Saturday, March 31, 2018

Decisions, decisions, decisions

One way or another of course life is full of them. We decide whether to have coffee or tea or water. We decide whether to turn right or left. We decide which clothes to wear, and on and on and on. For the most part though we think of decisions as being about the more important stuff.

A few weeks ago, we came to the conclusion/decision that when tax season is over and I am done working, we would become a one car family instead of the two cars we have had most of the time over the years. Now, the last day of tax season is April 17th but back around March 23rd some three and a half weeks before my job ends, Geoff decided to go see how much the dealer would give him for his Subaru Outback.

Just a fact finding trip he assured me. About an hour later he called and said find the other key, they will bring me home but need to pick up that second key. He obviously had "ripped the bandaid off" so to speak and we were a one car family with weeks of my working still to go!

Not all decisions work out but you never know until you try it out. At the beginning of our travels, we resolved our communication problems using an earphone/microphone set up intended for motorcycle helmets. This was detailed in an early blog titled "I Can Hear You!" and worked out well but we took another look at communication possibilities as we would have liked something more in the form of headphones and not need to attach stuff to ball caps.

We found a good possibility made by Sena, their Expand intercom set. We ordered a pair of them through Amazon and they arrived the other day. These headsets looked like they just might be the answer. The part that holds the speakers and microphone goes around the back of the head so there would be no interference with wearing or not wearing a hat and are water resistant so rain or sweat would not cause any problems, not that our original gear reacted badly to such conditions.
The headsets arrived last week and we charged them up and tried them on. They fit fine and felt okay on the head so we them gave them a use test. I stayed indoors with mine and Geoff tried going out front to the mailbox and then out the back to the back fence. The results were extremely disappointing! At close range they were clear and we were hopeful but the volume dropped considerably as he moved through the kitchen and when he headed out doors static increased and before he was halfway down the driveway we could no longer hear each other consistently through the static.

Our original need was communicating while driving down the road but we had quickly gotten accustomed to talking to each other while Geoff was outside the coach hooking things up or even going into rest rooms, park offices or stores. The Expand headsets simply could not compare favorably to the originals so back they went to to Amazon!

The original sets still work just fine although I need to attach them to new hats as the old ones had suffered considerable wear and sweat, especially Geoffrey's. I had already gotten the replacement hats from Vistaprint this time with the name of the coach on the front instead of a wolf image.

I just need to remove the communications gear from the old hats and attach to the new ones, a small job that can wait until the tax season is over.

Slowly but surely decisions come together for our travels.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Planning ...

One of the fun things about our trips is the planning beforehand.We start with the smallest of ideas and it grows from there. For 2018 we started out with thoughts of going to Pennsylvania and Ohio to see family. My sister lives in Pennsylvania and Geoff's family in Ohio.

Usually we start with a few specific points on a map and then build on that. So, beginning with my sister in Gettysburg and Geoff's family in Cleveland and Dayton we started looking at what to add. Geoff quickly came up with an experimental aircraft museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, that he wanted to visit and I had in mind the Pea Ridge battle during the Civil War, the latter being a stop in Arkansas that was trimmed from our trip last year.

With these points marked on a map, we had a sort of star shaped trip with a good chunk going along interstates through Indiana up to Oshkosh and down through Illinois to Pea Ridge in the northwest corner of Arkansas. We came up with some locations on the return route through Georgia but after thinking about it realized that those were coming up at the point on a trip at which we both just sort of want to get back home and sit back in our recliners watching Wheel of Fortune!

A few days later, I mentioned to Geoffrey that we should probably do a short shakedown cruise before our longer trip and he brilliantly replied: "Why not do those Georgia places?" Of course! So the end of April we will head out for a week to the Columbus, Georgia, area. It is only 4-5 hours drive and so this time I will follow Timmber Wolf in our Outback up to the RV park we will spend the week at.

We had made a couple of other decisions by this point, the major one being that I am going to retire at the end of this tax season. For the last 11 years I have worked during tax season (January-mid April) for H&R Block doing tax preparation. During the late summer and fall I have had required training to do and for the last six or so years I have been the one leading the training. My hands and back are afflicted with arthritis which is getting worse and in another year or two, travel is going to become too uncomfortable to be enjoyable even in an RV. H&R Block will just have to do without me!

So our future holds a week long trip to the Columbus, Georgia, area; a summer trip we call OhPa (OHio-PennsylvaniA); late next fall or into winter a trip around Florida, especially the southern half including the Keys and the Everglades; and next March or thereabouts, a trip west again to Arizona and where ever else our wheels take us.

We pretty much have our stops lined out for Georgia and OHPA but Florida is still very rough with a general outline across the top to include Olustee (a Civil War battlefield), down the west coast to the Keys and the Everglades and back up the east coast to home. The trip to Arizona is almost a year away and except for time spent with my sister and my oldest son we have nothing in mind yet.

Suggestions are very welcome ... just remember we are somewhat mobility impaired so hikes and stuff like that are OUT. We are not big on art but very interested in American history especially the Civil War and vehicles, from cars to planes. That last is mostly Geoffrey but I have no objection to sitting in Wolf relaxing while he trudges around what does not interest me or at least not for long.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Wolf changes his den

One of the things all RV'ers face is what to do with their vehicle when they are not using it. I have a cousin who lives in their motor home at a permanent location over the winter and travel between there and a home on the west coast where they can park it at their house. I also have some friends who live in their motor home year 'round, one couple simply lives there, never traveling, another winters here in Florida and travels for a few months in the summer.

And then there are the ones like us. Either for space reasons or because they live in a development where the HOA simply won't permit it, they have to find somewhere to park the coach when not in use. Thus the existence of the many storage yards for RV's and boats which suffer from the same issue,  where do you put it when you are not using it?

For over a year, Wolf lived at the Douglas Boat & RV Storage Park. We found this place before we actually took delivery of Wolf and it was within a reasonable distance and a reasonable price and had good security. The lot was not paved and could get a bit muddy when it rained and spaces were not neatly marked off and were sometimes encroached upon by others.

Recently, Premier Boat & RV Storage has expanded opening up more spaces. This location is a good bit closer and paved with even better security including accessibility to cameras remotely if you wish to keep an eye on your RV. It also has optional electric service which means you can park your home and leave a fan or such running so the inside doesn't get all stale and at the very least, start up the frig and AC the day before you go some where!

As soon as their new spaces were available, Wolf moved his den there although he seems to spend an awful lot of his time at Ray's Tire & Service Commercial Center or at the local Camping World!

Timmber Wolf only just moved there February 1st. Imagine my surprise when  I looked at the picture of the place just now at their website and there he is!

The image above had to have been taken within a day or two of they're opening up the new area as Wolf (in the red circle) looks a bit lonesome. As you can see behind the location is I-95 and to the right is Agricultural Center Drive which gives the place easy accessibility. The local Camping World is conveniently just on the other side of I-95.

The Three R's

Repairs, Replacing and Remodeling ... all of which Wolf needs on our return. Fortunately not all of it was out of our pocket. The first chance we had after our return, we went to see Ashley and Jeff at our local Camping World service department with our list of Timmber Wolf problems: windshield gasket leak; slide-out gasket; the yellow streak; front side windows; leveling system alarm; chronically bad tail light and shore cord plug damage.

That latter item was a brand new problem. We had had Wolf plugged in at the house while we got stuff out of it and then headed for Camping World with me following in the car. To get in position, I went around the block while Geoff turned left out of our driveway. I came around the block just as Geoff was passing by at the end of the street and bopping along on the road behind him was the power cord we use to plug in to shore power! Wish I had gotten a picture of that!

Unfortunately we had not bothered with the hats with the communication gear and I had to resort to the flashing lights, beeping horn etc methods. I finally got the chance to pass him and pulled in front of Wolf with flashing lights etc and he realized I wanted him to stop. The bouncing along the road had shredded the side of the plug so it got added to our list!

Original recliner, ours was black
The windshield gasket leak problem actually belonged to another local company that Camping World had coordinated with when the windshield was replaced and it took a few weeks to get that taken care of. Most of the rest were pretty standard problems for them, if not for us. The body repair work came under our insurance and some of the other items came under warranty so although our pocket took a hit, it could have been worse!

While Wolf was detained at Camping World we decided to do a couple of changes in the living area so it would suit us better. Wolf in his original state came with a recliner in the space behind the front passenger seat and after our first trip in 2016 we decided we didn't like it and removed it totally, using one of the nifty folding rocking chairs we got from Gander Mountain.
Layout Schematic for Wolf, a 26 foot Fleetwood Flair

This left an empty space behind the passenger seat which was more useful than the recliner had been but one of our issues like most RV'ers is storage space! We had a cabinet put in in that space which looks well with the kitchen area cabinetry and adds counter space as well as cabinet space without blocking that window.

The inside has just a simple single shelf but that makes it a flexible storage area for whatever we need to put there but it is shallow enough to not impede our floor space. Although it is not yet attached on the side of the cabinet near the entry door, we had a grab bar added to help us old folks get in and out of Wolf.

Original table area
The original floor plan shows an area in the slide out opposite the entry door holding what we have usually had referred to as a banquet area with a table and benches that can be turned into a sleeping space. We don't need any more sleeping space and if we ever need something more than the bed in the back, there is a platform over the driving area that lowers, providing bed space for at least two more people. Then benches did have storage space but it was awkward to use and worked only for the sort of thing you probably won't need but should have just in case.

The benches in Wolf had darker patterned cushions on the benches but otherwise looked like the image to the right. They were uncomfortable, not only for us, being the larger people that we are, but even for little skinny people like my sisters.

We finally decided the best thing for us would be to replace the table and benches with a couple of lightweight recliners anchored to the floor of the slide out. This also removed the higher bench back that made traversing from the front to the back awkward when the slide was in with this added openness freeing movement even when Wolf was on the move. We have folding tables that will work for meals when we aren't outside at a picnic table in an RV park. We have gotten some narrow shelving that fits behind the recliners and a similar unit with a couple of drawers that fits between them. We added magnetic latches to the drawers so they won't slide out on the move. We've not actually traveled yet with this arrangement but will soon.

One more change to Wolf is not so visible. This Fleetwood Flair is basically an entry level Class A motor home and the mattress was definitely very basic and, for us, not particularly comfortable especially as usage made permanent dents in it. After considerable research and discussion we ordered a new mattress and took it to Camping World so those nice young strong people could put it in place and haul the old one out!

It is amazing how crunched down those mattress people can make a mattress for shipping! It certainly made it much easier for us to get it into our Outback and to Camping World. Again, we have not actually traveled with it yet so we will have to let you know how that works out. Most anything would be better than the one that came with it!

There have been a few other minor things done and we have learned a bit more as well. One thing that would annoy Geoff no end was that the flip up door on the rear basement compartment would not stay up and kept landing on his head. All this time the answer was right there, a magnetic catch attached to Wolf's exterior all this time without our realizing it!

We've had or are having done some regular maintenance, inspection etc of things like the air conditioning and the refrigerator. All preparatory to this year's traveling!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Take Me Out To The Ball Game?

Some how over this last trip in 2017 I have become a ball cap collector. I am not sure how. Back a few years ago we got 2 or 3 ball caps from Cabela's on sale as they were comfy and made good sun shades when I didn't want to switch to sunglasses. When we first got Timmber Wolf, we needed to figure out how to communicate and I blogged about that first in Can you hear me now? and then in I can hear you! about our final solution.

It took some trial and error and fussing around but we finally came up with attaching the unit, earpieces and microphones to a black ball cap with a wolf patch on the front that we had gotten with the name Timmber Wolf.

Had I but known where THAT was gonna lead ... anyway, our first trip in 2016 I picked up a number of souvenirs as we traveled, mostly stuffed animals. I think that entire trip I only got three hats, a black US Marine Corps cap at the USMC Museum in Virginia, a burnt orange one in Monument Valley, and a burgundy one in Grand Encampment, Wyoming, shortly before the windshield disaster of which more is said in What did I say about adventures?

Two or three more hats appeared either before or after that trip. For Super Bowl 50 in 2016, I had to get myself a Broncos hat so I could wear it at work like any self respecting fan.

One was a Subaru hat that came with my 2016 Outback before we were traveling, in fact before we even had Timmber Wolf.

Earlier in 2017, my sister Dory had been down for a visit and of course I toured her around through the St Augustine area. We managed to run into a good bit of rainy weather that day so I picked up a hat at the St Augustine pier.

At some point in my wanderings around I saw someone with a dark olive hat that had an oval patch on the front that had SURVIVOR emblazoned across it. On the top of the oval it read Shit Creek and along the bottom of the oval it said Canoe Club. Knowing the feeling very well of being up Shit Creek without a paddle (thus in a canoe) I had to find one which I eventually located online.

At about this point I realized that I had inadvertently and unknowingly become a cap collector! So, when we made our trip in 2017, my principle souvenir became caps. The first to join the collection was a lovely beige USMC hat bought at the Pacific War Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas. This was followed soon after by another beige cap, this from the Pima Air & Space Museum with their logo on the front.

Next came the burnt orange cap from the Sonora Desert Museum and then a lovely soft blue color from the Verde Canyon Railroad. A cap I really love from a wonderful day! After this I got the rattlesnake cap that says Tuzigoot on the back and the black Ft Verde cap. This was followed by the pink cap from the Pink Jeep tour. Heavens, three caps from the Verde Valley area!

After we left the Verde Valley area, we stopped at the Petrified Forest where I found a nice brown cap and down the road a ways I got a dark grey New Mexico cap with a Rte 66 pin attached to it. Of course I got it right on old Rte 66! The last cap on the trip was a yellow one at Ft Smith National Historic Site.

You would think the caps would quit piling up now that we were home again but first I had to get an H&R Block cap because, of course, I work there during tax season anyway. More about that in a later blog. I was now running into a problem as to where to put them. As much as I enjoyed choosing different hats to wear with different clothes and occasions, digging around in a shopping bag was getting difficult with so many.

We don't have much wall or shelf space in our house so finally I got a bunch of stick-on hooks and put them on the door into my computer room. The hooks plus doorknob hold 19 caps and doubling up helps but again I need more ... who knows where though!

Since our return I have also gotten a navy blue Family Tree Maker cap when I ordered the software update.

Then, as I was coming out of the local Publix supermarket, there was some veterans group raising money by you guessed it, selling caps. I got myself a great red USMC cap with a beautiful eagle on the back and an equally nice Army cap for Geoffrey that he has up on the wall in his computer room. I also got us both caps from Scott-E-Vest that has 2 small hidden pockets for a key or cash or other small items.
Then, the other day, I went into a local Walgreens for something or other and there at a huge sale price were these very nice St Augustine ball caps so I had to get two, one with dolphins in blue and the other in a soft light burgundy with palm trees.

I've also had to order some new Timmber Wolf caps for us as the old ones with the communication equipment attached are simply too dirty and sweaty to keep using.

And finally, the most recent cap is all the fault of catching up on this blogging. When I was writing about the part of our trip after Ft Smith I mentioned the Red Hat Society and as I usually do, went googling for a link to add to the blog mention. Of course, what do I find? A bunch of red hats on sale! Now, most of them were other sorts of hats, not ball caps at all but then ... there it was a sparkly red ball cap! And ON SALE even! So, of course one has been ordered and I suppose I will have to find a local Red Hat chapter. At least I learned the difference between the pink hats and the red hats, red hats are for those over 50, pink hats for those not yet 50. Hmmm, what if you are exactly 50?

The Last Days

We arrived at Ft Smith National Historic Site about mid-morning. It includes the remains of two frontier forts and was on the edge of Indian Territory for years. This location also held the Federal Court for the Western District and was responsible for keeping the peace in Indian Territory and as a result has both a gallows and prison cells.

The park has about 37 acres and a lengthy riverwalk and path around the area but extensive walking is not something either of us is particularly good at so we headed for the visitors center which also houses the old barracks, courthouse and jail. The path from the parking area to the center passes the old gallows which has been restored to look very much like the original. Between 1873 and 1896, eighty-six men were hung for murder and rape. The sentence for these crimes following the Civil War was a mandatory death sentence. The park website has a listing of all those hung by date of execution and while there I purchased a book, Hangin' Time in Fort Smith by Jerry Akins which contains the stories of those hung. The book is also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and elsewhere.

The visitors center, the largest building, has fascinating displays of how the prisoners lived over the years. The former mess halls in the basement were converted into two large jail cells, nicknamed Hell on the Border. These were two large rooms where the men slept on thin pallets on the floor. There was little light except through underground windows and no ventilation. The caged area in this image was a small room for prisoners to meet with their lawyers. Half a bucket of water for washing was in each cell along with a chamber pot.

In 1886, the conditions were brought to the attention of the US government and funds were appropriated with a new jail being built in 1887-1888 as a wing and a second story on the courthouse building. The courthouse itself moved into new facilities nearby in 1890.

The upper floor of the current building houses displays of the later jail cells which were not much bigger than the bunk the prisoners slept on, usually two, an upper and lower, in each cell. The area has remnants of the cells and walkways and is very informative. Visitors can even 'try on' a jail cell.

The main floor has a diorama of what the fort was like and there are displays that commemorate the forced removal of the five southeastern tribes from their homelands into Indian Territory. If I could only visit one National Park site, this would be the one. And no, saying that is NOT influenced by the books or the bright yellow ball cap I picked up at the gift shop.

Hunger finally got to us and we headed on out, stopping at the Colton's Steakhouse in nearby Van Buren, Arkansas, for a great steak. Our choice was admittedly partly influenced by the small array of five or six classic cars parked together in the lower part of their parking lot. We did take pictures of them but I can't find them!While we were sitting at our table waiting on our meal, a large group of ladies from the Red Hat Society came in with their flamboyant red hats and purple outfits. Our waiter Brian excused himself for a few moments and returned in a red shirt to complement the ladies!

Replete with excellent steak, we headed out again, ready to get closer to home. One of the neat things about traveling like this is the many odd place names we encounter, one being Toad Suck Park, near Conway in Arkansas. We didn't actually stop there but I have since discovered that the park has 48 sites with electric and water hookups and we just might have to stay there if we get in that area again.

Shell Lake Campground in Heth, Arkansas, got us overnight instead as it was about 130 miles closer to home. Soon after our departure the next morning we were on I-22 which has large patches of kudzu here and there including whole trees swallowed up and hillsides carpeted. This is the kind of stuff that you swear grows if you blink your eyes.

The Sunken Trace. eroded by the many footsteps
We soon reached the Natchez Trace Parkway and stopped at their Visitors Center. The Trace which is 444 miles long has a long history as a major land route back home for the river crews who had taken their rafts down to New Orleans and for Native Americans, settlers, slave traders, soldiers, all sorts of travelers. We drove it for a ways but then had to turn around at an overlook as it was not headed towards home.

I-65 out of Birmingham was a nasty road, shake, rattle & bounce for miles. At one point there was a bad wreck involving apparently three cars and bringing out several ambulances and a fire truck. It had the north bound side tied up for miles.

That night we stayed at Deer Run RV Park near Troy, Alabama. It's very nice and has both an RV area and a mobile home area. This is our final overnight of the trip. Tomorrow we will be home! With that probability dangling in front of us we headed out early, around 6 am Alabama time. Lots of fog and kudzu and the stupid leveler alarm was begging for me to shoot it but at 8 am we crossed the line into Florida!

We soon got just enough rain to smear those bug guts all over the windshield but reached I-10 about a half hour later. Luckily the rain soon got heavier and managed to unsmear and even clean up a good bit of the windshield. We stopped for lunch at the Red Onion Grill at Exit 262, Madison/Lee, Florida, and had ribeye steak on Texas toast with onion rings!! An excellent repast as far as I am concerned. We've been past here on I-10 several times and I have always wanted to stop here but it was never the right timing. Finally!

We left there about 2 pm and at 3:45 we were home sweet home!!

Friday, March 16, 2018

They're Everywhere! They're Everywhere!

... windmills that is. We saw windmills last year and this year through much of the west ... north, south, and throughout the midwest in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, etc. But I don't think of I've ever seen as many as along I-40 here in Texas. We've seen them moving in the window, shut down and still for maintenance or repair and pieces being hauled around. A couple of times we saw the huge blades for these windmills being trucked along the interstate.
These windmills seem to be placed in crop fields and cattle pastures and anywhere they think they may catch enough wind especially on the north side of I-40. I don't think we saw any in the feed lots you can smell all along the interstate though.

Near Exit 60, you can see to the south an attraction known as Cadillac Ranch. It was created in 1974 by part of the art group from the Ant Farm in San Francisco. Variously referred to as an artwork, a sculpture, or a junkyard. it consists of a row of Cadillacs sitting nose first in a row in the ground. An armada of people have painted the car bodies with graffiti over and over through the years. There were even songs about it by Chris Ledoux and by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

After lunch in Amarillo we passed a seriously tilted water tower right by the interstate near Groom, Texas. We had no clue it was intentional until just now (March 2018) when I looked it up on Google! Several links talk about it including Wikipedia and WeirdU.S. and it seems that although it originally served as the water supply for a truck stop. Around 1980 it was turned into an attention-getter and even though the truck stop closed about five years later, the tower survives, continuing to attract tourists and unsuspecting passersby.

We arrived at our overnight stop at Elk Creek RV Park in Elk City, Oklahoma before 6pm and departed about 9 the next morning headed for Oklahoma City and hopefully and end to frequent screw tightening.

On our way we did figure out one of our mystery cargoes when we spotted a truck full of the mysterious white bundles but these were marked Cotton USA and Bale Gard.Other than that we have seen the expected round hay bales, cattle, feed lots, water tanks, etc.

Finally, after navigating the Kilpatrick Turnpike we arrived at the Camping World in Oklahoma City. We had to wait a little while but eventually they returned Wolf to us, having replaced all the screws with a bigger size that they assured us should not fall out. We continued east passing Tinker AFB with planes displayed right along I-40 and Lake Eufala and Lottawatta Road. The latter is not an Indian name or word but simply an invention of the highway sign department.

We stopped overnight at the KOA in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, also known as the Fort Smith West KOA.

Of Rocks and Roadrunners

We left the Verde Valley a little after 8 in the morning, seeing more flowering cactus including agave like the Pink Jeep guided had pointed out to us and prickly pear. Shortly after heading east from Flagstaff we also had yet another adventure ... the front passenger window (right next to ME!) almost fell out onto the interstate. I glanced over at it and it was swinging loose. I grabbed hold of it and held it in place until we could stop.

The screws had mostly fallen loose and the ones left at the top were loose! We put the screws back in except for the one we could not find and headed down the road, checking them every half hour or so, tightening them back up as needed. Nothing like running down the road holding on to a screwdriver!

About mid day we stopped at the Painted Desert Cafe for lunch at the Petrified Forest National Park. The long loop road we drove on around the park seems to have both the Painted Desert scenery and Petrified Forest areas. There are a number of explanatory signs and a lot of warnings NOT to take any of the petrified wood away with you. An inspection station on the way out of the park probably checks out any suspicious vehicles. There are carefully sliced and polished bits of wood as well as raw pieces available at the gift shop which of course also has ball caps. I got a nice brown one!

After touring around the Petrified Forest, we got back on I-40 headed east. Along the way to our next overnight stop we saw quite a few Navajo hogans of several styles. Some appeared to still be lived in where others appeared to be used for storage. Definitely a reminder that much of this part of the country is Indian Reservation. We finally reached our stop at the USA RV Park at Gallup, New Mexico and hooked up for the night.

The next morning we continued east on I-40 towards Albuquerque where we found a place to have the RV washed, bye bye bug guts! Our next stop east of Albuquerque is the Petroglyph National Monument. The Visitor Center has a small gift shop and a small theater room that runs a video about the petroglyphs including the definition: Petroglyphs are rock carvings (rock paintings are called pictographs) made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the desert varnish (or patina) on the surface of the rock was chipped off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph.

As we were driving out of the Petroglyph National Park visitor center, we saw a real live roadrunner, actually running across the road! It happened far too fast to grab the camera so I can not take credit for this image but the moment looked very much like this.

A few miles east of the Visitor Center is the road access to the parking area at Boca Negra Canyon which has several good hiking trails (not our cup of tea) and some nice examples of petroglyphs such as this image we got there before heading on east. 

We continued to fuss with the window screws! The nearest place we have any confidence to deal with the window problem is the Camping World in Oklahoma City where we hope to get the issue dealt with tomorrow.

Back to I-40 eastbound we see storms north of us which don't look so dark and dangerous in the image below but certainly looked worse in person and we saw storm chasers headed that way. As we headed east we did keep a close eye on the north and the movement of the storms. Fortunately they did not seem to get any closer!

We arrived at the Santa Rosa Campground in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, with the threatening storms thankfully still staying to the north. The next morning we continued east on I-40 taking old Route 66 through Tucumcari and stopping long enough to get a ball cap reading New Mexico which had a Rte 66 badge pinned on it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Time In Verde Valley

After such a busy day at the Verde Canyon Railroad, we dawdled a bit the next morning but eventually we headed out for Tuzigoot near Camp Verde. Tuzigoot is an ancient hilltop pueblo. I must admit I did not climb up to although there is a 1/3 mile loop trail that takes you around and through the pueblo but instead spent a good while with the exhibits in the Tuzigoot museum which show various artifacts with presentations about them and the Sinagua who lived here. There is an intriguing display showing what a room in the pueblo might have been like.Lest I forget, there is also a nice gift shop where of course I got another ball cap. This one is a nice light olive color with a rattlesnake on the front and Tuzigoot on the back. That night we explored the restaurants of Cottonwood eventually settling on Strombolli's which has an excellent spinach dip with batter fried mushrooms and zucchini.

The next day we went to another historical monument, Montezuma Castle. This is a limestone cliff with a dwelling built into it, a sort of high rise apartment building tucked into a cliff. After visiting the center here, we went on to Ft Verde State Historic Park. This site was established in 1871 replacing an earlier camp one mile north of the present site. The primary reason for its existence was as a staging base for military operations in the area protecting the settlers in the region. The small administration building contains displays of soldiers uniforms and equipment from that era. The officers' quarters and adjacent buildings show life as it was then and the website has some nifty short videos, sort of a virtual tour.

From here we went back to Cottonwood and tried the Black Bear Diner. We no longer remember what restaurant we thought was there but it had apparently vanished and been replaced, very recently, by the Black Bear Diner. The place was nice and the corn muffins so fantastic we later returned and got some to go! It appears to be one of the newer locations of a west coast chain.
At some point the day we went to Tuzigoot, we made reservations for a Pink Jeep tour in Sedona for June 3rd, the same day we were visiting my sister there. So we were up about 4 am in order to be ready to leave around 6:30 to be in plenty of time for our scheduled 8 am Red Rock Range tour. This is an easy ride with great views of the red rock formations. It also covers an area I never saw much of when I was younger and visiting my grandmother at her Crescent Moon Ranch near Oak Creek Crossing.

After the tour we went nearby to visit with my sister and see what all she has done with the house. Coming to the house was one of the main reasons for renting a car as this driveway would simply be impossible with the RV. Suffice it to say that many UPS drivers won't take their big brown trucks of happiness up there either!

It was the first time I had been to the house since my mother had passed and it was wonderful to see a lot of things that mostly just live in my memory. I brought several things back with me, most particularly a small figurine my mother made long ago of me playing my flute. Being made out of simple Plaster of Paris it has suffered over the years and part of the flute has gone. I was perhaps 12 or so at the time so it is about sixty years old. It now lives in our credenza behind a glass door sitting on a small doily crocheted by my great grandmother Lida Deshler Willson Kellogg. I sometimes debate having it restored but then decide the damage is part of its history.

The following day my son Mark was coming up from his home north of Phoenix to visit for a while. He arrived about 11 and we sat in Wolf for a while chatting and then, when Wolf started to get too hot ... his air conditioning can't quite cope with the hottest parts of the day in Arizona ... we headed to Cottonwood and the Black Bear Diner where we sat and visited in cool comfort for several hours. While we were waiting to be seated I spotted something I just had to have ... no, not another ball cap this time. It was a pair of plush stuffed hugging bears, about 8 inches tall, which now live on my bookshelves.

Our final day here in the Verde Valley was a down day for laundry, returning the rental car, picking up some prescription refills, shopping at WalMart ... the sort of things one has to do in life whether you are home or on the road. Of course Geoff also ended up spending some time fighting with the toilet/black tank system!

Choo Choo Caboose

When we were planning this trip, I would look at the various web sites and maps. The Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, Arizona, was originally a local railroad hauling ore, miners, and supplies from Clarkdale to Drake. When I was reading the web site and making our plans, I saw that they offer a caboose for a party of up to six people which features comfortable club chairs, panoramic windows and access to private outdoor viewing platforms. It grabbed my attention and checking availability I saw that it was quite popular and if we were going to do it I needed to decide immediately. The only available date in our time frame was May 31st and I grabbed it. Besides it was air conditioned and I could take my shoes off!

Thus the day after our arrival at Distant Drums, Geoffrey and I met my son Mark, his wife Natalie, my sister Carol and her daughter, my niece Tara at the Verde Canyon Railroad Depot in Clarkdale. We had some lunch and then were given a short ride in a golf cart to the end of the train and the caboose. We of course had enough time before our ride to visit the gift shop and, you guessed it, another ball cap joined my collection.

The train excursion takes about four hours through the Verde Canyon, much of it above the Verde River. The canyon has an abundance of native flora and fauna including bald eagles which, since they are accustomed to the train, fly quite nearby and we saw several although the best time to see them is earlier in the year. In spite of being a high desert area, there is enough vegetation along the river for waterfowl, fish, and other animals that depend on the river for survival. There are a few hiking trails along the river where one can see these animals better than from the train including night hikes with nocturnal wildlife. This area is sandwiched between the Coconino National Forest and the Prescott National Forest.

This 20 mile journey includes a 680 foot tunnel, trestles and bridges across side gorges and winds along the side of cliffs. In some places there are ancient Sinagua ruins in the cliffs which our personal guide/valet pointed out to us. We also passed the huge piles of ore remaining after the extraction of the copper.

All this terrific scenery could not compete with the opportunity to visit with my family in this casual setting. Everyone moved from the comfortable chairs and refreshments to the windows, the viewing platform and even the elevated view in the back of the caboose. Hours of just conversation would have been awkward perhaps but broken up by the views was perfect.

We all had opportunities to visit with one or another. I got to spend time with my baby sister and with Tara whom I have not had much time with since she was a little girl (yes, Tara, you were once a little girl).

Both my son and his wife have their own businesses and it has been hard for them to have much time for me. I was especially glad that they both managed to get away for the day to join us.

I particularly enjoyed watching my son try to puzzle out why the hook ups between the cars were so noisy. We all came up with theories and I no longer remember which we decided was likeliest but it was like watching him as a small boy do the same sort of figuring and studying.

This day was I think the highlight of the whole trip and I have never regretted for a minute that inspiration I had when looking at the web site!