grandson mason

grandson mason

grandson jaxson

grandson jaxson

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

22-30NOV10 - Various TX & LA (houma (home) again)

Monday morning, 22NOV, we departed the Big Bend area enroute Dan’s sister Sharon & husband Tim Tompkins place in Kerrville, TX. If you have followed this BLOG, you know we routinely stop there on average twice year; once on our drive leaving Louisiana, and upon our return. We decided to break our drive to Kerrville into two days & spent the night outside Ozana, TX, a little Texas town we overnighted in once before (see below BLOG entry).

After a short, relaxing, drive on Tuesday we arrived at Sharon & Tim’s in Kerrville. We used the rest of day to check on our household goods in storage, do laundry, & run errands. Wednesday we ran more errands before getting back together with Tim & Sharon, & taking off for steaknite at Waring General Store, Waring, TX.

First Tim took us on a sightseeing drive thru the some of surrounding back country roads; stopping at a local cemetery to check out some of the historical headstones. The Waring General Store is in the middle of nowhere & appears to be more dance hall/entertainment venue than a store. Supposedly steaknite here was started by Don Strange & is the first “steak” night in TX. The funny thing is that Don Strange’s main business is a catering business started by parents in Bandera, TX. Bandera is home of the Cowboy Bar which also has a steak night on Wednesday nights that we have attended a couple times in the past.

For $20 you get unlimited non-alcoholic drinks, appetizers, dessert & fixings; along with your choice of grilled steak or 1/4 chicken. The food was excellent & well worth the price. Then around 7:30 the house band, Brian Strange & the Strange Brothers, starts playing. We found the music very enjoyable. In fact for the first time ever, Dan went to the cashier & bought one of their music CDs; something he never does. Except for the long drive home (thankfully Tim was driving), it was another great night out with family!

Thursday (turkey day) we got back on the road heading east on I-10 enroute Houma, LA. First stop was at a RV park on west side of Houston which had no room (or so they said, even though we could see empty sites). Since this was the last RV park we knew of on the west side, we decided to drive through Houston to the next one listed on the east side of Houston. Somehow Dan missed our turnoff for Beaumont & we found ourselves circling Houston on I-610 in the wrong direction! After back tracking a few miles we found the next RV park & set up camp. Our turkey day dinner was supplied by What-a-burger.

Friday morning we continued driving east on I-10 making a detour to our favorite casino, Choushatta Casino, in Kinder, LA. Apparently because they were giving away two cars that night, there was no room in casino RV park. The choice was dry camping in their parking lot, or finding another RV facility. Since the drive had been very cold, we wanted electrical hookups to run our heaters & finally warm-up. Dan had noticed a nice RV park just down the road. We drove back to it & found it almost completely empty. In fact we had to call the 800 number the next morning to find out what to pay, because there was no staff on site. That evening we spent a couple of hours at the casino, where the gods of chance were not kind to us.

Saturday we awoke to sunshine & had a quick drive to Rebecca & Raymond’s. That evening our son, Joe, showed up & joined us for a dinner of leftover Thanksgiving items. Sunday morning Dan & Rebecca took off to pick out a Xmas tree for the house. In the afternoon Joe came back over to watch football & play Yahtzee & Pictionary. The competition was spirited, & we learned how much Rebecca hates to loose! After just a quick two days, Dan had fly out on Monday morning for a one day job in Anniston, AL.

Monday, November 22, 2010

17-21NOV10 - Various AZ, NM & TX (big bend national park)

Departing the Freightliner service facility on Wednesday, 17NOV, we decided to only go about 180 miles & overnight at Pato Blanco Lakes RV in Benson, AZ. Apparently this is another RV park that is heavily used by snowbird RVers, even though it was still pretty empty when we pulled in. After hooking up the RV we headed to the pool to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Although we were only overnighting & not a long term resident, we were invited to the Wednesday night Mexican potluck. Apparently the potlucks were previously held on Tuesday nights, & the recent change has not been well received by all the regulars? The food was very good; & as usual, too much. After dinner we were treated to some acoustic western music by the resident band the “Lost Hobos”. One unusual thing at the potluck was the serving of alcohol by the park; usually it is BYOB. Dan noted we were right next door to Kartchner Caverns State Park & decided to call & see if we could get tour tickets for tomorrow AM. We lucked out & got tickets for the 0945 tour.

Thursday morning we got the RV ready to go but left it plugged in so Gumbo had AC as the day heated up, & we headed off to Kartchner Caverns State Park to catch the 0945 tour of the “Big Room”. We won’t bore you with the complete unique history of the caverns, but here is an outline:

1974 – discovered by two spelunkers who decide to keep it secret while they explore it to prevent its destruction in the name of tourism
1978 – realizing it is on private property, not public, the spelunkers approach the Kartchner family about keeping the secret & finding a way to transfer it to the state; although a teacher with a large family, the Kartchners agree & the secret is kept
1988 – in a midnight session the Arizona legislature pass the bill to purchase the land as a state park, & the Governor signs it; the press & public are told about the Caverns
1999 – the Caverns are opened to the public after four years of scientific base line studies; followed by seven years & $28 million in construction to insure minimal impact by tours on the Caverns

Kartchner is one of the few “wet” caverns that have not been degraded by commercial exploitation. Almost all caverns have water in them, but most caverns are considered “dry” because they have very large natural openings that allow the moisture to evaporate & naturally keep the cavern cool. Kartchner’s natural opening is the diameter of a grapefruit; therefore, the cavern stays warm & humid. To insure no change in the Cavern’s environment two tunnels were drilled into the cavern each equipped with an airlock, followed by several “containment” doors, & before you pass through the last containment door you are completely misted down with water to minimize the lint from your clothes & dead skin (yick) that you leave in the cavern. In addition, after all the tours are done for the day, cave specialists enter the cavern to sanitize all areas of the tour & immediately address any area that was accidentally disturbed.

The price of the tour was much more than the Carlsbad tour we took in MAR in this year (see below BLOG link), but the safeguards in place are worth it. Over the years the Cavern has been under continuous study; unique things discovered so far are – nitrocalcite “cotton” never before seen, one of the most extensive occurrences of moonmilk, new type of shields called “turnips” or “beets”, two new minerals never seen in caves (nontronite & rectorite). The tour was great & worth the money; unfortunately to protect the Cavern pictures are not allowed!

After the tour, it was back to Pato Blanco & a quick lunch before hitting the road to the Escapees Rainbow RV park in Deming, NM, where we have stayed many times before. Once again we were informed that the RV park was having a potluck dinner. But we opted for dinner at Si Senor, our favorite Mexican restaurant in the southwest.

Friday morning we continued driving east on I-10 to Van Horn, TX, but did not connect up the Toad because we were buying cheap diesel in Las Cruces, NM. After a really tight fit at the gas (diesel) station not really designed for large size vehicles, it was time to drive through El Paso on I-10 which is always fun; before we finally made it to our next overnight in Van Horn, TX. We have stayed overnight many times in Van Horn (see 2 BLOG entries below). Although the many of the small businesses are still closed, some of the derelict buildings have been removed & others given a new paint job; overall things look better. For the last couple of years the Hotel El Capitan has been closed for renovation, now it is re-opened with a new dining room. So we skipped our usual diner at Chuys to eat at the hotel. Corrie went with pork tenderloin, while Dan went with chicken fried steak made with ribeye, crusted with pistachios & topped with jalapeƱo gravy! Everything was great & we were impressed.

Saturday, 20NOV, we detoured south enroute to the Big Bend National Park area via Marfa & Presidio, TX. Just outside of Presidio we stopped at Fort Leaton State Historic Park. This is a day use park that was being setup & decorated by the staff in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. Although called a fort, it is really the fortified home/trading post of the Leaton Family. Next we headed down Texas Highway 170 from Presidio to Lajitas, TX. This portion of 170 is considered by many to be one of the most scenic drives in the USA. Along the way we stopped to explore Closed Canyon. This is very narrow box canyon where you can clearly see the power of flash floods! Driving 170 is highly recommended if you are ever in the area (especially in a car or on a motorcycle); lots of whoop-de-doos & great scenery!

After parking the RV Dan headed out to check out the eccentric sites of the ghost town Terilingua. Terilingua was a company town during the large scale mining of Cinnabar (ie raw material for Mercury). As usual when the market collapsed, the mine & town were abandoned. Most of the adobe buildings have been steadily deteriorating; but a funny thing happened, individuals (some down on their luck, other who want to live off the grid) have occupied the derelict buildings & have created their own community. In fact, they now have a tradition of sitting on the porch of the Terilingua Trading Co to watch the sunset in the east. That’s right in the east, they watch the changing light & colors on the mountains to the east. So we made it a point to be there for sunset before heading to La Kiva for dinner.

Back in DEC03, before we decided to become full time RVers, we decided to test the waters in a rental RV. During that trip we stayed briefly in the Terilingua area to explore Big Bend National Park. Only later did we learn of La Kiva (the cave), built by an eccentric Texan, Gilbert Felts; who had tried to scratch out a living in the area since 1962, finally hitting upon the idea of La Kiva & started building it in 1979. Since then it has been featured in numerous national publications, even being rated one of the top 50 bars in the USA by the Mens Journal in 2002! The food is good, but the atmosphere is better! Note, we didn’t check out the on site dungeon.

Sunday, 21NOV, we took off early to spend over six hours in Big Bend National Park, which is also part of the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River (the Scenic River starts in the west at Presidio continuing to Langtry, TX, approximately 320mi). Upon entering the park we drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Castolon (22mi). The scenic drive has many great overlooks (Homer Wilson Ranch, Mule Ears, Sotol Vista, Tuff Canyon), we also stopped to hike the Burro Mesa Pouroff. This is box canyon where the flash floods originate at the box end & have created a dramatic vertical cut in the canyon wall. After a relaxing & scenic drive we arrived at the Castolon Visitor Center. This is a very small visitor center that receives very few visitors.

Castolon was a ranching, farming & trading center that was very important to the Texans, & the Mexicans a stones throw away across the Rio Grande. The small park service display of the area’s history continues the themes we saw at Fort Leaton: European/Anglo settlers arrive in Texas, USA, to find long settled & established Mexicans; Anglos use the Hispanic population to build & establish their businesses; Anglo settlers often marry Mexican women, producing biracial families; the Anglos making up just 5% of the population end up controlling the wealth & the government, disenfranchising the Hispanic majority. The most violent period was from the start of the Mexican Revolution (1910) until 1920. There were numerous raids across the border by revolutionaries, often just bandits using the Revolution as an excuse, sometimes resulting in Anglo deaths. Sadly on occasion, the local Anglos would take retaliation on their neighbors, as when 15 Hispanic men were murdered in Porvenir (140 miles north of the border) in 1918, because it was believed they harbored bandits. To improve the situation & move past the hatred inspired by the Revolution, Wayne Cartledge opened his company & a store at Castolon calling it La Harmonia; treating Anglos & Hispanic Americans & Mexicans as equals. Although his store never made a profit, his other businesses did well & the store became essential institution for the entire area on both sides of the border.

After viewing the park service displays, we decided to provide some monetary support to the park service by buying a t-shirt for Dan, scat book for Corrie, & Lifetime Pass for someone who will not be named. Next we rescued a UTEP college student who had run out of gas & got separated from his Geology class & was wandering around the visitor center parking lot trying to obtain a cell phone connection. Note, there is no gas or cell phone connections in Castolon! Turns out we had seen numerous college students with clipboards at Tuff Canyon & Dan offered to drive the young man there. Dan learned the student was a poly/sci major & this field trip was mandatory for a passing grade in Geology, & he could not graduate in DEC without this elective!

After our good deed, we then headed 8mi down the road to Santa Elena Canyon Overlook & Trail. This Canyon is a dramatic 1500 foot cut made by the Rio Grande, that you can hike 3/4 of a mile into on the USA side. It was a very dramatic landscape as you crane your neck to try in take in the walls that towered over you & almost blocked out the sun. After all this, Dan decided to return home via Old Maverick Road (14 miles of dirt) hoping he would be able to use the Toad’s four wheel drive. Unfortunately the dirt road was in pretty good shape & no four wheeling was necessary. In fact we made better time than the paved road into Castolon! But we did discover Luna’s Jacal on the road. Gilberto Luna built this very small structure & raised a large family in it until 1947. Kinda makes you ashamed of all the creature comforts we feel are “necessary” for modern life.
Because of the remote location of Big Bend National Park, & the temperature extremes, it is one of the least visited of the National Parks. This is really too bad, because it is truly spectacular & offers you the opportunity to explore & experience three totally different climates & terrains – high desert, river/wet lands, & mountain. Because there is so much of the park left for us to explore, & more eccentricities to be discovered outside the park, we plan on coming back for a longer visit!

Trivia – what is the difference between Santa Elena Canyon & Santa Helena Canyon? What is a Jacal?

After a great day in the park, it was back to the Terilingua Trading Co for sunset on the porch. This Sunday evening we were treated to live music while enjoying $2 Lone Stars. One of the musicians wrote his own original songs, one of which was “Gangrene/Gangrene” sung to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene/Jolene”. Another fantastic day on the road, unfortunately because of one of Dan’s business commitments we have to get back to Louisiana & need to get back on the road tomorrow. Otherwise we might have stuck around for a few more sunsets on the porch!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

06-16NOV10 - Phoenix, AZ (& red stick, la)

Saturday, 06NOV, we finally drove into Phoenix, AZ, & checked into the Good Life RV Resort. Why did we drive so many miles in so few days (as described in the proceeding BLOG entry) to get from the Seattle area to Phoenix? First reason was to get the RV serviced/repaired (more on that later). Secondly was to have Corrie located in a major city with good weather, while Dan was gone for another “consulting” job. So the city of choice became Phoenix; & since Dan had to fly on Monday the 8th, that meant little time to enjoy the sites on the drive south from Washington.

Corrie did some RV research & chose Good Life RV Resort to stay in. This is an over 55 community that is primarily made up of “snowbirds” (many of them from Canada). Although still about half empty, the activities are in full swing & include bingo, shuffle board, coffee socials, billiards, bocce ball, bowling, bunco, ceramics, clogging, euchre, texas hold’em, golf, geocaching, wood shop, silversmith shop, line dancing, hiking, whist, tennis, biking, numerous musical & singing groups, etc, etc. Sunday night it was off to Chino Bandido for dinner. This is an establishment featured on TV food shows that combines Chinese & Mexican cuisines. Dan liked it, Corrie was less than impressed.

Early Monday morning Dan flew off for a conference at NCBRT in Baton Rouge (aka Red Stick), LA. NCBRT is a non-academic part of LSU that Dan has done some work for over the last five years. If interested in who & what they are, just do an internet search of “LSU NCBRT”. After checking into the hotel, Dan called Corrie back in Phoenix only to discover she had fallen in with a bunch of Canadian snowbirds & was attending the weekly “block party” before heading off to a casino. So much for sitting at home, missing Dan!

Wednesday night Dan had dinner with other NCBRT staff at TJ Ribs, a shrine to LSU football. TJs is a combination BBQ restaurant/sports bar full of original LSU football memorabilia, including the only Heisman won by a LSU player (Billy Cannon, 1959). Turns out that we were there for Coach Les Miles weekly radio show & it was his birthday! People were even wearing shirts that said “Eat Grass, Take Names” because the coach was caught on national TV chewing on a blade of grass during their victory over their hated rival, Alabama. We didn’t think we would get seated, but got the last table. Several other NCBRT people have been associated with other major college football programs throughout the USA & their coaches; & stated that Miles appeared to be one of the friendliest & approachable they had seen. He showed up early, stayed late, & during every free minute he was mingling with the fans, signing autographs & getting photos taken (of course it helps when you are 7&1, coming off a great victory against Alabama & ex LSU coach Nick Saban).

Friday afternoon, 12NOV, Dan finally returned to Phoenix. After doing very little on Saturday morning, we headed to the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet. This is very large flea market the runs Friday to Sunday, October to April. It is over 1600 stalls selling the usual “stuff” you see at any other so called swap meet or flea market elsewhere. A couple of differences we noted, other than the size, were live entertainment & free raffles every couple of hours.

We departed the “Good Life” Sunday morning & headed to Freightliner of Arizona located in Tolleson, a suburb of Phoenix. We have previously discussed in this BLOG the difficulty of getting the engine, transmission and/or chassis of an RV serviced. Basically, there are very few RV dealers that can do this & you learn to rely on truck service centers. Also in this BLOG we have detailed our less than satisfactory experiences at several truck facilities. Talking to other RVs we received several recommendations for Freightliner of Arizona & tried them on our trip north in April of this year (see below BLOG entry). We were very pleased with their service & the cleanliness of their facility & waiting area; so we made an appointment (appointments are something most truck facilities will NOT make!!!) for our trip south. The staff personnel you deal with only deal with RV’ers & fully understand you are living in the RV & almost always have pets. Their estimates are almost always slightly higher than the bill & best of all they deal totally with you “after market” warranty insurance!!! (The proceeding was a paid commercial endorsement.)

After parking in the Freightliner service yard, we headed off to Thee Pitts Again for some BBQ. In addition to the standard BBQ items, Dan had to order the pull pork sundae! This is BBQ beans, coleslaw, & pulled pork layered in a sundae dish & obviously topped in BBQ sauce. Things accomplished on our RV Monday & Tuesday were: a routine M2 maintenance, replace the exhaust manifold, & replace the radiator surge tank. Although it was pretty boring sitting around the waiting room with Gumbo; everything we needed done, & a couple of unexpected items, were completed in less than the two days scheduled & we were ready to go.

Rather than hit the road that afternoon during rush hour, we decided to stay at Freightliner overnight & have a dinner at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. Pizzeria Bianco is known far & wide outside of Phoenix for their very simple but gourmet pizzas. We arrived at 6:30pm & were told we had a one & 1/2 hour wait. Having heard great things about their simple pizzas we impatiently waited for almost two hours to be seated. After our appetizer we split a half-&-half pizza of Pizza Margherita & Pizza Rosa; most excellent & well worth the wait! Note, they are only open until 10pm; when we left a little after 9pm, there were still people that had an hour wait left standing outside.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

01-05NOV10 - Various OR, CA & AZ

We finally departed Monroe on Sunday morning, Halloween Day, & headed south on I-5, hopefully to sunnier & warmer weather. We enjoyed nice weather & the fall colors of the trees as we traveled from the Seattle area into Oregon. Dan had researched cheap diesel prices on the internet & it appeared that Oregon prices were much cheaper than Washington. Put we discovered the price listed on the website is for those drivers that have PUC tags; & since we didn’t, we had to pay much more. At the end of the day we stayed at the River Bend Resort in Harrisburg, OR, which was holding a Halloween wedding (everyone was dressed in black as witches, vampires, etc).

Monday, 01NOV, was a beautiful but long drive down I-5 south to Redding, CA. The drive was almost seven hours of up & down, plus mountain curves, before arriving at the RV park. Almost from the minute we crossed into California we had great views of Mt Shasta, followed by Mt Lassen in the east upon our arrival in Redding. We decided to stay at same RV park as our drive north on 18APR of this year.
Tuesday was another glorious, sunny day, in fact we had to run the generator for the roof top A/C to keep the RV cool during the drive. We finally were out of the hills/mountains & the drive was straight & level south on I-5. But it appears the state has changed the speed limit for RVs; the speed is 70 for cars, but for semis & ANYONE towing the speed limit is 55!!! So you end up with some people towing at 50 to insure they don’t get ticketed & then you have cars going 75 or 80+; in our opinion this is not a safe situation! We pulled into Patterson, CA, at same the RV park as 17APR. We quickly changed into shorts & sandals to enjoy the 80 degree weather. We decided to treat ourselves to dinner at that famous French restaurant Jacque dans la Boite.

Wednesday we decided to drive to Edwards AFB to stay for two nights & take a break from the driving. Enroute we stopped at Murray Family Farms a large roadside produce stand; although they were shutting down for the season we could see they a little something for everybody - corn maze, ant farm, petting zoo, etc. After setting up camp we headed to the Commissary & BX. While shopping we discovered Lee Esther’s food truck in the parking lot featuring some very good & interesting creole/cajun food. The military RV Camp is not the best, but it is only $15 a night.

According to Wikipedia – “Almost every United States military aircraft since the 1950s has been at least partially tested at Edwards, and it has been the site of many aviation breakthroughs as a result. The base is strategically situated next to Rogers Dry Lake, an endorheic desert salt pan; its hard dry lake surface provides a natural extension to Edwards' runways. This large landing area, combined with excellent year-round weather, makes the base a perfect site for flight testing. The lake is a National Historic Landmark. Notable occurrences at Edwards include Chuck Yeager's famous flight where he broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, test flights of the North American X-15, the first landings of the Space Shuttle, & the 1986 around-the-world flight of the Rutan Voyager. The base is also one of the largest purchasers of renewable energy in the nation, deriving 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and is a lead partner in the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership.” Plus it is home to worlds largest Anechoic chamber.

Next day we slept in, & then Corrie took off to do laundry. We then drove around a small portion of this almost 500 square mile base. In the afternoon Dan headed to the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum (3 locations, including Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale). Apparently this museum has not been accessible to the public after 11SEP because it is located on base? Dan is not sure why this is so, because other museums on other bases are still accessible to the public. The museum covers among other things the formation of the ancient lakebeds, early settlers, WWII, breaking the sound barrier, etc. In the museum Dan saw a display about Pancho Barnes & her Happy Bottom Riding Club. Then Dan remembered reading about her & how all the test pilots (like Chuck Yeager) hung out there in that famous best seller “The Right Stuff” (highly recommended reading). Dan wanted to take off right away to find the Riding Club; but he soon learned that sadly Pancho got into a dispute with Air Force officials & her establishment mysteriously burned down decades ago. Checkout Chuck Yeager’s website below to learn more about one of the first female pilots in the world, former holder of air speed records, & a true American pioneer.
Trivia – what does a 50 caliber bullet have to do with the X1?

Friday, 05NOV, we got an early start for Quartzsite, AZ. The Flying J truck stop across border in Arizona had cheap diesel & this resulted in backed up lines of RVs & semis. But after waiting 25 minutes we finally refilled our tanks. We finally make it to Quartzsite, a town of only 3500 full time residents but it hosts 1.5 million RVers annually! Many RVers dry camp out in surrounding desert for little to no expenses. It is obvious that the onslot of RVers has not started; & we are not sure what they all do when they are here, since the town appears to have limited activities. It appears that the main attraction is 15 major flea markets & swap meets?

After setting up camp headed into town to check out some eccentric sites. First stop was the monument to Hi Jolly (aka Haiji Ali, aka Philip Tedro). He was one of the last camel drivers when the US Army tested the feasibility of using camels in the deserts of the southwestern USA around 1857. He was born a Greek/Syrian, who made the Hajji to Mecca becoming Haiji Ali, & arriving in America his name became mispronounced into Hi Jolly. Next stop was Reader’s Oasis Books. Why a book store? Because it is the home of the nearly naked book seller - Paul Winer. Interesting thing is that Corrie couldn’t keep her eyes focused on his eyes, whereas Dan had no problem doing so? Last stop was Celia’s Rainbow Garden, which is in memory of a young girl who died at a very young age & one of her last wishes was to create a place of lasting beauty. The result is numerous different memorials created out of various materials in not only memory of Celia, but other town’s people who have passed away & whose loved ones have created their own unique memorials.

Trivia - what is the difference between Quartzsite & Quartzite?