Black Hills, South Dakota – Part II

With so many items on our “things to see and do” list we sure were glad we had opted for staying eight nights in the Black Hills. I suspect most tourists come to the Black Hills to gaze upon the granite carvings at Mount Rushmore and Thunderhead Mountain and we were among those tourists.

The Todds at Mount Rushmore on the Grand View Terrace

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

We arrived at 6:00 a.m. to get a jump on the crowds (added bonus: no parking fee at that hour). For a little over an hour, we had the run of the place to ourselves except for a few couples and small family groups that had similar plans. Awe-inspiring is what came to mind as we walked the Avenue of Flags on our way to the Grand View Terrace and stared up at the granite structure that depicts George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Avenue of the Flags

Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea to create an attraction that would bring visitors to his State of South Dakota and Gutzon Borglum was chosen as the sculptor. Although Robinson initially envisioned the depiction of western heroes such as Lewis & Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody, Borglum selected the four presidents he viewed as instrumental in preserving the United States and expanding its territory in the West.

Mount Rushmore

Borglum met with Doane Robinson in 1924 and 1925 Mount Rushmore was selected as the location. Construction work began in 1927. Working beside Borglum until his death in March 1941, was Borglum’s son, James Lincoln Borglum. Lincoln Borglum took on the responsibility of sculptor when his father died and congress declared the monument completed as is on October 31, 1941. The nation had to push aside artistic endeavors as it prepared for World War II.

The Presidential Trail gives visitors a close-up perspective of the memorial, like this picture of Washington through a narrow crevice in the rocks.

George Washington Seen Through a Crevice

The Presidential Trail is 0.6 miles long and contains 422 steps. A boardwalk with railings prevents visitors from straying from the trail.

Stairs along the Boardwalk
View of the Black Hills from the Presidential Trail

The amphitheater provides visitors with a different perspective of the memorial by illuminating it each night. We didn’t take advantage of the night-time event but we talked with other people who did and they were glad for the experience.

Amphitheater viewed from the Presidential Trail

Poor Teddy was in shadow most of the time we were at the memorial, but I did manage this close up that shows how the sculptor depicted the president’s glasses.

Teddy Roosevelt in Shadow

Abraham’s close up shows how catch-lights were created to bring out the eyes.

Abraham’s Close Up


One of the tasks of the National Park Service and the Mount Rushmore Society is to preserve the memorial from damage. As with any mountain, wind, snow, rain, heat and cold can cause erosion and change the shape of any stone. A monitoring system, attached to various sections of the memorial, records the air and surface temperature and detects movement of less than 0.0001 inches. Workers seal cracks with silicone and sprinkle granite dust to camouflage any repairs. The diligence to preservation should maintain the structure in good condition for generations.

We visited Mount Rushmore a few days later, paying the $5.00 parking fee ($10.00 for non-seniors) and contending with the crowds. We wanted to see what the visitor center had to offer and I had to get my National Park Passport stamped. Although the crowds were not too difficult to navigate, I much preferred our visit in the early morning when we didn’t have to vie for position to take photos.

Grand View Terrace


To learn more about Mount Rushmore, including park details and history of the monument, visit the Mount Rushmore National Park website.

Next up? Crazy Horse Memorial.

Safe Travels

Black Hills, South Dakota – Part I

Welcome to the Black Hills of South Dakota, home to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments and so much more.

Yeah! We Made it to the Black Hills.

We selected Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort in Custer, South Dakota, our base camp in the Southern Hills for eight nights starting on June 18, 2017. We never know what we are getting when we make reservations. As we drove up a small hill on the gravel road, I wasn’t sure we had chosen wisely. All doubts flew away, however, when we crested the hill to see the large expanse of grassy knolls and RVs tucked up under a stand of large pines. Buffalo Ridge is also a great place for tent campers with cabana/shelters, picnic tables, fire rings, and plenty of grass between sites.

I couldn’t resist including this sunrise at Buffalo Ridge.

Sunrise at Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort

Hill City

Hill City, established in 1876, is a cute little town with restaurants, shops, art galleries and of course a Harley Davidson store.

Restaurant in Hill City
Hill City Harley Davidson 

Once a thriving tin mining town, industries that support the city today include timber, tourism, and telecommunications. The art scene is also on the rise in the town, like this sculpture by John Lopez.

John Lopez Horse Sculpture

How many objects can you identify in the sculpture?

The Alpine Inn served up a delicious French dip with fruit on the side and we didn’t even have to wait. We had heard that since the restaurant does not take reservations, the lines could grow long. Oh, and you can leave your credit card at home, they only accept cash and checks.

Get Your Name on the List Early to Avoid Long Waits at the Alpine Inn

With all of the usual types of gift and souvenir shops, one store stood out. Art Forms Gallery, a co-op of twenty Black Hill artists offer a great variety of paintings, jewelry, woodwork, hand woven scarves, photography art books, and other artistic items for sale. It was nice to have a selection of goods made by local artists to browse through.

The 1880 Train

The Black Hills Central Railroad and the 1880 Train is what drew us to Hill City. We were too late to ride the train the first day we visited, so we returned a few days later. The steam locomotive, which takes three hours to prepare, pulls the train up and down 4% to 6% grades to Keystone over the course of the two-hour twenty-mile round trip.

Locomotive Spewing Steam
Engineer Patiently Waiting for Locomotive to Warm Up
Water Tower Used to Refill Locomotive

The Black Hills Central Railroad does a fantastic job renovating the cars and locomotives. Prefer a cushy seat? Grab a leather one in one of the enclosed cars. All of the windows open and close easily.

The Seat Backs Flip From One Side to the Next. No Matter the Direction, Riders Face Forward.

We saw Tin Mill Hill, Black Elk Peak, Elkhorn Mountain, and Old Baldy Mountain from the windows of the train cars among the farms, abandoned properties, and deer grazing in the fields. Here is a sampling of sights seen on the train ride from Hill City to Keystone.

Bambi in the Grass
Cold Storage Built Into Hill
One of the Many Curves on the Route
Farm Seen From Train
Abandoned Buildings
Wooden Cabin
Did the Boulder Fall on the Building or Was the Building Built Under the Boulder?
Another Abandoned Building


We got off the train to browse the shops selling T-shirts, hats, Native American art, leather goods, jewelry, and candy and check out which restaurant might satisfy us for lunch.

Motorcyclists are Common in the Black Hills
The Keystone Mercantile Sells Just About Everything

The Ruby House looked like a good bet and when I crossed the threshold, I thought time had shifted to the 1880s. The gold and red velvet wallpaper lining the walls, brass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and the paintings of cowboys, Indians, and portraits of people in their latest fashions of the day hung on the walls created an immersive atmosphere.

Ruby House Restaurant a Great Place to Eat.
Ruby House Restaurant Interior

After exploring the stores and filling our bellies, we arrived early at the train depot and watched the locomotive pull into the station.

Train Arriving At Keystone Depot

Be sure to sit on the opposite side of the train when returning to Hill City so you can see what you missed on the way to Keystone.

Stay tuned for future posts which will detail Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Needles Highway, and other sights.

Safe Travels

Rawlins and Douglas, Wyoming

We pulled into Western Hills RV Park in Rawlins, Wyoming on June 15, 2017, for a one-night stay. The doors nearly flew out of our hands when we opened them to step out. Sand pelted my bare legs as Jon and I set up the trailer. What was up with all the wind? Good thing we weren’t staying more than one night.

On to Douglas KOA in Douglas, Wyoming and more wind. The wind was great when it pushed us down the road, not so much when it hit us broadside. After driving for about an hour, I realized we were going the wrong way. That will teach us to rely on only the GPS. Back to using a paper map.

When we stepped out of the truck at the Douglas KOA, the most wonderful perfume greeted us to the RV park. Was that scent coming from those dusty leafed trees with yellow flowers?

Campsites at Douglas KOA
Russian Olive Tree Blossoms

Yep, they were Russian olive trees. Once used as a drought resistant windbreak, the state now considers them a noxious weed, banned from sale by nurseries. Also, county weed and pest control departments throughout the state are required to determine whether removal or control is warranted. Although I wanted to bottle the smell and take it home with me, I had to be satisfied with enjoying the aroma while in Douglas and then say goodbye.

Two nights in Douglas allowed us to explore a few places in the area. First up was the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum. They had a restored train engine and a few cars on display.

Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum
Train Cars and Depot at Douglas Railroad Interpretative Museum
Caboose and Depot at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum

The dining car was impressive as was the gleaming stainless steel galley.

JT is Ready for his Meal in the Restored Dining Car at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum
Tables Set for Customers
Galley in Dining Car at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum

Many towns claim to have the original Jackalope and Douglas is known as the first town to claim such a creature. The city’s version is this statue.

Jackalope Statue

We walked the North Platte River Pathway Trail taking in the views of the river, admiring the wildflowers, and enjoying the aroma of the Russian olive trees along the riverbank.

Bridge Over North Platte River
North Platte River View from Trail
Oak Tree Along Platte River

Fort Fetterman is a Wyoming historic site preserving the military post, which was established in 1867. The museum and ordinance warehouse are the only buildings remaining, but visitors can walk the grounds where the different buildings that did exist are identified. A gazebo at the end of the trail has great views of the Platte River valley below from the plateau.

Fort Fetterman State Historic Site and Museum
Historic Wagon Chassis
Ordinance Warehouse
Donated Building Waiting for Restoration
Trail To and From Museum and Gazebo
View of River Valley from Gazebo

We found out why so many vehicles drove around town covered in red mud when we tried to drive out to Ayres Natural Bridge. Caterpillars and construction signs warned us this might not be an easy drive. We didn’t expect the bumpy muddy mess to continue for three miles, but that appeared to be the case. Although we wanted to see the natural bridge, it wasn’t worth getting stuck in the muck. Other cars and trucks continued on the road as if they were driving on a freeway. The first car wash was our next stop. Letting the clay-like red earth dry out would not have been wise.

We also spent time at the Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum. Located at the county fairgrounds, it holds several collections including guns and memorabilia from the Johnson County War between the regulators and rustlers near Buffalo, Wyoming in 1892, art depicting life in the West, Native American decorative arts, the 1864 Sioux style teepee used in the 1990 production of “Dances with Wolves,” and much more.

Another interesting place in Douglas is the Camp Douglas Officers’ Club State Historic Site. The camp housed 2,000 Italian and 3,000 German POWs and 500 army personnel during 1943 through 1946. A few of the POWs even returned to Douglas to live after the war. Only the officers’ club building has survived. Fortunately, much of its original construction remains intact and restorations are completed when funds are available. Original murals created by three Italian prisoners still grace the walls, many of which are re-creations from movies and western artists of the time. Examples of wooden boxes, laminate wooden bowls, and colored pencil artwork are also displayed.

Douglas, Wyoming turned out to be a great place to stay for a few days and soak up the history of the area. We also recommend the Douglas KOA as a place to stay.

Black Hills South Dakota, here we come.

Safe Travels.

Salt Lake City – Part II

Antelope Island State Park

Antelope Island, the largest of ten islands within the Great Salt Lake, was next on our list of places to visit while in Salt Lake City (SLC). A sign at the entrance gate announcing no refunds due to biting gnats almost caused us to make a U-turn and find something else to occupy our time. When the lady at the entrance booth assured us the rain had chased the gnats away, we drove on to the visitor center where another lady gave us a quick history and a few ideas of what to see.

This elk statue greeted us at the visitor center. I wish he had been real. The Davis County Causeway is to the left of the statue. It is the only road on and off the island.


Antelope Greeter at Visitor Center


Our first stop was the Fielding Garr Ranch House where we spent an hour or so walking around the ranch buildings and grounds where historic farming equipment was stored.


Fielding Garr Ranch House


The house served as the home of not only Fielding Garr, but later the managers that operated the ranch. The house is the oldest Anglo-built house in Utah still on its original foundation. Fielding Garr was the first permanent residence on the island in 1848.

Historic farm equipment was arranged around the barnyard with signs that told what they were and how they were used.


Farm Equipment at Fielding Garr Ranch


Inside the barn, is a place where the ranchers sheared sheep. The stalls ran from the rear of the barn to the front. I’m not an expert at shearing sheep, but it looked like they were herded down the back side of the row, entered a shearing stall where their wool was removed, then exited the other end of the station. It must have been sweaty dirty work for the men who stood in the stalls shearing sheep after sheep for hours at a time.

Various tools and gear were arranged in the barn as if ready for use.

The ranch property presented views of the Wasatch Mountains across Buffalo Bay.


Wasatch Mountains and Salt Lake City Across Buffalo Bay


We arrived on the island too late in the day to see all the wildlife that call the island home. A few bison congregated below the road near the marina as we approached the visitor center, but there was nowhere to pull off and snap a photo. The island supports a herd of 550-700, selling off the excess each year.  Other wildlife in the ecosystem includes pronghorn antelope, mule deer, bighorn sheep as well as coyotes, badgers, bobcats, owls, hawks, and falcons.  I did manage to capture a squadron of pelicans flying in formation.


Pelicans in Flight


We checked out the campgrounds for future reference. All campgrounds are barren and primitive with no water or electricity and vault toilets. Bridger Bay Campground was the nicest with shade pavilions, picnic tables, concrete pads, and drive through loops.  Trees had been planted near some of the sites, but they weren’t big enough to provide any relief from the scorching sun. The water looked crystal clear and as blue as the sky toward the west.


Salt Lake, Bridger  Bay Campground.


The lady at the visitor center recommended hiking up Buffalo Ridge because of its beautiful view. We started out with no problem but as we ventured higher up the hill, we had to swat a few gnats away. They weren’t too bad so we continued. Then the gnats increased with each inch in elevation until we flapped our arms and brushed our heads to keep the gnats off. When a family coming down the trail told us the gnats were even worse at the top, we turned around. No view is worth bites by gnats who laugh at any amount of DEET a person might douse on themselves. I still managed to capture a few views from higher elevations out of reach of the gnats.


View of Lake Looking Southeast
View of Park Road and Towns Across Buffalo Bay


Park City

It was wonderful weather on our final day in SLC for a trip to Park City. No gnats, no wind, and no rain, only sunshine with high temps reaching 70 in Park City and 80 in SLC. The beautiful drive through green mountains populated with pines was reminiscent of many other mountain resorts we have visited. Although Park City seemed a bit more city-like than other resort communities with their newly paved streets, gutters, and restored historic buildings. This is probably due to Park City hosting the Sundance Film Festival each year and the Winter Olympics in 2002. Our favorite part of any town is always the main street and Park City doesn’t disappoint with its restored historic buildings.

Park City, Utah Street View

We passed one historic building undergoing significant foundation work. Other buildings were new construction in a modern style that looked like stacked rectangular boxes.


Historic Park City Business Buildings



Historic Park City Residences



Modern Looking Building


The silver mining town flourished from the 1860s until 1950 when it became a virtual ghost town. In an effort to save their town, the remaining miners developed a ski resort, which opened in 1963. A population of 8,000 supports the nearly 4 million tourists that visit each year. Main Street is home to 64 Victorian buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Egyptian Theater Originally Built in 1926


We stepped into Shirt Off My Back to purchase T-shirts. Southwest Indian Traders had a large selection of magnets and ornaments with Park City engraved on them. And Sock City sold colorful and funny socks for humans of any age. A dish of gelato inside La Niche Gourmet and Gifts was a cool treat after walking the streets.

We must have arrived before the crowds because, by the time our feet grew tired, we had to side step visitors walking toward us or dodge dogs tugging leashes attached to their owners. We took a break at Bridges where they served up a tasty pork sandwich and salad. I must have been hungry because I ate the whole thing even though there was too much bread, wilted lettuce, and tomatoes with a few spots of skin that had taken on the look of crepe paper.

Revived from our lunch we joined the crowds and made our way back to the truck. I thought the green balls hanging outside on one building were interesting. Then I saw another business with red balls, and another with orange balls. Do the balls have a connection? Just decoration? Some significance? Does anyone know?

A little park next to the public restrooms is dedicated to the mining industry that built the town. A plaque placed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 2000 tells the story of the Elmco Rocker Shovel Loader, Model 12B patented on October 25, 1938. It was the “first successful device to replace human labor in removing the rubble resulting from blasting in underground hard-rock mines.”


Elmco Rocker Shovel Loader


Every new technology has the potential to displace workers. I wonder how many humans lost their jobs when the loader arrived at the mine.

Returning to our RV site, we found ourselves surrounded by new neighbors, again. Each morning there was a mass exodus of motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels leaving the RV park, and each evening the spots filled up again. We occasionally stay only one night in a spot, too, even though we prefer longer stays. After four nights in Salt Lake City, it was time to make progress toward the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Next stop? Rawlins and Douglas, Wyoming.

Safe Travels

Salt Lake City, Utah – Part I

We left Elko on Sunday, June 11 for Salt Lake City, Utah and drove through territory we had never traveled before. The terrain did not change much from Elko with snow capped mountains, green hills, valleys rich with sagebrush and green grass, and full rivers flowing occasionally alongside the freeway. Up and down the mountain passes we went with much the same scenery until we crested the mountain outside of Wendover, Utah.

Bonneville Salt Flats

Our jaws dropped when the Bonneville Salt Flats spread out before us as far as we could see. I really got a feel for the size of Bonneville Lake before it broke through causing a mother of all floods that created the Snake River on its path toward the Pacific Ocean. What a geological wonder.

We stopped at the Salt Flats Rest Area where a raised platform allowed visitors to take in the expanse of the salt flats.

Salt Flats Rest Area

The salt was glaring white as snow and bare of any plants or trees. Here is the view from the platform looking west.

View Looking Toward the West

As I walked up the steps to the overlook four or five teenagers discussed what they should graffiti on the roof support walls. A modern day ‘register rock’ or wall where travelers document their presence. 

Graffiti on Platform Support

A few people ventured out onto the salt flats. A woman stood at the foot wash rinsing her feet.

Couple Walking out to Salt Flats
View North

We continued on to Pony Express RV Resort where we had reservations for four nights. I had overlooked this park when researching available locations until my first pick claimed they were booked solid. Pony Express turned out to be the perfect place for us, except for the constant wind blowing, and the freeway noise.

Utah Capitol Building

Windy, cold, and rainy weather greeted us on Monday. Undeterred, we headed downtown with the intent to hang out at the planetarium until the rain subsided. We arrived too early, so we drove up the hill to the Utah State Capitol Building and wandered around gawking at all the marble columns, walls, and intricate details.

Utah State Capitol Building
Use of Marble Inside the Capitol Building is Extensive
Looking from Supreme Court toward House of Representatives

In the Hall of Governors, portraits of the governors are displayed and statues of historical Utahans are given prominent floor space on the fourth-floor gallery, and murals depicting Utah life and industry are abundant. 

Philo T. Farnsworth “Father of Television”
I was Impressed with the Eyes on Unca Sam, a Ute Indian, Hunter, and Fur Trader.

Symbolism seemed to be everywhere, from the beehive, which is the state’s emblem and represents industry and unity, to laurel wreaths which represent victory, vitality, and success. We forgot all about the planetarium.

Then there were the creatures standing guard high up in the four corners of the fourth-floor gallery. A lion with wings? Does anyone know what they symbolize? Perhaps protection?

I Wonder about the Symbolism in this Creature.

The chandelier hanging in the rotunda was especially impressive.

Rotunda Chandelier

In the Governor’s office used for public activities, sits a desk that was built with wood recovered from one of the trees felled during a tornado.

Governor’s Office. Notice the Tornado Desk.

The magnificent building seemed overkill for a legislature that is in session for only 45 days out of the year. However, besides the governor, lieutenant governor, senate, house, and the state supreme court, the building also houses the highway patrol and the state treasurer’s office. So it seems they make good use of the property. And who can fault the state for wanting to showcase the many riches the state has to offer? 

Mormon Temple and Square

A trip to Salt Lake City would not be complete without a visit to the Mormon Temple Square.

Mormon Temple

We joined a tour where two ‘sisters’ volleyed their presentation, which consisted of a bit of history, the faith’s origin story, and detail of the temple’s building, and a bit of proselytizing thrown in. They also cleared up a few rumors about some of the Mormon practices, such as baptizing dead people. They don’t, people who have died can be baptized through a proxy. In other words, a family member is baptized in the name of the deceased. The sisters did not push or insist that their religion was the only religion, but encouraged those of us on the tour to ask questions, research, and take one of the free Book of Mormons for more information. The best part of the tour was the organ, which contains 11,623 pipes. The organ pipes and Tabernacle Choir tiers dwarfed the person who played the organ.

Tabernacle Choir Organ

One of the most interesting bits of history that I never thought of was how many of the Mormons traveled across the country to Utah with only a hand cart to haul their belongings. I thought the emigrants in covered wagons were hearty folk. I can’t imagine the hardships endured by the people who pulled handcarts.IMG_2266

We may have never made it to the planetarium, but we enjoyed seeing the capitol building and taking the tour of the Mormon Temple Square. Next week’s post will include Antelope Island and Park City, Utah.

Until then, safe travels.


On the Road Again and an Upgrade Update

On The Road Again

We retrieved our trailer from Happy Daze RV on June 6 and on June 8 we were back on the road pointing the GMC Denali toward the South Dakota Black Hills. We had a few stops to make before we arrived at our destination point.

With the fifth wheel and truck sporting washed and shiny exteriors, the weather and road conditions decided to pour rain and kick up muddy water as we drove across the Sierra Nevada’s on Interstate 80. Both the Truckee and the American Rivers filled their riverbanks at levels we have not seen for a number of years and we glimpsed a few waterfalls gushing from the hills. A great sight to see after more than five years of drought.

When we stopped a few miles outside of Truckee, I enjoyed breathing in the fresh clean evergreen fragrance. Besides water gushing in the rivers, we took note of the snow that capped the mountaintops and nestled under the trees like dirty white blankets. A fierce wind buffeted us when we arrived at Sparks Marina RV Park but by 11:00 p.m., it had subsided and a gentle rain pitter-pattered on the roof lulling us to sleep.

This was the view from our kitchen at the back of the fifth wheel.

View from Fifth Wheel at Sparks Marina

Apartments will soon block the lovely view. A housing shortage, caused by the influx of workers to Google, Amazon, and Tesla, has spurred construction of apartments and new homes in the Sparks, Reno and surrounding areas.

The next morning we woke to no wind but a few drops of rain. As we headed to the Sparks Marina for a walk around the lake, Jon found a slice of mountain scenery in the city.

A Slice of Wilderness in the City

Sidestepping the duck and goose droppings, we stopped to watch the squirrels scurry across the sidewalk from their homes in the rock retaining walls to the grassy area next to the lake and the yellow-headed black birds flitting in and out of the shrubs and trees.

Geese Make the Lake Their Home
Yellow-Headed Black Bird

After our walk, we relaxed on the patio of Lighthouse Coffee with a cup and a scone while enjoying the view of the lake, mountains, and skyline.

Sparks Marina
View of Mountains From Lighthouse Coffee
View From Lighthouse Coffee

Then it was time to plan our route to South Dakota and book our reservations for the next few days. We rarely make advance reservations, which sometimes doesn’t work out so well for us. Other times it works to our advantage.

The next morning we started out for Iron Horse RV Resort in Elko, Nevada, where we spent two weeks last year waiting on GMC to fix the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) system under warranty (see our posts Elko, Nevada Parts 1 – 3). We had seen enough of Elko to last us for years if not decades, but we couldn’t miss out having an early dinner at the Coffee Mug Family Restaurant, our favorite café in town.

Our Favorite Restaurant in Elko, Nevada

On our way to Elko, we stopped at the Cosgrove Rest Area and encountered a cluster of unidentified insects. I tried to find them on the internet, but couldn’t locate any images that resembled these guys that did not fly. Does anyone have a guess as to what they are?

What Kind of Bug is This?

Update on MORryde Heavy Duty Shackle Kit – By Jon

As soon as we picked up the trailer, after having the “Wet-Bolt kit” installed by Happy Daze RV in Livermore, I thought it felt more stable. However, the drive from Livermore to home is only about 15 miles so it wasn’t conclusive. Now that we loaded it for the road trip and are on our way, the trailer is indeed quite a bit more stable. The amount of chucking (sort of like bucking) has also decreased considerably. Once we got to our first destination, we realized an extra bonus after setting up in a camp space. The trailer now has much less movement when we are walking around inside. So overall, it was well worth the money to ensure our safety on the road.  Especially when I saw how much wear had occurred on the O.E.M. bushings and shackles.

Worn Bushings and Shackles After 13,000 Miles
New MORryde Heavy Duty Shackle Kit

Time to move on to our next waypoint, Salt Lake City.

Safe Travels.

Home Again – Home Again

Jon here, taking over blogging duties this week for an episode on RV maintenance and upgrades.

All about Tires

Having researched the RV forums for months, I found that the frequency of separation of the original Trailer King ST225/75R-15 8 Ply tires was so great that they had earned the nickname “China Bombs.” I had planned to replace our trailer tires after our winter 2017 trip. We came up short of home by 500 miles when, as noted in the last post, one of the tires separated and damaged the trailer.

After two weeks, we picked up the trailer from Sky River RV where they repaired the damage and drove immediately to the closest Discount Tire store in Paso Robles to replace the five tires, including the spare. We didn’t want to chance another tire blowing out before we got the rig home.

I found the Carlisle brand received great reviews on the forums. So we went with the Carlisle Radial Trail HD ST225/75R15 10 Ply (instead of the 8 ply) for an increased load rating and peace of mind.

General Cleaning and Maintenance

After putting about 4500 miles on the trailer, it was time for some much-needed cleaning and maintenance. The first thing we do is tag-team the cleaning of the trailer interior. I clean the toilet, sinks, and the refrigerator. Linda vacuums, dusts, and wipes down the cabinetry. Then I come in and scrub the floors with the Swiffer wet jet. Next is the exterior. Linda climbs the ladder to scrub the roof and inspect all the seals. When she finds subpar seals, I fetch the Dicor self-leveling sealing caulk made especially for RV rubber roofs to make the necessary repairs. Once done, I wash the back, sides, and of course the bug encrusted front of the fifth-wheel as well as the awning.

Running Lights

The next thing on the list is to repair anything that had become inoperable. One item had driven me crazy. Whenever we hook up the trailer to the truck, we always operate the lights so that the running lights illuminate. For no apparent reason, the running lights quit. I found that a 15-amp fuse on the truck’s fuse panel had blown. I replaced the fuse and the lights worked…for about a minute. Realizing there must be a short somewhere in the running lights circuit, I left the blown fuse in and didn’t worry about the running lights. Whatever the cause, it did not affect any other lights on the trailer and I could figure it out once we got home.

I got lucky. Another round of research revealed the blown fuse was a common problem on many Cougar fifth wheels. The wire that connects the right front side marker light with the left front side marker light runs under the fiberglass skin and on top of a metal cross brace. Apparently, the wire over time smashes against the metal cross brace when the trailer is hooked to the truck, causing a short when the wire’s insulation wears through. The wire was so smashed I couldn’t pull it out. The fix was to run a new wire through the front storage and abandon the old wire. That fixed it! Ray Burr of figured this out. Ray has a Cougar 5th Wheel trailer too and he experienced the exact same problem. Thanks Ray!

Solar Power

With the coming camping season nearly upon us, I decided to research solar panels for the trailer with the goal to provide enough juice to charge the batteries when camping without electrical hookups. I found a complete solar panel kit that looked like it would be a good fit for the Cougar.

Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Last year I had upgraded our single 12-volt deep cycle battery that was good for about 80 amp hours to two 6 volt deep-cycle golf cart batteries. The two 6-volt batteries wired in series gives 12 volts but supplies 230 amp hours.

230 Amp Hours Battery Bank

With the bigger battery bank already installed, I was setup to install the solar panels. I ordered through Amazon the Renogy kit that included two 100-watt monocrystalline solar panels, one charge controller, all the wires for connecting everything together, plus all the mounting hardware.

Renogy Wanderer Solar Charge Controller With Fuses and Panels Shut Off Switch
Close Up of Charger Controller

I was concerned about drilling holes for the mounting brackets in the roof of the trailer but after consulting various forums and videos, I felt confident I could do the work without causing any leaks. I created a short video of my install of the system here: YouTube Video.

I also replaced the sewer plumbing vent while completing the installation. We’ve not had problems with smells but thought I’d give the Camco Cyclone vent a try.

Camco Cyclone Sewer Plumbing Vent Rotates 360 Degrees With the Wind

Suspension Upgrade

The final chore before our next trip was a suspension upgrade. When I learned the trailer suspensions supplied to the trailer manufacturers do not allow for greasing the shackles on the leaf springs, I was appalled. Even worse, the thicknesses of the shackles are subpar and the bushings used are made of some type of plastic. Bottom line is these items wear out in as little as 10,000 miles and we were near that range. The fix is to install a heavy-duty shackle upgrade kit by MorRyde. For more information, go here: MorRyde Shackle Upgrade Kit.

This job requires lifting the trailer and removing the wheels (one side at a time) so the suspension can be disassembled and reassembled. I just don’t have enough space beside our house to safely attempt this job. So we made an appointment six weeks ago at Happy Daze RV in Livermore, California and the work is being done as I write this.

With new tires, a clean trailer, working running lights, a new solar system, and a safer suspension, it looks like we are ready to pack up and hit the road for our summer 2017 adventure. As soon as Happy Daze calls to say the work is completed, of course.