Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

!! Happy New Year !!

Homosassa, Florida
Sunny, high 80's :-)

Well, it has been awhile, hasn't it! I guess there's two months of stuff I need to catch up on.

We have finished our fifth season at Amazon, 9 weeks this time, and have made it home for the winter. It was an interesting and busy season at Amazon this year. As I stated in my first post, the Campbellsville facility is switching over from holding just about anything you can imagine in the warehouse, to mainly apparel. You can find everything from the cheapest chinese socks to high-end wedding gowns. The facility was just emerging from a massive renovation job to accommodate this change in product, and my position in the Receiving department provided immediate overtime as we were kept quite busy with incoming product to fill up all the empty bins and racks in the pick mods. I'd been working 55 hours over the course of 6 nights for a few weeks, so I hope that gives me sufficient excuse to have missed writing blogs :-). Around Thanksgiving the influx of product started slowing, but by then the outbound end of things were starting to pick up, so workers in our department were being moved around to assist production in other departments. I worked in several departments this year, being trained in Receive Prep (my original department), Receive (all items already packaged and tagged), Stow ( putting away all those items in the pick mods), ICQA (basically verifying the content of the bins in the pick mods are correct), and finally Packing. Luckily I was never assigned to Shipping Parties, which involved people from our department stacking the orders in the mail trucks during the breaks the regular shipping department took. By December it is an endless flow of packages, so the work never stops! I wasn't thrilled at the prospect as I hate being around those tractor trailer trucks, so I was happy I was never involved in that.

I won't bore everyone with a long-winded description of the season, but we do have a few random observations for those thinking they may want to work there next season.

-The new online application process is tedious and confusing. We haven't worked through it yet for next year, but I'm sure it hasn't gotten any easier or fun since last year. Those of us who have worked there before actually had a ten day exclusive time period to apply for next year, but no, we haven't done it yet. Yes, we fully plan on returning, but don't see a need to get it done immediately, especially while you are still working there and so tired you can't see straight. Now we are in the middle of the holidays with family and friends, so will probably deal with it in a few weeks.

-The drug screening process and start time notifications were horrible this year. We were notified of our start date less than three weeks prior to start. The paperwork for our drug screen came while we were in the midst of traveling, and was difficult to pin down a spot within the three day time frame we had to get it done. It was a real problem this year, and I was annoyed with it, especially in the fact that the nearest place I could get it done was over 2 1/2 hours drive away. We did it, but I'm sure hoping it gets easier next year. 

-I did enjoy my department this year, and felt the training for it was ok; not great, but adequate. There were plenty of nice folks in the receive department as well that were always willing to answer any questions. My managers were great, and always kept things fairly fun, and were very generous giving out gift cards and thanks for doing a good job. This is not so in many other departments. And I found that once we were being moved around to different departments, the training was sketchy at best. If I hadn't already had experience in packing, I would have had a much more difficult time of it. I was pretty lost in Stow, having never worked in the pick mods and pretty much had no clue where anything was. I always felt like a little mouse being stuck in a maze :-). 

-Al had a more difficult time this year in AmCare, in that there was no Area Manager in place when he arrived, so it was hard trying to pin down what his schedule was going to be. About halfway through the season he was finally settled into set nights and hours, for the most part. We ended up without a single night off together this season. That is nice in that the dogs need less pet-sitting, but we end up doing a lot of the chores separately. One nice perk we get now is after we work 320 hours we receive 5 hours of paid time off that we can take, so one night I took off the last five hours of my shift that he was off, and another night he took off a couple of hours at the beginning of shift to go out to dinner with a group of our friends when I was off. 

-Green River Lake State Park was much more enjoyable this year without the tree cutting going on! Once again it was a quiet, beautiful sanctuary away from the hectic world of Amazon. All the people who work there are so nice, we continue to love staying there, and will be back there again next fall. I know a common complaint we hear that it is so far away from the warehouse, but I have timed the commute, and from the time I would clock out from work in the middle of the building until I walked into my trailer was a total of 20 minutes. I don't think that is so awful :-).

-We always enjoy meeting up with old friends, and again we met many new friends. Coming back to Campbellsville each fall feels like coming back to a "homebase". 

Working at Amazon is definitely an interesting experience. Its not for everyone, that's for sure, but we seem to deal with it well enough and it provides a nice cash infusion into the old checking account. So while we are physically capable of doing the job, I feel we will keep going back. Nine weeks is quite long enough, however! 

Green River Lake State Park, our "fall home".

We had a late departure from Amazon this year. Actually, we always sign a contract to work through December 23, but prior to this year we have always been released around the 20th or 21st. Things were proving to be a little different this year, and right up to December 18th we still didn't have a date set for our release. By then we had figured we were going right to the end, so we called our family and told them we wouldn't be there for Christmas Eve this year, and probably wouldn't get there until Saturday. We didn't want them waiting till the last minute with plans, hoping we'd be there, so they could get on with it for headcounts. I consoled myself, figuring there was a couple more days of salary coming in at any rate, and we'd have Christmas dinner when we got there. 

Of course, when I went in to work that Friday 12/18, at our meal break we were informed the next night, Saturday, would be our last night! Al  had a choice, he could leave that night with me, or work two more nights and leave Monday with the bulk of the workampers. Since we had already made the decision we wouldn't be home until Saturday, he worked the extra two nights. We ended up leaving Green River Lake State Park Thursday morning. Wednesday was a terrible weather day that we didn't want to deal with. It all turned out for the best as our friend Laura hitched up to go home and found a leak in her brake line, so we were able to help her out with that and get her truck to a service shop for repairs. Normally we would have been gone before her :-). 

Thursday turned out to be a great travel day, and we headed out around lunch after getting Laura back to town when her truck was ready. We had an easy trip down through Tennessee to Chattanooga, where we picked up I75. I could tell from that point on that we were traveling closer to the holiday as the traffic was much busier all the way to Florida than we've seen previously. We made it to Cartersville GA, just north of Atlanta, where we stopped for the night, figuring to tackle Atlanta on Christmas Day.

The trip around Atlanta went quite smoothly, thank goodness. The whole day was going pretty well, actually, except I was thinking there really was a lot of debris and garbage along the roadway. Everything just looked really messy and dirty, and I figured that was from the first storm front that had passed through that we waited for. We got just south of Perry, Georgia, when our smooth day went awry. Watching a tire blowout from behind is quite horrifying, in how spectacular it looked. Yes, the front driver side trailer tire blew. These things really annoy me, because we constantly check the tire pressure, make sure its right, keep our speed at 60mph or lower, and it still happens. Inspecting the other three tires they all look fine, just as this one did when we left. I'm wondering if there was some debris in the roadway we didn't notice. Being Christmas Day, he figured it would be faster and easier to change it himself rather than call roadside assistance, so that's what he did. I wasn't thrilled, with the way traffic was zipping by and not moving over like you're supposed to, and I tried calling the state highway police for traffic assistance; do you know how hard it is to get hold of the police without calling 911?? Whatever happened to operator assistance? It took me about 20 minutes to finally reach the state highway police department, and an officer showed up just as Al was tightening the lugnuts. He was very nice, and did make sure we were set, then took off after a car that seemed like it had to be doing 100mph as it went by us without moving over....hope he got a ticket!

Alas, it doesn't end there. We got back on the road, then stopped at a rest area that was about 5 miles down the highway just to check everything over good while in a safe spot. At some point I had our iphone out, and apparently left it on the truck bed when we pulled away from the rest area. We had decided to stop in Cordele, just up the highway for the night, and discovered the phone missing when we arrived. We did find it, back at the exit ramp to the rest area, completely demolished. Boy, was I angry at myself for that one! We do have insurance on it, and it has been replaced, but I must say, you feel quite naked without your phone :-). 

We were also having some battery/converter issues with the trailer, and the decision has been made to put in a new battery and converter. Once that is done, I will write about what his decision was and what the replacements are. I'm quite lost with all he has been researching, so I'll probably let him write that :-). So, for Christmas, Santa is bringing us (late) a new battery, new converter, new tires, a new phone, and repair work to the wheel well skirting. Not what I would have liked, but, you do what needs to be done....fix it and move on, as my friend Teresa says!

Saturday was a beautiful day to finish our drive, and we arrived home late afternoon. We have the trailer in storage for a couple of weeks, and are all moved back into the house for the winter. We have been busy fixing things and straightening things out, but are now ready for our annual big family New Year's Day dinner of prime rib that we host each year. All our Florida family will be here, and our dear friends John and Carol Herr are driving up from Sanibel Island to join us for this year's festivities. It should be a great and relaxing time. After that, we have lots planned for this winter, starting with a trip to Disney January 10 to spend the week with my sister's family, then another 12 days at Disney starting January 24 for the annual reunion with Al's family. So January is pretty full, and I'll be dusting off the camera and getting some pictures out here for you. Maybe even a review of our year soon...it was a good one! And we're looking forward to an awesome 2016 :-).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Season Five at Amazon!

Week One is finished at SDF1, otherwise known as the Amazon fulfillment center in Campbellsville Kentucky. The hiring procedure changes slightly each year, but the facility itself has had huge changes this past year, with an extensive renovation and re-purposing taking place. Our first four years working here the product mix was pretty much anything and everything that one could possibly imagine....and some things that you would never imagine :-). One of the fastest growing segments of sales for Amazon is apparel..shoes, clothing, underwear, outerwear, you name it, Amazon is selling it. In order to accommodate this change, SDF1 is switching from all merchandise to 100% apparel. This necessitated a different way of storing the merchandise, so all of the "pick mods" have been gutted and remodeled to facilitate better storage of these items. The warehouse is very different from what we've been used to.

We arrived a week ago Sunday at our favorite camping spot here in Campbellsville, Green River Lake State Park. Not too many folks like to stay here, for two reasons that I've heard. One is that there are no sewer hookups here, so once a week a "honey wagon" comes around to pump us out. We have fairly large holding tanks, and have not found that to be a problem. The only thing that may fill up before weeks' end is our galley gray water, but we have a "blue boy" tote that we can empty into if necessary. We are fairly economical with shower water, so long hot showers are a luxury here, but that's ok. Its also about a 15-20 minute drive from the park to the warehouse, so most folks like to stay at the closer campgrounds. We like the peace and quiet here, the beautiful views, and the dogs really enjoy the space to run.

Monday was our "orientation and safety school" day. All of our new hire paperwork is now filled out online prior to our arrival, but there are still several hours of required lectures on rules, regulations, behavior and safety that we have to go through. It can be tedious, but they try to make it as interesting as possible. This is all done during the day, whether you have been assigned to day shift or night shift. I have been assigned to nights, "D" shift, which I think I've been on every year since the first one! It was a little confusing with Al, as he doesn't get assigned to a shift by the Camperforce HR team, so he had to head over to the Amcare office at the end of the day and get his rotation figured out. With everything new this year, he is currently working the day shift for these first two weeks to get trained on the new programs, process paths (this is what they call the different department work procedures) and layout of the building.

Tuesday night I started my department training. I am assigned to the receive department, and started training on "receive/prep". I work on the line that takes in product that has been delivered that needs additional packaging of some sort. It may be as simple as putting new bar code stickers on an item, or verifying that the item is already prepped for storage, or it may be something like a box full of socks that need to actually be packaged in plastic bags, sorted, stickered, etc. Every box that comes through my station will have a different process applied to it, making for a great variety of work. Its a tiny bit like the problem solving I was doing last year, in that you have to figure out what work these items need, which screen I need to go to to get the applications I need, and then get it sorted and put on the stower's carts so the merchandise can be put away out in the pick mods. Of course, it can get a little tedious as well, like when I had a box of about 100 bras that needed to be individually sorted, scanned, bagged and tagged :-).

Our first week is only five hours a night, for three nights, considered a "work hardening" process. Starting tonight, Monday, my second week will be four nights of 10 hour shifts. This is where I really get into "vampire mode", working until 3:30 AM and sleeping during the day. Because of construction, we all have Friday and Saturday off, as the facility is completely closed those days. But, that all changes this Sunday, when SDF1 officially goes into PEAK season, and construction will be halted until the first of the year. Our regular shift starts that week, and I will be working Wednesday-Saturday nights, with Tuesday my OT night I believe. I will find out for sure this week, as our inbound departments are immediately going into mandatory overtime next week. There's a great big warehouse with a lot of empty pick mods right now, and they are going to be slamming getting those shelves filled for the Christmas orders. So starting next week, I will be getting 60 hours if I want it! Camperforce is required to do the 50 hours overtime schedule, but we can elect to do the 60 or not. Last year I did not do the 60 hours. I am going to try doing it this year, as we have a couple of bills we need to get paid off. We're not sure yet how much OT Al will get in Amcare, so I will try and go "great guns" at it.

In the meantime, we've had great fun catching up with our many friends here. Our first week here the weather was beautiful, and Friday we had a picnic here in the park with a group of "RV-Dreamers" that are here working at SDF1 with us. Once you get going on the different shifts full time, its very hard to get a group together, so we try and do it before the PEAK schedule kicks in. Last year's potluck was a huge success, so we decided to get one together again this year :-). "RV-Dreamers" refers to all of us that are followers of Linda and Howard Payne, who have been full timing very successfully for over ten years now. Their website RV-Dreams and rallies are instrumental in getting a lot of folks started, ourselves included. We've met so many great people and have such good friends through our contacts with RV-Dreams, and I swear they are all the nicest people you want to meet!
RV-Dreamer SDF1 Camperforce picnic attendees: from left to right, first sitting then standing)
Michelle, Dino, Lisa, George, Nancy, Kelly, Peggy, Al, Neil, Harry, Richard, Bonnie, myself, Jessica, Laurel and Bill.

We had a great afternoon and gathered a couple of new recipes as well! We were missing our dear friends Pat and Diana Brown, as they arrived Wednesday but had to go for a quick trip back to Huntsville AL for a family funeral. But not to worry, we got together with them last night, along with Bonnie and Richard, and continued our tradition of having a pizza night out together. We got together with them a few times last winter, kayaking, and such, and have become great friends. Bonnie and Richard have an RV lot nearby in Chassa Oaks now, and Pat and Diana spend the winter in Florida, and we look forward to seeing more of them this winter. The best part of this life has been all the wonderful people we have met and continue to meet. Jessica and Harry we have known "virtually" for a few years, and are fellow former New Yorkers. Laurel and George we've known since the 2011 Sevierville Rally, and cross paths occasionally. Nancy and Neil we've also known since the 2011 Sevierville rally, and have become very good friends with as well. Michelle, Peggy, Dino and Lisa were all new folks we met, and we hope to get to know them better. I had a really nice long chat with Kelly and her husband Bill, and think we're going to get along just great! They'll be in Florida this January, and I hope to get together and do some kayaking before they leave. They're headed west after that, with the ultimate goal of traveling to and working in Alaska this summer.

So, Amazon life is chugging along, and the busy weeks are going to kick right in. The next seven weeks will go quite quickly, and then we'll be headed to Florida for another winter of family and friends. Oh, and I forgot to answer Sherry's question in the comments last blog, but yes, we are headed back to Wyoming, to Luton's Teton Cabins, for a third season. Our friends John and Carol Herr are returning to their jobs working for the Grand Teton Association, and we look forward to having more adventures with them in this beautiful area. We also look forward to meeting new people at work as well. I'm starting to plan our trip west in the spring, and this year will be taking a different route, exploring the areas of Savannah GA, Charleston SC, Asheville NC and Lexington KY on the way out. If anyone has "must do" activities in any of these places, I'm all ears! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Waterfall Wonderland

I don't quite remember how I settled on the North Shore of Minnesota as an area to visit, but I sure am glad it popped up on my radar! Once I started researching and found so many state parks and hiking trails, along with a National Monument and a scenic byway, I booked my days and had all summer to look forward to our "vacation" during our fall job re-positioning. The highway along the north coast of Lake Superior runs from Duluth all the way to the Canadian border just above Grand Portage. The state parks are named in green print.

Our first day was a cloudy, cold, rainy day, so we figured we might as well make the drive back to the drug screening center and get it over with. After calling first to verify that their computer system was up and running again, we headed down the scenic Highway 61 back to Superior WI. After driving a little over two hours, we had our screening done in about ten minutes! We had some lunch at one of the few fast food places we still go, Culver's. If you haven't had the pleasure of a Culver's butterburger or frozen custard concrete mixers, you must find one...just sayin'! We had some time on the way back, and even though the sky was quite dreary, it had stopped raining so we stopped at Gooseberry Falls State Park for a leg-stretching hike and to view the famous falls.

A view from the Visitor's Center showed the fall foliage is in full glory.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were the primary builders of Gooseberry Falls, and a statue commemorates their hard work.

We ended up doing a full loop hike up to the Upper Falls...

down along the river to the Middle Falls...

crossing over a bridge below the Lower falls...

and up the other side for a different view of the Middle Falls.

The brown color of the water in the rivers here are not from pollution, but rather the water drains from swamps and bogs into the rivers. The decaying organic matter from these swamps and bogs creates humic acid, and this colors the water brown. There is also some iron deposits along the river's course that adds brown to the color.

The next day we drove north to Grand Portage National Monument. It was still overcast and cloudy, but the weather was definitely improving. We decided to take a ranger tour of the Heritage Area, and we learned a lot about this area. Grand Portage is where several different groups gathered, all in the interest of trading good. The North West Company basically set up shop here, as there was good access via waterways from both the east and the north west. Grand Portage was the largest fur trading depot on the heart of the continent. 
16 buildings were set up inside a stockaded palisade, expressly for the purpose of hosting the annual Rendezvous, a gathering of everyone associated with the fur trade. The north men, called Voyageurs, spent their year traveling the waterways north through Canada, trading goods for furs. Travelers from Montreal, known as "pork eaters", brought manufactured goods to trade for the furs. 

We saw the restored birchbark canoes that were used by these intrepid traders. The Grand Portage that the town is named for is the overland route used by the Voyagers between Fort Charlotte and Grand Portage. It is a 8 1/2 mile route between Lake Superior and the Pigeon River. It would take Voyagers a few hours to travel this overland rout, each one carrying two 90 pound packs of goods. 

There were several exhibits in both the Heritage Center and the Visitor's Center. The prime pelts that were traded were beaver. It would take a total of four years, from the time the order was placed for beaver pelts in London, trade goods sent to Montreal, shipping the goods to Grand Portage, trading for the pelts, then reversing the process, before a hat was ever made out of that beaver pelt.

The view over Lake Superior from the Visitor Center.

From the National Monument it was a few miles further north to Grand Portage State Park, and the Canadian border. I'm standing on the United States side of the river, Canada is on the other side!

There's a nice hike up the river to High Falls, the highest waterfalls in Minnesota at over 200 feet, and a significant reason for the need of the portage route between Grand Portage and Fort Charlotte.

Leading up to High Falls are 9 miles of other falls and cascades. the entire route is hikeable, but not one that we did :-).

After viewing High Falls, we headed south again, stopping at an overlook of Lake Superior, and a group of offshore islands known as the Susie Islands. The fall foliage is pretty spectacular here as well.

Our last stop of the day was at Judge C.R.Magney State Park, home of the famous waterfalls known as the Devil's Kettle. It's about a mile hike upriver along the Brule River.

You then have to go down over 700 steps to reach the bottom of the valley.

Upper Falls is the first falls that you reach. Devil's Kettle Falls is another 700 feet up river.

The unusual thing about Devil's Kettle is that on the right hand side the Brule River goes over the falls, and continues downstream like normal rivers do. The left side of the river goes over the ledge into a cauldron of sorts, and geologists have yet to figure out where the exit point is. The consensus is that there must be an exit somewhere out in Lake Superior, but various tests that have been done to date have never been able to reveal where the flow of water going into the Devil's Kettle emerges back on the surface.

The next day we took a scenic drive along the byway known as the Gunflint Trail.

The Gunflint Trail is a 57-mile long National Scenic Byway that runs from Grand Marais into the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Up in this area you truly start to get a sense of why Minnesota is called the "Land of 10000 Lakes".

We explored several gravel roads going off into the wilderness, and this was our picnic spot for the day.

At the end of the Trail is Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, which had some interesting exhibits about the history of the Gunflint Trail. A lot of the exhibits were the same story we learned at Grand Portage Historical Center, but they were nicely done and worth the $3.00 entry fee.

There is a campground at the end of the Gunflint Trail, in a beautiful setting. It would be so nice and peaceful to stay out there for a few days and do some kayaking and fishing.

Sunday, October 11, was our last day in the area, as well as our 35th wedding anniversary. The day was beautiful, warm and sunny, and we spent the day visiting two more State parks.

Temperance River State Park was a short hike to the falls, first going by these hidden falls.

Way back in the crack is a powerful waterfall tumbling through a narrow area of the gorge.

We walked up and around to the top of the gorge and got a view of the falls from the top.

Further upriver we found the main Temperance River Falls. The rocky gorge area here is very interesting.

The view downriver.

We then crossed the highway and walked down to the mouth of the Temperance River as it entered Lake Superior.

I thought it was interesting how the trees grow right out of the sides of the gorge.

Again, the coastline reminds me a lot of Acadia up in Maine.

After another picnic lunch, we hiked in Cascade Falls State Park.

I have to include this shot because it was a tricky navigation to get down to the spot I wanted, and I did end up taking a tumble, although thankfully not hurting myself :-).

The Cascade River on it's way to Lake Superior.

So we had a wonderful time on the North Shore of Minnesota. Its another one of those adventures that I never would have thought of doing several years ago, but is now just another day in our roaming lives. We even stood out in the middle of a pitch black field one night looking for the "northern lights" that appear in the sky that far north, We never saw any brilliant colors, but definitely saw the white flashes. 

After a couple days drive we ended up in Middlebury Indiana for a few days, as we had some work that needed to be done on the trailer and felt that the best place to have it done was at the Grand Design factory itself. It turned out to be a very good decision, as there was some damage (broken welds) to our main slide room and there was a high degree of certainty that a complete failure was very close. They fixed it all up for us, along with several minor items that needed repair, all under warranty. We were treated very well by the technicians at Grand Design, reinforcing that our purchase from them was one of our better moves. Their customer service has been phenomenal, and we would have no problems recommending to anyone that they should consider Grand Design for a new rig.

We also met up with our "mentors" for this lifestyle, Linda and Howard Payne of RV-Dreams fame, for the first time since April 2011. They were instrumental in getting us to take the plunge, I'm not sure we would have without their support and encouragement. We had dinner together one night, and spent a long time catching up on what we've all been doing. I'm so happy to hear that Howard considers us one of his many success stories :-). 

From there we continued on towards Campbellsville, KY, stopping for a couple nights in Clarkesville IN to visit with Dan and Jonell, who are working at Amazon in the Jeffersonville facility this year. We are now settled into our regular spot at Green River Lake State Park, and have started our fifth season at Amazon. Al is resuming his role in AmCare, and this year I am working in the Receive/Prep area of the warehouse. We have eight weeks here, and then its on to Florida and family time. Thanks for coming along for the tour :-).

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Heading East, Then South

Grand Marais, Minnesota

When we departed Wyoming, we spent two days driving to Rapid City SD. We had broken the drive into two legs, stopping for the night in Casper WY. We spent the night at River's Edge RV and Cabin Resort and it was very nice! It was easy on and off the highway, not much road noise, and it was very suitable for big rigs. The young man who checked us in was very nice, and seemed quite proud of all the facility offered, showing me around the rec room, laundry room, patio area with grills, and above all, excellent wifi! We would highly recommend this RV park for anyone traveling through the area.

We stopped in Rapid City, with the main attraction being our good friends Phil and Rudee live here now. Being offered good, full-time positions at Crazy Horse Memorial was too good to pass up, and they settled here, buying a house in Custer. We had an awesome time with them, having dinner and chatting about this and that way too late! Reluctantly, we departed, hoping to see them again in the spring.

We had originally planned to depart the next morning, but the truck and the weather had different ideas for us. Actually, several small things happened that seemed to be conspiring against us taking to the road that morning, so we threw in the towel and decided to stay put. We have a satellite dish on our roof, and it decided to act up and not stow properly. Can't take to the road with it in the "up" position, so after researching the problem online, we found the method to do a recalibration on it, and got it stowed properly. Then, as we started pulling in the slides and the leveling jacks, the hydraulic switch kept cutting out. Finally got them all set, and hitched up. Just as we started to pull out of the site, a big old green wrench light lit up on the dashboard. And it started to rain pretty good. That did it for us, we said the heck with it, something doesn't want us on the road today, so we paid for two more nights and waited for the weather to clear and for the Ford dealer to open.

We had visited the Black Hills area back in 2012, and had done many of the activities there, but had missed going to Jewel Cave National Monument. Since it wasn't a nice day the next day either, we decided to go visit the cave, and take one of the ranger tours there.

It was about an hour drive there, being on the opposite side of Custer State Park from where we were staying. We decided to take the Scenic Cave Tour, about an hour and a half long. The Scenic Tour is the most popular tour, and is rated somewhat strenuous, as you climb up and down a total of 723 stairs along the route. Some of the stairways were quite steep, but nothing that was any kind of a problem.

During the tour we saw examples of calcite crystals such as nailhead spar and dogtooth spar, the "jewels" of the cave system.

We also saw cave popcorn

stalactites and stalagmites

and a long ribbon drapery called the cave bacon! It was a very interesting tour, and I was very happy with the performance of my camera in the cave environment.

Monday morning came and the weather had cleared, and so had the green wrench light! Al called Ford and talked with the diesel mechanic for a bit, not really getting much help and being told that they couldn't fit it in to even be looked at until the end of the week. It was running fine, so he took it out for an hour's drive both on the highway and on the curvy Custer State Park road. We couldn't get the light to come back on, so we made a command decision to hook up and head out. 

We took three days to get up to Grand Marais Minnesota, where we are spending 5 days "vacation" before starting up at Amazon for our fifth season working the Christmas "peak" season. Our first day was our "normal" day, about 250 miles. We decided to push it on our second day, and get to Duluth MN, about 445 miles. The reason we did that was because we needed to get our drug screening done for Amazon within a certain time frame, and the closest lab to where we were going to be was in Superior, WI, just over the river from Duluth. We figured we could go over there first thing in the morning, then hitch up and head on up to Grand Marais, about 120 miles away. It was a great plan, until we arrived and found out their computers have been down for two days and they couldn't do the test. Really??

So, we went back to the campground (we stayed at Indian Point Campground in Duluth MN; nice enough but the road construction was a bear and the site we had was a tad on the unlevel side) and hitched up, and headed up Highway 61 to Grand Marais. We would just have to head back down to have our test done one day.

Highway 61 is a beautiful drive that I highly recommend. There are numerous state parks along the way, starting with Gooseberry Falls State Park and goes all the way to the U.S./Canadian border with Grand Portage State Park. We spent time at both of these parks as well as others, which will be in the next post. The highway is nice, two lane in parts, but a little slower going so 120 miles did take about two and a half hours. We arrived at Grand Marais Municipal Campground where we had a reservation, around 1PM, and they sent us out "shopping" for a site :-). We looked at the two available lakefront sites, but didn't like how close together the sites are, so ended up in a nice big lot at the end of a row, plenty of room and no neighbors on one side. After getting settled and having lunch, we took a walk right from the campground on a short trail called Sweetheart's Bluff.

We started out at the shore of Lake Superior.

The trail turned inland through the forest.

We took a side trail and ended up on the rocky shoreline. It reminds me a lot of the Maine coastline.

It really started to look like Maine!

A view of Grand Marais from the bluff. Its really a cute little town, built around the harbor. The campground is in the lower right of the picture, and our trailer is right there next to the two boats.

The trail had a pretty steep drop-off on the left hand side at some points.

As the loop ended it reconnected at the shore. We really felt like we were looking out over an ocean. The Great Lakes are incredibly large. By surface area, at 31,700 square miles, is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and contains 10% of the earth's fresh surface water.

Our explorations of the activities on Minnesota's North Shore will have to wait for my next installment. But stay tuned, I promise you'll love the natural beauty of this are. We sure have :-)!