Sunday, July 30, 2017

And here we (still) are, in beautiful Swiss Valley Campground.
It's Sunday evening and we're all set to leave tomorrow morning for the Wisconsin Dells!
Yup! The truck is fixed, running like it has never before, and we'll be able to continue our summer travels like planned.
After 1 1/2 years of trouble, it looks like the Diesel repair place here in town (BK) has finally fixed all our problems with the truck.
Can you believe it? Miracles never cease!

Not that they didn't have their own problems with 'the beast' either! After replacing one injector, another one went 'out of whack' so we ended up replacing all four. 
Than we had to return it again because we had 'blow-by' from the engine, which turned out to be a small copper washer that hadn't settled, and a second time because the return line seal was leaking.
Fortunately, the injectors were under warranty and both returns were 'mistakes' on their end, so we only ended up paying for the work on the injectors.

We're very relieved to be able to get 'on the road' again, which, by the way, is only possible because Doug helped us out financially. 
He's been our 'bank' before and we're thankful beyond words!

So let me show you a little bit of our surroundings. These pics were taken during a foggy morning walk along the creek:

This gorgeous dragonfly is actually a Black-winged Damselfly or an Ebony Jewelwing ...

And these I took just before an evening storm ...

We had some interesting neighbors one day, this guy had owned a bar and had completely covered his RV with a decal of the inside of it!

Before our truck troubles, we had planned to visit the historic town of Galena, and we were now actually closer to the town than from Lena, so we went ahead as planned and drove over on Saturday.
I mentioned the storm in the previous pictures, well, this was the result of it:

The Illinois river had flooded and they actually had closed the flood-gates, something that happens very seldom ...


This small town in northwest Illinois is known for its well-preserved 19th-century buildings like the 1826 Dowling House and the Ulysses S. Grant Home. 
A large section of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Main Street is made up of a whole bunch of cute small stores. 
At a lot of the places that sold food, you could sample almost everything, and after a few of those we were stuffed which saved us on lunch!

Besides Galena there's not a whole lot to do over here. Yesterday we visited the Dubuque County Fair:


As county fairs go ... it's very 'small town USA'

We watched several animal 'shows', where they judge them against the standard ...

They do take there prepping seriously! This guy is using a hairdryer!

For some odd reason the rides weren't operative yet, which seemed strange for a Saturday morning, but oh well, we never go in any of them so we didn't really care.
We actually got in without paying to begin with, so that kind of evened it out (not on purpose, I swear, but there was nobody around at the entrance booth?).

We did golf twice while here, at the Public Golf Course of the Fillmore Recreation Area. James managed to score a great deal online: $10/pp for 9 holes with cart!

Such style .. such grace ...!

James also took the opportunity, while we were waiting, to fix everything caused by the tire blow-out, like the broken sewer pipe, the fenders and the grey tank that had sprung a small crack.


There was a lot of drilling, screwing, caulking and painting going on!
While he was at it, why not, he welded on a new, bigger and thicker, plate for the spare of the RV. 
The previous one had cracked due to metal fatigue.

And that spare tire was the only one that still had a white rim, so of course that one was painted black too. 


Can you tell that sitting still drives him crazy!?

Well, I'm coming to the end of my ramblings here. 
Merlin has a new favorite spot (yes, I know, he goes through a lot of those) 'his' blue chair in front of the RV, under the goose-neck:

Watch out for that 'Killer-cat' on guard duty ...!

                         Huh, me?

And on a sad note: finally after about 20 years (Seriously, I'm not kidding), the last of my favorite HEMA coffee cups gave up the ghost!
My morning coffee will never be the same!

OK, so tomorrow we're leaving, let's cross our fingers that the truck is truly fixed, and if everything goes well my next post will be from Wisconsin!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

LaSalle Waterfall

OK, where were we? Ah, Springfield, yes ... well, let's move a little further down the road already!
Next stop, only a couple of hours north, was Starved Rock State Park in Utica, where we spent the next 3 days and nights exploring the beautiful park and it's neighboring 'sister'-park, Matthiessen State Park.

We'd picked a spot online, and although it was completely in the open, which we usually don't like too much, it was a nice flat side and easy to get into.
Fortunately, the next couple of days turned out to be fairly cool and overcast, so we were just fine there.

Since we arrived so early in the morning, we had a quick lunch and immediately set out to the visitor center, to get our bearings. 
We watched one of their informative movies, picked up a map of the hiking trails and decided to 'do' the short hike up unto 'Starved Rock', for which the park was named.

Apparently one of the Indian tribes that called this place home was attacked by a rival one and took refuge on this rock, rising high above the river and surrounding forest.
Since they had nowhere to go, their enemies simply waited, until they starved to death ...

From the top you have a nice view of the Illinois river and the starved Rock Lock and Dam below.

One thing you do a lot in this particular park, is climbing stairs ...


But these height differences create what both of these parks are most famous for ... waterfalls! 
The next day we hiked several of the short trails, first to the LaSalle waterfall:



Than to the St Louis Fall:

And finally, the Wildcat Falls:

Here's some of the flowers/wildlife that crossed our paths:


After a sort drive over to the Matthiessen Park, we hiked the main 'Lake Loop' around Ziggy Canyon:

And ended up at the lake:

Of course we got some golf in, this time at the Deer Park Country Club:

Alright, time to move again! 
This time to Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, an even shorter ride, only an hour or so away ...

This park has little private 'alcoves' for sites. Quite nice, although we had to get really inventive this time to have the dish shoot 'at the hole' (through the trees) ..


Merlin has found another favorite spot to 'people-watch' .. on top of the truck cabin .. of course James had to encourage him by putting some pillows down for our 'little prince'.

The main reason for anchoring down here was to visit Chicago, 'only' 90 miles away. (James words, not mine ..)
We hadn't counted on the Toll roads, oh well ... it cost us around $12 to get there.

Here's our first sight of the skyline of Chicago:

What a city!

We drove to the waterfront, parked at the DuSable harbor and strolled the Lakefront Trail where you have a great view of Chicago's Skyline ..

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, one of the largest in the world

The 30 mile trail is a great place to bike, roller-skate, walk and run, or, as we did, have a cup of coffee and people-watch ... or boat-watch ...

It looked like there was a sailboat race about to start, and this gorgeous catamaran was preparing ...

A walk down this little Pier, jutting out into the harbor, gave us a fantastic view of the city:

Next to it, the much bigger and busier Navy Pier, with it's many restaurants, rides and Ferris wheel:

From here you can see the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse in the distance. 
It is an automated active lighthouse, and stands at the south end of the northern breakwater protecting the Chicago Harbor.

Making your way out of the city proper, driving north on Sheridon road, you come across Chicago's beaches and hotels:

With peaks of the Lakefront trail ...

In Evanston we took some time to walk around the historic Gross point Lighthouse, build in 1873. Unfortunately we were a couple of hours early for the tour ...

For lunch we had our minds (or stomachs) set on a genuine Chicago Deep Dish pizza, so we went to Giordano's in Evanston.

Arguably the best 'deep dish pizza' in town, in this style of pizza you'll find the cheese below the sauce, so it won't burn during the 1 hour baking process! 
The whole shebang, filling and cheese, sits in a sort of flaky, croissant type of a pie ... 


We ordered in advance, while on the road, and when we arrived it was ready. Mmmm, delicioso!!

We continued our way north on Sheridan Road, the major north-south street that leads from Diversey Parkway in Chicago, Illinois, north to the Illinois-Wisconsin border and beyond to Racine. Throughout most of its run, it is the easternmost, north-south through street, closest to Lake Michigan

From Chicago, it passes through Chicago's wealthy lakeside North Shore suburbs, and then Waukegan and Zion.

The Loyola University:

And the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. One of eight dedicated temples of the Bahá'í Faith, and the oldest surviving Bahá'í House of Worship in the world.

We stretched our legs at Lighthouse beach, but thought the $10 admission fee a little too steep to put our toes in the ocean ...

In Wisconsin, the road leads north through Pleasant Prairie and Kenosha, until it ends on the south side of Racine.

This town boasts it's Danish Heritage and part of the reason we drove all the way up there, was this Danish Bakery, where they bake and sell the famous Danish Kringles ..

We made it there around coffee time, just before closing ..

Oh my, such deliciousness-es!! 

We bought a peach Kringle and dug in right away, accompanied by a nice cup of Joe!

From Racine we took the scenic way back, using the rural back roads through fields of corn and soy, passing silo after silo ...

So that was Chicago, it was a little more driving than I wanted, but it was really awesome to see a part of this famous city.

Rockford, where we were staying, is 'on the map' only because of it's famous Japanese gardens, considered by many to be the best in the USA, maybe except for the one in Seattle.

I think we have to agree with that statement, this is one beautiful garden!
We spent a few hours just taking it all in, fortunately it wasn't very crowded on a Sunday morning.

Playful Fauns/Elves

The pond in the Strolling Garden:


Gorgeous Lotus flower

An overview of the 'Strolling Garden'


Beautiful details 

The beautiful Tea house

And an impression of the 'Fauna' in these gardens ...

Our favorite was this huge waterfall, the Nishi No Taki. Construction took 3 years, fourteen hundred gallons of water circulate through the falls each minute.

Other than these beautiful gardens, there was of course Rock Cut State Park itself, where we were camping. It is basically a nice, large, recreational park (270 sites) that offers camping, hiking, biking, horse-riding, cross-country skiing (!) and fishing, centered around it's two big lakes ...

After a 3 night stay here we headed about 60 miles to the east this time, for a change, to Lena, where we'd booked 2 nights at the Le-Aqua-Na State Park. 
But not before hitting a little snafu because about 35 miles into the drive we blew a tire! This time it was one of the RV tires and unfortunately it wiped out part of the sewer system (and put a small crack in the tank itself!), damaged the (newly painted!) fender and, as we later discovered, part of our anti-sway brace in the back ... sigh ...

Luckily, we were just at an exit which also happened to have a gas station, so we easily pulled in and James had a nice level concrete surface to work on.
He changed that tire so fast, I don't even have a picture! By the way, that spare tire turned out to be almost new. 
He sort of mickey-moused the rest together so we could continue our drive to Lena, which was only about 25 miles away.

At the Le-Aqua-Na we navigated the terrible road going in and had our pick from an almost empty campground.

As in most of the parks so far, this one also had a nice lake. Too bad non of the sites had a view of it ...

We needed a little pick-me-upper after all that, so we treated ourselves to an excellent lunch at The Rafters in 'downtown' Lena:

They have an in-house beer brewery, so we ordered a sample-flight to sample several of their best ones ..


So far so good, we recuperated, and when we had some time we'd repair the damage, but that evening while driving to nearby Wolf Hollow Golf Course, where we had a twilight Tee-time, 'disaster' struck for the second time! 
This time it was much worse than a blown out tire ... the truck started to smoke one again ... BIG time!! $#@%&@!
It was so bad that we knew right away that it was going to be something big, and the way it looked like, the problem was probably the injectors again!
That round of golf, as you can imagine, was not as nice as it should have been ...

We managed to get back to the park, fortunately the smoking was not constant, and that evening we decided to move the RV to Dubuque, IA, in the morning, which was the nearest large city, and find a Diesel repair place that, hopefully, knew what they were doing.  

And so we did. The next morning we drove to the Swiss Valley County Campground, just south of Dubuque. 
The truck smoked off an on, and the engine ran 'rough', but we managed to get there and we picked us a nice spot in the pretty little campground.

For only $17 a night (electric only), this park was mentioned as a 'little gem', and it truly is:

It's located in a beautiful valley, very 'Swiss-like' indeed, with a pretty little creek running through it!
We were about 7 miles from Dubuque and we found a diesel repair place that has experience with our specific truck, and that would squeeze us in on Monday!
While we were waiting we put our heads together and started to work on various 'bad-news' scenarios and how to finance them ...
Always something ....

I think this post is long enough for now, so I'll start another one soon. (Spoiler alert ... everything is going to be fine)