Sunday, January 31, 2010

Carlsbad & Roswell, NM

We finally made it to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. As the largest cave system in the western hemisphere, and the most visited cave in the US, I’ve been trying to get here for years. Over the years we’ve visited many of the caves in the US open to the public. DSC_0158 Except possibly for Karchner Caverns near Tucson, nothing we’ve seen compares with Carlsbad. There are several tours available here—we elected to take the self-guided tour through the “big room”, which is aptly named.

The big room is 750 feet below the surface, and it is huge. The paved walkway which roughly leads around the perimeter of the room is just over a mile long. Carlsbad has a natural entrance, which, during the summer, is the entrance and exit for thousands of bats that live in one section (not open to the public) of the cavern by day, and fly out into the desert by night to eat bugs. The natural entrance is a path that leads down to the big room, but since there are all sorts of warnings about the trail being extremely rough and strenuous, we elected to take the elevator.


Aside from it’s immense size, the big room is one of the most densely decorated caves open to visitors, with hundreds of stalactites, stalagmites,  columns, etc. It is really quite breathtaking.

The RV park we’re staying in is north of the town of Carlsbad which is north of the caverns. It is also about an hour south of Roswell, NM, aDSC_0168 town that takes it’s reputation as the UFO capital of the world quite seriously. Well, maybe seriously isn’t exactly the correct word. The street lamps in the town carry the alien theme. I thought the Sana hats were a nice touch.







Roswell has a UFO Museum and Research Center which, unfortunately, doesn’t have any actual specimens. They do have a nice collection of displays and news accounts about the 1947 incident in which a flying saucer crashed on a ranch not far from the town. Several movies have been made about this incident, which touched off a world-wide search for evidence of alien visitors, and later, touched off “The X-Files.”  Initially, the Army Air Force (AAF) admitted that a “disc” had crashed on the ranch. The rancher who found it was later held prisoner by the AAF, the crash site was sanitized, and the AAF presented evidence that the “disc” was really a weather balloon. Years later, the AAF public affairs officer admitted the weather balloon story was a fabrication, and since then details of the incident are still considered top secret by the US government as a matter of national security. I don’t know if President Obama has had a chance to look into the matter yet.DSC_0172

Interestingly, as we were returning from Roswell, I was able to get a shot of something unusual over the trees. You be the judge.


We’ve had some pretty lousy weather on this leg of the trip, wind, rain and snow. And it’s been quite cold at night. But the clouds sometimes make for nice sunrises and sunsets. Personally, I’ve never been interested in seeing the sun come up. The image below is a sunset in Carlsbad.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

…It’s Another

If you read the previous post you know that the repair to the side of the trailer was botched, and we had to return to Tucson (200 miles) from where we were in New Mexico to have the repair repaired.

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you may recall the problem we had last May regarding the front legs or landing gear on the trailer. There were several attempts by several RV techs to fix it, but it was never quite right.

Anyone who has owned a car knows about those nagging problems, a funny sound when the transmission shifts, or an unusual feeling in the steering wheel while you’re driving, that can never be repeated when the car is in the shop. Then one day, the transmission falls out of the car or the steering wheel no longer turns and the mechanic says “oh, there’s the trouble!”

Well, our transmission fell out last night, figuratively speaking. We got to the body shop, where the technician was mortified that he had attached the slide wall to the fixed bottom of the trailer. The technician removed the smashed parts and we made arrangements to stay in the shop’s campground until Monday when the fixed parts would be put back on the trailer and we could be merrily on our way, again, towards Carlsbad Caverns.

We got to the campground, and attempting to unhitch the trailer, the landing gear ground to a halt, never to be moved again. I had also released the hitch, which cannot be reconnected without moving the truck from under the trailer. I couldn’t move the truck and couldn’t do anything with the trailer, so there we were. Fortunately, the RV repair facility hadn’t closed yet, so we were able to get a service guy (actually three service guys) to come to our site. Turns out one leg of the landing gear is shot – it’s probably been dying since last May when we first had trouble with it. So instead of having the body repaired (again) Monday morning, we’ll have the trailer in for a leg transplant. They believe they have the appropriate prosthesis in stock, but how long it will take to do the transplant is unknown at this time, so the repair of the body repair will be delayed until the new leg can be attached. And then we’ll be off to Carlsbad Caverns. Again.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

If It Isn’t One Thing…

Okay, we picked up the trailer this morning and the body work looked great. Forest River (the manufacturer) sent the wrong fender, but the dealer had one that fit. It’s a little different than the one on the other side, but hey, no one can see both sides at the same time, so what the heck? Besides, the shop agreed not to charge us for the fender, so the insurance payment we’ve already received more than covered the repairs. We’ll see about getting the insurance company to pay for the three days in a hotel, coverage I think I have. BTW, the cats didn’t think too much of three days in a hotel room, but at least they didn’t run away.

So, we left Tucson at around 11:30am heading east towards Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Due to the late departure, we planned on stopping about half way – in Deming, NM. A big winter storm was forecast for Arizona and New Mexico, but as far south as we were, we were only expecting high winds and rain. It was quite windy and we missed most of the rain. Really pretty skies when there’s a storm in the desert (which reminded me of a John Denver lyric).

We arrived at the Deming RV park at around 4:30pm, it’s about 200 miles from Tucson. We hooked up our stuff and I started to slide out the two slides. A reminder—the damage caused by the blown tire was on the side panel of the living room slide. So the bedroom slide comes out first, as it always does, then the living room slide starts to come out. And BANG! Oh oh!

The living room slide is a section of the trailer that slides out the side of the trailer adding about 3 feet to the inside width. The slide has it’s own floor which slides over the main trailer floor when the slide is in for travel. Apparently the technician who did the repair didn’t notice that he was working on a slide (perhaps he was visually impaired, although he wasn’t carrying a white cane and didn’t have a seeing eye dog), so he attached the brackets from the newly repaired side panel to the stationary floor of the trailer rather than to the slide. So when the slide slid out the first time, the new brackets attached to the stationary floor pulled against the newly repaired side panel and bent it badly. The two brackets also broke away from the floor – thus the BANG.

I called the repair shop immediately and the manager was embarrassed, apologetic, and quite angry at the technician who had already left for the day. I don’t envy him when he gets to work tomorrow. Bottom line – we’re heading back to Tucson tomorrow morning to have the repair repaired. The manager said they’ll let us stay free of charge for the weekend at their RV park. I don’t know yet whether another day or two in a hotel will be required while the work is done. So, when all is said and done, we will have driven an extra 400 miles (back and forth between Tucson and Deming). I hope the shop will pay for the fuel. The high wind and rain is forecast for tomorrow, but at least now I’m experienced at driving in high wind.

We’ll get to Carlsbad Caverns, eventually.

Casa Grande

About 60 miles northwest of Tucson lies the ruins of an ancient native American village known as Casa Grande. Since our mobile casa is being fixed, and we’re spending a few nights in a pet-friendly hotel, we decided to visit Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. DSC_0131 This building was constructed in the 1300s by a people now known as the Ho-Ho-Kum, which means the people who are no longer here. There is no written history of these people and like other tribes of the period, they disappeared around 1400. There are several theories as to why they left, but none have been proven. Casa Grande was a three-story building, the use of which is not really known – but it may have been an apartment building or fort in the center of a walled village. Oh, the roof was built in the 1930s to protect and preserve the site.


Construction is a special kind of desert mud that dried as hard as concrete, with the roofs supported by beams carried from the mountains 60-75 miles away. These folks didn’t have pack animals or wheels, so all of the labor was done by hand with stone and wooden tools, since they didn’t have any metal tools either.

There were several housing groups within a short distance of the Casa Grande, and the theory is that the “big house” was used by the upper class, while the lesser residences were the dwellings of the laborers. Not much has changed in 700 years.







During the 1800s, long after the natives departed the area, a stage coach line ran right through the middle of the ruins which became a tourist attraction. This, of course, ruined the ruins ever further. We saw some photos taken during the period and there was more to Casa Grande than there is now. DSC_0136 In addition to taking souvenirs, some of those early tourists also left graffiti in the form of carved names on the building walls.

I just spoke with the repair shop and the work will be done tomorrow, so we’ll be back on the road. Next major stop, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Las Vegas

The one and only previous time I had been to Las Vegas was at least 25 years ago. Of course, thanks to several TV shows, I kind of knew the city has changed a bit. When I was there in the ‘70s I stayed at the Flamingo, across the Strip from Caesar's Palace. The Sands and the Tropicana were among the other big hotels, and they were all, except for Circus-Circus, basically hotels with casinos and show rooms. The thematic palaces, which I guess started with Circus-Circus, were not in evidence at all.

The thematic hotels are really spectacular. DSC_0119 The Paris, complete with the Eiffel Tower and the Arch D’Triumphe (or however it’s spelled), captures the architecture of Paris. But what was really amazing was the fact that they managed to duplicate Paris traffic as well. The Strip, Las Vegas Boulevard,   has as much traffic as any big city. I think the Strip is a couple of miles long, and it took as about an hour to drive the length of it.


We managed to visit a bunch of the big hotels, and without a doubt, the Bellagio is one of  the classiest. The day we visited they had just opened an exhibit honoring the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Tiger. The landscaped display in the atrium was quite beautiful. The hotel is the home of the Cirque d’Soliel show “O,” and we managed to get tickets. Great show, and Cirque has about half-a-dozen different shows at different hotels running simultaneously. I don’t know where they find all of those incredible acrobats for Vegas and the Cirque road shows.

And one more thing about the Bellagio – the cafe there freezes tea ice cubes especially for iced tea. So when the cubes melt, the tea doesn’t get watery. Is that cool or what?

The Venetian is another classy place DSC_0122complete with an indoor grand canal and gondolas. I had seen pictures of the Venetian and always thought the canals were outdoors. Actually, the grand canal is the center piece of a big indoor shopping mall, but I didn’t see a Foot Locker or Kay Jewelers in the place. This is a mall strictly for high rollers.DSC_0126

The Venetian also has some beautiful public areas modeled after the great palaces of Italy. The other cool thing about all of the casinos we visited – 1 cent and 2 cent slot machines. Just our speed. You can’t put in anything less than $1, but you can actually bet one or two cents, and cash out for the balance. I guess we lost about $20 in total. That didn’t qualify us as high rollers.


The Luxor has an Egyptian theme, and other than that it reminded me of the Atlantic City casinos. Currently the Luxor has the travelling Titanic artifact exhibit (which has nothing to do with Egypt) which was worth seeing, especially the “Big Piece” which is a huge section of the Titanic’s hull, complete with portholes. There was a TV special about it’s recovery a few years ago. There are also personal effects of passengers and other ship paraphernalia recovered from the wreck. I’ve always been quite interested in the Titanic story since it sunk on my birthday (years earlier, thank you) which is also income tax day and the day Lincoln died. I don’t know what that means, but there it is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When is a Date Palm not a Date Palm?


When it’s a cell tower. Can you tell which is which? The answer appears at the bottom of the page. (Actually, it’s easier to distinguish them in this photo than in real life.)

We visited the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, which is really a very large zoo, with fewer cages than the other zoo. DSC_0087 The most unique thing about the Wild Animal Park is it’s flock of rare California Condors. As has been reported over the years, the California Condors were on the brink of extinction a few years ago when an intense effort, including the capture of a couple of the remaining wild birds and a breeding program, has brought them back from the brink. I think the total number of California Condors, in captivity and in the wild, is now 350. The Wild Animal Park is heavily involved in breeding and releasing the birds in the wild, but they do have DSC_0099 about half a dozen on exhibit, and you can get quite close to them. It’s difficult to judge the size of these birds in the photos, but they are probably 2 or 3 times the size of the  turkey buzzards common in most of the country. I’d say they’re also about twice the size of a bald eagle or maybe even bigger.


The park also has a great variety of other animals. One of the keepers mentioned that the zoo and park are home to over 9000 specimens. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, which may explain why the two places are so expensive. Another reason may be the Disney influence – after all, Disneyland is just up the road. I hate to be critical of such well-run places, but everything in the two parks, from admission to cheeseburgers, is really expensive. In addition, the admission ticket to the Wild Animal Park just gets you in the door. DSC_0103 The place is huge, so if you want to ride to see the animals, you need to buy expensive tour tickets, and you would need more than one tour to see everything. Fortunately, the zoo does provide transportation with the price of certain tickets, but the animal park is much, much bigger. Even though it was expensive, the Animal Park is worth seeing. Visiting the Condors was special.

The date palm on the right is a cell tower. Tomorrow, we leave for that big unnatural wonder of the world –Las Vegas.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

San Diego

We’re spending a week in San Diego, CA, which is fine since the weather here is perfect. Low 70s during the day, 50s at night, and the only clouds we’ve seen come around just to enhance the sunsets. We spent most of yesterday at the San Diego Zoo, which may be one of the top zoos in the country (sorry Bronx). The climate here is ideal for all sorts of plant life, and the zoo is landscaped like a tropical paradise. In fact, Penny said it reminds her of Hawaii. However, I don’t recall seeing life-size elephant topiaries in Hawaii.DSC_0002

One other less fortunate feature of the zoo is the price of admission, but it seems to work for them since the place was mobbed. This is the zoo that is always sending animals to the late-night television programs, which may be a reason it is so successful.

The big draw this week was the initial display of the new panda baby, but the line was so long, we didn’t bother to visit. However, the adult pandas were available for photo ops, so we took advantage of that exhibit. DSC_0011 Even adult pandas are adorable, and I think all we would have seen of the baby would have been a little sleeping pile of black and white fur. The pandas eat a specific variety of bamboo, which grows easily in San Diego. The zoo is a strong promoter of efforts to save threatened and endangered species, and it was sad to see some animals on display that no longer exist in the wild. I believe there are still a few free pandas in China, but if there are, they are very few.

Although some animal activists would probably frown on zoo animals being trained as performers, the San Diego Zoo has a really neat free-flight show with a variety of birds. I was so amazed by the performance by an owl, a hawk, chickens, parrots, ibises, and assorted other fowl, I didn’t DSC_0037 take any pictures until the final act when the parrots were hanging out on their perches. As I mentioned, all of the birds were completely free and performing uncaged in an open-air amphitheater. We had a giant owl fly within inches of our heads – same with a small Harris Hawk, and other avian performers. The chickens didn’t do much flying, but provided comic relief.


The San Diego Zoo, because their favorite type of eucalyptus is common in the area, has more koala bears than any place outside of Australia. The koalas used to be the most popular animals at the zoo, but the pandas have taken over the top spot. As far as I can tell, the koalas don’t seem to mind. I guess sitting around all day munching eucalyptus helps keep them mellow.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Tucson II

The repair shop opened this morning, and since we’re at the campground adjacent to the shop, the tech will come here shortly to look at the damage and give us an estimate. While we wait, I’ll update the blog.

Tucson is a very nice city, not so big to be overwhelming but big enough to have pretty much everything one would need, including a fine medical center affiliated with the University of Arizona. The weather at this time of year is quite nice –sunny days with temperatures in the upper 60s and nights in the 30s. Summers are a different story – it is in a desert after all.

DSC_0350 There’s a lot of military history here. We visited the Pima Air and Space Museum, which has hundreds of military and civilian aircraft on display, including a plane that was used as Air Force One by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.DSC_0349 Since there were a couple of similar planes used for each president, I’m not sure if this is the one that carried Kennedy’s body from Dallas, but it may have been.

A NASA plane that was used at one time to transport rocket parts looks like it would be impossible to fly, but apparently it did. DSC_0351

The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is the site of the “bone-yard”, the place where the government stores all of it’s out of service aircraft. There are thousands of mothballed airplanes here, and the Pima Museum has an arrangement to take bus tours onto the base.DSC_0360 Since this is an active Air Force base, there were some security precautions and we had to stay on the bus, but it was quite interesting to see everything from B-52s to all sorts of jet fighters and transports no longer in active service. This is more than a depository for multi-million dollar junk…the aircraft that are retired versions of planes still being used, by the US or others to whom the US has sold them (hopefully allies), are used for spare parts. Others are considered to be flyable with a minimal amount of preparation, so those are sort of a ready reserve.

DSC_0356 It’s hard to believe, but B-52s have been in service for more than 50 years.

About 20 miles south of Tucson is the Titan II Museum, which is the only remaining Titan ICBM missile silo in the country that hasn’t been destroyed. For the uninitiated, ICBM stands for intercontinental ballistic missile, and they were the mainstay of the cold war. The government thought, apparently correctly, that if we had the capability of destroying the Soviet Union several times over with nuclear missiles, the Soviets would think twice about attacking us. The theory apparently worked, We’re all still here.

DSC_0365 This missile site, when active, was one of eight in the Tucson area. There were several other sets of eight situated in the Western part of the country. DSC_0372

This Titan II was never loaded with fuel, but this was an active site for about 20 years. We were told this Titan doesn't have a warhead. This site was preserved for historical purposes and has been inspected by Russia as part of the nuclear treaties to confirm that it could never be activated. The docents at this museum are former Air Force missile crews, so they had some interesting stories to share.DSC_0368

This image is the actual control room from which the missile would have been launched. Just like in the movies, there were two keys required to start the launch sequence and a bunch of “failsafe” protocols to prevent an accident. That’s a good thing because one this baby was launched there was no stopping it and no way to destruct it in flight.