A Hidden Gem

After leaving Twin Falls, Idaho, our plan had been to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, then head east to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming (featured in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) and nearby Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, before heading north into Manitoba.

Interstate 94 took us past Home On The Range, North Dakota – presumably where the deer and antelope play, and never is heard a discouraging word. You can tell by the pic that the skies are not cloudy all day. lol.

But due to unexpected delays in Idaho, we decided to head north and east on Interstate 94 through Montana, leaving the national parks for a future visit.

The rugged terrain of southwestern North Dakota

Our old friend, Norm Cartier, who Betty went to Sunday School with, and I shared a house with in Toronto, has been recuperating from a stroke in Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan. So after crossing from Montana into western North Dakota, we decided to head due north for a brief visit.

Into North Dakota’s version of the Badlands.

We were also aware that spring flooding had closed portions of the main highway from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Winnipeg, so avoiding that route was considered wise.

Rugged beauty on the roadsides leading to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Lots of picturesque countryside in southwestern North Dakota.
Interesting rock formations everywhere.

With our capacity to boondock, we generally have been avoiding formal campgrounds. But checking the map, we saw we would be passing through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and there appeared to be two nice campgrounds in the park.

A buffalo welcomed us as we entered the park.

Even though Betty & I have travelled through Grand Forks and Fargo on the eastern edge of North Dakota many times, we had never ventured further west of Minot, the location of a Family Motor Coach Association rally a few years ago.

Another striated rock formation at the entrance to Juniper Campground.

As we approached Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the terrain became more barren and rugged, similar to the Badlands of South Dakota.

Here’s a very bold boulder, reaching out for the sun.

We were amazed by the seemingly hidden beauty of this park, and enjoyed a very quiet night in Site 44 of Juniper Campground ($7./night for Seniors with our America The Beautiful pass).

After staying in a couple of noisy roadside rest areas, Betty & I were amazed by how quiet it was in the park. A buffalo walked through the woods near our campsite while there, but the trees prevented a clear shot (with the camera, of course).
Wild buffalo took there time crossing the road as we began to head out of the park. Small birds seemed to follow them wherever they went.
The scenic road from the highway to the campground is about 5 miles, with lots of wildlife along the way (and obviously a few bugs on our windshield at that point…)
Believe it or not – Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan has its own campground!

The tiny border crossing into Saskatchewan was uneventful, and we had a pleasant visit with Norm and his wife, Francis, before heading east again.

This was our last night on the road, between the arena and ball diamond in MacGregor, Manitoba.

One more night was spent beside the local arena in MacGregor, Manitoba, and we are now back at Town and Country RV Park in Winnipeg. It hasn’t stopped raining since our arrival, so we feel like we could be back on Vancouver Island, except without the elevations to shed the water.

We appear to be parked beside a stream and pond, but it’s actually the lane and campsite next to us at Town and Country in Winnipeg. Rain, rain, go away!

Discovering Theodore Roosevelt National Park this week was like finding a hidden gem. We hope that you also have opportunities to find unexpected joy in your travels through life.

As we approached Winnipeg, our old Boy’s dusty odometer finally crossed the 100,000 mile mark. Here’s hoping for many more to go!


Power To Spare!

It seems the last couple of posts have been about problems we recently encountered with either our motorhome or Smart car. In the past few years the old Boy has been losing more and more power at higher elevations. Betty & I have always enjoyed the dramatic scenery driving through mountains or into canyons. But I must admit that I have done a fair bit of cringing recently when contemplating steep grades. Our last three trips through the Rocky Mountains saw us labouring badly as we attempted to make it up and over. There was a lot of “I think I can. I think I can”, but there was a nagging fear that our motorhome would be found dead on the side of the road at any time now. Yikes!

You may have heard the expression “Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted”. We bought and installed this RVi Brake3 system in our Smart car, after it went on its errant way. The cord plugged in near the red button is for a “breakaway cable”. If the car becomes disconnected from the motorhome, the brake is immediately applied.
The little nose ring on the front of the Smart is what gets pulled if the car decides to go its own way.

Twelve years ago we had all the exhaust manifold gaskets replaced in San Antonio, Texas. At the time someone there told us about Banks Complete Power Systems, but as mentioned in an earlier post, we were on holidays and didn’t have time to consider that option. We were more than happy with the improved performance, and went on our merry way.

Some powerless manifold parts.
Our old mufflers and tail pipes removed.

Then about four years ago we had the passenger-side manifold gaskets replaced in Winnipeg, and saw another temporary improvement in power. Unfortunately, two years ago, on our way out to Vancouver Island, we lost power again near Kelowna, B.C. and had the passenger-side gaskets replaced again. Some of the bolts installed in Winnipeg were not fitted properly and had worked themselves loose. BTW, bolts holding the driver’s side manifold were also stuck or missing, but that side is more difficult to access, so were never addressed.

Betty, Charlie & I enjoyed walks through a local park during our two week visit to Twin Falls, Idaho.
Charlie particularly liked drinking from the fast-moving stream.

We appreciated the work Cullen Diesel in Nanaimo did in replacing transmission fluid, spark plugs and wires, and crossed our fingers that our troubles were over. But as mentioned in a recent post, we lost power again just east of Portland, Oregon, and wasted a week in Boise, Idaho waiting for a GM dealership to diagnose and repair the problem. They turned off the “check engine” light, but that was about the extent of their help, and we waited a week for that…

Ryan performs the unboxing ceremony at Craig’s Automotive, before installing the remaining Banks Power parts.
The remaining parts of our Banks Power System are finally ready for installation.
Here is our newly installed large chrome tailpipe.

Our last post saw us getting exceptional service at Craig’s Automotive in Twin Falls, Idaho, and we are more than happy with the results.

The Banks Power System came with an “OttoMInd Programmer” which monitors all functions of the engine and exhaust on our motorhome. It is programmed specifically for our motorhome and registers fault codes if the “check engine” light is activated. The system can be programmed to improve both gas mileage and torque.

This is not an ad for Banks Power, and Gale Banks has not paid us for this post (although we would be happy to receive compensation from him. Lol). In fact, the installation of a Banks PowerPack Bundle cost us thousands of dollars, but so far we are more than satisfied with the results. 

This is the new Command Center that came with our RViBrake 3. Not that it’s a distraction, but we now have 8 screens to view while driving down the road… (The one above is our TireMinder.)

In hindsight I wished we had it installed twelve years ago. But right now feel that this system has added years to the life of our home on wheels. We have literally traversed dozens of steep grades since leaving Twin Falls a couple of days ago, and at every one our motorhome has had power to spare! What an incredible difference in performance – from creeping up grades at 35 mph, to floating up the same or steeper grades at 60 mph.

After leaving Twin Falls, hills like this were effortless for the old Boy.
We had many mountains to climb, but did it without breaking a sweat.
After leaving Twin Falls, our first night was spent at this rest area south of Butte, Montana.
The next night we set up our bbq on a picnic table at this rest area near Miles City, Montana – had a nice steak to celebrate getting safely through the mountains!

Only time will tell if the resulting performance will continue, but Betty & I are most encouraged by the new lease on life that the Banks system has given to our motorhome. Here’s hoping that you can experience renewed vitality in your years to come!

No visit to Idaho is complete without visiting the Idaho Potato Museum. We stopped in for a tour and some tasty french fries and “tater dollars”, and did our mandatory comparison with the Canadian Potato Museum we visited on PEI a few years ago.
Even the Idaho licence plates promote “famous potatoes”. Given that our youngest daughter, Lisa, is a potato aficionado, we think she’d love this state!


The Bad, The Good, and The Ugly

In case anyone is wondering where The Ramblin’ Reddochs are, Betty & I are wondering the same thing too just now. lol. Permit me to catch you up on the latest phase of our overlandish odyssey, which can best be characterized as including bad, good, and ugly elements, to paraphrase an old movie title.

Boise is the capital of Idaho, and here is their Capitol Building.

Our last post left off in Boise, Idaho, waiting for a GM dealership to interpret our “check engine” light. 

Hulls Gulch is a popular area for hikers and cyclists near downtown Boise, Idaho.

While we toured downtown Boise and the nearby Hulls Gulch, a mechanic read the presenting engine codes, cleared them, and by noon told us we were ready to go. We were pleasently surprised at the minimal bill – as we were afraid the engine might need replacement – until we got back on the Interstate again…

Betty, Charlie and I drove to a scenic lookout. They hiked to the next lookout where I met up with them.
This is a view of downtown Boise from Hulls Gulch, with snow-capped mountains in the background.

Within an hour the old boy started labouring up not-so-steep grades, with the “check engine” light returning. This was The Bad, as we crept along to our next stop – the Y-Knot winery in Glenns Ferry, Idaho. Needing a drink at that point, Betty & I said “Y – Knot!”

Betty & I enjoyed flights of wine produced at Y-Knot, coming away with bottles of our favourite for Mother’s Day.

After a nice Mother’s Day of wine tasting, we had a quiet night at this delightful Harvest Host location.

We walked through the vineyards on the way back to our motorhome (in the background). Betty shows off a bottle of Semillon, from the grapes grown in this row.

With trepidation we headed east on Interstate 84 again, with nearby Twin Falls as our destination. Recognizing that we would be unable to navigate the upcoming Rocky Mountains in our current condition, we searched out a rescuer. Our first stop appeared promising – at Twin Falls Truck – until manager Mike informed us they only work on diesel engines. But he highly recommended Craig’s Automotive, and we haven’t been disappointed.

We lucked out finding Craig’s Automotive in Twin Falls, Idaho. This is us hooked up and parked by his shop this week. His big bays are beyond the fence on the left.

So far this is definitely “the good”. Even though Craig and his staff are very busy with other customers, they took the time to check the codes again and take the old boy for a test drive. Of course, as luck would have it, with Craig at the wheel our motorhome performed quite well, not showing any of the previous lethargy. It reminded me of the TV repair man we called back in the day. The old tube-type TV screen would be rolling, shrinking, or fuzzy until he arrived, then the picture would look just fine. Go figure…

The Perrine Bridge leading into Twin Falls is a popular spot for legal base jumping.

As a start, Craig recommended changing out the fuel filter, which hadn’t been changed in a number of years. He noted that one of the exhaust manifold gasket bolts was missing AGAIN, and that a leak in this system would contribute to our loss of power. Craig indicated that the manifolds could be machined, but that would result in thinner metal that could warp in the not distant future.

Nearby is where Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River canyon.
In the top centre of this pic is the earthen ramp Knievel built to launch his rocket-powered bike.

I had explored the possibility of switching to a high-performance Banks Power System when our exhaust manifold gaskets were first replaced over a decade ago in San Antonio, Texas. But Betty & I were on holidays from work at that time, and couldn’t afford to wait until the Banks parts were ordered and installed. Fortunately, when Craig contacted the Banks factory in California, they had the system we needed in stock. It arrived today – a 2 ½ day delivery time – and is being installed as I write this. (Added note: Turns out half the system arrived, and the other half is still to come- hopefully next week.)

Here’s the box with our new power exhaust system, personally signed by Gale Banks. Can’t wait to try it out!!

Another part of “the good”: Craig has a motorhome and recommended his RV tech to come and look at our living-room slide, which hasn’t been working since last November. Notwithstanding the “RV tech” in Nanaimo playing with it at least 6 – 7 times and not being able to figure out the problem (turns out he wasn’t qualified to do the work), Dale, of Tucks RV Repair, successfully diagnosed our need for a new slide controller within an hour. That’s also good news, although we will still need to find a suitable controller before it’s fixed. In the meantime, Dale showed me how someone could send the slide out, and bring it back, by reversing two wires on the motor.

Yesterday was a sight-seeing day, so we made our way to the Shoshone Falls, a local attraction.

Yet another part of “the good”: Craig recently set up an RV pad right next to his office. It has a level cement base, 50, 30, and 15 amp power outlets, and a tap for fresh water. We have been plugged in and parked at his garage all week, and it is definitely not inconvenient as we await service on our coach.

The falls is illuminated at night. Here Betty stands beside some of the lighting and looks down the Snake River from an observation platform.

Ok, finally “the ugly“: The new RV pad has a sewer outlet, and Betty & I decided to use it yesterday. Our holding tanks were only half full, but we thought it would be better (less smelly for the workers) if we emptied them. Unfortunately, there was a blockage somewhere in the new sewer line, and our discharge ended up all over Craig’s new bathroom, closet with water softener, and waiting room. Yuck, what a smell! Super ugly!  Fortunately, Craig was able to get a professional cleaning crew in to restore the space in short order. It was an ugly experience that no-one would ever want to smell or see happen…

The mist from the falls created a rainbow at its base. Here’s hoping for that pot of gold nearby…

So that’s where Betty & I are just now. We’re somewhere in Twin Falls, Idaho having just lived through the bad, the good, and the ugly. Here’s hoping that your (and our) future travels come out more on the side of “the good”!


Our Smart Driverless Car

Many of us have had the experience of a teenager cutting the apron strings and heading out on their own. Up to a certain point they dutifully followed you, but suddenly they have decided to head out on their own and do their own thing. It can be a harrowing experience, and Betty & I have lived through it before – just never quite like what happened to us this week!

Like a good little guy, our Smart car has dutifully followed behind our motorhome – all over North America. But yesterday in Boise, Idaho, it decided to keep going straight after we had turned onto an Interstate on-ramp. We watched in disbelief as our teenage vehicle decided to act out like an early prototype driverless car. Oh, oh!!! This post is about that most harrowing experience. But before I get there, permit me to catch you up on how we got here.

As we were leaving Nehalem Bay State Park, I couldn’t resist taking a pic of this sign. Guess it brings new meaning to the phrase “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust”…
Our first stop was at the Tillamook Creamery, where we took a self-guided tour and sampled their great cheeses.
The large cheese factory on the Oregon coast has many viewing areas, with explanations of the processes all along. (Ok, that sounds like processed cheese, but it’s really quite good!)
Seems like some elaborate technology in this cheesemaking business.
Although there is a fair amount of automation, individuals along the way (or should that be whey? lol) carry out acts such as weighing the blocks of cheese.
Quality control is evident, with the samples and purchased cheeses attesting to the finished products.
Rather than heading east right away, we spent the night at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company – a Harvest Host participant – where we enjoyed some local wine tasting and deli products. It was a relatively quiet spot, except for the braying donkeys and crowing roosters nearby our parking spot.
The landscape changed considerably as we headed east from Portland, Oregon. We left the rain forests behind and headed into treeless, more barren land.
The grades became steeper (both up and down), and the motorhome began to labour again, with the “check engine” light returning.
Our next night was spent at The Dalles Columbia Gorge Discovery Center (another Harvest Host participant).

After another day of driving, we spent the night just across the Idaho State border, in their first rest area. Our plan was to continue to a Harvest Host winery east of Boise, but as we approached the city, our motorhome continued to lose power. We decided to not try to maneuver the upcoming Rockies, but to make a pit stop in Boise, clear the “check engine” light and rectify our power problem.

In the past when the “check engine” light came on, a mechanic would come out and plug in his diagnostic tool. We would know the resulting fault codes within minutes. But do you think we could find ANYONE in Boise who could check a “check engine” light on a motorhome? We called and visited eight garages in the city, with all telling us they didn’t have the necessary equipment (which I believe can be purchased at Walmart for about $100.) I guess they are not equipped to deal with the problem once it is diagnosed.

Our motor is a GM Vortec 8100, and in the end we found a large GM dealership that was willing to make an appointment for us this Friday morning to let us know why our check engine light is on. Whether they can fix the problem is another issue. Fingers crossed, but we may be staying in Boise for awhile longer…

Ok, by now you may be waiting with bated breath to find out what happened to our car.

As we were driving back and forth around Boise looking for a garage that could help us, we crossed an Interstate overpass and had a green light to make a left turn onto I84.

As I was making the turn onto the on-ramp, I heard scraping behind and car horns honking. Checking our back camera, I found that the Smart car was no longer following us. I immediately pulled over to the side, and watched out the window while our car continued on down the slope from the overpass, with lots of traffic heading in the same direction, and oncoming traffic beside it. When it reached the bottom of the slope it approached and proceeded through another intersection – after the light had turned red and cross traffic began to flow. Fortunately the cross traffic saw the driverless car and let it pass, with the car continuing onto the sidewalk on the other side. Now usually the tires might have blown when they hit the curb, but being a SMART car, it decided to take the curb cut designed for handicapped pedestrians. It also chose to miss a light standard before coming to rest fully on the sidewalk.

I took this pic after turning the Smart around on the sidewalk. If you zoom in you can see the motorhome parked in the centre of the pic, by the next set of lights.

The car was still rolling as I put the motorhome in park and dashed out the door, heading down the block toward it. Charlie wanted to follow the little guy, but Betty held him back. Needless to say, Betty & I were a little stressed, but I was able to turn the wayward car around to drive it back to our motorhome.

The tow bar and safety chains are still attached to the baseplate. It just so happens that the base plate is not connected to the car. Btw, the electrical connection for lights, brakes and turn signals unplugged itself and was not damaged.

We drove both vehicles to Boise Riverside RV Park, where we decided to decompress for the rest of this week. On the way we stopped at a hitch specialist to get their assessment. Without looking too closely at the car or disconnected baseplate (it was near closing time and he invited me to come back the next day) the store manager looked up a Smart base plate on his computer, and told me he might be able to get one in another week or so. I checked the bill from when the base plate was purchased and attached 13 years ago, and it was over $2000. at that time – largely because much of the Smart is plastic, which had to be removed to reach something solid for the attachment. I was visualizing a high price tag for this repair, including an unintended extended stay in Boise.

While it is missing both fog lights and front “bumper”, the Smart still seems to have a smile on its face. As my mother would say to me when I got in trouble: “This is nothing to smile about!”

But overnight I began to consider alternatives, and Googled welding shops nearby. I found good reviews for Kiwi’s Welding & Repair, and decided to take a chance going there before returning to the hitch store. Turned out Kiwi and his sister Karen were amazing! They looked at the baseplate, noting that it had torn away the attachment points under the car. (If I had ordered a new baseplate, the hitch store wouldn’t have been able to attach it, since the attachment points were badly damaged.

This is a pic of our car’s front end, including the intact grill and tow bar attachment points. The pic was taken at our current campsite.

Kiwi (originally from New Zealand, btw) said: “Leave it with me, and I’ll give you a call when it’s fixed” that very day. I said: “But I don’t have a way to get back to our campground”. To which Karen replied: “No worries. I’ll drive you.” Talk about going above and beyond!!!

Kiwi Welding & Repair. It might not have much curb appeal, but they sure do great work!

By 2:30 pm yesterday, Kiwi called to say the car was ready, and they would rotate the front tires because of uneven tire wear, and replace the plastic panel that had been torn off again. (See a post from last fall when it succumbed to a ferry ramp on Vancouver Island. At that time Nanaimo Mercedes Benz installed a new plastic underbelly for $400.) We drove the motorhome down to the welding shop, and Kiwi’s charge for getting us back together on the road was about $440. – amazing considering what it might have cost elsewhere! 5 star plus reviews for sure!

We don’t know yet what the outcome will be with our motorhome power issues, but hope to provide a report in an upcoming post.

It’s not what we expected, but Betty & I are able to add state #42 – Idaho – to our sticker map. Yeah!

Betty and I are still recovering from the shock of what happened. In retrospect we realize that it could have been much worse. If the Smart had disconnected going up one of the many steep mountain grades, it would likely have disappeared for good (or bad in this case) over a deep embankment. It could have run into another vehicle, causing damage and bodily harm. We have visualized many scenarios, and realize we were extremely fortunate in how this horrendous event occurred, and how it was resolved. PTL!

Our current campsite (#25 at $51./night for water & 50 amp service) backs onto a popular Boise greenbelt, running for 31 miles through the city.

Looking back over our experiences with former teenagers, we realize it turned out pretty good in the end. At times we thought things couldn’t be worse, but in perspective we know it could well have been, and we are tremendously thankful for our grown children and the blessings they bring to our lives and to those close that they love.

The Smart is still rolling, but we hope it continues to stick close and not head out on its own again. Here’s trusting that your relationships with inanimate objects and humans near remain positive and productive.