Monday, May 31, 2010

Hunkered Down at Lemoore Naval Air Station

I've been here at Lemoore Naval Air Station for a week.  The drive here was uneventful, except for bottoming out the scooter carrier about 90 miles from base.  This time, the scooter carrier's anti-tilt plate and screws got really messed up. [BIG SIGH]  I went ahead and finished out the drive, all the while keeping a close eye on the scooter with the backup camera.

The RV park here is as I expected: not particularly attractive but very functional and its a good place to wait.

A good looking sailor in the RV next to me helped me unload the scooter.  I said to him, "Hey Sailor, could you lend me a hand?" and he did. OK, I admit that I did actually not say "Hey Sailor" to him, but the rest is true.

Yes, I'm bored.  Want to see some photos?

Lynda called a couple days ago and she will be able to fly in to Fresno on Wednesday, June 2nd. Yahoo!  Her retirement is all finalized and the ink is dry. To quote a fine man, "Free at last...!"   I will pick her up at the FAT airport (Fresno Air Terminal) and we will drive to Oakhurst, near Yosemite National Park, where there is an RV park with a reservation for us.

I've been watching a LOT of movies, catching up on the blog, sorting out photos, and doing some carrier and scooter maintenance.

There is a huge dog park 2 minutes away, and me and the doggies go there several  times a day. I have been faithfully picking up their by-products.  I wish I could say the same for the other dog owners.  But, c'est la vie - perhaps their final destiny will be a field of dog-doo.  Please allow me my fantasies; they entertain me and help pass time.

When I get really bored, I ride the scooter around. One day I went to the commissary twice, on purpose. Another morning, I purchased a money order to pay the speeding ticket I got in Arizona. An hour later, I went back to the same area for a hair cut.  I have to space such activities out, so as not to get too exhausted.

I've cleaned all the upholstery in the Trek, and most of the carpeting.  I've done laundry twice - I've washed everything possible. Sydney skulks away from me when I grab the laundry soap. She's worried she's next.

Oh, and guess what? Its windy here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nellis AFB and the Hoover Dam

After a harrowing drive from Zion National Park, we arrived at Nellis AFB, located a few miles east of Las Vegas, late yesterday afternoon. I've been driving in desert winds now for almost a month, but this was the absolute worse!  I had several Oh Crap moments when I thought we were Thelma and Louise... but we made it safe and sound. I will be so darn glad to get somewhere where its not windy!  Alaska maybe?

The Desert Eagle RV Park, as it is called, was easy to find and check in went very smoothly.  This RV park is probably in my top 2 or 3 I've ever stayed at, military, state/national park, or private. It is very well maintained and well laid-out and the dog park is excellent!  I was pleasantly surprised that there were some trees and many shrubs including gorgeous flowering Oleander. If you are Active Duty, National Guard, Reservists, Retired, 100% Disabled Veteran, or DoD Civilian, you can stay at military campgrounds - and they are a sweet deal!  For more information, scroll down on the right of this page and look under Travel Information and Resources for the link for Military Campgrounds.

We got settled in and then did a little research on the Hoover Dam.  We learned that we'll need to get going pretty early to beat the crowd.  According to what I read, the traffic is backed up by 10 AM due to the requirement that passenger vehicles go through spot security checks before being permitted to cross the dam. And, all RVs must be boarded by an inspector to be checked inside, and outside storage bays are also checked.  This is just one more result of 9/11.

Dam inspections!  (sorry, could not resist)

So we got going this morning, leaving Nellis AFB a little before 8 AM. The drive to Hoover Dam took less than an hour and we got to the inspection area before 9 AM. We experienced no wait time at all.  Lynda took Barley and Sydney off the RV so the inspector could come aboard but, sad to say, she barely looked at anything.  It seemed a waste of time, like a TSA person opening the lid on a suitcase but not looking inside.  People, if we're going to do this, let's do it right! Jeez.

Anyway, we drove across the dam just far enough to be in Arizona again.  I was able to find a place to pull the Trek over and Lynda got out and took some photos.  Then we turned around and headed back to Nevada and Nellis AFB.

We spent the rest of today doing laundry and Lynda is packing to leave for Knoxville tomorrow morning. I will drop her off at the Las Vegas airport around 8 AM and then make my way to Lemoore Naval Air Station in California.  This is about a 400 mile drive but I'll be getting an early start and will probably just drive it right through.

Its a bummer that we have to put our travels on hold for a while, but that's just the way it goes. Lynda has a long day ahead of her tomorrow and so do I.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Quick Visit to Zion National Park

We left Jacob Campground this morning, May 22nd  and headed north, toward Zion National Park via Mt Carmel Junction.  We stopped in a little town in Utah to do some grocery shopping and, once again, bottomed out the scooter carrier.  This was getting to be a frequent and annoying occurrence.  I checked the carrier and all seemed well… we got away with it that time!

Despite the GPS yelling that TRUCKS ARE NOT ALLOWED, we entered Zion National Park at the east entrance off Utah highway 9, from Mt. Carmel.  I figured we could go that way because we passed similar RVs coming out, and our fancy Garmin Truckers GPS is a tad neurotic sometimes.

The ranger at the entrance told us the campground was full but we decided to go in anyway. We would drive through the park (at least part of it) and then either boondock at a Wal-Mart or continue on to Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas.

Although my America the Beautiful annual pass got us into the park in at no cost, we did have to pay $15 for “RV tunnel service”. There are two tunnels on the route we were coming in on. The first one was no problem as it is big enough to accommodate large vehicles in both directions at once.  The second tunnel, however, is undersized and a ranger would have to stop traffic from the other direction while we went through - this service is what the $15 covers.  Above is a map I borrowed from the National Park Service with our route in yellow.

You can see from the map that part of this route has some noteworthy switchbacks, which our intrepid Trek handled  just fine. In fact, our drive through this small part of Zion was really wonderful. The photos don't do it justice as it is almost impossible to capture the imposing rock faces and formations with a camera like ours.

We parked in the Visitors Center parking lot to eat lunch and regroup. I called the campground at Nellis AFB and Clyde told us to come on over, and so that is what we decided to do.

After a quick parking lot repair on the sewer plumbing support strap (you do NOT want that coming loose), we left Zion National Park and headed to Nellis AFB, a drive of less than 150 miles.

Perhaps this worked out for the best... We can go to the Hoover Dam first thing tomorrow morning and then Lynda can spend a leisurely afternoon packing and doing laundry to fly out on Monday.  Back to Knoxville she must go, for a week at least.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mule Ride at the Grand Canyon North Rim

We arrived at the North Rim Lodge just before noon today, after an interesting scooter ride from the Jacob Lake Campground. We went inside and registered at the Grand Canyon Trail Rides desk. The man working the desk was dressed in cowboy/wrangler clothing, and I don’t think it was a costume to please the tourists.  This guy looked totally at home in his cowboy duds and I suspect he had been dressing like that for a long time.  Remember, we are deep in the American Southwest, where the American cowboy still lives and works.

We had some extra time before meeting at the van to take us to the mule corral and so we went and ate some lunch and relaxed a bit. The lodge is a handsome building - very rustic looking – and there are also a large number of guest cabins of various shapes and sizes. It looked like a good place to stay but you would need to make reservations at least a year in advance.  There were plenty of people around, including many Europeans, but it was not busy like the South Rim.

The van ride to the mule corral took just a few minutes – we had actually passed the place on our way to the Lodge. By 1 PM we were in the saddle and ready to get started on the 4 hour ride down to the Supai Tunnel and back. We would be riding on the very steep North Kaibab Trail and would descend around 2,300 feet before coming back up.

My mule was a smallish dark bay charmer called Annie and Lynda was aboard a bigger male mule called Dagwood. As usual, Lynda brought up the rear as we rode along.  For some unknown reason, she ends up in the back just about every time we go horseback riding,– who knows why this is so, but Lynda doesn’t seem to mind.

There were only seven of us on this ride: me, Lynda, an older couple, a middle aged single guy, and two wranglers. We started with a safety briefing and were told in no uncertain terms that safety was the #1 focus.  Those wranglers were not kidding around.  If anyone needed to remove their jacket or hat, or even open a camera case, we must all come to a halt and one of the wranglers would dismount to assist the person.  On no account, no matter what, were we to get off our mule without assistance. And finally, and the wranglers said this might be the most important thing, we must keep our mules close to together - we needed to stay within 4 feet of the one in front. The wranglers also suggested we not fool with taking pictures on the way down. They said it would be safer and there would be plenty of opportunity to take photos on our way back up the trail.

We would soon find out why it was so important not to do anything to spook the mules.

The head wrangler (whose name I’ve already forgotten) led the mule pack and the other wrangler (Ron) rode behind me, in front of Lynda. And down, down, down we went!  That trail is very steep with incredibly tight switchbacks that take getting used to when aboard a mule. Let's sing halleluiah that those mules are such sure-footed creatures with a healthy sense of self preservation!  It would be complete disaster if a mule got spooked on this trail. I’ve flown in F16 fighter jets and home-made ultra-lights, gone hang-gliding, ridden motorcycles, and spent untold hours on the back of a horse but the mule ride down that trail got my attention!  As we would come upon hikers, the protocol was for them to stand quietly aside as we went past.  If that was not possible, then we would bring the mules to a halt, and let the hikers go by.

I was a little worried about Lynda because she is scared of heights and gets vertigo from time to time.  Lynda was two mules behind me, with wrangler Ron between us.  As we approached a particularly scary switchback, I called back to Lynda to close her eyes.  I do believe that is exactly what she did, and I’m guessing she closed her eyes more than once on that trail. I know I did and I have a sneaky suspicion that my mule did also!

As we went along, Ron and I did some chatting.  He is a Vietnam vet and has been working mule rides in the Grand Canyon for 40 years. Ron said there was no place he’d rather be. Conversation led to Ron also telling me that he is originally from Silver City, New Mexico (where we had recently spent the night and got a tire fixed) and that Billy the Kid was his great, great uncle or some such thing.  I made mule noises (snorted) when he said this but then Ron said he was actually telling the truth. According to him, Billy the Kid was not the dashing figure as he is often made out to be. In fact, he had trouble being born and his head and face showed traces of deformity. Who knows whether or not any of this is true, but it did make for good conversation as we made our way down the trail.

Lynda found cool video of Ron being interviewed and some footage of this trail ride - check it out here.

The scenery was beautiful and it was great to be right in the middle of it all, instead of perched on a railed-off overlook. It took almost two hours to get down to the Supai Tunnel, where we stopped for a 20 minute break and to drink some water.

Then we headed back up, and the going was a lot easier on both the riders and the mules.  We could relax a little more and we stopped several times for photos and for the wranglers to tell us about the canyon and the mules, which they both obviously love and admire a great deal.

I’ve never ridden a mule before and nor have I had reason to give these man-made creatures much thought, but after this little experience I have a liking for these hardy beasts that are so sure-footed and tough.  It’s hard not to respect their talents, even if their ears are a little big.

According to Harry S. Truman, "My favorite animal is the mule. He has more horse sense than a horse. He knows when to stop eating -- and he knows when to stop working."

Scootering Around the Grand Canyon North Rim

It was sometime yesterday evening when I made a remark about not getting too settled in because we would be packing up in the morning to drive the Trek to the North Rim. And Lynda said, “Why don’t we take the scooter?” Hmmm… why not? I checked with Davy Crockett and he said the scooter would be fine on the road into the park, and that the speed limit varied between 35 and 45 MPH. No problem! We were pleased at the prospect of just jumping on the scooter and heading out first thing in the morning. 

The only fly in the ointment was that the dogs would be left in their crates in the Trek for 8-9 hours. Well, we reasoned, we’ve left them at house-home that long before. The weather was forecasted for a high of 74 degrees and we could leave windows and the roof vent open so they would get plenty of fresh air. And so it was.

We got on the scooter just before 9 AM this morning to ride to the Grand Canyon… and what an adventure that proved to be!  About 10 miles into the ride, the wind started gusting like crazy. Lynda was holding on for dear life and so was I!  We still had 30 miles to go just to get to the park entrance and then another 6 or so miles to the Lodge, where we were scheduled to meet the mule riding people at 12 noon. Also, before heading to the lodge, I wanted to ride up to Point Imperial, a famous overlook spot for the North Rim. So I knew we would be on that little scooter for at least another 50 miles.

And it was cold! Although it was the middle of May, it was downright chilly - between the gusting wind and the frigid weather, scooter riding conditions were definitely not ideal. But the ride was grrrreat anyway!  'Lil scooter was also having trouble going fast enough for other vehicles, so I would sometimes pull over to let the occasional car or motorcycle go past.

We rode through the Kaibab National Forest which had burned in some areas. Perhaps controlled burns? Whatever the cause of the fires, the scorched ground and warped trees formed a peculiar landscape that was both striking and creepy. I noticed altitude signs - we were at around 8,000 feet.

And then the scooter starting acting up. Yessir, that little booger decided she was not going to run properly.  She would be going along just fine and then bog down, as though she was not getting any fuel.  We would pull over, the engine would die, we would wait a few minutes, and then the scooter would start back up again.  After this happened two or three times, I realized we could pretty much rely on the bike starting back up and so I stopped worrying about getting stranded. Yes, it would take longer to get where we needed to go, but we had plenty of time. And even if she did quit for good, cars were coming along every so often and so we could make our way into the park one way or another.  Lynda was very good-natured about the whole thing and we agreed to keep going.

I thought the high altitude might be impacting the carburetor, which is tuned for sea level, or that we had a pinched vacuum line or some other fuel flow problem.  I could see gas was pooled at the fuel filter and so I knew fuel was flowing from the tank. I will work on this issue while I'm waiting at Lemoore NAS for Lynda to rejoin me.

Finally, we reached the park entrance. Using my America the Beautiful annual pass (a must-have if you are going to visit more than 3 national parks within a year), we made our way into the Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim.

By now, the forested area was behind us and we found ourselves riding through mountain meadows. There was still snow on the ground in shaded areas, providing wonderful contrast to the spring greens of new foliage and grass.

What a gorgeous sight it all was!  We really did not care about the wind or the scooter issue; we were just happy to be there.

We checked the time and discovered that, despite all the unplanned stops, we still had time to ride up to Imperial Point.

And so we did.  And when you look at the photos, you’ll see that this little side trip was more than worth it! 

We made it to the lodge area with minutes to spare and left the scooter and helmets in the Visitors parking lot. After checking in with the mule riding people, we got some lunch and relaxed for a bit before going on the mule ride. That mule ride is another story… I’ll just say here that it was most excellent, although a bit scary at times!

I have to say I think the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is even better than the South Rim. It is more rustic and the canyon itself is more intimate. That is probably not the right word, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. At the North Rim, the canyon is more narrow and, although still hugely spectacular,  I could wrap my mind around it better. If you’re planning to visit the Grand Canyon, I highly recommend the North Rim!  From there, you can easily visit other noteworthy attractions, such Zion national Park in Utah.

During our ride back out of the park, we spotted a coyote in one of the meadows. This was the only wildlife we saw that day, aside from a cute little momma chipmunk we met by the Lodge, and some hawks and other birds.

Our 50 mile trip back to Jacob Lake Campground was a repeat of our ride in: the wind was still gusting, the air was still chilly, and that darn scooter quit on us more times than I kept count! But we didn’t care… we had just spent a great day at the North Rim!  We rolled in to the campground just before 6 PM and Barley and Sydney were just fine, although glad to see us and very happy to get out of their crates.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Driving to Jacob Lake Campground (Grand Canyon North Rim)

We left Williams and the Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park today, May 20th and made a stop at the Flagstaff airport for Lynda to drop off the rental car.  Then we continued on our way, heading north on highway 89.

We had heard there was still snow on the North Rim and the campground down in the park was already full.  But the ranger told me the roads were clear and there would be no issues with driving the Trek in that area.  We were not concerned about finding a place to stay – there is a campground called Jacob Lake run by the Forest Service about 40 miles from the North Rim entrance and we planned to stay there if a site was available.  If not, our fallback plan was a private campground in the same area – I had already called them and they had space.

We were excited about going to the North Rim…we read that it is less developed than the South Rim and that appealed to us. We were also ready for a change, having been in Williams for about a week.  And, we had reservations for a 4 hour mule ride to go part way down into the canyon on Friday.  Yeehaw!

The route up to the North Rim followed much of the way we had gone for the smooth water rafting trip, and so we were already familiar with the area.  We decided to go over to Lee’s Ferry to eat lunch… we were in no hurry and could easily make it to Jacob Lake before 5 PM.

The drive was really pleasant and relaxing, and very pretty.  Take a look at some photos.

We pulled in to Jacob Lake Campground around 4:30 PM and it was…. perfect!   What a great campground!  There are sites of various sizes and shapes to accommodate everything from a tent to a large motor coach.  Yes sir, big spacious sites with Ponderosa Pines and other trees and vegetation.  After camping in desert campgrounds for almost a month, we were thrilled with the forest setting.   The only possible downside of this campground is that there are no hookups but we had anticipated this and had plenty of water and holding tank space for two nights.  No problem!  And we could run the generator except for quiet hours (10 PM to 7 AM).

We selected a big, well-shaded site and then the campground host came around (he was tricked out like Davy Crockett) and got us registered just a few minutes later. $17 a day – what a deal!

Once the Trek was tucked in for the night, we lit a fire and opened a cold adult beverage. Ah, life is good!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life Interrupts

Life interrupts even the best laid plans.

It has now become evident that Lynda must return home for at least a week to take care of final actions to complete her retirement from the Air Force. She could, no doubt, write an entire Blog on this subject alone but suffice to say there is a lot up in the air over which she had no control.  So, instead of exploring Williams and checking out some nearby attractions, we spent today re-working our travel itinerary and figuring out a plan to fly Lynda back home. Amazingly, it has all come together quite nicely. And here it is:

We will head to the North Rim tomorrow and spend two nights (Thursday and Friday), probably at Jacob Lake Campground. We'll then drive through southern Utah on Saturday to Zion National Park, which we'll at least drive through and perhaps spend the night, if space is available in the campground. By Sunday, we'll be in the Las Vegas area where we'll visit Hoover Dam and spend the night at the Nellis Air Force Base campground.  Lynda will fly out on a one-way ticket from Las Vegas to Knoxville on Monday morning, and I will then drive to Lemoore Naval Air Station in California, to await her return. Hopefully, she can rejoin me by June 2nd and we'll go to Yosemite for two or three days.  After that, we can skip a couple minor stops and get back on track.

Reservations are made for the plane ticket and the campgrounds (Nellis AFB, Lemoore NAS, and a High Sierra RV Park near to Yosemite). I am confident things will work out, but have to admit I'll be glad to get back on track.

I will spend the week or so at Lemoore watching movies, sorting photos out, reading, and doing some RV cleaning and maintenance. Big Yawn!

Smooth Water Rafting on the Colorado River

Lynda and I signed up for an all-day smooth water rafting trip on the Colorado River.  We were to meet the van driver at the tour office in Williams at 6:15 AM on Tuesday, May 18th and would not get back until around 6 PM that evening.  So we had to put Barley and Sydney in the kennel at the RV park.  We dropped them off a little past 7 PM the evening before, and made them a firm promise to come get them by 6:30 PM the next day.  Barley and Sydney did not seem too concerned and the kennel facility was nice and clean and fairly roomy.  As always, they shared a run and so would keep each other company.

Aside from our driver, Rick, there were 6 of us that met at the Williams tour office:  me and Lynda, two young Italian men, and an older couple from Cambria, California.  By 6:40 AM, we were on our way to Page, Arizona to meet up with other groups and then board the pontoon rafts at the Glen Canyon Dam.  From there, we would float/motor 15 or so miles down the river to Lee’s Ferry, making two stops along the way:  one to look at some petroglyphs and a second stop to eat lunch and take a break. The entire trip would take around 3.5 hours.

The drive to Page took almost 3 hours and driver Rick did a good job telling us about the areas we were driving through, including the Vermillion Cliffs which are a sight to behold.  By this time, Lynda and I had determined that we could tweak our itinerary a little so we could go the North Rim and we would be driving much of the same route we were now on to go to Page for the rafting.  So, I took the opportunity of not being the driver to look at the scenery and snooze a little.

The rafting trip was a lot of fun and we were both really glad we did it.  We rode astraddle the starboard pontoon, like riding a horse. There were three boats in all, each with around 20 people and a river guide - our guide’s name was Matea.  Not surprisingly, there was a gusty breeze that day and so the water of the Colorado River was pretty choppy in some parts. Matea did her best to get us through with minimum spraying but we still got wet…and that water was COLD!  46 degrees to be exact - you definitely did not want to fall in the river!

The photos came out pretty well, and do a much better job describing the canyon and river than I could. 

We arrived at Lee’s Ferry a little damp but in good spirits.  It is at Lee’s Ferry that the Colorado River officially begins it’s southward journey into the Grand Canyon, however our pontoon boats tied off about 10 yards before that point.

Driver Rick was there to meet his little herd of tourists and he gathered the six of us up to begin our trip back to Williams. He took us past the Balanced Rock area and pulled over so we could take some photos, and he also stopped on the bridge so we could get a good photo of the Colorado River beneath us.

On the way back, we visited the historic Cameron Trading Post.  If you find yourself in the area, I recommend you stop in there to shop for well priced, good quality souvenirs, Southwestern art, and Native American art.  There is also a hotel and a restaurant.  This would be a fun place to stay for a few days - from the Cameron Trading Post, it’s only about a 30 minute drive to the Eastern entrance to the Grand Canyon South Rim.

We made it back to the RV park in plenty of time to get Barley and Sydney as promised, and they were fine.  Lynda and I agreed that it had been a fun but tiring day!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Horseback Riding in the Kaibab National Forest

We went on a very pleasant two hour horseback ride earlier today.  Lynda and myself, along with a young army Major and his wife, rode with our guide Marilyn through the Ponderosa pine forest on the rolling hillside of the Kaibab National Forest.

We spotted several Albert’s (Tassel-Eared) squirrels, saw the flash of a couple Whitetail Deer and came upon a small herd of Elk.  We also rode past several free range cattle that paid us no attention whatsoever, and met a gnarled old pine tree that Marilyn claims is at least 500 years old.

We might have spotted more wildlife if the Major’s horse did not, for two hours straight, expel voluminous quantities of gas… loudly and with great vigor.  Praise the gods for the great outdoors, in which the swirling atoms of noxious gas were quickly and thoroughly diluted, thus sparing me an awful exposure to the most intimate details of this fine horse’s digestive output.  This gassy display was so impressive that I took a photograph of the beast’s delivery mechanism so you, dear reader, could also enjoy the experience. 

Click here to see some photos

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Grand Canyon – South Rim

The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and now I know firsthand that this is an honor well deserved!  Wow!   It is gorgeous and awe-inspiring, and makes a person feel insignificant yet happy to part of a world with such beauty.  I think its fair to say that Lynda was every bit as impressed as I was.

Take a look at some of the photos we took – maybe they’ll give you a sense of what I’m writing about.  It’s hard to capture the magnificence of the Grand Canyon with a amateur digital camera, but we tried.

The four of us, dogs included, bundled into the rental car and took highway 64 from Williams to the South (Tusayan) entrance.  We immediately went to the Grand Canyon Village area to check out Mather campground and get something to eat.  While driving back out of the campground area, we saw a coyote hunting some unseen prey. It was the middle of the day and he could not have cared less about us.  I guess the local wildlife is accustomed to humans.  This coyote was nowhere as big as the one we saw at Big Bend, but he was still a handsome fellow.

My first impression,  and we had not yet spotted the canyon itself, was how developed the Grand Canyon Village area is – there are numerous roadways, hotels, lodges, cabins, restaurants, a post office and so on.  The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a huge area, with millions of visitors flowing through each year and so there is lots of infrastructure to support all the people.  I was worried all this “civilization” would distract from the canyon itself.  In a few minutes, I would find out that this is just not an issue.

After getting something to eat for lunch, we jumped back in the car to begin our driving tour.  We had our first sighting of the canyon at the Verkamp’s Visitor Center, just outside the Hopi house.  It was heart-stopping beautiful and the distractions from people, restaurant smells, and cars faded away – poof, just like that!

Here is a map I borrowed from the National Park Service with our stops highlighted in yellow. We would drive along and then pull over and walk around, usually with the dogs.  Because pets are limited to the paved trails along the rim, we could not do any little hikes off the main trails.  I did not mind too much, because there was plenty to see just sticking to the main rim trail. Lynda had some trouble with vertigo in a couple spots and I doubt she would have gone hiking even if we could have.

I must say the South Rim was more crowded than I expected it to be at mid May.  Aside from Americans from California to New York, there were visitors from all over the world including Germany, France, England, India and Asia.

Of course Barley was a huge hit – people asked to pet him and he behaved very well indeed.  One Asian man even asked permission to take his photo.  Sydney also behaved very well, considering her anxiety issues.  Lynda kept a firm grip and a short lead on her, and although Sydney did get very nervous a few times when the crowd thickened (particularly at Mather Point), she did not growl at anyone.  It goes without saying that we discouraged people from trying to pet her… that would have been pushing our luck for sure!  All in all, the dogs had a great time and got lots of exercise. By the time we were driving back home at the end of the day, both dogs were sleeping soundly in the back seat!

We entered the Grand Canyon South Rim at the south entrance around 11:30 AM and exited at the east entrance around 5:30 PM, driving back to the RV park in Williams via highway 64 through Cameron and then picking up I-40 in Flagstaff.

So after a really wonderful afternoon at the South Rim, we were just a mile or so from the RV park when I got a speeding ticket!  The police officer caught me fair and square.  I did not see the sign for the speed limit decrease and he pegged me going 58 in a 35- ouch!  Anyway, I will pay the (large) fine and should eventually recover from my embarrassment.   All Lynda had to say was, “well, I was wishing you would go even faster… I’m really hungry!”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cooking adventures in an RV

I thought it might be a nice to post some of the recipes for the meals we’ve been fixing during our trip.  Just so you know, the Trek has a combination microwave/convection oven and a 3-burner stovetop. We’ve also brought along an electric frying pan, a charcoal grill and a George Foreman Grill. We felt that with all these cooking options, we would be able to put together some pretty decent meals.

In the interest of sharing some of our cooking adventures, here’s the story of what Consuelo started calling my orange-drop chicken:

We always try to keep a bag of frozen uncooked chicken tenders in the freezer.  I thawed out about 8 tenders and dropped them into a large Ziploc bag.  I reached into the bag with a fork and pierced all the tenders and then I added small can of mandarin oranges (the small snack-size fruit cups).  I laid the bag out on the counter and using the heel of my palm, crushed all the orange wedges.  I then added a couple of spoonfuls of orange marmalade and kneaded the bag to make sure the tenders were well coated.  I left the chicken and orange to marinade for a while.  Meanwhile,  I mixed a small 4 oz. package of potato flakes in a dish with some salt and pepper and paprika. I poured a small amount of olive oil into the bottom of a baking dish (actually a 9” glass brownie pan). Then, I took the chicken tenders and coated them with the potato flake mixture and placed them into the baking pan.

I baked the chicken in the convection oven at 375 degrees.  After 20 minutes, I took the pan out of the oven and turned each tender. It was my intention to bake the other side for another 20 minutes.  But… while I was putting the pan back into the oven, I (gasp!) dropped it.  True to Murphy’s Law, the pan landed upside down, but fortunately, not on my toes – it was close, though!  Consuelo quickly jumped up to my rescue and  scooped up all the chicken pieces, rinsed them off and put them back into the pan. Everything went back into the oven for 20 more minutes. I cooked up a box of Uncle Ben’s Rice on the stovetop while we waited for the chicken to finish cooking.

Despite the mishap, the meal was still wonderful and I would certainly attempt this dish again (of course, Consuelo would have the honor of taking the hot dish in an out of the oven). My only disappointment was that the coating was not as crispy or crunchy as I had hoped.  I think rinsing the chicken –which was absolutely necessary since we’re traveling with dogs—made the coating a little soggy.

My big lessons learned: The position of our convection oven, above the stovetop, along with my short stature and my hyper-sensitivity to temperatures (a lingering effect from my stroke) are a bad combination.  So from now on, Consuelo gets to take dinner out of the oven!

Getting Settled at Willams, Arizona

On May 14th, we left Holbrook and headed west to Williams, Arizona with a few stops along the way.  One of these stops was to pick up a rental car in Flagstaff.  The Grand Canyon South Rim area is huge with lots to offer, and this is definitely not scooter country  with its wide open spaces and a 75 MPH speed limit.

During our drive west towards Williams, we had our first introduction to Mt Humphrey, which boasts the highest peak in Arizona at 12,637 feet.  It was mid May and there was still snow on this mountain.  We later learned from a local person that there is at least a little bit of snow on the peak throughout the summer.

The plan was to go to Flagstaff's Pulliam Airport for the rental car and Lynda would follow me with the car to Camping World and then to the RV park in Williams.  And this is exactly what we did and Lynda did a great job!  Remember, she only started driving again a few weeks before we left Tennessee and here she was driving a strange car in a strange place with multiple stops.  Lynda could not have done better and I was very proud of her. 

We arrived at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park that afternoon and, once we figured out where to go to get checked in, we went at our site and got settled in.  This is a very nice RV park. It has paved roadways and sites, with graveled areas between sites and around outer edges. There are pedestrian sidewalks and plenty of parking for cars. There is also a covered community area with gas grills, tables and water faucets. This park is very well maintained and extremely clean. It has excellent amenities, including dog boarding and pet supplies. The Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is only about an hour from the Grand Canyon's southwest entrance, and there seems to be plenty to do in Williams itself, which is just walking distance from the RV park.

We decided to take it easy the next day, Saturday, and to use that time to plan our Grand Canyon visit... we will be here for a week and so we have time to catch our breath and relax.  We will definitely visit the Grand Canyon South Rim itself, that goes without saying.  But we will take the dogs and so will have to stay on the paved trails.  We also want to go horseback riding and Lynda is interested in a smooth water rafting trip.  She also would like to go up to the North Rim and so I need to do some figuring out to see how this would fit into our plans.  I would also like to spend a day driving around to see other attractions within a hour or so of Williams - there is a lot to do and see here!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Route 66, Standing on the Corner, Oil Change

After the Holbrook area, our next stop is Williams, Arizona where we will visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  On the way to Williams, however, we had some errands to run:  stop at the Wal-Mart in Winslow to get an oil change for the Trek, pick up a rental car at the Flagstaff airport, and then stop at Camping World outside Flagstaff to get a new thermostat.

There are fragments of Route 66, the old "main street of America", running alongside I-40 between Holbrook and Flagstaff (and beyond).  So rather than make our little journey to Flagstaff entirely on I-40, we decided we would hop off to drive on Route 66 segments whenever we could.  An that is exactly what we did.  It was actually pretty neat to drive along that old road. In some places, there are clear remnants of old gas stations, roadside motels, and diners.  Some of these buildings have been restored and are in use.

And do you know what is in Winslow, Arizona besides a Wal-Mart?  The Corner, of course, and we decided to go and stand on it! I'm talking about the second verse of Jackson Browne's song, Take it Easy, made famous by the Eagles:
Well, I'm a standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me

The corner referenced in this song is found at North Kinsley Avenue and West 2nd Street (which is  eastbound Route 66) in downtown Winslow.

We had to park the Trek in a residential area and walk 3 or 4 blocks to get there.  The weather was beautiful and we did not mind at all. In fact, it was only because we were walking that Lynda noticed and we got photos of an apparently common (so a passing woman told us) sky-bound rainbow... when there was no falling rain.  The woman told us these are caused by moisture within the clouds.

Anyway, take a look at our photos - hope you enjoy!

Oh, and the oil change at Wal-Mart was a smooth experience.  They charged $50, considerably less than the other 2 places I called (Camping World quoted $90+oil filter, Jiffy Lube quoted $100) and did a good job.  You just need to call ahead to make sure the Wal-Mart offers vehicle service and has bays big enough to accommodate your RV.

Holbrook, Arizona

Holbrook lays off Interstate 40, about 90 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona.  Its biggest claim to fame seems to be Holbrook's proximity to the Petrified Forest National Park and the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni Nations.  The people were friendly and helpful.

Holbrook also boasts a section of the original Route 66 and there are still buildings and businesses there that were probably around in the heyday of Route 66 - the 1940's and 50's.

We stayed at a small, bare-bones RV park called Root 66 RV Park right next to I-40, just a few miles east of Holbrook. This RV park also has several rooms for rent in a long low-slung building that looks like its been around since the 1940's. 
This place is definitely reminiscent of the old Route 66 days when travelers would have stayed here for cheap on their way west, maybe going to California, or on their way east, perhaps to Chicago.

Petrified Forest National Park in the Painted Desert

After running several errands in Holbrook the morning of May 13th, we drove southeast on Highway 180 to enter the Petrified Forest National Park at the Southwest entrance.  For those readers who may not be aware, the Petrified Forest is actually within the Painted Desert and visitors literally can drive through the area, parking their vehicles to get out and walk on trails as they wish.  Dogs are allowed on the paved trails and so Barley and Sydney were able to go with us, and they got some good exercise!
We spent over three hours driving slowly along the main 28 mile stretch, frequently stopping to get out of the Trek to walk on the paved trails and take in the beauty at the overlooks. We both loved it!  The petrified wood is so colorful and beautiful, and even the texture of the bark was preserved in the fossilization process.  

The colors and shapes of Painted Desert are breathtaking.  I cannot write anything here that would do it justice. 

Take a look at some of the photos we took. I highly recommend you add the Petrified Forest National Park to your "must visit" list whenever you find yourself in the area.  And be sure to drive the 3.5 mile loop road at Blue Mesa - the views from there are amazing!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This is a Test, Only a Test - Aghhhhhhh!

I think we are being harassed by space aliens - the New Mexico / Arizona deserts are the perfect place for such malignant activity.  Yes, slimy beasts from places unknown are sneaking over to our RV at night and letting the air out of our tires just to mess with us!

Let me explain: We get up this morning, well rested and all excited to be going to the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest... we read up on them last night and also looked up a couple places to find a replacement bolt for the scooter carrier.  We took the scooter off the carrier this morning and I had the anti-tilt plate and bent bolt in hand, ready to go forth and get a replacement on our way to the Painted Desert.  All was well in the Universe,or so it seemed. Sadly, the truth was that those pesky aliens were up to no good again.

Just before we started up the Trek to haul us and the dogs into Holbrook for hardware hunting (on the way to sight-seeing), I decided to check the tire pressure again.  You know, just to be safe.  Sure 'nuff Lucy, the passenger side outside rear tire was almost flat!

OK... that was it! I'd had enough of wheel simulators (covers) that pretty up your RV wheels but don't allow even a skinny hand like mine to get in there to check air pressure and/or attach an air hose to inflate.  Hence you're forced to install over-priced valve extenders that (as clearly proven by our numerous flat tires over the past several months) do more harm than good.  Off with their heads!  Or, more aptly put, off with that shiny, Magpie crap!

So, we asked around about tire repair shops and headed in to Holbrook.  First stop was the tire shop and those guys were amazing!  It was like pulling in to a race car pit stop.  Four or five of them swarmed out, listened to what I wanted and went to work.  In no more than 20 minutes from the time we pulled in, we were pulling back out.  The shameful valve extenders (all four of them) were tossed in a spare parts drawer inside the Trek and the offending wheel simulators for the rear wheels were stowed in a basement storage bay.  The guys double-checked the valve stems on all six tires and all were loose - amazing!  So, they tightened them all up and topped up the air in all the tires.  Charged us $25 and off we went!
I am willing to bet $100 that we won't have tire issues again, unless we get a "real" flat tire caused by some road hazard.  Sure enough, my wheels may be ugly but those tires are full of air!

Then we went to Walt's Hardware store and bought three replacement anti-tilt plate bolts (2 for spare). Our last errand was CarQuest for replacement indicator bulbs and then, finally, we headed off to visit the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Heading to Arizona... and one bent bolt

The drive from Silver City to Holbrook, Arizona was mostly uneventful.  We went by secondary roads and, although the route did not offer up amazing views, it was a very relaxing and pleasant drive.  I really enjoyed the quiet time after dealing with the flat tire!  You can click here to see a few photos

We went by way of Show Low, Arizona so we could stop at the Super Wal-Mart and stock up on some groceries and other necessities.  Good or bad, right or wrong, Super Wal-Marts are a blessing for RV'ers because these stores have large parking lots and provide one-stop shopping - they sell everything from butter to sewer hoses (a necessary evil).  Yes indeed, we have learned to love Wal-Mart like you learn to love crutches after breaking a leg.  :-)

From Show Low, we headed towards Holbrook, with our destination actually being a small RV campground called Root 66 RV Park, located just east of Holbrook in the tiny community of Sun Valley.  We had chosen this RV park because of its proximity to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.

Notice I said this drive was "mostly uneventful".  Well, in keeping with how our day started (flat tire), we ended with another, although fairly minor, happening.  We stopped to fill up the gas tank in Holbrook and then bottomed out the scooter carrier when pulling out of the gas station.  What an awful screeching, raking sound it made!  Yikes!

I immediately put the hazard lights on and pulled over to check things out. One of the three steel bolts holding the scooter carrier's anti-tilt plate was bent and mangled and the plate was not longer doing its job: the carrier (and scooter) were now able to bounce around in the hitch receiver.  Not a good thing since this puts a good deal of stress on the receiver and carrier tubing.  And we also noticed that the dual duty light bulb for the left rear flashing hazard light and left turn indicator was burned out.  Lord only knows how long it had been since no-one but us knew we were getting ready to turn left or pull out in traffic.  Perhaps that darn scooter carrier bottomed out for a reason?

Anyway, we decided to just grit out teeth and finish the drive to the campground - it was only another 10 miles or so, albeit on the interstate.  I took heart in the fact that I had actually added the anti-tilt plate to the carrier as an after-market improvement and so it was unlikely the world would explode or the scooter would get flung off during these few miles.  Sure enough, we made it with scooter intact, got settled in at Root 66, popped a cold adult beverage and decided to deal with bolt and bulb tomorrow.

What a day it has been!

Gila Cliff Dwellings - Not Meant to Be!

Well, some things just aren't meant to be.

When I checked the tire pressure this morning, as I always do before we drive off anywhere, I found the passenger side outside rear tire was completely flat. I'm not sure at what point it lost air - I hadn't noticed any change in handling when we drove into the KOA yesterday afternoon.

Anyway, long story short: we found a tire shop that sent a very nice man out to our campground site and he found nothing wrong with the tire. All six tires are new with less than 4000 miles on them. We agreed, he and I, that the #$%@ valve extender must have worked the valve stem loose so the air leaked out. So, a couple hours and $25 later (Coach-Net picked up the $35 on-site service call charge), the tire was remounted and inflated and the valve extender carefully tightened. We then had to drive the Trek to the tire shop itself so the tire man could tighten the lug nuts properly with a torque wrench.

While the cost was not terrible and, more importantly, we had not careened off the mountain at Cloudcroft, the tire issue caused a three hour delay and so we couldn't visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings without rushing around like crazy people to get to our next stop: Holbrook, Arizona to visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.  Remember, we had already lost a day by having to hunker down in Carlsbad because of the desert winds.

So, with a new found go-with-the-flow attitude, we shrugged off the Gila Cliff Dwellings as something we were just not destined to see, ate a couple tasty home-made burritos I bought from a Mexican man at the tire place, and hit the road for Arizona.

Life throws you lemons? Eat burritos!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Drive to Silver City, New Mexico

We left the Carlsbad KOA pretty early today, hoping to get a good start before those blasted (no pun intended) desert winds roared up again.  We were heading to Silver City, New Mexico and instead of taking a more direct route through El Paso, Texas we opted for a more scenic drive through the Lincoln National Forest as shown below.  You can click on this map to pull up a bigger image.

As we drove out of the flat desert mesa surrounding the Carlsbad area and entered the mountainous Lincoln National Forest, the scenery become more and more beautiful.  Rolling hills and greenery!  Pine trees, creeks, and Swiss-styled architecture.  The climb up to Cloudcroft was lovely and the descent down to Alamogordo was also beautiful, even if I did have to drop a gear and keep our speed down: we did not want to gain any first-hand knowledge of using a runaway truck ramp! Click here for some photos.  By the way, the Cloudcroft area looked like a great place to camp  in the summer and/or visit in the winter for skiing, etc. 

Although we did not originally plan to visit White Sands National Monument, we decided to pop in for a quick visit - our route took us right past the entrance and it seemed silly not to go take a look.  Click here for some photos.  White Sands is impressive, although I'm not sure I would choose it as a picnic destination.  Just driving around the dunes for 20 minutes made my eyes sore even with sunglasses on... bright white!

Once we hit Las Cruces, the drive as far as Deming was much less pleasant - the wind was gusting with a vengeance and the scenery was once again scrubby desert.  The wind was so bad that we passed several truck pull-offs where tractor trailer rigs and RVs were hunkered down.  But, as I told Lynda, no point in stopping unless we're willing to sit until evening. So, we continued on at around 50MPH with me white-knuckling the steering wheel.  Thankfully, conditions were much improved after turning north at Deming for the final leg to Silver City.

So we are staying at the KOA in Silver City for the night and plan on visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in the morning. This is about an 90 minute drive from here but we could not find a campground any closer that can accommodate a motor home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Carlsbad, located in the Chihuahuan Desert, seems like a nice area and I got the sense of more going on there than other places we’ve driven through so far. We arrived mid morning on Friday, May 7th passing several small ranch-like farms and well-kept homes. There were horses everywhere. We made a stop in town at the Super Wal-Mart to stock up on groceries and adult beverages and then got back on highway 285.

We stayed at the KOA campground a few miles north of Carlsbad, just off highway 285. This is a very nice campground with modern, clean and well maintained facilities, including two good-sized fenced dog parks that are irrigated to sustain a nice carpet of grass.

There are apparently endless numbers of wild rabbits on the campground, which really got the attention of Sydney and Barley. One of our neighbors was a round tailed ground squirrel that located his burrow a couple sites away from ours -he also provided entertainment for us and aggravation for the dogs.

The only thing that could have been better at the campground was the WiFi service: it was up, it was down, it was up, it was down, and so on. Even when the service was up, the bandwidth was so restricted that we were unable to upload photos. Thankfully, however, we were able to send and receive email and post some entries to this blog. Despite the WiFi issues, I would stay at that KOA again.  Click here for some photos of the campground.

Unfortunately, the scooter was not much use to us at the KOA. The RV sites and roadways are all constructed with crushed concrete and riding the scooter on that type of surface is not pleasant. So, we hoofed it around the campground which was probably to our benefit anyway.

We scrapped our original plan to go to Carlsbad Caverns because the bats have not yet migrated back in full numbers and so the famous dusk bat flight out of the cave is not yet happening. As far as seeing the bat flight, the best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns is from the end May to end of September. Anyway, Lynda felt that viewing the Caverns themselves is not a big enough draw to go to the effort renting a car (the road up to the Carlsbad Caverns Visitors Center is too windy for the Trek) and kenneling the dogs. I was fine with this because I visited Carlsbad Caverns several years ago and was fortunate to view the bat flight, when millions of bats leave the cave at dusk to hunt for insects. It’s quite a sight to behold!

We relaxed on Saturday, catching up on email and blog articles, watching hilarious “Glee” episodes, and playing with the dogs in the dog park area. On Sunday, we disconnected the RV from the hookups and drove just a few miles towards Carlsbad to visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, which we really enjoyed and highly recommend. While Sydney and Barley rested in the RV, we toured the facilities to learn more about desert flora and animals found in the Chihuahuan Desert.

As luck would have it, this was also the last day of the 24th annual Mescal Roast being hosted by the Living Desert Zoo. We witnessed the Mescal Pit Opening and then had a taste of the cooked agave heads. We both liked it - the flavor reminded me a little of boiled apple. According to the office press release, The Mescal Roast provides a better understanding of the Mescalero Apache people and the importance of protecting the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem. The mescal plant, also known as agave, was a staple for the Apache who once lived in the Pecos River Valley and Guadalupe Mountains of Southeastern New Mexico. Nearly all parts of the mescal plant were used, including the leaves, flower stalks, blossoms and seeds. The leaves and stalks were traditionally roasted in large cooking pits and eaten or pounded into cakes and dried.

Click here for some photos of our visit to the Living Desert.

After our visit to the Living Desert Zoo, we ate lunch and drove to Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area , which is in the Lincoln National Forest. Although less than a 40 mile drive, it took us about an hour to get there because of the narrow and winding road. On the way, we passed what appeared to be several ranches and a handful of oil donkey pumps. The smell of petroleum was unmistakable and seemed out of place in this otherwise rugged and wild area.

When we arrived at Sitting Bull Falls, we parked in the lower parking lot and hiked about .6 miles to the Visitor Center. The trail was very stony and steep in places and the wind kept whipping up in gusts. I had to chase my hat a couple times. After catching our breath, we took the dogs on the concrete path up to the Falls area. While we enjoyed our visit and recommend it to other visitors, Sitting Bull Falls was unexpectedly crowded when we went, perhaps because it was Mother’s Day. It was a bit of a challenge keeping Sydney and Barley out of people’s way and under control. Anyway, despite the number of people, Sydney did get to swim and her antics attracted several admirers. Barley was also a big hit, particularly with a group of young guys, one of whom declared, “that is one bad dog!”

Unfortunately, we managed to take only a few photos of Sitting Bull Falls because the camera battery ran out of juice. This was my fault for taking so many photos at the Living Desert Zoo and not recharging the battery afterward. Oh well…

Once we got back from our outings, we did laundry and made some preparations to leave this morning, Monday May 10th. The plan was to head to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument but this was not in the cards… some extremely windy weather rolled in overnight, with frequent gusts exceeding 40 MPH. Driving the Trek in “normal” breezy weather is a little like driving a billboard and so it did not take much consideration to decide to play it safe and stay here one more day. And so we are hunkered down in the Trek (which is swaying from the wind gusts) napping, reading, and generally being very lazy. From time to time we emerge to take the dogs for a potty break and then scuttle back inside, away from the wind and dust.

We hope to be able to make our way to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument tomorrow… stay tuned!