Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Quick Trip to a Cool Little Town–Galena Illinois! (and a rant)…


We really didn’t do much our last full day in Sugar Bottom Park. Since it was Sunday and the park was still pretty full we took full advantage of our last day of full hookups to clean the inside and outside of the motorhome. We leave Monday  and are headed to the town of Dubuque Iowa for three nights with only electricity followed by another 6 nights in Madison, Wisconsin (also with only electricity). So with 9 days of only electricity in our future we made the most of utilizing water and sewer hookups to make the rig spotless.


Later on Sunday John and Jane wanted to meet up for one last time so we joined them for happy hour at Reds Ale House a place we would surely be regulars at if we were to live in this area. It sure was fun getting together with them one last time and we hope to see them again should our paths again later this summer or early fall.


When Monday rolled around I made one more visit to our black raspberry patch and was able to pick a couple more pints of this delicious treat from Mother Nature. Then it was back to the rig for breakfast and time to pack up to get ready for departure. By 10:30 we were rolling out of Sugar Bottom Park and we made a pleasant drive through the Iowa farmland, small towns and quaint farms to the town of Dubuque Iowa. We pulled in the Miller Riverview Park and Campground, located the park's potable water tap and filled up the rig with water.


This does bring up a bit of a rant for me. Why is it that RV manufactures don’t make tank level indicators that work? Ours have never worked but we have learned to adapt by opening the vent cap and waiting for water to trickle out to know it is full. If we hadn’t adapted so well I am sure we would have installed the Seelevel Tank Monitoring System. Maybe one day I will order it and go through the trouble of installing it as it is the only tank monitoring system from what I've heard that actually works since it has the monitoring sensors on the outside of the tank instead of on the inside where they can get all fouled up!!!


Well we had to wait for someone to leave our site since checkout wasn’t until 3:00 pm. This rarely happens but we waited in another vacant spot. We sat on a picnic table and looked out over the mighty Mississippi River and even spotted a pair of bald eagles hunting for fish along the far shoreline. Once they left our reserved site we simply moved on over to it and after we set up we went to town to do laundry. After laundry we decided we deserved a treat so we drove about 14 miles east into Illinois to a very unexpected surprise of a town called Galena. Galena Illinois is really a cool little former mining town which looks more like a town one would see in the hills of New York, Massachusetts or even Colorado. The mid 1800’s architecture is really fascinating so we walked around the town (even though most of the shops were closed that late in the day).


We ended the day at the Galena Brewing Company for a few craft beers and must say we enjoyed all three we sampled (Oatmeal Stout, IPA and their Nut Brown). We are only in Dubuque for three days but just may have to return to Galena for a bit more walk around time!

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Visit and a Hike at the Devonian Fossil Gorge, Iowa…

Sugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 004

With our time winding down for our stay in Iowa City we had a few more things we wanted to do. One thing we found interesting was a visit to the Devonian Fossil Gorge. Believe it or not Iowa was near the equator and the entire state was once covered by shallow warm seas. As a result of the seas being in the area as time passed there were Devonian aged fossils left behind that are about 350 million years old.

imageSugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 005

The limestone bedrock found in this park is densely packed with fossils. We picked up a self guided tour brochure at the entrance and went hunting. We found a large variety of fossils to see  including  brachiopods, crinoids, bryozoans, corals, sponges as well as other fossils. Some of the coolest ones we found and enjoyed were the colonial corals  or Hexagonaria. It was fun searching the rock for these ancient marvels…

imageSugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 002

Afterward we took a walk down a hike and bike trail along the Cedar River. The rivers are still high from the recent and plentiful rains.  During one such storm we experienced a bit of hail hit late at night causing me to dash out of the motorhome to save our basil and parsley plants. Anyway, we saw lots of butterflies and birds along the trail and we even spotted a wild turkey. We always enjoy the peaceful strolls in the woods looking at and listening to the beauty of nature.

Sugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 007image

We also made a day trip up to see Jane and John at their new digs north of Cedar Rapids about 30 minutes north of us. Once again Jane and John took us all around to show us the town they know so well. Interesting to know was that Cedar Rapids flooded in 2008 as the Cedar River crested at 19 feet above flood stage!!! Some 1,300 blocks (nearly 10 square miles) were inundated. This included nearly all of the downtown area and more than 5,000 homes were destroyed or damaged by the flood waters. Even now there is still considerable rebuilding going on and the town has yet to achieve the status of full recovery.

Sugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 024Sugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 027Sugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 017Sugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 025Sugar Bottom Hike and Cedar Rapids IA 023

Of course we couldn’t visit Cedar Rapids and John and Jane without visiting a local brewery. So we ambled across the Lions Bridge over the once flooded Cedar River to the Czech Village and stopped at the Lions Bridge Brewing Company. With good beer and good company what could be better?


NOTE: We leave here today, Monday, and are headed to the town of Dubuque Iowa for three nights and then on towards Madison, Wisconsin…

Saturday, June 25, 2016

More Fun In Iowa… Who would have thought!!!

imageWe had one more day with John and Jane before they would be leaving Sugar Bottom Campground so Jane wanted to take us over to the Amish and Mennonite countryside just outside of Iowa City. The small town of Kalona (known as the "Quilt Capital of Iowa”) is in the heart of it and we made a stop just outside of town to do a little grocery shopping. We shopped at the Community Country Store and as is typical of Amish stores there was no electricity yet they were innovative enough to keep the store comfortable using ceiling fans. Their produce and meats are kept cold as well.

We always enjoy stopping at the Amish groceries because not only is the food fresh and tasty it is nearly always much cheaper than typical grocery stores in cities. We bought a lot of produce, some bulk items and I also bought a four pack of parsley to plant for a mere 75 cents. I planted it next to some basil I have already been growing in a pot and although there was a strong thunderstorm last night, my 75 cent investment fared well.

imageIowa 021

imageAfter shopping we had hoped to stop for a beverage at the Kalona Brewery but it was closed on Tuesdays so Jane drove us back into Iowa City/Coralville to stop at another brewery called Backpocket Brewing Company. Most of the bars and breweries in this area have splendid happy hours. Most of them offer buy one get one free and for craft beer that is a bargain. John and I had a couple of different IPA’s and both were good but I preferred the one called Raygun. Sharon and Jane had a porter they both enjoyed.

The next day John and Jane moved about 25 miles north where they will be closer to their grand-daughter.  Since its not far we will see them again before we go. After they left we decided to play the disc golf course right here in Sugar Bottom Park. We were able to walk about 1/4 mile on the bike trail to hole number one. This course was long and hilly. The majority of the holes were tight and surrounded by dense vegetation. Although we had fun playing we spent a good deal of time throughout the day searching for our errant discs in the brush while trying to avoid the plentiful poison ivy. We likely won’t play this course again but that is okay as there are others nearby…


This park has been great for nice walks and for picking black raspberries that are in season.  The weather has also been cooperating so we are enjoying our time here in Iowa and are both glad we extended our stay.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Touring the University of Iowa in Iowa City…


Leaving the Amana Villages we made the very short drive on small Iowa roads over to Sugar Bottom Campground, a COE park just north of Iowa City, Iowa. After less than 30 miles we pulled into the campground hoping to score one of the walk-in full hookup campsites. We had been texting our RV friends Jane and John who pen the blog Flamingo on a Stick since they were staying in the campground located across the street from the only full hookup walk-in site coming available that day.  The checkout deadline is 5pm but we timed it to be there about noon where we planned to park somewhere and wait if the site wasn’t yet open.

imageIowa City and Uof Iowa 001

We pulled into the park after managing the 2 miles of a tight and winding entry road and as luck would have it the occupants of the site we wanted were packing up to leave. We only had to wait about 5 minutes in the parking area before pulling into a full hookup level 50 amp site (site number 310). We originally planned to stay 5 nights but since we scored a walk-in full hookup site we decided to stay 8 nights. With the 4th of July looming ahead we knew we had better make some reservations soon or not have a site to camp in over the holiday weekend. By staying here 8 nights we were then able to reserve three nights at a campground in Dubuque Iowa and also reserved six nights in Madison WI which means we are now covered through July 6th.

Iowa City and Uof Iowa 002image

Jane and John invited us over to join their Father's Day celebration that evening with son Mitch and granddaughter Evelyn.  What fun we had sharing great food, lively conversation and laughter.  We really appreciated the invite for sure! The next day at Sugar Bottom campground Jane and John graciously drove us over to tour Jane's alma mater, the University of Iowa, a Big 10 Conference school. We love touring campuses but this one was made more interesting having someone show us around who loved their time there. The University of Iowa is a huge campus and we walked a lot before finally giving in to the unusually hot day by catching one of the inner-campus busses (the yellow and black Cam-Bus) available to the public for free.

Iowa City and Uof Iowa 003Iowa City and Uof Iowa 005

A highlight was we were able to check out the football stadium since there was a summer camp in full swing there. However, as successful as the University of Iowa is in football we both expected a more flamboyant stadium. It did appear as if they installed new (very large) scoreboards but otherwise the stadium was not as impressive as some we have seen. Likewise due to the eclectic styles of architecture with no common theme on the main campus, it sort of lacked the wow factor for us. We did enjoy seeing the stately Old Capitol building on campus however and really did enjoy the insights offered by Jane all along our tour.


Rounding out the day Jane and John took us to a few of their old haunts where we partook in a few adult beverages trading more tales of our travels taken since last seeing them. It is so great to reconnect with like minded people who have the same love for RV’ing as we do on the Road of Retirement…

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Visiting the Amana Colonies in Amana, Iowa…

Amana Villages Iowa 003

We had a great stay at Bob Shetler Campground but it was time to move a 110 miles east.  Our drive took us past more green rolling hills covered with fields with corn. A couple hours after we left we pulled into a Passport America park called Amana Colonies RV Park in Amana, Iowa, We will have full hookups for the first time in a while and we will stay two days. We plan to fully clean the interior of the motor home and get laundry done. Yes it isn’t all fun and games as normal life occasionally gets in the way.


After our chores we decided to see if we could find the bike trail that was near this park. We set off and didn’t make it too far when Sharon noticed her bike was screwed up. Well back to the RV we went where I was able to diagnose the issue and make a fairly quick repair. We headed back for the trail and found it about 1/4 mile away from our park.


We rode the four mile loop around a small lake that was filled with water lilies and pickerel weed. Of course there were the requisite rolling hills of corn as well.  Upon returning to camp we hopped into the CRV and drove over to Millsteam Brewing the oldest (at thirty years) brewery in Iowa. They had good beer but not the Pale Ale on tap (the bottled was better). The stout I had was good and Sharon loved her Amber so we savored them on the very pleasant outdoor patio of the brewery.

Amana Villages Iowa 005Amana Villages Iowa 016

The next day we had heard about a wurst festival so we planned to go to it and also wanted to walk around the Amana colonies. But before we could do any of that we still had to run to a grocery store to stock back up on produce (another chore).  We drove into Cedar Rapids where we found an Iowa chain grocery called Hy-Vee.  What a welcoming store it was as we noticed a chalk board as we entered advertising great happy hour prices (this is the second time we found a grocery with a bar).  We will certainly return to check that out. However this day we hurriedly bought our groceries and got back to our camp around noon.

Amana Villages Iowa 013imageAmana Villages Iowa 008

It was a very short drive over to Amana. We parked at the entrance of town and walked the 3/4 mile to the festival to avoid the traffic already clogging the town streets. We paid $2 per person to enter and stood in line to sample the wurst (sausages for those who don’t know). There was just about every flavor of bratwurst available to try and we tried nearly all of them. We also took advantage of buying 1/2 brats of four different flavors for five dollars and each of them were delicious. We topped all the wurst off with a frosty beer from Millstream Brewing Company.

Amana Villages Iowa 011Amana Villages Iowa 009

Afterward we drove through each of the Amana towns and checked out the architecture. These German colonies reminded us a cross between Fredericksburg in Texas and the Amish area in Pennsylvania although these are on a much smaller scale.  There were lots of really neat stone houses as well as many original wooden barns and homes. Back at the park it was time to put things away for the next day's departure. We skipped dinner since we apparently overate at the wurst festival and spent the entire evening lounging to recover. Oh well, we decided we were none the wurst for it…

NOTE: We are now in Iowa City at the COE park called Sugar Bottom. With the 4th of July coming up we have also made reservations at Dubuque Iowa and then Madison WI till July 6th.