grandson mason

grandson mason

grandson jaxson

grandson jaxson

Thursday, March 31, 2011

29-31MAR11 - Las Cruces, NM

Our first stop before departing Carlsbad on Tuesday morning, 29MAR, was at a Exxon station closed for remodeling. Turns out that you could still purchase diesel by paying with a credit card at the pump; & we are guessing that since they did not have to pay any employees, their price was ten to fifteen cents a gallon cheaper than any other station. Rather than drive on I-10 west through El Paso, TX, to get to Las Cruces, NM, Dan decided to go north on a secondary road via Cloudcroft. The last portion of this route is very steep & curvy with many warning signs for truckers about the steep grade; in fact our next door fellow RV’er couldn’t believe we were taking that route. End result was that it was a very scenic drive, with the last fifteen miles a bit of a challenge (but we have driven worse) & we avoided the “madness” of I-10 through El Paso. We set up camp & headed to the village of Mesilla for dinner.

We have visited Mesilla a few times already. The first time was back in 2005 when we met Dan’s sister, Sharon, & hubby, Tim Tompkins, there in our old gas RV, & spent a few days exploring. The last visit was almost a year ago (see below BLOG link) when we were El Paso for over a week. Mesilla has been a historic town as a part of Mexico & later as part of the USA as a result of the Gadsden Purchase. At one time it was the territorial capitol of Arizona & New Mexico. The town of Las Cruces would not be the second biggest city in NM if the citizens of Mesilla had not declined the railroads offer to run through their town. End result of their decision was the train line went to Las Cruces & Mesilla turned into a sleepy little village, surrounded by the ever growing Las Cruces. We had dinner at La Posta an establishment we had walked by before on previous visits. Apparently it is one of those must do things for tourists & we always saw people waiting to get in. We got their early & avoided the crowds. We found the food no better than most TexMex restaurants, but Dan enjoyed their Chili Rita.

Wednesday morning, Dan headed to the White Sands Missile Range Museum & Missile Park. The museum is being reorganized & most of the video equipment was not functioning, but Dan still found it fascinating. In addition to missile “history”, the museum also had displays on Mimbres pottery, early settlers, Bataan Death March Buffalo Soldiers, NASA, Victorio War, & other non-missile topics. About the Victorio War one 2nd LT Finley wrote – “It is the old story, unjust treatment of the Indians by the Govt., treaties broken, promises violated and the Indians moved from one reservation to another against their will, until finally they break out and go on the war path and the Army is called in to kill them. It is hard to fight against and shoot down men when you know they are in the right and are really doing what our fathers did in the Revolution, fighting for their country.”

Upon viewing the Bataan Death March display, it reminded Dan that we had seen Memorials to the event in many NM towns & we had even driven on the Bataan Memorial Highway. There is even a Bataan marathon on the missile range each year. Now he wondered why this tragic event was so significant to NM? Turns out that one of the largest USA units in the Philippines at the start of WWII, was the 200th Coast Artillery from New Mexico. They had been sent to the Philippines because many of them spoke Spanish. They held the Japanese off for four months with inferior weapons & no food before surrendering & then enduring the infamous march. By the end of the war NM had the most per-capita casualties of any state, & only half her men came home!

Another display was of an original German V2 rocket. This is a stand alone exhibit in its own building with a very detailed description of the German development program; along with details of the USA’s “race” to beat the Russians in seizing as many German scientists & V2 actual components before the war ended. The scientists were easy, since many of them fled to the west into the arms of the USA Army rather than be captured by the Russians. The Americans discovered a V2 factory in Nordhausen, Germany, an area that was to be handed over to the USSR. The Army quickly removed everything & shipped it west. The end result is in August of 1945, 300 railroad cars of V2 “stuff” showed up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, & every railroad siding for 210 miles was used to hold the freight cars. It took another 30 days to bring everything to the newly created White Sands Proving Ground (original name).

Trivia – more V2s were fired at targets on the continent of Europe than at the UK, what city was the primary target of 1,780 of these rockets (think diamonds)?

One of the most interesting “displays” was a photo album put together in 1999. It contained photos taken by a young Army enlisted man who was stationed at a very remote facility of the missile range sometime in late 50s or early 60s? The person that put the album together also penned some words about his recollection of what was occurring in each photo. To Dan it reminded him experiences of countless young men in the military - trying to keep their cars running with little or no money, chasing women, trying to fool the sergeants & officers, using their last dollars for beer & cigarettes, trying to sleep during duty hours, etc; while enduring the pettiness of military regulations & countless hours of boredom. One quote was about a rare party with women from the Womens Army Corps (WACs) - “Most of the women were wilder than the antelope.”

Trivia – how did the Army locate missile parts in the remote desert after test firing (think squalene)?

After Dan rejoined Corrie, it was off to explore the eccentric roadside attractions in Las Cruces. We discovered an armless Muffler Man, El Toro the Bull w/his blue balls, & a giant Geronimo statue by Peter Toth. For some reason Mr Toth started carving monumental statues in honor of Native Americans in 1972, & decided to place one in every state in the USA! Some states have more than one, & some of the statues have since “disappeared”. According to his below website, there are 55 statues in the USA & 2 in Canada. Something else for Dan to seek out on our RV journey!

Thursday morning, 31MAR, we had hoped to accomplish two “chores” & then hit the road toward the Gila Wilderness Area & the town of Silver City, NM. First thing to accomplish was having our TV antenna system checked out to determine way we can no longer receive the over-the-air digital TV transmissions we used to get? For those of you who receive your TV via cable or phone lines, you may not see the necessity of an old fashioned antenna. When the federal gov’t mandated all broadcast stations switch to a digital transmission it cost the stations money to make the shift, but the stations also received a benefit – instead of one frequency to transmit on, they now can have multiple channels showing different shows at the same time! For example, channel 4 in Las Cruces is now 4-1, 4-2, 4-3 & 4-4; all with different shows being broadcast at the same time.

In addition, we have found that that the cable in RV parks is often not digital quality, let alone HDTV. But the over the air broadcasts by law must be digital, & often are true HDTV. So in cities with ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, Univision, etc, we should get fifteen to thirty or more digital broadcast stations. However, starting about three months ago we noticed that we could only pick up two or three stations, & often none. Dan changed out several components of the system with no luck & finally determined the problem was in the RV roof between the antenna & the 12 volt booster. So we made an appointment at Camping World of El Paso to troubleshoot & fix. Joe the technician disassembled the antenna & determined that one of the fittings in the roof was rusted beyond repair – problem solved.

Second item on the “to do” list was pick up our mail being forwarded to us from Texas. Unfortunately, it did not arrive, so it was back to the RV park we had just checked out of this morning for another night in Las Cruces.

Friday morning rather than wait around for the mail Dan headed to the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. This is an excellent museum obviously depicting farm & ranch heritage in the Las Cruces area; but also had two unique displays – the history of the postcard in the USA, & a display about the Dust Bowl. Dan learned that the postcard was an Austrian invention in 1869, & was first issued by the US Post Office in 1873. Postcards in the USA remained a government monopoly until 1901, & it was illegal to write on the back side of the card, forcing people to write their message on the artwork on the front until 1907. Dan was surprised to learn the “dust bowl” was an event that lasted several years, & that the storms on rare occasion reached the west or east coast! In fact, one storm even reached Washington DC, on 21 March 1935, one week before Congressional Hearings on the matter. A dust bowl joke at the time was – “I hope it’ll rain before the kids grow up. They ain’t never seen none.”

While at the museum Dan also learned that the state is promoting a Green Chile Cheesburger Trail, apparently because green chile cheeseburgers have been getting a lot of play on TV food networks. All too soon Corrie called Dan & told him it was time to check the mail, so Dan had to cut it short & head back to the RV.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

27/28MAR11 - Carlsbad, NM (guadalupe mountains national park)

We previously visited Carlsbad, NM, & the world famous caverns located there a year ago last March. When we departed Carlsbad & drove to El Paso, TX, we were very impressed with the silhouette of El Capitan located on the southern edge of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, & placed the Park on our list of places to visit in the future. Unfortunately, the Park entrance is not “convenient” to any RV parks, & there are no stores or gas stations close to the Park. So this year we decided to stay in Carlsbad, NM, & “commute” in the Toad to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

After setting up camp on upon our arrival Sunday, 27MAR, Dan decided to drive the Toad to Sitting Bull Falls in the Lincoln National Forest. The Falls are a day use facility of the National Forest that has many stone picnic shelters in a very scenic setting. No one knows why the falls are called Sitting Bull, but agree that they are not named after the famous Lakota Sioux Chief who never came close to New Mexico! This area of NM, & most of Arizona & Texas, has been enduring a major drought (some towns have had no measurable rain in more than 150 days); so we were afraid there would be no falls to view. But it turns out that the falls are fed by an underground spring that has never gone dry. After a short hike we came to the falls; although not a dramatic “high volume” flow of water, it was still very scenic & a refreshing break from the desert heat.

Monday morning we headed to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, & it was a very windy drive. The Park has less than two miles of roads but has over 80 miles of trails. First thing we did was visit the Visitor Center to watch the slide show & find out if there were any Ranger led activities scheduled (there weren’t). Turns out the Guadalupe Mountains are a small part of a gigantic ancient reef that has only broken the earth’s crust in three locations – Guadalupe Mountains, Apache Mountains, & Glass Mountains. The Park has three distinct climates - Desert Zone, Riparian Zone & Mountain Zone. Unfortunately to see the truly spectacular sites of the Park, usually means a very strenuous hike. For example, to view the alpine environments means a vertical climb of 2000 to 3000 feet!

After visiting the Visitor Center it was a short walk to The Pinery, the ruins of a Butterfield Overland Mail Station. The Overland Mail made two trips a week over a period of 2-1/2 years, carrying passengers, freight and up to 12,000 letters from St Louis, MO, to San Francisco, CA (& vice versus). The western fare one-way was $200, with most stagecoaches arriving at their final destination 22 days later. The Butterfield Overland Stage Company had more than 800 people in its employ, had 139 relay stations, 1800 head of stock and 250 Concord Stagecoaches in service at one time; before the Civil War stopped its operations.

Trivia – what two present day major companies can be traced to the Butterfield Overland Stage (hints – one company still has a stagecoach on its corporate logo; & don’t leave home without the other one)?

From the Visitor Center it was short drive to the Frijole Ranch; a very well preserved ranch complex consisting of the main house, bunkhouse, spring house, stables, & one room schoolhouse. From the ranch we hiked the Smith Spring Trail, this a 2-1/2 mile loop, rated as “moderate”. Being out of shape, coupled with the rocky terrain & high winds; we rate it as “strenuous”! Once you leave the ranch there are no trail markers to indicate if you are still on the right trail or how far to go. Every now & then Corrie would ask if Dan was sure we were on the right trail? Eventually we made it to Smith Spring, another underground source of water in the Chihuahuan Desert. After returning to the Toad we decided we were so tired, that we would skip the supposedly easier & more scenic McKittrick Canyon Trial. We will just have to make another trip to the region in the future?

Trivia – the Frijole Ranch had a “gas generator” for lighting; since this was before Edison invented the light bulb, how did it work?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

26MAR11 - Fort Stockton, TX (buffalo soldiers)

Saturday, 26MAR, we drove a little longer than normal to get to Fort Stockton, TX, before deciding where to head after that? It appears that Fort Stockton’s present claim to fame is a giant Road Runner in the main intersection. We can’t remember staying in Fort Stockton before, but somewhere in our photo collections is a picture of us sitting on the feet of the road runner during our DEC03 RV trip in a rental RV. As soon as we were settled in the RV park Dan took off to tour Fort Stockton (the fort not the city). There are only three original buildings left of the Fort; but two enlisted barracks have been recreated, & one houses the museum. There are only a few displays, but they are well done & there is a very good 25 minute video. Dan always finds the quotes from those stationed at these desolate outposts very interesting: “Dr Hall reports to relieve Dr Finley. I am rather glad to be rid of him. He is a poor specimen of a doctor and man. He has a brutal temper and is addicted to liquor.” “Stockton has not changed much except for the worst.” Despite what we all have seen in countless movies & TV shows, most of these forts did not have a fortified wall with towers for defense! That is because half the post was up and around at all times (approximately 125 armed soldiers 24/7), & any group approaching the fort would raise a cloud of dust visible for miles. The displays also showed that the horse was more important than anything to the mounted soldier, half the gear carried by the calvary was for the horse. A large portion of the museum is dedicated to the “Buffalo Soldiers” (ie African Americans, often newly freed slaves) who were stationed at the Fort after the Civil War. Some time in the recent past one of Fort Stockton’s residents wrote a moving tribute to these Buffalo Soldiers. We won’t bore you with the entire tribute, but just the last paragraph: “It is for us today, who walk in safety on this ground that they so ably defended, to remember and to honor these men who willingly gave, and sometimes gave all, to protect and defend this frontier. Here, they were willing to form the only line of resistance between a young America and the red man she fought so long and hard to displace. And while we can’t always know their names, nor have clear images of their young faces, we do know that we can leave them wholly in the hands of God. A God who understood their motivation, who knew their every thought and deed and loved them completely; who cared about their hopes and dreams and did as much to satisfy them as He could. He and He alone can be trusted with their valiant souls.” Trivia – why was the Comanche Moon feared? What is a crupper? When the bugle signals “fatigue call”, what is fatigue duty? Although the surrounding area was the site of the fourth largest oil field in the USA, the town has long seen its glory days & is another historic part of America long passed-by. The town was originally sited here because of Comanche Springs. This natural spring used to flow at 60 to 80 million gallons a day, but today it only flows briefly during exceptionally wet winters. Why? Because Texas law is based on the old English law principle of the “Rule of Capture”; which basically means that a land owner has the rights to anything they can extract from beneath his or her property. This means if I have a water well at fifty feet & my neighbor later places his well at one hundred feet, I have no recourse when my well runs dry, except to drill deeper. In Fort Stockton’s case, a few big ranches have sucked the natural spring dry & deprived all the residents of the town of their historical water source! That night we discovered the RV park had a small café called the Road Runner Café, so we checked it out. Only five items on the menu – mesquite smoked pork country style rib, chicken fried steak, chicken nuggets, fried catfish, & fried shrimp. For eight bucks you get an entrée, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, blueberry pound cake, & ice tea. Great price & good home cooking!

Friday, March 25, 2011

21-25MAR11 - Kerrville, TX (oops! my bad!!!)

Monday morning, 21MAR, we departed Sharon & Tim’s to start heading west & north towards the Pacific NW. The last thing we had to do in Kerrville was fill up the RV with diesel. Unfortunately while maneuvering in the gas station Dan lost sight of the “guardian” pole on the right side of the RV & immediately realized his mistake when he heard a very loud scrapping sound! He got out of the rig to find one entire cargo door destroyed beyond repair. Corrie was not pleased to say the least! Dan wanted to drive away immediately to find a repair facility & to escape the stares of what seemed like thirty people getting their morning coffee. But Corrie insisted in no uncertain terms that he at least fuel the rig! Then it was down the road to the largest RV dealer in Kerrville to see if they could repair the damage. Turns out they only do minor fiberglass repairs, but highly recommended a small paint & body shop down the road. We pulled into Texas Paint & Body, & they said they could fabricate an entire new door by the end of the week. We then called the insurance company & started the process of getting permission for the repair. Dan even called the RV factory in Red Bay, AL, to find a new cargo door; but it turns out they don’t have any in stock & only fabricate them when ordered. By Tuesday we had received permission to go ahead & repairs started first thing Wednesday morning. Friday afternoon the repair was done & it looks pretty good to us. That night we went out with Tim & Sharon for a farewell dinner. Hopefully we can get out of town & even out of the state of TX without anymore problems!

Monday, March 21, 2011

12-20MAR11 - Kerrville, TX (south by southwest)

Saturday morning, 12MAR, we drove the short distance to Dan’s sister, Sharon, & hubby, Tim Tompkins, place in Kerrville, TX. As noted many times in this BLOG, we usually stop by twice a year; once in the spring heading west leaving Louisiana, & once in the fall heading east back to Louisiana. Obviously having visited many times since becoming full time RV’ers in 2007, there isn’t much left for us to discover or experience in Kerrville & the surrounding area. So we use our time here to catch up on family "gossip", chores, check on our household goods in storage, & take turns preparing tasty dinners. For example, we took two days to wash the rig, & Dan smoked a pork roast for pulled pork BBQ.

On Wednesday we headed into Austin to check out the annual South by Southwest (SxSW) Festival at the world famous Continental Club on South Congress Ave. SxSW is an annual festival that started 25 years ago as a music festival to showcase Texas musicians. It quickly mushroomed into one of the largest events in the USA & now has three distinct components – music, film & interactive/multi media, & has participants from all over the world. In addition, there are hundreds of panels by industry leaders discussing music, film or multi media. The music portion is the largest part of the festival, & there are thousands of acts performing throughout the city.

Since the thousands of musical performers are only scheduled to perform once or twice during the festival, they usually have two choices – come to Austin just for their performance & leave, or find other venues to play during the entire festival. And probably due to the shear number of acts, they often play for free! Of course the “big names” often leave town after their performance. The end result is that almost every restaurant, bar, & even boutiques that can squeeze in a band has free music at night; & some even start free music at 10AM & go past midnight! Another by-product of the festival is that all the streets surrounding the venues have many “street fairs” going, along with their own outdoor stages providing free music.

Dan decided to check out the “Happy Hour” at the Continental Club; Happy Hour is free music from 12 to 6PM (five bands in six hours). The idea was for Corrie to also attend this free show, but for most of the time Corrie roamed Congress Ave checking out the boutiques, street vendors, & free outdoor music. Dan stuck it out for the entire Happy Hour & saw - Loves It! (Folk/Indie), Miss Tess (Jazz/Blues), Defibulators (Americana), Woody Pines (Blues/Country), & Stone River Boys (Rocking Country). All the acts were excellent, but the definition of free show is subject to interpretation? Obviously the Club would prefer you buy something to drink and/or eat; if you do buy something, the waitress expects a tip; & lastly each band passes around the tip “bucket” toward the end of their set. End result, free ended up being $20!

Since Tim had to work Wednesday & couldn’t go to the Continental Club with us, he & Dan headed back to the Continental Club on Saturday morning, 19MAR. Saturday was the day for Mojo Mayhem, an event they attended back in 2009. Tim & Dan missed the first few groups but caught Jade Idol, Stone River Boys, Jon Dee Graham (too mean to die) & the Fighting Cocks, Jungle Rockers, Mother Truckers, & lastly - Mojo & the Toad Liquors. As in 2009, there were many baby boomers in attendance. But Dan noted that almost all of them were wearing earplugs; to him that defeats the whole purpose of attending a live rock & roll concert?

Although Dan is still not a fan of Mojo’s shock-jock personae, he has to admit Mojo has unique outlook on things as shown by his two hit records – Elvis is Everywhere, & Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-headed Love Child. (Note – most of his other titles are not suitable for a family BLOG.)

We were going to hit the road Sunday morning, heading west & north; but for some reason Dan was feeling tired & we decided to wait one more day.