Missoula, MT to Kansas City, MO

July, 19, 2004 - We left Missoula and took highway 200 to Great Falls. I was concerned that this route might not be suitable for towing a large RV. But it was fine and the countryside was beautiful. I wanted to visit Great Falls for several reasons. This is where Lewis and Clark had to portage around five falls during their trip up the Missouri River in 1805. I wanted to see these falls. I also wanted to visit the Charles Russell museum. I have always admired the western art of Charles Russell and Frederick Remington.

I left Interstate 15 at exit 280 in Great Falls, looking for the Flying J. I missed my turn and turned around in a nearby abandoned Sinclair gas station. The canopy over the gas pumps was about 6 inches too low. I didn't hear a sound nor feel a shudder as the canopy ripped off almost everything on my roof. Fortunately, someone saw what happened and stopped to tell me. At my request, he also recommended an RV dealer that could make repairs.

I lost all three vent covers, a Fantastic fan, the refrigerator vent, all sewer vent caps and the radio antenna. The TV antenna was salvageable but the base needed repairs. The shower sunroof was crumpled like tin foil but amazingly unbroken. Thankfully, the air conditioner was on the rear sloping portion of the roof and escaped with only a few dents in the cover.

As I headed for the dealer, a few drops of rain fell on my windshield and I have three large holes in my roof. I am thinking that my insurance company and I are going to be taken to the cleaners and I am going to be staying in a motel for a week while parts are ordered and repairs are made.

The rain stopped and within ten minutes after arriving at McCollum Modern RVs, the service manager had three service technicians swarming over the roof of my fifthwheel. In less than two hours, repairs were complete. The bill for parts and labor was $575. That was a lot less than I had expected considering my vulnerable position. I shudder to think what would have happened had that canopy been a few inches lower. Now we are are talking about severe structural damage and a new rubber roof.

My hat is off to McCollum Modern RVs for their rapid response and reasonable charges. Since my insurance deductible was $500, this was an expensive lesson which, I hope, will make me more careful in the future.

We camped at Gateway FamCamp at Malmstrom Air Force Base. Most sites are 60' pull-thru with a concrete pad, 30/50 amps, water, sewage, a BBQ grill and picnic table. Lots of nice green grass but not too many trees. Interior roads and site approaches are paved. A building with laundry, showers, and restrooms is nearby. You can even wash your rig on site.

July, 22, 2004 - The next stop was Cody, WY. We stopped at Cody four years ago, after leaving Yellowstone, just long enough to visit the Buffalo Bill museum. We were not RVers then and were in a big rush to get back home. But we liked Cody and have always wanted to come back and see their rodeo. We camped at Buffalo Bill State park. This is a little gem on the north shore of Buffalo Bill Reservoir (it is obvious that Buffalo Bill was pretty popular in these parts), eight miles west of Cody. Actually, there are two campgrounds - one is about half way along the north shore of the reservoir and the other is about 4 miles west where the North Fork of the Shoshone River enters the reservoir. I prefer the first one because of the views of the lake.

The campground has three loops and each loop slopes down to the lake so that all campsites have a good view of the lake. Interior roads and sites are paved. All sites are pull-thru and long enough to accommodate the biggest rigs. No hookups, but a dump station and potable water spigots are available. Some trees but none are tall enough to provide shade. All sites have a concrete picnic table and a fire ring/BBQ grill.

Fee is $12 per day ($8 for Wyoming residents). Some sites in the first loop can be reserved and the rest are first-come-first-served. The dam and visitor center are a few miles away. There is a rodeo in Cody every night during the summer and it is great wholesome family entertainment. We liked the rodeo so much that we went again the next night.

July, 25, 2004 - I mentioned in an earlier travelogue that there is a growing number of RVers that have purchased a converted class 8 tractor to pull their large fifthwheels. One of the pioneers of this group is Jim Gehlen. Jim was workcamping at Flintstones Campground in Custer, SD and invited us to stop by. He had a bed built on his truck that was big enough to mount tracks for two large motorcycles. These tracks could slide and tilt and had winches that made it pretty easy to tranfer the motorcycles between the ground and the bed of the truck.

While planning our trip from Cody, WY to Custer, SD, we considered taking the direct route over the Bighorn Mountains. I consulted my maps, specifically Topo USA, and saw some nasty grades. So, I turned to the conventional wisdom of the Escapees Discussion Forum on the Internet. This is a great resource. I ask a question and, within a day or two, I have a half-dozen or more responses. Some of those responses were not too encouraging so I went around via Billings. I think I could have made it OK using highway 16 but the wife chickened out. We spent the night at the Wal-Mart in Gillette, WY, the only time we stayed at a Wal-Mart during the entire trip.

While in Custer, we visited Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. Carving the busts of four presidents out of a mountainside was an impressive accomplishment. I didn't realize how big each one was until I saw it in person. The drive through Custer State Park was a real treat. Herds of buffalo roam freely throughout the park and we saw several groups. Pronghorn antelope were plentiful and the road went through the middle of a large Prairie Dog town.

July, 28, 2004 - Here we made a major decision about the route we wanted to take home. Months before the trip started, our intention was to go to Independence, MO, pick up the Oregon Trail and follow it to the West Coast. That changed when we started this trip with a visit to Houston to see the grandchildren. We then considered a northern route home that would take us through Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. What to do?

We decided to stick with the Oregon Trail and save Michigan for another trip. That meant that we would traverse the Oregon Trail in reverse and see only one third of it. So we headed for Gering, NE and Scott's Bluff. Using RV Park Reviews, we found a beautiful city park campground, Robidoux RV Park, about 0.7 miles south of the junction of highway 71 and 92, and only 2.5 miles from Scottís Bluff National Monument visitorís center. It is a great stop for Oregon Trail enthusiasts. And, although it is a city park, it is located at the southern edge of Gering and is quiet. Little or no noise from the highway.

July, 29, 2004 - Our next stop was Lake Maloney Campground a few miles south of North Platte, NE. We decided to boondock and save some money. Price - $4.00.

July, 30, 2004 - We continued following the Oregon Trail toward Independence, MO. Once again, using RV Park Reviews, we found another little gem in Superior, NE. About a mile west of downtown, a city park with water and electricity was nestled among a grove of towering Cottonwood trees. The amazing thing about this campground was the fee - whatever you wanted to pay!

July, 31, 2004 -Less than an hour after leaving Superior the next morning, we crossed the state line into Kansas and arrived at Belleville. We did not plan to stop here but we saw a sign that said "County Fair" and the best part was that it was free. Yeah! We rarely make reservations or have firm plans about where we will stay each night because we never know when we will stumble across an interesting place to visit. Belleville was one of those places.

Several years ago, we were in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and visited nearby Harrisonburg. We were delighted to find an old-fashioned county fair that seemed to be right out of our childhood. It was refreshing to see children enjoying the simpler pleasures of life, tending their animals and getting them ready for showing, riding the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel. Well, the fair at Belleville was the same. Those Kansas kids start riding horses at a young age. It was amazing to see how well they handled those full-size horses.

The fair also hosted the Midget Auto races which is very popular in this part of the country. As a result, all the campgrounds were full. When I went to check out the city campground at Rocks Pond, I was told that, although the campground was full, I could boondock for free on the other side of Rocks Pond, a small lake. I found an excellent site under a huge Cottonwood tree (lots of Cottonwood trees in this part of the country). Level, grassy, and right on the lake. We were only a half mile from the fairground.

August 1, 2004 - The next stop was Shawnee RV Park on the shores of Lake Shawnee in Topeka, KS. This is a nice city park and we were one of only a few campers there. I guess the big crowds only come on the weekends. We didn't do much here, just kicked back and relaxed and did a few housekeeping chores. We did visit the Capitol building downtown.

While we were at this RV park, an unfortunate event occurred. A nice fifthwheel caught fire during the middle of the day and was destroyed by the time the fire department arrived. The owners were out of town at the time and no one was injured. We left the next day and never did learn the cause of the fire.

August 4, 2004 - The Campus RV Park in Independence was one of the few disappointments that we experienced with RV Park Reviews. This park was all that it had been described to be but the pool was no longer operational. Since all the full hookup sites were full, I had to stay in the overflow area, which has water and electric. This overflow area is actually an asphalt parking area consisting of 18 adjacent sites that are 16' x 35'. Each utility station serves 4 sites with a separate 30 amp outlet for each site and a combination of "Y" connectors to provide separate water connections.

Had this area been full, RVs would have been packed together without enough room to extend both slide outs and awnings. It was not clear to me, when I made my reservations, that these water and electric sites were significantly different from the full hookup sites described in the reviews and in the park's website. The management was very pleasant and offered to transfer me to a full hookup site when one became available the next day but, since we were only staying 2 days, we declined.

Independence, MO is home to the residence of former president Harry Truman. We visited several Mormon temples that were within walking distance of the RV park. Several years ago, we visited Salt Lake City, UT, and took a tour of some of the Mormon buildings there. Very impressive structures. Overall, I was disappointed with Independence. I imagine it was a pretty nice place when Harry lived there but it now has a shabby appearance.

Larry Zeigler is one of the pioneers that has converted a class 8 tractor to pull his large fifthwheel. About two or three years ago, after he perfomed the first conversion for his own use, Larry told many of us about this on the Escapees RV Forum. The idea really caught on and Larry has now converted about two dozen more for other RVers. This doesn't count the RVers that performed their own conversions.

When I arrived in Independence, Larry was staying at an RV park in nearby Kansas City, KS. We had dinner with him and his lovely wife and ate some of the best BBQ that I have tasted.