Sunday, October 14, 2018

New Mexico adventures


Time to move on. We decided that New Mexico deserved some more exploring and perhaps we could ride the steam train at Chama. Off we go.

Well we made plans. That's not what we do but we decided that because the train ride looked pretty full to the end of their season in a month or so that we better buy tickets in advance. Not wanting to be stuck without a place to camp we made reservations in the campground too.

We left Amarillo and crossed into New Mexico, heading for Las Vegas (Yes there's a Las Vegas in New Mexico as well as the one in Nevada). Outside of Tucumari there is a LONG steep climb up to the plateau. The Rexhall was going 30 mph screaming flat out in 1st gear in places. No problem, we're driven roads like this before.

At the top I glanced down and the temperature needle was in the red. Hurriedly we pulled over and I took a look under the hood. Couldn't see much. Obvious signs of overheating like light smoke of course, and the coolant header tank was empty. We let it cool for ½ hr then I filled it up again. There were no signs of leaks so maybe we got away with it.

We pulled into the Las Vegas Elks Lodge and when we got out there was coolant dripping from under the engine. When I investigated it was coming from on top of the engine, not the radiator or that area.

We started calling around. Nobody in Las Vegas could look at it. Santa Fe was 60 miles away and the Ford Dealer recommended an independent company Hal Burns. We took a chance, filled the engine up with coolant again and drove to Santa Fe. The engine overheated again 1 mile from the mechanic. We let it cool and filled it up and made the mechanic's place.

Sunset at the Santa Fe Elks Lodge
They couldn't look at it immediately so they said we could stay the night in their compound and they had an electric hookup for us.

The diagnosis was a cracked cylinder head.

While the problem was being resolved we decided to drive in the car another 60 miles to Albuquerque. We did some exploring and shopping, sampled some local brew pubs and restaurants including the best Indian Restaurant I've been to in 35 years in the States. Namaste. Great food and very friendly people.

We realized that the balloon fiesta was on here the next week. Not knowing when our problem might get resolved we asked for reservations at the hotel into the next week. We could always cancel them without it costing us anything. The price jumped from $70 a night to $180 once the Fiesta started!!

And then the no plan kids struck lucky again. The RV problem got resolved and we saw on Facebook that the “Boomers” RV club had a cancellation for a spot at the Fiesta, camping right at the Balloon Park itself!! How lucky could we be?

The next thing we knew we were at the park, right on the front row. And guess what? The site for the Happy Hour was right in front of our rig!! Amazing.

Lining up to get into the RV area. reservations only.
Next morning we were up at 4am and heading out to crew for a balloon pilot who was on his own. 5 of us piled into his van and we went to find a launch point that would hopefully position him to drop a marker on a target on the flying field.
A cold morning, as the launch crew gather. "Our pilot" Brian closest on the right
It was FUN! The pilot (also Brian!) was with a couple of other teams and they found a good launch point. It was the lawn of a beautiful house with an big apple orchard. The owner kindly let about 6 balloons fly from the lawn right in front of her front window, and told us to help ourselves to as many apples as we wanted too as there was a bumper crop this year.
Beautiful Adobe home where we launched right off her front lawn!
We all helped pull the balloon envelope, basket, burner etc out of the van then helped as it was inflated. Brian invited one of the helpers to fly with him and off they went.
Barbara holds open the mouth of the balloon while they fire up the huge burners.
We followed in the van and Brian made our job of finding and retrieving him easy by landing in a parking lot across the street from the Balloon Park. We helped deflate the envelope and pack everything back in the van.
Another crew prepping for launch
An excellent day and more proof that the less you plan the better the experience.
"Dawn Patrol" every morning at 7am at the fling field
The following day we crewed again but the wind was stronger and the majority of pilots wisely decided to stay on the ground. We ran around the field with our phones and cameras taking pictures of the ones that did fly.
With our new friends Tim and Linda outside the NASA exhibit

Called "Zebras" they control launches at the flying field for safety purposes.
Every evening we had a happy hour and people related their adventures crewing and sometimes flying. Lots of fun. We had a “CARE” auction and raised some money for that worthy cause.

That evening I started sneezing and coughing and a nasty cold hit me. We had to cancel our plans to crew for the next few days and hung around in the rig. Luckily our front window faced across the street towards the flying field so we sat with the heater on and watched the fantastic “Shapes” fly.

Mass launch of "Shapes" as well as regular balloons

Amazing creations

Corcadova the Christ Statue from Rio De Janeiro

Darth Veda and Yoda

A happy Goldfish swims by the from window of our rig
I got over the cold almost as suddenly as it hit me and by Saturday we were catching up on laundry and doing the dump/fill routine at the local Flying J truck stop. Those places are great for RV'ers as they have dedicated RV islands and for a price you can dump the holding tanks and refill your fresh water tank. Better yet is you are a Good Sam member your card gets you a discount on the price of dumping and also on gas or diesel.

We made new friends at the rally and have plans to meet up again next summer with some of them. Right now it's time to think about moving on again to get closer to Casa Grande. Won't be long before we're back in Sundance for the winter!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Amarillo


We were treated to a talk about his flutes and songs and a sampling of his beautiful music.


The weather has been getting cooler. Our general plan is to head South down Rt 83 which runs thru North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Basically a single two lane road that we'll take for 950 miles. That's an amazing thought, ONE road. I don't think there is anything like it in Europe.

Conveniently it takes us thru Nebraska which completes my personal total of 50 states visited over the 35 years we've spent in the US. Barbara has 49 as she hasn't been to Alaska and expresses no interest in doing so.

Just one night stops had us stay at a few different spots. One in the back of a hotel and next to the railroad tracks with train horns going all night. It's amazing what you can get used to. We hear the trains all winter in Casa Grande but not this close. We must be acclimatized as we slept like logs here!

Mid America Air Museum
We also stopped at the Mid America Air Museum where they said they had a big parking lot suitable for RV's. When I asked them if we could overnight they told us to help ourselves! A free night and airplanes, doesn't get much netter than that (For me anyway).

The road surface varies so much on this road as you go from State to State and even county to county. South Dakota was terrible with broken concrete and potholes shaking the rig for hours. Kansas was average, Oklahoma smooth, and Texas alternating between OK and horrible as we crossed from county to county.

Amarillo Elks Camping. HEY TWO REXHALLS!!
Finally we got to Amarillo where we decided to spend a week and explore, staying at the Eks Lodge which has water and electric hookups but no dump station. Our favorite truck stops “Flying J” has a place about 1 minutes away from the lodge and one of the reasons we like them is because they are RV friendly with dedicated RV fill stations complete with dump station and potable water fill. Even better they give discounts on the gas and dump fees for having a Good Sam membership and about 25% of them have our favorite Blue Beacon truck washes that we get the rig washed at.
Yes Amarillo is on rt 66

Not too far away is the official Mid Point of Rt 66
We have been to Amarillo before, once on the motorcycle and once passing thru going east, but we've never explored the area in depth. Searching thru some leaflets and googling “10 best things to see in Amarillo” brought up some likely spots.

One of the big sights is Palo Dura Canyon which is the second biggest canyon in North America after the Grand Canyon. It's a State Park rather than a National Park and was a CCC project in the 1930's. We drove all around it and stopped for a picnic along the way.
Palo Dura Canyon from the top

Red rocks at the bottom
Near there is the Plains History Museum in the city of Canyon. It's part of the Texas A&M campus and very impressive. It shows mans history in the area and how man has exploited the area from early days of hunting deer and mammoths to modern day oil and gas production. Exhibits have houses, wagons, cars, airplanes, oil drilling rigs. A full day is needed to see the whole thing.
From Dinosaurs to airplanes at the Plains Museum
Amarillo has a quirky side too! Most people have heard of the “Cadillac Ranch”. It's a living art statement. Old Cadillac cars are buried nose down in the ground and people can walk up to them and spray whatever they like on them so they change minute by minute. After years of this the paint is several inches thick in places. Unfortunately people just throw their empty paint cans in the dirt, together with their trash which I was disappointing at.
Cadillac Ranch

Our contribution
Not so well known is the “Slug Bug Ranch”. Similar to the Cadillac Ranch but with VW Beatles.
Slug Bug Ranch
Big draw here is the “Big Texas Steakhouse” which offers a FREE 72 ounce steak with all the fixings like baked potato, bread vegetables etc. BUT it's only free if you can eat the whole lot in less than an hour!! They do have a brewery too so we made do with a beer!
Big Texas home of the free 72 oz steak
The sign for the Big Texas is a huge cowboy in a yellow shirt. Big cowboys in yellow shirts must be important here as we found 2 more! One not far from the Cadillac Ranch. He has three Cadillacs next to him and the drivers are Elvis, John Wayne and who else but Willie Nelson! The third one has a quizzical look.
Called the "2nd Amendment Cowboy

3 Caddillacs driven by John Wayne, Willie Nelson and Elvis

The 3rd cowboy looking puzzled
We managed to fit in a visit to an RV museum which was very interesting. They had the bus from our favorite Robin Williams movie RV.
The bus from RV
Time to move on. We decided that New Mexico deserved some more exploring and perhaps we could ride the steam train at Chama. Off we go.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A little History in our lives.


Reluctantly, VERY reluctantly, we packed up and headed over to Fargo, North Dakota, and added another State to our list of states visited.

We had no previous knowledge of Fargo, I had seen that the Elks had a large parking lot and traveling Elks could park there. So off we went. The lodge was very welcoming and not only provided us with a free drink but pins and T Shirts too!

We set off to explore, Fargo appears to be a booming town with lots of new shopping centers and industry. They have several local Breweries and we sampled most of them! Fargo and Morehead are twin cities straddling the border between North Dakota and Minnesota, Morehead is home to a couple of very interesting Norwegian related objects. A Viking ship that was built by a local gentleman and sailed by his son's across the Atlantic to Norway, and a replica Stavkirk, the traditional Norwegian wooden church.
The Viking ship replica that sailed across the Atlantic

The Stavkirk
Fargo has an Air Museum but it was closed for most of our time there due to a special event. The website said it would reopen on Sunday but when we got there they were still working to clean up. One of the volunteers kindly opened the museum hanger for us and let us wander around for a couple of minutes.

Interior of the Stavkirk

All hand carved by one man
We were dry camping at the Elks and we've had a problem develop with our generator where it would fire up but die again. It got worse and now we couldn't recharge the batteries so we checked into a city campground for a night so we could get everything charged and dump our tanks.

The next day we did a dreary 200 miles of I94 which is dead straight and dead flat for most of the way. We took our customary break after 2 hours at Jamestown ND, which just happened to be the hometown of our friend from San Diego Loretta Armstrong. When she saw we were heading this was she told us we had to stop and see the giant Buffalo and the general store she used to hang around when she was younger. 

A 60 ton concrete Buffalo, well why not?
There was a Walmart to park at, a Tap House for lunch and the Buffalo was a mile down the road so we had good break. We bought some DVD's at a Goodwill and snacks at Dollar Tree too.

The day ended at the Bismarck Elks Lodge, again dry camping in a huge parking lot. The Lodge here is proud of it's bar. It dates from 1880 and such dignitaries as Teddy Roosevelt and Tom Mix have taken refreshment at it's counter during it's many travels around the Dakotas before it found it's present home in 1966.

Fiddling around with the generator and calling local stores to see if they had a fuel filter for it had me stumble on a free online Owners Manual for it. When I read the trouble shooting section they listed our condition, fires up but dies. Their corrective actions showed low oil as the first thing to check. And that was it! There is an oil pressure sensor and if the oil pressure doesn't get up to spec in a couple of seconds it kills the ignition. When I added about a pint of oil it ran just fine! DUHHH.

The generator, works great when you add oil!
Bismarck and Mandan are “Adjoined” towns. (like Minneapolis/St Paul). Mandan is also the name of the Native American Tribe in the area. Thru this area runs the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Mandan winter house
So where am I going with this??

Life is full of circles and coincidences.

When we moved to San Diego in 2006 it was to work on a new class of supply ships for the US Navy the T-AKE class. Classes of ships are named after the first ship in that class,

USNS Lewis and Clark
The first ship in the T-AKE class? USNS Lewis and Clark!
The second ship? USNS Sacagawea

OK here's where I have to address US History for our European friends and relatives.

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson, the President at that time cut a deal with Napoleon the French Emperor to buy the “Louisiana Territory”. This Territory wasn't just the current State of Louisiana however, It included just about all of the current USA west of the Mississippi!


In order to explore this vast new territory and to find a way cross country to the Pacific Jefferson organized an expedition named the Corps of discovery led by 2 army captains. Merriweather Lewis and William Clark.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition set off from St Louis Missouri and followed the Missouri River by boat and on foot until the winter got near.


They met a band of friendly Indians the Mandan's who helped feed them thru the winter.
Charbonneau, Lewis and Clark
The Expedition hired a French hunter trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. He had an Indian wife who was related to several other tribes along their prospective path and spoke several native languages, her name was Sacagawea.

The ships in the T-AKE class were named after Americans who were first in their field. Hence Lewis and Clark. The legend of Sacagawea taking the lead and translated for that expedition led to the second ship being named for her.

So there is the circle, my working life in shipbuilding, the move to San Diego, and our arrival in Bismarck/ Mandan with it's connections to Lewis and Clark.

Naturally we had to visit Fort Mandan, which is a recreation of the expeditions winter quarters, and to the Mandan Village National Monument.
Entrance to Fort Mandan
With so many coincidences and links going in, it was hardly surprising that when we got to the village there was a special event for school children going on and we were welcomed by the rangers and told to join in wherever we wanted.

Although Tipi's are associated with Indians, the Mandan didn't use them

Beautiful artwork on Buffalo hide.
As we made to leave I spotted a gentleman in Native Dress and we walked over to talk to him. He turned out to be Keith Bear a flute maker, player and songwriter of renown who has played with orchestras all over the world and has been nominated for a Grammy! We were treated to a talk about his flutes and songs and a sampling of his beautiful music.

Keith Bear

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Bena MN


That turned out to be a great decision and we enjoyed the trip and the company of a young couple who shared our table while celebrating their 1st wedding anniversary.

Overall a great stop on our trip, next we must head West.

So where could we go next? West is the direction but how far?


In stepped fate and we learned that our great friends Karen and Paul are not too far away in Bena MN for several weeks. The place they are at has an opening on Labor day after everyone else has left so we head across there.

We bump into Karen and Paul a couple of times a year and they stay at the same place in Casa Grande for the winter as we do, in fact they came to greet us the very first time we stayed there way, way back in time!

When we checked in at the office they said “Oh yes you're near Karen and Paul. The Lingren's will be arriving tomorrow” SURPRISE! Ed and Ruthanne who also stay in the resort in Casa Grande will be here too. They are the couple who told us about things to do in the UP and who we were going to stay with for a couple of nights before the area got flooded and they sold their place . What a happy time this was going to be. 

Then another surprise, Al and Marie who we had met in Casa Grande last year when Karen, Paul, Barbara and I went to a Neil Diamond tribute concert, live in this park for the summer!

Party time was right now!!

Meals out, happy hours, road trips, dinners at Al and Marie's place, Diary Queen. It was soon one long party and the 2 days we said we'd stay became 4 really quickly, and would have been a couple of weeks if we hadn't been determined to get on the road again.
L to R Me, Paul, Karen, Ruthanne, Ed and Barbara
We took one nice trip to Itasca State Park where the Mississippi River has it's source. A beautiful park and you can walk across the Mississippi on stepping stones or a log bridge.
Stepping stones across the Misissipi

Karen, Ruthanne and Barbara on the log bridge

Al and Marie are fanatical fishermen (Marie being the better one). Al is always looking for an excuse to go out in their boat and all the visitors gave him a perfect one.

Al and a Nothern Pike

Al said my fish was a "Rock Bass" I thought it was a Crappie
Soon we were out catching Perch, Northern Pike, Walleye, Crappies and “Rock Bass” in a local lake. They have a favorite tavern nearby where you bring the fish you catch and the restaurant prepares it for you. Fortunately Al and Marie had a freezer with enough fish for 8 as, despite catching lots of fish, we had only Paul's 4 keepers at the end of the day! The restaurant rolled the fish in flour and panko crumbs and cooked it to perfection.
Al and Marie on the right.

And great fishermen.

We staggered out of there stuffed to the gills so to speak!
Great name for a great restaurant.

The next evening Marie prepared a mountain of Chili and the last night together she force fed us on ribs! Boy can she cook, and all of us kept stuffing ourselves silly.
Karen and Paul
But the days are ticking by, the leaves are starting to change color and they remind us that we have to move on.
The leaves are turning and it's only the beginning of September.
Reluctantly, VERY reluctantly, we packed up and headed over to Fargo, North Dakota, and added another State to our list of states visited.