Willys Trek 2013, Jean & Dan’s 10,000 mile journey to 12 western National Parks

in their 1950 Willys Jeep Station Wagon


9-23-2015 Dan and Jean Fuccella with 1950 Willys Overland Jeep Station Wagon

Jean and I have begun what has become our annual trek and test of marital fortitude.  Like our past treks to Mississippi, Central Florida, Western US, and Maine, this trip looks to provide a combination of hours of sole-soothing cruising and seconds of high tension combativeness.  Breaking my vow never to let Jean carry anything but soft folded maps, I have condescended to her request to tote along the large, heavy county map books; which are capable of inflicting serious injury when thrust at this driver along with the words “here, you figure it out!”

Its kind of like the person with one foot in boiling water and the other on dry ice – on average all is quite pleasant.

Around noon on Wednesday, September 23, 2015, Jean & I finally extricated ourselves from professional and household obligations in Cary, NC; making it as far as the NAPA Auto Parts dealer to pick up a spare rotor, distributor cap, and point file for the trip to the Florida Keys in our trusty 1950 Willys Jeep station wagon. This parts stop was followed by lunch just up the street from NAPA at the Havana Café before starting out on the trek to the Florida Keys.  At this point having no idea what either our back-roads route or first night’s destination might be.  We did know that the trip was to include a stop at a former client and dear friend in Georgetown, SC.

Warning: Car Stuff

Before we get into the trip; a moment for details on car preparation.  Jeep is in top notch shape. After electrical connector issues on our trek West in 2013 and before our trip to Maine in 2014, we completely rewired the Jeep and replaced all ignition components, voltage regulator, and the overdrive kick-down switch. Also, after the trip to Maine, we totally rebuilt the brake system, including the retrofitting of a dual master cylinder and new brake lines.  Last minute preparations this month included new distributor cap, rotor, & spark plugs, cleaning and resetting the points, and replacing the accelerator petal and the Jeep’s body mounts which had the consistency of concrete after 65 years of service (imagine).

Back to the trip.  We did, in fact, make it to Georgetown, SC on Wednesday evening, where, as the guest of our friend Melvin were treated to an insider’s tour of the town the following morning.  Melvin’s family members are long standing contributors to the Georgetown community; which includes the founding of a funeral home by his great-grandfather that Melvin directs today. It was a memorable visit with a fine friend to an impressive city.  Thank you Melvin.

Thursday, September 24th Jean and I headed down the Atlantic Coast to Darien, GA where Jean lived up to her reputation as champion raw oyster gobbler at a local seafood restaurant.  After dinner, we were treated to a situation that frequently occurs with the old Jeep.  Basically, the Jeep is a chick magnet.  On several occasions Jean and I have been accosted by women who cannot resist the urge to tell us just how much they “love your car”.  It doesn’t seem to matter that Jean is sitting in the Jeep.  Usually, they just rest their arms on the driver’s window sill and express their admiration (of the car, of course) through the driver’s window.  On this occasion, as Jean sat patiently in the passenger’s seat, a fairly attractive red haired lady (not as attractive as Jean, of course), extricated me from the driver’s seat and “forced” her way into that location to us how much she loved the car.  Jean and I had a good laugh after she jumped out and scurried off.

I should mention that on the way to Darien GA, we encountered a torrential downpour as we passed to west of Charleston, SC.  The next morning we learned that a tornado had touched down near the route that we followed – at the time we were in the area.  Spooky.   We did encounter a few tense moments during the downpour.  In the midst of the darkness and blinding rain (I will tell you about our wimpy windshield wipers some other time) we noticed that the ammeter on our instrument panel was indicating charging failure.  Not a good thing to encounter when trying to maintain forward motion in a blinding rainstorm driving down a 4-lane secondary road.  Withour headlights on, we figured we were probably good for a half hour of  before the battery would be drained to the point where we would experience ignition failure.  Fortunately, the rain backed off; and whatever had caused the charging disruption (most likely water shorting out the ammeter behind the instrument panel) ceased and we were back in business.


We spent the first part of Friday, September 25th on St. Simons Island halfway between Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL.  St. Simons is one of the stereotypical up-scale island communities that works at striking a balance between posh accommodations, comfortable residential life, nature preservation, and historical relevance.  Anyway – they do a pretty good job of each, if one just tries to focus one of those objectives at a time.  We began our visit with a stop at the regional Visitors Center where we were provided an overview of the points of interest by a very well acquainted host.

9-25-15 Visitors Center St. Simons Island, GA

At the Chamber of Commerce representative’s suggestion, and with maps and brochures in hand, we headed off to our first stop – the St. Simons Lighthouse and museum.  Those of you familiar with my hesitance to trust the integrity of any elevated structure (natural or man-made) would be proud of the way Jean and I assaulted the spiral staircase and leapt onto the veranda of the lighthouse’s 100 ft. structure whose construction materials have been subjected to the natural stresses and corrosive effects of the coital environment for the past 143 years – what is the predicted life of cast iron buttresses anyway??  Anyway, the entire complex was meticulously maintained – so I did not have to worry about soiling by clothes (the outer ones anyway) had I plummeted to my death with the collapsing lighthouse.

9-25-15 Light House & Museum, St. Simon Island, GA

9-25-15 Jean at Maritime Museum, St. Simons Islands, GA

Next was our ritual stop at the local beach for our lunch of – you guessed it – naturally ground peanut butter and clover honey on coarse-milled whole wheat bread.  We had forgotten (notice how I say “we” when we mess up, and “I” when we have an achievement) to bring a spreading utensil for the peanut butter.  No worries – Dan’s tool kit to the rescue.  I keep an old – very old- gasket scraper in my tool box just in case we have to replace a water pump or other similarly attached component on the Jeep.  After a couple of swipes with a paper towel to reduce the level of toxic residue, it was off to the races.  It is surprising how well the peanut butter cleaned the surface of the scraper.

9-25-15 Jean at lunch on beach, St. Simons Island, GA

9-25-15 Peanut butter spreading tool St. Simons Island, GA

Just in case we might have ingested some slow-acting fatal compound while spreading our peanut butter with the scraper, our next stop was Christ Episcopal Church; constructed on the island in the late 1800’s, for some Divine assistance .  I was particularly impressed with the joinery on the internal trusses.  The craftsmen used a combination of dovetail and lap techniques at each joint – and wooden pegs to secure the joining system.

9-25-15 Christ Church, St. Simons Island, GA

At about 2pm on the 25th we decided it was time to make some southward progress toward our Key West destination; selecting Starke, FL about 135 miles south and probably an achievable destination before dark.  After some lodging misadventures, we settled in for the night in Starke – a somewhat isolated outpost located in northeastern Florida.  Remember the “chick magnet” qualities of the Jeep (some say it is my personal charm – those who don’t know me well)?  Anyway, early evening we get a knock on our motel room door.  I open the door to find a middle-aged lady (I can use the term “middle-aged” now that I am “end-aged”) standing there in her night attire saying – yes you guessed it – I love your Jeep”.  I quickly slipped outside closing the door behind me to spend a few moments awkwardly discussing the merits of the car before she headed off back across the parking lot to her room.


Saturday morning, September 26th, Jean and I walked down the main thoroughfare in Starke, FL to the local breakfast dive.  I would say that they have cooking breakfast down pretty well.  Took a photo of Jean under the sign in front of the restaurant – resemblance?  We also passed a couple of interesting signs on the way back to the motel.  The first one on the door of an eating establishment (not sure if it was a restaurant or not) stated “NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED (with the exception of children)”.  It made me wonder if they might be serving up children as food and drink.

9-26-15 Food sign, Starke, FL

The next sign should settle the curiosity of those who might be wondering what became of Northern Telecom.  Here it lives, reborn in Starke, FL, as “Norton Telecom”.  Interested in stock options anyone??

9-26-15 Norton Telecom, Starke, FL

9-26-15 Grannies, Starke, FL

9-26-15 Young Girl in Truck Near Miami, Florida


Sunday, September 27th, Jean and I went to Mass at a Catholic Church (a practice she follows religiously) in Weston, FL, a few miles from where we spent the night in a massive high-rise resort complex west of Fort Lauderdale.  As you may know from previous trek logs, I spend much of the time during Mass contemplating the structural design of the Church – that is if I am not soliciting Divine inspiration relative to an existing problem with the Jeep.  Actually, that Sunday’s of theme “sharing the wealth” was a good reminder to do so.  By the way, what is it with churches that they expend so much effort on coming up with such elaborate roof support structures to protect the congregation?  It seems to me that one would want to make it as easy as possible for the inspiration from above to penetrate the roof to reach the congregation.

9-27-15 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Ceiling Key West

After Mass, Jean and I stopped at a small Colombian restaurant for brunch.  Jean and I discovered Aripa, a leavened corn “cake” covered in particularly tasty goat cheese crumbs .

9-27-15 Jean enjoying Aripa in Weston, FL

Then it was off on our final leg to Key West.  This includes the crossing of a 7-mile long bridge joining two of the Keys.  One would not think twice about doing this in a modern vehicle; however, in a 65 year old car that has just completed a 1,000 mile journey, and given the lack of places to pull off anywhere along the span with a continuous stream of cars behind, it was a little spooky .  We, of course, made it just fine.

9-27-15 7 mile long bridge, FL Keys

9-27-15 Bahia Honda State Park lunch stop

This segment of the trek took us a good part of the day.  We had our traditional (some would say tiresome) lunch at Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pin Key east of Key West.  When we pulled up to the ranger station to get our park pass the lady ranger said – you guessed it “I love your car”.  Jean showed no emotion.  Resolving a hotel reservation SNAFU had Jean and me at each other’s throats as we tried to decide the best way to work it out.  Have to have at least one incident on each trek where Jean threatens to find a ride to the nearest airport to return home and leave me to “work it out”.  They say situations like this make a marriage stronger.  I don’t know – she seems to get closer to catching that plane each time.

 


We spent Monday, the 28th touring the old town section of Key West.  We took a tour trolley excursion of the island, did the obligatory visit to Hemmingway’s home (and 58 cats), lunched in a modest Japanese restaurant, poked our noses into several shops, churches, and some of the 138 “eclectic” bars on the island.  This was topped off with quiet pizza in a strip mall near our hotel that evening.

 

Tuesday, the 29th, Jean and I took the Yankee Freedom III 2-hour boat trip to Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas; a group of modest islands that occupy the southwestern most location in the US.  Nineteenth century Fort Jefferson is the largest masonry structure in the United States.  It was never completed due to an unfortunate tendency to sink into the sand – go figure; and never fired a shot in anger.  It was fun to tour and Jean and I did see some sea life while snorkeling in the waters surrounding the fort – including a jelly fish who befriended her.

9-29-15 Yankee Freedom III

9-29-15 Approaching Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

9-29-15 Jelly fish, Dry Tortugas

One sobering incident reminded us of just how fortunate we are to be in the position we are.  About 30 miles off shore we came upon an abandoned makeshift skiff; most probably used to transport Cuban refugees (perhaps as many as 30 at a time) 90 miles from Cuba to islands off the USA’s southern coast.  Here we were enjoying a leisurely cruise on a large comfortable ship for pure entertainment while other much less fortunate (often just by chance of birth) were risking – and often loosing – their lives for a chance to survive in a better place.  It inspired me to do more.

9-29-15 Makeshift Cuban boat

After an upscale dinner in the old town section of Key West (I can still remember the scrumptious Key Lime Pie), Jean and I retired to the hotel to rest up for the next stage of our trek.


I spent the early morning of September 30th sitting outside an Affordable Auto & Truck Repair in Key West, hoping to catch the proprietor on his arrival to put the Jeep up on the lift.  Wanted to check for the source of a strange noise that momentarily appeared the evening before.  Experience over the past treks has helped us in selecting the appropriate repair shops for on-the-road maintenance and repair.  One has to strike a careful balance between competency, professionalism, and cooperativeness based on the work required.  For example, a modern franchise shop might not be the place to go for a lube job, as it probably does not have a grease gun and its “insurance” might not permit one to be present during the greasing to point out the location of the grease fittings (17 fittings in my case).

Affordable Auto lived up to its on-line reviews as a flexible, customer oriented operation.  Despite its “informal” and outwardly brash atmosphere (P.G. warning: zoom in on the no BS statement on the sign under the street number), the folks at Affordable provided exactly what I needed in prompt and personal attention.  They permitted me to inspect the underside of the Jeep, where I discovered the source or the grinding noise the night before.  I discovered that a clip that retains one of the rear brake shoes had dislodged and became momentarily wedged between the brake shoe and the brake drum causing the grinding noise.  Fortunately, the clip apparently subsequently found itself an innocuous resting place in the brake drum cavity.  There was still some risk that the clip might again find its way into a problematic location, or that its absence as a brake shoe guide would create a problem, but due to the need for a specifically designed wheel-puller and perhaps a replacement clip to make the repair, we elected move on while keeping a watchful eye (ear actually) on the situation.  Should the brakes act up, the closer we are to home, the more convenient the repair.  The folks at Affordable allowed me to assist in the greasing to be sure we hit all the fittings including the unusual ones on each rear axle bearing and the one on the steering column for the shifter mechanism.  With reasonable care, the Jeep was originally designed to last.

9-30-15 Affordable Auto & Truck Repair- “No BS” on the window sign

When I returned from the repair shop around 9am on Wednesday, September 30th, I was approached by three ladies from a French tour group that was staying at our hotel.  Had they been able to speak English (full disclosure: I do not know any French), I think that they would have said, yes, “I love your car”.  They took several photos of each other (and yours truly) posing with the car.  Before they departed I took one shot of them together for myself.  Viva la France!

9-30-15 three French ladies admiring the Jeep

On our way out of the keys the on morning of September 30th, we stopped in front of a small aircraft museum that I had noticed on our way down to Key West.  What caught my eye was the DC-3 passenger plane sitting outside the building.  I graduated from Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio in 1967.  The largest city around was Lima, Ohio, 30 miles west.  At that time it was traditional for recruiting companies to invite perspective employees to their location for an initial interview.  Phone interviews were rare and the internet was still 25 years off (boy, I’m old).  The commercial planes flying out of the Lima airport were non-pressurized, tail-dragging, twin reciprocating engine, prop driven Lake Central Airlines’ DC-3s.  Every trip was an experience; from getting stuck in the mud on the side of the runway, to camouflaged wing panels “borrowed” from a C-47 (the DC-3’s military transport counterpart), to oil running out of the air cleaner at a 5,000 ft. cruising altitude over ice-encrusted Lake Erie.  Anyway, Jean took a couple photos of me in my Ernest Hemingway hat and back on the road to the mainland we went.

9-30-15 Ernest (Dan) Hemingway in the Keys

We spent the evening of September 30th in a nice hotel in Homestead, Florida.  If you are wondering, no sign of the devastation that this area suffered from “Tropical Storm” Andrew in 1992 was apparent in the areas we traveled.


It apparently has been real soggy in NC.  Weather had been mixed here in Florida, but mostly free of rain and quite warm.  Saying this reminds me of when my parents moved from Yonkers, New York to Merritt Island, Florida.  Mom was continuously trying to convince Jean & me (“me” is correct, you know) with our two young daughters to move from our home in Michigan to Florida .  Invariably, if there was inclement winter weather in Michigan (anywhere in Michigan), we would get a phone call from mother to tell us how nice it was in Florida and deriding us for enduring the same type of weather that she had lived with for the previous 55 years.  We swore that mom stayed glued to the Weather Channel just waiting for the opportunity to point out the difference in the weather in our respective locations.  There is probably a lonely grandmother iPhone app for that now.

The first time we did pack the two little “chitlins” in the car and made the 2-day trek to grandma’s house – it was freezing down there.  Upon returning from the discount store with a cache of winter apparel, mom exclaimed “it has never been this cold before in the history of Florida before”.  Didn’t mammoths reside in Florida once?  Well, at least we had a fresh set of winter ware for when we returned to Michigan.

Back to this trek: The morning of October 1st we worked our way north and west out of Homestead on Florida’s SR 41 (the Tamiami Trail), to Sanibel Island on Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast.  A few miles north of Homestead, the Tamiami Trail heads west , cutting directly through the central Everglades.  Alon the way we encountered an official looking sign denoting “Rock Reef Pass – Elevation 3 feet”.  Back to this trek: The morning of October 1st we worked our way north and west out of Homestead on Florida’s SR 41 (the Tamiami Trail), to Sanibel Island on Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast.  A few miles north of Homestead, the Tamiami Trail heads west , cutting directly through the central Everglades.  Along the Trail we encountered an official looking sign stating “Rock Reef Pass – Elevation 3 feet”.  The highest pass elevation that we have traveled over in the Jeep is Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado at 10,856 feet. Rock Reef Pass set a record for the lowest elevation pass at 3 feet.

10-1-15 Entering Florida Everglades National Park

We stopped at Everglades National Park; first visiting the Visitor’s Center on the eastern edge of the Park for an excellent orientation by and enthusiastic ranger, and then drove on to locations representing a few of the seven ecosystems present in the park.  It ain’t all swamp and alligators.  You might find it interesting to investigate the Park’s history and present issues facing the Everglades.  Here is a little preview:

10-1-15 Rock Reef Pass, Everglades National Park

This part of the Everglades originally consisted of a 50 mile wide shallow “stream” of water slowly flowing south out of Lake Okeechobee (Florida’s largest freshwater lake) toward southern Florida and ultimately out into Florida’s southern bays.  Decades ago, in the interest of making the valuable land under that “stream” accessible for farming (largely government subsidized sugar cane) and development, canals were cut east and west to drain much of the Everglades water off to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, respectively.  It is only recently that efforts have been made to restore some of the water flow to a small portion of the original Everglades territory.  Time will tell if the quality, quantity, and timing of water flow events will result in a restoration, at least in part, of the original separate seven ecological environments once present in the Everglades.

So, with that history lesson (according to Dan) under your belt; you might not be surprised that much of the crossing of the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail paralleled a large canal with massive locks and diversion channels. Fortunately, there were some wide expanses of shallow water marshland to give one some feel for what once existed.

After crossing the Everglades, the Tamiami Trail (FL SR 41) heads north, from which one can continue west to Sanibel Island.  Jean and I selected this as our next stop, as she had always liked patiently picking her way through fossils, historical remnants, and of course, that which Sanibel Island is noted – seashells.  Me; give me a pickax and a shovel and let the “chips” fall where they may.  Anyway, after spending the evening of October 1st at a pleasant gulf side motel on the Island, we checked the tide schedule, which indicated low-tide would be 11am the next day.


We spent the morning October 2nd over a leisurely breakfast on Sanibel Island waiting for the tide to go out.  The hotel kindly extended our check-out time to noon so that we would have time to do some low-tide shelling.  Naturally, after about 10 minutes of shelling in the mind baking sun, I was ready to bolt – but stood patiently by, scooping up handfuls of shell fragments as Jean patiently examined each of her finds for its worthiness.  We can away with a handful of “worthy” specimens.

During our stay on Sanibel Island, we contacted our longtime friends (if you can believe that anyone would be my friend for a long time) who had moved from Cary, NC to Apollo Beach, FL, about 4 hours north of Sanibel Island by Jeep (2.5 hours for anyone else).  Janine and Rob graciously invited us to have dinner and spend the evening with them at their home in Apollo Beach.  On the way to their home, we passed a sign for what appeared to be a Tattoo Dentist – now, doesn’t that conjure up a vision or two of someone whose smile reveals a snake, dolphin, or perhaps scull-and-crossbones on their gums. That evening Janine treated us to a delicious manicotti dinner; very light cheese filling in a crepe type wrapping – hey, I never said I was a food editor.  Anyway the food was great, the company charming, and the surroundings in their lovely home which they personally tastefully refreshed with all updated appointments.  The next morning after a walking tour of the adjoining bay, we bid Janine and Rob adieu on October 3rd and Jean and I were off to our next stop – puppy hunting.

 


Lita:  We had to put Casper (our Bichon Frise) down a few weeks prior to this trek due to kidney failure.  Not wanting to acknowledge that he was no longer with us, for two weeks we left his food and water bowls out and his blanket draped over the living room couch where he used to stand guard for the neighborhood.  It had been a particularly hard time for Jean; with no Casper to accompany her when she fed the fish in the pond or picked up around the gardens.  On top of this, I was spending much of my time off-site on a project and not there in our home office.  Slowly Jean accepted Casper’s passing, broke her vow to “never have another pet”, and became receptive to considering a new 4-legged companion.  I’m sure many of you have been there.

We decided that it was not prudent to consider seeking a new addition until the completion of our long-planned Florida Keys trek.  Well, that almost worked.  While having breakfast at an outdoor café previously on Sanibel Island; Jean observed a fellow diner accompanied by her Havanese canine companion.  Unbeknownst to me (although knowing Jean, I am not at all surprised) she had been researching this particular breed of dog as a potential next pet.  For those sensitive to dog hair and dander, the Havanese as with the Bichon Frise, do not shed and are not prone to triggering allergic reactions.  Jean asked the lady dining at the café where she had acquired her dog, and armed with that information and internet access, proceeded to make contact with a highly respected Havanese expert who coincidentally, happened to reside with her troop of 20 Havanese dogs in a small city roughly along the path that we were planning to take north from Apollo Beach, Florida to North Carolina.  When I asked Jean what her intentions were in visiting the Havanese breeder, she responded with a non -committal “we’ll see”.  No question where this was heading.

Well, as anticipated after previously having been through a similar situation with Jean, after an meeting with the dog owners on Saturday, we were hooked.  After Mass on Sunday October 4th we found ourselves loading 8-month old Lita, short for Toralita (i.e.: turtle dove) into the Jeep along with her carrier, chew toys, dog food, etc. for the trek back to Cary, NC.

10-4-15 Jean with Lita at Lynn’s, Brookville, FL

10-4-15 Jean with Lita during picnic lunch in Williston, Florida

Just as when one’s first child arrives; priorities got turned on their head.  Now, getting this little lady safely home to Cary became the first priority, with “adventures” along the way taking second place.  We plotted a course that would provide good ground coverage first, with the possibility of interesting experiences secondly.  Heading directly up the center of the Florida peninsular, and after a traditional picnic lunch stop in the local park in the small town of Williston, FL, we spent Sunday night in Lake City, FL .  Lita, whom we had selected for her apparent combination of enthusiasm and warmth, made the trip lying alternatively on Jean’s lap or between the two of us on the front seat.  She enjoyed the stops – running off a little energy.  She was somewhat accustom to travel, having made the journey from her birthplace in Columbia, South America to the Florida by plane as a pup.


 

10-5-15 Picnic lunch with Lita at Douglas Airport, GA

On Monday, October 5th we left Lake City, FL around 10am (a little early by our standards) and continued north up the center of Florida.  Our goal, Milledgeville, GA, was selected based on its achievable distance 250 miles (5 hours for us with stops).  We had a nice tailgate lunch break at the Municipal Airport in Douglas, GA.  All was going well until around 4pm when, 7 miles from of our destination of Milledgeville while traveling at our 55 mph cruising speed on a 4-lane divided stretch of FL Hwy 441,  – BAAAM.  We had blown our left rear tire.  Fortunately, the Jeep remained very stable as we slowed and made our way onto the dirt shoulder of the highway.  A brief look at the tire revealed a 3” V-shaped tear in the sidewall.

10-5-15 Tire blowout Milledgeville, GA

Fortunately, there was an abandoned paved driveway about 50 yards up the road where we were able to safely position the Jeep for a tire change.  We had no sooner exited the Jeep when a nicely attired gentleman driving recent model cautiously pulled in behind us to offer his assistance (Cautiously – because he did not want to appear threatening – a fine gentleman).  Not wanting to inconvenience him, I explained that we had a spare and should be in good shape.  As I confidently proceeded to replace the blown tire with the spare, Robert explained that he is a semi-retired salesman for a local distributor of light duty construction and utility equipment; and makes the 80 mile journey from Milledgeville, GA to his home north of there a couple of times a week.  The fact that he did not hesitate to prolong his journey home in order to assist us was well beyond the call of duty.

It is a good thing that we accepted Robert’s offer to hang around until we got on the road again; just in case…  When I lowered the Jeep after replacing the blown tire with the spare, we discovered that the air pressure in the spare was far less that desirable.  That would be all we would need – the spare going flat.  I had checked the air pressure in the four running tires before the Trek; but had only banged on the spare, which appeared firm.  In all the 70,000+ miles of driving the Jeep, we had never had to use the spare – and I had become complacent.  Robert willingly drove behind us with his flashers on as we made our way at 35mph to Kenny’s Complete Auto Service (recommended by Robert) for assistance.  We arrived safely at Kenny’s about 4:30pm without having the mounted spare deflating.  Kenny’s is a down-home no frills auto service “center”.  Most of the repairs were being conducted on the paved area surrounding the two bay garage.  Kenny’s son Matt came to our immediate assistance.  While one of the men strung air hose across the lot to reach our nearly flat spare, Matt called the local tire distributor to make arrangements to have an exact match for our tire delivered by 11am the next day.  We thanked Robert and Matt and proceed to our motel room on the north side of town.  On the way, I purchased a scrub brush, emery paper and some spray enamel.  At the motel I cleaned up the wheel on which the blown tire had resided, sanded out abrasions caused by running on the rim on pavement, and painted the rim in preparation for mounting the new tire the next morning.

 

Some more tire talk:

First, it is important to remember that the lug nuts on the left (driver) side of the Jeep have left-handed threads.  There is an “L” stamped on the head of the wheel studs, but it is easy to forget in the heat of the tire change.  Fortunately, I have had the tires off often enough to remember.  We run a good grade of radial tires.  The jeep tracks noticeably better on radials.  We try to keep the front suspension in top shape and carefully aligned.  Although the Jeep was not designed to run radials, the Jeeps combination of stoutly welded rims and roller bearings all the way around helps it to nicely handle the higher stresses imparted by the radial tires.  The 1950 wheel rims do lack the bead retaining features of modern “safety rims”, so the tire did separate from the rim immediately after the blowout, subtlety reducing steering control and causing abrasions on the rim’s perimeter.

 

With faith in getting the tire replaced, we contacted our nephew in Asheville, NC and made arrangements to spend the evening of Wednesday, October 7th with Bill and his bride.

10-6-15 Kenny’s complete Auto and Tire, Milledgeville, GA


The morning of Tuesday, October 6th went very well.  While waiting for the replacement tire to show up at Kenny’s, I gave the Jeep a good washing to remove the salt accumulated on the Florida peninsula the previous week.  Perfect timing; while helping Jean pack the Jeep at the motel, we got a phone call from Kenny’s Tire Service letting us know that our replacement tire had arrived.  We finished packing, checked out of the motel, and ran down to Kenny’s to mount the new tire on the rim that I had reconditioned the previous evening.  We were off on our trek North Carolina before noon.

Knowing that we would be getting a late start that day, we decided to spend one more evening in Georgia before heading off the nephew Bill in Asheville, NC.  We spent Tuesday evening in Clayton, GA, which we reached without incident after our traditional picnic lunch in Georgia’s Black Mountain State Park.  Lita had been behaving extremely well since we picked her up on Sunday.  She handled the nightly change of location and the daily drives well.  We wanted to get her into a stable living situation, but felt no pressure to rush home.

 

On the morning of Wednesday, October 7th, after spending some quality time with Lita, I contacted a fellow Jeep station wagon owner who lives in Fletcher, NC, a town on the route to our nephew’s home in Asheville, NC.  Fortunately, Will, whom I had met at a Jeep gathering in Siler City, NC last year, was home and able to have us drop by for a visit.  Will, who has been running his own marketing consultant for the last 18 years, inherited his early 60’s wagon from his dad.  He has been slowly rebuilding the Jeep; now in good enough running condition to take out for jaunts around his local area.  Will treated us to refreshments and snacks while we talked about Jeeps and our lives in general.  It was a fine way to wind down from the intensity of the previous couple of days.

10-7-15 Dan & Lita mirror shot

10-7-15 Dan & Lita selfie

10-7-15 Lita, Clayton, GA ready to go!

10-7-15 Driving into Macon County, GA

10-7-15 Lunch Stop – Black Rock Mtn. State Park, GA

10-7-15 Northern GA

10-7-15 Crossing into southern NC

10-7-15 Will & Jean at Will’s home on Fletcher, NC

10-7-15 Will’s 1961 Wagon, Fletcher, NC

From Will’s home in Fletcher, NC we made a pleasant drive on back roads to nephew Bill’s home in Asheville, NC.  Bill is the son of Jean’s younger brother Rusty.  After is college, Bill first relocated to Wilmington, NC to contemplate his future.  A skilled programmer and businessman, his talent and creativity lead him to found a successful company in Asheville that provides website development where specialty web capability services are desired.  Bill owns a modern hillside home overlooking the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, where he resides with Angela, his lovely wife of recent months.  We had an enjoyable evening meal on the 7th and breakfast on the morning of the 8th catching up on things since we last met a few years ago; and getting to know our new niece, Angela.  Jean, Lita, and I parted Angela and Bill after breakfast on October 8th, deciding to run part of the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Blowing Rock before heading toward home.


The morning of October 8th, Jean, Lita, and I left Ashville, NC around 10:30am and headed off up the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Blowing Rock, NC.  As it turned out, we were a little early for the fall color display along the Parkway.  This was a mixed blessing.  Sure it would have been nice to see a little more vibrant color; but the early timing did help us avoid heavy traffic on the Parkway.  With one lane in each direction and very few passing opportunities, we get concerned when we impede traffic on some of the long uphill grades where we find our 72 hp “rocket” a little wanting.   We did feel sufficiently confident to tackle the road to Mt. Mitchell – the highest peak east of the Mississippi- where we found the view excellent.

10-8-15 Jean, Dan, Angela & nephew Bill, breakfast, Asheville, NC

10-8-15 Table Top Mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway

10-8-15 Mt. Mitchell, NC

10-9-15 View from Mt. Mitchell 1

10-9-15 View from Mt. Mitchell 2

10-9-15 View from Mt. Mitchell 3

10-9-15 View from Mt. Mitchell 4

Several years ago, my friend Bob and I with our wives made the drive to the top of Mt. Mitchell with our wives.  We began to encounter heavy fog shortly after the start of our accent.  Undeterred, we toughed it out all the way to the Visitor’s Center – at the base of the path to the observation deck at the top of the mountain.  It should not have been any surprise, but when we reached the Center – we could not see across the road – much less the neighboring mountain peaks.  We got back in the car and descended to the Parkway where we could again see some scenery.

 

Jean, Lita, and I arrived in Blowing Rock late afternoon of October 8th and found a “pet friendly” motel to spend the evening.  It had been a couple of days since any ladies had expressed fondness for our car – well we made up for it that day.  First, we had a nice conversation with a lady from Colorado at the Mt. Mitchell Visitor’s Center.  We had traveled some of the same routes as she when we made our west coast trek a couple of years ago.  Next, we met a pleasant lady, who recalled that when she was a young girl in Texas, she had been able to place each of her feet between the wooden slats on the floor of her father’s Jeep station wagon.  I showed her the slats on the floor of our Jeep – which she recognized immediately.  She sent her brother in Texas an email in determine if, like ours, their Jeep was 2-wheel drive and if it had a drop tailgate.  The answer was yes to both questions.  Fun meeting for both of us.

10-8-15 Colorado Lady admirer Mt. Mitchell, NC

10-8-15 Texas Lady admirer, Blowing Rock, NC

After dinner in Blowing Rock at an outdoor restaurant featuring live (vs. dead??) blue grass music, Jean and I returned to Lita to get some rest for the next morning’s journey.


Jean, Lita, and I left Blowing Rock, NC on Friday, October, 9th.  It was a crisp & clear morning.  The Jeep was running well and all were in good spirits.  While heading south we contacted my sister Bunny and her husband Jim to suggest that we make a detour from the direct route to Cary to spend a night with them at their home in Charlotte.  Fortunately, they were available and so we continued south, skirting Charlotte proper by dipping down into South Carolina before proceeding east to their home on the south side of Charlotte.  We were all excited by the opportunity to introduce Lita to Baxter, their 10 year old Bichon Frise.  The two dogs got along well, for the most part ignoring each other in favor of their respective owners.  We went out for an excellent Italian dinner before settling in for some catching-up.

Bunny & Jim were married in 1965; the same year as Jean and I.  While Jean and I moved to Ohio and then Michigan, they resided in New York, then Florida, and then for the past 20 years in Charlotte.  Busily raising families, she and I saw little of each other for the first 30 years of our marriages.  After that, my regular trips to the Polymers Center of Excellence in Charlotte provided me a convenient opportunity to spend an occasional evening with Jim and my sister.  It was a refreshing opportunity to make up for missed years.

The morning of Saturday, October 10th Jean and I bade Bunny and Jim goodbye and headed for our home in Cary, NC; selecting an eastern then northern route to avoid Charlotte and possible race day traffic at the Speedway.  It rained the entire trip, but this was of little concern to us as we took our time on the lightly traveled back roads.  We were happy to be able to get Lita to her permanent home.  She had behaved so well for the 5-day journey from Central Florida to Cary, NC.  It was nice to reward her with a stable home life.  As I mentioned previously, Lita was born in Columbia, South America, and had previously endured a 13 hour journey by plane to reach the United States.  Fortunately, Lita showed no ill effects from all the moving around – on the contrary, it appears to have made her very adaptable and appreciative of affection.

Anyway, we were happy to be back in our familiar home after our 20 day, 2,800 mile adventure.  We are most appreciative of all the acquaintances and helpful people that we met along the Trek to the Florida Keys.  As with the previous treks, the fun was as much in the journey and the people as it was in reaching our destinations.  Good memories.

Thank you all for following us on our trip and for you kind words of encouragement.

Regards,

Dan


Introduction:

In 1920, the National Park Service, the Nation Park-to-Park Highway Association and the American Automobile Association jointly sponsored a tour following the route of an envisioned a Part-to-Park highway linking the twelve National Parks in the western United States.  The purpose of the tour was to promote interest by neighboring communities in providing the infrastructure (i.e.: roads and accommodations) to facilitate visitation of the National Parks.  It is this route that Jean and I intend to follow as closely as surviving roads will permit.  The actual 1920 tour, which proceeds in a counterclockwise fashion from Denver Colorado and back, covered approximately 5,500 miles.  If we include Lassen Volcanic and Zion National Parks which were bypassed on the 1920 tour, and adding for some side trips to friends and attractions, our tour will be approximately 7,800 miles plus the driving distance from Raleigh, NC to Denver, CO and back.  We hope to complete the adventure in 8 to 10 weeks door to door.

Acknowledgements:

As we make final preparations for this once-in-our-lifetime adventure, Jean and I wish to express our thanks to all who have helped make this trip possible through their words of encouragement and tangible assistance.

First of all, the idea of recreating the journey of the 1920 Park-to-Park tour of 12 twelve of the western National Parks would never have come to mind had we not watched Brandon Wade’s documentary PAVING THE WAY on UNC-TV, our local Public Television station in 2010 and Lee and Jane Whitely whose book THE PLAYGROUND TRAIL: The National Park-to-Park Highway inspired both the documentary and our aspirations.

Secondly, we would assuredly have never fully realized the quest had it not been for the encouragement and diligent efforts of our Mike Petersen, who, with the assistance of Lee Whiteley and his publications, created a point by point set of directions that follow the original route to the best of his ability using available information.

Additionally, we might never have considered attempting this journey in our 1950 Willys Overland Jeep station wagon had it not been for the helpful assistance of many friends and the several automotive parts suppliers and rebuilding services providers that helped us over the 37 years since we first begun the restoration and maintenance of the vehicle.  We would be pleased to share our experiences in this regard with others.

And finally, we are so grateful to have the support and encouragement of our friends; most of which do not think that we are totally bonkers for undertaking this adventure at 70 years of age.

Documentation:

Owing to the interest of many well-wishers (a probably more than a few folks that think we are nuts), Jean and I intend to make daily entries in this blog complete with photographs and video documenting our journey and activities once when our journey commences on August 15, 2013.  Until then, we will be making sporadic entries describing the history of our relationship with our Jeep and our preparations for the trip.  We hope that you will have time to follow us and we welcome your suggestions as to how to make the trip and the blog more meaningful.

Regards,

Jean & Dan

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The Planned Route for the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour

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Jean and Dan Fuccella – Photo taken in Wilmington,

NC


We did a complete rebuild of the original F-134 4 cylinder engine as part of our original restoration in 1976 (more details on this type of engine in the future).  It turned out pretty well, providing us 53,000 miles of relatively trouble free performance over the next 36 years as we drove the Jeep station wagon over most of the eastern United States from Maryland to Mississippi.

In anticipation of the demands of this summer’s tour we decided that a fresh engine was in order.  So as not to interrupt our use of the Jeep during the engine rebuild, we decided to search out and rebuild an engine with identical specifications to the original while keeping the car in driving condition.  We had decided that the rebuild would as well done as possible, as we intended the engine to not only weather our upcoming 10,000 mile trek across the western USA, but also provide reliable service for the foreseeable life of the vehicle.

We located a candidate engine through a post on the WillysTech parts board.  Mike Petersen, our trek pathfinder, and I drove to Staunton, Virginia to inspect and ultimately purchase the engine; bringing it home in the trunk of my Camry.  The rebuild was thorough with final assembly in our work room.

In addition to the basic engine, the distributor and carburetor were rebuilt and all other components checked over.  We are very pleased with the results.  We have logged 5,000 miles on the engine as break-in for the trip and it has been performing very well.  Of course, as any owner of an older car knows, we could always be surprised.

 

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Our friend Lou and our grandson assist with removal of the original engine February 2012

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Rebuilt engine being prepared for installation April 2011

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Rebuilt engine installed May, 2012


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1950 Willys-Overland Jeep Station Wagon – 2012

History of our Jeep

                 Engine:            134 cu. in. 4 Cylinder “F” head
                                    72 hp @ 4,000 rpm
                 Transmission:          3 Speed Column Shift
                                        2 Wheel Drive with electronically Actuated
                                        Overdrive

                  7 days to the start of out trek

As we approach the start of our trek on August 15, 2013, we thought you might enjoy learning something of the history of our Jeep.

In 1977 we found our 1950 Willys Overland Jeep Station Wagon advertised in the local paper in Saline, Michigan, our city of 5,000 people.  Years earlier, I had rebuilt a few cars and thought that monkeying around with a “project car” would provide a little diversion from my job as a plastics engineer.

The ad caught my attention because the wagon was a 2-wheel drive model with overdrive, similar to one I had driven as a fraternity pledge when eight of my pledge mates and I “deposited” one of our fraternity brothers in the Kentucky countryside; a six hour drive from our college in central Ohio.

Overdrive is a must for touring with the early Jeeps, as the combination of a 538:1 rear end and a 135 cu. in. 72 hp 4-cylinder “F” head engine that doesn’t like to cruise above 2800 rpm, would otherwise restrict sustained top speed to less that 40 mph.  The 1.3 to 1 electrically actuated overdrive raises the cruising speed to over 50 mph!

I thought the wagon would make a fun project because it was relatively simple (no power equipment or solid state devices) and the asking price was within reach for a guy with a wife and 2 preteens.  The Jeep had been manufactured at the Willys-Overland plant in Toledo, Ohio, and then purchased by a gentleman in Biloxi, Mississippi for $1885.10.  In the mid ‘70s it was transported to Michigan where we purchased it for $250.

When my asked by my wife how long it would take to get the car into decent running condition (it had no brakes, was badly “bio-degrading” and smoked a lot), I told her 6 months tops.  Wisely, she added two years to my estimate, as that was the time it took for me to do the original restoration in our family garage.

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           Before restoration – 1977                               6 months into restoration – 1977

We lived in Michigan, and the engine rebuild came up during the winter; so naturally, I convince my wife that it was imperative that the engine be assembled in the controlled temperature of our family room.  She was good-natured about it, but did complain that the cylinder block did not make a good end table, as her wine glass kept falling into the cylinder bores.

While in Michigan, we had many fond memories of our preteen age girls sitting on the tailgate as we participated in local parades.  As originally envisioned, we also put the Jeep Wagon to work hauling construction materials for many home projects.

When we moved to Cary, North Carolina in 1992, we brought the Jeep to that location.  That year we founded Applied Technologies, Inc., a product design and engineering firm in Cary.  Once again, the Jeep was called upon to haul materials for several home projects.  With the rear seats removed and the tailgate down, the wagon will hold 22 bales of pine straw!  It was still in decent enough shape to run in a parade or two.  This time my grandchildren sat on the tailgate.

In 2000, after 20+ years of outdoor storage and moderate use, it was time to either sell the Jeep to someone who would probably convert it into an off-road monster, or re-restore it myself.  Fortunately, my wife encouraged me to keep the wagon and bring it back to its earlier “beauty”.   With some skilful assistance with the body prep and painting, we went back through the jeep, replacing the windows and rubber components, re-chromed much of the bright work and refreshed the interior and drive train.

Shortly after the second restoration, we took time off from our engineering business to take the wagon on a 2 week tour of North Carolinas’s Outer Banks and second trip to western Pennsylvania that included a stop in Charlottesville, VA, a run down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Boone, NC, and a return to our home in Cary, NC via Pilot Mountain, NC.

In 2002, we found and restored a 1959 Hobie long board.   We built a custom set of roof racks to mount the 9’ 6” long, 45 lb. surfboard on the Jeep.  This addition seems to have broadened the age group of curios onlookers.

The original owner had purchased a warrantee that entitled the owner to a free inspection every month or 1000 miles at an authorized Willys Overland dealer.  Since Willys Overland Motors, Inc. became Willys Motor Company in 1953, which was then purchased by Kaiser-Jeep Corporation in 1963, which in turn was purchased by American Motors Corporation in 1970, which was then purchased by Chrysler Corporation in 1987, which merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998, I wonder if my local Mercedes dealer will honor the warrantee.

We have found (actually always suspected) that there are not too many people strange enough to have restored a Willys Jeep Station Wagon.  As we travel back roads or display the wagon, this fact, plus its weirdly attractive appearance, have provided us with the opportunity to talk to many warm and interesting people.  I particularly enjoy hearing people reminisce of their personal experiences with early Jeep Station Wagons.  So far, I have not heard of anyone else who used one for kidnapping.

In the fall of 2002, after being won over by the enthusiasm of a Club member, we joined the Triangle Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America.  We have since been participating in many of the activities conducted by the fine members of this organization.

In 2003, we drove the Jeep to Biloxi, Mississippi to show it to its original owners who were then in their early 90’s.  We have subsequently driven it to Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania; as well as Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky for AACA national events.


 Finally got on the road at 10:30am today.  With all the personal and company organization to do in preparation for the trek, Jean and I actually did not start packing for the 2 month trek until this am.  Several folks asked if we had a list of things to do in preparation for the trip.  Actually, I did; the first item on the list as to make a list – well we never got that far.

8-15-13 Getting ready to depart on our trek (1)

Jean and Dan as they prepare to leave on their 10,000 mile trek (think they will still be as chummy at the end?)

Packed the Jeep with engineering precision; taking weight, frequency of need, and value of each item into account in determining its placement in the Jeep’s bed.  Just wait until day two… Decided to leave the rear seats at home for space and weight considerations.

8-15-13 packed Jeep interior

 Strategic packing at the start of the trek (just wait until the first stop)

 Anyway, after topping off the tank at a local station we were on our way – well almost.  Just five miles down the road on NC 64, the wireless sensor for the GPS flew off its perch on the cowl in front of the windshield.  With uncanny accuracy, a car 100 yards behind us trampled the sensor as it slid down the roadway.  Must have been a skeet shooter.  Fortunately, Jean had a wired back-up which she got working with the DeLorme GPS software on our tablet within minutes.  Not that we needed it at that point, just that it prevented me from going ballistic in a confined space just 3 feet from her in the first moments of a 200 hr trip together.

8-15-13 heading west on NC 64 near Asheboro, NC

Heading West on NC 64 near Asheboro NC

Stopped in Lexington, NC for some great local barbecue and proceeded northwest to challenge the eastern range of the Appalachians.  For those not familiar with the handling characteristics of early Jeep Station Wagons; well, it takes some finesse to maintain any level of progress on curvy, hilly roads.  With 72 hp, drum brakes all around, and marginal steering performance; one must continuously anticipate the next change in elevation (up or down) and change of road direction.  Fortunately, our wagon’s components, although authentic, are in pretty much top shape. A newly rebuilt engine, electronic overdrive and Planar independent front suspension, all stock, did their part to get us through in fairly respectable shape.

Tomorrow we tackle the western side of the range with Bowling Green, KY as our destination.


Willys Trek 1950 Willy Jeep Overland Drive Through Western NC

 

Drive through Western NC


Disaster turned Adventure

It is the wee hours of the morning of the 20th of August, and it is only now that I have settled down well enough to reflect on the events the past four days.

While cruising at our usual mind-bending speed of 55mph down a 4-lane stretch of open road in eastern Kentucky Friday afternoon, the Jeep abruptly lost power for an interminable second and then cut back on again.  At that instant, there was a huge bang followed by the continuous roar of uninhibited engine exhaust.  It was obvious that unburned fuel vapors that had accumulated in the exhaust system during the power interruption had ignited explosively when the engine regained power and damaged the exhaust system components.  Traffic was light, the shoulders wide and the day was bright, so we collected ourselves and pulled into the paved entrance to an abandon side road to assess the damage and ponder its cause.  Sure enough, the muffler had been split down the length.  The internal construction of the muffler was fully exposed – quite a scientific marvel of acoustical engineering – but not so interesting to us at that moment.

Unfortunately, the engine continued to exhibit a continuous misfire at moderate rpm; not enough to cut completely out, but sufficient to cause concern that we might struggle to make it to “civilization”.  So, as cars and semi trailers blasted by, boy wonder pulled out his carefully packed emergency tool box and commenced his diagnosis of the problem.  Funny how different highways are when you are standing still beside them.  Presuming that the cause of the sharp power interruption was electrical in nature, I first checked for loose wires, then proceeded to replace the ignition coil and condenser – with no perceptible change in the intermittent engine stammer.

We tried to keep calm heads as I tried different remedies. The weather was mild, there were still several hours of daylight left, and no real personal harm had been done.  Shortly after we began this process, a Fish and Game officer pulled up with his skiff towing SUV to see if he could be of assistance.  Soon after, a member of the highway safety patrol pulled in to lend his support.  It was reassuring to have these friendly folks there, but unfortunately neither had the background to assist with the technical aspects of our plight.  Jean, all the while provided rock steady confidence and encouragement to me as she engaged in conversation with the gentlemen.

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August 16, 2013 Recognize that butt?? – Dan attempting engine repair along KY80 shortly after the big bang

After 2 hours (in retrospect, probably only 45 minutes) of attempting various fixes, it was deemed prudent to attempt to proceed to Somerset, about 15 miles down the road, where there would be ample auto parts stores, repair shops and if needed, lodging facilities.  The safety patrol officer followed us in his van as we rumbled our way west – mostly trouble free.  It is amazing just how much noise a car (even one with only 72 hp) makes without a muffler.

We elected to settle in at a strip motel on the main drag where we could park the car conveniently in front of our room and continued working on the intermittent power interruption (stammer) problem. The location afforded ready access to several automobile support facilities.  How hard could it be?

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August 16, 2013 – Dan working on Jeep in motel parking lot – smiling at this point

  The point ignition system on early Jeeps is extremely rudimentary, consisting of an ignition coil, a distributor with points, condenser, rotor and cap, ignition wires and spark plugs. Well, after bypassing the ignition switch and substituting all of the above items (with the exception of the spark plug wires which were, the very reliable copper stranded type), with new or historically proven components, engine roughness not only persisted, but got worse.

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August 17, 2013 – Mike and Michael searching for lost screws as Dan attacks the fuel pump – not smiling so much

Getting a little panicky at this point.  Really want to have this solved and back on the road by Saturday morning.  Would then only be a day delayed in visiting my cousin and his wife in Washington, MO.

One nice thing about having an unusual vehicle is that it attracts on-lookers; incidentally, many of which, much to my pleasure, and my wife’s feigned consternation, are good-looking ladies.  Well fortunately, this time the car drew the attention of a soft spoken, local fellow with a sound practical knowledge of cars and a very kind heart.  After an hour of assisting me in my efforts to solve the engine roughness problem, he called in his dad, also a car nut, from his nearby home to assist.  There had been a perceptible change in the symptoms that I had completely overlooked in my lather to resolve the issue.  Now, instead of abruptly cutting in and out, the engine seemed starved for fuel, bogging down when the throttle was open.

Mike, the father, zeroed in on the fuel system; although, I was skeptical because I did not think that fuel starvation would have caused the abrupt misfire experienced earlier on the highway.  However, I had been at it for 3 hours of semi-panicked effort at this point and was desperate for a solution.  As Jean pointed out in calm, reassuring manner; let’s try to fix the problem now and worry about the theory later.  So we sucked and blew on the fuel lines – no apparent obstruction there.  Changed the fuel filter, even though the old one was relatively new and appeared clear.  Mike, Michael (his son) and I surmised that the fuel pump must be weak, and despite upon inspection of any evidence of wear or damage to the diaphragm or check valves, decided to call it a night and have me find a replacement in the morning (Saturday).  Needless to say I did not eat or sleep well that evening.  Jean, in her infinite wisdom (really), had summed up the situation arranged for a rental car Friday afternoon – such a realist.

After several phone calls to the local auto parts stores early Saturday morning (“sorry sir, but our books only go back to 1980” or “station wagon, is that anything like a CJ?”, or “only have “L” head listed, are you sure it is a “F” head?”) a prince at the local CarQuest located a fuel pump for a CJ-3 on Lexington, Ky, “just 75 miles north.  So, after talking to the folks in Lexington and without any real assurance that the fuel pump was the cause of our problems (the abrupt engine cut off on the highway still nagging me) we headed out on a 3-1/2 round trip to Lexington in the rental car to retrieve the replacement fuel pump. I was squirming in my seat the whole trip wondering if this tact was taking us in the right direction.  What if the pump was not the problem??

We got back around 4pm Saturday and I immediately installed the new pump and guess what —no improvement.  Now where to turn??  I could feel desperation building in me – for I could see us shipping our car back to NC and our whole trip going down the tubes.  Worst of all, my pride would be hurt; not having the ability to weather the to be expected “adventures” during the trip.  All the time Jean stood reassuringly by my side.  So, I call on my knights in shining armor from the previous day and they agreed to try to come by Sunday afternoon to see what we could do.  I am now starting to mentally calculate the chances of getting to Yellowstone by August 31st to meet up with our daughter’s family that are flying in from Raleigh, NC for a 3-day tour of the area together.

Not much sleep or nourishment Saturday evening.  Attended Mass with Jean Sunday morning, but sadly, found no solution to the car problem in the hymnal or sermon.  After church, going on a hunch from Mike that it might be bad fuel, I purchased a 1 gallon fuel can and some fuel injector hose (we had opened up the freshly rebuilt and proven carburetor; immaculate, so Mike had suggested it might be a case of contaminated fuel).  Although we had not seen any evidence of dirt or water in the carburetor bowl, there really were not many alternatives left.  When we arrived home with the full fuel can, there they were, Michael and Mike, pouring over the engine.  What a relief that was.  To test the bad fuel theory, we ran a fuel line directly from the fuel pump to the 1 gallon can of fresh fuel I had purchased and started the engine.  After 2 minutes (seemed like an hour) — no improvement.  Took the lid off the carburetor (now for about the third time) and siphoned the fuel out of the bowl to be sure we had purged the allegedly bad fuel.  Buttoned things back up and started the engine.  It is now late Sunday afternoon.  It fired right up and ran very smoothly!!!  We laughed and hugged (man-style). Calculating that there were probably about 5 gallons of fuel remaining in my tank, Mike and Michael generously retrieved a 5 gallon container from home into which we siphoned virtually all for the fuel from the Jeep’s tank.  Mike instructed me to put the fuel conditioner, which they had purchased, in the tank ten make a couple of trips to the gas station to get some fresh fuel and then drive the Jeep to the gas station to fill it with high-test gas.

The car ran flawlessly to the gas station where I did as he instructed. On the way back to the motel, the Jeep started breaking up badly again.  I managed to keep it running well enough to drive it up and back a service road attempting to “clear” any bad fuel (the blown muffler accentuating the engine misfire).  In retrospect, the problem was more like the original intermittent power loss than the fuel starvation problem.  No luck, and I just managed to pull into out now familiar parking spot in front of our motel room door (Jean standing there sympathetically) before the engine quit for good.  Dark was approaching and I was tired, hungry and crestfallen (what is a crest anyway?), so we headed to a local restaurant for a little nourishment – don’t remember a thing.  When we got back to the room Jean encouraged me to call someone who might be able to give me some fresh ideas.  It is now Sunday evening around 8pm.  Fortunately, fellow Antique Automobile Club of America chapter member, Ted, was willing to walk through the events of the past few days with me and offer a methodical approach to diagnosing what now appeared to be an electrical problem again – back where we started.  Needless to say, not much sleep that night.  About 2:30am I laid out a flow diagram combining Ted’s ideas and mine for a logical approach to solving the problem.  Jean and I decided that we should once more replace the ignition coil and condenser – did I mention that we had replaced the points and inspected all wiring and insulation on Saturday?  Jean, maintaining a clear head and confident attitude, suggesting we should focus on solving the problem in the most expedient, albeit less economical manner.  We were running out of time and energy.

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August 18, 2013 – Dan giving the Jeep repair one more try – not smiling at all

Early Monday morning I headed down to the NAPA store and purchased a new coil, condenser, set of spark plugs and analog volt meter and got back to work with as much enthusiasm as I could muster after about 15 cumulative hours of having worked on the engine over the past three days.  I replaced the coil and condenser (for the second time).  Started the Jeep up — the intermittent running problem persisted!  After a moment of self-pity and frustration, I began re-inspection of this really simple electrical system for the umpteenth time.  As I was rechecking the coil connection of the wire to the distributor – out slid the wire from the connector.  The connector fastened to the coil had lost its grip on the copper strands of the wire running to the distributor.  Was the wire always loose (been in use for 35 years) or did we dislodge it during all the component replacement activity??   I had checked and even by-based that wire a couple of times with no improvement –  but was that when the fuel contamination problem was causing the engine roughness???  No time to ponder that now.  Put a fresh connector on the end of the wire –problems solved.  Drove around the motel parking lot a few times to test out the solution and decided we were ready to go.  It was now 11am Monday morning.

Gave Jean a big hug – Called Mike and Michael to tell them problems (electrical and fuel contamination) solved and thanked them profusely for all for their help and support – I would never have guessed at a fuel problem on my own.

Take-Away

(Caution – mushy part)

With the disaster now turned into an “adventure” (although I am still recovering), I can see that the experience provided just what we were hoping to find on out trip.

  1. Reminded us of our shortcomings and reliance on our fellow persons
  2. Put life’s other little problems in prospective
  3. Reassured our faith in the generosity of others as evidenced by State officers, the concerned folks at the Red Roof Inn, the supportive auto parts dealers and the many on-lookers that wished us well in the city of Somerset, KY; and especially Mike, and Michael who are really responsible for us being able to turn the disaster into an adventure.
  4. And, most of all, it renewed and reinforced the admiration and love for my wife Jean, who reassuringly stood by me, providing support and encouragement throughout the whole “adventure”.  By the way – today, August 12, 2013, is our 48th wedding anniversary.  Happy Anniversary Jean.  Love, Dan —ahhh

After discovering and repairing the loose ignition wire on Monday, August 19th, I set off to the local shop to replace the muffler that we had blown out the previous Friday evening (access Entry #5 if you would like the whole gruesome story).  The muffler replacement started with a reciprocating saw massacre of my exhaust system, but ended reasonably well considering what we had to work with.

Around 11am, August 19th, Jean and I bid farewell to our motel hosts and on-lookers (we had been there for three days), grabbed some lunch in Somerville and continued our westward journey to Denver for the start of our Park-to-Park trek.

Jeep ran well.  We logged around 240 uneventful miles before deciding to settle in for the night at the State of Kentucky run Ken Lake lodge on the western edge of the state.  Price was reasonable, surroundings were peaceful, and food quite decent.

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August 19, 2013 Jean at Ken Lake Lodge in Western Kentucky

August 20, 2013 – visit to cousin Walter and Judy

From the Ken Lake Lodge we drove approximately 300 miles to the home of my cousin Walter and his lovely wife Judy in Washington, MO; located about 50 miles southwest of St. Louis, MO.  The route took us past Cairo, IL and across classic bridges crossing the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Walter and I grew up on opposite sides of the Hudson River together; Walter in Teaneck, NJ and me in Yonkers, NY.  In those days one thought little of allowing early teens to take public transportation unescorted, so he and I routinely made visits to terrorize each other’s households.

We spent the evening catching up on family and reminiscing over our past antics.  Truth be known, we would repeat some of our feats again if given the chance – stunts that included things like cigars, fireworks, and old cars.

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August 20, 2013 Map of river crossings at Cairo, IL

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August 20, 2013 Crossings the Missouri at Cairo, IL

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August 20, 2013 Driving Route 66 south of Washington, MO

August 21, 2013 – Washington, MO to Lawrence, KS

Left Walter and Judy around 11am after replacing some leaky wheel valve stems and having the wheels balanced.

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August 21, 2013 Judy and Walter with Jean

Headed west once more.  Past through Jefferson City, Missouri’s state capital (they call it Jeff City) and settled in at Lawrence, KS; the home of University of Kansas.  Jeep died in the motel parking lot (could have been worse).  Popped the distributor cap (good at this now – after the umpteenth time) and found that some debris had found its way between the ignition point contacts.  Heard a clicking noise from the overdrive solenoid and discovered some loose wires and a loose governor.  Prolonged vibration takes its toll on everything.  Cleaned things up a bit and off we went for our 48th Anniversary (seems like yesterday) Dinner at the local steak dive next door to the motel.  We were happy for having a reasonably uneventful day and having made some progress toward Denver.

 

 

August 22, 2013 – Drive, Drive, Drive

Logged another 300+ miles through Kansas.  Actually, the back roads route that we took gave us a good flavor for Kansas life.  There are other crops than corn grown in Kansas – a surprising amount of tobacco.  Decided not to complain about the ethanol laced fuel.  Bedded down in the small town of WaKeeney, KS.  Had dinner at the Western Kansas Saloon – surprisingly good chicken parmesan.  Discovered this day that the Jeep’s cooling system does not like sustained high speed cruising (steady 55mph for hours) when the temperature is in the 90’s.  Seldom gets that kind of use in the Carolinas.  Had to back off a bit on some of the long inclines to keep the coolant temperature within safe bounds.  The Jeep and we survived.

August 23, 2013 – Denver!

Another 300+ mile day and we reached Denver, CO.  The last leg to Denver was state route 83 running west to Denver.  As we entered State Route 86 at its eastern terminus, what lay before us was 100 miles of a sparsely traveled, narrow asphalt strip running over and around hillocks and gullies that were covered with a thin layer sod and sage brush.  OK, Mr. Jeep, don’t fail us now.  It was very picturesque once one got over the fear of being found in a stalled Jeep as a dried stack of bones by some hitchhiker.

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August 23, 2013 Driving the lonely final 100 mile stretch to Denver, CO

Eventually (everything at you do at 55mph is “eventually”) we broke out into the suburbs of Denver and were soon longing for the serenity of the previous hours.  Reached our hotel with the help of our GPS, braved the Denver traffic for some dinner at a local mall and called it a night.

 


Saturday August, 24, 2013

As previously reported, we reached Denver, Colorado the evening of August 23rd.  Following the suggestion of Lee Whiteley, the fellow who, with his wife Jane, documented the original Park to Park Tour in their book The Playground Trail, we stayed on the southeast side of Denver; out of the inner city congestion.  Saturday was to be a layover day for taking care of needed tasks.

First orders of business for me that Saturday were

  1. Get the Jeep lubed – it had been almost 2,000 miles since I greased the chassis just before we left Cary, NC.  The recommended lube and oil change interval in 1950 was 1,000 miles.  I figure that with less dusty roads, and improvements in lubricants and metallurgy, 2,000 miles for a thorough lube job and 4,000 for an oil and filter change was perfectly sufficient.  Personal experience with the Jeep had shown this to be the case.
  2. Get a haircut – I had meant to take care of this task before we left Cary, but it had fallen off the priority list.

 

 

 

 

 

The haircut came off without a hitch – just as handsome as ever. I wish I could say the same for the lube job.  Late Friday afternoon I spent a good hour trying to line up an appropriate place to get a 1950 vehicle maintained.  The only “service station” that I found within practical range did not answer the phone – found out later his garage door was broken, so he was not in a position to help me.  Although previous experience had not been good using a franchise auto repair establishment for this kind of work on an older car, in desperation I made an appointment to take my Jeep to one such place that Saturday morning.  Here is the scenario:

  1. 8:30am: I apprehensively show up as arranged.  “Sorry, but we are shorthanded, and will not be able to work on your car until 10 or 10:30 when more technicians arrive.  Why don’t you come back then?”
  2. 10:15am: I show up “Not sure how to enter this work request into our billing system, this could take some studying….”
  3. 10:30am: “You cannot drive the car onto our service rack; one of our technicians will have to do it.”
  4. 10:35am: “Sorry sir, but none of our technicians knows how to drive a car with manual shift on the column; but one of them is willing to try.”  Finally one of the old-timers from the parts department comes out to the service bay; and with a little refresher as to the proper lever position, gets the Jeep safely on the rack.
  5. 10:45am: Technician “I have never used a grease gun before, but I think I saw someone do it once.”
  6. Finally, a very courteous and patient young service person managed to scrape together the equipment to complete the lube job, check the transmission, overdrive, and differential oil levels; and through some creative manipulation of plastic parts improvised an oil dispenser to lubricate the generator and distributor bearings.
  7. I was so happy to have accomplished the task without injury to the Jeep or myself that I actually drove off without paying (later called in my credit card number from the safety of our hotel room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The balance of Saturday and Saturday evening was spent paying attention to unfinished personal and company business.

 

Sunday, August 25, 2013 – Starting the Park to Park Tour!

7:30am: Snuck down to the Jeep to disassemble and clean the carburetor’s idle circuit in an attempt to solve a rough idle problem.  Helped somewhat, but decided that I might have to wait until we returned to sea level before I could properly remedy the problem.  Denver is at 5,000 feet above sea level, which affects the air/fuel mixture ratio – something that is handled by carburetor modification for those who reside in the mountains.

9:30am: Packed the car and off we went to share a sumptuous brunch with Lee and Jane Whiteley, who as I mentioned previously, wrote the book that inspired the documentary that drove Jean and me to take this epic trek.  We had a great time sharing stories.  Lee presented us with a color copy of a rare map originally produced for the 1920 Part-to-Park Tour.  We presented to the Whiteleys a reproduction set of the early 1920 window decals for each of the 12 National Parks, which I had made using illustrations from the Whiteley’s website.  Lee also came armed with highlighted maps to guide us on the first leg of our journey.

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Jean with Lee & Jane Whiteley after brunch in Denver, Colorado

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Dan & Jean starting the Park-to-Park tour at Overland Park

After brunch, the Whiteleys escorted us to Denver’s Overland Park, now a public golf course, which as a camp ground in 1920, was the official starting point of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour.  We said our good-byes, and off Jean and I went on the official start of our own Park-to-Park Tour.  The first part of the journey led us up Federal Avenue through the whole of Denver’s Westside.  It provided an informative view into the diversity of that city.  We enjoyed the experience, but welcomed the breakout into the suburbs and finally the countryside.

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View of Denver looking east from Federal Avenue – Bronco’s stadium on the left

Lee’s suggested route lead us down lesser traveled by-ways and finally up a winding and undulating (often simultaneously) Route 7 which works its way circuitously up to the town of Estes Park, a tourist haven at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park.

We spent the evening in a ‘60’s era log exterior motel after having a tasty Nepalese meal that consisted of ground chicken and vegetables stuffed into wrinkled skinned “dumplings” that resembled Star Trek’s Lt. Commander Worf’s forehead and might well have been alien egg pods from some science fiction movie.  Anyway, they were very tasty.

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Lodge in Estes Park

Monday, August 26, 2013 – Rocky Mountain National Park

Recalling a brief tour that Jean and I had taken of the Park when we were younger (the mountains were taller then), and noting that the Jeep struggled to make it up the grades to Estes Park the previous day, we stowed all for our luggage and electronic gear at the Lodge office before attacking the assent into the Park.  I also stopped at the local NAPA auto part store (never can pass one up) and purchased an extra jug of 50/50 antifreeze solution in case the jeep overheated on the way up and coolant needed replenishment.

We did quite well; electing to enter at the northern entrance to the Park as the least vertically challenging.  We made a big splash (small one actually) when we stopped at a lookout near the top of the climb and the resting engine emitted a soft mist which supplemented that of the surrounding clouds.  I had improvised a coolant overflow reservoir from a plastic pop bottle and some wire ties to catch any antifreeze escaping the coolant system.  No harm done – as long as no one mistakes the antifreeze containing pop bottle for a Mountain Dew.  Come to think about it, they are quite similar…

After reaching the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet above sea level (+ one’s own height) where we had a warm drink and looked at tourist stuff, we descended, leaving the Park through its southern entrance.  It was an exhilarating experience for both of us (more so for me, as I am aware of all the 63 year old parts on the Jeep that could fail without notice and send us hurling over the edge…).

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Ernest Hemingway in the Himalayas – or maybe Dan at the Rocky Mountain National Park visitor’ center

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Jean at a lookout in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Road out of Rocky Mountain National Park with Long’s Peak in the background – note the sign

Anyway, we survived, gathered up our gear at the Lodge and headed north on a three day journey to Yellowstone National Park and our eventual rendezvous with our daughter Jeanette and family who are planning to fly out from Raleigh to join us for a few days in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.  Can’t they take the hint – we drove 2,000 miles in an old jalopy risking life and limb just to have some private time – – – just kidding.

Stayed in Laramie, Wyoming Monday evening.  I spotted this convenient motel on our way into town and suggested we check it out.  Was I proud of myself when I learned that they were having a special offer of a $49 rate!!  But when I returned to the car to inform Jean of my wise business transaction, she was less than pleased.  In my intense effort to close the deal I had failed to notice the dilapidated sign, the cracked entrance way, the stained carpets……; well you get the idea.  I could ignore all that for $49, but apparently she was not so forgiving.  We did survive, and to the best of our knowledge, have no strange insect bites or intestinal aliments – yet observed.

 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Left the hospitable confines of our $49 room (did I mention that the room was only $49??) and headed north and east to a scheduled stay in Thermopolis, Wyoming.  Not surprisingly, Jean made this evening’s accommodation arrangements.   The trip to Warm Springs covered a lot of rolling prairie with scrub brush and rock out-croppings.  We had lunch at a little restaurant in Casper, Wyoming with virtually no windows.  Not sure if that was to keep outsiders from seeing what was being served or to keep customers from displaying dismay at the food.  Wasn’t half bad, actually.

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The highlight of the trip to Thermopolis was the 15 mile winding trip on Route 20 down Big Horn River Gorge with its tall craggy stone walls and railroad tracks sharing the route with the river and our roadway.  Beautiful trip in, and being down sloping, an easy ride in our power challenged vehicle.

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Traveling north on Route 20 in Big River Gorge just south of Thermopolis, Wyomong

When Jean said that we would be spending the evening in Thermopolis I thought “hot dog – “Therm” means “hot” and “opolis” means “town” – so I was expecting there to be a hot time in the old time tonight.  No such thing; just a quiet town with some hot springs dispersed around the area.  Never-the-less, I will try to enjoy a night’s rest with semi-trailers cruising by the window of our “rustic” suite and the nostalgic sound of an occasional train whistle to sooth me to sleep.  Did I mention the room rate was…

 


Got up early and went out to the Jeep at our lodgings in Thermopolis to see if I could find the source of an annoying intermittent stumble in the engine at idle.  30 minutes later I was no closer than when I started.  The Jeep was otherwise running relatively well, so I buttoned things up and we packed up for the trip to Powell, WY where we had arranged to meet with Ms. Diane Martin at the Hinckley Library on the campus of Northwest College.  It is here that they maintain much of the archive collection of memorabilia from the original 1920 Park-to-Park Tour.

Left Thermopolis around 10:30 am after a sound breakfast in a Thermopolis downtown café.  The trip from Thermopolis to Powell traversed a lot of open prairie with rolling hills covered with scrub brush.  To keep the juices flowing we elected to take some lonely secondary roads through the Shoshone Valley for the last legs of the trip to Powell.  The remote locale was both awesome and a bit intimidating.  45 minutes later we popped out in downtown Powell, happy that we had taken the road less traveled.

Had a pleasant visit with Ms. Martin in the afternoon.  She and her husband are avid campers and as such she was able to share travel suggestions for the balance of our trek through the Parks.

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Dan with Diane Martin at Northwest College’s Hinckley Library in Powell, Wyoming

That evening was laundry night.  While Jean remained back at the motel taking care of some company business, I made my way to the local Laundromat.  Did pretty well, no socks lost and most of the clothes ended up the same color as when they were before I washed them.

Jeep Trek Blog 8-29-2013 – First visit to Yellowstone

Once again got out early to work on the engine’s drivability problem.  Previously noticed prematurely pitted points, so I decided to file the points and change out the condenser for one of the three additional ones that I had accumulated.  After trying most of the spare condensers, filling the points, and replacing the rotor and distributor cap with ones that had previously performed well, I hit upon a combination of procedures and components that somehow provided good idle and power performance.  Still don’t know the root cause; but I ain’t touching a thing until/unless it starts acting up again.

Also installed a coolant recovery bottle that I had purchased the previous day as a precaution against losing too much coolant under the sustained high load conditions anticipated climbing hills in the upcoming Parks.

It was a short uneventful drive from Powell to Cody which is at the doorstep to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park about 50 miles west.  During the Park season Cody caters to the Park’s visitors with an abundance of, albeit somewhat pricy, lodging, restaurants, and gift shops.  We passed through Cody and on to lodging that Jean had arranged for us in a cabin complex an additional 20 miles closer to the east entrance to the Park.

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Jean at our cabin 30 miles east of the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park

  After unloading luggage at the cabin for weight reduction, at around 1:30pm we drove over to the Park with the intent of driving the full figure 8 road system to get a feel for the layout.

Well, boy we were wrong about that.  Between winding roads and stops for bison in the road and road construction projects, it was nearly 4:30pm when we reached the Roosevelt Lodge at the northeastern corner of the upper loop for a late lunch.  While we waited for our Bison burgers to arrive, we did a mental calculation of the time we would arrive back at the lodge if we continued on with our counterclockwise traverse of the upper loop of the figure 8.  With sunset estimated to be around 7:30pm – three hours being the same duration as it took us to get from the lodge to where we were, and my concern about any possibility of breaking down in the Park after dark, we elected have our burgers and steamed vegetable sides put in to-go boxes, topped off the gas (@ $4.19/gallon) and headed back out the way we came in.  We ate our “lunch” during one of the road construction delays, spent 15 minutes close-up and personal with a herd of Bison crossing the road.  We made it back to the lodge just as dark fell on the complex.  The Jeep ran sweetly throughout the whole journey back to the lodge.   After a glass of wine for jean and chocolate cake alamode for me, we called it a day – another  good day.

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Coming up to the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park

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Corkscrew Bridge in Yellowstone National Park –  The main Park road once passed across the top of the bridge and then down and through the tunnel

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Roosevelt Lodge in the northeast side of the upper loop  of Yellowstone National Park where we stopped to grab a late lunch

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The north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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Approaching our cabin complex at the end of our first afternoon in Yellowstone National Park

Jeep Trek Blog 8-30-2013 – A day in Cody, WY

Knowing that our younger daughter and her family would shortly be spending 6 days with us visiting the Gran Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, Jean and I elected to go back to Cody, 20 miles east of our lodging to visit their expansive museum complex rather than go to the Park.  We had a grand time; first browsing some of the shops on the main street and then visiting the Buffalo Bill Center of the West which consisted of 5 separate but interconnected well appointed exhibition halls.  We spent about 3 hours just viewing the highlights – it would take a good day to do it justice.

Before traveling back to our cabin we visited the expansive Irma Hotel in Cody, established by Buffalo (William) Cody and named after his daughter.  We had a snack in the main dining room which houses an elaborate bar installed at the time of its construction in 1902.  We returned to the cabin complex, had a light dinner in the lodge and settled in to reflect on the events of recent days and the times ahead of us.

 

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Had to take this shot of “then and now” on the main street in Cody, Wyoming

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Dining Room with elaborate bar at the Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming


We left our cabin west of Cody, Wyoming and traveled 30 miles further west to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park and then south down the eastern side of the lower loop road toward Grand Teton National Park.

As we proceeded southward through Grand Teton National Park we could see the Teton mountains off to our right – looked just like the photographs.  Huge walls of jagged stone seemingly jutting straight up out of the ground.  The sharp transition from relatively flat lowlands in the foreground to the tall peaks in the background accentuates their majesty.

Our younger daughter had arranged lodging in a house near Jackson, Wyoming, a few miles south of the Park.  She and her family were flying out from Raleigh, NC to spend 6 days with us exploring the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

The last leg of the trip to our lodging took us down a narrow two lane road that deteriorated into a potholed dirt road for a couple of miles before returning to pavement.  I ordinarily enjoy driving this kind of terrain; however, being 2,500 miles from home I was a little uncomfortable with the thought that we might shake something loose navigating the bumps.

(I was happy that I installed an original type spring loaded float needle valve in the Jeep’s YF carburetor.  From my experience with the solid type needle, I think it would never have handled the bouncing around without allowing overfilling the carburetor bowl creating engine roughness or stall-out)

After some lunch in Jackson, Wyoming, Jean and I retrieved the house key from the management company, unloaded our luggage at the house and went into Jackson to buy some groceries for the incoming horde which includes 3 young growing boys.

Kids showed up around 6pm in good shape and hungry after a day’s drive from Salt Lake City.  Tacos and beans did the trick.

Jeep continues to run smoothly since I changed out the condenser for the third time and filed the points – not planning to even pop the distributor cap unless the engine acts up.

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Approaching the Grand Tetons from the northeast

 

8-31-13 Approaching the Grand Tetons


8-31-13 Road less traveled to lodging near the Tetons

 


Explored Grand Teton National Park with our daughter’s family on September 1st and 2nd.  On Sunday, September 1st we drove up to Jenny Lake, a 1-1/2 mile diameter lake bounded by the moraines left by the last glacial period.  Its waters are crystal clear and around 65 degrees F.  We first attempted to follow a trail around its perimeter to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, an elevated area from which one can view the surrounding terrain.  However; some distance in, the original trail was closed for construction and we got ourselves sidelined down a path that eventually led to nowhere.

We returned to the starting point of the trail at the Visitors Center and decided to take a ferry across to the base of Inspiration point.  Jean and I stayed on the ferry and returned to the Visitors Center to look around while the young’ns made the trek up to Inspiration Point after viewing Hidden Falls.  They returned on a subsequent ferry.

Nice day with great weather.  One of the grandchildren rode up to Jenny Lake with me in the Jeep from our lodgings and another rode with me on the way back.  On the return trip we elected to pass through the town of Jackson to stop for more groceries – those boys can eat.  The streets were filled with tourists in for the Labor Day weekend and we had fun blasting old songs on the Jeep’s radio as we passed slowly through the town’s traffic.

On September 2, 2013 we returned to the Grand Tetons National Park; this time stopping at a look-out along the Snake River and at the Colter Bay Visitors Center along Jackson Lake before hiking to the top of  Grand View Point approximately 7,800 feet in elevation.  It drizzled most of the day, which gave us a different perspective on the area.  The Teton Mountain Range was looming ever present to our west with strata of clouds running at varying elevations along its length throughout the day.

Returned to our lodgings with just the right level of tiredness and soggyness to make it a perfect and memorable day.  Off to terrorize Yellowstone tomorrow.

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Elk antler arch in the center of Jackson, Wyoming’s tourist section

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Home that we rented south of Grand Teton National Park – roughing it

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Luke, Eli & Tommy in Grand Teton National Park

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Jean & Dan in Grand Teton National Park

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Jenny Lake with the Teton Range in the Background


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Jeanette, Luke, Tommy, Mark, & Eli at Snake River Overlook with the Teton Range in the background

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Luke, Tommy, Jeanette, Mark & Eli at Grand View Point – elevation 7,823 feet

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View east from Grand View Point in Grand Teton National Park – elevation 7,823 feet

 


Good Morning!

It is 6:30am Sunday morning (for those of you that are looking after my soul, Jean took me to Mass last evening) and I am trying to sum up the three days that we spent in Yellowstone Park with our younger daughter Jeanette, her husband Mark, and their three pre-teen sons Luke, Eli, and Tommy.

We spent the three days terrorizing much of the Park; accumulating an over abundance of photos and movies in the process.  Everywhere we looked, Park visitors ourselves included, were taking pictures with equipment that ranged from an iPhone to some instrument that resembled the Mt. Palomar telescope.

The thought occurred to me that in the interest of preserving the moment “on film”, we may not be taking the time to actually embrace the experience “live”.  A sign of the times I suppose.  Another thought – what will become of all these photos?  Did you ever wonder what is going to happen when the world runs low on pixels?  People will be selling their pixels on line or hoarding them under their mattresses in case of a major pixel crises

Anyway, at the risk of being hypocritical here, I am going to rely primarily on our photos and videos to describe our last three days.  Here is a brief summary of our visit to Yellowstone National park:

 

Tuesday, September 3rd we drove with our daughter and her family from Gran Teton National Park to Yellowstone National Park where our first stop was Norris Geyser Basin. This being our first experience with geysers, we were amazed by the the variety of colors and variation in clarity of the geyser pools. One could find a clear aquamarine tinted pool just a few feet from a brown muddy one.  We saw some bleached animal bones in the shallow water at the edge of one of the pools.  No idea if it was someone’s Fido or wild animal that strayed to close to the edge of the deceptively inviting pool of near-boiling water.

At the risk of exhausting all of our wonder on the first day – we next visited Old faithful, the iconic symbol of Yellowstone.  (No worry, there was much, much more to astound us in the following days).

We watched a couple of eruptions of Old Faithful (pretty cool if you don’t watch the guy turning the valve – just kidding), after which a lone bison bull casually meandered (being so big they do this a lot) across the front of Old Faithful’s base as if called in on queue for a photo op.

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Dan at Continental Divide in Yellowstone National Park

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Geyser Pool at West Thumb in Yellowstone National Park

It was dark (very dark) when we reached our lodgings north of the town of West Yellowstone that evening – more on the lodging “adventure” in a separate blog post.

Wednesday, September 4th we traveled back into Yellowstone National Park to visit up close and personal a couple more areas of dramatic geyser activity including Lower Geyser Basin.  Again, we were struck by the variety of geysers – actually of the 30 or so bubbling mud pools, hot water ponds, spouting geysers and steaming fumaroles (openings in the ground that emit hot gasses) that we visited – no two were the same.

We capped off the day by visiting the Upper & Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on the east side of the Park.  The massive quantity of water that flows over the falls, their fall distance (the lower falls drop more than 300 feet), combined with the fact that they are deep in the Canyon, makes them a wonder to behold.

Proving that Yellowstone has something for everyone, we witnessed a toddler having the time of his life stomping around in a puddle in the Lower Falls parking lot, his mother encouragingly looking on.

Got back to our rural lodgings on the west side of the Park before dark – how simple it was to find the house in daylight – and enjoyed an evening around the fire pit viewing more celestial bodies than this mind can process.

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Jeep at West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

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Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

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Falls at Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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Young Lad enjoying water sports at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Thursday, September 5th we traveled to the north end of Yellowstone National Park to first check out the Mammoth Hot Springs region.  The first thing that strikes one entering this area is (are?) the piles of massive white jagged boulders strewn across the landscape.

The geysers at Mammoth Hot Springs have formed a large hillside of colorfully stained white mineral deposits. The jewel of the formation is a set of aquamarine pools at the top of the huge mound from which spill sheets of steaming water over the edges of the serrated walls of the pools.

Next, we moved on to the Gardner River for a soak in an area where the hot water from an underground spring spills down the hillside into the rock strewn river.  By carefully walking (mostly crawling) among the rocks one can seek out a region of the river where the extremely hot water from the spring blends with the cold water from the river to enjoy a warmish soak.  Due to the strong flow from both the river and the hot spring, the situation can be more of experiencing continuously fluctuation water temperature from barely tolerably warm to chillingly cold.

Got to know the right places to sit.

On our way up the river path to the confluence (one of my favorite words) of the hot spring and the river, we passed a heard of elk being closely watched by flag waving Park rangers.  As we sat in our soothing pools of mixed warm and cool water, the elk slowly made their way up the river toward us; grazing on algae in the river bed and grasses on the river bank.  Soon we were face to face with these rather large but strikingly beautiful (please excuse the cliché –it’s early) creatures.  Bathers sat pretty much motionless as the mini-herd slowly ambled by.

It was late when we finished our soak in the river, so we decided to have dinner at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge before making the 70 minute journey back to West Yellowstone.  As we journeyed back down the winding two lane road through the Park on a moonless night, we encountered a bull bison standing directly in our path.  We came to a stop as he stood there seemingly sizing us up and deciding whether to punch a hole in our car with a casual swing of his head.  After a bit, he slowly ambled on with an expression that said “d—m tourists”.

End of another great day in Yellowstone thanks to the great preplanning on the part of Jeannette and Mark.

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Approaching Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

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Bathers in Gardner River with Hot Spring Water entering on the left

9 -3-13 Bison in front of Old Faithful

9-3-13 Old Faithful blow No 1 at Yellowstone

9 3 13 Old Faithful blow No 2 at Yellowstone

9-3-13 Churning geyser at West Thumb Yellowstone

9-4-13 Heading toward Yellowstone from the Grand Tetons

9-4-13 Geyser at Norris Geyser Basin Yellowstone

9-4-13 Fumarole at Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

9-5-13 Elk at Gardner River hot springs

 


Been a busy last few days for Jean and me taking in many of the experiences at Yellowstone National Park with our daughter Jeanette, her husband Mark and their three pre-teen boys. We will get you caught up on that shortly; however, there is one item that I wanted to share with you while I am at the scene – our West Yellowstone lodging.

First, a brief disclaimer. I am pretty much OK with the concept of hunting. For thousands of years we either individually or in small bands killed wild game for vital sustenance. And, in fact, we still rely on animals as a food source – plants also. With the exception of perhaps salt and a few other minerals, virtually all of our life sustaining nutrients come from killing or modifying some living thing (I really have not thought this through very much at 5:30am). Also, it is nice to have something else out there to kill so that we don’t use our primal survival of the fittest instinct to kill each other – more often.

OK, with that being said, we were all taken back more than a little when we arrived at our prearranged lodgings in a rural area near the town of West Yellowstone. We arrived at the vicinity of our lodging well after dark on the evening of September 3rd. It was a moonless, overcast night providing us little assistance in finding the location of our unlit residence among the fields and multi-acre home sites well off the major thoroughfare. However, after peeking down a couple of incorrect driveways; we found our home for the next 3 days.

We were all tired after our trip through the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and more than happy to have a place to bed down. As we slowly accumulated ourselves to our new surroundings we became aware that we were not alone. Within this nicely appointed home (modern-rustic-western??), were an abundance of animal remains. OK, OK, call them trophies. Let’s see – as I sit here at the breakfast bar I can see two mounted elk heads, one mounted deer head, and the bleached sculls of two long horn sheep and two deer. There are two chandeliers made out of elk antlers (a ubiquitous artifact in this area). If I peak around the corner in the living room, I find the fur pelts of a grizzly bear, two gray fox and a red fox. Bird feathers adorn walls and vases. We discovered at daylight that there are six additional bleached sculls some large animals outside the front entry.

Some of you are aware of my personal affinity for river otters. I envy their playful, seemingly carefree life slithering down the muddy or snowy banks of streams or winding their way playfully over the ground and within the water. I’m sure life is not all cherries and cream for them, but it looks pretty inviting to me for the most part. Well, you guessed it, mounted on the entry wall opposite what I believe is a wolverine, there is a stuffed OTTER. That hit very close to home, as that might have been me!

Ordinarily one of the boys would have bedded down on one of the couches in the living room while the other two shared a bedroom. However, due to the abundance of staring eyes on the walls of the living room (Luke called it a taxidermist office), he elected to sleep on cushions in boy’s bedroom instead.

The house was otherwise very comfortable and roomy; and we enjoyed the hot tub and fire pit under a clear moonless sky so full of brilliant celestial bodies that I could not identify any specific features.

More on our adventures in Yellowstone National Park to follow.

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Jeanette sitting among the creatures in the living room of our West Yellowstone lodging

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Mounted Otter in entry of West Yellowstone Lodging


Jean and I in the jeep and our daughter Jeanette and her family in their van all left our lodging outside of the town of West Yellowstone mid-morning on September 6th.   Our paths diverged less than a mile from the house.  I accused them of wanting to get away from the old geezers just as quickly as possible. They did not comment.  While they started their journey toward Salt Lake City to catch a flight back to Raleigh, NC, Jean and I headed back into the Park for a final visit and to begin our trip north to Glacier National Park in Wyoming.

On our way through the park, Jean and I elected to travel the northeast section of the upper loop of the figure eight that roughly describes the road pattern within the Park.  We had planned to go as far as the Roosevelt Lodge, which we found (to the disappointment of my bladder) to be closed for the season.  A quick stop back at Mammoth Hot Springs for dewatering and we were ready to exit the north entrance to Yellowstone National park; passing under the famous Roosevelt Arch on our way out of the Park.

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The Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Predicting that we would not be getting on the road very early that day and knowing that we would be spending some final time in the Park, we booked the evenings lodging in Livingston, MT only about 50 miles north of where we exited the Park.

On our way north, we stopped at a nearly vacant primitive campground on the floor of a canyon for a picnic lunch.  We have found that having a peanut butter and honey sandwich mid-afternoon works out well from a time and expense standpoint.  Thus far, we have good luck finding lunch spots and the weather has cooperated nicely.

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Lunch Stop north of Yellowstone National Park

Along the route we passed through the small town of White Sulphur Springs, MT (that’s how they spell it) which was documented pictorially as one of the stopping points on the original 1920 Park-to-Park tour.  We looked for the Sherman Hotel depicted in one of the original photographs, but unfortunately, according to one long time resident of the town, it had been torn down several years ago to make way for the widening of RT 89 through town.  Took a photo of Jean in front of the Murray Hotel which architecturally appeared to be of the same vintage.  Oh well..

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Jean on the main street in White Sulphur Springs, MT

 

On September 7th Jean and I left Livingston, MT for Choteau (pronounced choto), MT our next stop on the path Glacier National Park on RT 89.  Other than a brief detour to take a peek at a dam on the Missouri River in Great Falls, MT, the trip was rather uneventful.  For those of you who are keeping track, we did attend Mass in a small church in Choteau Saturday evening. Since the Jeep had been behaving quite nicely for the past several days, no Divine Intervention was solicited.

September 8th was an exciting day.  Our plan was to reach Glacier National Park early enough in the day to visit some of its attractions before retiring in our “economy” accommodations at St. Mary Lodge on the eastern side of the Park.  More on the “economy” part later.  We were forewarned that there was some roadwork being done on RT 89 between Choteau and Glacier.  We elected to stay with that route, as it was the most direct route and closest to the one followed by the original 1920 tour group.  Well, we were not disappointed; we encountered 8 miles of unpaved and rutted road which coated our sweet Jeep with a layer of light grey mud.  Eight miles is a long way when you are enduring a jostling, mudslinging ride.

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Approaching Glacier National Park from the East at Dusk

Anyway, we found ourselves at the southeastern edge of Glacier National Park around 4pm.  We decided to hit a couple of the areas in the Park that afternoon.  Living up to our philosophy of taking the road less traveled, we took RT 49 down into the Two Medicine area of the Park.  RT 49 lived up to our expectations; having curves, steep drop-offs, questionable footing, and beautiful scenery (if one dared to look).  We had our traditional peanut butter and honey sandwiches in the Jeep at the edge of a lake in the picturesque glacier carved valley and headed up to the Many Glacier area of the Park backtracking on the same RT 49 that scared the webejeebees out of us on the way in (this time we were on the uphill side of the road).

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Entrance Sign for Glacier National Park

The Many Glacier area of the Park was similar spectacular to the one we left; in that it consists of a lake-filled valley floor surrounded by tall jagged mountain peaks.  It is more open, and the peaks more visible than at Two Medicine.  Here we saw the expansive Many Glacier Hotel on the edge of Lake Sherburne.  The hotel dates back to 1915.  We took a short hike to a lake that was purported to have frequent visits by moose and black bears.  Well, after 20 fun filled minutes waiting for something other than other spectators to appear, we decided to head back to our accommodations at the St. Mary Lodge.  At dinner we ran into a couple of fellows that stuck it out at the lake far longer than we did with apparent no luck viewing wildlife.  I just wonder if the wildlife was hiding on the other side of the lake quietly viewing the spectators and saying something like ”oh, look at the funny one with the green fur…”

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Many Glacier Lodge in background.  Established in 1915

Anyway, now for the “economy” room thing.  So some of you may recall from previous posts that Jean and I do not make room reservations more than a day in advance, as we never know where the Jeep or our curiosity might leave us.  Despite my poor judgment in selecting a motel to stay at in central Kansas (did I mention it was only $49?), Jean left the arrangements for our stay at Glacier National Park up to me.  There really are not many motels close to the eastern entries to Glacier National Park, so I decided to explore staying at one of the Park’s lodges (they are actually run by an independent firm) knowing that they could be pricey.  Then I saw it, right on the computer screen before my eyes “economy rooms”.  Such a deal, how could I pass this up?  I casually mentioned to Jean that I had found economical accommodations at one of Glacier’s lodges; and she (probably not understanding the full ramifications of my suggestion) said “sure”.

OK, so we get to the Lodge, which is clean and nicely appointed, and I sign up for our economy room.  First, let me say that the room was indeed a good value considering it was clean and convenient to the Park’s services.  However, she was a little taken back with its basement location and limited maneuvering room.  So how much room do you need to sleep anyway??  However, the coup de grace was what I discovered upon returning to the room after a couple of hours of computer work in the lodge lobby.  There in one of the two beds was my bride under the covers cloaked in several layers of clothes.  Our sub terrarium abode had begun to take on the temperature of the surrounding earth and Jean had not discovered that the room was equipped with an efficient in-wall heater.  I turned the heat up and soon everything was nice and cozy in her bed (and mine).

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Jean in cold room before discovering the in-wall heater – note the rustic furniture

 

9-6-13 Driving the northeast loop at Yellowstone National Park

9-6-13 Bison in northeast portion of Yellowstone National Park

 

 

9-8-13 Eight miles of road construction on RT 89 going north to Glacier National Park

 

9-8-13 Drive into Many Glacier, Glacier National Park


 

9-8-13 RT 49 to Two Medicine in Glacier National Park

 

9-8-13 Drive north to Glacier National Park from Choteau

 


Pulled ourselves together the morning of September 9th, had a hardy breakfast at St. Mary Lodge on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, and headed for the Going-to-the-Sun Road which traverses the Park in a roughly east/west direction.  I say roughly, because it has a “few” twists here and there – both horizontally and vertically.  This was a most anticipated crossing.  Anyone who visits the Glacier National Park region will tell you it is a must-do experience.  It would also work out well for us, as the Road continues on as RT 2 on the west side of the Park, along our planned route to Mt. Rainer.

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Typical Scene of Livestock Grazing alongside the roads in Glacier National Park

 

Within minutes of leaving St. Mary Lodge we were at the southeastern entrance to Glacier National Park and the start of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Feeling kind of like one leaving the loading point on a roller coaster ride, but with the added apprehension that we were the ones who had to control of our coaster car, we started the gradual assent through a nicely wood forest and river valley on our journey westward along the Road.  The Going-to-the-Sun Road did not disappoint, providing us with a variety of sensations ranging from spectacular views of the craggy peaks and verdant valleys left by preceding glaciers to total disorientation when visibility was fully obscured by a low cloud layer wrapping itself around the mountains as we negotiated the switch-backs at Logan Pass 6,600 feet above sea level.  Perhaps it is just as well that we could not see the sheer 1,000 foot drop-off on the side of the road as we felt our way along around (sometimes under) the stone out-croppings on our side of the road at a speed just fast enough to limit the risk of someone coming up behind us and pushing us off the edge.

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Tunnel along the Going-to-the-Sun Road – Happy they didn’t decide to go around the outside of this particular out-cropping.

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Looking into a valley along the Going-to-the-Sun Road below the cloud layer

The view of the mountains and valleys reappeared as we descended below the cloud layer, providing Jean with spectacular views of the adjacent mountains and valleys below as she clicked away with her i-phone – I was too busy concentrating on not creating the newspaper headline “two people die as their antiquated Jeep plunges off the edge….”

After a long decent (the Jeep’s 72 hp engine appreciated the recuperation time), we reached the Apgar Village visitor area on the southeastern edge of McDonald (not the hamburger guy) Lake.  There we found a picnic table near the water and enjoyed our traditional peanut butter (actually sunflower butter) and honey sandwiches.  This being Jean’s birthday, I treated her to a Moose Tracks ice cream sugar cone – what a guy.

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Schoolhouse in Apgar Village on the western end of Glacier National Park built in 1915

We left Apgar Visitor Center and were shortly exiting the Park’s western entrance to continue our trek westward; our next destination – Mt. Rainer National Park in Washington State.  (have you been noticing my creative sentence structure and clever use of punctuation).

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Leaving the western entrance to Glacier National Park

Incidentally, with the days all running together for the past month as we leapt from destination to destination with punctuations of “unpredicted adventure”, I had let the occasion of Jean’s birthday slip my mind (I know, I know “how could I”).  Fortunately, early on the morning of her birthday, as I sat in the lobby of the St. Mary Lodge blogging, it struck me.  In a panic, I ran 20 feet into the gift shop at the Lodge which was just opening, picked out a more-or-less suitable card (had a picture of a moose on the front), signed and dated it, and took it down to our economy abode to present it to her.  I later related the circumstances of the gesture to her – she was not surprised.

Among the folks kindly following our journey is an online group of avid Jeep enthusiasts called the Old Willys Forum.  Through this forum we have had the opportunity to chat with several interested and helpful followers.  We have actually been able to meet up with some of them, the first being Laurie who was kind enough to drive her early Jeep pick-up down to Evergreen, MT to visit with us for a while at the local  McDonalds (not the lake).  We had a pleasant time exchanging our Jeep experiences.  Really nice to see some likeminded folks – provides some reassurance that we are not totally bonkers – or at least the there are other folks out there that are equally as bonkers.

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Dan and Laurie with her Jeep Pick-up in Evergreen, Montana

After leaving Laurie, we traveled west for a couple more hours through wooded rolling countryside dotted with lakes and small farms to our evening’s accommodations in Libby, MT.  Though a ~ 70’s era single floor motel, it was very clean, well maintained and the rooms fully equipped with conveniences.  The owner/proprietor was very accommodating, permitting me to use his facilities to wash the road construction grime off of our station wagon.

We are encountering many road construction projects along this portion of the trek.  With most of the roads being two-lane and twisty, this often included prolonged lane stoppages traffic was alternated through lane closures in the construction zones.  Winters are hard on the roads in the northwest.  The local joke is that there are two seasons up there – winter and road construction.

9 9 13 Starting up Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park from the East

9 9 13 Going over the top of Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park

 

9 9 13 Continuing West on the Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park

 


On September 10th we awoke to another beautiful morning.  With the exception of a couple of short-lived thunderstorms in mountainous areas, we have only experienced one day of sporadic light rain in the last month on the road.  We are aware of this because our Jeep station wagon has vacuum driven wipers.

Wiper explanation:  Unlike the electric motor driven wipers of later vehicles, our Jeep’s wipers depend primarily on the vacuum generated by the engine to power them.  All other factors being equal, the engine’s vacuum level is inversely proportional to throttle position (i.e. the harder you press on the accelerator peddle, the less vacuum you have to drive the wipers).  So, just when you need windshield wipers most, such as accelerating to pass a semi-truck spraying sheets of water off of its many wheels, the windshield wipers come to a halt.  Only by momentarily lifting one’s foot from the accelerator peddle, will the wiper blades resume their sweep. So one has the choice of continuing blindly on in their attempt to pass the truck before becoming a speck on the windshield of an oncoming truck, or prolong the time in the oncoming lane by lifting one’s foot from the gas peddle.  Ascending winding mountain passes in fog or rain with limited wiper action is equally as exciting.  In all fairness to the engineers of that day, on our “up-scale” vehicle there is a vacuum pump incorporated in the fuel pump assembly on the engine that is “intended” to supplement the vacuum generated by the engine in low engine vacuum situations; however, its assistance is marginal, particularly if the total vacuum wiper system is not in super prime condition.

So, we generally remember when it has rained by recalling the moments of sheer terror we experienced navigating roads on those occasions.  Hope that the insurance company is not reading this.

Anyway, September 10th was primarily a “getting from A to B” kind of day.  We set our sights on making the trek from Libby, Montana to Colfax, Washington.  We had anticipated a late start out of Libby, as Jean and I both had some maintenance items to take care of; mine being Jeep related and hers of the more personal variety.  The trip was uneventful (a good thing for the moment).  The Jeep is behaving well.  As we approached Colfax, WA, we witnessed a flurry of activity in the fields as the farmers worked to wind up the wheat harvest and ready the fields for planting.  In some instances, the farmers had set the fields alight to remove the remaining stubble.  We found Colfax to be mainly a no-nonsense farming town.  We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant reported to be the best eating spot in town.  The food was good.  We ate and retired for the evening.

 

The morning of September 11th, while Jean made final preparations for our departure, I visited a local auto parts and repair facility to beg the use of an oil can to lubricate the jeep’s generator and distributor bearings.  In my haste to get back to the family back in West Yellowstone, I had neglected to do this when I had last had the Jeep greased.  The auto repair folks in Colfax did not have an oil can.  Not a surprise to me after my previous servicing experiences.  However, the auto parts folks across the parking lot did and thankfully lent me their oil can.

Our objective for September 11th was making the 5 hour, 250 mile trek to Packwood, Washington which lay just 11 miles south of the southeast entrance to Mt. Rainer National Park.  The most memorable part of this journey was traveling through the large rolling wheat fields of western Idaho and extreme eastern Washington State. Soon after, the scenery returned to semi-arid sagebrush covered hills with an occasional patch of farmland.

After having our traditional picnic lunch at a rest area just over the Columbia River, we again began to see more evidence of agriculture.  First there were apple orchards with farm hands hard at hand picking the fruit and tandem semi-trucks whisking along in both directions loaded with large stacks of apple crates. Then came the occasional corn fields and finally large plots of hops; their 10 foot stalks growing up vertical lines suspended from overhead cables.

The final leg of the journey to Packwood, WA included a 10 mile winding stretch of RT 12 where loose gravel had been spread over a bed of tar; relying on vehicles including ours to either embed the loose stones in the roadbed or throw them at oncoming vehicles.  Fortunately we made it through that section unscathed and coasted into Packwood in time to have a pizza dinner with some folks from Australia that we met at the lodge.

 

9-11-12 Crossing the Columbia River in Eastern Washington State

9 11 13 Back into arid country in eastern Washington

9 11 13 Rolling Wheat Fields in western Idaho


On September 12, 2013, Jeff, a fellow Old Willys Forum member and resident of Puyallup, WA, made the 1 ½ hour drive over to our lodging in Packwood, WA in his nearly as-original early 1950 Jeep station wagon to guide us through a tour of Mt. Rainer in our Jeeps.

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Jeff with his early 1950 Jeep station wagon in Mt. Rainer National Park

As it happens, Jeff’s and our station wagons provide an interesting contrast on many levels.  First, Jeep actually made a styling change halfway through the 1950 model year.  The front of the wagon (and I believe all of the models of this body style) was changed from the relatively flat nose and front fenders incorporated when these models were first introduced in the mid-forties, to more pointy features.  Also, five horizontal chrome bars were positioned in the grill.  On the mechanical side, in the latter part of 1950 the 4-cylinder “Go Devil” flat head engine first used in the military Jeeps of World War II was revised to incorporate overhead intake valves (the exhaust valves remained in the engine block).  This unusual, but convenient to implement configuration named an “F-head” was claimed to increase the engine’s output from around 61 hp to 72 hp.  The “new” engine was named the “Hurricane 4”.

The other significant difference between Jeff’s station wagon and ours is that while our Jeep has undergone an abundance of restorations and rebuilds during the 36 years that we have owned it, Jeff’s is largely unmolested – cosmetically at least.

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Jeff early and Dan’s late 1950 Jeeps with Mt. Rainer in the background – illustrating the changes in the front end made mid-year

So, as Jeff and we traveled through Mt. Rainer in our respective wagons, we displayed a noticeable contrast in body style, power plant, and level of restoration to those who were interested.  Incidentally, while I tend to baby my wagon when it comes to pushing on it, Jeff is not reluctant to drive his wagon (which is his daily driver) hard when the situation is called for.  He had no problem outpacing us when climbing the mountain roads; although we both taxed our cooling systems pretty heavily on the long inclined stretches to the Visitors Centers.

The first place in Mt. Rainer that we visited was the Sunrise Visitors Center.  From there we were able to get a close up view if the mountain’s northeast face.  From there we backtracked to the Stevens Canyon Park entrance on the southeast boarder of Mt. Rainer National Park, stopping to take a small hike among the tall standing trees and huge fallen trees in which younger trees had taken root.  The trail took us across a suspension foot bridge on to a pristine island.

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Dan & Jean on Suspension Bridge in Mt. Rainer National Park

We then proceeded to Paradise Visitors Center.  Although it was now mid-September, the parking lot was packed.  Can’t imagine what it is like during peak season.  Someone back in the lodge where we had stayed the previous evening said that the visitor profile shifted from families with children in the summer months to “the newlywed and nearly dead” in the off season.  Makes one stop and think where one fits in.  Anyway, Jeff and I climbed Alta Vista Trail to an elevation about 1,000 feet above the parking lot before deciding that the view was just fine from there (the trail continued on for a vertical distance of another 500 feet).

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View of Mt. Rainer’s southern face from 6,300 feet on the Alta Vista Trail

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Looking south down the path of receded Nisqually Glacier the Alta Vista Trail, Mt. Rainer, WA

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Looking north toward the origin of the now receded Nisqually Glacier, Mt. Rainer National Park

 

After rejoining Jean at the Paradise Lodge, we had a light lunch and parted ways with Jeff who began his 1 ½ hour journey home.  We enjoyed our time with him and really appreciate his taking the time to show us around the Park.  Jean and I then commenced our two hour drive to Lacey, Washington (near Olympia) to spend the evening with our prior neighbors in Cary, NC.  Jeep continued to perform well and we arrived in Lacey, WA in time for a pleasant dinner with our friends Barbara and Herb.  Barbara and I were running partners for the three years prior to their move to the West Coast last year.  We would run before dawn with our headlamps on over a 3 mile course that we mapped through the Prestonwood Golf Course.  I am sure we were a source of entertainment for the first few runs as we fumbled our way around trying to find the right paths.  All and all we survived pretty well during those days.

9-12-13 Jeff in Rearview Mirror Ascending Mt Rainer

9-12-13 Following Jeff into Mt Rainer National Park Entrance

9-12-13 Ascending Mt Rainer


We arrived at the Lacey, Washington home of Herb & Barbara (former neighbors in Cary, NC) the afternoon of September 12, 2013 and had a nice meal with them after relaxing around the fire pit in their back yard overlooking the golf course.  Barbara is very active in this “55+” community promoting wellness programs and serving on the emergency preparedness planning team from the community’s very nicely equipped activity center.

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View from Herb and Barbara’s back yard in Lacey, Washington

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Herb & Barbara with Dapper Dan at their home in Lacey, Washington

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Jean with Dapper Dan in Lacey, Washington

We got back on the road mid-day Thursday, September 13 for the trek to Corvallis, OR about 50 miles south of Portland, OR to visit our niece Deborah and her husband Oscar.  The 8 hour trip was quite tedious.  We attempted to travel I-5 for a couple of miles, but very quickly realized that we were going to die.  Our 55 mph Jeep was no match for the continuous onslaught of 70 mph semi-trailers.  We elected to take the circuitous route through city and township to reach our destination.

Deborah is a naturopathic physician with an active private practice in Corvallis.  Her husband Oscar is an accomplished woodworker who has designed and constructed several attractive large furniture pieces – mostly using reclaimed wood.

Corvallis places a strong emphasis on environmental responsibility and personal health.  Recycling, composting, exercising and use of organically produced food items is prevalent throughout the community.  Deborah and Oscar fit well in this setting, growing a variety of food items at the home – including 3 egg laying chickens.

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Niece Deborah and Dan with hens in Deborah’s back yard, Corvallis, Oregon.  Can I wash my hands now?

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Jean holding a hen in Deborah’s back yard, Corvallis, Oregon

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Dan, Jean with Deborah & Oscar in front of their home in Corvallis, OR

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Jean, Deborah, and Oscar with Luna, Corvallis, OR

 

We had a delightful variety of meals during our three day stay with them.  They had invited us to stay through Monday to get caught up on our paperwork (internet service in Mt. Rainer and Glacier regions was very sketchy), do laundry (always a good idea), and reorganize our clothing for anticipated colder weather at Crater Lake to which we will trek on September 17th.

 

9-16-13 Driving to Sushi Restaurant with Deborah & Oscar


Jean and I spent the night of September 17th in lodgings affiliated with the historic Prospect Hotel in Prospect, Oregon about 50 miles from the southeast entrance to Crater Lake National Park. Constructed in the 1880’s, the hotel was in existence prior to the 1920 Park-to-Park tour.

We drove through Crater Lake National Park using the west section of the rim road on our way from Corvallis, Oregon to our lodging in Prospect, Oregon.  The Rim Road was heavily fogged in.  We could see absolutely nothing of the Lake or the surrounding terrain (and little of the road).  We made the best of it by stopping to view a film about the Park at the Visitors Center.  There we were told that clear-to-partly skies were predicted for the next morning with a chance of isolated showers in the afternoon.

We elected to stay in the Prospect Hotel’s motel-like annex rather than the main Bed & Breakfast hotel, as we were hoping to get on the road to Crater Lake early the next morning.  We did not want to risk the opportunity to see the lake because of fog or rain (and yes, the room without breakfast was less expensive).

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Historic Prospect Hotel, Prospect, Oregon

 

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to see the Lake, we skipped breakfast and headed directly for the Park.  With the morning cloudiness burning off as we headed for the Park, we decided to risk a stop at Natural Bridge on our way in.  We were surprised to find that rather than the traditional elevated stone arch of natural bridges that we had seen on previous Jeep outings in Virginia and Georgia, this one was an extinct lava tube through which a respectable size stream flows.  Except in heavy flow occasions when the tube cannot handle the full flow of water, a section of the otherwise aboveground stream is naturally channeled underground through the lava tube and exits back into the aboveground stream bed approximately 300 feet downstream.  The stream was running at a fairly good rate probably due to the rains of the previous day.  Seeing all that raging water disappear into the ground beneath our lookout vantage point and reappear just within our sight downstream was quite impressive.

As we traveled further up the slope of Mount Mazama toward the crater confined within, the skies continued to deepen in blue and the few puffy clouds remained scattered; so we decided to make a 12 mile side trip off of our counterclockwise drive around the rim road to see Pinnacles, a collection of mineral projections formed by the fusion of volcanic ash by superhot fumaroles.  It was worth the trip.

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The Pinnacles in Crater Lake National Park

Now finally we were back on the rim road anxiously looking forward to our first look of Crater Lake.  But first we had to pay our dues.  What they don’t tell you in the brochures (speculation, since I do not read the brochures) is that the majority of the rim road snakes its way (snake being the operative word) along the outside of the crater’s rim – that is, the side away from the lake.  The crater walls are high and have steep slopes on both the inside (lake side) and the outside.  So, if one travels the rim road in the counterclockwise direction as we did, and naturally being on the right side of the road, one finds one’s self perilously close to the steep (and deep) downhill of the crater’s outer slopes.  Maneuvering the handling-challenged Jeep on this road with its abrupt elevation changes and sharp curves with the often un-guarded downward slopes (cliffs in some cases) on my right made this passage the most harrowing to me of any on the visits to five of the western National Parks thus far taken on this trek.  All the time, Jean was clicking off photographs and videos; I surmised either to keep her mind off of the imminence of death or to document its occurrence for the Accident Investigation Team – our own “black box recorder”.

Anyway, it was worth the near-death experience.  The view of the lake from the various overlooks was truly spectacular.  Surely, the mountains, waterfalls, geological formations, steaming and boiling features, and variety of animals that we had observed over the last month were awe inspiring; but the sight of that massive blue lake with its two islands was truly memorable.  Perhaps it is the combination of viewing from elevations that permitted on to see practically the whole lake from each vantage point, the contrast in “textures” between the glasslike flatness of the lake surface and the tall craggy slopes of the crater’s rim, together with the color contrast between the pure blue of the lake and the mottled shades of brown of the crater’s slopes.  Anyway, the views were so spectacular that even the photos that I took looked great un-retouched.

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Jeep at Phantom Ship Overlook, Crater Lake National Park – same setting as photo from 1920 Park-to-Park tour

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Dan & Jean at Phantom Ship Overlook, Crater Lake National Park

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Crater Lake from Cloudcap Overlook

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Panoramic photo of Crater Lake from Watchman Overlook, Crater Lake National Park

We capped off counterclockwise sojourn of Crater Lake National Park with a stop at Crater Lake Lodge to take a photo of the Jeep in a similar setting as one taken during the 1920 Park-to-Park tour.  Due to the conspicuous appearance of our vehicle, we ran into (not over) many folks several times during our time in the Park.  They recognized us, and I of course, had to be reminded.  Anyway, it was fun visiting with folks from places such as Seattle and northern England.

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Jeep at Crater Lake Lodge, Crater Lake National Park – same setting as 1920 Park-to-Park photo

We left the park at around 4pm on the 18th and having anticipated that we would not be up for much travel that evening, set out for our evening lodging in Klamath Falls, Oregon only about two hours from Crater Lake National Park.

 

9-18-13 Driving up the east side of Crater Lake rim road I think I deserve a T shirt

 

9-18-13 Crater Lake from Phantom Ship Overlook


We left Prospect, Oregon mid-morning on September 19th on our trek toward our next stop big stop, Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California.  A couple that met on a few occasions in the Crater Lake area suggested that we swing through Lava Beds National Monument on our way south.  It was well worth the diversion.  Lava Beds National Monument comprises a region that was engulfed in lava flows from a nearby volcano some 500,000 years ago (I take their word for it, as I was only a child at the time).  Anyway, the event left the region covered in huge jagged chunks of dark brown lava.  The geologists have a name for it – I just think of it as big pieces of chocolate brownies.  Another striking feature of this region is the labyrinth of underground caves (come to think of it – all caves are underground) formed by flowing lava.  There are several hundred of these hollow lava tubes throughout the park presenting a wide range of exploration difficulty.  Visitors to Lava Beds National Monument are welcome to explore the caves.  Equipment guidelines and flashlight are available at the Visitors Center in the Monument (I guess that a “Monument” is one step down from a “National Park”).

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9-19-13: Entering California from Oregon

Jean and I selected “Scull Cave” for cursory exploration.  It was on our route through the National Monument and required little exertion, being close to the main road and having tall ceilings – no stooping required at the entrance.  After checking out the cave we proceeded southwest through the Monument and on to Glass Mountain which had be suggested as an interesting stop by the Monument’s ranger.  Glass Mountain, which sits at an elevation of 7,600 ft, is one huge, huge pile of chunks of both solid and foamed obsidian brought to the earth’s surface by volcanic action.  Very impressive to see layers upon layers of continuous and fractured material.

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9-19-20: Jeep at side of Glass Mountain, northern California

We continued on toward our night’s lodging in North Station, 14 miles north of the north entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park; making a couple of stops.  We had seen Mount Shasta peaking off to our right as we traveled generally southward.  We decided to get a closer look by taking a westerly side trip to the northern California town of McCloud.  From there we had a good view of the mountain from our lunch stop.

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9-19-13: Mount Shasta from our McCloud, California lunch stop

 

We then gassed up and headed once again for Old Station.  Incidentally, what kind of gas mileage we get in the Jeep is one of the top five questions that we are asked by folks that are interested in the station wagon.  The answer is: 21mpg if mostly highway cruising at 55mph (we do not use expressways).  Probably does a little better than that; however, we seldom have a straight highway run for a tankfull of gas to know for sure.  Around town the mileage drops to around 15mpg.  Surprisingly, the first question asked by most folks is “is that a woodie?”  Being an all steel station wagon, and having no wood on it with the exception of the roof rack, it perplexes me a bit to have that question asked; however, I understand that the question is aimed more at the class of car rather than the materials of construction.  The second most asked when we describe our Trek is “does it have air conditioning?” to which we reply “yup, two door windows, a cowl vent, and a liftable back window.”

Back to the trip – the last stop that we made before reaching our evening’s destination in Old Station, California was MacArthur-Burney Falls.  There is an impressive waterfall just minutes from this State Park’s parking lot.  The falls drop from roughly the level of the parking lot to a lagoon some 130 feet below.  Perhaps the most striking feature is that some of water from above, in addition to that which is in the stream, emanates from the face of the stone cliff face on either side of the main stream, providing a veil like appearance.  We walked down a paved trail to the base of the falls in its canyon to experience the deep roar and fine cool mist of the falls.  Must be refreshing on a shot summer day.

The Jeep has been performing very well, negotiating major changes in elevation (often to 7,000+ ft requiring with sustained full throttle runs) without a hiccup.  Guess Jean, in her infinite wisdom, was right in advising me to keep my hands off of the engine as long as it was operating well.  One usually gets a few signals when it is time to do general maintenance, and with less than 4,000 miles since I got it tuned in, I feel confident in heeding her advice – a while longer.  Arrived safely in Old Station to rest up for our visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park (our sixth National Park in the Trek) the next morning.

9-19-13 Glass Mountain south of Lava Beds National Monument, California

9-19-13 MacArthur-Burney Falls northern California


Honestly, we had not heard of Lassen Volcanic National Park before it was brought to our attention as one of the stops on the 1920 Part-to-Park Tour; and we are pleased that it was.  Ironically, although Lassen Volcanic National Park was one of the scheduled stops on the 1920 tour, due to lack of roads to and within the Park, the Tour group did not actually visit this Park, but rather encouraged the construction of roads during their stop in Reading, California some 50 miles west of the Park.  Nevertheless, this was one of the intended stops (and besides, we had had a Park sticker printed for it), so Jean and I decided to spend half a day driving through and exploring the Park.

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9-20-13: Entering Lassen Volcanic National Park

An important note of disclosure:  Although our original intensions had been to follow the route of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour as closely as possible, we have since deemed that plan to be impractical and not well suited to our safety and enjoyment.  First of all, in several cases the roads used by the 1920 tour (Interstate-5 running through much of California, for example) are now high speed heavily traveled Interstate Highways.  At a prudent top speed of 55mph, we do not belong on such thoroughfares.  Often there are no closely paralleling byways; and if there are, they are very tedious to maneuver in congested areas.  Secondly, the Tour group went well out of a direct Park to Park route to visit municipalities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to promote the construction of roads to the Parks – as well they should.  With those cities considerably larger now, and incorporating the Interstate Highways previously mentioned, it was just not practical for us to make every city stop on the Tour’s itinerary.  With the desire to avoid major thoroughfares, the elimination of the impractical stops, and to permit the inclusion of other interesting places, Jean and I at times selected routes that were different from those of the original Park-to-park Tour.

That being said, we are making our best effort (thus far successfully) to visit in prescribed order, all twelve of the National Parks originally mapped out for the 1920 Tour, and to experience the roads and points of interest in the Parks outlined in the original or actually visited by the Tour group.  Actually, with our recent visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park and our intended visit to Zion National Park (neither of which, for good reasons, the 1920 Tour did actually accomplish), we hope to make up for our lack of tracing the actual path by visiting all of the Parks laid out in the original plan.  So there..

OK, back to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  After a super, reasonably priced breakfast in the town of Old Station (population 51), we drove the 14 miles to the northwestern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park where at the Visitors Center we received very helpful directions to those features assessable to the day visitor such as ourselves.  At the Park Ranger’s suggestion, we started our tour of the Park with an easy ½ mile walk along the shore of Manzanita Lake to a point where we could see Crescent Crater and Lassen Volcanic Peak across the lake; jutting up above the tree tops some five miles distant*.  Great way to get the juices flowing.

*Do you like my use of varied punctuation to break up run-on sentences?

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9-20-13: View of Lassen Volcanic Peak from Lake Manzanita

Then anticipating the consumption of a fair amount of fuel making it to the top of the 8,500 foot pass across the Park road, we topped of our gas tank we and headed out to our next stop – labeled on the Park map as “Devastated Area”.  This is where the circa 1915 eruption and resultant mud flow caused by the melting of the snow cap, wiped out the forest below for a distance of three or more miles toward the point where we stood.  We took a photo of the Jeep in the same location where Benjamin F. Loomis took a six photo sequence over a period of 20 minutes of the 1914 eruption that preceded the more devastating one shortly afterward.  The rich soil in carried down the mountain by the mud flow has supported hardy reforestation in that area.

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“Devastated Area” Site of the 1914 eruptions photographed by Benjamin F Loomis

We next traveled to King’s Creek.  At an elevation of 7,400 feet, the creek meanders through a lush upland meadow bordered by mature pine and fir trees towering above.  Very peaceful setting with the light wind whispering through the branches.  Enough of that.  Jeep did well so far on the climb.

We continued our assent on the Park road to Bumpass Lookout at an elevation of 8,500 feet.  Not quite sure if that is pronounced.  Anyway, we made it up there without anyone bumping us in the _ _ _.  The spectacular view from up there helps one envision that the surrounding 8,000 foot to 10,000 foot peaks are mere remnants of a much, much larger volcano that resided in the Park.  Equally amazing is the existence of a megaton bolder perched on the edge of this Overlook – the bolder have been deposited there by a receding glacier that was thick enough to have covered that location.  Extremely windy up there.  Glad they had opted for stone restrooms and not Porta-Potties.  Please view video to get a sense of this stop.

Next stop on the journey down the main road in the Park (the operative word being “down”) was the Sulphur Works.  No halfway respectable Park in the west would be seen without at least something bubbling out of the earth and the longed-for aroma of rotten eggs.  Actually, this bubbly pit was quite impressive with its very energetic display.

Last stop on the trip through Lassen Volcanic National Park was the Kohm Yah-mah-nee (pronounced “kohm yah-mah-nee”) Visitors Center at the southwest entrance to (or in our case – exit from) the Park.

We had our traditional sunflower butter & honey sandwiches on wheat bread, took one last look at the peaks surrounding us, and headed off on byways to, of all places, Reno, Nevada.   Despite having portable hotspots for two different phone carriers, we had been suffering from feeble internet connectivity for the past several days.  Jean had some company “paperwork” to do that required strong connectivity to our server, so we elected to hold out in Reno for a couple of days to get caught up.  Will probably head out for Yosemite (pronounced “yosemite”) on the September 23, 2013.

Thanks for listening,

Dan

 

9-20-13 Driving to 8,500 ft pass in Lassen Volcanic National Park

9-20-13 Passing thru volcanic rubble in Lassen Volcanic National Park

9-20-13 View from Bumpass Overlook in Lassen Volcanic National Park showing Breakoff Mt. & glacially deposited bolder


Jean and I spent Saturday and Sunday September 21st and 22nd in Reno, Nevada where good internet connection and comfortable accommodations permitted us to get caught up on company and personal business.

Monday morning, September 23rd, after a good breakfast at a locally owned restaurant, Jean and I headed south toward our lodgings on the east border of Yosemite National Park.  Our destination was a “rustic” cabin in Lee Vining, a small town at the base of Tioga Road which winds its way up to the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park by way of 9,500 foot elevation Tioga Pass.

Lee Vining resides on the western shore of Mono Lake, a large, extremely alkaline lake with a salinity level several times that of sea water.  Nevertheless, specifically adapted algae, water flies, and brine shrimp provide an ecological formula that feeds thousands of birds and water fowl that annually travel up and down the Pacific flyway.  We were there during the offseason; however, we did get to see ducks, geese, and seagulls preparing to make their way south for the winter.

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Dan at Mono Lake, Lee Vining, California

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Jean in front of a cluster of monoliths at Mono Lake, California

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Sample of monoliths (~10’ tall) totally on dry ground at Mono Lake, California

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Partially submerged monoliths on Mono Lake, California

The most intriguing feature of Mono Lake is the presence of tall monolithic mineral formations.  As recently as 60 years ago the lake level was 20 feet higher than today.  In the middle of the 20th century, it was decided to divert water from the snow melt tributaries that normally feed Mono Lake, to supplement the Los Angeles water supply.  This resulted in the continual drop in the lake’s water level.  Before the lake level was lowered, underground springs would release water onto the lake floor.  When calcium compounds in the spring water reacted with the calcium containing lake water, irregularly shaped calcium carbonate formations were created on the lake floor.  Many such unusual formulations are exposed now that the lake level has receded.  As a side note, a compromise has been negotiated between the powers to be to increase the water supplied to the lake by reducing the amount of water diverted to LA.

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View of Mono Lake, California with sun setting behind us (un-retouched photo)

Jean and I enjoyed exploring these monoliths up close and subsequently touring fresh water June and Grant Lakes on the June Lake loop road a few miles south of Lee Vining, California before settling in for the evening.  I should mention that prior to touring the region, Jean and I “sampled” the lower portion of the Tioga Pass and decided that due to its long, steep inclines, it was something that we would leave for the next morning.  I did not sleep well that evening thinking about the best transmission shifting strategy for the assault on Tioga Pass the next morning.

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June Lake south of Lee Vining, California

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Grant Lake south of Lee Vining, California


The morning of Tuesday, September 24th was filled with a combination of excitement and apprehension; for me anyway.  Jean continued with her undaunted faith and trust in our ability to meet any challenge.  My concern was based on our pervious evening’s “sampling” of the Tioga Road leading to the east entrance to Yosemite National Park.  The eastern end of Tioga Road contains a 5 mile stretch of steep grade ultimately taking one through Tioga Pass at an elevation of 9,943 feet.  We had gained enough mountain climbing experience on this trip to recognize the challenges to our horsepower-challenged fully loaded station wagon (72 advertized horsepower).

We left our lodging earlier than usual, as we wanted to take advantage of the cool morning air to help keep the Jeep from overheating on the long climb (I usually let Jean sleep in until 8 am while I am up at 5 am to work on the blogs).  At 9:30 am while Jean was paying the breakfast tab, I was across the street topping off the gas tank, oil and water; and getting the business card of the local car towing service – just in case.

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Sunrise on Mono Lake, California the morning of our departure to Yosemite National Park

So off we went westward toward the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, some 12 miles up the Tioga Road (“up” being the operative word).  So technically, we have 5 forward gears to work with.  Starting with the highest torque (lowest top speed) gear we have 1st gear, 2nd gear, 2nd gear with overdrive, 3rd gear, and 3rd gear with overdrive.  Sounds complicated; however, we seldom use 2nd gear with overdrive and the overdrive engagement in 3rd gear is generally “automatic” being based on vehicle speed.

OK, so now we are sitting at the entrance to entrance to the Tioga Road looking at a sign that said something like “not advised for commercial vehicles towing trailers” (commercial vehicles towing trailers out-climb us all the time).  So we do our preflight check: oil pressure – good; engine temperature – good; generator charging – good; brakes – OK (as good as they get); seat belts – secured; doors – locked (sort of); and off we go.

Tioga Road starts off with a steep grade, but levels off enough for us to get all the way up to 3rd with OD (at 40mph!).  Then, we hit the 5 mile continual grade to 9,900 feet.  Starting to lose speed – shift back to 3rd without OD (36mph).  That lasted for a few moments until the speed drops to 28mph at which point we drop back to 2nd gear without OD and continue the next 4.5 miles at between 25 and 28mph; when called for, pulling on to the right shoulder to let those show-offs with their new-fangled modern cars wiz by; and while continually scanning the gauges for any sign of impending trouble.

We are running at nearly full engine power with manifold vacuum at around 3 in Hg (close to full throttle).  The water temperature slowly rises to about 210F and stabilizes.  This is significantly higher than our usual 180F, but still tolerable (we hit 235F climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park a month earlier).  Oil pressure stabilizes at 30psi which is sufficient to maintain lubrication and cooling of internal engine components.  One thing that we do not have to watch as we negotiate the winding road is the speedometer.  No chance that we are going to exceed any speed limits any time soon.

Faster than imagined earlier we make it over the top of the pass at nearly 10,000 feet and drive on to the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, running surprising well considering our carbureted engine, unlike modern computed controlled fuel injected engines, has no means of compensating for the thinner air at this altitude.

Side note:  One thing that some of we old car drivers (that is drivers of old cars) dream of is the day when a solar flare sends an electro/magnetic pulse to the Earth that wipes out the solid state ignition systems ubiquitous on all modern cars – leaving us old car folks to carry on the task of handling transportation for the foreseeable future. Not true (the dreaming part), but with our strong dependence on solid state devices, it is something to think about.

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The east entrance to Yosemite National Park on September 23, 2013 (notice the snow)

9-24-2013 Ascending Tioga Pass from the East toward Yosemite National Park

9-24-2103 Completing the Ascent of the Tioga Pass toward Yosemite National Park


On September 24th, after catching our breath from the traverse of 9,900 foot elevation Tioga Pass (see previous blog entry “Conquering Tioga Pass”) we we entered Yosemite National Park’s east entrance.  We then proceeded on to our first stop; Olmsted Point overlook – named after the famous landscape architect, who laid out plans for Yosemite National Park as well as New York’s Central Park and Raleigh’s Olmsted Park.

The Olmsted Point location, high on the east/west road bisecting Yosemite National Park, provides a long distance view of the impressive features to the south.  Although one cannot distinctly see Yosemite Valley from this vantage point, one does get an introduction to the magnitude and variety of features contained in the Park.

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Looking south into Yosemite National Park from Olmsted Point overlook

OK, for the uninformed such as I, Yosemite National Park covers a large expanse of territory containing many impressive stone faced mountains, lush forests, verdant meadows, lakes and streams. Not unlike other Parks you might say.  Well, what sets Yosemite National Park apart is the close juxtaposition of the features.  This is particularly true in Yosemite Valley where the huge, steep faced essentially bare stone mountains are positioned on the edges of a 1 mile wide by 8 mile long flat bottomed valley containing areas of large trees, meadows, and the Merced River.  Unlike the Grand Tetons, Glacier or Rocky Mountain National Parks where one might trek miles off the main road to reach the base of a stone faced mountain, in Yosemite Valley, the walls of the mountains on either side of the Valley seem to be within touching distance as one travels down the loop road.

An extreme example is El Capitan which appears to jut straight up from the north side of the Valley floor within touching distance of the loop road.  It is not until one spots one of its many tiny climbers on its face that one realized it is perhaps a mile away from the road.  That is pretty close considering the base of the Grand Tetons, as impressive as they are, are perhaps 30 miles (I’m guessing here) away from popular viewing points.  Our cabin in Yosemite Valley virtually backed up against a 1,000 foot near vertical wall of granite.

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A view of El Capitan as we entered Yosemite Valley

After taking the afternoon of the 24th getting to know the “lay of the land”, we attended an evening Search & Rescue presentation put on by a 35 year veteran of the Search & Rescue team.  He provided real-life examples of situations requiring his group’s assistance and provided tips for increasing one’s chances of survival when trekking through wilderness areas.  Not that we plan any of that at the moment; however, we tried to remember some of his suggestions as we wondered about in the dark, trying to find our way back to our cabin on the unlit Valley floor – “the bears only come down to the cabins at night”.  Incidentally, our cabin was “primitive rustic”, but did have a bathroom with a shower.

On September 25th we elected to take a 1 hour commercial open-air tram tour to get an overview of the Valley.  It was well worth the expense, as we were able to sit back and watch the scenery as our well informed Park Ranger guide pointed out the features of the Valley and took us to the Tunnel View overlook for a great (don’t want to wear out “spectacular”) view of the Valley and surrounding mountains including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Rocks.

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A view eastward into Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View overlook with El Capitan on the left, Cathedral Rocks in the right foreground and Half Dome the whitish peak on the center-right.

After lunch in the main dining room of the exclusive Ahwahnee Lodge (it was the least I could do for Jean after refusing to pay the $490/night fee to stay there), we left Yosemite Valley and headed south toward our evening’s lodging in Fresno, California.

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Jean in the main dining room in The Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite Valley

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The lounge in The Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite Valley

On our way out of Yosemite National Park we passed by the Wawona Hotel (circa 1915) and stopped in the Mariposa Grove where I got my first real look at the giant redwoods.  Jean, being a real woman of the world had previously seen the giant redwoods – but of course, the trees were much smaller then.

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Wawona Hotel (circa 1915) at the south end of Yosemite National Park

9-24-13 Driving into Yosemite Valley with mountains just visible above the trees

 

9-25-13 Jean at the base of a large redwood in Mariposa Grove on the southern end of Yosemite National Park


We left Fresno, California mid-morning of September 26th and headed toward Kings Canyon National Forest.

A note of explanation here:  As one of the 12 National Park stops on the original 1920 Park-to-Park Tour the participants visited what was then called “General Grant National Park”.  Today, as best as I can determine comparing the 1920 and current day maps, much of General Grant Park has been assimilated into both Kings Canyon National Forest and Sequoia National Park (the park boundaries look much like those of some of the gerrymandered electoral districts in North Carolina, with “fingers” jutting out into surrounding areas.  Can’t imagine why the deer vote is so important to them that they broke things up the way they did.  Because of these irregular boundaries, General Grant Grove (where the “Grant Sequoia” resides) is technically in a “thumb” of Sequoia National Park; and Hume Lake, which was in 1929 the furthest reach into what was then General Grant National Park and is now in Giant Sequoia National Monument district of Sequoia National Forest (or perhaps Sequoia National Forest district of Giant Sequoia National Monument) – oh well, just as long as someone keeps folks from turning the trees into toothpicks.

OK, back to the Trek.  So, we were merrily making our was east from Fresno to Kings Canyon National Forest on a nicely improved and well maintained route 180.  Then, I recalled that the original 1920 tour may have taken a route through the town of Dunlap which on the map appeared to be just a small diversion from the straight shot to the Forest that we were on.  So, we hung a right toward Dunlap and soon gained an appreciation of the contorted route the rural roads in this region take as they wind themselves through this semi-mountainous rural region.  The surface condition of these extremely winding (both horizontally & vertically) roads was reasonable – they just lacked such refinements such as shoulders, curve markers and guard rails in critical locations.  The other thing that we found humorous, if one dare break one’s concentration to think about anything else but the car that one might meet around the next blind curve, was the presence of a dotted yellow line down the center of the road for most of its length.  Having just turned off of route 180 where there were double yellow no passing lines in areas where one could have easily pass safely, we found it perplexing that they would have passing indicators on this road where the sight distance seldom expended beyond ones front bumper (slight exaggeration).  Fortunately, we were practically the only ones traveling these roads (the others either, a) knew better than to use these roads or b) were eliminated through natural selection; having gone over the edge or experienced a sudden stop against an oncoming vehicle).  While stopped at an intersection to confirm that we were generally headed in the right direction, a local gentleman politely asked us “what are you doing here?” explaining that route 180 was a much more convenient path.  When we explained our attempt at reenacting a prior route, he said the roads would eventually improve as we neared the Forest.  Sure enough, after a half hour or so, we were on a 2 lane road that felt like a super highway – no-passing lines and all.

We entered the “thumb” of Sequoia National Park from the west and drove directly to the General Grant Grove area of the Park.  There we had our first first-had exposure to giant sequoias.  They were really large!  Sequoias are generally shorter than their redwood cousins, but existing specimens may be twice the diameter and weight of the redwoods and up to 3,200 years in age (wonder who counted all those growth rings?).  The prince of the sequoias in the General Grant Grove is the General Grant Tree (reminds me of the old Groucho Marx the quiz question “Whose buried in Grant’s Tomb?”).  Anyway, the General Grant tree is the largest standing tree in the General Grant Grove region of Sequoia National Park.

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Jeep at General Grant Grove in Sequoia National Park

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Jean at Grant Tree at Grant Grove in Sequoia National Park

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Disguised Yeti in front of giant fallen sequoia in the General Grant Cove

While in the General Grant Grove we experienced a situation that was duplicated several times during our Trek of the National Parks.  At some point when we were either leaving or returning to our Jeep, a tour bus transporting a group of Europeans (usually French or German) would pull in to the parking lot; their iPhones immediately aimed at surroundings.  However, once they noticed the Jeep, their attention would be redirected at the car; their iPhones, like miniature radar dishes homing in on the target.  We would have fun trying to communicate with each other regarding the age and lineage of the Jeep.  Many of the older folks were familiar with the name Willys Jeep from World War II and understood when I pointed out the bronze “Jeep” medallion in front of the diver’s-side door.  We enjoyed “talking” to them.

At the time of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour the road into what was then General Grant National Park only extended as far as Hume Lake.  Jean and I decided to make the innocent looking trek to Hume Lake.  Well, it was worth the effort to be able to say that we had been there; however, the final 3-mile curvy stretch down (the operative word being “down”) to the lake and campground did not disappoint.  After some photo taking to document our achievement we clawed ourselves out of that depression and back-tracked our way to the Kings Canyon Visitors Center for some lunch before heading south to the adjacent (in some placed intertwined) Sequoia National Park.

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9-26-13 Jeep at Hume Lake in Sequoia National Forest

We enjoyed a driving tour through the giant sequoias as we headed south (on average) on the extremely (you guessed it) winding Generals Highway.  In places the switchbacks were so tight that we could almost see our own taillights.  With ample examples of giant redwoods and sequoia visible from the car, and fearing any break in concentration as we negotiated the path south, we elected to be satisfied with viewing the trees from Jeep.  We exited Sequoia National Park at the southern Ash Mountain entrance and headed on to our evenings lodgings in Bakersfield, California.

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Lower gear sign leaving Sequoia National Forest (what if you do not have a “PRND21”?)

9-26-13 Driving Generals Highway South out of Sequoia National Park


Most of Friday, September 27th was spent driving from Bakersfield, California to Las Vegas, Nevada.  Las Vegas was selected as a convenient launching off point for Zion National Park in Utah; the 10th scheduled National Park stop on our Trek. Las Vegas also provided decent internet connectivity and a selection of church service options.

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Welcome to Nevada – View as we crossed into Nevada from the south

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Looking eastward from our northern Las Vegas hotel room at sunset.  We often observed this coloration in the eastern sky at sunset throughout the West

Saturday, September 28th we made the 45 minute drive from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam located at the terminus of Lake Mead to check out this wonder of the modern world.  If you like big and high and heavy, and powerful; this is the place for you.  After making the obligatory drive across the top of the dam we headed back to the Visitors Center with intension of purchasing tickets for a 2 hour full tour of the facility.  Unfortunately, they were not offering that tour, so we opted for the 45 minute tour of the generating system.  Everything about the dam is measured in tens and hundreds of thousands including tons of concrete, gallons per hour, watts of electricity, man-hours to construct and so on.  The thing that impressed me most was the fact that it was constructed in only 3 years!  One would assume that a lot of the design and engineering was well underway before the actual construction commenced; but still, the most massive structure of its time constructed in 3 years is incredible especially given all the manpower, materials and construction logistics challenges in what was then a very remote and rather stark region of the country.

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Jean at Hoover Dam

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Dan at Hoover Dam – Convenient Men’s Room on the top of the dam (wonder where the water goes?)

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View upstream into Lake Mead from the top of Hoover Dam (water level was 60 feet below typical; but very seldom reached the top of the bleached border – talk about a bathtub ring)

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View downstream into the Colorado River from the top of the dam

We wrapped up our visit with a tour of the exhibits at the old and new Visitor Centers and started back to Las Vegas for Saturday evening Mass.  That is when our “adventure” happened.  Our beautifully performing Jeep wagon developed a serious overheating problem.  Ever since I installed a fast responding mechanical engine temperature gauge and a new coolant thermostat for the Trek, I had noticed that when starting out with a cold engine, the engine temperature would rise slowly but continually past the normal thermostat setting and then suddenly drop back to normal.  I concluded that this was due to a normal lag in the opening of the coolant thermostat, and something that I had just not seen previously with the slower responding original electrical engine temperature gauge.  However, as we left the Hoover Dam parking garage and started up a long uphill climb out of the canyon, the engine temperature continued rising to a point where the cooling system began boiling over.  We pulled over into a turn-out and waited a few moments for the temperature gauge needle to drop to normal and proceeded back to Las Vegas with no further problems.  Like many unpredictable issues and despite my superficial attempts to diagnose the problem – this one would rear its ugly head again at a later date.

Saturday evening Jean and I went to 5 o’clock Mass at a small, modestly appointed church nestled in the uptown casino district of Las Vegas; where I sought spiritual guidance on our overheating problem.


9-28-13 Driving Across Hoover Dam

9-28-13 Looking down into Downstream Hoover Dam


On Sunday morning September 29th we left Las Vegas on our Trek to Zion National Park.  As far as we could determine, much of the 125 mile stretch from Las Vegas, Nevada to Littlefield, Arizona used by the original 1920 Park-to-Park Tour group has been covered over by I-15.  We usually avoid Interstates; however, since there did not appear to be any other reasonable route from Las Vegas to Zion National Park, we decided to take I-15.  We tried our best to stay out of the way of the faster vehicles (basically everyone else on the road).

We stopped off at Valley of Fire State Park, just a few miles east of Interstate I-15, which was on the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour route (called Red Rock Canyon at that time). Turned out to be another memorable experience for us.  The Park is filled with a unique collection of large vivid convoluted red sandstone mounds amidst course sand rolling hills.

Then proceed to our lodging in Springdale, Utah at the southern entrance to Zion National Park.

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Jeep in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

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Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

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Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada


We arrived at out cabin in Springdale, Utah Tuesday evening, September 29th; settled in and walked down Springdale’s main street to have some dinner at one of the many interesting cafés and restaurants.  Springdale is nestled in and directly adjacent to the south entrance of Zion National Park.  The town has managed to maintain a high quality, non-glitzy appearance despite the high volume of activity concentrated on its main thoroughfare.  Shuttle busses run on a very frequent schedule between the motels, eateries, and shops up and down the main thoroughfare.  The northern most stop on the Springdale shuttle route is a very short walk from the entrance to Zion National Park.

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View from our cabin near Zion National Park as the sun set

Driving of personal vehicles within the Park itself is strongly discouraged by the Park Service during the lengthy tourist season.  However, a very convenient shuttle system within the Park makes one totally comfortable with leaving the driving to someone else.  So, Saturday morning we boarded the Springdale shuttle for a five minute ride to the Park entrance, picked up some Park literature at the Visitors Center, and headed off to the Zion Canyon shuttle stop.

The Zion shuttle stops at eight locations within Zion Canyon.  As suggested by the Zion shuttle driver, we elected to start our tour of the Park by taking the shuttle to the furthest stop, a 15 minute ride to the north end of the canyon – The Narrows.  At this stop one can take a non-strenuous one half mile walk up the canyon to a point where it narrows sufficiently that one must wade up the North Fork of the Virgin River to continue further.  We found it sufficiently impressive just looking up the narrowing canyon and at those wading further up stream.

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Jean on The Narrows walk in Zion National Park

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Approaching The Narrows in Zion National Park

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Looking up-stream into The Narrows in Zion National Park

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Panorama view from the front of the Zion Human History Museum

 

It is interesting to compare the Zion Canyon to the Yosemite Valley.  Whereas, as reported in a previous blog entry, the shear stone walls of Yosemite Valley are light grey granite and quite smooth, the walls of Zion Canyon are coarse sandstone and multi-colored.  Zion Canyon is much narrower than Yosemite Valley and the base of the walls even more accessible.  Each location has its own special attractiveness.

After visiting the upper end of Zion Canyon, we proceed back south toward the mouth of the canyon on the Zion shuttle, soaking in the views of the canyon as the shuttle made its designated stops at places such as “Big Bend”, “The Grotto”, “Court of the Patriarchs”, and Zion Lodge.  We stopped at the Zion Human History Museum” where we saw exhibits of and watched a video presentation of the history of inhabitants in Zion National Park throughout the ages.  Life was difficult for late settlers in the canyon; with alternating periods of drought and raging floods.  Few stayed.

After taking the Springdale shuttle back to our cabin, “we” decided that it would be “interesting” to drive 15 miles out of Springdale and up Kolob Terrace Road (operative word being “up”) as far as we could before having turn around and return back to the cabin before dark.  We chugged our way up Kolob Terrace Road (mostly in 2nd gear) to an elevation of about 7,500 feet – 3,500 feet above Springdale in about 12 miles.  The sights were striking, but I was too worried about the stress on the Jeep (particularly with engine overheating tendencies) to enjoy the view.  Jean, on the other hand, with her unflappable confidence, loved every minute of the drive.

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Traveling up the Kolob Terrace Road into Zion National Park

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View from Kolob Terrace Road in Zion National Park

We concluded our stay in Springdale with an evening meal consisting of turkey sandwiches and roasted almonds on the lawn of our cabin complex as we watched the shadows grow on the red canyon walls.