Travel trials, tribulations and tidbits

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This is the final segment to wrap up the first chapter of our RV travels.  The previous segment with our statistics is here.

As we reviewed the 422 posts that we published along the way, we recalled many fond memories and also came up with some fun tidbits that we thought were unforgettable, surprising, scary, stressful or fascinating experiences.  Compiling this collection made us pause and reflect on how many wonderful experiences we’ve had while on the road.

We faced our first major challenge just as we started the journey at Pleasanton, CA.  A hydraulic failure left our jacks and slides extended, and we learned a lot about that system during the next 3 weeks that it took to get it fixed (under warranty, fortunately).  Since that time we’ve dealt with many minor water leaks, a dead video camera, an intermittent engine cooling issue, refrigerator problems and other things that we consider part of the joy of moving around in a big complicated box.

Here’s some upper-body exercise – over 300 turns to manually retract our hydraulic rams, then the same thing on the other side!

Most exasperating experience – Intense itching and a month of discomfort due to chigger bites.  I had never heard of chiggers until they attacked me as I sat in the grass for a picture in Peru, Indiana.  Here are the details of that nightmare.

Chigger Bites

Just part of one area – itch, itch, itch

Scariest moment – When I slipped and fell, hurting my knee – not while hiking, but just walking on level ground!  No hiking for a month!

Lowes Travels

Ouch!

Most stressful incident – We got locked out of our RV during a tornado watch while camped at La Grange, GA.  Surprisingly, this particular post has more hits than any other we’ve written.  Maybe the bad guys want to know how Steve broke into the RV?

Holiday Campground

Only one other camper was there that day at Holiday Campground, La Grange, GA

Most frightening night – Hunkering down at Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama provided a sleepless night, as a long line of violent thunderstorms passed over us and dumped a record-breaking 15 inches of rain and over 7,000 lightning strikes per hour in the area.  We’ll never forget that night.

Gulf Shores State Park

The morning after the storm.  The water had risen from 50′ away from Betsy to 10′ away

Most nerve-wracking drives Due to bad GPS data and heavy traffic on the I-10 causeway approaching New Orleans, we missed our exit and got lost.  Then panic set in as we had a close call with a locomotive while crossing train tracks.  Not a fun drive!

Another hellish drive was on I-95 S coming  from Connecticut and passing thru the Bronx, New York to the New Jersey turnpike.  Here‘s that story.

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

This hours-long jam at the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge was the beginning of a bad day near New Orleans

Then there was the time when Steve heard a loud hissing noise coming from the back of Betsy as we drive into Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We couldn’t find the source of the problem and had to have our first repair in a foreign country.

Checking the cooling system

What the heck is making that noise?

Another scary drive occurred near our last stop in Kansas, at Sabetha.  We very nearly got stuck in mud as we approached the campground, then the owner directed us into a site where we got totally stuck.  Fortunately, the owner pulled Betsy out of the mud with one of his tractors when we left.

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This guy owned a bunch of tractors and just had to pick the right one for the job

One of our most stressful drives was the stretch between Salem and Bend, Oregon.  Not only was it a narrow and mountainous road, but a huge storm hit as we drove, sending rivers of water down the road as high winds tried to push us over.  And nowhere to pull off the road.  It was intense!

Bend, Oregon

A leak in the windshield required a towel during this nerve-wracking drive toward Bend, OR

Most spectacular drive – This one has to go to the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff, Canada.  None of the 14 All-American roads we’ve driven can quite stack up against this one, and it should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Ice fields Parkway

Its a wow driving on Ice fields Parkway

Proudest moment – Steve is quite the handyman, doing not only all of our coach repairs but also making changes and upgrades to improve our life on the road.  I was very proud of him when he completed the installation of our residential refrigerator, by himself, during our stay in Bonita Springs, Florida.

installing a residential refrigerator

Out with the old, in with the new

Most fascinating underground tour – Who knew there’s a huge salt mine 650′ beneath the plains of Kansas?

Strataca, Kansas

Most sobering historical guided tour – Having learned the Gettysburg address in school many years ago, we were amazed to actually be where Abraham Lincoln delivered the speech. Here’s a glimpse of our 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most distinctive waterfront – There is no other colorful waterfront town that we’ve seen like Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia .

Old Town Lunenberg

The “I’ll never do this again” experience – I learned that one while Halibut fishing in Ninilchik, Alaska.

Halibut Fishing

Deep-sea fishing with the other tourists/anglers.  Do I look like I’m having fun?

We’ve hiked so many trails that at this point we can’t really pick favorites, but we agreed these stand out:

Most challenging – Among the many trails we followed around the country, our climb to the top of Picacho Peak in Arizona may have been the most challenging.

Longest – Sometimes we get in over our heads when hiking or walking, and the one to Hoover Dam in Nevada from our campground at Lake Mead clocked in at 14.1 miles.

Most exhausting – Hiking on a rainy day is never in our plans, but when we’re halfway through our trek and the clouds open up we just have to grin and bear it.  Our hike on the Flat Top Summit Trail at Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina was one of those.  We looked like a couple of drowned rats when we got back to the car.

Extreme points we’ve reached in North America

Farthest north – Arctic Circle, Alaska.  To get here we endured a 19-hour guided bus tour, and what an adventure is was during our many hours on Alaska’s Dalton Highway.

Pose at the Arctic circle sign. We made it!

Farthest south – Key West, Florida, lots to do here and what a party town it is!

Southernmost Point of USA

Farthest East – Louisbourg, Nova Scotia  and we happened to be there on its 300th anniversary of its founding in 1713.

 Fortress of Louisbourg

French guard at the Fortress of Louisbourg

Farthest West Anchor Point, Alaska, what a great time we had here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchor Point, AK

Northwestern-most point in the contiguous U.S. – Cape Flattery, Washington.

Cape Flattery

Highest point in North America – we landed on the flanks of 20,320′ Denali Mountain on skis, a totally thrilling trip not to be missed!

Glacier landing

Steve chats with the pilot after a glacier landing on Mount Denali

Lowest point in North America – One of the lowest places in the world at 282′ below sea level, Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park was fascinating.

Death Valley National Park

Largest National Park in the U.S. – At more than 13,000 square miles, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park requires a plane ride just to get to the middle of the park in a reasonable amount of time.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Yukon Alaska

We flew into Wrangell-St. Elias NP, it could take a lifetime to explore it all

Largest lake in the U.S. – Lake Superior made us feel like we were on the shoreline of an ocean!

Most awesome gondola ride – We took a thrilling ride aboard the Peak2peak Gondola in Whistler, Canada, which holds two records; the longest free span between ropeway towers at 1.88 miles, and the gondola with the highest point above ground, 1,430′.

Peak2peak Gondola

The 1.8 mile gondola is the only one in the world that connects two mountain peaks

Just for the heck of it fun tidbits – Mile zero’s

Ice field Parkway

Mile 0 of Highway 93 – Jasper, Canada to Wickenburg, AZ

 

Mile 0 of US 1

Mile 0 of US-1 in Key West, Florida

And the beginning and end of Alaska Highway.

And that wraps up almost five years of our RV travels!

What’s next?

We’re opening a new chapter in our RV life in 2017.  After visiting all of the states, our goal will now be to narrow our search to one or more places where we’d like to stop and park Betsy for long periods of time.  Our travels will be more laid back and less structured, likely focusing more on the western states.  At least that’s the plan as of today, but who knows?  Our blogging will taper off somewhat, and we’re pondering a format change or something for our site.

As we look forward to another year of adventures, we want to THANK YOU for “jamming on down the road” with us!



 

Taking life with a grain of salt – Hutchinson, KS

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Well, we somehow managed to get out of Dodge without facing any gunfights on the streets, although Steve was afraid there might be a little gunplay with me after his moment with the saloon girl.  But it all worked out, and down the road we went to Halstead, Kansas!

We find underground activities to be fun and educational.  Be it in caves to admire formations, or in a subterranean river or in copper or gold mines, we always jump at a chance to learn and be amazed by these kinds of excursions.

Strataca

Surrounded by walls of salt!

In Hutchinson, known as “Salt City,”  a portion of the Hutchinson Salt Mine was opened to the public several years ago to tell the salt story in the form of an underground museum.  Salt was found here accidentally in 1887, when folks drilling for oil to increase land sales discovered salt instead.  The salt bed  beneath the plains is approximately 400 feet thick and stretches 150 miles by 200 miles, containing something like 30 trillion tons of salt.

 

 

Strataca, formerly known as the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, is located 650′ beneath the plains of Kansas.  It exists within the active Hutchinson Salt Company mine, which began operation in 1923 as Carey Salt Company.  There are over a dozen salt mines in the U.S., but only here is access given to the public – and they brag about it.  We were intrigued by this unique experience and paid for two additional tours – the Dark Ride and the Safari Shuttle – in addition to seeing the museum and taking a short tram ride.

Strataca double decker hoist

Waiting for our ride to the bottom

Our trek to the museum 650′ below began with a ride on a double-decker hoist and was a pitch-black descent.  For anyone with claustrophobia, the 90-second ride down in the dark is more than enough reason to skip this adventure (they will turn on a small light if you insist).  When we arrived at the bottom we noticed how different this tour was from others we had taken.

The first thing we noticed as the docent was telling us the rules of the mine was that something resembling snow was falling all around us.  He explained that it was “salt hair”, tiny tufts of salt that fall off the ceiling only happens when the hoist arrives at the bottom of the mine during humid months.  The humidity brought down the shaft moistens little patches of salt and it falls as fine flakes from the ceiling.  It stops falling after a few minutes, then the process starts again when the next hoist arrives.  Cool!

We learned that this mine implements the “room and pillar” mining method, where salt is removed in a checkerboard pattern.  This creates uniform large square open areas that alternate with square pillars of un-mined material 40′ thick, left intact to support the ceiling over the corridors and rooms.

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Totally cool place, and I mean cool – it was almost 90º outside, but it remains a constant 68º down here!

Strataca

The Narrows – this section was blasted out in 2004 to connect the mined areas with the lift shaft

Most of the ceiling was as flat as the prairies above.  We did not feel closed in, as the area looked a lot like a dimly lit parking garage – quiet and with plenty of room to roam about.

Strataca

Main gallery with a museum area, and of course a gift shop

We wandered through the galleries that tell the story of salt mining and the geological history of the area.  We learned how these vast salt caverns under Hutchinson are also used to store over seven million documents and items for companies requiring safe, long-term storage at a constant temperature and humidity.

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Learning about the mining equipment that has been used through the years

We read that once in a while pure salt crystals are found in the mine.  These are formed when fresh water intrudes, then subsequently the salt and sediment liquefy.  This process forces the heavier sediments to settle, leaving pure salt behind.  The salt crystals are usually mined along with the rest of the material, but the chunk below was saved as a display.

Strataca

The only salt we were allowed to touch – a 6,000 pound crystal beauty found in 2004

Salt Stripes at Strataca

The mine walls (this one is in the women’s restroom) are well-defined horizontal lines of salt intermixed with sediment

The salt mine has a natural temperature of 70°F while the average relative humidity remains an ideal 45%.  What a great place to store valuable documents!  In a secured area within the mine is the storage facility for Underground Vaults and Storage, a company that offers 1,660,000 sq. ft. of storage for millions of items.  Access is obviously restricted, but a display showed what it looks like.  The docent told us that the master prints for Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and thousands of other Hollywood films are stored there.

Underground Vault and Storage

Underground Vault and Storage display

After perusing the various displays, we took the brand-new hour-long Safari Shuttle ride, followed by the 1/2 hour Dark Ride.  The Safari Shuttle took us into areas that were mined some 55 years ago, and left virtually untouched since then.  With flashlights they supplied, we went through a maze of chambers beyond the museum area to learn many more interesting facts about the mining environment.

We saw trash, abandoned dynamite boxes and other artifacts that had been left behind.  “Everything that comes down here, stays down here,” the docent said.  That’s because it’s simply too expensive and labor-intensive to take things back out of the mine.  Every machine here had to be cut into little pieces to come down the 5′ x 4′ hoist, then welded back together in the mine.  Amazing!

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Retro-trash left from the 1950’s

Naturally occurring geologic formations were pointed out, such as this salt crystal.  We’re only seeing the mined face of it, but it could be hundreds of feet long.

Unmined salt crystal

Strataca

A re-assembled and modified underground vehicle.  No doors, windows or roof needed down here!

This life-size photo shows mining inspectors looking at the sagging ceiling and raised floor in a chamber.  Salt is pliable, like plastic, and will slowly sag before it breaks.  Some floors buckle due to the incredible weight of the columns pressing down from all sides.

Kansas Underground Salt Museum

Near the end of our tour we stopped at a pile of salt crystals and got to pick up small salt crystal souvenirs to take home.

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“No licking or picking” allowed, except at this little pile

Streetcar Underground Museum

I finally found one I like!

The salt mined here is not for human consumption.  The 500,000 tons mined each year is used for industrial purposes – 70% for de-icing roadways, and the remaining 30% used for tanning cattle hides with large chunks relegated to duty as cattle salt licks.

Kansas Underground salt mine

Piles of rock salt

Camping near Hutchinson (in Halstead) gave us a good opportunity to visit this interesting underground museum.  It’s also a great place to be on a hot day, or if a tornado happens by!  We really enjoyed the experience of learning about salt and how it’s mined.  Who knew there’s a huge salt bed beneath Kansas?

 

Next up:  The Flint Hills