Modifications to the RV prior to leaving for the Balloon Fiesta.

After getting back from the NW trip I had a list of things I wanted changed or added before departing for the Balloon Fiesta trip.   First modification was to move  the living room TV/Couch from the driver’s side to the passenger side, thus allowing the chairs to be moved to the larger slide behind the driver.  This switch simplifies the tasks needing to be done when arriving and departing.  Also allows someone to sit in those chairs while driving now that there are seat belts although the ottomans are normally seat-belted in.  Currently those seat belts hold on to the ottomans.  I’d hate to get hit by one of those in an emergency stop.

Next thing was to install a motion light by the inside stairs.  I happened to find something on Amazon that now after using it a few days is the perfect solution.  Motion LED light.   It’s rechargeable via a micro USB cable.  And to make it even simpler to install, it has a metal plate with 3M tape to mount it to your surface.  Then you can remove the light at any time to charge it as it’s magnetically attached to the plate you installed.   It only stays on 18 seconds, which is perfect for entering or leaving the RV.  It’s affixed to a flat surface under the passenger-side pullout drawer.  I like it so much I want to buy more, so I am trying to figure out where I need them first.

After installing that, I tackled installing some drip channel above the windshield.  A buddy told me he had done that and it really helped keep that huge piece of glass clean while parked.  Prior to adding this, water and dirt from the roof would streak down the windshield after just a day or so, making it necessary to clean it almost every day.   Since adding that a week ago, I haven’t had any dirt streaks on the windshield at all.  Now if I could only figure out a way to keep the bugs from splattering while driving!

I then drilled a large hole in the dining room cabinet to install a power tower that can pull up or close down when not needed.  The only outlet in that area was under the table, very difficult to get a plug into.    Power Pop-Up Station, three outlets      I also installed a small 8″ square piece of sheet metal on the roof to act as a ground plane for our  Cell Phone Signal Booster

The last thing I accomplished during the time between trips was to install   640 watts of solar panels on the RV roof.   Last year I installed a Bogart Trimetric Battery Meter that measures amps into and out of the house battery pack.  That helped me determine how much energy needed to be put back into the batteries after a 24-hour period,  giving me a starting point to determine what I might need.  First I built a 200w portable suitcase, documented in an earlier post last spring.   I sorted out the controller details and approximately how much wattage I needed.   I then installed a controller in the coach that was sized for the panels on the roof; but while I did more research on what panels to buy, I could use it for the portable panels I have stowed in the RV basement till I pulled the trigger on the roof- mounted panels.

Fast forward to now.   I first tested each panel with a voltmeter laying in the back of the pickup truck to see if I had any DOA panels.   Then I did what I call a “sidewalk test”, laid them out on the side walk one morning and hooked them up to the coach’s controller to see if they put out amps.

I installed 4  Renogy Flexible 160w mono solar panels, all serially connected to keep the amperage low and the voltage high, allowing for much less voltage drop on the 35′ cabling runs from the roof to the controller via the rear cap.   I wanted to line them up along the passenger side edge but there were some things sticking up on the roof that would create shadows on the panels so a couple of them were moved further inboard the others.

I used 2 tubes of Sikaflex 252 for gluing down the panels to the fiberglass roofing.  Renogy recommended that as it would stick to their ETFE material.   All in all it was a simple process to install and cable them.  The only actual difficult part was fishing the cables down thru the inside of the rear cap.   You cannot see what you are doing as all you have is a 1″ hole and it’s not a straight shot to the bottom.   I eventually found a 1/4″ x 10′ piece of threaded rod that was stiff enough and flexible enough, and long enough to come out the bottom.   Everything I had that might have worked was only 6′ long.  Not enough to come thru the bottom of the compartment where I could grab it and pull it further down and over to the Controller storage compartment.

It’s all done and it generates a lot of power!   Next week we will be dry camping at the Balloon Fiesta for 12 days.   That should give me a lot of empirical data to work with for any future modifications.

Yes,  flexible panels were more expensive than rigid panels; but after I figured in the costs of the mounts and extra time it would take to install, not to mention the piece of mind while driving down the freeway that those heavy rigid panels might have become decapitation projectiles to an unlucky car following behind….  I am very happy with my decision.   The rigid mounting brackets I wanted to use were from AM Solar, and they were about $80 per panel.

We will see how they hold up over time.

The North by Northwest Trip.

Now that the trip is over, here is the map of states we have visited so far and the map of all the places we stayed this trip is below that.    Once we are back from Beach Week, I will be buying and installing 600 watts of solar panels on the roof of the coach before the Balloon Fiesta trip.

The long haul from Boise to San Diego..

We left Boise on Wednesday morning for an overnight in Winnemucca, NV.    The ride was pretty uneventful and desert dry.  Leaving the Boise area meant leaving most anything that was green behind us for a while.   Winnemucca is a very hot and desolate place.  The RV park was nice but mostly empty except for a few RV’s that, like us, did not detach their toads so they could get a jump on the next days drive.

We left Winnemucca pretty early to drive to the next campground south of Carson City Nevada,  another very hot place.    Unfortunately when we pulled in and registered for our pull-thru, the clerk said we would need to detach the toad prior to him leading us to our site.  When I asked why, he mentioned his pull-thru’s were only 45′ long.   Technically it was a pull-thru, but not what was expected when they charged us more for a “pull-thru” site.   I think most folks would expect a pull-thru to allow them to leave the toad or truck pulling a trailer attached.   That was not the case here.   And the roadways between the pull-thru’s were barely 8′ wide, making me wince as I passed long trailers and coaches with only inches between my mirrors and their rigs.    I would bypass the Silver City Resort if you have a larger coach or trailer.    I had the same experience on the narrow roadways when leaving in the morning for the drive to Lone Pine.

During the drive south on US 395, we experienced a lot of smoke coming from the Sierra Nevada mountains.   It was especially dense near Mammoth Lakes.    In Lone Pine we pulled in to a very nice campground with quite a few trees in this very desert-like area.  We had a true pull-thru and even had some shade.  The trees weren’t the best for shading us, but anything is better than nothing.    We left the campground before 8am so we could bypass a stay near Victorville where I assumed it would be even hotter as it’s pretty much in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and August in the Mojave is a pretty painful place to be.

We made it home by about 2pm on Saturday afternoon (Aug 4th) and it was really hot here too.  UGH!   We unloaded a few things from the coach that would be needed, like pillows and a few other things.   On Sunday morning we started the real unload till around 9am by which time it was toasty again.   It took us till Tuesday morning to get it fully unloaded and clean so I could bring it over to the storage lot that afternoon.   Just in time to start gathering stuff to stay a week at the beach!

Boise, Freak Alley, Warhawk Museum, Snake River and Vicinity.

We arrived in Caldwell, Idaho, in the early afternoon Sunday and got the couch set up to live in.   It was over 100 when we got there and it got hotter as it got later.   We drove over to Susan and Jeff’s house in the late afternoon and had a great dinner with the family.

Monday morning I booked campsites for Winnemucca,  Carson City, and Lone Pine,  for the drive home.   Still need to make a rez for somewhere near the Cajon Junction, but I never did make one as we just wanted to get home and not cook another day in the desert.

We then drove over to see Jeff’s construction site.  It was a huge project with 22 large apartment buildings, 290 units, way larger than what I was thinking.    We went out for burgers at a place called Famous Dave’s.  I had never heard of him, so maybe he isn’t as famous as he thinks.   After lunch we dropped Jeff at his office and we headed over to the capitol building, which was gorgeous inside with all the white marble, then the Old Penitentiary and Botanical Gardens.




The riverfront park or Boise Greenspace,  as it is called here, is pretty incredible with its 25 or so miles of pathways for walkers and bikers next to the Snake River.  There were lots of folks in rafts and tubes floating by while we were there.

After hanging in the shade of the Greenspace for a while, I wanted to drive down to the basalt cliffs southwest of town, but I missed the turn and stumbled on a very large earthen dam on the Snake River just a few miles from Boise before we could find a place to make a U-Turn.  It was complete with a hydroelectric power station.  We drove over the top to the boat launch area.   It was a big lake with lots of power boats pulling kids on rafts and tubes at high speed.

On the way up to the top of the dam, we spied a large cove at the bottom with a big water jet spraying up maybe 50 feet in the air and lots of people all around on kayaks, rafts and tubes trying to keep cool in the high heat of the afternoon.   We drove down there, but ended up turning around as all the signs said no pets allowed.   As we got close to the kiosk at the gate, one of the signs even said no pets allowed in the car either.    So we turned around and drove back toward the cliffs I had come to see in the first place.    Just prior to the turnoff for the cliffs, I spotted a small dam, so I stopped to take a look at it.   Kathy wouldn’t get out of the car it was so toasty outside.  She stayed in the air conditioning and I walked over to it in the sweltering heat.

We also found a diversionary dam further back the way we came.   It appears to take some of the water from downstream of the dam and divert it into irrigation canals.   We snapped a few pics of the basalt cliffs and headed back into town to find Freak Alley.   Kathy told me it was closed today, but that sounded a bit odd to me.  How would they close an alley?    It turned out to be one of the most interesting places in Boise.   What Kathy had read was closed was a place called Freak Alley Gallery, a store next to one of the entrances to the alley.

It was a great place to spend twenty minutes walking thru and looking at all the crazy paintings on the building walls.  There are some excellent artists’ paintings there.  The alley is about two blocks long.  I am sure my pictures won’t do it justice, but if you are ever in Boise, it’s a must see.


On Tuesday I headed out alone to see  the Warhawk Museum.   On the way I mapped out a much needed car wash for the toad.   To my surprise, it took a long time to find an actual full-service car wash.   Each “full-service” spot I drove to was self service, but included some free time on the vacuums. Appears that is what they call “full service” here in Idaho.   I had almost given up when I happened to drive past what looked like a regular car wash.   Pulled in and it was!    They did a great job getting all the dead bugs off the front of the car.   Now that I think of it,  we hadn’t washed it since leaving home.    The interesting part of the car wash was the gas station, regular gas was $3.35 a gallon and next door to them regular gas was $2.91.  That’s a pretty large difference for two name brand stations next to each other.

BTW,   I wanted a full-service place since it was about 106 degrees outside.

The Warhawk Museum is a small place crammed full of stuff from WWII.  Planes, vehicles and small vignettes with personal stories of GI’s.  The most amazing thing I saw in the museum was a glider from the D Day invasion force.  I didn’t know any had survived, and from the looks of this one, it may be the only one.  It was in pretty bad shape but really gave you a sense of how small and vulnerable to gunfire they were.
























Sure hope it’s a lot cooler back in San Diego as we should be there in less than a week!  (It wasn’t)

Heading for Winnemucca (the armpit of hell it turns out) in the morning.

Craters of the Moon and the Arco Idaho area

We left Dillon, MT, and headed south on the I-15 freeway till we hit Dubois, Idaho, where we turned right for the long desolate trip over to Arco, Idaho.   We passed a lot of nothing for most of the way there; but then coming over a small hill stretching out before us were a lot of green fields, obviously irrigated, in extreme contrast to mostly brown everywhere around it.   Eastern Idaho is similar to eastern Washington:  basically a desert with some irrigated areas.

We got to Arco. and as we drove thru the town, I spotted a conning tower from a nuclear attack submarine with the hull number 666 on it.   That was a pretty strange site since we hadn’t seen a drop of water anywhere near there.   We drove thru the small town, and on the other side we found our destination, Mountain View RV Park.   I went inside to register and it smelled very good in the office.   Turns out it’s also a restaurant open for dinner on weekends specializing in smoked baby back ribs.

We registered and pulled the coach into our campsite to deploy.  It was rather hot in Arco, so the first thing that got hooked up was the 50 amp cable to power both the A/C’s to get the heat under control.

After we were finished setting up, I mapped a route to EBR-1, the local nuclear reactor/museum 20 miles east of the town that was built around 1949-1951.  Harry Truman, the sitting president was there for its dedication.  It was the first reactor  built to generate electricity.   It was successful and generated about 300 KW.   It used what I thought was an odd system to keep the reactor cool,  liquid metal, not water. basically sodium and potassium that was pumped around by magnetic pumps mounted on the outside of the pipes which seemed ingenious.  If they broke you didn’t need to dissemble the piping to fix them.

We followed the signs to a single building way off in the distance with nothing else to be seen in the surrounding area.    As we drove up, there was an ambulance and fire truck.   Not the best sign when arriving.   The firemen were just hanging around talking to the young women working there, from what I could tell.   Probably not much to do out here for them unless there is a fire,  which didn’t seem to be a problem this day.

We just happened to get there as a reactor tour was about to start.  It was very fascinating to see a decommissioned nuclear power plant up close and personal like this.   Standing on top of the reactor vessel and looking down inside,  it is filled with concrete now.  Something I learned while there was this was also a breeder reactor, it made plutonium too.   They used that plutonium in another reactor designed to run from plutonium to make power.   If you are ever in the area, you must stop and take a tour.  They are free and well worth the time to drive a bit out of your way to see it.







The next morning there was smoke in the air.   We got an early start to visit the Craters of the Moon National Monument as it was supposed to be very hot again today.   The park was about 20 miles west of town.  As we drove out of the campground, we were wondering where all the smoke in the air was coming from.  Kathy was told it was coming from the fires in Northern California by a ranger at the visitor center, but I thought it was more likely coming from the large fires a bit north of Boise, as they were due west and much, much closer.

We drove into the park and picked up a map.   It was another $20 saved by the park pass we bought last year for $10.   All the roads inside this park were newly paved and in excellent shape.   Pretty much a first for that.  The area you can drive is a short loop, about 7 miles, and the overlooks were pretty cool, but you have to remember this is an ancient lava field.   Nothing has happened here in many millennia.    We took lots of pictures, but for all intents and purposes, it was a bit underwhelming to me.

But there were a couple cool spots,  the splatter cones and hillsides of miniature buckwheat plants that appear to have been planted on some sort of grid system.    It was still fairly early in the morning but was well on its way to being 102 degrees when we got there.

On the way back, we stopped by the conning tower in Arco and noticed on a large cliff face above the town lots of numbers painted on the stone cliffs.  Turns out they are the work of each year’s high school class.  The graduating class climbs up there and paint their years number.    Whatever happened to S mountain…  Hey,  that’s our blog’s namesake,  S mountain,  aka Cowles Mountain.


Kathy spotted the most oddly painted motel off to the right of the park hosting the conning tower so we had to take some pictures of that too.

Arco is a quirky little berg.    Oh, and Arco is the first town in the world to have been powered by nuclear energy.    That appears to be its claim to fame.    The Idaho National Laboratory is located 20 or so miles west and they are responsible for all the research on our country’s nuclear power generation systems past, present and future.

We had a pretty good dinner at the campground restaurant,  smoked baby back ribs were their specialty.  It wasn’t Phil’s ribs, but they were pretty good.   Especially considering we were in a “hole in the wall” town in the middle of nowhere.

Tomorrow we head for Boise!

Starting the long trek home

We left West Glacier early Wednesday morning for a  few nights in Missoula visit with my Niece.   We were trying for a few days be Missoula is a busy place in the summer and they don’t have many campgrounds close by.   We ended up only being able find a single night in a run down Jellystone resort just north of town.

On the way south we drove by one of the prettiest lakes we had seen, and it was very long,  we seemed to be driving along it for over a half hour at a good clip.   It was called Flathead lake.   We only saw two boats on the whole thing,  one sailboat and later a very small boat that looked like a guy was fishing from it.   Otherwise it was a huge empty lake.

We arrived at Jellystone in the early afternoon and got settled.   We drove into Missoula to get groceries and made arrangements to get some dinner at the brewery our Niece works at.

Went in and ordered a flight and my favorite was the Scotch Ale.   We had a boxed dinner from a food truck and had some beers,  Kathy had a really good Root Beer,  all she needed was some Ice Cream and it would have been a red letter day!

We drove back and began to pack up the coach as I made a reservation for a night in Dillion Montana,  probably 150 miles south.   That was an uneventful drive, but the park was surprisingly nice.  It was literally in the middle of no where with a lot of very nice diesel pushers already parked there when we arrived, and quite a few more showed up before 5pm.   That park was completely full, including a very nice grassy area under some trees with about 5 tents.   It was called Countryside RV Park south of Dillon Mt.    It was the nicest park around,  nice and far from the freeway and railroad tracks that the other two parks were right next to, actually, one of the parks was right in between the tracks and the freeway.

We head for Arco Idaho in the morning.

Going to the Sun Road.

Monday morning we got an early start for us,  by 8:30 we were already on the road heading for the Glacier National Park gate.   When we got to the gate, we realized we weren’t all that early based on the long lines to get thru the $35 entrance gate.   I sure do like that $10 lifetime park pass!!

Our first stop was a short way, about 10 miles up the Going To The Sun Road (GTTSR) to the Lake McDonald Lodge.   We parked and walked around the hotel and gawked at all the old red tourist buses (or Red Jammers as they are called) from the 1930’s that actually looked brand new to me.  Turns out around 2002 Ford Motor Corp had them all redone with new chassis and motors.  I am not sure if Ford bought the original bus maker called White Motor Company.   They looked magnificent!   And there are 33 of them running thru the park.   We were dodging them all day on the GTTSR.  They are no longer manual transmissions, but the “Jammer” name has stuck even without anyone jamming the gears all day long.   The open tops looked pretty awesome.

The lodge was pretty rustic inside, kind of a Swiss Chalet look and feel.   The big fireplace in the main room was pretty massive, would be a real treat to hover there after a cold afternoon some winter day.   We went out back, which overlooked Lake McDonald.  There was a dock and a tour boat that looked like it had been there a long time.   The lake was pretty large,  at least 10 miles long, probably longer.

After checking out the lodge and grounds, we headed further up the GTTSR.   It was slow going once the 45 mph signs got replaced with the 25 mph signs and the road got steeper and narrower with sheer drops on the right side.. Phew, not on my side as I was driving!   This road clings to the rock walls, it must have been a bear to build back then.  And it appears to be a bear to plow the snow off it each spring.  I read they start plowing in April and get it all done around the first week of July.

We stopped at a lot of viewpoints and there were plenty to go around.   Once we got to the summit, we stopped at the Logan Summit visitor center.  Absolutely no parking there, but there were lots of the Red Jammers.    I had read that after 9:30am the visitor center parking lot is full the rest of the day.  They weren’t kidding.   Luckily I really wanted to get further down the road to see the Jackson Glacier as it’s the only one visable without a day’s hike and our pup’s not allowed on the trails. 

We finally got there, and it is way off in the distance south of the road.   Not sure how much longer it will be there as it didn’t look as big as I expected.    The road got a bit better after the Jackson viewpoint and got back to the 45mph fairly quickly.

We started heading for a picnic area near the St Mary Lake.   After a couple of false starts, we finally found the area with tables and proceeded to have a delightful lunch, all the time watching for the bears the sign on the table described.   Not the Grizzlys that were roaming the park while we where here.


Hungry Horse Dam “Surprise”

On Sunday we were going to drive into Kalispell to check it out.   We had noticed a sign on the way into West Glacier for Hungry Horse Dam.   I assumed it was going to be a small, probably earthen structure, but figured it may be a nice place to visit; so on the way down the mountain, we hung a left onto the road that leads there.

After driving a few miles, we came to a large lake with two picnic areas and assumed it was part of the water behind the dam.   It wasn’t, and we kept driving a few more miles when we came around a corner to see a huge concrete dam looking a lot like Hoover Dam.   It was a really big arch style dam like Hoover, but a couple hundred feet shorter in height, but much longer in length.   And the most interesting part,  you could still drive or walk across the top.   I haven’t seen that since 9/11 !    There were no tours of this dam, bummer.  But it is a hydroelectric generating station.

I started walking over the top of the dam and noticed it had a huge glory hole type spillway only 20 or so feet from the road at the northwest corner of the dam.   It looked really large, and there wasn’t any other spillway to divert water when too much was getting into the lake and the turbines can’t let enough out to lower the level.   Turns out its 64′ in diameter.     That’s probably big enough to keep the water from going over the top of the dam.

We also drove over the dam and down a road that got narrower as we moved further from the dam.   It’s a really big lake, but we only saw one lone boat on the water we were able to view.

We turned around at a small turnout and headed back over the dam and on to Kalispell.

We drove around Kalispell for a bit.  There were some beautiful tree-lined streets south of the highway.  They had a full canopy covering the whole street and sidewalks for many blocks.   We also noticed many other streets looked similar.   But there wasn’t much else to see in the town and we headed back to west glacier.

West Glacier and environs

We found a campground the day before heading to Glacier outside the small town of West Glacier.    The campground was right on US 2, but we lucked out and got a site as far from the road as they had available.   Since we arrived on Friday afternoon, we decided to wait till Monday morning to hit the Going to the Sun Road in an attempt to miss the crowds.

Saturday we drove toward the small town of Whitefish, MT, parked the car near the train depot and checked it out while close by.   Just as we got around back, a freight train decided to pull out.   They sure have long trains out here,  had to be a few hundred tank cars being pulled out by BNSF locomotives front and rear, although it took about 15 minutes to find out there was one in the rear.    Checking the flammability placards, they were all loaded with alcohol.   It doesn’t specify what type, but probably not the drinking kind.   It appeared that no Amtrak trains were due today as the depot building was closed, so we headed over toward the main part of town.

Whitefish is a pretty nice place to walk around,  lots of covered sidewalks lining the streets,  even benches every little while to relax on while Kathy perused each shop along the way.   We passed by lots of small restaurants and bars where the food smells were making me hungry, so we started in the direction of the car and our picnic lunch.

There was a big log framed gazebo in the park across from the train station, and we ate our lunch there in the shade with a nice breeze.

Afterward we drove around the lake on the north end of town;  mainly it was surrounded by homes, but we did find a small beach area.

We drove back up to West Glacier late in the afternoon.

Coeur D’Alene and Blue Lake area.

We drove about 70 miles north of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, to camp on Blue Lake.   It’s an extremely small and deep lake that may have been blue sometime in the past, but was very green while we were here.   It turns out to be in between two busy railroad right-of-ways as both lines have  grade crossings right here.    Can you say loud horns blowing a lot?  I’m not sure how we slept thru the night, but neither of us heard them.   Could have been the wine bar on the patio overlooking the lake that helped that along.

While driving thru Coeur D’Alene up US 95, the traffic lights thru town are synchronized to make you stop at each light for a long, long time,  presumably for you to notice all the chain stores lining both sides of the highway for many miles.   There were so many chain stores along that route, I think every national company must have been  represented.   Thankfully it only took about a half hour to go those 5-6 miles, then we were back on the open road till we hit Sand Point, which looked like a really nice area with a huge lake and lots of folks boating and kayaking.

When we were getting closer to the road to the campground, I started thinking about the guy mentioning the truck turnaround a little ways up the road if we missed the turn.    Turns out the extreme oblique left turn was almost too much for us to maneuver, but luckily our coach has a very sharp turning radius due to its 57 degree cut and we narrowly made the turn without going down an embankment to the RR tracks prior to the actual crossing.  Now I knew the real reason he mentioned the turnaround.   It was almost a straight shot into the turnoff if you were coming from the north;  but coming from the south with a long rig and toad will be a problem for most drivers.   If I stayed there again (which I probably wouldn’t, due to the train noise) I would use the truck turnaround to come in from the north.    Luckily, when we leave for West Glacier, we head north for a bit, so getting out of here should be a lot easier.

Thankfully it’s a lot cooler here than it was in Electric City.    It was in the low 100’s there and mid-80’s here and we are fully in the shade here.

I broke a strap for one of the awnings while at SunBank Resort, so I found an adjustable strap and installed it.   It works but is not a permanent fix.   Will start the search for the exact replacement part and have it shipped home.

When we woke up Friday morning to get the coach ready for the drive to Glacier there was smoke in the air.   The wind was really blowing so I went over toward the windward edge of the park.   I couldn’t see any flame but there was a lot of smoke coming from the south east.  We decided to pack up quick and get on the road sooner rather than later.  Once we were almost ready I attempted to call the local fire department but only got voice mail.  I also checked the local incident web sites but found nothing except a fire at least 80 miles south west of us.   We finished stowing everything and headed out before 8:30 am.   Pretty early for us,  but the smoke was only getting worse so we pulled down the hill a bit to attach the car.   There was a train blocking the only way out of the park when we were ready but it soon finished passing the grade crossing and the four lined up motorhomes pulled out toward the highway,  three made the incredibly sharp right turn to head south on US 95 and we took off to the left toward Bonner’s Ferry then US 2 over to Glacier NP.