Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yes, Again!

We’re spending the night in an interesting campground. Actually, we have the trailer parked in the back lot of a repair shop in Eastland, Texas. Yahooo!

It all started this morning when we left Abilene headed for Arlington, near Dallas. We were travelling on I-20 about 60 miles east of Abilene when we were passed by a pickup truck towing a horse trailer. The driver beeped his horn and waved his hand. Penny looked in her side view mirror and saw pieces of tire flying off  one of our wheels. I got onto the shoulder and we got out to inspect the damage.

The tire on the front axle on the right side of the trailer was in shreds and one of the propane lines was broken off and stuck through the tire. I turned off the gas tanks, set up my emergency triangles, which are getting a lot of use on this trip, and called my road service company.

Two and a half hours later, with traffic zooming by at 75 mph inches from our stuck trailer, the service truck still hadn’t arrived. Fortunately the temperature, unlike last time, was reasonable and there was a nice breeze blowing. Then three trucks from the Texas DOT pulled up behind us with lots of flashing lights. The DOT crew mounted our spare tire for us, wouldn’t accept a tip, and escorted us off the interstate. We then found a tire repair shop in a town a few miles away and arranged for them to replace the shredded tire.

When they removed the spare they found that the spring on that axle was broken, as was the shock absorber. The other tire on that side was also gouged, so I had them replace that one too. But that left us with a broken spring and shock absorber. (I could have used a shock absorber of my own at that point.)

As has been the case every time we’ve had a mechanical problem in rural America, the people we turned to for help did absolutely everything they could to assist. The tire guy, who wasn’t equipped to replace a spring, started making some calls and found a shop in the next town, Eastland, that could do the work.

We limped 10 miles to Eastland and Matt, another good guy, looked over the damage, said he could fix it and and the broken gas pipe and offered to let us plug in our power cord and hook up to the water at his shop until tomorrow when he’ll work on the repair.

With no propane, we had to go into town for dinner and found a really cute, local Tex-Mex place (Hey, I’m assuming any Mexican restaurant in Texas is Tex-Mex), and the food was great. The shop is behind a fence, so Matt gave us the combination to the lock on the gate, and we’re camped here until morning.

Hopefully, Matt will have the parts and we’ll be on our way again sometime Friday.

These experiences have helped restore my faith in my fellow man, but maybe not so much in RVing.

Monday, July 28, 2014

All is Well

Clovis’ RV Doctor made a house call and diagnosed the leak as having nothing to do with us hitting the tire tread. A couple of water lines were installed in a way that they rubbed against one of the trailer’s wheels. After 5 years and 75,000 miles the water line (plastic tubing) wore all the way through.  He was able to repair the leak and install a barrier to prevent this from happening again. We’re good to go on to Abilene, TX and Dallas.


As you may recall, near the beginning of this trip we ran over a road cone in a highway construction project and damaged some pipes and stuff under the trailer.

Yesterday, as we were passing through Albuquerque, the truck in front of us swerved to avoid a tire tread lying in our lane, but since there were vehicles on both sides of us, all I could do was run over it. We stopped at the next rest area to see if any damage was done, and everything looked okay.

Then we got to our campground in Clovis, NM, hooked up the water hose, and when we turned on the water it just poured out of the bottom of the camper. Apparently that ornery tire tread broke a water pipe somewhere under the trailer. Fortunately, Clovis has an “RV Doctor” who makes house calls, so we’re waiting for him to get here to give us a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fire & Ice

Earlier on this trip I posted a comment that this year’s excursion seems to be our “volcano” tour since everywhere we’ve gone in the west seems to have a bunch of volcanoes. Guess what – we’re not done yet.


This is a view looking up the slope of Mt. Bandera, a cinder cone volcano near Grants, New Mexico, 80 miles west of Albuquerque. (The spelling of Albuquerque never looks right, but my spell-checker says it’s correct, so who am I to argue?)

DSC_0601 There are 26 hopefully extinct volcanoes in this area which is known as the El Malpais region. There’s also an El Malpais National Monument, which we drove through but didn’t visit since it’s mostly wilderness.


This is Bandera’s crater. It last erupted 10,000 years ago, first spewing flaming cinders and then depositing a river of lava more than 17 miles long. We hiked to the top – about a mile-long trail. We survived so we must be finally acclimating to the altitude. The elevation where I was standing when I took this picture is 8,036 feet.

DSC_0613 The most fascinating thing about Bandera Volcano is what lies beneath. That cave is the mouth of a lava tube, and what looks like greenish water at the bottom is actually ice.



That’s right – we’re in the desert and the outside temperature is in the 90s but the temperature in the cave never goes above 31 degrees. The deepest ice is the oldest and dates back 3400 years. The ice is formed by rain and snow melt seeping into the cave and the ice floor is about 20 feet deep. The green tint is caused by Arctic algae.


Ancient Anasazi Indians, and later, white settlers mined ice here until 1946. The  owners of this privately run attraction used a smaller ice cave as a refrigerator until electricity was run to the property.


This image is what looked to me like a couple or pieces of white washed wood leaning on the attraction’s office wall among some pieces of petrified wood. Penny and I disagreed about what it was until we touched it. I hate to admit Penny was right. It is petrified wood that seems to have been converted to quartz crystal.


I’ve been asked how much we plan ahead on these trips, so I figured I could answer that question here. Before departing from home we have major destinations in mind. For example, on this trip we knew we were going to visit Crater Lake and Las Vegas, and other specific destinations. But there’s always a lot of land between those destination points, so we plot a course between those points, planning to drive between 250 and 300 miles a day. We’ll find a campground at that distance and when we get there we’ll research the area to see what’s interesting and there’s almost always something interesting. We’re currently en route from the Grand Canyon to Dallas, Texas, and the route put us in New Mexico. And that’s how we found the remarkable ice cave.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Red Rocks

I need to apologize to Arizona. Last year, after touring Utah’s national parks, I remarked that Utah has the most incredible rocks in the country. Sorry Arizona, you have some pretty incredible rocks too.


Driving east and south from the north rim of the Grand Canyon you come to an area known as the Vermillion Cliffs.

According to the Bureau of Land Management’s web site: “This remote and unspoiled, 280,000-acre [National} Monument is a geologic treasure, containing a variety of diverse landscapes from the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes, and Paria Canyon. Elevations range from 3,100 to 7,100 feet.”


The colors of these desolate peaks are extraordinary. To an artist vermillion means a pigment of bright red. In nature, at least in this area of Arizona, the colors range from pink to a deep red, and pretty much every tint in-between.

DSC_0568 As is always the case with the soaring, magnificent landscapes of the west, photographs can’t do justice to the reality of these almost indescribable peaks and plateaus.



And then we got to the red rocks area in Sedona. The town is a bit greener, probably due to a slightly better water supply and higher elevation.



One of the cool things about this lovely community, and I don’t know if it’s by law or just because people here love the landscape, the exterior of most houses and commercial buildings in Sedona are painted to match the colors of the surrounding mountains.


The result is a town that fits it’s environment even better than Frank Lloyd Wright could imagine. The downside is that with so few colors being used in construction, and the style being one or two story adobe, a lot of buildings look very similar. We were looking for a Walgreens and when our GPS told us we had arrived, we couldn’t see the store until after we passed it.

After shopping at Walgreens we decided to drive north on US 89A to Flagstaff. Now, when we were looking for a campground in this area, the web site of one of the parks warned RVers to stay off 89A. We didn’t have the trailer in tow when we went up the road.


The warning had to do with a narrow winding road with switchbacks, falling rocks, mudslides and flash floods. If you look closely at this image you can see a few of the switchbacks. We didn’t run into any of the falling rocks, mudslides or flash floods.

By the way, Sedona, Flagstaff and our campground is at a higher elevation than Phoenix where the temperature hit 114 degrees today. We didn’t have to deal with that. The TV weather folks again said it will cool off to 105 tomorrow. I guess “cool” is a matter of perspective.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Grand Canyon, Sweet!

From our remarkably successful visit to the penny slots in Las Vegas, we headed north to the Grand Canyon. We’ve been to this national park before, but that time we visited the south rim, where all the tourists go.


The view from the north rim isn’t all that different. If you look closely at this image you may be able to see tourists 10 miles away on the south rim. But as they say, sometimes getting there is half the fun.

Getting to the north rim of the Grand Canyon from Sin City involves going north into Arizona, then further north into Utah, and then south back into Arizona. There’s only one road into the park and the closest campground with water, electric and sewer hookups is 40 miles north of the park. We could have roughed it and stayed closer, but who wants to live without water, electric and sewer hookups. No cable TV though, but the wifi on my smart phone is working okay.


I’m just going to throw in some random pretty canyon pictures while I regale you with my observations of the north rim.

The drive from the campground to the park, although 40 miles, went through some very pretty forests and meadows. Our first surprise was the herd of bison grazing along the road. We didn’t stop to take pictures since everyone knows what a bison looks like. but the story is interesting. In 1905 a local cattleman thought crossing bison with beef cattle would produce better meat. (He was ahead of his time because beefalo came along years later.) So he moved a herd of bison to the area that was already cattle range and which eventually became the park entrance, and told the animals to go at it. It didn’t work and the effort failed. The bison, however, apparently liked the grass, so they stayed, and multiplied.


Now there’s a herd of about 300 (and growing) bison in the park. (Not in the canyon—bison are not good climbers.) The National Park Service considers the bison an invasive species since they didn’t exist there naturally, and claim the bison’s big feet are messing up the meadow.  Watch out bison!


The other surprise was that , even though it takes hours to get to the north rim from pretty much anywhere, there were a lot of tourists here. Not as many as on the south rim, to be sure, but lots of tourists just the same.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned the heat we’ve experienced in this swing through the west. Well, the north rim is quite a bit higher than the surrounding countryside and the temperature is much more pleasant. It went down to 59 last night, so it was the first night in about a month we didn’t need the air conditioner to get a good night’s sleep. But we did need an extra blanket.

Just to be sure we don’t get too comfortable, we’re heading to a campground near Sedona tomorrow and the forecast temperature is 108.

Monday, July 21, 2014

I’m a Winnah!!!

Went to Bally’s last night to see a show. We played the penny slots. I won $100+. Whoo, hoo!!!.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Catching Up

We’ve been off-line for a while, so its time to get back to writing. After visiting Sequoia National Park we decided to see more big trees. So we went to the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park.


I thought this particular dead sequoia was interesting because you can walk through it standing up. That experience provides a good perspective on the enormity of these giant trees. I’m not going to add any more tree pictures here because, they all tend to look the same. The only way to really experience these trees is to visit them, but only do it if you want to appreciate how insignificant humans are in the scale of living things.

We then set off in search of Kings Canyon. Now, you would think this would be easy, since we were in Kings Canyon National Park. But 96% of the two parks combined is wilderness. That means no roads. In fact, the week before we visited a lone hiker fell and was badly injured somewhere is Kings Canyon. To survive, he ate bugs and drank what water he could find. He basically crawled to a point where he could be rescued, and all ended reasonably well.


This may be an image of Kings Canyon. We were off on some side road in the park, and there wasn’t a sign saying “Kings Canyon Kodak Point” and the park map was somewhat vague. So for our purposes, this is a picture of Kings Canyon and I dare anyone to challenge me on this.

The visit to these parks was a respite from the incredible heat. As mentioned earlier, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are at 7000 feet and above, so the temperature when we visited was in the 70s. Back down closer to sea level we haven’t seen high temperatures lower than 100 to 1007 degrees in more than two weeks. As a northeastern boy, that’s been a bit hard to deal with.

dry res

Which brings us back to the California drought. These next few images were lifted from web sites (so sue me) because when we saw stuff like this I didn’t think it was safe to stop along the road to take pictures. Back east we hear a lot about the drought. But its really in the abstract. When you’re here and see nearly empty reservoirs, it sort of hits you in the face. This is really bad. Another abstract idea is that California provides a great deal of the produce consumed by Americans from coast to coast.

farm scene

But you’ve got to drive through the central valley to realize what that really means. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of square miles of farms growing pretty much every crop we eat or feed to livestock. Fruit, nuts, lettuce, squash, corn, tomatoes, peppers, grapes (can’t forget the grapes) – you get the idea. But what can’t be expressed in words or a few pictures is the enormity of the potential problem.


All of these crops need water to grow. Massive irrigation projects feed the farms, but the water is disappearing. Add to that the battle between the cities and the farmers over the use of what water still exists, you can appreciate the enormity of the issue. California has just invoked water conservation measures, which seem quite weak and maybe too late. For example, when you water your lawn with a hose you must use a nozzle that shuts off. How about no lawn watering? How about no car washing? I guess they’re waiting for things to get really bad to get serious.

dead grapes

We saw some farms, like this vineyard, that have just dried up and died. We also saw lots of farms still hanging on and producing.

So far, the impact to the rest of the country has been higher food prices, but if this continues there’s a real potential for massive food shortages.

On a happier note, we left California by driving through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas. The high today is expected to be 108, but its supposed to get really hot later in the week.DSC_0525

This is an image of the fountain at the Wynn Hotel. I guess there’s no fear of a drought in Nevada. (In reality we’ve been told the water is recirculated, but somehow the appearance of wasted water offends me.)

Tonight we’re going to see a show at Bally’s complete with topless showgirls. Hey, it was Penny’s idea.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hot in California

First, a little catching up. We managed to get the truck fixed the next day and got back on the road. I’ve been absent from this blog because our next stop didn’t include wi fi, and my cell phone couldn’t make a data connection. After the truck repair we visited my cousin Barbara at an equestrian center owned by her daughter. Great place, they even have a few RV spots, so we hooked up there and had a great visit. The horse ranch is in the bustling metropolis of Copperopolis, CA in Calaveras County. This is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s very close to where Mark Twain wrote the story about the jumping frog contest.

By the way, on the way to Copperopolis we passed by Shasta Lake. I didn’t take any pictures, but if there was ever any doubt about the seriousness of the California drought, one look at the lake removed any question. The lake is now a puddle.

We’ve had 100 degree temperature every day for about a week. When we arrived at our current campground it was so hot that some of the electrical equipment in our trailer overheated and shut down. The air conditioner struggled so much that I thought it was fried, but overnight it was able to cool things down. The local TV weather dudes say tomorrow will be cooler – 98 degrees. Seriously!


Today we toured Sequoia National Park and at 7,000 feet of elevation the temperature was about 30 degrees cooler than down at the campground. This is the home of the giant Sequoia trees and some very rugged mountains. In 2009, on our first west coast trip, we visited Redwood National Park which is located on the northern California coast. Since then I’ve wondered about the difference between Redwoods and Sequoias. Turns out that Redwoods are taller, but Sequoias are bigger in terms of cubic feet.


This tree is the General Sherman and is believed to be the biggest tree on earth. You can get a sense of scale if you can see the guy sitting on the fence next to the tree. This tree is 2200 years old.

To get to General Sherman we walked down a steep 1/2 mile trail. Unfortunately we also had to walk back up the trail to return to our truck. The trail is at the 7000 foot mark, so it was a bit harder going up than it was going down. Please don’t mention this to my cardiologist.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Another Surprise

One thing we’ve learned after almost 5 years of RV travel – be prepared for anything and don’t be surprised when anything happens. Yesterday we were heading south on I-5 near Cottonwood, CA when every warning light on my dashboard started to flash. “Check Engine”, “Check Battery”, “Oil Pressure” plus a really ominous one telling me to get off the road as soon as possible. We made it almost all the way up the next exit ramp when the engine died completely.

Temperature in drought-stricken northern California, 101 degrees. Two hours and about a gallon of sweat later, the truck was towed to a Ford dealership and the trailer was taken to the RV park where we had reservations. That’s where we are now. The problem with the truck was traced to a bad temperature sensor in the exhaust system, so that’s being replaced. Now all we need to do is find away to get 20 miles back to the dealership to get the truck when it’s ready. One way or the other we’ll find transportation.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Major Misconception

I used to think Crater Lake in Oregon was caused by the impact of a meteor or meteorite a gazillion or so years ago. Now that we’ve visited Crater Lake National Park, I’ve learned that this crater is a water-filled volcano.
The mountain’s real name is Mt. Mazama. Over 400,000 years eruptions built the mountain to 12,000 feet. Then a huge explosive eruption, 7,700 years ago, blew the top half of Mazama to smithereens, leaving a deep caldera.
Over the millennia, the deep basin filled with rain water and snow melt, making the deepest lake in the United States—1,943 feet. There are no streams feeding Crater Lake. Just rain and snow melt.

There are several smaller volcanoes showing above the surface of the water, but the newest is developing at the bottom of the lake. That youngster is just 4800 years old.
There are 40 volcanoes in Crater Lake National Park, most of them are extinct. The biggest, the one that holds the lake, is just taking a nap and will explode sometime in the future.
This trip, which I’m beginning to think of as our volcanoes trip (Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon, Mt. Hood and now Crater Lake), has changed my perspective on the stability of the earth. There are lots of volcanoes in the western United States and around the world. Human history is a less than a mere second in geologic time. Volcanologists tell us that some of these volcanoes will erupt in a really big way sometime in the future, but those of us living today, and probably our close descendants, don’t have anything to worry about. But, one wonders, what if…

Sunday, July 06, 2014


Since we started our RV travels we’ve been asked many times “what’s your favorite part of the country?” My answer is usually “the Northwest.”  So now I’ll be more specific. My favorite area of the country is Portland, Oregon and environs.


First, there’s the Columbia River Gorge which is near the western end of the Columbia River. This photo doesn’t really do justice to this majestic waterway which runs 1200 miles from the mountains of British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean near Portland.


There are 150 hydroelectric dams on the Columbia, many built and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. This image is one of two powerhouses in the Bonneville Dam. Ron the Ranger, who led our tour, said he is comfortable that the Columbia will always be around to provide enough water to make the huge amount of electricity these 150 hydro projects produce. “Always” seems to be a really long time. Maybe Ranger Ron should have a chat with Al Gore.


This is the McNary Dam which is more than 200 miles east of Portland. All of these dams present certain environmental challenges, like how to protect the fish that migrate upstream, especially the salmon.

Back at the Bonneville dam we took a look underwater at the fish ladders which are designed to let fish swim upstream without being turned into sushi by the generator turbines.


The salmon weren’t running, but these weird looking creatures are Pacific lampreys (NOT eels) which also migrate up the river to spawn.


The Bonneville Fish Hatchery, not run by the Corps of Engineers, is adjacent to the dam.


The hatchery is more than 100 years old and was expanded in 1978 by the Corps to compensate for the loss of spawning grounds for 30,000 salmon lost when another Corps dam was build on the River. Damn.


This is Herman the Sturgeon, a long-time resident of the fish hatchery. Herman is more than 70 years old, is 10 feet long and weighs 450 pounds.

Another reason we really like this area is the mountains.


This is Mt. Hood. There are several giant dormant, extinct or active volcanoes in the Northern Oregon and Southern Washington Cascade Mountains. You may have heard of this one and two of the others—Mt. Rainer and Mt. Saint Helens.



Even on July 6th there’s skiing and snowboarding on Mt. Hood. At 8,500 feet this slope is considered one of the premier summer ski locations in the world. (I’m not sure who considers it thus, but that’s what it says in the brochure;



There’s also the Timberline Lodge, dedicated by FDR in 1937 as a WPA project. A neat place with a super Sunday brunch. Trust me, it’s REALLY super.


A third reason we really like this area are the waterfalls.



This is Multnomah Falls, as often seen behind Vanna White on promos during Wheel of Fortune. This spectacular waterfall can actually be seen from I-84 about 20 miles east of Portland. The Multnomah Falls Lodge happens to serve a super breakfast.



As you may have noticed from the blue sky in some of these pictures, it isn’t always cloudy or rainy in the Portland area. Summer usually brings warm temperatures and cloudless skies. We were really lucky to be here in summer. And here’s proof that we were really here:


This picture was taken by Ed Korver, a classmate of mine in the Fair Lawn High School Class of 1960. He and his wife Ruth live in Portland and they were nice enough to spend the day showing us around. Thanks again, Ed and Ruth.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

This and That


Meet Bob. He’s an American Kestrel, a small raptor who currently lives at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.



Bob helps the docents explain the history of Falconry and the need to protect habitat for birds of prey. Smaller birds and rodents probably wouldn’t agree, but that’s life.



The Center also participates in the multi-center breeding program for the North American Condor, which is still an endangered species. Currently, more than half of these giant birds known to exist are living in facilities like the Center. But each year, more Condors are released into the wild.

While in Boise brought the truck in for an oil change only to discover a leak of transmission fluid. The service advisor at Lithia Ford managed to get us on the schedule for that day, provided us with a rental car at no cost, and even had the truck washed before we picked it up. I think this is just the third time the truck has been washed in the five years we’ve had it. We almost didn’t recognize it in the parking lot it was so shiny.

We then moved on to Boardman, Oregon. We stopped here only because it’s roughly at the midway point between Boise and Portland, where we’ll be staying though the Independence Day weekend. Boardman was a big surprise. It’s hardly more than a dot on the map near where I-89 west hits the Columbia River.


About a year ago, Boardman opened the Sage Center which is a small museum detailing the area’s agricultural diversity and technology, and we learned a lot.



One of the primary crops here is potatoes, and the Center has a living “sculpture” demonstrating the automated process of taking raw potatoes and turning them into frozen curly fries. This happens every day at a plant in Boardman. By the way, we saw a listing for a “chip plant” and figured it was where they made potato chips, but no. Turns out it’s a chipping plant for trees as a midway step for wood to become paper. We didn’t get any pictures, but coming into town we drove through a giant tree farm where a type of poplar tree is grown. Every year many thousands of trees are cut down, and the same number of seedlings are planted. It takes about 12 years for the trees to mature to an age where they can be sent to the chipper, en route to becoming the NY Times, the Daily News, etc. A great example of managing a renewable resource.

But back to the potatoes.


After peeling, the spuds get cut and curled, and eventually make their way to the fryer.





At the end of the process they get frozen and bagged, then shipped to grocery stores around the world.

For a town of about 3000 people with an agricultural economy, the Sage Center is truly an amazing museum, and I didn’t even mention the simulated hot air balloon ride over the surrounding countryside.

Sage Center And to top off our visit, Penny and I were named visitors of the day, for which we were each given a dish of Tillamook ice cream, which is made in Boardman.