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Sunday, November 15, 2015

GR2 GOES CAVING


Leaving the huge Truck Stop – the Iowa-80, we head to the Mississippi River and the state if Illinois. It is a lovely day, but as we reach the river were are immersed in fog. It doesn’t really clear for a few hours. Despite this we do manage a few glimpse of the river as we head north to the historic town of Galena. Believe it or not this place that we have never heard of used to be bigger than Chicago. Its wealth came from lead mining, and it shows in the many prosperous homes & rows of shops. It is one of those places that is nice to wander around – not overdone with touristy stuff. Finally we head off & trail through back roads until we finally stop for the night beside the Wisconsin River.

More back roads, until we reach the motorway. We are now in Wisconsin & heading to the capitol of the State – Madison. We rather enjoy visiting the State Capitol Buildings. We easily drive to the city centre, despite it being rush hour, & find a car park close by. And yes it is another awesome Capitol Building. We can even go right to the top for views of the city. There is a farmers market in one of the roads heading towards the lake so we head down to explore. Would love to buy heaps of the fresh veges, but will be coming home soon so have to limit my purchases. Finally head north towards Lake Winnebago passing the Osh Kosh factory – not where they make kids clothes, but army trucks. Talk about diversification. For some reason we assumed Winnebago Motorhomes would be made in Winnebago – the next town, but they are not. So we carry on heading north to our next destination – the Door Peninsula that sticks out in to Lake Michigan. It is nearly dark so we find a spot beside the beach – cheekily in front of a YMCA camp that is closed for the season.

Today we spend most of the day exploring the peninsula. The beaches & little harbours are lovely, but the beaches are mostly built on, so it is hard to get to the water. Of course there is heaps of accommodation, shops & attractions – but most are closed for the season. Our favorite spot on the west side is Egg Harbour with its glorious old buildings. Inland there is lots of farming, including apple & cherry orchards. As we head down the east coast fog swirls in, so we make a stop for lunch, then fill up with water at the Rangers office. By the time we have finished the fog has cleared and we can finish our drive. Then we set our GPS of Milwaukie, get back on the motorway & drive. We turn off the motorway for a late coffee & find ourselves right on a lovely beach on Lake Michigan – our hotspot is working so we arrange a tour of the Power Train Line (Engine & transmission) at the Harley Davidson factory for tomorrow morning. John suggests we camp in their car park but I push to stay here in this nice spot by the beach & drive in to the city in the morning. – So that is what we do. Up early in case we get stuck in traffic – but all is good and we arrive at 7.30am. Plenty of time to spare – the tour is at 9.15am. I stay in GR2, happily doing photos, blog & whatever. I feel no great desire to see engines assembled. When John gets back at 12 we both go in to the museum – very high tech & well done. Fortunately John has no desire to linger here too long. Next port of call – the ginormous Coors Miller Factory. And yes they do excellent free tours, ending with samples of 3 beers. Great value. By now it is getting late so we head south to the first free camp spot we can find – a Sams Club store. It is right beside a Walmart, but because it isn’t open all night, much quieter.

Saturday morning we are up bright & early to head in to Chicago. Perfect day to head in – traffic not too bad & we can park easily to head in to the Visitor centre to get sorted out. Then we head to McCormack Place Convention Centre where we have heard, & double checked, we can camp with the trucks. We expect to pay $30 per night & indeed the sign says $35, but the guy at the boom gate says –”It’s free for you!” Awesome. So follows 2 very busy days exploring the city by foot, by local bus, by train, by hop-on hop-off bus & by boat. The highlights of course are the amazing architecture in such a small area, the sunset view from the Hancock Building, taking photos of the city reflected in the “bean” & the famous deep dish pizzas that we queue for ages for. It will take a lot of exercise to get rid of all those cheesy calories. Yum! To top it off the weather is gorgeous.

Sunday morning we did toy with the idea of driving in to the city & parking, but changed our minds – thankfully. The Hot Chocolate 15km Run was on & heaps of the roads were closed & city carparks full. On Monday morning we head out of the city following the waterfront – not sure if we are legal as there is a no truck sign. Lots of rush hour traffic so we decide to hit the motorways. We are now tracking towards Kansas City to put GR2 in to storage, but have a few days left. Can’t possibly spend them cleaning & sorting.

As we head south we revert to the back roads and find that we are following the Historic Route 66 again (this is one incredibly long route). So we meander along following “The Route”. Heaps of little towns with lots of signs & memorabilia. A fun stop is at Pontiac where the whole town is overtaken by the route. Here the Mayor and minister of tourism spy our truck and come over for a chat.  There are free museums & murals on every corner. Also there is a great little museum about Pontiac Cars – they started here. Interesting fact - they were named after an Indian Chief. A lovely guy by the name of Freddy even goes to get a no plate for John when he sees that we do not have the “Illinois” plate in our collection yet.

Finally stop for the night beside the lake in Moraine View State Park – great to have a roaring fire again. The next day brings more back roads & more friendly people. We pull off for coffee at Mt Pulaski & look at their old courthouse where Lincoln once worked (we are in the thick of Lincoln territory now). We get a special opening while some work is done.  Next stop Springfield to explore the Capitol Building (as recommended by the locals from Mt Pulaski) – it is amazing, as they all are. Although it is not quite the same with a very noisy protest meeting taking place in the foyer. Every State seems to have a gorgeous Capitol Building. We wander town- there are signs about Lincoln everywhere as this was his home town. Sadly the Historic part of town is deserted, but the new area outside town is full of the usual massive shopping centers and chain restaurants.

As we continue our drive we see lots more sections of Route 66. Another cute stop is Girard. Actually we didn’t plan to stop – but when a lady in the car in front of us kept gesturing out her window John had to stop. She wanted to show us her town – The old Chemist/ Soda fountain shop was a great mix of diner & museum. Lovely to meet all of you from Girard.

Finally we reach St Louis at rush hour & head right in to the centre. Due to road closures we miss our turnoff, which gives us a chance to drive through the old market area before backtracking to the biggest attraction in town – the colossal Arch (known as the Jefferson Expansion Memorial). I tell John that we can go to the top in a tram. He really doesn’t believe me – but we can and we do. Awesome. We are cramped into a tiny cable car to go to the top – it is 630ft high & takes us 4mins to get up. Obviously John goes on about what would happen if it stopped etc. And obviously I tell him politely to shut up. Fabulous views of sunset. It is dark when we get out, so we set the GPS to the nearest Walmart & head there for the night.

We have 2 days left, so we simply look on the map for scenic routes – only find one in the right direction so follow it across country (in this case the State of Missouri) & then head north through the Ozarks – rolling hillsides with a massive lake. Finally we arrive at Kansas City – after a short shopping stop at a huge Outlet complex (sorry John). Nearly there we find a truck wash – GR2 looks great – best she has looked for ages. She actually sparkles again. The next morning we put her inside a huge limestone cave for the next few months. An amazing place with miles of underground storage – nearly a city in its own rite. Then the long journey home.

As usual it has been a great trip. Many thanks again to the boys at SLR for the fabulous job they did building GR2. The real bonus this time was being able to use our bathroom as a drying room as it does take longer for things to dry when it is cold. We simply close off the heater vent in the main area & open the vent in the bathroom where the clothes are hanging and Viola!! Clothes dry quickly.

More to come: 2016

 

 

 

 

 

GR2 GOES CAVING -PHOTOS

Exploring the old town of Galena

Not many leaves left on those trees! Still finding spots to camp beside the rivers

Inside Madison Capitol Building

Those seats are really comfy - session is not on today

View of the lake from Capitol building - we head down to the markets

Capitol - Madison

Driving up the Door Peninsula

Heading back down the other side - Lake Michigan

Great spot to camp beside Lake Michigan

The Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukie

One of the very first Harleys

Just a little bling!!

Chicago skyline from the Hop on Hop off bus

Gotta try to be arty ocasionally

Trumps glitzy tower

More arty ones

View from the Hancock building

Sunset from Hancock building

After sunset

YUM - full of calories. Deep dish pizza or pizza pie

The Cloud or more commonly called The Bean. If you look very closely you can see us in the middle taking a selfie

Everyone is busy taking selfies

On the river

Have to try some more local food

Following that Route 66 again

No one is really there - it is just wall art

Can't resist the pose

Another Capitol building - at Springfield

Inside

We met Mr Deck (junior) who ran the shop in the Route 66 heyday

The amazing arch in St Louis - hard to believe that we went up inside it

View from the top - proof that we made it

GR2 is sparkling - our collection of number plates - all the states we have been to in Canada & USA

Following the lead car in to the maze of tunnels

Friday, November 6, 2015

FOLLOWING SUNNY WEATHER


From Rapid City we are heading to Badlands National Park. But first the usual chores: food, loo, water, and diesel. Also a stop at a tyre shop to check the front wheel – we have a slow leak. Finally leave town by midday. We are driving the scenic route – not much traffic & not heaps to see, except the tiny ghost town of Scenic, then the southern section of Badlands. We finally reach the Info centre by 4pm. The free camping area is still open, but part of the road is closed so there will be a long detour. We have to resist the temptation to stop at any lovely lookouts – we can do them tomorrow.  It is nearly dark when we arrive. Such a chilly night I am sure the heater goes nearly non-stop all night.

Wake to a nice clear day. It is not until we are outside we realise that the wind is very bitey. The long drop toilets are the craziest – I have nicknamed them f… freezers! There is usually an updraft – but today it has risen to a whole new level. It doesn’t stop us loving the park, just means we pull on jackets, hats & gloves at every stop. As usual I just love any kind of badland – and this one is spectacular. To top it off there is plenty of wildlife- We see heaps of bison, coyote, bighorn sheep (with some great horns), deer and some huge Prairie Dog Towns. We do a lot of the shorter walks, but decide it is too chilly to do the longer ones. Finally we head off back to the motorway. We then pop in to see Minuteman Missile National Historic Site- the tours for the day are fully booked, so we content ourselves with the movie & exhibits. Who would have thought missiles would become a Historic Site. But forgot to mention – this morning before we drove back through the park, we popped in to see one of USA weird & wonderful places as mentioned by Lonely Planet. Wall Drug! It started as a very quiet drug store in a tiny town & by using huge billboards offering free ice water it has now grown to a massive tourist attraction pulling in over 2 million tourists a year. We enjoyed all the memorabilia, photos, 5 cent coffee & slices of pie.

Next stop Murdo. Brian (the guy with the electric car) has very highly recommended the Car Museum there, so naturally John wants to go. We arrive by 4pm (but time change means it is 5pm). We have 1 hour before closing. As we hardly touch the surface of it all we stay in the carpark for the night. This would probably be our chilliest night yet – our water pipes start to freeze! After spending a few more hours at the museum we sit down with our maps to work out our next route. Everyone tells us to go south! We can’t pick up Wifi and check weather – so we make the decision to head south to sunny Nebraska.

First town is Valentine – and yes 1,000’s of letters every year arrive here to get stamped with “Valentine”. We stop at the huge Outdoor Outfitters. John doesn’t get a belt, but I come out with a pair of cowgirl boots (my weakness – shoes) finally on the road – passing the sand dune area. A lot of it is farmed, but it is still sand dunes – right here in the middle of the country. We end the day at a small free camp area beside a rodeo. Should be quiet – but NO. The trains pass continually. Each one hoots its horn 11-12 times going through town. I didn’t count – John did. Some are so heavy the whole motorhome shakes – it’s all that coal heading east. Still we manage to sleep OK.

The next morning we head to the city of Grand Island. So far in Nebraska our phones have not been working and we have been trying to check with Ashley if we should pop in and see any of her family. Finally in Grand Prairie – we get phone range & Wifi. As it is a gray drizzly day we stop for our usual errands. But this time we get ourselves some new bedding. A nice comforter will keep us extra snuggly at night. We haven’t heard from Ashley’s Aunt Peggy so we stop for the night at a convenient Wildlife Refuge just out of Lincoln.

We are woken in the morning (Saturday) by boats going out. And no they are not all fishing – some are shooting. So much for being a Refuge! Anyway, we have heard from Peggy and we head to their place. Breakfast out before returning to watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers play American football (not at all like ours!) It was great meeting you Mike & Peggy.

Early afternoon we leave as there is one last tour of the Senate Building at 2pm. No traffic in town of course – they are all home watching the game. Eventually leave town and start following more scenic routes (you know the roads with green dots beside them). Detour in to the very lovely old town of Plattsmouth. I head us down the wrong road & we find a yard with rows of very old cars. John gets chatting with the owner and before you know it he comes out with a Nebraska no plate to add to his growing collection on the side of GR2. By now it is getting late (the sun is now setting at 5pm) so we find a camp spot right beside the Missouri River well away from the craziness of Halloween (we forgot to stock up on sweets for any visiting kids)

Next morning we head to Omaha (Ashley’s old home town). She has sent us addresses for her house & school, & as they are not far off our route we do a drive by. Then head in to the city centre to explore. The markets are not open yet, but lack of traffic makes it easy for us to stop wherever we like. It certainly is a lovely city & the riverfront has had a great new upgrade. Iowa - the next state is across the river. We are now driving north on the Western Skies Scenic Byway – miles of beautiful rolling farmland. Mostly corn & most of it already harvested. Finally off the back roads, we put the capitol – Des Moines – in to the GPS and head in, again to the Capitol Building. Awesome! But no tour today – it is closed on Sunday. Our destination for tomorrow is the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum at Knoxville (I can hardly wait!!) so we decide to camp just past it at a State Park. By the time we reach Knoxville it is getting dark so we stay in the carpark overnight.

The Museum opens at 10am. I wasn’t going to go in, but I am told it is really good, which is true. There are some amazing cars set out really well. I was finished in about half an hour, John more like 2 hours. Sadly the racing has finished for the season. Finally we again head north along lots more scenic back roads. We particularly enjoy the little Dutch town of Pella with its very Dutch buildings complete with windmill & glockenspiel (sadly the clock wasn’t working) Next stop was the Amana Villages – a group of German villages – although cute they are very tourist orientated. By now it is getting late so we turn on to the motorway and head to the World’s Biggest Truck Stop – the Iowa 80 Truckstop. There is room here for 900 semis & there sure are plenty here tonight all buzzing. What a noise. We head right to the back for the night.

This morning we cross in to Illinois – I am starting to get some of these States confused. We keep checking the weather – it looks OK in Chicago so we think we continue heading north. Part of our ever evolving travel plan.

Coming soon: The Door Peninsula in Wisconsin then south through Milwaukee, Chicago and finally to Kansas City. (Probably no more route changes now as we are heading home soon)

 

FOLLOWING SUNNY WEATHER - PHOTOS

The ghost town of Scenic

Driving in to the Badlands - 2 bighorned sheep at dusk

Up early the next morning - Badlands

Love those Badlands

A quick detour to Wall Drug

A picyure says a thousand words!! John being a big kid at Wall Drug

Back to the Badlands

Magic

The same guys we saw last night

Even more

Pioneer Auto Show & Antique Town at Murdo

Remember Dukes of Hazzard - one of their cars

Peggy & Mike outside their house in Lincoln

Inside the Capitol Building - sadly a bit glary

The Capitol Building in Lincoln

Old cars at Plattsmouth

Camping beside the Missouri River

Outside Ashleys old school

Omaha City Markets - not much happening today

On Omaha waterfront

Missouri River - Omaha

An amazing wagon train in Omaha city

The Capitol Building in Des Moines

John is a very happy boy - Knoxsville National Sprint Car Hall of Fame

My favorite - the highest speed record on Bonneville Salt Flats - 211.59MPH

Pella

Amana Villages

Truckstop