Change of Plans; or How I Saw Santa Taking a Big Big Dump under our Christmas Tree

Airstream Christmas Tree

Getting into the Christmas Spirit in Portland.

Santa arrived early and dropped off a big ol’ stinky lump of coal. Our plans for a four-month Portland fulltime sabbatical while Anna worked at a local hospital were completely squashed by the Jolly Fat Man (no not me, I’m not that jolly). But he wasn’t the sole Grinch in this story; he had a little assistance from the bungling and bureaucratic elves at both the health care recruiting company Anna had been working with and the Oregon Medical Board. Two weeks into our Portland stay everything had started to fall apart—we weren’t sure what the future would hold, we were back at square one, and we were feeling pretty dejected and discouraged…

It’s been a challenging few months since late-August. We had finally arrived in Washington State after a few wonderful Oregon weeks hanging with friends and watching the eclipse. However, our stay was short-lived after we learned about my stepmother’s death and turned around and headed back to Michigan. Late-August and all of September were angst filled and stressful. We were concerned about my dad and wondered how long we would be in Michigan. We had previously roughed out our fall and winter plans and weren’t sure how things were going to shake out after the Midwestern detour. Anna was knee-deep into finding a west coast locum tenens assignment and we weren’t even sure where we would be when the time came. We were definitely not sure if we were ready for another cross-country drive (our third in six months!)

However, as Michigan’s fall leaves began to turn and drop to the ground, our plans started to fall into place. We eventually reached a détente with our inner voices and an autumn and winter game plan slowly developed. While a winter assignment in Portland wasn’t ideal, it was back within the fleece-clad embrace of Mother Pacific Northwest. Portland is a major city with plenty of distractions to keep us occupied during those short, grey, and wet Upper Left Coast days. Plus, being in Portland would enable us to have the Airstream reupholstered and let us take care of our lingering household goods storage problem. Even though it was on the other side of the country, we could make Portland work. However, in the back of our minds a grey cloud of doubt remained. While we were feeling outwardly optimistic, for some reason we both had subconscious doubts and were waiting for the next shoe to drop…

A cold, frosty, foggy morning in Portland.

A cold, frosty, foggy morning in Portland.

So it wasn’t a complete surprise when, over the last few weeks, issues began to surface. We could see our previously stable and strong plan slowly becoming more delicate and begin to fray at the edges. We had done our part with due diligence, but were completely powerless. With no control over the situation, we watched as the ham-handed recruiting company haphazardly worked with the apparatchik of the Oregon Medical Board. Ultimately, buffoonery lost the battle and Anna would not be getting her Oregon Physician Assistant license until at least March. I could go in detail about the behind-the-scenes machinations, but suffice it to say that the headhunters dropped the ball and we were left holding the bag.

We spent the week before Christmas unpacking the substantial bag of shit coal the recruiting company Santa left us. Unpacking that bag consisted of the daunting task of undoing all the things we had already done in order to live in an Airstream in one spot for four months with a manageable quality of life. We had reserved, paid for, and moved into our monthly RV Park campsite. We had procured a small storage unit and emptied the truck and trailer of some of the fulltime detritus that we wouldn’t need while parked long-term. The recruiting company promised a rental car, so we secured a very nice Hertz Hybrid to make Anna’s 60-mile round-trip commute easier. We signed up at the local YMCA and enrolled Owen in both swim classes and Homeschool PE classes. The list goes on and on, but you get the point…

Willamette River [Portland, Oregon]

Willamette River [Portland, Oregon]

As I write this on December 23rd, we have managed to undo most of our commitments, but a lot of entropy remains. Besides the simple chaos that this SNAFU throws into our winter schedule, it also has far-reaching implications to the future of the Big Big Trip.

Anna needs to periodically work in order to maintain her proficiency as a Physician Assistant. In her field, once an employment gap approaches the two-year point, red flags are triggered and eyebrows are raised. One’s proficiency and dedication is called into question and, ultimately, their marketability and employability plummets.

Not biggies if you hate your job and want to go in a different direction or continue a fulltime traveling adventure. However, Anna loves her career and wants to continue to practice medicine. Plus, we don’t intend to continue the Big Big Trip forever. We eventually want to settle down. However, our settling down has always been a post-Alaska proposition. Therefore, we are now at a crossroads. Either we 1) Quickly find another locum tenens position in a state where she is already licensed (I’m looking at you Washington, California, and Michigan), work for a few months to reset the proficiency clock, and maintain course and speed towards Alaska this summer; 2) We ignore the two-year dictum, enjoy the next 10-months (including Alaska), hang up our fulltime traveling boots in the fall and deal with the career fallout; or 3) We give up on a locum tenens assignment, give up on Alaska 2018, and start looking for a place to settle down this winter.

Owen cutting up at Portland's Saturday Market - on a Sunday.

Owen cutting up at Portland’s Saturday Market – on a Sunday.

At this point we have no idea what we’ll ultimately end up doing. Due to time constraints, we’ve decided to spend Christmas in Portland and start heading south sometime in the next week or two. We’ll meander southward down the Oregon coast (can you say Steelhead fly-fishing?), into California and towards the southwest while continuing to pursue another temporary assignment. If nothing materializes by the end of January the timing of finding and completing a temporary assignment isn’t feasible and we’ll take a good hard look at the options listed above. If nothing pans out, then we’ll assume the fates are trying to tell us something and we’ll be forced to sit down and make a Big Big Decision.

[Ed. In all seriousness, while this post comes across as pretty negative, we are actually doing fine now.  We were angry and frustrated earlier in the week, but have settled into a comfortable acceptance of things. While this may be the beginning of the end of the Big Big Trip, it may also be the beginning of a new chapter. That’s pretty exciting! In the depths of our irritation at the State of Oregon and the Recruiting Company, we forgot how lucky we are and how many options we have available to us; after 24-hours of moping about, we remembered. There are a lot of people who don’t have the freedom or the options that we have. Maybe we started to take those freedoms and those options for granted? So, if there is a silver lining in all this, it is that it reminds us to appreciate and be thankful for all that have and all that we’ve already done. We’ll be just fine.]

Thumbs up to the Saturday Market.

Thumbs up to the Saturday Market.

Enjoying a mid-morning fuel stop at Portland's Blue Star Donuts.

Enjoying a mid-morning fuel stop at Portland’s Blue Star Donuts.

Posted in 2017, Oregon, Pacific Northwest | Tagged | Comments Off on Change of Plans; or How I Saw Santa Taking a Big Big Dump under our Christmas Tree

Final Push to Oregon

Monday morning after Thanksgiving, following a nine-day stay at the in-laws’ home in Colorado, we hitched up our wagons and continued our westward journey. We had reservations in the Portland-area in 10-days and wanted to take our time for the final 1,200-miles. Besides short’ish travel days, we wanted to spend a few days exploring both Salt Lake City and Boise.

An Airstream and GMC Somewhere in Utah along I-70.

Somewhere in Utah along I-70.

After a night on the road at a KOA in Green River, Utah, we pulled into Ogden Utah’s Hill Air Force Base Family Camp in the mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the 28th of November. On our way into Salt Lake City, we stopped at Airstream of Utah to procure a new bathroom vent fan, as ours had finally died after a slow and agonizing downward death spiral that started somewhere in Illinois.

Airstream Bathroom Roof Vent Fan Replacement

I tried to find a replacement motor for our bathroom vent fan, but didn’t have any luck. I resorted to paying $70 for entire new vent fan assembly at Airstream of Utah. I later found out that a friend of mine had the gouge on new motors and I could have gotten one for about 1/3rd the cost of the new assembly…oh well! The replacement only took about an hour, including getting the ladder out of the truck, a quick trip to Lowes for a putty knife and caulk gun (I’m not sure where mine went?!?!), installation, and clean-up.

As it was our second visit to the Salt Lake area and we failed to do any exploring during our first stop, we had admirable plans to get out and do the tourist-thing. However, we were feeling road weary and ultimately ended up curtailing most of our plans. Owen’s homeschooling, replacing the vent fan, and running errands ended up consuming our first full day in Salt Lake City. Visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, and Spiral Jetty have been on our list for a while, but we couldn’t muster the motivation to make the drive to see them from our campsite in Ogden. However, we did venture to downtown Salt Lake and spent an afternoon at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

This has been our second visit to Salt Lake City and we finally managed to get downtown and explore. We spent the late-morning and early-afternoon digging around in the Natural History Museum of Utah. We thoroughly enjoyed this fantastic museum and Owen ranks it in his top 3—yes, Owen loves museums and ranks them?!?!

This has been our second visit to Salt Lake City and we finally managed to get downtown and explore. We spent the late-morning and early-afternoon digging around in the Natural History Museum of Utah. We thoroughly enjoyed this fantastic museum and Owen ranks it in his top 3—yes, Owen loves museums and ranks them?!?!

This is the Lythronax, or Gore King, and it is an extinct genus of the Tyrannosauridae family—meaning that it’s a long lost relative of the T. Rex and the oldest known tyrannosaurid. This Lythronax was discovered in 2009, when a BLM employee stumbled upon its nose sticking out of the ground at Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). Lythronax is just one of the dozen or so newly discovered dinosaurs that paleontologists have found at GSENM since being designated a National Monument in 1996.

This is the Lythronax, or Gore King, and it is an extinct genus of the Tyrannosauridae family—meaning that it’s a long lost relative of the T. Rex and the oldest known tyrannosaurid. This Lythronax was discovered in 2009, when a BLM employee stumbled upon its nose sticking out of the ground at Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). Lythronax is just one of the dozen or so newly discovered dinosaurs that paleontologists have found at GSENM since being designated a National Monument in 1996.

The Short-Faced Bear at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

The Short-Faced Bear at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

The Natural History Museum of Utah is located on the University of Utah's campus, amongst a park with miles of hiking trails into the surrounding foothills.

The Natural History Museum of Utah is located on the University of Utah’s campus, amongst a park with miles of hiking trails into the surrounding foothills.

On Saturday, December 2nd we drove north out of Utah and made our way to Boise, Idaho, a place that we’ve always wanted to visit. We stayed at Gowen Field Army National Guard Base, located just outside of town near the Boise International Airport.

The Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

The Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

While Gowen Field’s campground may be small and it may lack some of the amenities of larger parks, at $12 per night for off-season full hook-up sites, we couldn’t afford not to stay. We’ve traveled by so many times and we’ve always heard great things about Boise, we decided to give it a shot. We spent a very cold Sunday and Monday poking around Boise and, overall we liked what we found.

Boise's Freak Alley Gallery.

Boise’s Freak Alley Gallery.

On Sunday morning, I spent a couple of hours writing at Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters, a funky downtown Boise coffee shop, while Anna and Owen worked on school back at the trailer. Afterwards, we visited the World Center for Birds of Prey, followed by a fantastic early dinner at the Bitter Creek Alehouse, and then a walk around the downtown Boise checking out the local shops’ window displays, before stumbling upon the Freak Alley Gallery.

We spent a couple hours visiting the Peregrine Funds’ The World Center for Birds of Prey, located just south of Boise. Founded in 1970, the Peregrine Fund successfully restored the population of Peregrine Falcons, resulting in its removal from the Endangered Species List in 1999. They have since expanded their focus and now work on conservation efforts for more than 100 species of raptors around the world.

Boise’s World Center for Birds of Prey

We spent a couple hours visiting the Peregrine Funds’ The World Center for Birds of Prey, located just south of Boise. Founded in 1970, the Peregrine Fund successfully restored the population of Peregrine Falcons, resulting in its removal from the Endangered Species List in 1999. They have since expanded their focus and now work on conservation efforts for more than 100 species of raptors around the world.

The World Center for Birds of Prey is currently operating a successful breeding and release program of the highly endangered California Condor. Their efforts have resulted in a growing flock of Condors in the Grand Canyon and southern Utah. Less than 22 condors remained alive in the 1980s. Their decline has been blamed on the use of lead bullets, which tend to break into many small pieces on impact. These tiny fragments can litter the ground and leach into the soil and water, where it works its way up the food chain. If the hunter doesn’t collect his kill, or cleans it in the field and leaves organs behind, scavengers ingest those lead fragments. Lead is poisonous. Condors only eat dead animals. Well…you get the point. Luckily, lead shotgun pellets have been banned for waterfowl use in most states. Unluckily, on their first day in office the Trump Administration revoked the lead ban in the 150 million-acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The World Center for Birds of Prey is currently operating a successful breeding and release program of the highly endangered California Condor. Their efforts have resulted in a growing flock of Condors in the Grand Canyon and southern Utah. Less than 22 condors remained alive in the 1980s. Their decline has been blamed on the use of lead bullets, which tend to break into many small pieces on impact. These tiny fragments can litter the ground and leach into the soil and water, where it works its way up the food chain. If the hunter doesn’t collect his kill, or cleans it in the field and leaves organs behind, scavengers ingest those lead fragments. Lead is poisonous. Condors only eat dead animals. Well…you get the point. Luckily, lead shotgun pellets have been banned for waterfowl use in most states. Unluckily, on their first day in office the Trump Administration revoked the lead ban in the 150 million-acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

On Monday, continued our explorations downtown goofing around at the very cool neighborhood park and playground—Camel’s Back Park—followed by Idaho’s only hands-on science center. The Discovery Center of Idaho is a small, but fun STEM-focused children’s science center with over 150-exhibits for budding scientists. And, it’s another ASTC.org reciprocal passport member! There were several other things we wanted to do and see, but with Portland reservations starting on Wednesday, we didn’t have the time to spare.

Anna and I took turns hiking to the top of the hill at Camel's Back Park while Owen played in the

Anna and I took turns hiking to the top of the hill at Camel’s Back Park while Owen played in the elaborate playground.

Young, funky, and eclectic, Boise is small, livable city that punches above its weight. Nestled between mountains and the agricultural plain, Boise boasts a clean dynamic and attractive downtown area, a low cost of living, and what appeared to be a robust cultural scene. Overall, Boise felt like a cleaner and less Hipster’esque Portland and we liked it a lot. It’s definitely somewhere we want to explore more deeply down the road.

Panoramic from the top of Camel's Back.

Panoramic from the top of Camel’s Back.

On Tuesday morning we said “Goodbye” to Idaho and “Hello” to Oregon. With about 450-miles to go, we planned to spend the night on the road. We zeroed in on the Pendleton, Oregon area as a good halfway stopping point. A little research revealed an Oregon State Park located just east of Pendleton, high in the Blue Mountains.

Welcome to Oregon

Welcome to Oregon

We left Boise fairly early (by our standards) and with plenty of time on our hands, we pulled off I-84 near Baker City, Oregon to get coffee. We did a driveby of the town and it looked like a neat place to poke around sometime, so we filed that away and went looking for coffee. With piping hot Starbucks in-hand, we headed back towards the Interstate and quickly noticed the sign for the BLM’s National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. We drove the six or so miles up into hills to unfortunately turn around—the Interpretive Center was closed and operating under their Winter Hours regime (Thurs-Sun only). Like the pioneers of old, we were undaunted by this setback and simply turned around and continued our journey up in to the Blue Mountains.

Airstream and GMC Winter Wonderland at Oregon's Emigrant Springs State Park.

Winter Wonderland at Oregon’s Emigrant Springs State Park.

As we climbed higher into Oregon’s Blue Mountains, we found ourselves leaving the high desert scrub and entering a winter wonderland. By the time we arrived at Emigrant Springs State Park, we were in full-on Frosty mode and spent a glorious (if not a bit loud due to the proximity to I-84) evening camped in a virtually empty state park, nestled amongst beautiful snow covered cedars trees. On Wednesday morning, once the sun was high enough to melt any ice on the secondary roads, we headed out towards the Columbia River and Portland.

Airstream and Mt Hood

Three months and 5,665-miles after we abruptly left Washington, we’re back in the Pacific Northwest.

We had an uneventful trip through the Columbia River gorge and arrived in Portland at Champoeg State Park by the early afternoon. A large state historical area, Champoeg State Park has a wonderful campground that is situated along the Willamette River and is at the front door of Oregon’s Willamette Valley winery area. The park itself is criss-crossed by numerous biking trails that lead the visitor center of historic sites. We spent a few really nice days getting situated and prepped for our extended winter stay in Portland.

Airstream Champoeg State Park

Oregon’s Champoeg State Park – It’s pronounced sham-poo-ey, by the way!

 

Posted in 2017, Airstream Maintenance, Idaho, Oregon, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Utah | Tagged , | Comments Off on Final Push to Oregon

Kansas and Colorado

We left Independence, Missouri on Wednesday, the 15th of November. We got a fairly early start and planned to spend the night somewhere along I-70, but we weren’t sure where. Since we enjoyed the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum so much, we were considering stopping in Abilene, Kansas to visit Dwight D. Eisenhower’s. If we did stop in Abilene, we had a couple of nearby overnight options, including the Abilene Visitor Center, which allows overnight RV parking in their parking lot (we called to confirm). One thing we were certain of though, is we wanted to stop in Topeka to visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.

In 1951, Thurgood Marshall, the then Chief Counsel for the NAACP, encouraged the Topeka branch of the NAACP to initiate a lawsuit against segregation in the Topeka Public Schools. While Kansas’ African American elementary students enjoyed better teachers and facilities than many other segregated areas throughout the country, they still suffered under “separate but equal.”

This doll was used in a study that proved "Separate but Equal" was harmful.

This doll was used in a study that proved “Separate but Equal” was harmful.

The Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision established the “separate but equal” doctrine that opened the doors for Jim Crow laws throughout the country. Thirteen black families in Topeka, each with students enrolled in one of four Topeka-area African American elementary schools (one of which is Monroe Elementary School where this NHS is located), would eventually file suit and challenge Plessy v. Ferguson. This case would eventually join four other lawsuits from around the country and would collectively be known as Brown v. Board of Education.

Ranger Dexter explaining "Separate but Equal" to Owen.

Ranger Dexter explaining “Separate but Equal” to Owen.

In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision reaffirming the 14th Amendment and rejecting Plessy v. Ferguson. The Brown v. Board of Education decision gave life to the modern civil rights movement for African Americans and was the foundation for similar movements by other minority groups around the country and the world.

We spent about two hours touring the NHS exhibits, watching a fantastic video, and talking with Ranger Dexter, who took time out to explain the fundamental concepts of Equal and Equality…and did so in terms a 7-year-old (and a dim-witted 40-something) could understand. Ranger Dexter was another in a long line of passionate and dynamic National Park Rangers that have made our Big Big Trip so special. Exposing Owen to the historic lessons of places like Monroe Elementary School and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is one of the primary reasons that we’re on this Big Big Trip.

After lunch in the parking lot, we got back onto I-70 and continued our slow westward journey. With almost 550-miles to go before Denver, we discussed various overnight parking options and decided that we really weren’t feeling another Presidential Library (we definitely want to visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, but we were starting to feel a little road weary and ready to get to Colorado). Also, we wanted to get closer to Colorado and make Thursday’s drive a little easier before we called it a day. We decided to push past Abilene and spend the night at an Army Corps of Engineers campground further west in Kansas.

Monroe Elementary School [Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Topeka, Kansas]

Monroe Elementary School [Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Topeka, Kansas]

We arrived at Sylvan Lake Army Corps of Engineers campground just before nightfall and found a super-large pull-through site with 50amp electric that fit our needs. We paid our $5 and got settled in for a cold, star-filled evening. While we still had a 380-mile drive awaiting us the next morning, we slept soundly after being serenaded to sleep by a hyperactive pack of coyotes somewhere in the nearby hills.

Our Denver campsite at Cherry Creek State Park.

Our Denver campsite at Cherry Creek State Park.

We planned to spend a few days in Denver before heading up the mountains to Anna’s parents’ home, but without reservations we had a hard time finding a campsite. We managed to score two nights at Cherry Creek State Park, in the Denver suburb of Aurora and felt happy to get them. We spent our one full day in Denver shopping restocking cold weather clothes at REI (we didn’t have any real cold weather stuff) and hitting up the local Trader Joes. On a sunny Saturday morning, following a quick-moving, overnight snowstorm, we headed up I-70 to the Vail Valley.

Crossing I-70's Vail Pass resulted in a Dirty Airstream.

Crossing I-70’s Vail Pass resulted in a Dirty Airstream.

We spent the next nine days moochdocking at the in-laws’, enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving, and preparing for our final push to Oregon. On the Monday after Thanksgiving we hitched up and hit the road for Oregon.

While moochdocking in the Vail Valley, we made our final Cold Weather Airstream Preps.  This including making Reflectix cut-outs for all the windows and vents and installing Hypervent Condensation Prevention Matting under the mattresses.

While moochdocking in the Vail Valley, we made our final Cold Weather Airstream Preps. This including making Reflectix cut-outs for all the windows and vents and installing Hypervent Condensation Prevention Matting under the mattresses.

The weather in Colorado was fantastic and spent a couple of days poking around the Eagle River with my Fly Rods.

The weather in Colorado was fantastic and spent a couple of days poking around the Eagle River with my Fly Rods.

Smoking the Thanksgiving Day Turkey.

Smoking the Thanksgiving Day Turkey.

Owen's Bedroom is ready for the winter!

Owen’s Bedroom is ready for the winter!

Posted in 2017, Airstream Maintenance, Brown v. Board or Education, Colorado, Kansas, Midwest, National Parks Service (NPS) Sites, Rocky Mountains | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Kansas and Colorado

The Buck Stopped Here

Harry S. Truman Portrait

[Source: Wikipedia]

On November 12th, a cold and cloudy Sunday morning, we headed west on I-70 across Missouri, leaving St. Louis in our rear view mirror. We were bound for Kansas City—Independence, Missouri, to be exact. One might ask, “Why Independence?” and that would be a reasonable question. The answer to that question was Harry S. Truman.

Harry and Bess Truman's Wedding in 1919 [Source: Wikipedia]

Harry and Bess Truman’s Wedding in 1919 [Source: Wikipedia]

In 1953, after finishing his second term as President, Harry S. Truman went home to Independence, Missouri. Washington D.C., was never truly “home” for the Trumans. The Truman’s true home was the large Wallace house, located on a corner lot in Independence, that had been in Bess Truman’s family since the late-1800s. When Harry S. Truman married Bess Wallace in 1919, he moved in with the Wallaces, expecting the living situation to be temporary. However, other than their time in D.C., the house on the corner at 219 North Delaware Street in Independence would be the only home Harry and Bess Truman would know as a married couple.

When Truman arrived in Independence as a former President, he was once again a normal citizen and he played the role perfectly. Without a pension or Secret Service protection, other than the throng of daily visitors interested in seeing the former President, he lived a fairly normal life. He drove his own car (always a Chrysler) and still took his daily walks, but instead of wandering around D.C. or Key West, he walked the streets Independence at his usual pace of 120 steps per minute.

Since we planned to spend Thanksgiving with Anna’s family in Colorado, and neither of us had spent any time in Kansas City, spending a few days exploring as we made our way westward on I-70 made a lot of sense. Also, as I’ve always been a Truman fan, I had already factored a stop in Independence into our schedule.

There are not a lot of camping or RV options around Kansas City in mid-November. The county has a few campgrounds that looked promising, but they had already closed for the season and the only remaining public camping option that was open was 20+ miles east of town. This left us with Independence’s Campus RV Park.

Centrally located to all the Truman sites (The NPS Visitor Center, the Truman House, and the Truman Presidential Library and Museum), as well as downtown Independence, Campus RV Park is a typical mid-range, private RV park. The full hook-up sites are close together and the facilities are clean, but a little Spartan and dated. Our site was level, but not very long. Our fellow campers appeared to be a mix of folks passing through and long-term Work Campers (lots of trucks that left early and returned late each day of our stay). It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. If we were to visit Independence again, and we couldn’t get into the County Parks, then we would stay at Campus RV Park.

The Buck Stops Here

We really hadn’t done any research on Independence or any of the Truman stuff prior to arrival. Therefore, on Monday morning after our Sunday night arrival, I headed into town to check out the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site Visitor Center, get the lay of the land, and pick-up the Junior Ranger Booklet. I also grabbed my computer and planned to get a little writing done at a local coffee shop while Anna and Owen worked on school.

It was a quick trip from the RV Park into the quaint downtown area. At the Visitor Center, I spent a good twenty minutes talking to the on-duty Park Ranger. Since the Truman House was closed to tours on Mondays, he recommended that we visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum that day and visit the Truman House on Tuesday. With a sound Truman game plan for the next two days, I headed down the block to the Main Street Coffee Shop, a cute little coffee shop with a friendly staff, tasty coffee, fast WiFi, and delicious pastries.

After Anna and Owen finished school, we headed across town to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, stopping for about an hour of playtime at a bad-ass playground located across the street from the for museum. After Owen had his wiggles worked out, we crossed the street and spent the remainder of our afternoon at the museum.

Independence Playground

Independence was the launching point for many settlers embarking on the Oregon Trail and that was the theme of this really cool playground, located across the street from the HST Presidential Library and Museum.

The Truman Library and Museum was our first visit to a Presidential Library on the Big Big Trip—in fact, it was our first visit ever to a Presidential Library and Museum. We had a great time! The first Presidential Library created under the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, we spent several hours wandering through the exhibits. The museum has several interactive areas that kept Owen engaged and interested (I’m not sure if I would have taken him a year ago, but at almost eight-years-old, and being a veteran of several dozen museum visits, Owen is becoming quite the museum nerd). Surprisingly, even though we stayed right up until closing, Owen could have easily spent a little longer investigating, especially the World War II portion of the museum.

A Truman Quote from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

A Truman Quote from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

“This Library will belong to the people of the United States. My papers will be the property of the people and be accessible to them. And this is as it should be. The papers of the Presidents are among the most valuable sources of material for history. They ought to be preserved, and they ought to be used.”                                 – Harry S. Truman, New York City, May 8, 1954

This letter and Purple Heart were found in Truman's desk drawer after his death.

This letter and Purple Heart were found in Truman’s desk drawer after his death.

By the time we closed down the Museum we were feeling pretty famished. Our plan of the day was to satiate our appetites with some world-famous Kansas City BBQ. However, being a Monday in November, we didn’t have a lot of options near Independence. Anna fired up the Googler and the Yelper and we decided on an up-scale BBQ place in Kansas City.

The Truman Oval Office [Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum]

The Truman Oval Office [Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum]

It took us about 25-minutes to navigate our way to Q39-Midtown from Independence, but it was worth every minute of the journey. Located on the south side of Kansas City in an older residential/commercial neighborhood, Q39-Midtown had a distinctive Hipsterish atmosphere. As much as I dislike Hipsters, I like the restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops that come with them and their ilk (perhaps I’m part of their ilk?). I also like BBQ, and regardless of the philosophical underpinnings of Hipsterdom, Q39 can bring it. Two Thumbs Up! With full bellies, we made our way back to Independence and our humble rolling abode.

The Truman Gravesite [Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum]

The Truman Gravesite [Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum]

On Tuesday morning, following an abbreviated school day for Owen, we headed over to the Visitor Center to pick-up our tickets to tour the Truman house and watch the NPS video. Afterwards, we headed over to the Truman House.

The Truman House

The Truman House

Across the street from the Truman Home is the Noland House, home of Harry S. Truman’s cousins. Owned by the National Park Service, the Noland House has a very nice exhibit on the Trumans’ life in Independence, including enough push buttons and interactive displays to keep the kids interested. We spent about 20-minutes in the Noland House before we strolled across the street to meet our Park Ranger Guide for our tour of the Truman House. We spent a wonderful 30-minutes getting a very thorough tour from a knowledgeable Park Ranger with almost 30-years experience at the Truman Site. He shared many Truman anecdotes, as well as some personal stories regarding various tours he’s given over the years (including an impromptu tour to President Obama). Afterwards, we returned to the visitor center for Owen’s Junior Ranger swearing-in and then headed out for a late lunch.Outside the Truman House

One of Anna’s old friends grew up in Kansas City and recommended a local burger place. Based on her recommendation, we grabbed an early dinner at Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, a Kansas City tradition since the early 1950s. Kitschy and silly, Owen really enjoyed the overhead model railroad car and associated pneumatic contraption that delivers food from the kitchen to your table. Overall, we enjoyed this light-hearted conclusion to our stay in Independence. The next morning we crossed the state line in Kansas for our final leg into Colorado.[i]


[i] [Parental Warning!] Unfortunately, Owen’s mood changed pretty quickly when he realized that there was a LEGO Land Discovery Center located in Kansas City (in the same mall complex as Fritz’s) and we weren’t entertaining a visit. We visited the Westchester (New York City) LEGO Land Discovery Center and one was more than enough!
Posted in 2017, Harry S. Truman, Midwest, Missouri, National Historic Sites, National Parks Service (NPS) Sites | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on The Buck Stopped Here

St. Louis

We arrived in St. Louis on Wednesday, November 8th following two nights and a day of investigating Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL. For our St. Louis homebase, we decided to stay at the Scott Air Force Base FamCamp, located about 20-minutes southeast of the city, in Illinois. We had four nights reserved and our plan included downtown St. Louis, the Gateway Arch, and the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, as well as at least a day of downtime.

During our first night at Scott AFB, at about 3am I awoke to discover a damn pretty cold trailer. We had been running the Heat Pump, but because it was predicted to drop below freezing overnight we switched over to the trailer’s LP furnace.[i] The temperature in the trailer was in low 50s and I assumed we had run out of propane. We have two 30-lbs propane tanks and we only use one at a time in order to more easily keep track of how much propane we have (when one empties, I place the full one on-line and refill the empty as soon as possible). I threw on my jacket and shoes and went outside to swap the tanks. No good, the furnace still wasn’t lighting. Wide awake at that point, I spent the next 45-minutes troubleshooting via the internet before throwing in the towel, opening all the cabinets, turning the heat pumps up to the high 60s, and going back to bed. I would deal with the furnace in the morning.

The next morning, after coffee and breakfast, I spent 20-minutes troubleshooting the furnace and managed to narrow the fault down to the Sail Switch. In case you don’t know (like me before this failure), the Sail Switch is a small, normally-open switch located in the blower housing. Once the furnace’s blower is running and up-to-speed providing adequate airflow, the Sail Switch closes, completing an electrical connection that enables the furnace to ignite. Based on what I found on the Internet, and given the Ignition Fault code indicated on the furnace (Limit Switch / Air Flow Failure), I was pretty sure it was the Sail Switch (a common failure, evidently). I opened up the blower, bypassed the Sail Switch, and the furnace ignited…problem solved.

RV furnace sail switch

Troubleshooting our faulty furnace. The Sail Switch can be seen in-situ in the upper center and removed in the upper right.

In my search for a new Sail Switch, I ended up calling at least nine RV Dealerships and only managed to find one with it in stock. However, they were located across the river in Missouri, 50-miles away. Two of the nearby dealers could order a new switch for me, but it would take 24-hours to arrive. With overnight temperatures predicted to drop into the mid-20s, I decided I was going on a road trip. In my mind, the stress of worrying all night about freezing pipes outweighed the 100-miles of driving!

So after lunch, while Anna and Owen worked on day’s roadschool lesson, I headed to Byerly RV in O’Fallon, Missouri. I had called them back prior to leaving the trailer and they confirmed they had the right Sail Switch. I mentioned that I was coming from Scott Air Force Base and it would be at least an hour before I got there. We talked for a couple of minutes about other possible options closer to the base, but I said I had already talked to all of them and struck out. The Byerly parts guy agreed with my assessment of the weather and said they would have the switch at the counter. Overall, they were super nice folks and I would go back there in a heartbeat—unfortunately, they don’t sell Airstreams…By 4pm, I was back at the trailer with the new Sail Switch installed and a satisfactory furnace opcheck. By that point it was too late to really do anything else, so we hung out at the trailer and enjoyed a relaxing evening.

On Friday, we finally headed into downtown St. Louis to explore. We planned to visit the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse, as well as meeting an old friend at the Budweiser Brew House near Busch Stadium for happy hour. Luckily, the Brew House’s parking lot was only a few blocks from the Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch. Score!

Happy to be at the Gateway to the West!

Happy to be at the Gateway to the West!

The Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse are part of the National Park Service’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The main visitor center is located under the Arch, but along with the Museum of Western Expansion is currently (November 2017) undergoing major renovations and was temporarily relocated to the Old Courthouse. So, after picking up the Junior Ranger booklet and tickets for our Tram Ride at the Old Courthouse, we walked the six or seven blocks to the Gateway Arch. Once we got into the Arch (following a pretty significant security check at the entrance), we watched a really well-done NPS video about the Arch’s construction and then queued up for our 4-minute Tram ride to the top of the 630-foot Arch. After about 20-minutes of standing in line, we finally climbed into what Anna considered our teeny-tiny steel barrel of death and ascended the Arch’s north leg.

Anna looking on pensively in our Gateway Arch Tram Pod.

Anna looking on pensively in our Gateway Arch Tram Pod.

The Arch’s Tram ride is an experience in itself. The tram consists of a train of eight 5-foot diameter steel barrels called pods. The inside of each pod has five small seats and feels eerily similar to a small deep-sea bathysphere. Mechanically, the tram functions through some half-assed principle that combines the functions of an elevator and a Ferris Wheel and results in each pod rotating 155-degrees during the trip in order to keep the riders upright. There are windows set in the tiny door, which one can use to view the innards of the Arch and observe the rickety contraption scale or descend the unseen tracks during your voyage. Needless to say, Owen had a great time. Although I don’t mind small spaces, was more than happy that the trip was only 4-minutes duration. Anna did not enjoy the trip.

Looking westward from the Arch

Looking westward from the Arch.

The top of the Arch is 17-feet wide and has sixteen small viewing windows split between the west and east sides of the arch. While it was super cool and had a nice view, to be honest, sort of like the Tram Ride, walking around up there was a little freaky. The Arch is designed to sway as much as 18-inches and I swear I could feel it while hanging around at the top. I didn’t dwell on the fact that other than the Arch, there was nothing underneath me until the ground, about 630-feet below. Of course, Owen loved it. We spent some time looking out towards the east from where we came and then turned and looked towards west, to where we were going. After about 15-minutes, we had all had enough. We got in line for a slightly faster (3-minutes) downbound tram and had an uneventful trip back to terra firma.

St Louis View from the Arch

St Louis View from the Arch.  The Old Courthouse is in the center of the picture.

Back at the base of the Arch, we finished up Owen’s Junior Range Booklet and got him sworn in. Afterwards, we headed back to the Old Courthouse to learn about Dred Scott and see some of the relocated artifacts from the Museum of Western Expansion.

Owen showing off his Junior Ranger Badge

The Dred Scott case was one of the most important cases ever tried in the United States and was heard in St. Louis’ Old Courthouse between 1847 and 1852. In 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott filed petitions in the St. Louis Courthouse for their freedom based on having lived in free-territories for over nine years of their servitude. The first case was held in 1847 and the Scotts lost on a technicality. However, the Missouri Supreme Court granted a second trial and the Scotts won their freedom in 1850. The 1850 finding was appealed and in 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court would overturn their emancipation. The case would eventually find its way to the United States Supreme Court.

Dred Scott  [Source: Wikipedia]

On March 6, 1857, after 11-years of fighting, the United States Supreme Court dismissed Dred Scott’s suit for freedom. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote the official opinion of the court. The Supreme Court’s dismissal and Taney’s opinion were catalysts that accelerated the nation’s march towards the Civil War in 1861. Essentially, the court based their decision on two “facts.”

  • Negroes were not and could never be citizens and hence had no right to sue in court.
  • Because the right of property was guaranteed by the constitution, Congress did not have power to pass that regulated property and therefore, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

We spent about an hour meandering around the Old Courthouse, but barely scratched the surface. We spent all our time in the Dred Scott exhibits and never saw any of the relocated Western Expansion exhibits. Another hour or two would have been beneficial, but the Courthouse was getting ready to close and we had happy hour plans.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney [Source: Wikipedia]

After a nice evening catching up with our old friend Jen, we headed back home with plans to explore more of St. Louis on Saturday. However, by the time Saturday rolled around, we had changed our minds.

We woke up on Saturday thinking that we would go to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, located just south of St. Louis. However, after looking at GoogleMaps and realizing it was a 40+mile one-way drive, we opted to do a drive-by on our way out of town on Sunday. We spent a leisurely Saturday running errands and relaxing. On Sunday morning, November 12th, we hitched up and headed east. After the Grant home, our goal for the day was Independence, Missouri.

White Haven [Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site]

Exploring White Haven [Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site]

The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is located on grounds of White Haven Plantation, the family home of Grant’s wife, Julia Dent Grant. Born in 1822 to middle class parents in southern Ohio, Ulysses S. Grant would eventually earn his Army commission via West Point and serve in the Mexican-American War, before resigning his commission in in 1854 and joining his family at White Haven. Over the next five years, Grant struggled to earn a living while managing the Dent family plantation. After several failed ventures, he eventually gave up on White Haven and farming and moved to Galena, Illinois to work in his father’s tannery. Grant’s struggles in St. Louis had a profound influence on him and molded the man that would eventually lead the Union Army during the Civil and later serve as President during Reconstruction.[ii]

“My oft expressed desire is that all citizens, white or black, native or foreign born, may be left free, in all parts of our common country, to vote, speak & act, in obedience to law, without intimidation or ostracism on account of his views, color or nativity.”           – President Ulysses S. Grant, July 28, 1872.

Coincidently, during our visit to White Haven, I was reading Ron Chernow’s Grant, so it was a real treat to tour the house and visit the museum. Owen enjoyed the movie (fantastic by National Park Visitor Center movie standards) and earned his junior ranger badge. I’m sure both he and Anna were sick of my Grant commentary by the time we finished lunch and headed westward.

Owen's Junior Ranger swearing-in at White Haven [Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site]

Owen’s Junior Ranger swearing-in at White Haven [Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site]


[i] While our Airstream is not considered a four-season camper, it can hold it’s own in freezing temperatures because the furnace is ducted to the underbelly. This helps to keep the pipes and tanks from freezing. We also managed cold weather by using Reflectix to insulate the windows, ceiling vents, and skylights. Cold weather camping also brings up the issue of moisture from condensation. We also take a variety of measures like a small RV dehumidifier and Hypervent Condensation Prevention Matting to help combat that. A listing of things we use to manage camping in cold weather can be found on our “Things we Like, Use, and Recommend” page.

[ii] During Grant’s time at White Haven, he managed the Dent farm, working side-by-side with Dent family slaves and one of Julia’s slaves. Although there is evidence that Grant owned one slave (William Jones) that he evidently received from his father-in-law, he freed Jones after about one year (1859). It provides insight into Grant’s character that he “freed” William Jones, vice selling him for a profit during a time when Grant was failing in his farm and business ventures and was in dire need to cash. While Julia Grant owned a handful of slaves (given to her by her father when she was a child), they were emancipated during the Civil War by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—she was visiting her husband during his campaigns in Tennessee when the Proclamation was issued and therefore her slaves were automatically freed. One of Julia’s slaves remained with her as a paid servant for several years following emancipation—also speaking volumes about her character.

Posted in 2017, Airstream Maintenance, Illinois, Jefferson Westward Expansion, Midwest, Missouri, National Parks Service (NPS) Sites, Ulysses S. Grant | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on St. Louis