The last time we hiked a leg of the 750 mile Arizona trail, we were on the far southern border of Arizona and Mexico, very close to the trail's southern end, in Coronado National Monument. Yesterday's hike near Flagstaff was much different!
Our hike started at Canyon Vista campground, a USFS campground south of Flagstaff, in tall pines. We had intended to camp there during this visit, but the USFS camps around here don't open until May, some as late a May 15th. Though the campground was closed, we remembered a hike we had enjoyed there 3 years ago, and decided to return to try a slightly different route.
From the campground, a spur trail runs down a canyon to link up with the Arizona trail. We managed to miss this spur right off the bat so, next thing we knew, we were bushwhacking down a steep "trail" wondering where we had gone wrong!
We always carry our GPS when we hike, and I marked every junction so we would be able to find our way back if things didn't turn out quite right. No need. We slid the last few feet down the slope, fell out on the well-trodden AZ trail and were soon enjoying a beautiful hike on a beautiful day.
Here's an interesting guy, a Horned Lizard. We saw two (I almost stepped on both of them) on the hike, and both blended perfectly with the trail. Angry looking, isn't he?
Once he had scurried two feet off the trail to escape being trampled, he stayed perfectly still while we observed and photographed him. When I looked him up on the internet when we got home, I read that they can shoot a stream of blood from their eyes up to three feet (I am not making this up!) as a last ditch way of dealing with predators - I'm glad he didn't feel threatened by us.
The turnaround point of our 8 mile hike was Fisher Point, reached by a spur trail high above the canyon floor. We ate lunch in the sunshine and took in the great views of the San Francisco peaks back towards Flagstaff.
Today is an altogether different day. The sun is shining, but the winds are howling. Our weather radio went off with a High Wind Warning. We've stayed inside, planning and preparing for tomorrow's departure.
Tomorrow night we will be in California - Needles on Thursday, then Ridgecrest on Friday. Whoopeeeee. We're not looking forward to either stop, but they get us closer to one of our favorite routes to Sacramento: up Hwy. 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra, through Lone Pine, Independence, Bishop, to Lee Vining and Mono Lake.
One of our favorite BLM campgrounds, Tuttle Creek (boondocking) is at Lone Pine. I took this hoto of Scoopy at Tuttle Creek in late March of 2004. I understand the fee has gone up since we were last there, from zero to $5!
Lone Pine is a cute little town in a great location. Last time we were there, we spent an afternoon in the Alabama Hills, a nearby rock formation that has been the scene of many a western movie and TV series. Odel showed me the exact spot where the Lone Ranger became "Lone", when the rangers were ambushed by the Cavendish Gang and all the other rangers were killed. What a highlight, huh? He, he.
We plan to spend 3 nights in Lone Pine, then another 2 in Lee Vining while we explore Mono Lake. It's a route to enjoy.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The last time we hiked a leg of the 750 mile Arizona trail, we were on the far southern border of Arizona and Mexico, very close to the trail's southern end, in Coronado National Monument. Yesterday's hike near Flagstaff was much different!
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Odel is in the kitchen, multitasking - defrosting the freezer while he roasts almonds and pecans (thanks, Buddy and Jackie!) in the microwave. I've been banished to any space other than the kitchen, so I have time for a short blog post before I load up the crockpot (Turkey Chili, made with turkey thighs and hominy - yum, yum) and we head out for a hike.
Living in an RV goes a long way in holding down the expenses associated with buying "stuff" (no room), but even RV'ers have "widget" addictions: tools (NOT us), beads, fabric for quilting, electronics (cameras, computers, GPS systems), yarn for knitting, books. My "widget", the thing I am always ready, willing and able to spend money on, whether I need it or not, is... INGREDIENTS!
For the past several weeks, Odel and I have been complaining about the amount of space given over to food in our RV. All the kitchen cupboards were stuffed, as was our double-door refrigerator and freezer. In the basement, we have a big chest refrigerator/freezer that holds beverages and white wines, and often has bags of greens or onions or other vegetables stuffed in on top. We have one plastic tub in the basement with canned beans, canned tomatoes, and boxed broth and soymilk. The space under our bed is used as a pantry: interesting pastas, Costco-sized vitamin bottles, stashes of sale items (tea, Viactive, more canned goods, spices). It got to the point that anytime we opened a door, something fell out, usually on us.
My fault. I just can't say no to interesting ingredients!
I AM making an effort. Yesterday, while Odel played golf, I went back to New Frontiers, the natural foods grocery store here in Flagstaff... alone. We needed a few vitamin supplements, a healthy non-dairy, non-transfat butter substitite that I use in our breakfast scones, and a daikon radish. I had a list. I was feeling determined. I managed to exit the store with only ONE grocery bag (and got a $0.05 credit for bringing my own bag).
Mori-nu, the brand of boxed tofu I like (no need to refrigerate), has two flavored tofus available now: Chinese Spice and Japanese Miso. I got two boxes of each (why not just one???). Bob's Red Mill makes a corn flour (rather than cornmeal) that I have picked up and put back twice in other stores... this time, it stayed in my basket.
In the produce section, a mosaic of gorgeous, organic produce, I agonized over the huge, perfectly fresh fennel bulbs (I only touched 'em, didn't pick 'em up) and little plastic boxes of mixed varieties of cherry-sized heirloom tomatoes from Sunizona, Arizona. These I actually picked up, then put back down, twice.
It was an exercise in willpower, and I came out reasonably well - but I can still see that lovely, crispy, feathery fennel bulb dancing in my imagination.
Ever so slightly related to my efforts to restrain my purchases of exotic or unusual ingredients is this blog: The Simple Dollar. Each morning, I sit down at the computer with my cup of tea and read my email. Besides the personal messages we receive, I also subscribe to a few email deliveries of blog feeds or electronic newsletters. The Simple Dollar is my favorite.
I won't go into details of the blog, other than to say that I very rarely delete the message without reading the entire post. His focus is on improving your financial situation, but he covers issues across the board, including cooking - he is an avid advocate of lowering expenses by cooking at home. With the economy contracting, I really enjoyed today's post discussing a New York Times article about the food shopping decisions we make when we attempt to economize. It might have changed my behavior just a tiny bit.
If you look at the blog and find you like it, you can click on the "get via email" link at the far right of the gray bar under his logo. It's almost always an interesting, throught-provoking read.
Odel is done... my turn in the kitchen. Two cans of hominy, two turkey thighs, two cans of tomatoes will be out of the kitchen when I'm done!
at 8:53 AM
Sunday, April 27, 2008
We spent a great deal of time lost in Flagstaff today, and it was all due to the Mighty Leaf.
Back in Albuquerque, at the Standard Diner, I ordered a cup of green tea. The "tea bag" was a little pouch filled with long leaves of green tea and various chips and bits of flavorings. It was delicious! The package, which I stashed in my purse, said "Mighty Leaf".
My stash of Teavana teas is severely depleted, so thought I would search out Mighty Leaf "tea pouches" here in Flagstaff. Sure enough, the Mighty Leaf website had a "location" finder and the tea is available in Flagstaff at New Frontiers Natural Foods.
Address and map in hand, off we went... and spent the next 45 minutes getting lost, detoured, and generally turned around in all directions. When we finally found the correct street, traveling in the correct direction, we were so dazzled by the high fuel prices posted at a gas station that we drove right past New Frontiers, which shares the same parking lot!
We had planned a trip to the Flagstaff Visitor Center as our second stop (which became our first), and the enthusiastic staffer drew lines, arrows and circles on our map, setting us straight. By the time we found the store and bought the tea, we had a pretty good idea of how to get around Flagstaff.
For our afternoon jaunt and the rest of our 10,000 steps, we visited one of Flagstaff's many parks and took a short hike in the tall, fragrant pines. The winds that have been blowing consistently had calmed to a breeze that played in the treetops, and sunlight dappled the trail. It felt great to be hiking a forest trail.
Flagstaff has a wealth of restaurants, including a couple of brewpubs. We like "pub grub", and the lively, casual atmosphere we usually find there. The Beaver Street Brewpub was no exception - good food and a lively ambiance that kept us entertained while we ate. This delicious pizza was Laurie's (it was smaller than it appears in this photo, really!); Odel had an equally delicious Salmon BLT.
Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University (which we explored rather thoroughly while we were lost) and many of the other diners appeared to be students, and students with their parents. The parents looked young, the students incredibly young! It was a fun end to our day.
High winds are forecast to return on Tuesday (the day we planned to leave Flagstaff) and Wednesday. Our drive from here to Needles, CA, is around 250 miles, about 240 miles longer than we like to drive in high winds, so we've decided to add two days to our stay here at J & H RV Park (read our review here). Maybe we'll have another night out... I wouldn't mind trying the fondue at the brewpub.
at 8:40 PM
Saturday, April 26, 2008
The last few days of driving have taken us from Albuquerque, NM, to Flagstaff, AZ, via I-40. Lots of wind, lots of dust, and lots of dry, scrubby, scenery. The ranger at Homolovi Ruins State Park (read our review here) told us that the landscape will "green up" next month, that the colder weather in these high altitudes (5,000' more or less) delays the onset of spring.
Today we moved to an even higher elevation, 6,920 feet, where scrub is replaced by forests of tall green pines, a welcome change. We had hoped to camp at a USFS camground we like south of Flagstaff, but it doesn't open until May 2nd! We're planning a three-day stay here, hoping the winds will be sufficiently mild that we can do a few hikes and enjoy the sunny forecast.
at 3:12 PM
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Today was our service day at Cummins Rocky Mountain in Albuquerque. We had a ride height valve replaced here a few years ago and were impressed with the service we received, so decided to return for a few minor maintenance issues.
The only problem with this service center is the location - it is a little tricky to get there unless you know the route. You know us - we scouted it out yesterday in the Jeep to make sure we wouldn't make a wrong turn, wrong merge, or wrong lane change during Albuquerque's morning rush hour. Since we were there anyway, we stopped in to the office to confirm our appointment. Our motto for the day: no surprises.
Well, we got a big surprise: Lynn Monson, the service advisor, looked at Odel and said, "Hi, there! How are you? You need a serpentine belt, don't you?" and started typing away on his keyboard. We were a day early, and Odel hadn't even told Lynn his name. Lynn said he remembered Odel's voice when Odel called to make the appointment, and recognized him when we walked in.
So, we were off to a good start, and it got better when Lynn agreed that we could arrive at NINE in the morning today instead of EIGHT so we could avoid rush hour. We left yesterday feeling confident and returned at 8:45 this morning.
Scoopy was in the service bay by 9:00 am. Their floor looks cleaner than mine. Mark, our service technician, got to work right away on our three items: new serpentine belt (and we decided to switch the A/C belt at the same time), new air filter, and a check of the U-joints (which turned out to be fine).
Changing the air filter requires access to the engine through the closet floor, so everything had to move from the closet to the bed. Those of you who think I have more shoes than are seemly for an RV'er... here they are, exposed.
At Cummins Rocky Mountain, they told us Luna could stay in the motorhome while they worked on it. This is a HUGE plus for us and for Luna - we are ALL uncomfortable when she, her food, and her cat box have to move into Jules.
I was a little concerned since Mark was going to be going in and out of Scoopy, but my worries were put to rest when he told Odel he has a cat that looks just like Luna, only smaller. Right then, I knew Mark would look out for her. (Of course, she just hid.)
Odel and I walked laps around the building while we waited, though there is a nice customer lounge with an internet-connected computer, wide-screen TV, a microwave and magazines. Nice clean restrooms, too! If we hadn't had to wait for the air filter to be delivered, we would have been out and on our way by 11 am. As it was, we left shortly after noon.
This last photo shows the RV parking available for customers who want/need to stay overnight. 30 and 50 amp E with W, and a dump station... even a square of green grass in the back. I'm sure the noise of the two interstates, 25 and 40, would be a loud annoyance, but it is nice to know parking is available.
As soon as the work was done, we took off. High winds (gusts to 40 mph) were forecast for this afternoon, but we hoped to drive 60 miles west to the Sky City Casino at Acoma Pueblo to cut some mileage off what would be a long drive tomorrow to Homolovi State Park. Though it is nothing special, we were happy to pull off the road and into Sky City RV Park (read our review here) as the weather forecasters had been right. As I write this, dust and tumbleweeds are blowing around, our slide topper awnings are flapping... not a day to be driving a high-profile vehicle.
at 2:34 PM
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Wow, have we been spoiled by the public campgrounds we have been frequenting recently: Valley of Fires, South Llano River State Park, LBJ Municipal Park, Jim Hogg COE Campground. Here is Albuquerque, we are back in a commercial park - American RV Park (read our review here), the nicest in town, but it feels crowded to me after the huge sites we have enjoyed in our recent travels.
I think this is our fourth visit to Albuquerque, and I always wonder the same thing: why don't we come here and stay awhile, instead of just passing through? It reminds me a bit of Tucson, a city we like - except the river here (the Rio Grande) has water in it, and the city is much more easily navigated.
Albuquerque has done a great job of preserving its Route 66 roots, and today we spent time exploring the part of the old Route 66 that runs right though the middle of downtown, Central Avenue. The day actually began with some rather boring errands (checked out the route to the Cummins service center for our visit tomorrow, mailed a package at the UPS Store) so, before we could begin our exploratory walk, I wanted lunch. Driving west on Central, I spied just what I was looking for: the Standard Diner.
The entire neighborhood looked recently rennovated, the streetlights hung with banners that said "EDO District": East of DOwntown. Though the Standard Diner looked like a diner from the heydey of Route 66, it is actually housed in an old car dealership - I have learned that "adaptive reuse" is the term for this, rather than rennovation.
Odel okayed my choice of restaurants, so in we went. The interior was less diner and more art deco, with dark walls, huge windows, deco light fixtures. We had a comfortable booth in the big front room and made our selections from the long, interesting menu.
Odel ordered a Crab Cake Po' Boy and a draft beer; I had fish tacos with chile-apple salsa. We both were completely satisified and happy when we stepped back out the door to take a walk down Central. It's great to stumble upon a wonderful restaurant when hunger strikes in an unknown neighborhood!
Our walk down Central Avenue whetted my appetite for exploration, and I renewed my intention to return to ABQ as a destination, rather than a short stop on the way to somewhere else. EDO, downtown, the University district, the hike/bikeways along the Rio Grande, the restored Route 66 motels, neon and diners, the new developments north of the city... there is a lot to see and do here - later!
at 8:35 PM
Monday, April 21, 2008
First, a little rant brought on by our purchase of diesel fuel today - for $4.299 per gallon, a record high price for us! We only needed 58 gallons, but added another $250 to the credit card. Sheesh! I cannot believe how the price of fuel has soared in the past month or two... but then, food prices are not much better. Our grocery budget has been flattened like Texas roadkill.
Due to the high winds yesterday and the windy forecast for today, we got an exceptionally early start for us - we left The Ranch in Lakewood, NM, just after 8:30 am. Beautiful sunshine, just a whisper of a breeze.
After we fueled up in Artesia, NM, we rolled along north to Roswell. We didn't see any UFO's or space aliens, alas - they certainly would have added interest to the otherwise flat, scrubby, boring scenery.
I thought my bad attitude might have been the lingering after-effects from yesterday's raging winds and heat, but it wasn't the case. In Roswell, we caught highway 70 heading west into the mountains and before long things were looking up. A few scrubby trees appeared in the landscape as we approached the mountains, and before long we entered a pretty, forested, winding canyon.
One more fork in the road, 380 to Carrizozo, and my bad mood was erased by the beauty. I need to remember to stay out of nothern Texas and southweatern New Mexico - it's just NOT my kind of scenery!
Highway 380 is a New Mexico Scenic Highway, a two-lane ribbon through the mountains and a couple of fascinating, historically interesting towns, Lincoln and Capitan. Too bad for us, the winds (as forecast) were beginning to strengthen again, so we didn't stop to explore - but both towns are in my memory bank (somewhere) for "the next time".
We arrived at Valley of Fire Recreation Area (read our campground review here) around noon, just as the winds cranked up. Here, though, instead of flat, uninspiring views of miles of scrub, we are in a spacious, open campsite on the edge of an ancient lava flow, with beautiful vistas in all directions. Winds be damned, we put on our hats with chin straps, tightened 'em up, and headed out on the 3/4 mile nature trail (wheelchair accessible) that circles through the lava bed.
I took the two top photos on that little hike. The juniper tree is estimated to be 400 years old (!), the oldest living thing on the lava flow. The cactus... isn't it lovely? They were blooming all over.
The winds gusted strongly all afternoon, finally dying down sufficiently in the evening that Luna wanted some outdoor time. At the base of our water pipe is a rock bowl that catches drips from the spigot. I had seen birds there earlier, and Luna was drawn to it immediately.
Here she is taking her first sniff... ummmmmmmmmm, yummy.
She spent the next five minutes rubbing lovingly all over the rock and the wood at it's base. I don't know what animal might come to drink there, but Luna would love to meet it!
Tomorrow we will move on up to Albuquerque for a few days of sightseeing and a day of motorhome maintenance. I would have been happy for another day or two here, but the maintenance appointment calls... so, one more place to add to the list for "another time".
at 8:15 PM
Sunday, April 20, 2008
The Ranch (read our review here), the Escapee park in Lakewood, New Mexico, lives up to its reputation as one of the friendliest in the Escapee system - but the weather is making me GRUMPY. It's in the high 80's, which would not be too bad in the shade, but the wind is gusting up into the 40's - no fun to be outside at all.
This morning, before the wind kicked into high gear, we drove to Carlsbad (20 miles away) and took a walk on the Riverwalk, their parkway along the Pecos River. The sun was out, the river was high and blue, and families were settled in for fishing and a picnic. Sidewalks meander along the water's edge on both sides of the river - very pleasant.
Since then, though, we have been stuck inside by the harsh weather, and I am looking forward to moving on tomorrow.
Several of you have noticed and commented on the campground reviews we have linked to our recent posts. You might not have realized that the reviews are on a separate blog, We Called It Home.
I started writing the reviews as a way to keep track of what we liked and disliked about the parks we visit - useful information to have for a return visit, or for reference when friends are planning travels in areas we have visited. The easiest way for me to catalog the information was on a blog devoted specifically to the reviews, where I can search by campground name, date, or category.
Here is how it works: After I write a campground review, I add it to the new blog... and link the review to the posting here, on Semi-True Tales of our Life on the Road. If you want to read just the review for the campground mentioned, click on the link I provide. If you want to see all the reviews, click on the link I have added on the left hand side of this blog, Our (Very Personal) Campground Reviews.
Besides OUR reviews of the campgrounds we visited, We Called It Home has links to other useful campground review sites that we like, including a site that reviews U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, written by a couple who has visited ALL the campgrounds they review. Scroll to the bottom of the right-hand column of We Called It Home to find these links.
at 8:10 PM
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Odel is playing poker in the clubhouse, Luna is sleeping after being combed and fed, and I gained an hour today when we crossed from Texas (CDT) into New Mexico (MDT)... so I have time to post a couple of yummy recipes tonight.
For the first one, Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Smoky Lime Dressing, you can thank my friend Judy Ashford, who knows I like quinoa. Several weeks ago, she sent me a link to a food blog called FamilyStyle Food - specifically, to this recipe.
Oh, what a dilemna. I love to try new quinoa recipes, but I avoid recipes that use chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Why? Because every recipe calls for ONE pepper, and a can has about 6, or 8 maybe, all in a thick, messy red sauce.
Do I use one, then toss the rest?? Oh, no, too wasteful... so I keep a little baggie or recycled jar of messy red chipotles in the refrigerator until I overcome my guilt and toss 'em several months later.
Still, the recipe continued to tempt me until I couldn't resist. We had the salad for dinner tonight (along with sea bass in Salsa Veracruzana , a recipe I posted previously) and, believe me, it is worth storing a bag of leftover chipotles for... as I am doing at this very hour. Give it a try - the dressing is totally delicious!
A crock-pot ("slow cooker" in gourmet) is an appliance incredibly well suited to the RV'ing life. In winter, it warms us up; in summer, we plug it in outside so we stay cool. It cooks while we are hiking, shopping, or driving (I recently made a pot of southern-style greens with white beans and a smoked turkey leg as we drove from one campground to the next). I wouldn't be without it.
This recipe for Southwest Cornbread Pudding (thanks, Jo, for correcting my link!) came from volume II of The Gourmet Slow Cooker, one of several crock-pot cookbooks I carry around. Some of the recipes in this book take extra effort - for this one, you make a batch of cornbread first - but it's worth it. Another oddity of this recipe: it cooks for just 3 1/2 or 4 hours, so you can't get it started then leave for the day.
It goes well with grilled chicken, provides vegetarians with a yummy and filling main course (while we omnivores eat it as a side to the grilled chicken), and the leftovers make a delicous breakfast warmed for a couple of minutes in the microwave. It makes a HUGE batch, a very full pot.
And, one more recipe note: I have become addicted to the Homemade Multigrain Biscuits, which would more accurately be called Homemade Multigrain Scones - they are shaped and baked in the traditional scone manner and are way too crumbly to split like a biscuit. When my dad complained about that, I told him we bake the biscuits, flip 'em over, and spread sugarless jam on the flat side. I think he has adopted that method now, too.
I have been making the "mix" with oat flour in place of the kamut or spelt flour (an attempt at cholesterol control). I love that the mix can be pre-made; a few minutes of effort in the morning and we have fresh, hot "biscuits" for breakfast.
at 7:06 PM
Friday, April 18, 2008
What would we do without the NOAA weather radio?
We spent last night at South Llano River State Park, on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country, a favorite of ours. The weather was warm (close to 90) in the afternoon and very still. As we returned from a walk, we could see thunderheads building to the west - and the weather radio showed an amber "watch" light. Our county and the three in the immediate vicinity were under a "severe thunderstorm watch". With no local TV, no local radio, and no internet access, we were glad to know what we might expect.
After dark, we began to see lightning and hear thunder. It wasn't long before the weather radio blared again and announced a couple of severe thunderstorms in the immediate area. As the low, flat, disembodied voice of the weathercaster rumbled on, we heard "South Llano State Park campground" mentioned - boy, did our ears prick up! One of the storms was tracking rights towards us.
The good news: no tornados associated with this storm, which made me feel 200% better.
The bad news: hail... but only up to nickel sized. Winds, up to 50 mph.
The storm was supposed to reach us at 9:05 pm, in about 5 minutes. We brought the slides in - we try to get as small as we can when hail or wind damage is a possibility - then sat down in the dark and watched the show. WOW!
By 9:20 or so, it had passed overhead and was moving east. By 10 pm, we could see stars, the temperature had dropped from the mid-80's to 61 degrees (!) and the radio was silent. By 10:30 pm, I was sound asleep.
This morning was gorgeous! We did five miles of walking in the park (this photo is of the South Llano River) before we left, knowing we wouldn't see any comparable scenery later today.
Now we are at Saddleback Mountain RV Park (read our review here) on the edge of I-10 near Balmorhea, Texas - nothing lush and green here! I was surprised to find that the Verizon aircard service was working well enough to post (very slowly) the the blog. Tomorrow, on to Lakewood, New Mexico.
at 7:20 PM
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
After a wonderfully relaxing stay with the Bartees, we are back at Jim Hogg Park in Georgetown, north of Austin, planning our next moves - back to the west. What happened to our Memphis trip, you ask?
During our travels in Texas, we have learned from The Weather Channel (our good buddy) that April has more tornados than any other month, and that May is second. We have learned that the U.S. has already had twice as many tornados this year as an "average" year. We have learned that "tornado alley" encompasses every state we planned to visit in the remainder of April and in May. Newly educated, we decided now is not the time to head to Memphis via Little Rock, Arkansas, then back across the plains to Denver and South Dakota.
Our new direction is back to the west, to our ex-hometown of Sacramento, to visit family and friends. Odel will travel by plane from there to visit his daughter and her family in Maryland, and we'll schedule appointments with doctors and dentists.
Georgetown is a good place for planning since we have cell phone service AND broadband internet access here (great for checking weather along routes under consideration). We also have easy access to the services we need before we head back into the wilds of west Texas.
This photo captures the flavor of our day perfectly, as we made not one, not two, but THREE trips here today: groceries at the HEB in the background at 9 am; fueled up Jules II at 4 pm; and a trip back to the HEB to use the fax machine at 5:30 pm.
The rest of the day was spent online (plane reservation) and on the phones (medical appointments, an appointment in Albuquerque for minor maintenance on Scoopy, and begging for the last available site in the only campground we like in that city). The weather here was cloudy, warm and blustry, so spending the day on "administrative" tasks was not so bad.
We will be out of touch again for a few days (at least) when we leave here tomorrow morning. We're spending the next two nights moving west through Texas on I-10, then heading north into New Mexico to stay at an Escapee park we have never visited, The Ranch in Lakewood, New Mexico (north of Carlsbad). After a couple nights there, we'll head up to Albuquerque. That will be the decision point for the rest of our route to Sacramento... northerly or southerly, depending on the weather.
Quite a change!
at 4:19 PM
Saturday, April 12, 2008
The inside of Scoopy is a green cocoon. In front and to the left I see nothing but new, spring green leaves. To the right, an acre of new green grass and more green leaves... and clear blue sky. The very air inside is tinged with the green of springtime.
With a temperature in the 70's, humidity in the 30's, a light breeze and the birds and bugs trying to out-sing each other, it is the essence of a spring day. Fantastic!
No campground report today... this one is PRIVATE! Here we are in campsite number one, a return visit to Lovelady, Texas, home of Jackie and Buddy Bartee. We were here last year, in March - a bit earlier than this year, but it looks much the same.
The Bartees have a great setup here in tiny Lovelady (population 608): 5 acres, a garden, and a big metal barn with a kitchen, bathroom, washer/dryer, lots of storage and space for the motorhome.
When the Bartees are in residence, the barn doors roll up and they drive their motorhome inside, under shelter. Four big rolling doors let in plenty of light and air - it is like camping with weather protection. When they take off, all the rolling doors are closed and locked with everything safely enclosed. Of all the variety of "home base" situations we have seen in our travels, this is the one I find most appealing.
Here are Odel and Jackie inside... the Bartees motorhome is in the background; Odel and Jackie are facing the big TV, watching the Masters golf tournament. Odel has snacks beside him and a margarita in hand... what more could a man wish for?
And, speaking of Odel, THE MAN... the very first thing he did this morning was to REPAIR our TV satellite dish! Way back at Davis Mountain State Park, in west Texas, it broke, making a horrible grinding noise when I turned it on. Between there and here, Odel went up on the roof, took off the dome, and found a little broken bit of wire.
In a phone consultation with the satellite manufacturer, he determined which part was broken and had it shipped to us in Fredericksburg. We carried the parts with us until we arrived here and, this morning, Odel climbed back up on top and made the repair.
This is the same guy whose favorite joke was: "My toolbox has two tools, a pen and a checkbook." Not any longer!
Luna is in heaven here. Odel put the green mat down so she doesn't have to sit/walk in tall grass. She divides her time between the mat, her soft crate (which we leave set up with the door open) and walking on the railroad ties that line our RV "pad" (so she keeps her toes dry). She has explored the barn completely and appears to approve of this setup wholeheartedly.
Odel has the solar cooker set up with a slab of baby back ribs inside. Jackie is cooking chicken-fried steak. I've made cole slaw and gingered cucumbers, and the Masters tournament is underway again. Time to go act like a Texan.
at 1:46 PM
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wind, rain, lightening and thunder. No hail, no tornados, and no tree limbs down. It's all over for our area now, moving on to the east. Whew.
The worst thing that happened is that I had a filling fall out during dinner! Now get this:
Yesterday a friend of the Bartees' son (the friend's name is Chris) dropped by their campsite (next to ours) to visit. He is a dentist. When we drive out of the park, his house is the first house outside the park. His office is a short drive up to the main road and two blocks to the west. The Bartees' gve me his phone number, I called him, and I have an appointment to have my tooth repaired at 1 pm today. The only way this could be better would be if it haden't happened at all!
All is well in Texas.
at 7:02 AM
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
It is approaching 4 pm here in Georgetown, TX, and it is a gray, drippy, gloomy day! It has been overcast since we awoke; now it is 71 degrees, cloudy, and dripping accumulated rain off the oak tree canopy onto the motorhome - along with pollen, general tree "mess", and inch-long green worms that lower themselves on slowly revolving threads.
As you can see, The Weather Channel is telling us that this thick, humid blanket will be blown away later today by possibly severe storms, with a chance of strong damaging winds, 4" hail, and perhaps even tornados. Ugh. So we are in "ready mode" with Luna's crate on the passenger seat and a bag of "important stuff" to grab. The sturdy limestone restroom is directly across from our campsite, so we feel ready for anything (except the lack of sleep that comes on a night the NOAA weather radio blares).
On a cheerier subject: yesterday I visited the flagship store, the headquarters, of Whole Foods. For a foodie, that is a pinnacle experience - and all I bought was a bag of organic purple barley and a box of whole wheat pasta. This photo, of the outside of the building, is from their webite, along with this description:
"Located just blocks from where Whole Foods Market began as a small neighborhood grocer 25 years ago, the new store at the corner of Sixth Street and Lamar is the company's largest, at 80,000 square feet. Though much larger in size, the store retains the charm and accessibility of its first location, with an intimate, village-style layout and passionate, attentive Team Members eager to assist guests."
Did you get that?? 80,000 SQUARE FEET?? As for the "charm and accessibility", I have to tell you, I felt like I arrived on the turnip truck. Rather than "charming and accessible", I would describe it as a "destination shopping experience", akin to Disneyland.
I walked through the doors around noon, so the prepared food portion of the store, as large as a buffet restaurant, was bustling with young Austin urbanites efficiently moving along the counters snagging familiar and less-familiar lunch items. Whole Foods staff ("passionate, attentive Team Members") were replenishing bins as soon as they looked less-than-satisfying. I was simply a gawking obstacle, so I moved on to the aisles of the grocery section.
It is totally gorgeous. The shelves look as though it is someone's job (an elf, maybe?) to follow each shopper, realigning products each time one is removed. My mouth fell open so many times I just left it hanging.
This Whole Foods Market is in what appears to be a "revitalized" area of Austin. It takes up most of a block. The stores on the other corners at the intersection are REI, BookPeople (a fabulous independent bookseller, 2 stories), and Chicos, a clothing store I like. Unfortunately, I spent way too much time browsing at the other three stores before I went to Whole Foods - I spent two hours in the area and could have spent it ALL at WF!
Have you noticed I have been saying me, not we? Yes, I was on my own, while Odel had a completely difference experience.
Back when we were in Marfa, Odel turned on his cell phone to see if he got a signal (we were out of range at the campground). He did, and had a voice mail waiting: call his alumni association at the University of Memphis - someone had died (in Texas) and he was listed as next of kin!
That set off a round of head-scratching. How had the alumni association gotten his cell phone number?? (From his sister Emma, it turned out.) Who died?? He called the number and was told to call Harry Bradley at the Texas State Cemetary. Huh??? It was a bigger mystery than the Marfa Lights!
Well, Harry Bradley is the superintendent of the Texas State Cemetary, and was in Officers Training School in the the Air Force at the same time as Odel - 1965, 43 years ago. Harry had tracked down Odel and another buddy from OTS, Al Banfe.
We were in Marfa and Harry was in Austin, so Odel made plans to get together when we arrived here in Georgetown, north of Austin. Yesterday was the day. While Odel had a tour of the historic Texas State Cemetary and caught up with Harry (and Al, via speakerphone), I browsed ALMOST to my heart's content... next time, FOOD first!
at 1:44 PM
Monday, April 7, 2008
We had an easy travel day yesterday, only about 100 miles, through the Texas Hill Country from Fredericksburg to Georgetown (35 miles north of Austin).
We began by adding 70 gallons of fuel to our diesel tank - $277! Our friends the Bartees were awaiting us at a shaded picnic area just outside Fredericksburg, and we fell in behind them to caravan to Jim Hogg Park (read our campground review here).
It's pretty country, green and rolling. With Luna snoozing on my lap, we passed vineyards, pecan orchards, U-pick strawberry farms, LBJ's Ranch (a National Historic Site), herds of Texas Longhorns and flocks of goats grazing the fields.
The small towns along the route are built mostly of limestone, with many of the buildings dating to the late 1800's or early 1900's. This photo, of Georgetown's "historic district" is a good example of the area architecture.
On a totally different subject..
After I reported that we spent $840 to have our motorhome serviced by RV Mobile Lube while we were in Fredericksburg, Donna posted this question:
"Just as a matter of curiosity, what would all that cost at a place you had to go to? How often do you get your oil changed--as often as a car-- every 3,000 miles or 3 months?"
Odel looked up the answer. Last time we had this (major) servicing done, 2 1/2 years ago in Sacramento, California, at a Cummins service facility, we paid $1150 (and had to deal with their uncommunicative service manager)! You can see why we LOVE RV Mobile Lube. Fortunately, we don't have to change the oil nearly as often as in a car... we do it every 15,000 miles or once a year at a cost of $290.
And one more change of subject: blood sugar. About 2 1/2 years ago, Odel was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes when his blood sugar level rose to 125. Normal is under 100; 100 to 124 is "pre-diabetic"; 125 and over is considered diabetic.
Odel lost 15 pounds and made minor changes to his diet, and kept his blood sugar in the pre-diabetic range for the next couple of years, never below 100, usually between 110 and 115, checking it every week or two.
Yesterday, it was 88! For the five readings prior to that, his blood sugar level was in the 90's, beginning in February of this year. Amazing!
We can think of only one change Odel has made to his diet: beginning in January of 2008, he has been drinking 3 cups (sweetened with honey) of GREEN TEA each day. I had read that green tea can help "normalize" blood sugar, but these results were completely unexpected - and welcome. We can't swear that is what accounts for the improvement, but thought others might like to know about it.
at 7:30 AM
Saturday, April 5, 2008
A year ago, another Escapee answered my online plea: "Can someone recommend a place in Texas where we can get our engine serviced?" We needed the standard stuff, just like you need periodically for your car: change the oil and filter and lube the chassis.
He recommended RV Mobile Lube and, after last year's experience, we did too. In fact, we were so impressed that we decided we would wait until we were back in Texas this year to have our major engine servicing done.
Today was the day, and Darlene and John arrived right on schedule at 10 am. This year, we needed more than just an oil change and lube - we needed the full service. Usually, this translates into a day at the shop (beginning at 7 am, of course) for Scoopy and an uncomfortable, long day in the Jeep for Odel, Laurie and Luna.
With RV Mobile Lube, we stay home and let them come to us. We're fully deployed, even had the washing machine going while John got to work. The convenience would be reason enough to love 'em, but the reasonable prices and their "service with a smile" attitude makes RV Mobile Lube our favorite motorhome service experience.
After his work was finished, John had two recommendations for us to avoid future problems: have the U-joints checked, and replace the serpentine belt, which is beginning to show signs of age. The total bill for the oil and filter change, fuel filter change, chassis lube, transmission servicing, hydraulic system flush and filter, coolant filter, air dryer cartridge and the expert examination and advice: $840.
While Odel hung around home to watch and learn, I visited another favorite Texas business: H-E-B. I don't remember whether I have seen H-E-B grocery stores outside of Texas, but I wish they were everywhere.
Our first experience with H-E-B was in San Antonio, Texas, several years ago. The produce department, just inside the front door, knocked me out... and then I saw the woman making fresh corn tortillas!
I could hardly tear myself away from a thorough examination of the umpteen different chilis and peppers they stocked but when I did, we found ourselves gazing at half a dozen different kinds of fresh shrimp in the refrigerated case. To our surprise, the clerk offered to season and cook our shrimp while we did our shopping. We ordered, then came back to the counter to find our freshly cooked shrimp in a plastic bag... which was placed in another plastic bag filled with ice. Yum, yum.
That was the beginning of my love affair with H-E-B, another good reason to like Texas.
at 1:14 PM
Thursday, April 3, 2008
After one afternoon of sunshine, the warm, humid weather has caught up with us again. Today's temperature has stayed in the 70's; humidity was 98% around 3 pm. The sky is overcast and gloomy.
Fredericksburg is on the far left edge of the ominous red blob that The Weather Channel uses to signify potentially severe weather, and the still, humid blanket of clouds lends credence to the forecast. It looks as though any real problems will miss us, but I am glad we have the blare of the NOAA weather radio to arouse us if necessary, and a sturdy limestone building nearby.
The weather can't squelch our fun, though. We picked up Jackie and Buddy (and a picnic Jackie packed for us) at their RV park around 10:30 this morning and headed off to Enchanted Rock for a hike to the top. Enchanted Rock is huge, pink granite dome, 425 feet high, covering 640 acres. It is a batholith - an underground rock formation uncovered by erosion - one of the largest in the US and downright fun to hike. My pictures from last year show a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. This year, as we finished our picnic after we descended from the top, a light rain began to fall.
We packed up the crumbs, hopped into the car and headed back to Fredericksburg, to Rustlin Rob's. Rustlin Rob's sells condiments, jams, jellies, marinades, glazes, salsas, fruit butters, pickles, chow chow, mustards... and you can sample every single one before you buy. Buddy was excited about a spicy salsa he had tasted (and purchased) on a prior visit, and wanted to restock a jalapeno mustard he enjoys.
It was a good place to spend time on a rainy afternoon, especially since our planned grilled chicken dinner had been rained out. We spoiled our appetites by tasting what seemed like EVERYTHING - but tasting everything would have been impossible, there is just too much.
Hidden way back in the store is a little room of the truely dangerous hot sauces. A sign on the tiny sampling table cautions: "These are EXTREME HOTSAUCES. Not for children. Use caution."
Buddy and Odel, being manly men, each put a dewdrop of hot sauce on a cracker and popped in in their mouths. Eyes buldging and tearing, they went in search of an antidote. Soon I saw Jackie, too, moving rapidly in search of something to cool the heat.
Rob, or an employee, told us they had sampled the least spicy of the dangerous stuff... that samples of the truely, truely hot sauces are available, but too dangerous to leave out - tasting under supervision only. These folks are NUTS!
at 4:14 PM
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Our last episode of "tornadic activity" was on April 13th, 2007, in Fredericksburg, Texas. We were camped at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, just outside of town. With our neighbors, on a warm, humid, completely calm afternoon, we watched a huge "wall" cloud blot out the blue sky as it advanced towards us. When the wind started to blow, all us campers (and of course we had Luna, in her carrier) jumped in our cars or trucks and made for the various, very solid seeming, limestone restrooms scattered throughout the park.
In the dark, we listened to our weather radios and heard that the tornados went both north and south of Fredericksburg. Just recently I heard from our friends JoAnn and Doug that they had extensive damage to their 5th wheel and truck on that same day last year, at Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan/Rio Frio - the park we just left!
This is on my mind now because we are back at Lady Bird Johnson Park, one of our favorites (read our campground review here). We have a huge site on the edge of the little municipal airport, where we can watch small planes come and go throughout the day. Even better, our friends Jackie and Buddy Bartee, Texans we met three years ago in Salida, Colorado, are camped just a couple miles from us.
Their proximity is particularly welcome because yesterday, April 1, is our anniversary. Five years ago, April 1, 2003, we pulled Scoopy out of our driveway in West Sacramento and took off on what has now been five years of adventure. For us, it is an anniversary worth celebrating - and much more fun with friends.
The last time we went out for a meal with the Bartees was in Portland, Oregon, when we introduced them to Dim Sum. This time, we celebrated our anniversary over dinner at the Bejas Grill and Cantina in Fredericksburg - not quite as unusual a menu, but delicious food. So, happy anniversary to us... we'll keep on rollin'.
at 7:03 PM