More Days Are Diamonds…

During the past month I’ve reported on two Arkansas couples finding diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds, an Arkansas state park known for allowing visitors to dig for diamonds and keep what they find. The search area is a 37.5-acre plowed field. The park calls itself the world’s only diamond-producing site open to the public.

Beth Gilbertson holds her 8.66-carat white diamond. Image courtesy

On March 20, Melissa and Kenny Oliver of Rosston, Arkansas unearthed a flawless 2.44-carat silver white diamond which they named the “Silver Moon.”

Earlier this month a longtime visitor to the park who chose to remain anonymous found an even bigger diamond, a 3.86-carat jewel dubbed the “Heart of Arkansas” for its heart shape. It was the largest find at the park since someone dug up an almost 5-carat brown diamond last April.

In total, over 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed at the Arkansas’s diamond site since the first diamonds found in 1906 by John Huddleston, the farmer who at that time owned the land, long before the site became an Arkansas state park.

Woman finds 8.66-carat diamond

A Colorado woman unearthed an 8.66-carat white diamond at the Crater of Diamonds State Park on Tuesday (April 26, 2011). Roughly the size of a nickel it’s the third largest diamond found by a visitor since the park was established.

Park Officials say Beth Gilbertson of Salida, Colorado has been a regular visitor to the park for over a year since seeing the Travel Channel’s “The Best Places to Find Cash and Treasures” which included a segment on the Crater of Diamonds.

“The diamond is jaw-dropping,” says park interpreter Waymon Cox. “It’s icy white with a metallic luster. And, it’s a flat trapezoidal-shape crystal and the size of a nickel.”

Size comparison: 8.66-carat diamond and nickel. Image courtesy

“Large diamonds continue to be found here at the Crater of Diamonds State Park,” says park superintendent Justin Dorsey. “This absolutely beautiful white diamond is the third largest diamond of the 27,000 diamonds found by park visitors since the Crater of Diamonds became an Arkansas state park in 1972.”

A man from Amarillo, Texas found a 16.37-carat diamond in the park in 1975, and a woman from Shreveport, Louisiana found one weighing 8.82 carats in 1981.

“It has been almost 30 years since we’ve seen a diamond of this size found at the park. And, we are all so happy for Ms. Gilbertson,” Dorsey says.

Joan Ellison, Public Information Officer for Arkansas State Parks, said about two diamonds are found each day at the park, but the best time to dig is after rainy weather.

“The perfect time to find diamonds is after a rain storm and the sun has come out,” she said. “Diamonds have an oily skin around them, so when it rains that dirt will slide off that oily skin and when the sun comes out they’ll sparkle.”

Gilbertson’s visit to the park coincided with a recent bout of severe storms that hammered through much of Arkansas Monday and Tuesday nights.

She said she had been showing two other visitors how to search for diamonds on Beatty’s Hill, an area she didn’t normally frequent. After scraping gravel out of a drainage ditch, she discovered the diamond while sifting buckets of dirt at a washing station.

“I knew (Arkansas) had some really bad storms recently, so it’s had some erosion,” she said. “I found an area that was collecting water and I figured that might be a good place for a diamond to land. I guess it was.”

You'll pass through the park's Diamond Discovery Center on your way to the diamond search area. Photo courtesy Arkansas State Parks

Gilbertson said she certified the diamond at the park Wednesday morning after thinking all night about what to name it.

She said she settled on naming it “The Illusion Diamond” because at first she thought it had been a piece of glass but after holding it in her hand realized it was an actual diamond.

“I’d collected four buckets of dirt for me to search and two for the other visitors,” she says. “The diamond ended up being in one of my buckets.”

“I’ve found other diamonds at the park, but when I first noticed this one, I couldn’t quite believe that something that large could be a real diamond. I thought it was a piece of glass.  So, I asked another visitor, this is a diamond, right?”

That’s how it became “The Illusion Diamond.” It is the 196th diamond find at the park this year.

Gilbertson said she isn’t quite sure what she is going to do with the diamond yet, but it’s already safely tucked away in a safe deposit box.

“I’m just going to hold on to it right now and be able to look at it and appreciate it and show it around. After that I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll probably take a break for a few days and then head back out there. I know there’s always a bigger one out there than the one I have now.”


Crater of Diamonds State Park

Operating Hours: Visitor Center/Diamond Discovery Center is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m., extended summer hours

Admission: Adults $7.00, children (age 6-12) $4

Camping: $21-28

Location: From Murfreesboro, take Arkansas 301 and go 2.5 miles southwest to the park

Address: 209 State Park Road, Murfreesboro, AR 71958

Contact: (870) 285-3113

Worth Pondering…
Angels are like diamonds. They can’t be made, you have to find them. Each one is unique.

—Jaclyn Smith

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Family of missing Alberta RVers searching for closure

It’s been more than nine months since Lyle and Marie McCann went missing during a road trip from their home in St. Albert, a northern suburb of Edmonton, Alberta to visit family in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley.

The McCanns, both in their 70s, were last seen July 3, 2010 fueling up their motorhome at a gas station in their hometown of St. Albert. Their credit card has not been used since they bought that gas.

Their burning RV was found two days later in a campsite near Edson, Alberta, about 120 miles west of Edmonton. The registration was pulled out of the motorhome before it was destroyed by fire; the documents showed that the McCanns were the owners.

On July 10, seven days after they left their home, the McCanns failed to meet their daughter, Trudy Holder, in Abbotsford, B.C. She contacted RCMP to report them missing.

That’s when RCMP first linked the missing couple to the burned RV.

Alberta Mounties admitted they botched the early stages of the investigation after police went to the burning motorhome and found the McCanns’ registration papers. They called the McCann home, but abandoned the chase when there was no answer.

If my motorhome is ever found burned in a remote location and the police phone my home to inform me and there’s no answer, I sure hope they send an officer out to talk to my neighbors and ask about my whereabouts. I also hope that they would do that immediately—not over a week after I’m reported missing.

On July 16, the green Hyundai Tucson SUV the couple had been towing was found abandoned in thick bush about 18 miles east of Edson.

That same day, police announced a manhunt for Travis Vader, 38, who they said was a “person of interest” in the investigation.

Vader was arrested on unrelated warrants in the nearby hamlet of MacKay on July 19.

Well-known to police, Vader has a long criminal record with 12 separate sets of charges dating back to 1995. He was wanted in connection with at least 17 drug, gun, theft, and arson charges stemming from two separate incidents.

Lyle and Marie McCann. Photo courtesy Global

With the arrival of spring weather, the family of Lyle and Marie McCann plan to resume the search for the missing St. Albert couple, saying they’re desperate for closure.

Family and friends were able to search part of the area where the motorhome was found before winter arrived, and that’s where they plan to resume their search.

The McCann’s son Bret acknowledges that the family is looking for closure at this point.

“Our family has come to accept that my parents probably met an awful fate that first weekend but we still need closure,” said Bret McCann. “We need to know what happened to our parents.”

Travis Vader, the only suspect ever named in the disappearance of the couple, remains in custody on unrelated charges.

A $60,000 reward for information has gone unclaimed. When the McCanns met with police last month, they were told no new information has come forward.

The McCann family has set up a website asking for tips in the case.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or St. Albert RCMP at 780-458-7700.

Worth Pondering…
Security is mostly a superstition.
It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

—Helen Keller

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Exploring Verde Valley, AZ

At our core, we are explorers. It’s in our bones, our marrow, our guts to venture out and discover. Exploration and adventure are vital to the human soul. Called by distant voices or prodded by an inner whisper, we travel, we seek adventure.

Verde Valley Preserve, a Thousand Trails membership park, is our home base in the Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have enjoyed months at a time RVing throughout southern Arizona, enjoying abundant sunshine, and a fascinating backdrop of mountain ranges. Whether we’re at Yuma, along the Colorado River at Lake Havasu or Bullhead City, Quartzsite, Catalina State Park, and Tucson, Ajo, and Organ Pipe National Park, Tombstone, Patagonia, Coronado National Memorial, or Ramsey Canyon in southeastern Arizona, or a Maricopa County Regional Park in the Phoenix area, there’s much to explore.

But, each spring finds us gravitating north to the scenic and historic wonders of Verde Valley.

This area doesn’t offer saguaros or desert landscape, but it does give you access to a stunning variety of experiences, including the town of Sedona nestled in the midst of Arizona’s spectacular red rock country. The red rock natural beauty surrounding the town is simply jaw dropping.

Verde Valley extends from Jerome, Cottonwood, and Sycamore Canyon southeast toward Camp Verde and beyond, to Sedona, the Oak Creek Canyon, and the foot of the Mogollon Rim (locally pronounced “Muggy-own,” or simply called “the Rim”).

Sedona is truly an extraordinary place. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For two weeks in late March and early April our home base is Verde Valley Preserve, a Thousand Trails membership campground situated on the Verde River. This 300-acre oasis in the high desert of Arizona is surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Red Rocks to the north, Mingus Mountains to the west, and the Hackberry Mountains to the south.

The climate is moderate year-round. Rich in geological and cultural history, the area provides hours of exploring and sight-seeing—from the famous ghost town of Jerome to scenic drives through Sedona, ablaze with many colors.

If you have an interest in southwestern American history, you can get a quick tour of Arizona’s past and see some of the state’s most spectacular scenery outside of the Grand Canyon at the same time.

In the 1860s, as Arizona’s settlement began with miners, the U.S. Army was tapped to calm the threat from the Yavapais and Apaches. The Army came to establish Fort Verde (and others nearby such as Fort Whipple at Prescott).

Today, a visit to Fort Verde State Park provides a glimpse of Army life on the southwest frontier. Visitors experience living history displays of frontier Army life, and several buildings furnished in 1880s style are open to the public.

Pink Jeep tours are a popular way to venture into Red Rock Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When George Crook commanded the Army in the Arizona Territory from Fort Verde, he built a wagon road to other outlying posts. If you follow State Route 260 east from the Verde Valley, you follow the Crook Trail. Some of the boulders that were used to identify mileposts along the way can still be seen. The route is spectacular, leading onto the high country atop the Mogollon Rim.

The basins, canyons and peaks along the 6,000 foot to 7,000 foot rim were the setting and inspiration for Zane Grey’s western novels. He lived and wrote along Tonto Creek a few miles away, surrounded by the rocks and Ponderosa pines.

Worth Pondering…
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
—Marcel Proust

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Freightliner Expands Its Customer Support with USB Card

Is your motorhome built on a Freightliner chassis? Are you planning to purchase a new motorhome in 2011?

Already the only chassis manufacturer to offer 24/7 factory-direct support of its motorcoaches, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC) is expanding its service with a powerful resource that customers can fit into their pockets.

Launched in early 2011, FCCC’s 24/7 Direct initiative created a constantly available, easily accessible network with the goal of providing customers the best possible assistance and answers to even the most complex chassis issues.

A company press release indicates that the new 24/7 Direct service cards are being mailed this month to all purchasers of new motorhomes built on an FCCC chassis dating back to January 1, 2011. They’re printed with key support contact information and the customer Vehicle Identification Number to serve as a valuable quick reference, and an embedded USB flash drive makes the card a virtual library of chassis data.

By simply flipping the drive out from one end of the card and plugging it into a computer, a customer gains access to a wealth of information including warranties, maintenance schedules, EPA 2010 emission technology featuring selective catalytic reduction (SCR), vendor categories, website links, and entire user manuals. Plus, with a gigabyte of memory on board, there’s plenty of room for additional downloads and updates, enabling customers to utilize the USB for personal storage.

“FCCC wanted to develop a resource that would enable our customers to easily access all of the essential information they need about their chassis,” said Dave Hoover, senior manager of Customer Support at FCCC. “The 24/7 Direct card and USB drive is compact, but it contains volumes of information that will be important to our customers.

2011 Dutch Star built on Freightliner chassis

This is just another example of FCCC’s commitment to our customers and furthers our ‘Driven By You’ mission. And with our around-the-clock direct access to FCCC chassis experts, the 24/7 Direct program offers an unparalleled support system, no matter where our customers are on North America’s roads.”

FCCC’s customer assistance phone line (1-800-FTL-HELP) is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a team of well-qualified customer service advisors who all have hands-on plant experience and boast an average experience level of 16 years. To complement their expertise, on-the-ground support can be found at more than 400 FCCC service locations in North America. More than 90 of those locations are also part of the Freightliner Oasis Network, a group of dealerships across the country dedicated to serving FCCC RV customers.

2012 Ventana built on Freightliner chassis

The Freightliner Oasis Network is specifically tailored to the RV customer. Each service location has specially trained RV service technicians, separate bays for RV service, secure parking for RV customers, and additional amenities specifically for RV owners.

Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation manufactures premium chassis for the motorhome, delivery walk-in van, and school bus and shuttle bus markets. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation is a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America LLC, a Daimler company.

Worth Pondering…
“Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space.”

It could be the theme song of every RVer, though it’s not likely what Steppenwolf had in mind when they recorded Born to be Wild in 1968.

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Utah Road Trip: 6 People, 43 Parks, 3 Days, 1 RV

Driving in Utah is a road tripper’s dream. With its unworldly scenery and unusual history, Utah ranks among the most intriguing destinations in the U.S. This big western state has magnificent mountain peaks, stark deserts, colorful canyons, and the second saltiest body of water on Earth. Utah is home to 43 state parks, five national parks, and seven national monuments, making it a paradise for travelers who love the outdoors. Also, the state is justly famous for its excellent skiing, river rafting, bicycling, and backpacking.

Starting at noon Thursday, May 12 from Antelope Island State Park, a group of six people will pile in an RV and drive approximately 2,200 miles visiting all 43 state parks and returning back to Antelope Island Sunday, May 15.

Six people piling into one RV and visiting 43 Utah state parks in three days!

It’s a one-of-a-kind adventure that sounds like a television reality show.

“The idea of the Road Trip is to showcase the importance, beauty, and diversity of Utah’s state park system and rally Utahns to come out and support their favorite state parks, and state parks in their communities,” said Barbara Riddle, president and CEO of Davis Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Dead Horse Point State Park is located near Moab and Canyonlands National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I can’t wait to see what it’s like when the whole thing is done,” Riddle added. “We’ve been calling it a little like the Chevy Chase ‘Vacation’ tour. Our hope is nobody ends up in the rocking chair on top of the RV on the way back.”

Also with a seat in the RV are Chris Dallin, Tim Hughes, Russ Smith, Bill Francis, and Vaughn Jacobsen, all of whom are involved with the Antelope Island Stampede Committee.

Dallin came up with the idea when he and Jacobsen were talking about Dallin’s idea for a fun weekend.

“I believe that life is made up of activities and fun moments and we thought this would be a fun way to see state parks,” said Dallin, a board member of the Davis County Chamber of Commerce.

The trip is funded privately and through donations: RV provided by All Access Recreation Club, cash from Chevron, promotion by KSL Radio, satellite communication by Skycall Communications, and videography by The Imagination Company.

During and following the trip, the Road Trippers will blog, and share video, and photos through updates on their website at

“We challenge every Utahn to visit a state park this year, if we can do all 43 parks in three days, you can visit one,” said Russ Smith with Skycall Communications.

Quail Gate State Park is located near Hurricane and St. George. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Road Trip coincides with the Utah Tourism Conference and National Tourism Week, and is an official Travel Day Event designated by U.S. Travel. Road Trippers will stop briefly at the Utah Tourism Conference in Park City on Thursday night to meet up with the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition, Utah Office of Tourism, and other tourism entities.

Tourism is one of Utah’s largest industries, generating $6.2 billion in traveler spending every year and $625 million in state and local taxes. Utah’s state parks alone host nearly 5 million visitors annually.

Dallin said he thinks that it is sad that when he talks with people around Davis County, they tell him about trips to Paris, Cozumel, and Cancun. But when he asks them if they can name four Utah State parks, he has not found one person who can answer.

“Around here they say Willard Bay, Antelope Island, and that’s as far as they go,” Dallin said. “We hope we can bring some attention as a part of this and help people recognize that there is beauty out there that needs to be discovered by them and their families.”

Many state parks, including Antelope Island and Territorial Statehouse are planning community events around the Road Trip.

Sand Hollow State Park is located near Hurricane and St. George. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All visitors to state parks that day will receive a Utah State Parks supporter pin; no taxpayer money was used to purchase pins.

Established by the 1957 Utah Legislature, the state park system has been a recent target of budget cuts, stripped of $8.3 million in general funds over the last four years. With no new funding in sight for operations or replacement of aging facilities, the Road Trippers want to raise awareness about potential state park closures.

Worth Pondering…
Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.

—Pat Conroy

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Good News from Texas State Parks: Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is getting a new group recreation facility, the first of its kind in a Texas State Park. The new stone-clad facility will be 5,200 square feet with meeting and dining hall space, restrooms, and a commercial kitchen perfect for wedding receptions and family reunions.

The Lighthouse Rock formation can be reached on a hiking trail. Photo courtesy TPWD

A recent groundbreaking ceremony marked the $1 million donation by local businessman Mack Dick, for whom the pavilion is named. It will be used in a public/private partnership to which the state will add $700,000, reported

Dick has a history with the park, spending time there with his family and friends.

“I like the scenery. I like the wildlife. You can see the nice trails,” he said. “The big thing is it’s not crowded. You feel like you’re out in the Wild West.”

The Mack Dick Group Pavilion will be a state of the art facility that will have a seating capacity of 150 and have multi-media technology.

“In these difficult times we have found very few dollars available for capital development in fact, we have not had capital development dollars in state parks in many many years. Had it not be for the generosity of the private sector and forming these partnerships these types of projects simply would not be possible,” said Brent Leisure, Texas State Park Director.

The pavilion will show off local stone and native materials at its location just below the steep road where visitors descend to the floor of the park. Its design will complement the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures built in the park during the 1930s. They bear the distinct mark of CCC-era architecture: simple, rustic design, and hand-hewn native stone.

This mysterious terra cotta badland, referred to as the "Grand Canyon of Texas," calls out to the adventuresome to be explored. Photo courtesy Destination360

“It will truly be a showcase because it will be one of the first things you see,” said Mark Bivins, former Co-Chair of Amarillo Area Foundation.

The construction process is expected to start in the next six months with completion by 2013.

Grand Canyon of Texas

As they say locally, “Welcome to the Grand Canyon of Texas.” While that may be a slight Texas exaggeration because Palo Duro doesn’t have the drama of Arizona’s most famous canyon, but it’s nearly 30,000 acres are unusual and interesting in their own right—and downright impressive!

The Palo Duro canyon system is located south of Amarillo on the southern high plains, at the edge of an area called El Llano Estacado or “staked plains.”

Though the canyon as a whole plunges to a depth of 800 feet and runs 120 miles in length, only the northernmost portion forms the state park. The scenic eight-mile drive to the canyon floor provides a series of breathtaking vistas along each bend and turn.

The rim of the canyon is considered part of the short grass prairie while the elevated moisture of the canyon floor supports a greater diversity of plants including some medium and tall grass species along with shrubs and trees.

Red dirt in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Photo courtesy Planetware

Historians say that Native Americans inhabited the canyon as long ago as 12,000 years, but it may have been a Spanish explorer who gave it the name “palo duro”, Spanish for the “hard wood” juniper trees that thrive in the region. It’s believed that around 1541, Coronado and the members of his expedition became the first Europeans to set eyes on the canyon.

Outdoor Theater Production
TEXAS, the outdoor musical drama and the Official Play of the State of Texas, presents a completely different way to experience the history of Palo Duro Canyon. With a cast of 80, the colorful production uses dance, song, and narration to tell the story of the Indians, early settlers, and cowboys who inhabited the Panhandle during the late 1800s.

The 43rd anniversary season will run Tuesday through Sunday from June 4 to August 20, 2011.

Tickets are available on-line, by phone at (806) 655-2181, and at the TEXAS Office in Canyon on the Square at 1514 5th Avenue in the nearby town of Canyon.


Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., extended hours on week-ends and in summer

Admission: $5 per day, per person 13 and older

Location: 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217

Directions: From Amarillo, take I-27 south to State Highway 217, and go east 8 mile

Camping: $22-25

Address: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015

Contact: (806) 488-2227

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Wasn’t Born in Texas, But Got Here as Fast as I Could

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Echo RV: New Kid on the Block

“Hey there—welcome to our exciting little company!” announced Mike Scheetz, president and founding owner of Echo Manufacturing, a new RV manufacturer.

American Spirit Series. Image courtesy Echo RV

Scheetz has spent 15 years in the RV industry, extensively involved in sales and product development. Mike has been involved with the development of products such as the Jayco Jay Flight and Sunnybrook travel trailers. He’s also had fancy titles like Vice President of Motorized Sales for Coachmen. It’s safe to say that if he hasn’t seen it all, he’s seen darn near most of it.

In a recent press release Mike Scheetz announced the company’s first product launch of lightweight travel trailers—the American Spirit and the Canadian Spirit, and multi-purpose haulers—the Bandit APH and The Stalker. The new products are designed to be affordable and lightweight for those wanting to haul and camp for less.

“We’re building small, lightweight, and proven floor plans that the customers want,” said Scheetz. “Not a lot of gadgets or glitz, just good, usable trouble-free products at the best price.”

“Our game plan at Echo is to be a small but responsive RV manufacturer dedicated to giving the retail customer what they want in a quality product at a good price,” said Scheetz. “We highly value our reputation and our integrity. We want to do right by the customer both in our product offerings and in our after-sales support. We stand behind everything we do.

“Right now we’re building a network of dealers that share our core values,” Scheetz explained. “We want dealers who stand behind what they sell. We want RVers talking positively about us around the campfire.”

Bandit Series. Image courtesy Echo RV

Echo will provide sales and service throughout all of the United States and Canada.

Production of these products is now under way and the first units have arrived on dealer lots.

In a recent conversation with Echo RV, Peter Dotlich, Director of Sales indicated that at present, their dealer network ranges from Arizona, Utah, and Colorado in the West; Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the East; Michigan and Minnesota in the north; Texas in the south;  and Georgia and Florida in the southeastern segments of the USA.

However, should a customer desire to conduct business with a “preferred or local dealer”, Echo RV will be happy to make contractual-arrangements for you to be serviced by your preferred dealer, Dotlich added.

The Echo manufacturing facility, located on the north side of Elkhart, currently employs 17 people, with more to be added as production increases.

American and Canadian Spirit Series

Canadian Spirit Series. Image Courtesy Echo RV

The American Spirit and Canadian Spirit are travel trailers with six floor plans ranging from 19 to 27 feet of lightweight affordable comfort. They are designed to get your family camping with the least amount of effort and cost.

With standard features like air conditioning, refrigerator with freezer, stereo with outside speakers and much more, you can enjoy your wilderness campsite like it is your second home.

The two “Spirits’” weight range is from 2,939 pounds to 4,007 pounds. “We’re building small, lightweight, and proven floor plans that the customers want. Not a lot of gadgets or glitz, just good, usable trouble-free products at the best price.”

Bandit and The Stalker Series

The Bandit is a real, affordable all-purpose toy hauler with 19-, 24- and 32-foot floor plans. A 30-foot model will also be available soon.

Whether you’re loading up tools and supplies for weekday projects, or your toys for the weekend—“the Bandit will help you steal away!”

The Bandit’s 19-foot model has a base weight of 3,350 pounds and carrying capacity of 3,270 pounds. “It’s a toy hauler that can almost carry its own weight,” explained Scheetz, who noted it could be towed by a half-ton pickup or SUV.

This allows plenty of “stuff” to come along for recreational activities, from tailgate parties to ATV excursions. It can also double as a work vehicle for construction projects as well as providing comfortable RV living facilities.

The Stalker, a hunting, ice fishing, and all purpose hauler is also available.


Echo Manufacturing

Web site:


Information: (574) 333- 3669 or (877) 495-1546

Worth Pondering…
The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure.

—Vince Lombardi

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Digging for Diamonds

Last month I reported than an Arkansas couple had found a flawless 2.44-carat silver white diamond at the Crater of Diamonds.

A 3.86 ct. diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park. Image courtesy

The Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas, has now yielded an even bigger find, a 3.86-carat jewel dubbed the “Heart of Arkansas” for its heart shape.

A longtime visitor to the park from Murfreesboro, where the park is located, unearthed the diamond while sifting through the park dirt earlier this month.

“It’s the largest diamond in just about a year,” said park guide and educator Waymon Cox. “‘Diamond in the rough’ is a bit of a misnomer. We have many beautiful rough diamonds that can be used in jewelry.”

Cox describes the diamond as the size of a piece of candy corn, with a pearly white shine.

The local man who found the diamond this week has chosen to remain anonymous. Although the park isn’t sure how much the gem is worth, Cox characterized his find as having the “potential to be substantially more valuable” than a 2-carat diamond found three years ago. That diamond was cut and appraised for $22,000.

It’s the largest find at the park since someone dug up an almost 5-carat brown diamond last April.

A Gem among Diamond Mines

The only one of its kind in the country, Crater of Diamonds is a 37.5-acre state park on the site of an ancient volcanic pipe that, 95 million years ago, brought thousands of diamonds and semi-precious stones to the Earth’s surface.

Found at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in 1990 by Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro, Arkansas, this diamond weighed 3.03 carats in the rough. Photo courtesy Arkansas State Parks

Since the park is open to the public anyone can go home substantially wealthier than when they arrived. On average, two diamonds are found each day at the park. The Crater of Diamonds usually yields about five to seven large diamonds a year.

The largest diamond ever discovered in the United States was unearthed here in 1924 during an early mining operation. Named the Uncle Sam, this white diamond with a pink cast was a whopping 40.23 carats. It was cut down to a 12.5 carat emerald-shaped stone and valued at more than half a million dollars.

Other large notable finds from the Crater include the Star of Murfreesboro (34.25 carats) and the Star of Arkansas (15.33 carats).

Another park find, the Strawn-Wagner diamond, has been certified as the world’s only perfect diamond by the American Gem Society. It was unearthed in 1990.

Owner John Huddleston found the first diamond here in 1906 when it was part of his farm. The land has changed hands many times and several failed mining ventures have been attempted.

The State of Arkansas bought the land in 1972 to establish the state park.

The three most common diamond colors found (in order) are white, brown, and yellow. More than 40 different rocks and minerals can be found in the park, including amethyst, garnet, and quartz.

After having your stone identified at the Diamond Discovery Center, you can have your diamonds weighed and certified at no charge. However, the park staff is not trained nor equipped to estimate the value of your find. But they are happy to provide you with a list of diamond cutters, who will be able to price your diamond upon examination—a diamond’s value is based primarily on its ability to be cut, with color and clarity as secondary factors.

Diamond-Hunting Tips

  1. Look for a small, well-rounded crystal. A diamond weighing several carats may be no larger than a marble.
  2. Diamonds have an oily, slick outer surface that dirt or mud will not stick to, so look for clean crystals.
  3. If you think you have a diamond, hold it carefully or place it in a small sack provided by the park.
  4. Diamonds may be any of several colors. The most common found at the Crater are clear white, yellow, and brown.
  5. Bring any you find to the Diamond Discovery Center for free identification and certification.


Camping site at Crater of Diamonds State Park. Photo courtesy Jaycocamprs

Crater of Diamonds State Park is the perfect place to stay while not only enjoying the diamond mining field but also to explore the Lake Greeson area and the Ouachita Mountains. The campground consists of 47 Class AAA sites with tent pads, 50 amp power, water, and sewer hookups that can handle up to 70 foot rigs.

Crater of Diamonds State Park


Operating Hours: Visitor Center/Diamond Discovery Center is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m., extended summer hours

Admission: Adults $7.00, children (age 6-12) $4

Camping: $21-28

Location: From Murfreesboro, take Arkansas 301 and go 2.5 miles southwest to the park

Address: 209 State Park Road, Murfreesboro, AR 71958

Contact: (870) 285-3113

Worth Pondering…
Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered for they are gone forever.

—Horace Mann

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Best of America

The backbone of American greatness is the contribution of each individual. From innovative and heroic people to compelling ideas and stories, Reader’s Digest celebrates the best.

Image courtesy Reader's Digest

Where can you find the best hot dogs in America? What are the best town names? Where are the best natural vistas in the United States? What are the country’s best eccentric competitions?

RVing and imagination—both take you anywhere you want to be.

Reader’s Digest reveals the “Best of America”

Reader’s Digest, known for simplifying and clarifying the topics that matter most to its readers, dedicates its May 2011 issue to the “Best of America.”

As Reader’s Digest celebrates the “Best of America,” the second phase of its “We Hear You America” online contest at continues through May 16, with a total of $7.5 million in financial and promotional support for towns and cities across the U.S.

In a recent news release, Peggy Northrop, Reader’s Digest’s Global Editor-in-Chief stated, “There is so much to celebrate in America, and in this challenging economic climate, it’s important to remember the people, places, and things that make our country so unique and wonderful,”

“In the 2011 edition of our annual ‘Best of America’ issue, we spotlight the natural beauty of our landscapes, the strength of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and, of course, our collective sense of humor.  Yes we even have mashed potato wrestling in the USA!”

Best Landscape? Monument Valley Tribal Park along the Arizona-Utah state line © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Featured in this issue are the 10 prize-winning towns from the first round of cheering in the Reader’s Digest “We Hear You America” contest, the national grassroots campaign providing financial and promotional support to American towns hurt by the recession.

Complementing the online contest at that encourages people to “cheer” or vote for their towns in order to win “stimulus packages,” is the 100 towns in 100 days RV tour, hosted by supermodel Niki Taylor, which began January 18 and continues through May 12, with the final stop in Manchester, NH. Many of the towns that hosted the RV tour are featured in the “Best of America” issue.

The next top 10 winning towns in this second phase of the contest, which began on March 8, and continues through May 16, will receive funds ranging from $10,000 to the Grand Prize of $40,000, plus promotional support through coverage in Reader’s Digest outlets that include the 30 million-readership strong, flagship magazine, (with more than two million unique visitors each month), Reader’s Digest Special Interest Publications, and the new Reader’s Digest iPad app.

Following are highlights from The Reader’s Digest May 2011 Best of America issue available in the magazine, on and on the iPad app:

Best Hot Dogs – Gene & Judy’s (River Grove, Illinois), Aqui Con El Nene (Tucson, Arizona), Flo’s Hot Dogs (Cape Neddick, Maine), and Pulliam’s Barbeque (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

Best Landscapes – Hint: They’re in Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and Washington

Best Landscape? Canyonlands National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Spectacles – Unusual collections abound in Carnegie Science Museum (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), National Inventors Hall of Fame (Alexandria, Virginia), National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), and American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore, Maryland)

Best Town Names – Find out the location of Mars Chunky, Looneyville, Jolly Dump, Monkey’s Eyebrow, and Eek

Best Throwdowns – World Championship Cow Chip Throw (Beaver, Oklahoma), Mashed Potato Wrestling (Barnesville, Minnesota), West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off (Marlinton, West Virginia), National Hollerin’ Contest (Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina), and Peter’s Clam Bar Cherrystone Clam Eating World Championship (Island Park, New York)

Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in an RV.

Worth Pondering…
When you travel you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak….You begin to be more accessible to others, because they may be able to help you in difficult situations.

— Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

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Newmar Dealers Honored for Excellence

Newmar Corporation, the Nappanee, Indiana-based manufacturer of five lines of Class A motorhomes, three lines of luxury motorhomes, and three lines of fifth wheels, has released the names of its dealers who are being recognized for providing excellent customer service over the past year.

The 2010 award winners include:

  • Ansley RV, Duncansville, Pennsylvania
  • Coachlight RV Sales Inc., Carthage, Missouri
  • Dick Gore’s RV World, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Harberson RV, Clearwater, Florida
  • Harper Camperland Inc., Great Bend, Kansas
  • Independence RV Sales and Service, Winter Garden, Florida
  • Lee’s RV City, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Midtown RV LTD, Penticton, British Columbia
  • Midway Motor Homes Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Mount Comfort RV, Greenfield, Indiana
  • North Trail RV Center, Fort Myers, Florida
  • RV Superstore, Pahrump, Nevada

The Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Award is presented to dealers who scored in a pre-determined percentile based on results from customer surveys. Twelve Newmar dealers earned this coveted award by providing excellent customer service to Newmar customers receiving warranty work.

“Newmar feels this award is important because we value how our mutual customers are treated and that the service experience is a positive one,” said Matt Utley, Newmar’s vice president of service operations. “Newmar is pleased with the customer support provided by our dealer partners. As confirmed by their customers, the dealers earning this award possess a strong commitment of customer satisfaction that permeates through their entire organization. We are proud of their achievements.”

Newmar also recognized four dealers with the Mahlon Miller Service Excellence Award. Miller is the owner of Newmar and the award in his name recognizes those dealerships that most embody the spirit of customer service.

This elite group of winners includes North Trail RV, Independence RV Sales & Service, Coachlight RV Sales, and Ansley RV.

“Mr. Miller and the entire Miller family have a passion for customers,” added Utley. “Through his guidance and leadership, customer service will be forever engrained into the fabric of Newmar.”

What does it take to become a top RV dealer?

Being a top Newmar dealer for both sales and service may seem like a dream but it takes planning and attention to customer service.

Midtown RV LTD, Penticton, British Columbia

Midtown RV is Western Canada’s largest Newmar dealer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The heart of the beautiful Okanagan Valley of British Columbia seems an unusual location for the only full line Newmar dealer in Canada.

“Service is key! Every member of our staff knows that their first and foremost duty is to look after our customers—and they do,” said George Stayberg, President of Midtown RV in Penticton, B.C. “We believe that our business grows because of our customers’ support, and we strive to attract and keep outstanding people by creating a culture where they can grow to their full potential and make a positive and important contribution to our company and our customers.”

Midtown RV, Western Canada’s largest Newmar dealer, offers an indoor showroom, sales and service, RV parts and accessories, and four serviced RV sites for customers receiving service.

Midtown RV has received this coveted award for excellence for the past eight years from 2003 to 2010.

To read an earlier article on Midtown RV, click here.

2012 Models

The all new 2012 Ventana LE is now in production and available for viewing at your local Newmar dealer. Details on the remaining 2012 motorized units are expected mid-to-late May.

Newmar Corp

Established in 1968, Newmar is an innovator and leader in the RV manufacturing industry. Newmar is privately owned and has a dealer network that spans across the United States and Canada.

Midtown RV

Located in Penticton, British Columbia, Midtown is family owned and was established in 1974. As a full-line Newmar dealer, Midtown RV offers Bay Star and Canyon Star gas motorhomes; Ventana, Ventana LE, and Dutch Star diesel pushers; Mountain Aire, Essex, and King Aire luxury motorhomes; and Cypress, Torrey Pine, and X-Aire fifth-wheel trailers. This stable of quality motorhomes and towables provides diverse price points for all budgets.

Worth Pondering…
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

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