Category Archives: Arkansas

Trail of Tears

As I wrote yesterday’s post , I could hardly believe it was September. The time flies by so quickly – in another three weeks, summer will officially be fall. Other than a couple of short walks in the Aux Arc Corps of Engineers Park (COE), we stayed mostly indoors due to the heat and humidity. Ozark the cat kept us amused. She loves to play with her toys. She has a catnip filled mouse that Donna’s mother made and two more that I bought. She bats them around, knocking them several feet away, then chases them down.

Another favorite of hers is a rolled up section of parchment paper tied to a string that Donna made. On Tuesday night, I hung it from the dining table. Ozark would creep up to it in stealth mode, then attack. She batted it like a tetherball (Wikipedia). She would roll over and bat it around with her left paw, then her right. Very entertaining to watch – and good exercise for her.

Ozark eyeing the tethered parchment toy

Ozark eyeing the tethered parchment toy

Ready to strike with her right p[aw

Ready to strike with her right paw

She got it

She got it

We pulled out of the park around 9:15am Wednesday morning and drove through the town of Ozark to I-40 (map). Our first stop was about an hour away at the Pilot/Flying J in Roland, Oklahoma. I had mapped out our next few fuel stops. I wanted to fuel up in Roland and once again before we left Oklahoma – I’ll avoid filling up in the Texas panhandle where most of the stations are pumping B20. I wrote about my fuel preferences in this post.

Our route after leaving the Meriwether Lewis National Monument in Tennessee on US64 has overlapped much of the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears is a sad note in our nation’s history. On May 28, 1830, our congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This resulted in the forced relocation of Native American tribes from the southeast including the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations.

Treaties were signed that resulted in these people being moved to what was referred to at the time as the Indian Territory – presently known as Oklahoma. The forced removal and poor travel conditions resulted in the death of thousands of Native Americans. Thus the name Trail of Tears.

We drove through the Cherokee Nation on I-40 then went south on US69 through Eufaula along Eufaula Lake. Then we headed west on AR9. We had a variety of road surfaces ranging from surprisingly good on parts of I-40 to patches of heaved roads that had things banging around in the coach.

After a GPS SNAFU (which the park owner says is common with their address) we finally found the Time Out RV Park in Chickasha, Oklahoma. We’re here for one night after a long day on the road, then we’ll push on to Amarillo, Texas. We’re pushing to get to Amarillo for a few reasons. I want to put the humidity behind us, Donna wants to see a hair stylist there and we need to to sit in one place long enough to get mail and maybe an Amazon delivery or two. Amarillo should work although the RV parks there don’t look to be the best.

The temperature when we arrived in Chickasha was 95 degrees, but the humidity was under 40%. We can expect high daytime temperatures in Amarillo, but the humidity will be even lower than here.

Onward to Aux Arc

It was very quiet overnight at US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) Cherokee Park. I slept soundly and we were up early. Ozark the cat was a ball of energy by 6am, racing around in the coach and finally climbing over Donna for some morning snuggles.

The wasp stings Donna suffered on Monday were red and swollen Tuesday morning. I rubbed Benadryl cream on them and she took a Benadryl tablet. She went out for a walk while I finished my blog post. I looked at routes for our short relocation. We wanted to go to another COE park near Ozark, Arkansas (map).

We programmed a route in our Rand McNally RVND 7720 GPS affectionately known as “Nally.” She rarely steers us wrong and I like the feature that allows us to input details of our rig such as height, length, weight and propane capacity. Our routes are calculated to avoid any restrictions due to size, weight and propane.

We chose a route that kept us off I-40 and we followed Arkansas State Highways through rural countryside and small towns. We were only going 80 miles, so the extra time wasn’t an issue. Once again, Ozark the cat traveled peacefully, sleeping in her crate.

As we drove through Morrilton, Donna spied a liquor store and asked if we needed to stop. I didn’t see any convenient parking and passed it by. I didn’t have any beer in the refrigerator, but I thought we would find a place to buy beer along the way.

We drove through stretches of hay fields and small towns with populations of two to three thousand. I didn’t see any stores that sold alcoholic beverages. As we approached a much larger town, Russellville, we saw convenience stores but none of them had beer signs. I was beginning to fear the worst – could we be in a dry county?

We found a Walmart in Dardanelle and stopped. Sure enough, no alcoholic beverages there. I asked a guy in the store and he said we had to go west to “Nublin” or get on I-40 toward Little Rock to exit 101.

I don’t get the dry county concept. It seems everyone knows exactly where you have to go to get alcoholic beverages and the dry county loses out on the sales and tax revenues. When people have to leave the county to make a purchase, who knows how many other purchases they make in the adjoining county?

Our route was taking us west, so I kept an eye out for the beer store he mentioned in “Nublin.” We were on AR22 driving next to Dardanelle Lake which is a reservoir created on the Arkansas River. We crossed into Logan County from Yell County. A few miles later, I saw the New Blaine beer store. In Arkansas, apparently New Blaine is pronounced “Nublin.” We made a quick stop and I have beer on board.

As we drove along, we saw areas where people appeared to be living on the brink of poverty and then occasionally, we would see well-maintained homes on estate-type properties. As we approached the town of Paris, Arkansas, I was astounded to see the Subiaco Abbey and Academy on the hill to the north of us. It looked like a medieval castle. It was built by Benedictine monks in the late 1800s. Here’s a link to a Wikipedia page.

In Paris, we turned north and made our way on CR309 to the COE Aux Arc Park. The name is interesting. It’s near the Ozark National Forest and across the lake from the town of Ozark. Early French explorers noted this area as Aux Arc on their maps. Historians differ on their opinion of the origin of this name. Some say that Aux Arc means Big Bend and it refers to the bend in the Arkansas River. Other say it translates to Big Bow and is a reference to the Quapaw Indian tribe in the area that carried exceptionally long bows. The name became anglicized as Ozark as that is how the French pronounced Aux Arc.

When we pulled in, we found this COE is run much more like a commercial RV park. There was a check-in lane and office where we paid $20 for a 50 amp electric and fresh water site. They had site maps and gave us a choice of sites. Since we’ve never been here before, they advised us to go to the “E” section and choose a site, then call and let them know what site we’re in.

We’re right on Ozark Lake which is a reservoir created by the COE Ozark Jeta-Taylor Lock and Dam – it extends 36 miles and has shoreline which includes bluffs and tree-lined beaches. Down river from here is Dardanelle Lake. We are loving the COE experience. The US Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates more than 600 dams in the USA and provides recreational access – including camping – at many sites.

The campsites here are all paved and mostly level. There are 64 sites, some with 50 amp power service, others with 30 amp.

Our shade and spacious site

Our shaded and spacious site

The sites are well-spaced and offer easy access to the lake and views. Some of them are open and sunny, others shaded by trees.

This is tonight's windshield view

This is tonight’s windshield view

Speaking of windshield view, I noticed just before we left Tom Sawyer’s that our windshield has a large crack on the left portion of the driver’s side. I’m guessing that the pounding we took on I-40 east of Memphis started the crack and it grew from thermal influence or when I leveled the coach. The crack is about four feet long now, but doesn’t hinder my vision. When we’re stopped in one place for more than a week, I’ll see about getting it replaced.

Donna’s wasp stings seemed worse after we set up. I applied more Benadryl cream and she took another tablet. I’ll keep an eye on it. The Benadryl tablets make her drowsy. With the heat and humidity here – the temperature hit 91 degrees with more than 50% humidity – we weren’t up for much activity. This is not a comfortable climate for us. Neither of us like high humidity – we can stand the heat when it’s dry, but humidity is hard to take.

View northwest of the Arkansas River - lake

View northwest of the Arkansas River/Ozark Lake

We’ll continue west through Oklahoma and take a week’s break in Amarillo, Texas where the overnight temperatures are lower and the daytime humidity is bearable. Donna has a hair appointment there with a stylist who was recommended to her when we were in Mesa, Arizona. We also need to request mail forwarding.

Alternate Route Across Arkansas

Donna didn’t sleep well Saturday night and woke up not feeling so great on Sunday – she thinks she may have overdone it in the heat on her bike ride Saturday. She managed to go out and visit with our neighbors, Lester and Jo Ann Foreman – the people with the Vixen I wrote about in my last post. Then she pushed herself to take her a walk through the trails surrounding Tom Sawyer’s RV Park.

When she came back, I noticed a barge tow slowly making it’s way upriver. The tow was only four barges lashed together, but it was being pushed upriver by the smallest tow boat I’ve seen on the Mississippi. I wrote about the Mississippi barges in this post. The small barge tow was only moving at walking speed – in fact, I think I walk faster than it was moving. With the water level of the river so low, most of tows have been smaller than what we saw in the spring.

Donna pointed out another small tow boat, identical to the one pushing the barge coming downriver. I went outside and snapped a few photos as the new arrival made a 180-degree turn and lined up next to the tow boat to help it upriver through the bend.

Smllest tow I've seen on tahe Mississippi

Smallest tow I’ve seen on the Mississippi

Helper tow boat making the turn around

Helper tow boat making the turn around

Help has arrived

Help has arrived

I organized the trailer and loaded the Traeger smoker/grill and scooter. Later I watched the Moto GP race from Silverstone in England. In typical English summer weather, rain began falling on the track just as the riders went out for the sighting lap. The start was delayed as everyone came back into the pits to switch to a wet set-up motorcycle. The race was very entertaining, but I won’t spoil it in case a reader has recorded it for later viewing.

When we were here in June, I meant to take a photo of the high water mark from May 2011. In April of 2011, storms in the Mississippi watershed had the tributaries flooding and filling the Mississippi River. Spring runoff from snow melt also contributed to second highest water levels recorded on the Mississippi in the last 100 years. The river crested at 48.7 feet in Memphis. This building in Tom Sawyer’s RV Park, which sits on higher ground than our site, shows just how high the water was. Here’s a photo.

That's how high the park was flooded

That’s how high the park was flooded

On Sunday night, it was my turn for a fitful night trying to sleep. The pollen levels are so high, my allergies kept me awake much of the night. On Monday morning, we packed up and pulled out of our site a little before 10am. I had mapped a route to take us west on Broadway in West Memphis. This road becomes highway 70. We turned north at AR147 to get to US64. I wanted to avoid I-40. We knew from our trip last June that I-40 from West Memphis to Little Rock is horrible.

Just before we reached US64, we stopped as a train slowly crossed in front of us. I saw it slow down, then stop. There were two tracks, but the engines were stopped 150 yards past the switch. We wondered if he was waiting for another train to pass, but it didn’t make sense. With the engines and several cars past the switch there wasn’t a way for another train to reach the second track. I shut off our engine and Donna and I talked to while away the time. After about 10 minutes, I heard the train cars banging and jolting. The train was reversing back the way it came. The engine came past the switch, then cleared the road. I started our engine just before the barrier rose in front of us and we were on our way again. I have no idea what the train stopping where it did was all about. Train transportation logistics are a mystery to me.

US64 was a mostly smooth road with only a few rough sections. Again, it was slower going as we passed through small towns. Most of time we were in farm country with lots of soy bean fields and sorghum. We were only going about 200 miles. Our destination was an Army Corps of Engineers (COE) park near Morrilton, Arkansas (map).

Park entrance

Park entrance

We followed a narrow, winding road through a residential area, then found ourselves at Cherokee Park on the Arkansas River at Arthur V. Ormond Dam and Lock. The dam is operated by the COE and they also provide a recreation area including campsites. There are 32 paved sites with electricity and water. The water quality is questionable. I ran water from our spigot and saw pieces of vegetation coming out of the tap. Good thing we left West Memphis with a full fresh water tank. The cost for 50 amp electrical service is a reasonable $20/night.

We circled the park and chose site A15 at the east end of the park. This site is a long, level back-in site next to the river. There was one problem though. They placed the power pedestal at the extreme rear of the site. I worked around it by backing the trailer to the end of the pavement, centering the short concrete stop barrier and putting the trailer onto the grass. Having done that, I still needed the full 35′ length of our 50 amp cable to hook up to power.

50 amp cable fully extended

50 amp cable fully extended

Donna and I walked through the park back to the entrance. We didn’t see any check-in instructions or way to pay for our site when we arrived. We couldn’t find anything on our walk either. After I came back to the coach, Donna decided to walk another lap. When she came back, I saw her by the picnic table outside. Suddenly she was screaming and calling me for help. She was being swarmed by wasps nesting under the table and got stung twice before I could get her into the coach. I had one hit me in West Memphis last night.

View from our doorstep - watch out for wasps

View from our doorstep – watch out for wasps

O dam - lock on the far side of the river and the power generator is out of view to the right

Ormond dam floodgates – lock on the far side of the river and the power generator is out of view to the right

Arkansas River on the edge of the park

Arkansas River on the edge of the park downstream from dam

This was our first time staying in a COE park and we didn’t know the procedure. About an hour after we set-up, the camp hosts drove up and greeted us. They took down all of our pertinent information in a log they keep and gave me an envelope to pay at a drop box when we leave. So, that’s how it works at a COE park.

While we were driving down the road this afternoon, Donna had jambalaya cooking in the slow cooker. It smelled so good! It was an amazing dish that Donna said was quick and easy to prepare with wholesome ingredients.

Jambalaya from the slow cooker

Jambalaya from the slow cooker

Once again, Ozark the cat traveled peacefully sleeping in her crate. We’ll move on today to another COE park in her namesake town – Ozark, Arkansas.





Vixens and Brisket

While Donna was out on her 28-mile bike ride yesterday, I saw a unique motorhome arrive near our site at Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Park (map). It was a 1986 Vixen. I’ve only seen this model coach once before. After they set up, I walked over to their site and asked if they minded me taking pictures of their unique coach. They were happy to have me take pictures and even gave a tour of the rig.

The owner’s name is Lester and he told me the engine was bad and not running when he bought the rig. The original engine was a turbocharged 2.2 liter BMW diesel. Lester says the coach is underpowered with that engine. He replaced it with a 3.9 liter Isuzu diesel. He says it has plenty of power now and it gets 22 miles per gallon. When I saw one of these in South Dakota, I didn’t realize the roof pops up. I said at that time that the low ceiling would be a deal breaker for me. These coaches were built from 1986 to 1989 in Pontiac, Michigan and were ahead of their time. The design was refined in a wind tunnel at the University of Michigan. This link has a complete description.

1986 Vixen

1986 Vixen with roof popped up

Lester's 1986 Vixen

Lester’s 1986 Vixen

Lester is an active member of the Vixen owners’ club and attended their national rally in Frankenmuth, Michigan last year. He organized this year’s group rally which will take place beginning September 15th at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

My big project yesterday was an attempt to smoke a Texas-style beef brisket. I looked at a lot of recipes and information online. It seemed like everyone has their own unique way of making a perfect brisket. A lot of the information was conflicting. I combined some of the common themes and adjusted a recipe. One of things I had to account for was the fact that I was cooking a three-and-a-half pound hunk of flat (HOF) brisket, not a whole packer brisket. This site will tell all you want know about brisket and more.

I started by placing the brisket on a rimmed cookie sheet and seasoned it with Stubb’s Bar-B-Q spice rub.

Dry rubbed brisket

Dry-rubbed brisket

I let it sit for one hour, then I fired up the Traeger wood pellet fired smoker/grill. I had the Traeger set to the smoke setting and filled it with hickory pellets. The smoke setting is different from the thermostatically controlled temperature settings. The smoke setting is a timed release of the wood pellets. The auger feeds pellets for 15 seconds then stops for 65 seconds before it feeds pellets again. This creates smoke and the temperature runs about 200 degrees.

I left the brisket in the grill on the smoke setting for three hours. I made a mop baste by combining a cup of beer with two ounces of apple cider vinegar and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. I put the baste in a spray bottle and sprayed the brisket every hour while it was smoking.

After three hours, I wrapped the brisket in foil, spraying it liberally with the mop baste before I sealed up the foil. I set the Traeger at 225 degrees and left the lid closed for the next three hours. After six hours of cooking time, I took the foil-wrapped brisket off the grill, rolled it up in an old towel and placed it in the microwave oven. I didn’t turn the oven on – I let the brisket rest in the oven. By wrapping it in a towel and confining it to the microwave, it continued to cook as it slowly cooled. After 30 minutes, I took it out of the oven and unwrapped it.

Brisket revealed with a nice crusty bark

Brisket revealed with a nice, crusty bark

I sliced the tip off it and saw a quarter-inch smoke ring. It was very tender.

Nice pink smoke ring

Nice, pink smoke ring

I cut the brisket across the grain into 1/4″ thick slices. Donna served it with garlic smashed red potatoes and steamed broccoli.


Tender, moist smoked brisket with garlic smashed potatoes and brocolli

Tender, moist, smoked brisket with garlic smashed potatoes and broccoli

The dinner was delicious – the brisket came out better than I imagined it would. Now I have a new favorite to grill up.

It was hot and humid out yesterday, so I spent most of the day indoors reading. Today we expect the temperature to reach 90 again with high humidity and thundershowers around noon. Hopefully it’ll cool off enough for me to get started on loading the trailer. We’ll continue heading west tomorrow.


Closing the Loop

We opted to stay for a second night in the campground at the Meriwether Lewis National Monument. The free campsites are clean and the scenery is terrific with good hiking opportunities. It’s also very quiet. On Thursday, Donna hiked on the Old Trace trail which is part of the original Natchez Trace. The trail took her past the Meriwether Lewis Monument which is his final resting place near the Grinder stand.

Natchez Trace - wide enough for a wagon

Natchez Trace – wide enough for a wagon

Click to enlarge if you wish to read

Click to enlarge if you wish to read

Fenceline on the Old Trace

Fenceline on the Old Trace

Meriwether Lewis Monument in the background

Meriwether Lewis Monument in the background

Meriwether Lewis Monument

Meriwether Lewis Monument

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Grinder house

Grinder house

For dinner on Thursday night, I grilled a pork tenderloin on the Weber Q. Donna had marinated it in a mojo marinade. She reserves half the marinade to pour over the meat after cooking. It’s one of our favorite ways to prepare pork tenderloin and, as usual, it was tender and tasty. She served it with brown rice and roasted peppers, onions and zucchini.

Pork tenderloin with rice and roasted peppers and zucchini

Pork tenderloin with rice and roasted peppers, onions and zucchini

On Friday morning, we packed up and headed down the Natchez Trace Parkway about 16 miles, then we turned west at US64. This is a divided highway with two lanes in each direction. I wanted to avoid I-40 and US64 seemed like a good alternative. There was very little traffic and the road surface was mostly good with only a few sections of construction and rough road. It was slower crossing Tennessee on US64 due to all of the small towns. We drove through Waynesboro, Savannah, Boliver and a few smaller villages before we stopped at Walmart in Somerville (map). We stocked up on groceries, then continued down the road.

US64 hit I-40 about 10 miles east of Memphis. It was immediately apparent that US64 was the way to go. It’s an embarrassment and disgrace how our government has allowed the federal interstate highways to deteriorate. The potholes, cracks and uneven surfaces on I-40 make it barely drivable.

We crossed the Mississippi River and entered Arkansas where we had booked a site at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park. We stayed here the first week of June.  Since then, we’ve completed a 4,000-mile loop that took us north to Minneapolis, across Michigan’s upper peninsula, then down through Michigan and east to upstate New York. From there we went down through Pennsylvania and Maryland, across Virginia and finally back to Tennessee. Whew – we saw a lot and had some great adventures over the last three months. Along the way, we picked up a stray cat and also added a Traeger grill.

One big difference we found here in West Memphis this time around is the Mississippi River water level. When we were here in June, the water level stage was 15 feet. When we checked in yesterday, the stage was three feet. There’s a sandbar creating an island right in front of the park. This wasn’t there before. There are fewer barges on the river as well. I’m guessing the low water level makes navigation treacherous.

Sand bar in the river

Sandbar in the river

Last evening, I took a walk in the park to look at the river. Our site has us facing the water only a stone’s throw away from the river. While I was out, I saw a 2012 Newell coach. The owner, John, and his son-in-law, Lee, were sitting outside. A 2012 Newell is a million-dollar coach (it was probably over $1.5 million new). I stopped and talked to John. It’s always interesting to hear the success story behind owning a million-dollar rig. John’s story was much like many I’ve heard since we’ve been on the road. He started out 38 years ago as the sole proprietor of a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) service company. He had one truck and one employee – himself. He worked hard and established commercial contracts as well as residential service customers. Then he added a second service truck and employee. He continued to build his reputation and business. Today, he has 66 trucks and nearly 200 employees. He’s enjoying life and seeing the country while his son runs the day-to-day operation of his business. I love hearing how hard work, perseverance and being able to make the most out of an opportunity pays off.

John and Lee sitting outside John's Newell

John and Lee sitting outside John’s Newell


Radiused corners on the Newell slides

Radiused corners on the Newell slides

One of the things that tip off a high-end coach like a Newell or Prevost are the radiused corners on the slide-outs. These rounded corners allow the use of pneumatic slide seals. Once the slide is out, the seals inflate making an airtight seal. Before the slide is retracted the seal deflates and the slide moves freely.

We decided to stay here for three nights before we move on westward. Donna has been mapping routes to keep us off I-40 and finding places to stay as we make our way to New Mexico. She went out this morning to cycle the scenic and quiet 28-mile loop she rode several times earlier this summer.

Last night, Donna prepared pan-seared wild Alaskan salmon. She served it with the left over side dishes from the night before. Delicious!

Pan fried salmon

Pan-seared salmon

Today I’m going to try my hand at smoking a beef brisket. Donna bought one the other day – it’s something I’ve never done before. I’m hoping the Traeger wood pellet fired smoker/grill makes it easy to do.


Winding Road Ahead

I tied down the scooter and had the trailer completely loaded and road-ready before dinner on Wednesday. After dinner, I took I took my last  walk through Tom Sawyer’s RV Park. I watched a large barge tow heading upriver, then snapped a photo of a rare motorhome. It was an Airstream 310 from the early ’80s – I’d never seen one before. This one was powered by an Isuzu diesel engine, making it doubly rare – most had 454 Chevy gas engines.

Airstream motorhome

Airstream motorhome

When we were pulling out of Tom Sawyer’s RV Park on Thursday morning, I could hardly believe it when I saw a similar Airstream motorhome stored near a shed by the office. It looked like it hadn’t moved in a long time. After nearly two years on the road without seeing one of these rare coaches, I saw two here at the park!

Our destination was the Escapees (SKP) Turkey Creek RV Village in Hollister, Missouri (Map). Our route out of West Memphis took us up I-55 for about 12 miles to the junction of US63. This was the only stretch of interstate on the entire 270-mile drive.

I generally enjoy taking the smaller highways and US63 was a nice road. The pavement was good and the traffic was fairly light. When we crossed into Missouri and headed west out of Thayer on MO142, it got interesting. MO142 has a smooth surface, but it’s a narrow two-lane highway with no shoulder. Most of the time, if you dropped a wheel off the pavement, you would be in a ditch. Our lane was barely wide enough for our 102-inch width. Luckily, there was very little traffic. But, when an oncoming heavy-duty truck would pass, I had to squeeze over to right as much as I dared and brace myself for our mirrors to collide. We managed not to knock mirrors and only had half a dozen truck encounters over the next few hours.

The terrain changed on MO142. We were heading into the Ozarks. The Ozarks are the most extensive mountainous region between the Appalachians and Rocky mountains. Although they are often referred to as the Ozark Mountains, it’s actually a high plateau with deep ravines and ridges. MO142 constantly climbed and dipped. The hills were short and steep. I was either on full power or using the Jake brake to slow a descent. There were so many curves in the road, Nally (Our Rand McNally GPS) was constantly chattering “Left curve ahead” and then “Right curve ahead” or “Winding road ahead.”

After about 40 miles of this difficult stretch, we turned north and found US160 at Caulfield. This seemed like a better two-lane highway – the lane was wider anyway. My opinion soon changed. US160 continued up and down in the fashion of MO142 but soon became more extreme. The climbs and descents were steeper and the road was a series of sharp curves. At the crest of many of the climbs, I couldn’t see the bottom of the descent until we started down. Nally kept warning of the winding road ahead as I would see speed advisory signs of 30mph curves.

At one curve, a car was partially pulled off the road. It was halfway into the lane because there wasn’t enough shoulder to pull completely off the road. We were moving slowly and I braked hard, I couldn’t see around the curve at first to see if it was clear to get around the car. We saw why they were stopped. The passenger door was open and the passenger was sitting on the door sill with his head down – obviously very car sick. It was understandable with all the up, down, right and left motion.

The scenery was beautiful, but I didn’t have much of a chance to enjoy it. My concentration was fully absorbed by driving and keeping us on the road and in our lane. We made a stop at the Bullseye station in Gainesville to top off with fuel. I stretched my legs and took on 38 gallons at $2.55/gallon. I think this was the cheapest diesel price we’ve ever had. Our fuel mileage worked out to 8.5mpg – better than I expected. I figured the up and down terrain coupled with running the diesel generator to run the AC all day would result in poor fuel mileage.

We pulled into Turkey Creek at 3pm – nearly six hours after our 9:15am departure. It was a tough drive. During the drive, Donna and I discussed our options for the next few weeks. We will be in Minneapolis on July 5th, we have a site booked there for Donna’s Senior Olympic bike race. I originally booked two weeks here at Turkey Creek thinking we would move on to Des Moines. Des Moines is problematic due to the Junior Rodeo National event that has the RV parks full.

While we were checking in, Donna mentioned the SKP Stay & Play promotion where you pay for 15 days and get five additional days free. A quick look at the calendar showed that we could stay for 18 or even 20 days and still make it to Donna’s scheduled event with Meredith Publishing (Better Homes and Gardens) in Des Moines. Doing the math, if we stay for 20 days, the promotional rate works out to $14/day. Even if we leave after 18 days, it’s only $15.55/day for a pull-through 50 amp full hook-up site. So we paid for 15 days and have the option of staying up to 20 days.

We have site D8, the only pull-through available for our length of stay. The good news is the site is shaded by a large tree. I don’t know what kind of tree it is – maybe a reader can enlighten me.

Shade tree by our site

Shade tree by our site

The bad news is, the site slopes toward the creek and is also low in back. Getting the coach level was a chore.

Looking up at our site from the creek

Looking up at our site from the creek

All of the 9 sites in row D are pull-throughs. Sites 1 through 7 are fairly level.

Sites 1 through 7 in row D looking toward the office

Sites 1 through 7 in row D looking toward the office

While we were driving with the generator on to power our roof air conditioner, Donna took advantage of the electrical power and put a whole chicken in the slow cooker. Once we were set up, we dined outdoors at our picnic table. The slow-cooked chicken was tender and tasty.

Slow cooked chicken with garlic red potatoes and green beans

Slow cooked chicken with garlicky roasted red potatoes and green beans

Today we’ll head out and explore Branson on the scooter. The forecast calls for a 60% chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

Another RV Conversion

The weather guessers had the forecast for this week all wrong. They called for thunderstorms Monday through Thursday. It was enough of a warning to make me decide to take the Gibson tour on Sunday – when no work is being performed. Well, we’ve only had one small shower and that was on Monday evening. It’s been mostly sunny and warm. There isn’t a cloud in the sky today here at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park on the west bank of the Mississippi River. (Map)

Donna started Tuesday out with a bike ride. She rode a 34-mile loop, clocking herself for the first 25 miles to gauge how ready she is for her upcoming race. Her goal now is to shave off 20 seconds per mile over the next few weeks.

While Donna was out, I washed the coach. I used a waterless method using a product called The Solution from a company called Super Seal. I don’t have any affiliation with this company – I’m providing a link because I really like the product. I was put on to this stuff by our friends and fellow Alpine owners, Lynda and Dave Campbell. The first time I used it, I went through more than a quart to wash the coach. Lynda told me I was using too much, a little spray goes a long way. She was right, I think I can get two washes from a quart now.

Clean and shiny

Clean and shiny

I spent about two and half hours on a ladder cleaning our rig. It looks great and was worth the effort. The humidity had me perspiring heavily though. I had to take a few breaks and come inside to cool off.

While I was up on the ladder, I saw our neighbor load up his motorcycle with baggage and head out. He had a Kawasaki KLR 650 dual sport bike. These are often called adventure/sport bikes as they can be ridden on pavement as well as off-road. He has an interesting rig. It’s an old work van that he’s converted to an RV toy hauler. The back half of the box is set up as a garage with two motorcycles, a bicycle and tools. The front area, separated from the garage by a wall, is a bunk, kitchen and bathroom with toilet and shower.

Rv Conversion

RV conversion

That's a hang glider strapped to the side

That’s a hang glider strapped to the side

Kawasaki KLR dual sport bike

Kawasaki KLR dual sport bike

I met him later. His name is John and he hit the road three days ago. He’s a software developer and can work from the road. He plans to travel to interesting hang gliding destinations. He also has a road racing motorcycle and wants to ride track days along the way as well. His RV is a work in progress. He told me he’s thinking about putting signage on the van that say something like “Simple Septic Solutions.” That will make it look like a nasty work van and deter thieves from breaking in. Interesting concept.

After he pulled out of the park this morning, we noticed he left his laptop table out on the picnic table. Within minutes, a woman came walking over from a few sites down, picked up his laptop table and started to walk away with it. I went outside and said, “Ma’am, John’s coming back – he wants his table.” She said, “Oh, I wondered why someone would leave a nice table like this behind. Thanks for telling me.” Then I walked up to the office and told the attendant that John left his table behind. They had his cell phone number and called him.

Last night, I grilled chicken sausages stuffed with poblano and cheese for dinner. While I was out manning the grill, I enjoyed the view of the Mississippi River.

Our backyard view last evening

Our backyard view last evening

We’ve had a good time here in West Memphis. Today I’ll organize and pack the trailer. I’ll clean our wheels and set the tire pressures and take down the front window covers. Tomorrow we’ll pull out and head over to the Turkey Creek Escapees Park across the river from Branson, Missouri.

New Travel Plans

Flexibility is key to this lifestyle. We may have certain dates on the calendar where we want or need to be in certain places, but things aren’t always going to go as planned. Our original intention was to visit St. Louis when we leave Tom Sawyer’s RV Park here in West Memphis. From there we would go on to Des Moines, Iowa where Donna has some work scheduled with Meredith Publishing for Better Homes and Gardens.

We dropped that plan after finding the RV park rates in St. Louis are very high – too high to justify a week in a place that we are only marginally interested in visiting at this time. We thought we would move on to Des Moines where Donna could train on her bicycle for the Senior Olympics race in July. (A friend told us about an RV park there with a 20-mile paved cycling trail nearby.) We had to dash that plan as well when we found the National Junior Rodeo Championship was taking place in Des Moines the last week in June. All the RV sites at that park plus more than 2,000 sites at the fairgrounds are sold out for the week.

So we spent a lot of time looking at alternatives yesterday. We decided to head to Branson, Missouri. Actually we booked two weeks across the river from Branson at the Escapees (SKP) Turkey Creek RV Park in Hollister, Missouri. Donna can train for her race in the Ozarks. She found a cycling club that has regular rides in the area four times a week, including a speed workout. From there we’ll go to Des Moines for five days and then on to Minnesota.

That’s the beauty of being mobile. We can change our neighborhood at will and can adjust our travel plans as needed.

Yesterday I posted about the Gibson factory tour. Some readers may be wondering why I didn’t have photos of the tour. Photography is forbidden in the factory. I should have mentioned that in the post.

In my previous post about river barges, I omitted an interesting factoid. The owners of the barge transport companies keep the barges moving 24/7. To do this, they rotate crews. The tow boat is manned by a captain and first mate that take turns running the boat. There are two sets of deckhands. Each crew member works six hours on, six hours off. The cook and the engineer responsible for maintenance and repair are typically the only exceptions to this work schedule. The crew works for 28 days straight, then they are replaced by another crew while they have 28 days off.

I might start washing our coach today. Tomorrow I’ll have to pack up the trailer and make things ready for travel. I’d like to get an early start when we leave here on Thursday.

Gibson Tour

Donna went out for a Sunday morning bike ride at 8:30am trying to beat the heat. She wasn’t entirely successful. By the time she returned from her 26-mile ride at 10:30am, the temperature had risen well into the 80s with high humidity.

I grilled a couple of salmon burgers that we bought at HEB in Rockport, Texas and froze for later consumption. We have two more in the freezer. We had them for lunch on onion ciabatta rolls. I wrote about the fresh salmon burgers from HEB in this post.

After lunch, I rode the scooter to Memphis via the I-55 bridge. I followed Riverside Drive to Beale Street and found my way to Lt George W Lee Avenue where the Gibson guitar factory and retail store is located. Parking is problematic in this area. I had no choice but to pay $5 to park in the Gibson lot.

Ginson retail entrance

Gibson retail entrance

Gibson guitars are made at four factories in three locations – Memphis is where they make the semi-hollow body and hollow body guitars. My ES339 was made here. In Nashville, Gibson USA makes the solid body guitars. Also in Nashville, the Gibson custom shop makes special guitars – my Les Paul 1960 reissue G0 was made there. In Bozeman, Montana, Gibson makes acoustic guitars – my L130 acoustic guitar was made there.

Orville Gibson founded the company at the end of the 19th century to make mandolins. The company was headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan and built guitars there until guitar production moved to Gibson USA in Nashville in 1974. The Kalamazoo plant continued operation as a custom shop until it closed in 1984 and the Nashville custom shop opened.

The tour cost $10. About 20 people were in the tour group. All tours for the weekend were sold out. They give six tours daily, Monday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm. On Sunday, they have five tours starting at noon. Our tour lasted about an hour and we walked through the entire production area. We saw how the process works from beginning to end. There’s very little automation – almost everything is carried out by hand. Each guitar takes about four weeks to  to finish and they complete about 65 guitars per day here. There are several inspections during the process. About 4% of the production is scrapped due to flaws. The final finishing process is all done by hand. The guitars are painted with a nitro-cellulose finish by painters using spray guns. The last step is polishing the finish on buffing wheels. Polishing is a three-step process with increasingly finer compounds used to achieve the final lustre.

My tour ticket

My tour ticket

It was a very interesting tour for me. I was surprised by the diverse people in our group. We had older folks and young people. We had families. Most of the people in the tour weren’t very knowledgeable about guitars – I wondered what enticed them to take the tour. I think most of them didn’t really understand what the tour guide was talking about some of the time – like when he explained the installation of truss rods or how the binding is applied.

After the tour, I walked to Beale Street a block away. It was fairly quiet as it was Sunday afternoon. I saw two bands playing – one was jamming loudly in the court where we saw the Australian guitarist on Friday night. I cooled off with a cold Wiseacre Ananda IPA at BB King’s Club. While I was at it, I checked the Statelines app (from Technomadia) on my smartphone and saw that alcohol is not sold in Arkansas on Sunday. I needed to get some beer, so I decided to stop at a store in Memphis where alcohol sales are legal on Sunday after noon. I saw a funny sign as I was walking down Beale Street.

So true

So true

My map showed a market a couple of blocks away on Vance Street, so I scootered over there. Wow, what a difference two blocks makes in the neighborhood. The gentrified Beale Street is world away from Vance Street. The neighborhood was reminiscent of Beale Street back in the ’70s. I found of photo of Beale Street taken in 1974 on this site.

Beale Street at Third Ave cica 1974

Beale Street at Third Ave circa 1974

I went into the market and made my purchase quickly. I wasn’t comfortable in this neighborhood. The people loitering on the curb outside the store looked rough. I rode back home to Tom Sawyer’s RV Park.

I was inspired to practice guitar while Donna was outside reading a book. Later, we took a walk together through the park. This RV park has very few long-term visitors. It seems like most people use it as an overnight stopping point or maybe a weekend getaway. Unlike most parks, we haven’t seen the usual weekend influx of campers or the Sunday afternoon exodus back to the workaday world. Instead, people seem to come and in and out in a fairly equal exchange. Over the four nights that we’ve been here, we’ve had four different RVs in the site across from us.

One of the rigs that’s been here since we arrived is an old GMC bus converted to an RV. A lot of the bus conversions I see are a little rough looking, but I’m always intrigued by them. Converting an old bus into an RV is a lot of work. It’s invariably a labor of love to make it into your own vision of what an RV should be.

GMC bus conversion

GMC bus conversion

This is a far cry from the Millenium Coach built on a Prevost chassis I showed in my last post. Speaking of Prevost chassis, we saw two more coaches built on Prevost chassis as we walked through the park. The first one was a 2011 Liberty Coach. We met the woman who owns the coach along with her husband and chatted for a while. They’ve had several coaches, including a Marathon Coach built on a Prevost chassis. She said the Liberty was the best they’ve ever owned.

I forgot to take a photo of their beautiful RV, but I snapped a shot of a Country Coach built on a Prevost XL chassis.

Country Coach Prevost XL chassis

Country Coach Prevost XL chassis

Today the thermometer is forecast to hit 90 degrees with less humidity than we’ve had lately. There’s a 40% chance of a thundershower. I might try fishing the ponds here today.

Mississippi River Barges

The earliest super-highway for transporting goods in America was its rivers. The Mississippi River was a major artery in this system. French settlers south of St. Louis would float their harvest down the river as did fur trappers and traders. The barge era began when steam boats came about in the mid-19th century.

Here at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in West Memphis, we see and hear barges on the Mississippi River daily. I’m fascinated by them and did a little research. In an earlier post, I described a raft of barges pushed by a tug boat. My terminology was incorrect. When barges are lashed together, they are called a tow. I think this name comes from early barges that were towed along canals by draft animals. The boat, which has a flat bow plate and is tied to the back of the barge tow, is called a tow boat – even though it pushes the barges.

The standard barge is 195 feet long and 35 feet wide. It can draft 9 feet of water and has a capacity of 1500 tons. Some modern barges used in the lower Mississippi are 290 feet long and 50 feet wide. The lower Mississippi is the portion downriver from St. Louis. Upriver from St. Louis, the Mississippi isn’t as deep and wide. It also has locks that restrict the size of tows in the upper Mississippi.

Multiple barges are lashed together to create a tow. The payload usually consists of grain, coal or petro-chemicals in special tanker barges. This is a very economical way to transport goods downriver.

The tow boats range from 35 to 200 feet in length and 21 to 56 feet wide. They can be powered by diesel engines ranging from 600 to 11,000 horsepower. When I see a tow going downriver, I can hear the diesel engines in the tow boat as it cruises along. The Mississippi River is such a large body of water here in Memphis that it appears to flow lazily. This is deceptive. When you see a piece of driftwood floating in the current, you can see how fast the water is actually moving. Transporting a load downriver, the tow boat isn’t working very hard – it’s turning the propellers just fast enough to maintain control over the rudder.

Coming back upriver is a different story. Once offloaded, the empty barges need to be pushed back upriver to pick up another load. At least I think they’re empty, I haven’t found any reference to shipping goods upriver. Going upriver, the tow boats are running hard. They sound like a freight train running at full speed, but they are only covering a few knots per hour. I can hear one going upriver right now. It will be within sight and ear shot for the next 20 minutes.

28 barge tow - six barges long and four deep lashed together

28-barge tow – six barges long and four deep lashed together

Tow making the turn up river

Tow making the turn upriver

Once the barges in the tow are lashed together and the tow boat is connected to the rear, it becomes one large vessel controlled by the tow boat. It’s amazing to watch these things make the turn in the channel upriver from the RV park.

While Donna was out walking yesterday, she sent me a text message telling me I ought to check out the coach and trailer getting ready to pull out from a riverfront site. I walked over to the riverfront area and saw a beautiful, 45-foot Millenium Coach built on a Prevost chassis. This million-plus-dollar coach was pulling a large stacker trailer that had to be 13 feet high. I don’t know what he had in there, but this type of trailer typically has a hydraulic lift that can raise a car, making room for another underneath. Or it can be configured with a platform with work benches and storage that can be lifted and a car stowed underneath for travel.

Millenium Coach with large stacker trailer

Millenium Coach with large stacker trailer

What a set-up! Triple-axle stacker trailers typically weigh in the neighborhood of 9,000 pounds empty, so you need a large, powerful coach with heavy towing capacity to utilize one. Very few coaches have that much capacity. A Prevost chassis is usually outfitted with 20,000 pounds of towing capacity. Our coach is limited to 10,000 pounds. Many coaches only have four or five thousand pounds of towing capacity.

Millenium Coach with stacker heading out

Millenium Coach with stacker heading out

When I grow up, I want one of these!

Last evening, I grilled turkey burgers loaded with diced green chiles, onions, cilantro and spices. Donna topped it with shredded Mexican cheeses and guacamole and served it over spring mix greens with grilled zucchini on the side. The zucchini was seasoned the same way we had it two nights ago with salt and lemon zest. We dined al fresco at the picnic table. A healthy, delicious and nutritious meal.

Turkey/green chili burger topped with cheese and guacamole

Green chile turkey burger topped with cheese and guacamole

It’s going to be hot today. We expect the temperature to reach 90 degrees. Donna headed out for a bike ride at 8:30 to try to beat the heat. The humidity yesterday was 89% and we expect the same today.

This afternoon, I have a reservation for a tour of the Gibson guitar factory in Memphis, birthplace of my ES339 guitar.