August 4, 2013 Turtle River State Park, North Dakota

Since I don’t have any decent Cedar Waxwing shots in my image gallery, I headed out first thing in the morning to the park entrance road where I had previously noticed them hunting insects over the pond by the side of the road. I naively was hoping to get close enough for some flight shots, but that idea went out the window rather quickly and I soon was trying to figure how to get them to land in resting perches close enough, as well as out of dense foliage, that I could at least get some closeup still shots. Took a little patience but I was rewarded with a few decent shots after spending about two hours plus in the effort.

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakot
Colorful Trio, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Colorful Trio, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After finding my back road birding venture yesterday rather interesting, I figured I would try another of the routes this morning. Well, this one was a complete washout. As I said before, early August is not the time to be doing this, most of the action is in the spring and fall. On the way back to the campground, I figured I may as well go back to the Kelley Slough area I visited yesterday and check on the White Pelicans. Well, now I see how they survive out here, as clearly they don’t depend on this one body of water to survive. Of the several hundred that were here yesterday afternoon, only 3 or 4 individuals were puttering around the pond today. What were here today in large numbers were ducks, not sure, but probably Pintails, I am not very good at identifying female and immature ducks.

Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Proud Mama, Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Proud Mama, Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

 

Barn Swallow in Flight
Barn Swallow in Flight

While glassing the pond from the observation platform, I found myself in the midst of several barn swallows swooping above and around me, harvesting some of the plague of mosquitos around this body of water. Since I had nothing better to do, I figured I would try another exercise in futility and get some Barn swallow flight shots, since they sometimes were coming within six or eight feet of where I was standing. Trying to focus a large hand held lens on small birds moving as fast and erratically as these swallows do turns out to be nearly impossible, at least for me. They are so close that there just is no way to follow and focus in time to get a shot. Got a few almost acceptable images of them overhead, but just couldn’t get any of the close shots I really was hoping I might get. Still, a fun time trying.

Back to the RV and spent several hours processing images and working on blog entries. I am starting to realize that my Verizon Jet Pac monthly 5 GB package is just not going to work with my blogging and website work. I signed up for a 2 year deal of 5 GB at $50 per month last fall when I embarked for my 5 month pre retirement winter trip. While very pleased with the way the Jet pac works, and the coverage of the Verizon system, 5 GB is really only adequate for normal web surfing and email use, no video watching or blog and website uploading, or that 5 GB disappears in the rear view mirror all but instantly.

Early on in my preparations for fulltiming, I discovered the blog of Technomadia, a young couple that fulltime in a bus conversion and work from their mobile office on wheels. It is a very informative source for all your on the road connectivity solutions, as well as other basic info concerning fulltiming. They use an outfit by the name of Millenicom that offers a package of 20 GB per month for $70 and the coverage is still through the Verizon system. Although I will of course have to pay a penalty to Verizon for dropping their package prematurely, I guess the time has come to make the switch.

Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

 

Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

 

Barn Swallow in Flight
Barn Swallow in Flight

 

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 3, 2013 Turtle River State Park, North Dakota

A Birthday Present

I had earlier decided I would stop and rest for 2 days, so had investigated Turtle River State Park in North Dakota online, and figured I would stop and see if I could stay a couple days. I really knew there was almost no chance of getting one of their non-reservable sites on a Saturday morning, but I pulled in to check anyway.

Site #27, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Site #27, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

I was given the very last site available, and since it was in the non-reservable section, I could have it for my 2 days. But wait, it gets even better. It turns out to be a little roadside pull through, nestled in the woods, and though the sites are a bit close, they aren’t crammed in side by side, and you do have a bit of privacy, and lo and behold, later that evening, just on a whim, I decided to check to see if my rooftop dish would just happen to align with the tiny bit of sky I had above me through the trees, and after doing it’s whirring and grinding thing, it settled in on a strong signal. Amazing!

Weather is once again, drop dead gorgeous. I know this can’t be normal, I was sort of dreading traveling through this area in the heat of summer, but this is incredible. Today is bright blue skies with white cumulus clouds, temps in the low 70’s with a heavenly breeze, it simply could not be any nicer!

Grabbed a few brochures at checkin and decided to go out on one of the prairie grasslands birding routes, since this may be just flat, boring terrain to most, but to me it is something new to explore. Directions in the brochure were very good and I did get to see what there was to see. This is the worst possible time of the year to go looking for birds in most places, including here. All the interesting spring action is done and the fall movement is yet to come.

White Pelicans on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
White Pelicans on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

Nevertheless, it was kind of neat to see several hundred white pelicans on a small slough, where the brochure said they would. And it always seems so odd to me to see these huge white birds you would think would be linked to the sea here in the nations midlands, in farm country. How that many large birds make a living in the summer months on a body of water as small as this is beyond me. There also were several family groups of ducks, coots, avocets, and other small waders along the edges of the slough.

Meadowlark on a wire, Galveston, Texas
Meadowlark on a wire, Galveston, Texas

Thought I might get some nice meadowlark images, you know, sitting on the fencepost singing up a storm. Saw the meadowlarks, just there weren’t any fenceposts, or fences for that matter, all open cropland. I guess you only need to fence your land in for grazing animals, since corn, soy and wheat apparently don’t tend to roam that often. So no meadowlark photos ( how about one from Texas last winter? ).

Killdear in a N.Dakota cornfield
Killdear in a N.Dakota cornfield

 

Did see lots of flycatchers, sparrows, swallows, Killdeer, kestrels and one pair of Northern Harriers doing their thing floating over the edges of the field crops and the cattails along the drainage ditches by the side of the gravel roads.

 

 

If you are ever in this area, this is a place worth checking out. This State Park was a pleasant surprise to me. A little tight for big rigs, almost all the sites are in the trees, probably quite welcome with the hot summer weather, and there is quite a lot to see and do in Grand Forks, just 10 miles back route 2 east of the park. The park itself offers some nice trails and roads for bike riding mostly under the trees. A pleasant 2 day stop for me.

 

Prius as a Toad

I am doing this post simply because I wish I had found one like it when I was trying to decide which vehicle to purchase as a Toad for my full time travels. For the first eight years I had my 2004 Allegro motorhome, I always towed my Goldwing motortcycle in an enclosed trailer. But I knew for full timing, I would want to have a more practical solution for my alternate transportation. The bike was great, but I always traveled in nice weather when I was vacationing and now with being on the road twelve months a year, I would certainly encounter more week long periods of rainy or cold weather than before. Thus a car would be a more practical mode of transport.

I knew I wanted something light to put as little stress as possible on the motorhome. Great mileage to offset the 8 mpg in the RV would be nice. Reliability. Amble storage area and easy access for my photo gear. A reasonable price. One that could be flat towed.

In my early days I owned 3 different Toyota vehicles and had great luck with all of them. After test driving many vehicles, I settled on the Toyota Prius. The one drawback with this vehicle was that it could NOT be flat towed.

Prius as Toad

I figured that based on its outstanding gas mileage and reputation for reliability, I would have to put up with the inconvenience of having to use a tow dolly. By the way, Toyota claims 49 and 50 mpg on its advertising and, lo and behold, it actually is close to that. For my first 11000 miles I have averaged an overall 52 mpg.

Prius as Toad

Now, back to the reason for this post.

No where could I find a definitive answer to whether or not this vehicle could be used as a Toad. Toyota would not say that it could, but never really said that it couldn’t.

Safety Chain Attachment points on Prius
Safety Chain Attachment points on Prius

Maybe these attachment points were factory installed for another reason, but it seems they may be there for attaching safety chains when you use the Prius as a Toad, certainly is what I use them for.

After searching the internet and finding as many posts saying you can’t as saying you could use the Prius as a Toad, I finally found one authorized Toyota Service Manager who said he saw absolutely no reason it couldn’t be towed on a dolly. My decision was made.

To date, I have towed the Prius over 11,000 miles and had absolutely no problems. If you are considering using a Prius as a Toad, I would say, you couldn’t make a better choice.

 

August 2, 2013 On the Road

Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Grand Rapids, Minnesota

Traversing the Mackinac Bridge
Traversing the Mackinac Bridge

Crossed over the Mackinac Bridge just after dawn and with foggy, hazy conditions, couldn’t get any decent images of a very impressive structure. Wide enough lanes for the motorhome, although it might have seemed a bit tighter if there had been any other traffic on the bridge with me.

 

Route 2 west on the Upper Peninsula is quite a nice drive, mostly in fair to good shape, a little washboardy, with lots of Roadside Parks and Rest Areas. Stopped at a couple of the Roadside Parks, where they had picnic areas and sandy beaches with people swimming in Lake Michigan. Weather was once again very nice after the early showers, temps in 70’s with blue sky all day. A little more traffic than I expected, but nothing bad except in the one or two large towns Route 2 passes through. Scenery nothing spectacular but sections with views out over Lake Michigan were quite nice.

Wisconsin Route 2 again was pleasant farmland and rolling hills, pretty, but nothing that made me want to stop and stay a while. The road was quite bad in most places, really needs some work.

Probably as a result of road conditions, I had my first close call with the Toad today. With the washboard roads, the front right side wheel harness on the Prius all but let go. When I stopped for gas and did my normal go around check, I realized I would have to dismount and remount the Toad. Fortunate that I did, because when I went through downtown Superior, the roads were so bad ( as bad as anything I have ever experienced, all through the downtown area ) that 15 mph had me fearing I was going to lose the motorhome’s suspension and surely would lose the tow dolly. Had to slow to about 7 or 8 mph in an attempt to keep the wheels on the road. No place to stop and check if I was still in one piece so was very relieved after 15 minutes of this to see the entry ramp for the bridge to Minnesota.

After crossing the bridge into Duluth, I managed to lose Route 2. Whether there simply was no signage or whether the road construction confusion had me missing the sign for Route 2, I do not know. It soon became evident that I was off my route so I stopped for a quick map check, had to turn around and then got put on another construction detour that again just about destroyed the motorhome and I finally limped back on to Route 30 that would get me back on Route 2 and gratefully saw a sign for the welcome station just ahead.

But of course, Route 2 veered off just short of the rest area. So, I figured I still had a few more hours of daylight, no reason to panic, and there has to be a Walmart or a rest area somewhere down the road. Turns out, there isn’t!

I don’t like driving in the dark as a general rule, because my one major complaint with my Allegro motorhome is that the headlights are all but useless, have been from day one and no one has been able to come up with a solution. They aren’t just a little dim, they are downright dangerous because they are next to useless ( anybody in Red Bay reading this? ). And Route 2 through this section of Minnesota looked to be moose heaven and the thoughts of a large dark object looming suddenly in front of my dim headlights just wouldn’t leave my head.

Getting very road weary I stopped in Swan River, got out the IMac, and turned on the inverter ( I know, maybe it might just be time to get an iPad ), and went online to see if maybe Grand Rapids had a Walmart. Turns out they do, so back onto dark moosey Route 2 I go. Just before Grand Rapids, there suddenly appeared a 24 hour truck stop/ gas station with a mostly empty lot out back, so I pulled in, breathed a sigh of relief, had dinner and hit the sack. Turns out to have been a nice place to stop, little truck traffic, the temps dropped down into the 50’s, and the only noise was the humming of a few thousand mosquitos, fortunately, on the other side of the screen behind my head. A good night’s sleep, after a truly long day on the road.