Category Archives: Nebraska

The Sun is Eclipsed by the Moon

We survived the solar eclipse. On Sunday afternoon and evening, a few more people showed up here at the city park in Bayard, Nebraska. An older Monaco Windsor class A motorhome parked next to us in the full hook-up site. A car with Texas plates parked on our passenger side and the lone occupant put up a tent in the park. Later, another car with two guys joined our new friends from Longmont, Colorado, Frazier and Debra, in the last campsite and put up a tent in their site.

The Monaco had three occupants, the elderly owner and his son and daughter. The owner – I didn’t get his name – was 90 years old and bought the Monaco new in 1991. He wanted to see the total eclipse as he figured it was his last opportunity. He also figured that this trip to see the eclipse, then Estes Park in Colorado and a couple of other sites would be his last motorhome adventure with his son and daughter.

The car from Texas on the other side of us was driven by Jesus. He made the trip up from Fort Worth to capture images of the total eclipse. He had a nice telescope that he uses to observe planets and the moon and he planned to use it to make a video and capture photographs of the eclipse. He was a nice guy and just wanted to find a place off the beaten path to take his photos.

Jesus and his telescope

On Monday morning, a few local people turned out at the park to see the eclipse. It was very low key with maybe 20 to 30 people overall. Many brought snacks, drinks and/or lunch and sat in the grass or at the picnic tables in the pavilion.

People in the park

The partial eclipse began at 10:26am local time. You wouldn’t know anything was happening unless you had eclipse glasses and could look into the sun to see the moon begin to cross the sun. It was a slow process and I was surprised to see how little effect it had on the amount of sunlight for the most part. Once the moon had obliterated all but a small sliver of the sun the amount of sun light noticeably decreased and air felt cooler like it does in the evening.

While we were waiting for it to happen, a few people amused us with eclipse parlor tricks. If you can catch shadows just right, you can see the crescent shape of the available sunlight in the shadows.

Sunlight crescents in leaf shadows

Sunlight through a colander shows the crescent shaped sunlight

At 11:49am bam! – the sunlight was gone. We were suddenly in darkness but it wasn’t totally dark. Although it was dark enough where we were for light sensor-activated street lights to turn on after a minute or so, on the horizon in every direction it looked like the sun was rising. This was the edge area of the total eclipse where partial sunlight was still hitting the earth. Cicadas began buzzing with the sounds of evening at mid-day. After about a minute and a half, the sunlight returned quickly. Again, without looking directly into the sun with eclipse glasses, you wouldn’t really know much out of the ordinary was happening.

Jesus in the darkness at 11:49am

In the end it was a fleeting moment in time, but everyone was buzzing about it and I’m glad we were able to experience the total eclipse. I now know that being in an area with 90%+ coverage is meaningless compared to the total eclipse – like I said, up to about 97-98% you wouldn’t know much was happening without looking into the sun with special glasses. In Donna’s words, “It’s the difference between night and day.”

The park soon cleared out and the tent campers packed up and left. Jesus had a long drive ahead to get back to Fort Worth. By 4pm, we were the only ones left at the park. Earlier, before the eclipse, I had ridden the Spyder into town and paid for another night here in Bayard. In the town office I paid $10 – that makes our cost for three nights with 50amp electrical service and fresh water come out to about $3.33/night!

The grocery store in town is small but they have their meats prepared by their own butcher. Donna bought a spatchcocked chicken at the store – I wrote about spatchcock here. It was a small, presumably locally sourced chicken of about three pounds perfectly spatchcocked. I set up the Weber Q and grilled it for dinner.

Grilled spatchcocked chicken

Donna served it with roasted butternut squash and sauteed spinach with garlic. It was delicious – the chicken was tender and juicy.

This morning, Donna is out for a bike ride. We plan to pull out of here by 11am and make the 145 -mile drive to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We plan to stay overnight there at the Sierra Trading Post outlet – we stayed there a year ago. Then we’ll move on to Longmont, Colorado where we hope to get a site at the fairgrounds – they don’t take reservations.

The high temperature today in Cheyenne is supposed to be 78 degrees with clear skies and overnight it will drop into the upper 50s.

Since leaving Iowa we’ve been steadily gaining elevation across the great plains. Bayard, Nebraska sits at an elevation of about 3,900 feet above sea level and we’ll be at 6,000 feet above sea level in Cheyenne. Longmont, Colorado is closer to 5,000 feet above sea level.

 

The RV Friendliest Town

We pulled out of Kearney RV Park and Campground a little past 10am Friday morning – a little later than I hoped, but not a big deal. We headed west on I-80 and found the road surface to be smooth and the driving was easy. We had a headwind but it was only 5-10 mph and we barely felt it.

We made a detour at North Platte, Nebraska – we wanted to visit the Golden Spike Tower. The Golden Spike Tower is a viewing tower eight stories high overlooking the largest rail yard in the world – Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard. Bailey Yard is where Union Pacific performs maintenance on locomotives and train cars 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We entered the tower building which is also somewhat of a Union Pacific museum and gift shop and we bought tickets to go up to the viewing platforms on the seventh and eight floors. Wouldn’t you know it – when we went to elevators there was a malfunction and the elevator was shut down.

Golden Spike Tower

We didn’t let that stop us. We climbed the stairs to the seventh floor which has an open-air viewing deck. My photos below cannot convey the scale of the operation. I’ve never seen so many locomotives and train cars in one place before. There are 49 tracks for the westbound trains and 65 for the east bound – counting the tracks into and out of maintenance facilities there are 200 separate train tracks totaling 315 miles of track on the 2,850-acre yard.

They have a hump for each direction – the westbound hump is a mound 20 feet high and the eastbound hump is 34 feet high. A locomotive pushes a train of cars up the hump and then, at the top, the cars are separated and roll down via gravity into a bowl which has several tracks. The cars are switched to the proper track to join a train being assembled.

The locomotive maintenance building is the size of three football fields and services about 750 locomotives per month. A modern diesel/electric locomotive is a complex piece of machinery. Maintenance and repair requires skilled technicians – diesel mechanics, electricians, hydraulic specialists and so on – more than 2,600 people are employed here. Again, my photos do not do justice to the scale of the operation.

Click photos to enlarge

The sand towers fill a hopper in the front of the locomotive with sand. All locomotives have a sand reservoir and a pneumatic system to spray the sand on the tracks ahead of the drive wheels in case of loss of traction.

More than 10,000 train cars pass through the facility daily. They service about 750 locomotives per month and change about 10,000 wheels per year on the cars they service. We went up to the eighth floor which is an enclosed platform with a docent and displays. We found the tour to be interesting and a worthwhile diversion.

We ate lunch in the coach, then continued on our way west. I stopped for fuel at the Pilot/Flying J Travel Center in Big Springs (exit 107). We had plenty of fuel but since I wasn’t sure where we would end up for the next few days, I wanted to have the tank topped up.

We continued west to Sidney, Nebraska – home of Cabela’s. We found their store just north of I-80. Unlike most Cabela’s stores, this one had a full service RV campground. They also had the usual dedicated RV and truck parking area. We went inside to see if we were okay to stay the night in the parking area – no problem.

We kicked around in the air-conditioned store for awhile looking at clothing and outdoor gear and sitting at the cafe. It was hot out. Around 4pm I went back to the coach and fired up the generator to start the air conditioners. We had an uneventful night there and hit the road around 9am Saturday morning.

We headed north toward Bridgeport, Nebraska and into the track of the total eclipse of the sun. This event has brought people out of the woodwork and into campgrounds all across the solar eclipse track. Most campgrounds are full and we heard about a few farmers opening up their pastures for dry camping – at $30 to $40/night! We also heard about some full service RV parks gouging with rates as high as $150/night for the weekend through Tuesday, August 22nd.

We didn’t want to end up in a farmer’s field – it would likely be crowded, noisy and if it rained, it could turn into a mud hole. There was no way I would spend the crazy campground rates we were hearing about. Donna had done some research and we thought we had a couple of viable options that wouldn’t cost much if anything and keep us away from the crowds. We decided to take the first good option we found.

It boiled down to two places we wanted to check out. First, there’s a city park in a small town called Bayard. The city maintains three RV sites with 50amp electrical hook-ups and fresh water. The first two nights are free, then it’s just $10/night. Now that’s an RV friendly town – the best I’ve ever found!

Our second option was the Kiowa Wildlife Management Area. There is a large, level gravel lot there perfect for dry camping in a big rig. The upside there would be a quiet place without much light pollution. The downside is dry camping with projected high temperatures in the 90s – meaning our generator would be running most of the time.

We stopped in Bayard first and were surprised to find the RV sites at the park empty! I unloaded the Spyder and backed our trailer into a site. I could hardly believe it – 50 amp electrical service and fresh water free for the weekend! We decided a bird in the hand was worth it – why move on to the unknown at Kiowa WMA and risk losing the site at Bayard. We set up and stayed put.

Free 50 amp service and fresh water!

We’re set!

Park across from our site

Nice view

The temperature reached the mid-90s and I was happy to have both air conditioners running. Another class C RV with a couple and their young son from Longmont, Colorado showed up. They had a campsite at the Chimney Rock Campground nearby. They said the premium full hook-up sites there were going for $150/night and they paid $30/night for a dry camping spot. They said it was crowded and noisy with generators running all around them 24 hours a day. They asked us to hold a site here while they went back to Chimney Rock and gathered their gear. They are happier in this location.

A police cruiser came through the park several times patrolling in the afternoon and evening. Everyone in town is very friendly and local traffic waves at us as they pass – not that there’s much in the way of traffic in this town of 1,200 residents. Bayard, Nebraska has to be the most RV friendly town you’ll ever find!

In the afternoon, Donna and I rode the Spyder over to Gering – a town about 20 miles from Bayard. They had a car show there, but it was a little different than most of the car shows I’ve seen. It had the usual classic cars from the 50s and muscle cars from the 60s, but it also had a category for rat rods. One of the rat rods had passed us on I-80 on our way to Sidney and we saw it the show. It looked like something out of Mad Max – The Road Warrior!

It started out with an old truck chassis and body and went crazy from there. It had a Cadillac 472 cubic inch V8 mounted mid-chassis with a GM 400 Turbo Hydramatic transmission mated to a Jaguar independent rear suspension. It looked like a death trap to me.

Rat Rod

The evening cooled down and we sat outside and read. Another group showed up – a car with three people from Lakewood, Colorado. They planned to tent camp here to view the eclipse. That’s going to be tough as there are no public toilet facilities. They set up a tent in the park grass.

This morning, lawn sprinklers are running in the park, soaking their tent. They’re not here – their car is gone and we have no idea what became of them. We plan to hang out today – Donna wants to go for a bike ride. I’ll probably explore a bit then we’ll sit tight for tomorrow’s eclipse.

We may extend another night here before we move on to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

A Week in Kearney

We’ve spent the past week here at Kearney RV Park and Campground in Kearney, Nebraska. By the way, the local pronunciation is KAR-nee. I always thought of Fort Kearney – Kerr-nee. It turns out that Fort Kearney was named after General Stephen Watts Kearny – no “e” before the “y”. So his name was pronounced Kar-nee but the town and sometimes the fort were mispelled so often that the post office resigned itself to the spelling “Kearney.”

Donna really enjoyed the bicycling in the area and found a few routes on dedicated bike trails. Yesterday she hiked one of the trails to the Great Platte River Road Archway and museum. The archway is a structure spanning 310 feet across I-80. It marks the area where the old western Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail and California Trail converged near Fort Kearney. From here they split off to the Willamette Valley of Oregon, Salt Lake City and the Sacramento Valley respectively.

Trail to archway

Great Platte River Road Archway

Tuesday afternoon we rode the Spyder into town for a few groceries. While we were there we checked out a local brewery – Thunderhead Brewing Company. The ambiance of the place was lacking and the brews we tried weren’t much better. Oh well, I guess you can’t find great brew in every small town in America.

Thunderhead Brewing Company

Not so special IPA

I did a little fishing in the pond here but didn’t have much luck. I took advantage of the quiet park to catch up on a few maintenance items. I washed out our wet bay – dirt and grime seems to accumulate there and a lot of parks prohibit washing. I also cleaned our battery banks – another area where road grime seems to accumulate.

I did some reorganizing in the trailer and made it easier to find and access a few items that were too deeply packed away. I cleaned and lubed the rams on our HWH leveling jacks. Most importantly, I changed the oil and filter on our Onan 7.5kW Quiet Diesel generator. I try to maintain a 150-hour oil service interval on the Kubota diesel engine powering the generator. I was about seven hours overdue.

The days have been warm and breezy – temperatures reached the mid-80s most days and winds were 15 mph with gusts over 20. We’ve had thundershowers more often than not around sundown or in the night. I’ll remove our windshield cover and pack it this evening so I won’t have to worry about packing a wet cover away.

This morning, Donna rode the Spyder 14 miles south to Axtell, Nebraska to be a guest on a local ABC TV station. This scheduled appearance was the reason we chose to make a stop in Kearney. I stayed home to record the show for her. You can view the program here.

Tomorrow we’ll head out for parts unknown. Call us crazy, but we plan to more or less follow the track of the upcoming complete solar eclipse and hope to catch it on Monday. This is a big deal for a lot of the towns along the narrow geographical band that will experience the total eclipse. Most RV parks are full with exorbitant rates for those that want to be in the path of total darkness at mid-day – something that will last about two minutes. The partial eclipse with the skies turning to twilight at mid-day will last around two hours.

We have a few options to explore, but our loose plan is to follow the path and boondock along the way. We’ll have full fresh water and empty holding tanks – and we’ve had our special eclipse viewing glasses for months! We’ll let you know how it all works out.

Out of Iowa

We left Center Point, Iowa and made our way west to Council Bluffs on the first of the month. Our travels across Iowa for RAGBRAI and back west across the state kept us mostly on state roads and county highways. In Iowa, most of these roads are either slabs of concrete butted together, worn asphalt that’s been chip-sealed many times over or dirt/gravel surfaces.

The concrete slabs are most common along state roads and they heave where the slabs butt together making a rough ride. At the best of times, the tires set up a rhythmic slapping sound and the coach gently bounces along. More often than not, the slabs launch the coach from one section to the next. The chip sealed surfaces are no better. I could usually see if cross traffic was approaching by the dust cloud raised as the vehicle approached on the gravel/dirt side roads. The dirt is a fine, light, powdery dust.

When we made our stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa near the Nebraska border, the constant pounding had taken its toll. First off, we couldn’t find our Jetpack wifi. We usually move it to kitchen counter before we move, but had forgotten to do that this time. The power cord was on the counter, but no Jetpack.

We searched under the slide-outs and everywhere we could think of. We found several wood screws – I’m thinking these are dropped screws when the crew rebuilt our living room slide wall. When they drop a screw, they don’t look for it, they grab another one and keep moving. It was a good time to do some real cleaning under the slide-out.

We usually place our Jetpack on a small shelf on top of the kitchen slide-out. It gets good reception there and is out of sight, but we don’t travel with it there – usually. It occurred to Donna to get out our step stool and look on the ledge and sure enough there was the Jetpack – whew! I was getting worried.

I also discovered that the stud holding the toilet seat hinge fell out! I found the stud and re-installed it with Threadlocker.

Toilet seat hinge stud

We ended up staying for two days at the Ameristar Casino while I was recovering from a virus that had me down. We moved a short distance to Papillion, NE to Walnut Creek Lake Recreation Area. This is a city park with electric hook-ups – no water or sewer. I was still feeling the effects of the virus and spent most of my time resting. I couldn’t even muster enough energy to post to this blog. We spent four nights there before heading westward to Kearney, Nebraska.

While we were in Papillion, I looked the engine compartment over – it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things. I was surprised to find a damaged pressure cap on the coolant surge tank. I replaced this cap about three and half years ago. I’m not sure what makes the surge tank on our Cummins ISL diesel such rough duty. I found a replacement cap at an auto parts store and replaced it. If the cap doesn’t hold pressure, coolant can boil prematurely. The cap holds 13psi and raises the boiling point by 39 degrees.

Damaged seal on radiator cap

Kearney RV Park and Campground boasted 100′ pull-through sites on their web page and it may be true in one area of the park, but not where we are. The park is split into two locations. It’s a little strange. The GPS directions will take you to the north park area that sits along the north channel of the Platte River. We pulled in there to find it mostly empty with what appeared to be a few long-term occupants. A guy came out of his RV and directed us up the road to a different location where the office and the “Getaway Bay” area of the RV park is.

We found the office and checked in. They had us in the Getaway Bay in a pull-through site with a nice view and easy fishing access. The pull-through site has a level concrete pad and was just long enough to fit our 65′ length.

Our windshield view

Last night, a thunderstorm came through with heavy rain. I’m not certain, but I think I may have heard some hail in the night. Today is overcast and cooler. We plan to hang out here until Friday. There’s plenty of good biking, pickleball if I’m up to it and it’s good place for me to continue to rest and recover. Maybe I’ll catch a fish or two in the pond.

Overnighting near Omaha

Donna here, standing in for Mike. He woke up feeling pretty good this morning, but the good feeling didn’t last. He’s resting again.

We’ve been parked at Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa these last two nights. It’s a nice, clean casino and hotel with several restaurants. The casino itself is housed on a real riverboat.

Ameristar Casino, Council Bluffs, Iowa

As it turns out, there’s a bike path that goes right by here. Lucky me! On the first day, I walked the path about 2 miles to the pedestrian bridge that goes over the Missouri into Omaha. The border between Iowa and Nebraska is in the middle of the river.

Then yesterday, I went out for bike ride that took me north along the river on the Iowa side to the Lewis & Clark Monument – quite a climb but worth it for the views.

View from Lewis & Clark Monument

There’s a fence at the monument lookout that is covered with padlocks. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that some had been engraved with names. I posted a photo to Facebook and my friends told me that people do this all over the world as a symbol of their love. Apparently there’s a movie called Love Locks. Have you seen it?

Love locks on the fence

I enjoyed the downhill ride from the monument to the pedestrian bridge and crossed over into Nebraska for some Omaha sightseeing.

My destination was Old Market, Omaha’s most historic area. I had to get off my bike when I arrived as the streets are cobblestone, making for bumpy ride. I locked up my bike and walked around for about 45 minutes, exploring the many shops and restaurants.

Old Market Passageway

Then I wandered into Upstream Brewing for a Boom! Chocolaka milk stout. If I had wanted, I could have had it served over vanilla ice cream as a milk stout float. Yes, really.

Boom! Chocolaka milk stout

I snapped this photo on the way back over the bridge from Omaha to Council Bluffs.

My bike in two states at the same time!

We’re going to try to snag a site today at Walnut Creek Recreation Area in Papillion which is just southwest of Omaha. I chose this park for its easy access to miles of bike paths and to Prairie Lane Park where the locals play pickleball. It’s a first-come, first-serve park so hopefully, we’ll get lucky since it’s Monday.

Speaking of cycling, I had a blast doing the ride across Iowa. I was afraid I hadn’t trained enough. I mean, how do you train to ride 60 miles a day except to ride 60 miles a day? I got in about 650 miles over the 7 weeks leading up to the ride. It was enough. My legs were tired by the end of every day but felt just fine each morning.

Call me crazy, but I just signed up to ride a century (100 miles) in Longmont, CO on August 26. It’s a benefit ride to raise money for scholarships that go to high-achieving students from low-income families. If you feel so inclined to support me (I committed to raising $250 by August 13), click here. Thank you!

When we get to Walnut Creek, Mike will unload the Spyder and I’ll go get some groceries. I have not been grocery shopping in 18 days and our cupboards are bare!