Working With Historicorps (National Elk Refuge)

When we were at our RV lot in Casa Grande AZ last winter, we took the time to attend our Escapees RV Club annual rally (Escapade) that was being held at Pima County Fairgrounds at Tucson, AZ.

Kathy enjoying an ice cream treat at the Escapade with new friends Connie and Dennis

This was the 59th annual Escapade and was, as usual, full of educational seminars, live entertainment, food, impromptu happy hours and a large vendor fair selling all things RV related. You can check out the 60th Escapade information to be held in July 2020 at Rock Springs Wyoming by following this link.

One of the “all in” evening gatherings at Escapade

One of the seminars that Kathy and I attended was put on by Liz Rice of Historicorps. Historicorps is a 10 year old organization that works with (typically) government agencies to restore and preserve historic buildings on federal or state lands like; national forests, state parks, and more. They solicit volunteers to do the work and some of those volunteers, like us, are RV’ers. Here’s a link to their completed projects over the last few years. As of this writing, there is only one project scheduled for 2020 (in Puerto Rico) but I know there will be many more published as we work through the winter into spring.

Kathy and I decided that there was one of their projects that would fit right into our travel schedule in late summer/fall 2019. We realized that after D.C. Booth in Spearfish SD we would then be visiting Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park along with some other spots of interest on our way back to Arizona for the winter.

The project we decided to volunteer for was the rehab of the historic Miller Barn on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson (Hole) Wyoming. (just south of Yellowstone). The project work would be mostly painting, with some replacement of wood siding and restoration of window sills and frames.

The Miller Barn at the beginning of the project
The Miller House and barn were built in 1898

Kathy, feeling a little hesitant about working with hand tools, decided that she would be happy to work in the mess tent and kitchen, but ultimately she got involved in some painting too!

Bacon and eggs for 10
Kathy and Doug painting some of the new replacement siding before installation
Kathy priming the replacement siding before installation

If you know me at all, then you know I’m not comfortable with heights over about 6-8 feet yet there was at least one time that I got up into the bucket for a few hours to paint the gable end of the barn.

No, that’s NOT me in the bucket – I’m taking the picture this time

There were 10 volunteers – two couples and the other volunteers were single folks. 3 or 4 of the crew had worked with Historicorps on other projects in the past while 5 or 6 of us were new to working with this organization. The two couples lived in their RV’s and the Elk Refuge provided us with full hook-up sites. The others slept in tents or in their cars.

Brian and Jeanette showing off their painting expertise!

We had two crew leaders … Ruthie and Daniel. Ruthie was the Chief and has worked with Historicorps many times over the years while Daniel was new to the organization. Daniel, in addition to being the new guy on the block running a crew (and the youngest in our group) was responsible for helping to give training and direction to the volunteers and he was also responsible for planning our meals, buying all the food, and cooking our meals.

Crew Chief Ruthie using the electric plane on a piece of siding (to make it fit)
Daniel, our Assistant Crew Chief (and camp cook)
Elk Refuge Volunteer Camp along with the Historicorps Cook Tent
Pancakes and sausage … YUM!
Our crew enjoying a night out after a long day’s work

In addition to providing us with an opportunity to serve as volunteers, we were also provided with all the tools necessary to do the job, training, 3 meals a day, a full hook-up RV site …. and best of all … outstanding beauty in all directions!

We’ve been volunteering for about 3 years now since we sold our sticks ‘n bricks and hit the road full time. All of our experiences have been rewarding and this was another great example of the wonderfully rewarding experiences.

This experience was especially fun because we were working (and relaxing) with other like-minded people from all walks of life but with the same interest in volunteering and seeing a project to completion. Different personalities of different ages, different walks of life, different work experiences but we all enjoyed each other’s company and respected each other’s contribution to the project.

By the way, what I haven’t already explained is that this was actually a 4 week project. Historicorps solicits volunteers for one-week stints, but they will allow you to stay longer. This means that the crew chiefs have to train a new crew every week. But it works for them as they can get more volunteers this way, not just counting on retired folks but getting those who are still working a regular job the opportunity to take a “volunteer” vacation that is very rewarding.

Thanks for riding along and stay tuned for more updates on our travel and volunteering experiences.

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We’d love to hear from you. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, you can send us a note. Again, thanks for riding along. ’til next time – safe travels.

We’d really appreciate it if you would do us the favor of helping us continue to publish this RV / Travel / Workamping blog. Do you purchase any products from Amazon? If you do, it would be great if you’d use the link in the sidebar or one of the links below to get to Amazon … after that you can change your search. By making your Amazon purchases from our site, we will receive from Amazon a small percentage of your purchase and it doesn’t cost you any more. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you, Herb & Kathy

Bike Week at Sturgis

Well, here we are at Spearfish South Dakota nestled in the cradle of the northern Black Hills. The DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives actually sits in Ames Canyon at the south end of town right next to the beautiful Spearfish City Park and across the street from City Campground.

We’re continuing to enjoy our stay here and as the end of our time here nears, I thought I had better share with you some of our experiences here.

As I’ve said before, the friends we’ve made here and the relationships we’ve developed will stay with us as we continue our travels and we look forward to meeting up with these great folks again “on down the road”.

As non-bikers (motorcyclists) we weren’t really all that excited about visiting Sturgis during Bike Week. It’s only about 20 miles down the road, but the thought of fighting all the traffic (both road and foot) didn’t really get us enthused.

But … since we work at the hatchery 3 days on and 3 days off, what’s a person to do during the 3 off days? Matt and Sherry had been there last year, convinced us to go along with them, and after all … no grass to cut, no house to maintain, … so what the heck … go have some fun!

Estimated attendance was about 500,000 people over the 10 day time span of the rally with an economic impact to the area of over $800,000,000! (yea, that’s $800 MILLION!)

The pictures below show just SOME of the sights (and bikes) we saw along the way on Wednesday (mid-week) of the rally. There are other sights that we saw that would not be appropriate to share here on a public forum.

As always, if you click on any of the thumbnails below, you’ll be able to see a larger view of the image

Here’s a video of our campground during the rally. Although it was at full capacity with over 80 full hook-up sites and host to hundreds of tent campers scattered throughout the grounds, it was really a pretty calm environment for us – even during Bike Week. We’d hear the rumble of all the powerful bikes coming and going during the days, but at night it quieted back down.

Spearfish City Campground during Sturgis (79th annual) Bike Week

The park quieted right back down after Bike Week was over and we had the park nearly to ourselves again.

All in all, it was a great experience to be able to go to Sturgis during the rally and see all the beautiful bikes, eat some great food, and watch all the “different” people walking the curbs and sidewalks.

If you’re not already subscribed to this blog, you can easily do so by scrolling up to the top of any page and entering your email address in the block on the right side.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel (herbnkathyrv) on You Tube.

If you’re curious (at any time) to know where we are at that moment then click the button at the top right of this page labeled “See Where We Are Now“.

We’d love to hear from you. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, you can send us a note. Again, thanks for riding along. ’til next time – safe travels.

We’d really appreciate it if you would do us the favor of helping us continue to publish this RV / Travel / Workamping blog. Do you purchase any products from Amazon? If you do, it would be great if you’d use the link in the sidebar or one of the links below to get to Amazon … after that you can change your search. By making your Amazon purchases from our site, we will receive from Amazon a small percentage of your purchase and it doesn’t cost you any more. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you, Herb & Kathy

Volunteering at D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery

Really? We don’t fish … we don’t cook or even eat ENOUGH fish (according to the health experts) and we don’t really have any desire to handle fish or even SMELL fish! Why on earth would we consider working at a fish hatchery as one of our Workamping / Volunteering gigs?

Our good friends Phil and Cheryl volunteered here in 2016 and other good friends Matt and Sherry volunteered here in 2018 and they ALL highly recommended that we get on the list to volunteer here. Matt and Sherry were coming back again this year (’19) and so we submitted our application and resume’ back in August of 2018 and were accepted as volunteers.

D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives is not your normal production fish hatchery. There are 90 national U.S. Fish & Wildlife fish hatcheries throughout the nation along with many other state-managed hatcheries that are still in full-time operation.

This hatchery was an active production facility from it’s completion of construction in 1899 until 1983. At that time it was closed as a major production facility and turned into the national hatchery education site and archives.

Volunteering here has given both Kathy and I a new appreciation for serving as “tour guides” doing interpretive work. We were both a little nervous about this new role in our lives as volunteers. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that most of our volunteer experiences have been working in private or public RV parks or campgrounds as hosts, cleaning crew, or office duties. Although all of these positions have involved working with the public and have given us the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of new people, we’ve not been put in the position of “tour guide” doing interpretive work.

Would we be able to learn the script? Would we be able to smile all day? Would we be able to be on our feet for four and a half hours at a time? We were not concerned about the camp site, the area, or the management. We were confident that would all be great … thanks to our friends who’d worked here before.

We have to say that as of this writing … we’ve only been here about 3 weeks now … it’s been a wonderful experience and we’re quite comfortable with doing the interpretive work (tour guides) and we’re really enjoying our interactions with the other volunteers and being able to see the many sights that the Black Hills of South Dakota have to offer.

There are basically four different venues here where the volunteers are scheduled to work. Our venue assignments are rotated each shift. Spouses work the same shifts. We work 3 half-days on duty, then 3 full days off duty.

We might work in; the Museum, the Fish Car, the Booth House, or the Gift Shop.

The original hatchery building, constructed in 1899

Remember, you can click on any of the thumbnails below to see an enlarged image

Fish Car #3 and the Ice House

Remember, you can click on any of the thumbnails below to see an enlarged image

The Booth House – where hatchery Superintendents and their families lived

Remember, you can click on any of the thumbnails below to see an enlarged image

The “Pond Shop” gift shop overlooking pond #1
Inside the gift shop we sell hatchery merchandise and LOTS of fish food!
The “Pond Gift Shop” and restrooms with Pond #1 at the left

There are 10 RV sites in “Volunteer Village” which is a separate area of the beautiful Spearfish City Campground that is dedicated to use by volunteers at D.C. Booth Hatchery. We are supplied the Full Hookup site, 45 channel cable, free wi-fi and a community fire pit area where we often gather each night for a campfire with smores and stories. Sometimes we have pot luck meals there too!

Our sites back up to Spearfish Creek and a walking trail
Boys having fun floating down Spearfish Creek right behind our rigs

Remember, you can click on any of the thumbnails below to see an enlarged image

Another special perk of this position is that the volunteers all get a “VIP” card to carry in their wallet. This card is issued by the Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association and it entitles us to free admission to about 40 area attractions and discounts in area gift shops and restaurants.

The idea is that as tour guides at D.C. Booth we have the opportunity to meet and interact with hundreds of visitors daily and we should take the opportunity to talk with them about other attractions in the area. We’re kind of a “mini marketing” team for other things to see and do nearby.

This is the list of all the attractions free to tourism VIP’s

Some of these benefits are valued at just a few dollars while others are over $100 per ticket. It’s a great idea to promote the are wonderful benefit for us too!

While we are here at Spearfish (through Sept 2019) I’ll be writing other short blog posts about our excursion trips that we take using the VIP cards so you can get a better feel for a lot of what there is to offer here in the beautiful Black Hills!

If you think you might be interested in volunteering at D.C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery and Archives, visit their web site at https://dcboothfishhatchery.org/volunteer-programs/

If you’re not already subscribed to this blog, you can easily do so by scrolling up to the top of any page and entering your email address in the block on the right side.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel (herbnkathyrv) on You Tube.

If you’re curious (at any time) to know where we are at that moment then click the button at the top right of this page labeled “See Where We Are Now“.

We’d love to hear from you. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, you can send us a note. Again, thanks for riding along. ’til next time – safe travels.

We’d really appreciate it if you would do us the favor of helping us continue to publish this RV / Travel / Workamping blog. Do you purchase any products from Amazon? If you do, it would be great if you’d use the link in the sidebar or one of the links below to get to Amazon … after that you can change your search. By making your Amazon purchases from our site, we will receive from Amazon a small percentage of your purchase and it doesn’t cost you any more. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you, Herb & Kathy

Camp Hosting at Fort Peck, Montana

Kathy and I spent early spring 2019 as Camp Hosts at the Fort Peck Downstream Campground – Fort Peck Montana. This is a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) Project and our campground is just one of the recreation areas at the project which includes Fort Peck Reservoir, Fort Peck Dam and spillway, the Interpretive & Visitor Center and about a dozen other outlying recreation centers that are along the shores of the 135 mile long reservoir where visitors can use the boat ramps, picnic shelters, and camping areas.

Fort Peck Lake Montana

Campground hosts volunteer 24 hours per week to the park in exchange for their camp site and utilities. There are paid Gate Attendants to handle camper fee collection and the park has contractors who; cut the grass, clean out fire pits, and keep the restrooms and bath houses clean.

Our job as hosts are to be another set of eyes on the park when the ranger can’t be here. There are four rangers here at Fort Peck Project who are responsible for about a dozen outlying recreation areas and the Interpretive Center, so they’ve got plenty to keep them busy.

I’ve gathered some pictures to help illustrate what sorts of things we get involved in. Some of these are things we’ve been asked to do while many of these are things we’ve volunteered to do just to help out and to keep us busy.

There’s lots to do here, and lots of “pieces parts” and equipment to do it with. The challenge is having enough staff to get it all done before the onslaught of visitors each spring. That’s where volunteers can help out. We can do the “little jobs” that might otherwise require time from the (4) rangers and (2) maintenance personnel on staff here at the project. That way these folks can utilize their time more wisely doing the types of jobs that their specialized training allows them to do.

One example of the specialized training I mentioned is shown in the photos below. Last year the campground received a new comfort station. The staff here at the project performed the complete operation. They poured the concrete pad for the comfort station to sit on, they did all the trenching and back fill for the supply lines, they did all the rough in plumbing and electrical, they’ll be doing all the final connections, and they will set forms and pour all the concrete curtain and approach walks.

We enjoyed our time at Fort Peck. The folks we worked with and for were very kind, professional, and courteous and they appreciated everything we did to help out.

We also made some great new friends. Dan and Bev came in early May and were contracted as the paid Gate Attendants. They’ve been full time RV’ers for 21 years!

Our new friends Dan and Bev Foster

If you have any interest in working as a volunteer in exchange for your RV site and utilities, go to www.volunteer.gov where you can search by; state, agency, and position type.

Thanks for following along and remember to visit our You Tube channel herbnkathyrv to see some of the videos we’ve published lately.

We’d really appreciate it if you would do us the favor of helping us continue to publish this RV / Travel / Workamping blog. Do you purchase any products from Amazon? If you do, it would be great if you’d use the link in the sidebar or one of the links below to get to Amazon … after that you can change your search. By making your Amazon purchases from our site, we will receive from Amazon a small percentage of your purchase and it doesn’t cost you any more. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you, Herb & Kathy

So Just What Is Fort Peck?

Fort Peck – It’s a small town (about 250 residents) and it’s an Army Corp of Engineers “Project” that includes a dam, a campground, an Interpretive Center, and multiple fishing/boating/hunting recreation areas.

Oh, and I almost forgot … the reason all of the above is here … the Fort Peck Reservoir. The reservoir (man made lake) was formed from the Missouri River, is 135 miles long and has over 1500 miles of shoreline. It was formed in the 30’s when 10,000+ men built the world’s largest earthen dam to provide flood control for lands downstream.

The dam and the history of how families came from all over the country to work there and the engineering that went into the planning and building … well that’s a story in itself and will require a blog post dedicated to that subject alone. But you can learn all about that right now by following this link to PBS Montana.

For now, we want to share with you a little about why we are here, how we came to find this job in particular, and take you on a tour of the park and show you some of our duties here.

Kathy and I are volunteers … well, kind of. We travel the country volunteering our time at campgrounds and RV parks in exchange for the rent and utilities on our site. We generally provide the park 12-15 hours a week and they give us a full hook-up (elec, water, sewer) site along with utilities. Sometimes we also receive; laundry money, free WiFi and cable TV hook-up, and discounts on purchases from the camp store or nearby attractions.

This arrangement offers us an opportunity to travel and see the country, meet all kinds of wonderful new people and experience new situations in all kinds of environments that we otherwise would not be able to see and do on our limited budget.

It offers the campground owner/operator free part-time employees for no cash outlay, only the loss of rental income for a couple RV sites that might often be vacant anyway. Another benefit: typically there is no employment contract or agreement to sign – only a handshake agreement. It’s called bartering. And it works well for us and the campground owner.

How we came to show up here ..

We knew that part of our “Bucket List” included a lot of the national parks and monuments out west, so we decided we’d search for jobs in that area.

Although we subscribe, either for a small annual fee or sometimes for free, to many of the Workamping web sites and have our resume’ published on a lot of them, there is also another great source for finding government related jobs and volunteer positions. I logged on to Volunteer.gov and followed the easy instructions to search for Campground Host (volunteer) positions available in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. I filled out the online application and with just a few mouse clicks submitted our app to probably 40 or so parks in that five state area.

Within a week or two we started getting emails and phone calls from campground managers and rangers throughout the 5 state area. We chose to come to Fort Peck because we were already committed to South Dakota for July, August, and September and Ranger Scott here at Fort Peck was willing to work with our schedule. We left our leased RV lot in Casa Grande Arizona on April 1st and showed up at Fort Peck on April 15 just after the snow melted.

It’s been fascinating to learn about the local history. The town of Fort Peck was built by the corp to support the nearly 50,000 people that would come here to work on the building of the dam over the 10+ year period of 1930 to 1941. There were as many as 11,000 men working on the dam at any one time during that period and eight men lost their lives during “the Big Slide” of 1938 and are permanently entombed in the dam to this day.

To learn more about the dam building and how the town and local area and people from far and wide prospered during the depression, I encourage you to follow this link to visit the PBS web site with some great pictures from the era and a video about the building of the dam.

Our Camp Host Site on day one – April 15th
The theatre operated 24/7 during construction of the dam with newsreels, movies and live plays to entertain the workers and their families and still offers summer plays to locals and visitors to the area.
The Northeast Montana Veterans Memorial Park in the center of town
The world’s largest earthen dam, 4 miles long, 3/4 mile wide at the base, and 250′ tall.
The Spillway located 3 miles east of the dam. Yes, that’s ice on the downstream side
The Interpretive Center contains displays information on the dam, local paleontology, and local fish and wildlife along with an educational movie theatre

There was a T-Rex discovered here (now on display at the Smithsonian) with a full-size replica here in the Interpretive Center.

The Fort Peck T-Rex in the Interpretive Center

Here’s a video that gives a tour of the campground and some of the surrounding area along with a little bit of what we’ve been doing at the park these first couple of weeks.

10 minute video on the Downstream Campground – Fort Peck Montana

Thanks for riding along and visiting. We’re having fun and intend to keep posting to share a little of our time here. Please leave any comments below and be sure to subscribe to our You Tube channel so you always get the latest videos as soon as they are published. I usually try to make the videos available here via the blog as well.

Until next time, best wishes to you and yours from HerbnKathy

We’d really appreciate it if you would do us the favor of helping us continue to publish this RV / Travel / Workamping blog. Do you purchase any products from Amazon? If you do, it would be great if you’d use the link in the sidebar or one of the links below to get to Amazon … after that you can change your search. By making your Amazon purchases from our site, we will receive from Amazon a small percentage of your purchase and it doesn’t cost you any more. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you, Herb & Kathy

The Landscape Keeps Changing

As we travel north to Montana, we are constantly blessed by the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Kathy and I were born and raised in the midwest and the beauty we saw there was in the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan shoreline along northwestern Michigan. If you haven’t spent any time in Michigan, you must do yourself a favor and take a driving tour along Michigan’s northwest coast.

But the scenery we’ve been exposed to these last few months has been so colorful, so impressive and awe-inspiring that I just had to share a few pictures here.

This is a short video showing the landscape up RT 89 north of Congress AZ where we spent our first night at the Escapees North Ranch RV Park.

An overlook of Congress, AZ just across from the Yarnell Memorial to the Granite Mountain HotShots – Nineteen men who lost their lives on June 30, 2013

Our second stop wasn’t really “natural” but man-made. When you take in how massive this project is and what man created here … that alone is beauty in it’s own right.

Hoover Dam is an arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Hoover Dam is 726 feet high. It is 650 feet thick at the bottom and 45 feet thick at the top. The purpose of the Hoover Dam is for power, silt and flood control, irrigation, and water for both industrial and domestic use. When Hoover Dam was finished in 1936 it was the world’s largest hydroelectric power station. The four intake towers (penstocks) on the north side of the dam take in water from Lake Mead and feed up to 91,000 gallons (each) of water per SECOND to feed the two banks of seventeen hydroelectric generators that produce over 2,000 megawatts of capacity and produce a yearly average generation of 4.5 billion kilowatt hours to serve the annual electrical needs of nearly 8 million people in Arizona, southern California, and southern Nevada.

One of the most interesting facts I learned about Hoover Dam (originally called Boulder Dam) is that the design included a HUGE refrigeration plant to cool the concrete as it cured. We were told during our tour that had they not provided artificial cooling to the concrete it could have taken a hundred years or more to cool and cure correctly so as to avoid premature cracking and failure.

Here’s a few pictures of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam showing how much lower the water level is than it was in the past. (It’s gone down 75′ in the last twenty years)

Remember, clicking on any of the individual images below will open a larger view.

Here’s a view from one of the overlooks at Lake Mead showing the marina. You can see how much lower the lake has become in recent years.

As we headed north from Boulder City Nevada and Hoover Dam, our next stop was Zion National Park.

We actually parked the coach at Ruby’s Campground at Bryce Canyon and then took the car to visit Zion National Park and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab Utah.

Unfortunately, we were unaware that you had to call ahead and make reservations for a tour at Best Friends, so all we were able to do is visit the Visitor Center and take a drive through part of the grounds and see a few horses. They have tens of thousands of acres and lead tours in small vans – something we’d still like to do but just ran out of time (and daylight) the day we were there. Click on the video below of a waterfall in Zion — it’ll zoom right in on the source.

A waterfall at Zion National Park

We came back to the coach, spent a second night at Ruby’s and then went on to visit Bryce Canyon National Park the next day. We could take the main road about 12 miles into the park after which the path was closed due to roads blocked by the snow. It would take a few more days/weeks of nice weather to get to the point that the park would be totally open to visitors.

But what we were able to see was Oh So Impressive! (click on any pix for a larger view)