon before the soccer matches.


The large pool and hot tub area attracted the children. There are two waterslides for them to use. The pool is kept at 96°.



We chose to go into the two large hot-spring soaking pools. There was one other couple in when we arrived, but soon we had both pools to ourselves.



One was 101° and the other was 105°.  The jets in the first pool were very strong and the temperature of the second was very relaxing! An added plus was they did not smell of sulfur like many hot springs do.

Life is good. Craig has his soccer,  I have hot water pools, and the Alfa is running smoothly (for now).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Overheating, downshifting, and radiator cleaning

The following post was written to document our overheating problems and the excellent service we received at the Warner Truck Freightliner Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. We hope it may help other motorhome owners that may have such troubles.

[From Craig]  Since we started north through Arizona and Utah, our Alfa has been having problems with overheating. On I-17 between Phoenix and Sedona, and again between Sedona and Flagstaff, our engine temperature got high enough that the dashboard started giving us serious warnings. In neither case did it get high enough that the engine went into a reduced-performance protective mode, but it was touch-and-go for a few miles.

We tried to get the problem looked at by Freightliner Flagstaff, but they are quite dedicated to truck service and did nothing for 2 1/2 days out of a 3-day estimated time to repair, so we got out of there. An independent truck service center in Flagstaff changed our air cleaner and helped us try to clean the radiator, but this did not help much. We tried again to clean the radiator ourselves at Red Canyon Park near Panguitch UT and Bryce. We left a nice legacy of black diesel dust on the gravel spot, but even after two cleanings the temperature gauge remained touchy on any uphill grade.

There are experts on the Alfa internet forums who swear by Simple Green as a radiator cleaner, but radiators are made of aluminum and Simple Green slowly attacks aluminum. Simple Green HD is a more aggressive cleaner that is safe for aluminum. It is available at some Home Depot and Lowe's stores. 

Our cleaning helped with overheating, but more important was the fact that we learned to downshift the Allison transmission lower than 4th gear by slowing our road speed until the required engine RPMs were low enough for the computers to allow the downshift. At such lower road speeds, it's a good idea to turn on your 4-way flashers to alert other drivers that you're not able to maintain normal speed.

On our Alfa and most other engines, the speed of the fan that blows through the radiator is proportional to the engine RPMs.  To avoid overheating on uphill grades, the objective is to drive in the highest gear in which the engine can maintain the highest recommended RPM for sustained operation.  In our case that's 2500 RPM. It will be higher for gasoline engines and lower on some diesels.

By careful downshifting on uphill grades, we had an annoying problem under control.  At least until we made a wrong turn near Heber City while driving to Wasatch Mountain State Park.  We turned east on US 40 instead of west, which put us some long uphill grades, though less steep than we'd seen on I-17.  Performance of our CAT C7 engine just kept getting worse until we found ourselves in 2nd gear at about 20 MPH.  This kept the engine cool enough to avoid overheat warnings, until we finally topped a summit, upshifted and cooled back down while realizing that we were going the wrong way.  @&^*%&$%!

This fun ride convinced us that our cooling system needed professional help.  We made an appointment at Freightliner Salt Lake City for the next week, and took the flatter way around the Wasatch Mountains (west and north not east and north) to get there.  This facility is part of Freightliner's Oasis network, whose members are supposed to be nicer to RVers than their regular truck centers like the one in Flagstaff.

They were!  We arrived Tuesday afternoon, and got signed in to have our rig looked at Wednesday.  Their examination confirmed that our cooling system was  in bad shape both externally and internally.  Here is their list of recommendations, which we approved:
  • Remove the radiator and CAC, then degrease and steam clean all 4 sides
  • Replace fan belt and water pump belt
  • Replace air cleaner again (the recently-new one wasn't installed right)
  • Remount radiator and CAC
  • Replace surge (overflow) tank
  • Replace radiator cap + misc hoses and clamps
  • Flush cooling system until outflow is clear
Now that doesn't seem like such a big list of things to do, does it?  Work started at 6 AM Thursday and finished at 7:30 PM Friday.  We were charged for 19 man-hours, which works out to a lot of money.  

CAT designed the C7 engine for use in the front end of a tractor cab, in which the top lifts off the engine and both the radiator and the CAC are easily accessible.  Then Alfa installed the engine under the sleeping bed in its diesel pusher RV, and built the rear end so that it just enclosed the radiator.  To quote the service report: "***VERY TIGHT ACCESS***".  If the engine had been designed to go in the back of an RV, it would take much less time to do this work.

The following images are courtesy of Robert Velarde of Freightliner SLC.  He seemed to be the service manager, but he also does all work on RVs.  This is an important reason for RV owners to choose Salt Lake City FL, a division of Warner Truck Centers.

This is the side of the radiator that faced the CAC and the fan:


Here's a closeup of the same side:


Remember, the fan had to try to blow air through this plus 3 more sides, two of which were comparably dirty!  It's amazing that there was any airflow. Robert said it was one of the ten dirtiest cooling systems he had ever seen, and that he was surprised we didn't overheat on the flat lands.

This is the same radiator cleaned up:


I forgot to ask Robert to get a picture of the junk that was between the Radiator and CAC. 

If you want to avoid a big expense like this one, Robert recommends having your radiator steam-cleaned once a year.  Hopefully also the CAC if you have a diesel.

Saturday we drove out of Utah into Idaho. The route included at least one hill that would have caused the Alfa to heat up in the past. We left all the shifting to the Alfa, and the temperature needle never varied at all after initial warmup. 

My tentative conclusion is that folks who carry on about vigilant downshifting are either 1) going through real mountains, or 2) in need of a good radiator cleaning.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

JELLO

I'm not sure how much I will be posting this week, and when I do, how many pictures I will include.  This is because our internet connection is miserably slow, when it makes connection at all! 

The title of this post is JELLO because of that old RV saying: "RV plans are written in Jello, always some wiggle room."

When we were in Flagstaff we had some overheating problems when pulling up the longer grades. We had it checked, almost had some service at a Freightliner Center, but after an unpleasant wait decided to try some DIY cleaning of the radiator and a new air cleaner at a different shop instead. That helped some, but not enough, and despite careful downshifting we have continued to see the needle on the temperature gage climb to the 3/4 mark.  Not fun!

So ... we have decided to "bite the bullet" and have another Freightliner service center look at it and if they agree that dropping and flushing the radiator is the thing to do we will go for it. We first tried to get an appointment at Charlie's, a Salt Lake area RV dealer that is known to do good work on Alfa's, but the wait was too long. The Salt Lake Freightliner Oasis Center can get us in on Wednesday, June 17th.

That's OK. 

Note: Freightliner Truck Centers concentrate on trucks, and although they will service RVs, truck work will sometimes be put ahead of Motorhomes in the schedule. That is what happened to us in Flagstaff.  FL Centers showing the Oasis seal are supposed to treat RVers with equal priority, plus we should get a 5% discount as members of the Freightliner Owners Club.

With this in mind, I have cancelled our reservations at Bear Lake for next week, and plan on staying here for an extra day. We will then drive over to Salt Lake City and overnight in the service center parking lot so we can be available for our 8 AM appointment.

Meanwhile, we have been enjoying the intense green and the real trees (taller than ankle level) in the area. We hope to get a few walks in yet this week, but rain is predicted for several days. Although our Verizon signal is not strong, we have a clear view of the southern sky so Craig can enjoy the Women's World Cup soccer broadcasts.

Here is one picture from one of our walks:



The trail took us across a hillside that overlooked the State Park Golf Course.

I may post again in the next week, or I may not. We are alive and well surrounded by large LDS families. The children seem pretty and well behaved.