Hoover Dam

Ok, I was supposed to be working, but it just didn’t work out that way. I had to go to Las Vegas for a series of meeting on Monday and Tuesday. The Monday meeting started at 1330, so I saw no reason to ruin my weekend and go out on Sunday night. I had an early Monday flight that got me in to Las Vegas around 1100. So on when some one canceled the Monday meeting, but kept the Tuesday meeting on, I decided that I wasn’t going to mess with my flights. I’d just go see the Hoover Dam. I’ve been wanting to see the Hoover Dam since the 3rd or 4th grade when I read about it in a book about all the wonders of the world.

So I landed at LAS and visited the new “Consolidated Rental Car Facility”  to pick up my rental car and headed to the hotel. I was able to check in even though it was around noon. With a rental car map and a full tank of gas I headed for the dam. The drive was not bad. It took me about 45 minutes to drive out there and that included a stop to get some chicken strips to eat in the car while driving.

As you approach the dam from the Nevada side, there is a parking garage on the left. For $7.00 you can park in there as long as you want. Since I was in a Chevy Malibu it didn’t really matter, but the clearance on the garage was 13 feet.  (I tend to notice these things since I ask myself “Where would I park the RV if I were driving?”). Down the stairs and you get funneled into the Visitor’s Center. There a big signs warning you that they are about to get money from you. The first thing you see in the Visitor’s Center is a cash register.
For $11.00 per adult they let you get in line for a movie, followed by a tour. The movie is about 10 minutes long. It contains the highlights and summary of the history of the dam. I’ve seen an hour version of the movie on one of the “educational” cable channels (History, Discovery or some such) . Once you come out of the movie, you get in line for the elevator. A full theater seems to fit into two elevators. The elevators drop you some 550 feet to the power generation level of the complex. Here you can see the turbines that are used to generate electricity. This is the Nevada side of the complex, there are a duplicate set (plus one) on the Arizona side.  From the power generation level they take you back to the elevator for another drop of a few feet and show you the original diversion channels that were created to take the river around the spot the dam was built at. This is followed by another elevator ride, back to the top of the Visitor’s Center to see the exhibits.

The rest of the tour is “self guided.” Which really means the tour is over, and you get to wander around the exhibits on your own. Once you walk out of exhibits, and the building you basically leave the Visitor’s Center and walk across the street to where the old Visitor Center and an audio exhibit center are. Needless to say there is a gift shop and snack bar at this point. You can also walk across the dam, stop to take pictures and look down the sides. You can not walk onto the intake towers as they have those chained off.

If you don’t want to pay to park and take the tour, it appears that there are some free parking spots on the Arizona side of the dam. From these sort of “overlook” areas it is not difficult to walk down the sidewalks to the dam and then walk across it.

The view back to Lake Mead and opposite downstream is nice. In the lake you can see the waterlines that show how high the water has actually been in the past.

I put some of my pictures of the dam here.

Ft. Desoto

April 20, 2007. The good motorhome Itasca 35J set rolling from the driveway toward the Ft. Desoto Campground in St. Petersburg. This being the maiden voyage of the motor home, the entire Curbcrusher family were on the edge of their seats with anticipation. Although Mr. Curbcrusher’s knuckles were white as the tightly gripped the steering wheel, and he hoped he wasn’t going to sideswipe anything.
Mrs. Curbcrusher rode most of the trip in the passenger seat, and didn’t complain too much about feeling like she was over the white line, even though I probably rode a lot closer to the line than she would have liked. The drive down was uneventful. We traveled from Orlando to I-75 on I-4, and then took I-75 South to I-275. Then across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to St. Pete and the Ft. Desoto campground. This was done primarily to avoid the Friday afternoon traffic in Tampa, and partially because I like the big bridge. Driving the motorhome, pulling the Saturn, was different. The only other trip had been the one from the dealer to the house a week earlier. The first 80 miles of the trip (the part involving I-4) was fairly tense. I decided early on that I didn’t feel comfortable driving over about 60MPH. So I set the cruise at 60, and stayed in the right lane. Once I made that decision, things got easier. By staying the right lane, I only had to worry about people coming up on the left side of me (along with the people getting on the Interstate that don’t understand that an acceleration lane is for accelerating 🙂 ), I didn’t have to worry about passing people, and I felt in control of the coach. Once we turned South on I-75, I actually felt fairly good about the trip, and was able to relax.

Going over the bridge is different in a motorhome. When pulling the fiver, the truck, while higher than a car, is still fairly low to the ground. In the motorhome, your sitting up another couple of feet above where you are in the truck. When you look out the right window, you don’t see the barrier on the side of the bridge, you only see water. At least in the truck, you felt like you were even with the bridge, but in the motorhome, you know you’re above the bridge. It didn’t help that they were working on the very peak of the bridge either. This meant that the normal right hand shoulder was non-existent because they shifted the lanes right up against the barrier. As Mrs. Curbcrusher said “I only see water, I can’t even see the road. Could you please move to the left lane? ”
Ft. Desoto is an alright campground. Our last trip a year ago led to our introduction to the “roof eating tree,” a close relative of Charlie Brown’s “kite eating tree.” So it was with some trepidation that we returned with the Florida Pop-Up Camper group. Nearby in the park (about 3 or 4 miles from the campground) is the North Beach, which has been rated as one of the top beaches in the USA. The park has a good number of waterfront sites, but unfortunately we’ve been unable to get one when we’ve reserved. The non-water front sites seem to all have a certain narrowness in common. So this time, while backing into the site was easy, we were unable to put out the awning as a tree was pretty much right in the way. The sites have 30 and 50 amp service and water. There are two dump stations in the campground, and we haven’t waited to use one on our Sunday exit on either visit. There are two well equipped playgrounds in the campground, and Little Curbcrusher has given them her approval. The are a number of waterfront sites that appear to be wide enough that you could use your awning and on a future trip we’ll probably shoot for one of them.

In addition to the beach, there is an actual fort there also. Both times that we’ve been, there’s been a WWII re-enactment going on. There were a number of static displays, and we wandered around the camp that was set up for about a half hour and then watched a battle re-enactment. Since Little Curbcrusher had been studying WWII in school this year, it made for an educational field trip tacked onto the recreation of the weekend.

Driving home was easier. It was Sunday morning for one thing, so there was less traffic on the road. We came back via I-275 through Tampa to I-4 and then Orlando. Driving through Tampa wasn’t bad. There was only one time I almost got trapped in a right hand exit only lane. Even I-4 wasn’t too nerve wracking.

The Itasca made it’s first trip to storage this afternoon, but didn’t get into what will be its regular home. Since we sold the fiver, the two people on either side of us have squeezed over and taken about a two feet each off our storage site. So, we are in a temporary site until they move their stuff at some future date.

All in all a great inaugural trip for good motorhome Itasca. Some pictures are here.

Getting Ready

Well, its almost time to go camping. We’ve spent most of this week loading the motorhome with all the stuff we took out of the fiver. Since most of the stuff ended up spread around the house, I also spent a lot of time looking for stuff that got “put somewhere I’ll remember it.”

I had to put together a new sewer hose. I left the 20ft one in the bumper of the fiver. The dealer provided a 10ft hose, but I know from experience that if I just go with that one, I’ll find myself about 8 inches from the dump and going “Dang! Wish I had a longer sewer hose.”  Also the motorhome doesn’t have a bumper to store the sewer hose in, so I’ve got to figure out a way to store it in one of the compartments. I stuck it in a Rubbermaid container and it fits up in the dump compartment.

One of the things that we’ve been doing this week is reading all the manuals that came with the motohome. Winnebago/Itasca get credit for doing manuals right. When we bought the fiver, we were given a pile of paper. “Here’s all your manuals.” the dealer said. Forrest River just installed stuff and passed on the paperwork. Winnebago takes all the manuals, re-prints them and GVC binds them for you. In addition, they remove all the non-English pages and the installation instructions from most of them. What you’re left with is what you need, instructions on how to use the stuff installed in the rig. Kudos to Winnebago for doing this right.

Well, we’re excited. Tomorrow’s the first camping trip. More on that when we get back.

Buying a Motorhome – Step 6 Delivery

Friday the 13th was the big day. Delivery day. Up early and the CurbCrusher family headed over to Cocoa and Suncoast RV to pick up the motorhome.

We arrived and met with our sales rep who introduced us to Jim, the tech that would walk us through the pre-delivery inspection. They had the rig in the garage, so we were out of the sun, and it was easy to walk around and climb underneath. We went through all the systems and operations inside and out of the coach. Then we learned how to hook up the Saturn to the motorhome. That part is fairly easy. You hook the towbar to the pins on the car, you plug the wire in from the motorhome to the car, and hook up the safety chains and the breakaway chain. Now its all ready to go.
Finally we went into the office and signed all the papers and then we owned a motorhome.

It took a bit of getting used to on how to center the rig on the road, but I think I finally quit weaving all over the road. I was feeling pretty good about half way down the 528, then realized that I had a toll booth to drive through. So I started sweating 🙂 All was well, I just slowed down in the E-Pass lane and aimed for the middle. I didn’t hear any scraping or tearing noised.

Finally at the house I backed the rig into the driveway. We never had the 5th wheel in the driveway, I always parked it in the street. With the motorhome I was actually able to back it in. It barely fits, with the front almost at the street. This way we can put the slides out and load it up. All the stuff that had been in the 5th wheel has been living in the garage and on the porch for the last month and a half. It’s like reclaiming room in the house.

Hopefully we’ll get it all loaded by the end of the week so we can head to Ft. Desoto for the first camping trip.

Buying a Motorhome – Chapter 5 Part 2

OK. Had some time to get some of the paperwork done, so some further info.

I didn’t write a chapter, but after selling the 5th wheel, I no longer had a need for GMC 2500HD Duramax. I did have a need for something that I could pull behind the motorhome. After doing some research, and taking Mrs. Curbcrushers requirement that the vehicle had to have OnStar, we decided on a Saturn Vue. I took the truck to the local Saturn dealer and left with a Vue.

To get the Vue working behind the motorhome will require a base plate, tow bar and braking system. I negotiated some of this into the price of the motorhome earlier.

So yesterday afternoon, I too the Vue to the dealer. They looked at it and figured out what base plate to order, and we discussed braking systems. The parts guy was real big on the BrakeBuddy. This is a device that you have to place in front of the drivers seat and then hook up a pole to the brake pedal when you want to go somewhere. When you get somewhere you have to pull all this out of the drivers seat before you can drive anywhere. My folks have an Allegro Bay, and pull a Jeep with it. They just hook up the wiring harness from the coach to the Jeep and away they go. Nothing to put in the front seat, the braking is handled by some gizmo that was installed under the hood. I’m not sure what brand their using (and neither were they when I asked), but I had found the Unified Tow Brake that works this same way. The parts guy said I really didn’t want that kind of system. When I asked him why it basically boiled down to is that it takes a lot longer to install. We spent about 40 minutes discussing it, and I think I finally convinced him I really wanted the Unified Tow Brake.

Most of the time yesterday was spent talking with the parts guy about the base plate and brake system. We got about 10 minutes to walk through the rig. Suncoast had not processed it though the checks yet, but it still looks good.

Spent part of today arranging insurance and financing. I had already done all the application and approval for the financing, we just had to go sign the papers and stuff this afternoon.

Target day to take delivery is Friday. First camping trip the next Friday.

St. Augustine, Florida

Ok, it’s not as exciting as a trip to Hawaii, but a free weekend with no scout or church obligations meant a road trip. So the Curbcrusher clan loaded up with a friend of little Curbcrusher and drove the two hours to St. Augustine. Sort of a field trip, and in the absence of an RV the first trip out of town we’ve taken in a few weeks.

First stop was Anastasia State Park to see if we might can camp there. A number of people that we’ve talked to that have rigs with a length over 30 feet say they refuse to go there, so we figured we’d check it out for ourselves. A quick drive around the campground proved that most sites are small, but there are probably at least half a dozen or more that you could get a 35ft motorhome in. But of course I’ve never backed up a 35ft motorhome, but I think that I could have gotten the 35ft fifth wheel in those spots, and I hope I can back up the motorhome at least as well as I was able to backup that fifth wheel.

After the park, we went over to the Castillo de San Marcos. This is the old fort that the Spanish built to hold onto the Florida territory. The park rangers were great, and we got to see the firing of the cannon. The park ranger was trying to recruit people from the audience to sign up to help with the cannon firing. If I lived closer, I’d probably try and volunteer. It would be fun to make a big bang like that on the weekend.

Following the Castillo, we walked over to St. George’s street. The girls wanted to see the World’s Oldest Schoolhouse. So we went in and they got to see what it would have been like to be in school 200 years ago. Of special interest was the dungeon, a small closet under the stairs that the bad students were put in. I told my daughter that we should see about setting up one of those at our house for when she’s bad. Needless to say she was unimpressed. We continued wondering down the street until the girls started complaining about walking too much. At that time Mrs. Curbcrusher said she didn’t feel like listening to the whining, so we’d head home. And so we did.

Captain Dan’s Whale Watching Tour

Not much going on, still waiting for the new motorhome to arrive. So, as I noted I’ll post some more about the trip to Hawaii.

On Sunday, the 21st of Jan we got up early, we were still on east coast time. Off to Captain Dan’s Whale Watching trip located right near Kona. I have to admit is was not what we expected. Since this was advertised as a three hour tour both Mrs. CurbCrusher and myself thought that we’d get on the boat, spend an hour bouncing out to the “whale habitat” and then an hour looking around, and if we’re lucky seeing one whale, then another hour heading back in. Boy were we WRONG!

As soon as we left the harbor, there were spinner dolphins and a group of about 4 humpback whales. We watched the whales for awhile, none breached, but they flipped their tails a couple of times and surfaced to blow air/water out of their blowholes.

We moved up the coast a bit and found a group of four whales that were fairly active. We watched them surface and flap the water with their tails a bit. They swam back and forth under the boat, and then tired of us.

We moved a bit further up the coast, and found a mom, calf and an “escort” whale. These three were just swimming along, surfacing occasionally and blowing air out.

One of the things Cap’n Dan did that we have had fun with since is “count down” the whale showing its tail. A whale would surface, and then start to submerge. Cap’n Dan’s narration was something like this:

“There he is. Now he’s going down, and tail in 3 ….. 2 ….. 1….. no tail.” that’s what happed most of the time. When the whale showed his tail it was: “There he is. Now he’s going down, and tail in in 3 ….. 2 ….. 1… take it! take it! There goes the tail.”

We ended up being on the boat for about three and a half hours. It was well worth the price of the trip. In addition to seeing the whales, we learned a bunch about them.

Whale off Hawaii

Buying a Motorhome – Episode 4

Well, I got a comment! How about that? Someone found there way here and actually looked at this mess. Thanks JohnW.

The difference in price between the OH dealer and my closest dealer was a little over $5,000. I really didn’t expect a FL dealer to be able to match the price from OH, but this was in the range that I was shooting for. I did however hope that the guy 35 miles away could beat the guy 75 miles away. There was about $1,200 difference in these prices. What to do what to do?

Well, I really didn’t want to, but I called the local guy and asked what he could do about providing all the paraphernalia to tow an ’06 Saturn Vue behind the Motorhome. He called back a little later and said he could split the retail cost of a tow bar, base plate and brake buddy with me. From talking to a few friends that seemed like a good deal.

So, we’ve placed an order for our 2007 Itasca Sunova 35J from Suncoast RV in Cocoa. They say Winnebago will ship the first week of April. So now we wait.

The reasons for going with the dealer closest to the house came down to:

  1. By asking them to all give me their best price, he was competitive with the other dealers. By going back and giving the guy a chance to throw in other stuff (the tow package), I think he came out very competitive.
  2. If I get over there the first week of April and there is some problem with the coach, I only have a 45 minute drive home, not a two and half hour flight.
  3. So far this is the only dealer that hasn’t made conflicting statements at some time during the sales process.

You will note that I did not include the reason that JohnW commented on which was getting warranty service. JohnW made a good point that I am pretty much an RV rookie, the CurbCrushers have only been RVing for the past three years or so in our 5th wheel. We put a lot of emphasis (or thought we did) the first time around on a local dealer and how we felt they would take care of us during and after the sale. Over the first 18 months of our two year warranty, we faithfully went back to this dealers and took their abuse. They kept the rig for weeks on end, they never called when it was ready or to give you a status of ordered parts or the repair. They returned it with the same or more stuff broken and so forth. After 18 months we called another Forest River dealer down in St. Cloud (LePage RV, who has now gone out of business) and they happily agreed to do our warranty work. They were the opposite of our dealer, and we even had some regular maintenance done there as well.

As I’ve sat around campfires over the past three years, I’ve asked others how they like the warranty service they have received from their dealer. I have yet to have anyone tell me it is great. The best reaction I’ve gotten is that it is “OK,” and most people seem to have real horror stories, what I’ve experienced are mere inconveniences by comparison.

So when we began this quest, Mrs. Curbcrusher and I decided that we weren’t going to believe what anyone said about their service departments. The decision would be primarily made on price. Of course with the out of state dealer (OH) being 935 miles away, there would be some concrete cost to contemplate (airfiar, hotel before delivery, gas, campgrounds for return trip), and there would be some opportunity and soft cost (days away from the office, the hassle making a trip to OH for no reason other than picking up the motorhome, the risk of getting 1000 miles away from home and something major not being right).

So I don’t know what the Suncoast service department will be like. I’m sure I will have some experiences with them, and I’ll post them here when they happen. For right now, I have the same low expectations I would have had if I’d picked either of the other dealers.

Buying a Motohome – Chapter 3

Ok it took a couple of days, but the responses are back from the dealers. Without any wheeling and dealing, all three dealers came back with prices that are approximately 23.5% to 27.7 percent off of MSRP. Needless to say the best deal is the one that will cause me to have to fly to Dayton, and then drive back home. I figure that will cost about $1,000 for Mrs. Curbcrusher and I to go get the motorhome.

So it is decision time here in the Curbcrusher household. What exactly is avoiding a trip to Ohio worth? Do I want to do any “dealing” with the three offers to try and get more out of it?

I’m not sure the answers to the questions, so I’ll have to think it over for a day or two.