Following on from my previous post (and still intending to move us along fairly quickly), we were approaching the last week of June and a long-standing appointment at Henderson’s Lineup in Grants Pass, OR to have our coach’s handling checked out. Ever since we’d bought it, our coach had been cursed with sloppy steering and a tendency to wander in the lane, making it a constant chore, requiring unending corrections, to drive. I had an Oregon RV technician drive it when we bought it and he said everything was normal (ha!), but I kept thinking there must be a way to improve its handling, particularly since Country Coach motorhomes were reputed to be among the best handling ones ever made. Henderson’s has an excellent reputation for being able to make significant handling improvements and so we’d eagerly waited to reach their southern Oregon location.
Well, Henderson’s did not disappoint us. After stopping at Oregon Caves National Monument on the way and taking a fascinating cave tour (we’d been there before, but it really is an awesome cave and the ranger guides there are terrific), we arrived at Henderson’s on a Sunday afternoon and hooked up to their 30 amp power. The next morning they started bright and early with a road assessment, driving our coach with us along on various roads and at various speeds. At the end they agreed that there were improvements to make and once we agreed on tasks and pricing they got to work that day and the following morning. After adjusting our steering gear, tightening our sway bar endlinks, doing a four wheel alignment (notably, Henderson’s found the rear tires were set exactly opposite from what they’re supposed to be), weighing each corner and adjusting our tire pressures slightly, installing a ZFS IFS Steer Safe on the front, and lastly retesting and then doing some fine-tuning adjustments, the improvement was remarkable. Our coach now handles and tracks great and is far easier to drive.
During all of our time at Henderson’s our toilet was still broken, with all of the “fun” flushing workaround that entailed, so we were thrilled when the repair parts arrived while we were there. However, as we’d learned from online research, because of Thetford’s poor design the entire toilet must be removed in order to fix a broken flush cable. Since I didn’t want to do that until we had a 24 hour restroom available in case something went wrong during the repair, we had to wait until we could leave Henderson’s. So, once their work was done, we moved a few miles away to Riverpark RV Resort and got to work. Fortunately, after reading and re-reading the complex instructions a few times and then dismantling lots of parts in order to gain access, the cable replacement itself was fairly straightforward, we reinstalled the toilet (not easy, it’s in a tight space), and then congratulated ourselves on a job well-done. I subsequently got Thetford to send us a set of parts and seals/flanges under warranty so if the flush mechanism breaks again we’ll have the parts on-hand to repair it.
Visiting Friends and Family
We spent the next 5+ weeks visiting with friends and family in western Washington state, starting with three weeks on Harstine Island (in south Puget Sound) with long time friends Ron and Merrie and their kids and their families. We had a terrific time hanging out, eating good food, treking on the beach (including to nearby McMicken Island during low tide), boating around Case Inlet, clamming on McMicken, and enjoying Ron and Merrie’s wonderful and growing brood of grandchildren. We also got to spend some much-needed time cleaning our rig and doing some other projects on it — things that are much harder (and often impossible) to do in campgrounds. Thanks, Ron, for helping me out on a couple of those projects, and thanks to both of you for your generosity and hospitality. We’re grateful to be considered by you and your kids as “one of the family.” We look forward to seeing you all next year.
Next we moved up to Kathy’s dad’s house in Covington for a couple of weeks, where we immediately started out by joining Kathy’s brothers and wives to celebrate Ray’s 85th birthday at nearby Druid’s Glen country club. (Ray, you sure seem younger than 85!) While in the area we had some great meals with my parents (it was great to spend time with you, Mom and Dad!) and friends Mark and Cheryl, Cliff and Pauline, David and Nancy, and Mark and Carol and their clan. The latter was particularly special as we celebrated Carol’s birthday with family and friends at a delightful crab feed dinner on their lakeside lawn. We so much enjoyed our times with everyone we got to spend time with and we appreciate your hospitality.
I also joined a couple of buddies on a hike up to Spray Park (and above) on Mt. Rainier’s slopes. Spray Park is known for profuse wildflowers in the summer and even though we were a bit early to catch the height of the bloom, there were still plenty of flowers to admire. As you can see from the picture above (select it for a larger version), it was a beautiful and brilliant day and there were many inspiring sights to take in. We kept hearing about bear sightings from other hikers, but although we looked around the many ponds in the area we couldn’t find any ourselves. It was a lot of fun; thanks, David and Rob, for the great hike and dinner.
Lastly, we saw our doctors for our annual physicals and other preventive medical procedures. It was a great opportunity to get those obligations accomplished and we were grateful to receive clean bills of health.
Maintenance and Updates on Our Coach
Our next stop, in the beginning of August, was Vancouver, WA to have International Thermal Research (ITR) install a new Oasis Zephyr hydronic heater to replace our original Hurricane heater. The unit heats water and will produce heat for the coach as needed. One day in July, while we were staying on Harstine Island, the two electric elements on our Hurricane shorted out in an alarming blaze of sparks and smoke (it turned out to be caused by worn wiring) and in looking into that problem I discovered the coolant tank was also leaking. I later learned that repairs would be costly, time-consuming, and unlikely to last long, and so we decided to skip straight to installing a new unit. Installation was more difficult than ITR originally anticipated and there was a particular pump’s function that wasn’t designed well for boondocking, but Bryan and Kevin were great to work with and Bryan, in particular, worked repeatedly with us to get the system working properly and modify how the pump operated. At this point, we’re very pleased with this (unplanned) update. And, we’re grateful that the old system “blew up” during the summer and while we were somewhat close to ITR rather than now in the fall when we’re a thousand miles away and regularly using our system for coach heat.
While we were having the heater work done we enjoyed staying at Columbia Riverfront RV Park in nearby Woodland. It was great to hang out at the river and watch the boats going by when we weren’t at ITR’s facility.
We also went to Junction City, OR to have Premier RV Services perform annual maintenance on our chassis, Cummins diesel engine, and our Onan diesel generator. In addition, they performed some upgrades that are described on our Our RV page; see the sections “Audio System and Rear Camera Monitor” and “Tank Monitors.” They also replaced our LPG and CO detectors, which turned out to be original to the coach (unsafely outdated!). I replaced our smoke detector, so, thankfully, all three of our detectors are now up-to-date.
La Grande, Oregon
After all of the work was completed it was mid-August and it was time to start traveling again. Our first stop, fairly briefly, was La Grande, Oregon, where we stayed at Grande Hot Springs RV Resort. The big highlight of our stay there was meeting fellow Christians and full-time travelers Randy, Jama, and their lovely daughter Ada (see their blog). Thanks, guys, for the interesting conversations and excellent bourbon; we look forward to running into you three again. Another highlight was enjoying the beer and food at Side A Brewing. Good stuff, and we also enjoyed touring the firefighting museum that they share their building with. We originally thought we might explore La Grande a bit longer, but we’ve learned that neither of us are comfortable when the temperature climbs much above 90, and we don’t like mosquitoes (very active there in the evenings), so we exercised our freedom and ability to move and headed off to Stanley, ID.
We loved Stanley! It’s a small town honestly living out and celebrating its rugged western heritage with a heavy emphasis on outdoor living and activities. Sure, they work on attracting tourists during the summer, but they haven’t turned their whole town into a tourist trap (or at least they’re not big enough to make it look like they have), so it was pretty refreshing to be there. If you want non-stop, uncrowded, natural beauty then Stanley is your place. Located in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, there are awesome rugged mountains, plentiful rivers and creeks full of rainbow and cutthroat trout, lots of wild land and wildlife, and a multitude of campgrounds and boondocking locations to enjoy. We saw so many camping locations that we’d like to try that I can hardly wait for our opportunity to return to the Stanley area. (It just can’t be in the winter, since the Stanley basin often is the coldest area in the lower 48, regularly getting down to around minus 30 degrees!)
We didn’t know how easy it would be to stay in a forest service campground, or in a boondocking location (answer: easy, there were many options, even in prime-time mid-August), so we reserved a site at Stanley’s Valley Creek Lodge. It’s a busy lodge that also has four full-hookup RV sites, and it featured a great four-chair sitting area with a wonderful sunset view over open land with a couple of creeks, just steps from our rig. We really enjoyed our evenings in this sitting area, sharing it–and having some great conversations–with other RVers staying there. Thanks Dan and Ann from Port Townsend, a couple from rural Ohio whose names I can’t recall, and Peter and Carolanna from Scottsdale (originally from Germany).
Highlights included a great hike high up to Sawtooth Lake (passing Alpine Lake on the way) on a magnificent day, with the Sawtooth Mountains all around us showing why they got that name, a picnic lunch on the shores of beautiful Stanley Lake, a tour of the Stanley Fish Hatchery (probably the best and most well-maintained hatchery we’ve ever seen), a tour inside the restored Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, and great pizza and beer at nicely-rustic Papa Brunees restaurant in Stanley. We also visited Ketchum and Sun Valley (about an hour drive away), but they were more of the “tourist trap” variety (and they had trapped many of them) and we were happy to escape back to Stanley.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Pressing on to make it to our Labor Day reservation in Victor, ID, we were able to stop on our way for three nights at Craters of the Moon National Monument, camping in the Monument’s very nice campground that has great views, no hookups, and is a cell dead-zone. It’s a first come, first serve campground and upon our arrival at about 11 am we were able to get one of the last sites that would fit a coach of our 37 foot length. Highlights of our stay included attending an interesting ranger talk at the Visitor Center, hiking various trails (including the longer Broken Top Loop Trail), following a ranger guide along the Caves Trail and down into Indian Cave, and exploring Buffalo Cave and Beauty Cave on our own. The picture at the top of this post was taken from down in Indian Cave.
The Monument, like most national parks we’ve been to, keeps night lighting off or very low for “dark sky” reasons, and it is many miles away from the nearest towns. This made for spectacular stargazing from our campground! We went out at about 9:30 two nights and just stared up at the cloudless, star-filled sky in wonder. The Milky Way stretched across the sky as bats would occasionally fly close by, flitting wildly through the air, apparently catching bugs. The view was even more astounding when using our binoculars, making the sky look positively packed with stars upon stars in their clusters. It was an amazing and uplifting experience.
We enjoyed our trip to Craters of the Moon, learning the history of and seeing the varied volcanic landscape, learning how native Americans used what they found in the area, and learning how certain types of plants and animals have thrived there.
We’d long wanted to visit Idaho’s Teton County and since it isn’t far from West Yellowstone, and we wanted to wait until after Labor Day to go into Yellowstone, this was the perfect opportunity to do so. Driggs is the most populated and developed town and Victor, which is immediately south of Driggs, had the Teton Valley Resort campground that we selected to stay in for five nights leading up to and through the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Unfortunately, my first order of business was to spend an afternoon and the next morning running to Driggs’ plumbing supply store and working on modifications to our new Oasis hydronic heat system–making wiring changes specified by Bryan at ITR and some plumbing changes–so its main distribution pump would work properly for us.
Once that work was done, we took a day trip over the nearby steep and high Teton Pass to Jackson, WY—taking in their last (and crowded) outdoor farmers/food market of the summer and touring through various galleries and shops—and then drove a bit north to check out Grand Teton National Park’s main visitor center, Mormon Row (where the bottom picture in the above gallery was taken), and the park campground we were considering staying in when we returned to the park, Gros Ventre. We knew we’d be spending a lot more time at Grand Teton NP a few weeks later, and it was good to get a feel for what to expect, particularly with our first-choice campground.
Other highlights included attending church at Calvary Chapel in Driggs and driving up to nearby Grand Targhee ski area, transformed into a mountain biking resort for the summer and, when we were there, hosting the popular Wydaho Rendezvous Teton Bike Festival. Bikers were riding everywhere–between lodges, around restaurants, down the ski hills, over trails, through parking lots–and were transporting themselves and their bikes up mountain on the chair lifts. It was all great fun to watch as we sat outside at one of the restaurants at the base of the mountain.
Next: Yellowstone National Park