3,117 Miles So Far

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Dart relaxing after a long day driving. I don’t think he sleeps when the motor home is moving.  

We have driven 3,117 miles in the motor home since leaving St. Augustine, Florida and have about 600 miles to go before we can start exploring more than driving.  Wahoo!  I’m sure Dart will be happy also.

Janene mentioned in a comment about how beautiful this country is and we thoroughly agree.  There is beauty in almost every place that we go.  This country is fun to explore because there is so much diversity in the landscape, wildlife, flora, and people.  It’s hard to imagine you could ever be done exploring.  Canada is also beautiful and when you add the U.S. and Canada together, I won’t live long enough to see it all.  But, I intend to enjoy every bit of what I can explore.

We drove through part of the Rockies today so there was a lot of driving slowly up a mountain to careen (well maybe not careen but sometimes it felt like it) down the other side.   It is more unnerving to me to go down the steep mountains in a motor home pulling a tow vehicle than it is in a car.

We arrived at the Missoula KOA campground at 12:40.  They charged us an extra $20 for checking in early.  In four years of camping in the U.S. and Canada in commercial and public campgrounds, no one has ever asked up to pay a fee to check in early.  The campground was mostly empty, so it was aggravating.  I guess it is something I should pay attention to, but it has never been a problem to us.  I am thankful that 99% of the campgrounds we go to are not a problem or it would make our traveling much more complicated.  Had I thought about it, we would have driven to the local Walmart for 2 hours and caught up on our grocery shopping and then come back to check in.  This is our 3rd and last time at the Missoula KOA.  They certainly have a right to charge, but after driving almost 300 miles and being ready to stop for the day, it’s discouraging.

Dart, the motor home, and the Jeep desperately need baths.  We hope to get everything cleanup once we get to Vancouver, Washington.  We want to look our best when we see our son Jason again.

The Rockies

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Mountains to the west of Big Timber, Montana.

At 4 something this morning, Regis woke me to remind me I wanted to see the sun rise on Devil’s Tower.  I had a hard time sleeping last night, so I’m pretty sure I finally fell asleep at 4 something minus 1 minute.  I can’t say that I cared when Regis woke me, so he went out by himself while I slowly got myself moving.  He caught this picture with the warm light from the sun rise bouncing off Devil’s Tower and the rocks beneath. It’s a shame I missed the live view!

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Devil’s Tower in the glow of the morning sun.

As a result of Regis’ enthusiasm, we got a very early start.  There was very little traffic and we got to drive on some nice roads as we headed out of Wyoming into Montana.  I fell in love.  The scenery was beautiful and I never saw so many Pronghorns in my life.  We saw hundreds of them.  We also saw deer and a beautiful fox.

As we headed west through Montana, the snow capped Rockies rose in the distance both to the southwest and the west.  How could I have forgotten how big they are?  We haven’t seen them in a few years and we were both flabbergasted.  They are huge.  These are all part of the Rockies.  We are seeing the Absaroka Range (a segment of the Rockies) to the Southwest which is on the Montana and Wyoming border.   It is between us and Yellowstone National Park which is one of my many favorite places.

The Yellowstone River is 2/10 of a foot below flood stage.  The last time we went through here it was hot and dry in August.  Now, the mountains have snow on them, the vegetation is lush and beautiful, and the river is overflowing it’s banks in places.  It looks different.  The river is gorgeous, but that is easy for me to say since I don’t live next to it and have to worry about flooding.

Devil’s Tower

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Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
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Dart at Devil’s Tower National Monument.

Dart was at Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  It was a beautiful drive from Rapid City, South Dakota to Devil’s Tower.  The grass was very green so it looked lush.  We saw Pronghorn’s and Deer on the way.

We have a great view of Devil’s Tower from our campsite.  After we set up and got lunch, we drove to the Tower.  Dart is not allowed on any of the trails, so there wasn’t much we could do besides stop and look at the Tower from different angles.  We saw several climbers.

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Climbers on Devils Tower. There is one (orange) just to the top right of the Tower and another one (dark clothes) half way down.

We stopped at the Prairie Dog town on the way back from the Tower.  These Prairie Dog’s look much healthier than the ones we saw in the Badlands.  I was hoping to see some babies but I guess they are in the burrows or haven’t been born yet.  This one female looked like she’s been nursing or is getting ready.

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Female Prairie Dog at Devil’s Tower. Notice her long toe nails.
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Prairie Dog at Devil’s Tower.

We spent a major part of the afternoon watching the climbers from our campsite.  You need some optics to see them.  We have a scope, so Regis set it up and gave me updates on the progress of each of the climbers.  They were named by the color of their clothes.  I occasionally watched with the binoculars, but mostly just enjoyed the weather and tried to identify the local birds.

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Climbers at Devil’s Tower as photographed by a cell phone through the scope.
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Flowers at Devil’s Tower.

We have to be in Vancouver, Washington (just north of Portland, Oregon) by Sunday so there will be no dallying between here and there.

Where’s Dart (2018-2)?

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Where’s Dart (2018-2)? This is the view from our campsite.

By Regis

Another Where’s Dart can only mean one thing, the Jeep is fixed.  As we were packing up to leave, several songs were going through my mind: from the 70’s Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak”;  from the 80’s Sammy Haggar’s “Can’t Drive 55”; and of course Willie’s “On the Road Again”.

I have to give a lot of credit to Liberty Jeep in Rapid City, South Dakota.  I drove up late Tuesday afternoon.  They took a look at it and had a part ordered the same day.  From there, things went downhill.  The part and Linda’s order from Amazon spent an additional 24 hours in Commerce City, Colorado.  It should have been in town Friday but didn’t get to Rapid City until Saturday.  UPS doesn’t deliver on Saturday, so we had to hope it got delivered Monday.   When Linda got her Prime package just before noon we were hopeful.  The part was delivered to the Jeep dealer by the afternoon.  They started working on the Jeep late Monday and finished late Tuesday.

Linda spent lots of time rejiggering the travel plans as the delays piled up.

When It Rains, It Pours

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Dart playing endless ball while we are stuck in the RV waiting for a part in rainy and cold weather.

When it rains it pours both literally and figuratively.

We’ve been experiencing a lot of rain since we entered South Dakota.  I always considered South Dakota a somewhat dry state, so I am a bit surprised.  It rained 2 inches in an hour last night and that was just the beginning.  There was hail.  There were rivers running through the campground.  The fire pit was almost full of water.  The next morning, I saw worms the size of small snakes.

Fortunately, after all the rain in our earlier stops in South Dakota, we went to Cabelas and I bought two types of waterproof foot gear.  I bought Muck Boots and a waterproof pair of hiking boots.  After getting soaking feet in our previous rain encounters, I was ready to do something about it.  Within two days of buying my Muck Boots, they came in handy.  What a muddy mess!!!!

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My favorite new foot purchase. It sure came in handy with our astonishing rainfall in South Dakota.

So, it has rained a lot literally.  Now figuratively, we’ve had our share of problems recently.  From a recent post, you know that the Jeep is at the dealer waiting for a part.  The part was supposed to come in Friday.  Didn’t happen.  I also placed an Amazon Prime order to arrive in the campground guaranteed on Friday.  I paid extra for that even though I’m a Prime member.  Didn’t happen.  In both cases, the tracking information shows the items still sitting in Commerce City, Colorado.

Anyway, that means we are still here.  We woke up to lots of fog.  We decided renting a car and exploring didn’t make any sense since you CAN’T SEE ANYTHING.

During the explosive rain yesterday, the refrigerator stopped working.  Regis spent all morning fixing it.  It’s working now but he is not ready to claim a victory since he bypassed a circuit.  The circuit bypassed is a high temperature sensor to prevent overheating and fire.  I hope we don’t burn up tonight!  At the very least, we won’t be cold.

While we were here, Regis broke a key while opening one of the RV compartments.  We still had the rental car, so I went and had keys made.  Regis spent yesterday morning taking the lock apart to remove the broken key.

I decided that it was a good day to do laundry today.  It’s dreary and we don’t have a car.  When I put my load of wash in the dryer and put my money in, the dryer made horrible noises and the drum didn’t turn.  Argh!  (No worries because the campground gave me my money back.)

Our remote temperature sensor went on the fritz. It says it 69 outside, NO way it’s like 44!

The RV is full of mud.  Three people and one dog in a small environment, mud, mud, mud.   It is way too muddy to walk Dart much so he is stuck with playing lots of ball in the RV.

When we picked up some stuff at Walmart the other day (when we had a rental car) in order to organize the RV, we decided to do grocery shopping later after we got our car.  Now, we have no car and we’re still here.  But, we have potatoes, onions, nuts, and lots of sparkling water.  No fancy meals for the next few days.

Amazon did reimburse me the money I paid to get expedited delivery, but I still don’t have the product.  Let’s see if it shows up by Monday.

 

Needles Highway

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Mount Rushmore viewed through a tunnel on the way to Custer State Park.

When we went to Custer State Park from Rapid City, South Dakota, we saw some great scenery.  We started off with a plan to bypass Mount Rushmore and enter Custer State Park and catch Mount Rushmore on the way back.  But, as we were driving on the road to the park, we caught several views of Mount Rushmore including one through a tunnel.

On our final leg on our loop through Custer State Park, we drove on the Needles Highway.  We highly recommend you drive this route if you are in this area.  This is an amazing stretch of road with narrow tunnels and high granite pinnacles.  This is a must see.

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One of the tunnels on the Needles Highway in South Dakota.
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One of the tunnels on the Needles Highway in South Dakota.
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Flowers in Custer State Park.

 

After we left Custer State Park, we drove by the Crazy Horse monument that is being built.  This monument is still under construction and is planned to rival the Mount Rushmore monument of the presidents.  The plans look awesome.  When it is finished it will be amazing.  It is being built entirely on private funding so it is a slow process.

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Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota. It is still under construction. He will be sitting on a horse. The final plans look awesome.

 

Our Photography Gear

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Views of the clouds in the evening the first night in our campsite in Rapid City, South Dakota. It really looked like this.

We were asked about the photography gear that we use, so this post is devoted to a discussion about our gear and some remarks regarding how we approach many of our photographs.

First, this is our primary gear:

  • 2 Canon 80D bodies (these can do video)
  • Lens:  Canon EF 100-400 IS II USM (telephoto)
  • Lens:  Canon EFS 18-200
  • Lens:  Canon EFS 10-18mm (wide angle)
  • Extender:  EF 1.4 III (used with telephoto)
  • Gitzo Tripod with a ball mount (This is an amazing high-quality carbon fiber tripod)
  • MeFoto Tripod with a ball mount (This is a carbon fiber tripod but does not approach the quality of the Gitzo but it’s a great second/backup tripod)
  • Remote shutter release
  • Neutral Density Filters (but just got them and haven’t used them much)
  • Canon Powershot SD1000 (can do video)
  • Winbook Wide-Angle Action Cam SV5EN (We got this as a Christmas gift exchange and it has been a great video camera to mount on the kayak.  It can be used underwater and we got some nice underwater shots last year. Check out our YouTube page at landrtravels for some videos (here is a link to one of them click here.)
  • Canon VIXIA HF R500 video camera (We don’t use this as much but it is a great little video camera)
  • 2 cell phones (Samsung S6 and HTC 10)

We have various filters, backup lenses, and what not that I won’t detail.  We don’t use them much.

Okay, I rattled off a list of equipment.  Now, I’ll talk a bit about how we use it and sometimes a little history about how we got here.

First, I had a great Canon 50D and wanted a second body so I didn’t have to keep swapping lenses between a telephoto and a landscape lens.  The closest I could get at the time was a Canon 80D.  I fell in love with the 80D and never used the 50D after that.  So, I had to go out and get a second 80D.  At least that way, both cameras operate the same way which reduces the amount of thinking I have to do when I am changing settings.  I keep the telephoto lens on one camera for wildlife shots and either the wide angle or 18-200mm lens on the other camera for landscape shots.

Regis has become my driver so I can jump out and take the photos while driving.  I have the two camera bodies with me and I’m ready to swap landscape lenses when necessary (which happens more than I would like.  And, Regis says we are NOT getting a third body.).  I also have the binoculars with me in the front seat so it is very crowded!  We keep the tripods in the back.

The Canon 80D takes great video but it doesn’t work well when you hand hold the camera.  I need the tripod to steady the camera enough for good video.  I took some video of the baby bison yesterday and the hand held video is horrible.  I pulled out the tripod and set up on the side of the road hoping Regis would let me know if a bison was headed my way and took much better video (we will post on our YouTube channel  landrtravels later.  Here is a link to one of our earlier videos.  Click here).

I have started to take more HDR pictures because I love the outcome.  We usually take them for sunset shots but I used HDR yesterday to take some day shots at a tunnel on our route. That post should be out on 5/18.  It made a big difference.  But, you really need to use a tripod for HDR so you won’t be taking pictures of animals that way.

Regis usually mounts the Winbook video camera on the kayak when we go out.  He’ll stick the video camera underwater if the water is clear and there is something interesting happening.  He once lost it in water high in tannins so you couldn’t see.  He bumped into the grasses and the camera fell in the water.  It was shallow water and Regis could reach the bottom with his hand.  I WOULD NOT help him.  I WILL NOT stick my hand in water that I can’t see what’s going on.  Regis groped his way around and eventually retrieved the camera.

When I’m hiking, I usually carry one camera with a telephoto lens because I am mainly interested in wildlife shots.  It can be heavy and I am seeking a good solution for carrying more lenses to offer other options without it being too much of a burden.  I’m hoping to visit the camera store in Seattle to see what they have.

I am more than happy to explain how we took particular photos and what settings I used on the camera.  Don’t hesitate to ask if you want to know.  I can post with each picture if it is of interest.

I take all my pictures using the RAW format.  So, they all have to go through post processing.  I use Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop to do that.  I don’t usually do much post processing, but it is important nevertheless.  It gives me the opportunity to correct the photo to match what I saw.  Cameras can’t always catch the full dynamic range of the scene.  You need to correct this in software like Lightroom (there are other options).  That’s also why we need to take HDR photos.  HDR photos allow you to take multiple photos of the same shot using difference exposures.  This allows you to capture the highlights and the shadows and merge into one picture.  Then, you put those photos together to get the view of what you really saw.  Someday, cameras may be so good you won’t need to do this.  For now, HDR is a great way to capture the highlights and shadows.

Note:  I’m typing this blog while in the middle of a thunderstorm in Rapid City, South Dakota.  The lighting is amazing.  Dart is not happy about it but Regis and I find it fascinating.  I suppose as long as we survive, it is cool. Oh, and there is lots of hail.