Iowa’s Loess Hills and Electronics Issues

From Lincoln, Nebraska, we drove all of 113 miles to Onawa, Iowa. As I pointed out at the end of my last article, the weather forecast for the weekend was wonderful. That coupled to our decision to spend the weekend in Onawa should have meant a great opportunity to explore the Loess Hills.

Somewhere along that 113 mile drive the weather forecast changed and it changed for the worse. By the time we arrived in Onawa, the winds were picking up and the new forecast had them increasing in intensity with high wind warnings throughout the weekend.

So, given that we got in so early we decided to take the car up to Sioux City, Iowa to take care of personal grooming needs. Connie needed a permanent and I needed a haircut and we were able to take care of both and even visit a Starbucks. What a great way to end the week.

We were rocked to sleep Friday night by the high winds. When we got up Saturday morning the wind was still just howling, but I needed to run. So, I took off running up wind to the local high school in order to do some speed work on the track. When I got there I was greeted by a less than completely friendly local police officer who was apparently overseeing some physical testing of what appeared to be potential recruits. Anyway after a short curt discussion he agreed that I could share the track with his people. So, I completed my speed training and with each passing lap there were fewer and fewer of the recruits hanging around. None of them ever took a step around the track. All I was able to witness was some sort of measurements being taken while the candidates were sitting on the track. Strange. I got my speed work in and then enjoyed the downwind run back to the RV Park.

When I got home Connie was working on the laundry, so I tackled the leaking basement compartment. I removed the forward portion of the door jamb gasket and found that it was not adhering all the way along the forward vertical edge. Worse, there are two steel plates that are sandwiched together and the gasket fits over the two plate edges. The inside face of the gasket was not adhering to the inner plate thereby leaving a path for water to enter the basement. Further up the vertical edge I found a hole through the plates providing yet another path for water passage. With the way the gasket overlaps the plate, the water would not be able to spray into the open space of the basement, but rather it would flow down the gasket and just seep in at the bottom. So, I cleaned up the steel plates and the inside of the gasket and then using household roofing caulk (nasty black stuff) I sealed the crack between the plates, the hole, and the gasket to the plates. We will see whether or not I really found the real leak and successfully repaired it the next time we are forced to drive in the rain.

Since I had all my caulking materials out, I took this opportunity to replace about ten feet of caulking in various places around the basement bay door hinges. This was some maintenance I had been putting off for too long. I have to admit it looks a lot better. I wanted to do some more caulking replacement, but I would have had to get a ladder out to do so and the wind was gusting in excess of 50 MPH. I could see myself taking the elevator to the ground floor, so I decided to put that bit of maintenance off for a better day.

Late in the afternoon we took a short drive back across the Missouri River into Nebraska just to see what was there. We came upon a pretty neat scenic view point and stopped for a look and some photos. The wind was just amazing. Fortunately there was no edge to get blown off. We learned a little about the Omaha Tribe of Native Americans. I had never known that Omaha was the name of a Native American Tribe. There is always something to learn.

On Sunday the wind was a good bit less intense than the previous two days so we armed ourselves with our binoculars and cameras and took off for Loess Hills. The Loess Hills are a geological formation caused by the action of the last Ice Age and centuries of wind. Essentially the hills started out as glacial flour that the wind transformed into giant dunes. Over the centuries topsoil formed over the dunes allowing vegetation to take hold and stabilize the dunes into the hills that we can see today. The Loess Hills are the second highest such formation in the world, the highest being in China. The definition of a Loess Hill is a hill made of loess that is more than 60 feet in height. Using that definition about 640,000 acres of land in western Iowa constitute the Loess Hills landform. This land formation that is up to 15 miles wide and about 200 miles long from north of Sioux City, Iowa to near St. Joseph, Missouri.

I can tell you that were it not for the Loess Hills the landscape on both sides of the Missouri River would be board flat. As it is, there are less pronounced Loess Hills on the west side of the Missouri. The prevailing winds being from the northwest caused the higher accumulation of deposits on the east side of the river.
We explored about 65 miles of the hills, nearly all from the car. We did stop a few times when we heard or saw birds that needed outside of the car scrutiny. Mostly we just enjoyed the scenery. Having said that we ticked off some 27 species of birds including our first Indigo Buntings and Baltimore Oriole of the season among them. It was a good day.

I took more photos and those plus the ones from the previous day are in a web album linked to this article. Just click the photo below and you will get to the photo album.

Along the Preparation Loop Loess Hills National Scenic Byway

From Onawa we drove north along Interstate 29 to Watertown, South Dakota. We had quite the tail wind all way to Watertown. Well, there were a few times when the road turned to the west putting the wind directly on the left side of the motorhome and pushing up on the awning over the slide out wall. This was an adventure we had never experienced before and it scared us enough that I pulled over to see what had been damaged. Apparently what happens is the wind pushes the awning up causing it to start to unwind. The spring eventually overcomes the wind and very quickly rewinds the awning ending in a bang. We had a few miles of nerve wracking driving while the awning tried to unwind itself several times.

We spent the evening at a cute not so little RV Park owned and operated by an older couple who are doing their very best to make their customers feel comfortable and at home. The property was right on a lake, but due to the high winds and the forecasted thunderstorms with possible damaging winds the owner decided we should be away from the lake and closer to the storm shelter. We spent the night worrying about the weather which never really got all that bad.

As we drove out this morning we got to see our first Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Redhead and Ruddy Duck of the season. Had we known how many different birds were going to be hanging around the lake this morning after the winds died down we would have gotten up and out there to see what we could see. Instead, we took our time getting started since neither of us slept too well because of the threatening weather.

Tonight we are at a great little family owned and operated RV Park outside Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. I got an eight mile run in shortly after we arrived and yes I did carry water and a cell phone. I drank the water, but did not need to use the cell phone.

These past several days have presented us with some electronic challenges that have quite frankly aggravated me to near death. The first thing to happen was Connie’s wireless keyboard, which is only a few months old, failed. The little sender device that plugs into a USB port on the computer seems to have an internal short. Unfortunately, we did not save the packaging and receipt, so there was nothing we could do about it except to pay to replace it. So, off to Best Buy we go and after spending the better part of an hour looking at all the options we decided upon a Bluetooth technology wireless keyboard and mouse. We drove the 35 miles back home and tried to install the new equipment and to our horror it did not work.
At the same time Connie was fighting her computer issues I was downloading my photos from my camera to my computer. I had no problems getting the images into the computer, but when I put the memory card back into the camera and turned it on I was sickened to see that the monitor screen was illuminated in a dirty gray with wavy streaks. This is the screen that shows the playback of the photos taken, provides the means to view the various menus and provide a live view rather than using the through the lens eyepiece, if desired. None of these features work. This camera is only two weeks old today! It is a Nikon D90 and I paid plenty for it. I am not happy. Of course I have written to Nikon, but as of this writing I have not heard back from them.

As we drove past Sioux City yesterday we stopped at Best Buy and returned the not working keyboard and mouse and traded up for a less high tech but certainly very adequate replacement. I continued to mourn the situation with my camera as we drove on.

Last night Connie’s computer worked just fine. My camera still didn’t work.
Today we were approaching our destination for the day and the GPS was doing just fine getting us here. Suddenly and without warning it just stopped working and cycled between trying to power up and trying to power down. The gain on my frustration knob seems to have no end point. Needless to say I have written to Garmin and asked them why this just over one month old instrument has failed to operate as designed.

There will be more to follow on both of these issues.

Tomorrow we head a few hundred miles to the east and north where we will spend a week sightseeing and birding, oh yeah, and running, too. Stay tuned.


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