Monday, July 30, 2012

Life Is Great

When I looked in the mirror this morning, I saw a reflection. That is certainly the start to a very good day.

To quote Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes strip this morning. "Life is so, so sweet".

72 years ago today, it was grain harvest season in northeastern Wisconsin. Dad needed all the labor he could get, but this new baby in the household was not what he needed at that time. With Mom occupied with the new mouth to feed, Mom was not her usual great help around the farm -- as well as the house. Of course the crying kid thought of no one but himself. He did not know about the harvest season. Just change the diaper. And he seemed to always be hungry.

I don't remember those early years, but I do recall the times when I thought 72 was really old. Compared to 20 years old, it was old.

Time to do a reset on what is old. That would be 90. Reset complete.

Life is so, so sweet.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Observation And Wondering

This post is a hodge podge of thoughts, observations and a story collected as I explored and drove through the smaller towns of the mountain west.

Small town travels...
Down towns are mostly empty stores. The new developments on the edge of town on the bypass road have replaced those downtown stores. Wal-Mart was never downtown and located its stores along that bypass corridor. Now it replaces its smaller older stores with a new SuperCenter. The old store location is now empty. Kind of like the vacant stores downtown.

Of course this has been going on for 150 years. A natural harbor favored one town over another. Location of railroad routes caused some river towns to die. The location of freeways of the 1950s and cheap fuel doomed many small towns along the old two lane US highways -- and the once prosperous railroad towns. As diesel railroad engines replaced steam locomotives, many towns along the rail route died. The trains didn't have to stop as often for refueling. Building downtown bypasses doomed the century old downtown to vacant buildings. With the advent of big box retailers, the process continues.

What happens when there are only big box retailers to choose from. Wal-mart, Best Buy, Home Depot. Do they have to be concerned with competing when they are the only place where you can buy a specific product. Just wondering.

Everybody has a story... The elderly docent at an unnamed museum in an unnamed town was so happy to be single. Been single for nine years after her husband died. After fifty miserable years with the guy, he got cancer and died. She said that once he knew he was going to die, he was a very pleasant person. Wondered why he could not have been that way for the previous 50 years.

Diesel and Silver Slug Maintenance... Last spring as I was heading north through Arizona from Tucson, diesel prices were over four dollars a gallon. When I left the Cottonwood Arizona area, the last fill up was at $4.25. At that time I considered making the journey to South Dakota via airplane to renew my drivers license. Since I don't want to go through the flying experience again, I decided to continue the road trip. Here in Loveland two days ago, I filled up for $3.64 a gallon. This morning the posted price was $3.55 a gallon.

Why have fuel prices continued this downward trend when earlier this year, the prognosis was that price of diesel would be $5 a gallon. Could it be all that cheap oil found in the shale in Canada. Could it be the unemployed are not driving. Trucking and railroads are not using as much because demand for product is down. Don't know. Just wondering.

The driving trip to South Dakota was not cheap. Seems every town I went through I left money at the local Ford dealership for another maintenance issue for Silver Slug. It's my version of supporting local economies as I travel. Hoping Silver Slug can hold out till 2013 for the next maintance expense. 

Speaking of fuel and natural segue is to ethanol...
Who will win the battle for the limited and expensive corn crop of 2012. Is the corn more valuable as ethanol or as food for people and animals. Should prove interesting. Just be prepared for more expensive foods.

Friday afternoon scene at Boyd State Park... The weekenders are arriving with boats and jet skis in tow. Tents are erected. Many times two to a space. Couple of cars. Every campground space is occupied. In the evening the camp fires glow in all directions. It sure isn't to keep anyone warm since the temps were in the high 70s. Okay. So I am curmudgeon. I know it is for the kids to roast marshmallows. It's a tradition for the camping experience. With all those campfires, it smelled like a forest fire. That meant there were no windows open to enjoy the night time cooler temps.

Then there is some stuff you just can't make up....

Small town Nebraska Chinese restaurant marque advertises chicken fried steak.

A car wash marque advertises "improved soap".

In spite of what may sound like rants and a bad attitude, life is great.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big Cities and Conversation

Driving through small towns for several weeks and arriving on the Front Range of Colorado on I-25, the heavy traffic was first indication that I was back to an urban world.

Although the traffic, long waits at traffic signals and the number of people is a bit disconcerting, I am happy to be here. After months of small towns with little to explore and a lack of grocers to meet my expensive food tastes, there are lots of choices here on the Front Range. Lots of choices.

Then there were the months of no real conversations. There were the usual short term conversations scattered along my travel path, but no real conversations. I obviously missed that opportunity to chat. That is a problem of living alone. With an ear, I do have a tendency to ramble on from one subject to another.

I made up for that little conversation over these past months when I met Rich for coffee/tea on Monday morning at his regular coffee hang out -- Loveland Coffee. Several of his neighbors were there also enjoying their morning coffee. After his neighbors left, Rich and I continued talking. Then we talked right through lunch at a Loveland micro brewery. Maybe it was me that did all the talking. Could have been. Later that day and back home, I noted my throat was sore from all the talk.

Parked for a couple of weeks at Boyd Lake State Park. A pleasant place to park with large spaces and close to the big city experience. Fortunately, the temperatures have moderated to the low nineties. This is great after weeks of daily temps of over 100 degrees during my recent travels. I won't even complain about the smokey fires from my campground neighbors.

The return to the big city has confirmed how much I missed the big city and a community for conversation.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Meeting an Odonatologist

What you ask. You can now impress your friends with your latest acquired knowledge. An odonatologist studies dragonflies and damselflies.

After returning home from some walking exercise along the nearby river, I stopped to chat with an RV park neighbor couple who were sitting outside their pop up camper.

As I arrived he was mounting dragonflies. Had to get the story from this guy. His career was ornithology and he spent many years in field research or in the college classroom. When he retired, there were too many birders for him to continue his passion.

He decided he would find a less crowded pursuit. So with a net in hand he became an odonatologist. Catching dragonflies and damselflies throughout the Midwest has occupied his summers every year since retirement. Mounting and recording the location of the find is part of the research. His work results in a data base of information for the insects and where they were found.

I wondered why they had a second vehicle as they traveled. She laughed and said that while he was tramping around in swamp water, she needed a rental car to get away from the campground to do some of her own exploring. Depending on the length of stay and weather conditions (100 degree temps here) will determine whether they get a rental car.

Everybody has a story. As we talked about birds and bird books, somehow the name Sibley came into the conversation. Soon enough I realized that Fred and his wife are the parents of David Allen Sibley. Son David is the creator and author of the Sibley Field Guide to Birds. (My copy is the Western North America issue.)

Rare for a son to follow in a father's profession. David has been watching birds from a very early age and he was able to observe and hear differences that are not noticed by some one at a more advanced age. Like me.

With David's abilities as an illustrator and curious bird observer, it seemed obvious the next step was to create the Sibley bird guides.

Life is great. Meeting Fred and his wife have proved once again: learning is fun; it's a small world; and everyone has a story.

Getting photos of dragonflies is tough. The photo is from my traveling archives and was taken on a cool morning. A bit sluggish made it possible for me to capture this guy.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Refrigerator Temperature

The original refrigerator in Wandrin Wagon lasted five years. No longer keeping ice cubes frozen and food cold, it was replaced with a new Dometic -- Model DM2852. From the day it was installed, the inside refrigerator temperature was at 32 degrees -- or colder. No matter what I did, that was the warmest I was going to get the refrigerator. Seemed like the unit was trying to be a two compartment freezer. The fins inside the refrigerator were always iced up. That required a frequent defrosting. That usually coincided with a move of Wandrin Wagon.

The way to adjust the temperature on this model of Dometic is to move the thermistor up or down on the cooling fin. To get the refrigerator colder, move the thermistor up on the fin. To get a warmer temperature, move it down the fin. That was the theory.

After having several RV techs look at the refrigerator over the years, the solution was always a new thermistor or controller board. Neither of which was cheap. I decided that I would save the money and live with a refrigerator temperature of 32 degrees. The location of items in the refrigerator kept most items from freezing.

Four years later (last week), I was crunching on some frozen carrots. It might be time to get serious about a fix. Considering the way the money disappears from my checking account recently, it might be time to fix the refrigerator problem and spend more of those disappearing and depreciating dollars.

Since the internet has lots of answers, a search was on to find a possible fix for the refrigerator that wants to be a two compartment freezer. Came across the answer after just a few searches. The suggestion was to move that thermistor from the outside fin to one more centrally located. That outside fin may not be getting cold enough. When I looked at the fin where the thermistor was installed, I noted there was almost no ice on that fin.

Moved the thermistor to a fin which had a larger ice buildup. The next morning I checked the temperature. 40 degrees. Moved the thermistor up the fin about a half inch. The next morning it was 38. This is great. Sure wish I knew about this thermistor location/function years ago.

You gotta wonder how come there is no mention of the thermistor function in the refrigerator users manual. The troubleshooting guide goes through several solutions for a too warm condition. There was not a single mention of a too cold condition. There is not even a mention of the thermistor and its effect on refrigerator temperature. The logic is that the temperature is preset at the factory at build time. No need for adjustments by the owner.

We know how that worked out.

The great part is that the refrigerator fix didn't cost a dime -- or a trip to the hardware store. Life is great.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Reptile Gardens

During my previous visits to the Black Hills, I had passed the Reptile Gardens as something that appeared another of those schlock amusements to part dollars from the tourists. Since the Reptile Gardens was just a few miles away, I decided it was better choice than the very distant exploring that I had been doing.

The visit proved to be a great learning experience. The center piece of the complex is a dome of a tropical environment for several parrot and macaw species and several different lizards -- if you were able to spot them in the jungle undergrowth.

After leaving the dome, my exploring continued as I walked along the walls of glassed enclosures containing snakes from around the world from the most poisonous to the more common garter snake. The collection included all varieties. At each cage, there was a sign identifying the snake, where in the world it was from, its living habits and if venomous -- how deadly.

There wasn't a whole lot of movement to these guys. This sign explains that since all their needs are taken care of they have no need to move.

This much larger glass enclosure contained two Burmese pythons.One was an albino. As I walked along I was glad there was glass between me and the snakes. These pythons were scary -- even behind glass.

Besides snakes, other creatures are in the glassed enclosures. Lizards and tarantulas are two that I recall.

Outside the domed building are more reptile exhibits. Since this isn't a petting zoo, this enclosure is behind two fences to keep the curious from venturing in to pet the crocodiles, alligators and caimans.

Is this an orthodontic problem. Probably not for a crocodile. But it did remind me to floss my teeth.

I passed on a bird show to watch this guy talk about and play with these reptiles. The show was quite educational. Note that he did not take a larger alligator to demonstrate his wrestling skills.

After his demonstration, he assured his audience that we were now trained to handle alligators. Not Wandrin Lloyd!

Off to more exhibits within the complex, there was a petting zoo -- of tortoises. This was the only place where the tourists were allowed to pet the animals. Of course that meant there was an endless stream of kids sitting next to the tortoises as their parents took photos. Happened to catch another tortoise in another enclosure that wasn't part of the "petting zoo".

After a couple of hours, my brain had absorbed a lot of new information. Then there were the crowds of the Fourth of July holiday week. It would have been a more pleasant time with fewer people.

The Reptile Gardens was certainly worth the visit. It far exceeded my expectations.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nature Is In Control

Once again, Nature is in control. Not just here in the Black Hills, but in many places across the country. In addition to wild fires in many places in the western states, some eastern states experienced deadly thunderstorms.

In the Black Hills, many days the temperatures have been in the mid 90s. Several wild fires burn nearby in the Black Hills. Smoky air bothers my eyes and sinuses.

With the heat and smoke, my hiking and exploring has been limited. To get some (the operative word) exercise, I've been walking around the RV park -- Hart Ranch. This is an RV resort with large pool, restaurant, activities, etc. Bring the family -- or grand kids -- for the weekend or the July Fourth holiday. Right now the place is packed for the holiday. I'm here for the price -- not the amenities. It is a base for exploring the area.

Compared to other options in the Black Hills, it is an inexpensive place to stay with my Thousand Trails/RPI membership. Yeah I know there are even less expensive places to park in the Black Hills. However, with the 90 degree temps, A/C has become a priority.

The unfortunate part about the Hart Ranch location is the driving distance to hiking trails and other exploring options. I've essentially traded exploring and hiking convenience for inexpensive full hook-up RV parking. Amazing what I can justify. Inexpensive RV campground so I can buy diesel fuel.

The walks around the RV park are providing interesting observations. Camping runs the gamut from tents to Class A coaches. Some of the larger condos on wheels bring all their stuff along with them -- the boat, the motorcycle, the 4x4 ATV -- along with a full set of patio furniture. The RV life style -- and the stuff brought along -- is only limited by money. Included in the observations are the people -- and their yippy little dust bunny sized dogs. Enough said!

Back to the theme. Nature is in control. So I've made concessions to living within the restrictions. Hang around home some days, read, spend time on the computer or walk the neighborhood. Life is great. I've got choices.