Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year to all our RVing friends and to our family who follow our travels and travails!

Mary and I are both hoping that 2012 will bring us as good and enjoyable a year as 2011 did. We had a wonderful long summer of travel, camping, sightseeing, and kayaking. We saw old friends and made some new ones and both old and new friends brought us a great deal of enjoyment.

In our summer of travel we first went to two different places in Iowa, one where we lived for seven years in the early days of my United Methodist ministry (after some 15 years of Baptist ministry). That was at the Churdan and Lanesboro United Methodist Charge and we lived in Churdan. We were able to worship with the Churdan church and visit some dear friends from our time there. We also visited some friends from our days in Perry, IA, who have since moved to Reinbeck. It was great to see all these people who have been part of our life for many years.

Our FIRST RV, 2006 Fleetwood Fiesta 26Q
After Iowa, we traveled through Missouri, stopping for a night in Peculiar, and then headed on into Oklahoma. We camped at a nice COE campground in eastern OK and then headed to Shawnee for the Fleetwood Motorhome Association Rally. Now that was an eventful week! We met some friends from the previous year's rally and made some new friends. We learned new things in educational seminars (on different aspects of RV living). We bought some handy things and we looked at LOTS of new motorhomes. Before the week was over (actually as the week was coming to an end), to our great surprise, we bought a NEW 2012 Fleetwood Terra 34E Class A Motorhome!

The NEW RV, 2012 Fleetwood Terra 34E
It actually wasn't easy to say goodbye to our 2006 Fiesta 26Q, our very first motorhome. It was a great choice as a first RV and will always hold a special place in our memories. However, the Terra 34E is proving to be a great home on wheels. In making this move, we went from 27' with no slides to 34' with two slides. That was a lot of increase in square footage.

After Shawnee, we drove across OK to the panhandle of Texas after a short stop in Oklahoma City to get some warranty work done on our NEW motorhome. That would be our first of multiple stops for warranty work we would have to get done. One of the things we learned in this experience is that RV manufacturers seem to rely on dealer service departments to finish the last 5-10% of the manufacturing and quality checking process. We have repeatedly been assured that this is not uncommon at all.

In TX we visited the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, just south of Amarillo. From there we headed into New Mexico. Fourth of July was at Brantley Lake State Park in southeastern NM where we also visited Carlsbad Caverns. We drove from there to Las Cruces where we played tourist while some more warranty work was done on the coach. We got to see White Sands Missile Range Museum and the White Sands National Monument while we were there.

From Las Cruces, we drove to Albuquerque where we spent several days seeing the sights and visiting a dear friend from my days as Housing Mediator for Small Claims Court in Dane County, WI. Next, we drove north to Santa Fe where we camped for a week and traveled around in the "toad," our Honda Fit Sport. We also went to Taos while we were camped in Santa Fe.

After three weeks in NM, we headed north to Colorado where we stopped in Salida for several days along the Arkansas River. There we were able to get in some hiking and enjoyed watching the white water and stunt kayakers playing in the river. We also got to ride the Royal Gorge Railroad route up into the Royal Gorge on the old route of the Denver and Rio Grande Western RR. In the course of taking that trip, we decided that one of our RV goals would be to ride every operating tourist railroad in the US (there are MANY of them!).

We headed home after Colorado enjoying the leisurely travel that an RV affords. We camped in Nebraska and Iowa on the way home. After a short while at home in Beloit, WI, we headed out on phase 2 of our summer, heading first into NW WI. We rode another tourist RR and kayaked with some friends from our days in Baraboo, WI. Then we went over to Eagle River and kayaked several of the lakes over there. Another of our goals is to kayak in every one of the chain of lakes around Eagle River and Three Lakes. There are something like 27 lakes in the chain that are joined together.

After a few days camped near Green Bay so we could visit Mary's sister, Kitty, we finally headed for home in Beloit just before it was time for Mary to return to her teaching and librarian duties in Madison. All told we were on the road nine of the twelve weeks that were available for travel in the summer of 2011.

Over the next few months, I'll be working at planning the trip that begins in the summer of 2012. It is my hope and intention to write about that planning so others can follow the development of the trip and maybe even make some suggestions about places to go and see during that trip. The 2012 trip is going to head toward the Northeastern United States. We'll hit the Fleetwood Motorhome Association Rally at the end of June in Indiana. From there we'll head further east. We will definitely make stops in the Adirondack Mountains in or near Saranac Lake where we lived for five years when we were first married. We'll try to connect with some friends remaining in the area from those days. We'll also plan to visit Barb and Mike Hemken in Glens Falls, NY (another of Mary's sisters) plus visiting some other friends in NY. From there, we don't know where we'll go or how long we'll be gone. We will come back to WI at some point to do some more kayaking in the lakes of the chain around Three Lakes. As we encounter tourist RRs we'll also take some trips to continue to reach that goal. So if you've got some "must see" places in the NE states, I invite you to make your recommendations and suggestions of places worth a visit.

Happy NEW YEAR to all of you. I look forward to traveling with you or having you travel with us through what I'm able to write about our rambling and rving in retirement. The big question of the year is whether or not Mary will join me in retirement and what we'll do after that if she does. Full-timing is definitely a consideration.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back on the Road
August 8-11
Outside Sarona, WI

Here we sit at Whitetail Ridge Campground and RV Park located between Sarona and Shell Lake, WI. For those who need a quick lesson in WI geography, that's located in the northwestern part of the state, north of Eau Claire up Highway 53. We left home on Monday, drove up here and camped for these four nights. Tomorrow we'll head a few miles south to New Auburn to connect with our friends Mark and Gloria Carlson from Baraboo. They have a lake home outside New Auburn where we'll spend the weekend. By leaving here before the weekend, we'll miss out on the opportunity to see Gilbert Brown and Santana Dodson of the Green Bay Packers who'll be here for a fundraising camp for a charitable foundation.

We came up here to Whitetail Ridge to be near Spooner and the Wisconsin Great Northern Railway. One of our traveling goals is to ride each of the operating tourist railroads in the U.S. That will take quite a while since there are hundreds of them! This was a 2-1/4 hour ride on about twelve miles of railroad. We started out in a regular passenger car that had been remodeled for the "dinner train" that the WGN runs (we were just on the noon train and that is NOT a dinner train). The conductor, being a friendly fellow, stopped to chat with us after the train got underway and then sat down and we had quite the conversation with this retired railroader who now volunteers two days a week as a conductor for the WGN. Just as we were reaching the north end of the run, he came back to our seat and quietly asked would we like to ride in the engine on the ride back! We certainly would! So we were led through the next car and told to sit tight and wait. After the train stopped, we were escorted to the engine. Here's a picture of the S-1 Switch Engine that was powering the train for the day. After that is a picture of me standing in the doorway of the engine, the engineer's area, and me sitting in the fireman's seat.

Wisconsin Great Northern S-1

In the doorway of S-1 Switch Engine

Engineer's Console for S-1 Switch Engine

On the fireman's seat of an S-1 Switcher
The train ride itself was just a jaunt through the northern Wisconsin woods with regular glimpses of the road and many trees along the way. We went past the Namekagon River but didn't get to cross it.

We also went to Spooner's very fine Railroad Memories Museum located in what remains of the old Spooner train station.

Spooner Railroad Memories Museum
(with F-7 of Wisconsin Great Northern in the background)

There were thirteen rooms of railroad history and memorabilia. It was truly a fine place to visit.

The train trip was on Tuesday. On Wednesday we had a slow morning ending with me on an hour long coaching call with my mentor coach. This was the final session of my year-long course of study for International Coach Federation certification (I still have to get enough hours of coaching in to qualify for that certification but have gone a long way toward it!). Then we went up to Spooner again to see the Canoe Museum that is located there. It was interesting but was a bit overpriced at $4.00 per person for a two room museum. They did have some very beautiful and interesting canoes and the best part of the visit was the opportunity to go into the shop area where they were both refurbishing old canoes and building some new ones. These are finely crafted wood or wood and canvas canoes so they are truly works of art!

Just what the sign says!

In front of the workshop at the Canoe Heritage Museum
(volunteer is restoring a 1930s era wooden canoe)

Today, Thursday, we put our kayaks in Long Lake (the largest lake in Washburn County, WI) and paddled around for a couple of hours. We got plenty of sun and water and had a good time.

Long Lake

Long Lake

We came back to the campground for lunch and in mid afternoon ran out to Shell Lake for ice cream, which we enjoyed sitting near the Shell Lake beach looking out on (what do you expect) Shell Lake! It's a tough life but somebody's got to do it!

This catches you up with us. Tomorrow we move on. We'll go to New Auburn, then over to Eagle River, down to Green Bay, and finally to Baraboo where we'll finish our summer's travels. But that won't be for a while yet, so follow along with us as we go!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Days 37-41
23-27 July 2011
Howard, CO, and home

It always happens at the end of a trip! We head for home and get there and I don't take time to wrap up the narrative which leaves a loose end hanging. I'm going to try to correct that this time (although we've already been home for several days and I'm just now taking the time to write).

We are home in Beloit for a few days. We'll be back on the road in a week doing some exploring of Northern WI and visiting some good friends. We're looking forward to being back on the road.

But let's catch up with where we were and what we were doing. Saturday, 23 July, we drove over to Canon City (Blogger doesn't seem to have the Spanish en-ye character or at least I can't find it so hear Canyon when I write Canon in this sentence) to ride the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. This three hour train excursion leaves Canon City on tracks of the former Denver and Rio Grande Railway and travels twelve miles through the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River and then back the twelve miles to Canon City. It is an AWESOME ride. The Gorge itself is spectacular and for an old rail buff  (be REAL careful with the "old"; I just mean a long-time rail buff) like myself it was a real treat to ride the trail and see the story unfold along the tracks.

I'm only going to post a few pictures with this part of the story. My next goal is to post a series of pictures from the places with visited. But here's the Royal Gorge ride:

A view from the train of The Royal Gorge Route

Rafters on the Arkansas River IN the Royal Gorge

The Royal Gorge Bridge, 1053 feet above the floor of the Gorge

The Royal Gorge Bridge again

The train and the river on the return route

Sunday the 24th was kind of a wind-down, catch-up day. We went to church at the First United Methodist Church of Salida, CO. The pastor there is the Rev. Margaret Gillikin who, as a student pastor when she was at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, served a WI Conference church (I think she said at Brandon, WI). She gave a splendid message, one of the best I've heard in a long time, and it was a delight to meet her. After church we checked in at the Arkansas River to watch the kayakers and waterboarders ride the waves of the rapids. It was fun watching them. Although I enjoy my kayak (and we're going to try to take them with us on the next trip), what there were doing was far beyond my abilities or interests at this time in life. Performance stunt kayaking is for the young not the gently aging! We watched forward flips, reverse flips, rolls, turns, and wave riding and were simply amazed at their abilities. Here's a link to the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, a Colorado State Park. We enjoyed watching them. Can you tell?

Monday saw us leaving Banderas Bunkhouse and heading out on the road again. We had to come down from the Colorado mountains (we were in the Sangre de Cristo range which we had also been in when we were in Santa Fe, NM) and head east. There was a good bit of construction on part of the route, but it wasn't a major difficulty. It just slowed us down. The new coach is not a speed-demon in the mountains (read: we climb up pretty slow, like a loaded semi) but it does manage the downhill grades pretty well with the engine brake helping control down-shifting of the transmission and keeping the driver's foot off the brakes. So we came out of the mountains and through the Front Range of Colorado, drove through a part of Kansas, and arrived the Johnson Lake State Recreation Area outside Lexington, Nebraska, fairly late in the evening, having traveled well over 450 miles (which is a LONG day for an RVer). Johnson Lake won't be our favorite stop of the trip (the facilities are a bit sparse), but it was an excellent spot to stop for the night, enjoy a nice evening and a pretty lake, and get on the road the next morning.

On Tuesday, we drove across Nebraska and into Iowa, in fact, most of the way across Iowa, stopping for the night at the Kellogg RV Park in Kellogg, IA, which also happens to be the home of the "Iowa's Best Burger Cafe." Of course, we had to sample the burger to see if it really was. Now I don't know if it is really the BEST burger in Iowa, but I can tell you that they make a mighty good burger! Now this is a stopping place that we want to remember. It is a decent day's drive from home in Beloit and has good facilities for the traveler and the owners are very nice to deal with. They've got it all, pull-through sites, full-hookups (IF you want them; we just went for W/E [that is, a water and electric hookup site]), a cafe with good food and ice cream, and a gas station. They even had TREES! Many of the western campgrounds are sorely lacking in good shade trees so we enjoyed being back in the shade.

Wednesday, 27 July and Day 41 of our trip, saw us getting home to Beloit. The new coach FILLS the driveway! I probably could have fit a 36 or maybe a 37 footer into the drive, but if we'd bought a 40 foot coach it would have stuck out into the street. Thirty-four feet was a pretty full driveway! Of course, the coach doesn't live at home. After unloading, we drove it (the next day) to it's full-time parking place in a storage lot.

It was quite a trip! We had a lot of fun, only a few frustrations (mostly due to dealing with McClain's RV over the purchase of the coach, but don't get me started on them!). It's nice to be home, but we're both looking forward to heading out again in a week after we take care of some business and family matters. I see you on down the road. Thanks for following our adventures and travels.

--Forrest and Mary

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Days 31-36
17-22 July 2011
Santa Fe & Taos, NM, and Howard, CO

I think I'm about to lose control of my reporting of our trip. It seems like I'm missing days! Actually they're not missing, I'm just forgetting all that we managed to pack into the days! And I'm not making the time to write every day. That's what happens when you're having fun AND when the wi-fi connection is less than reliable.

Let's go back to Sunday, 17 July, when we were in Santa Fe. It was a slow and relaxed day. We needed that. Honestly, I don't even remember what we did other than shop for groceries. That's what happens when you don't write every day.

Monday, 18 July, was another Taos day. We drove up to Taos and took the Trolley Tour. It was a three hour ride that gave us an overview of the town, a bit of narrative, and, most importantly, took us to the Taos Pueblo.

There aren't any pictures of the Taos Pueblo since we didn't pay for the license to take pictures. On the way home, however, we passed by Camel Rock on one of the other pueblo's reservation.

Tuesday, 19 July, was our last day in Santa Fe. We went back downtown to pick up a few souvenir gifts, wandered around, looked at the city one more time and found a delightful little place called Maria's where we had a marguerita (choosing from 170 different varieties, with the most expensive costing $58.00 per glass ... and that was NOT the one we ordered) and a delicious New Mexican meal. Maria's may have been the best meal we have had all trip! Gotta love those green chilies!

Wednesday, 20 July, was a driving day. We left Los Rancheros de Santa Fe RV Park, and headed north to Colorado. We had our fill of heat and smoke in the air from forest fires and decided to look for cooler heights. So we drove to the mountains of central Colorado. We drove north on US 285 across Poncha Pass giving me my first experience of crossing a fairly significant mountain, climbing up, over, and down the pass (not a terribly high one although it was over 9,000 feet). We are camped outside Howard, CO, at Bandera's Bunkhouse and RV Park. It's right on the Arkansas River.

Thursday, 21 July. Today we drove from our campground in Howard, CO, back into Salida. We visited the Visitors' Center and the San Isabel National Forest office and then went to the historic Salida downtown. We took the walking tour of the town and spent a lot of time watching the kayakers playing in the rapids of the Arkansas River.  They are definitely WAY above my class of kayaking! Although we did watch one kayaker get flipped over who couldn't right himself and who had to slip out to the kayak underwater to get free and who then got separated from his kayak and washed down the fast flowing Arkansas River, much to the horror of his girlfriend (or wife) who was in another kayak at that rapids. Obviously they were taking a lesson because the guy teaching them took off like the proverbial shot, paddling downriver the fastest I've ever seen a kayaker paddle. They went a long way down river before the teacher caught up with the floating student (wearing a life jacket and special cold water kayak clothing) and it was 15-20 minutes before we saw the two returning walking up the shore carrying their kayaks. We also saw a dog playing in the water who had to get rescued from the undertow of a "hole". He just wasn't strong enough to swim out and was getting sucked underwater. Fortunately one of his owners was able to reach him to save him. No pictures of the dramas since we were too busy watching them unfold.

Friday, 22 July, was a hiking day. We went up the road to Monarch Pass, not quite reaching the top, and headed up the trail to Waterdog Lakes. It is a short trail, 2 miles or so, UP! And UP! And UP! And we actually got started on the wrong trail, but it joined up with the Waterdog Lakes Trail so we were fine.

Lower Waterdog Lake
(notice the snow in the peaks?)


Upper Waterdog Lake
(and here the snow comes right down to the lake)

Upper Waterdog Lake
looking up at the Continental Divide

My favorite hiking partner

Mary at Upper Waterdog Lake
We both felt the effects of the 11,000+ feet of altitude on the hike and were glad we hadn't tried one of the longer walks we could have selected.

Today, Saturday the 23rd, we are going to ride the Royal Gorge Scenic Railway up the gorge from Canon City (pronounced Canyon City) and see the Royal Gorge Bridge.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Days 26-31
12-17 July 2011
Albuquerque & Santa Fe

I really didn't forget about you all! And I haven't been lazy, either! I've just been wrapped up in enjoying our summer trip and haven't made the time to write. And once you get behind, it is hard to catch up! I'll see what I can do this morning.

I'll have to go back to Tuesday, the 12th. We spent the day seeing such things as the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History and the ABQ BioPark where we saw the Biological Gardens and Aquarium. They made for a fun day with such highlights as the butterfly house at the Biological Gardens and all of the tanks of interesting fish at the Aquarium.

At the Nuclear Science Museum, I saw the history of an era that has occupied all of my life. There were mockups of atomic bombs, rockets and airplanes (the real things), and stories of the development of the atomic bomb and its imfluence on culture and society. There were floor plans for bomb shelters. I used to wonder why my parents didn't have one like they were "supposed" to. (Nobody I knew did but the Civil Defense sure did put out the material to persuade us of the necessity of being ready to survive nuclear attack!) New Mexico played a pivotal role in the development of the atomic age. And because of my past visits to Oak Ridge in Tennessee (and to my Uncle Herbert [Taylor] and Aunt Nan who lived there), I knew some of the details of that history, but New Mexico's several related sites that we have visited have added to that.

The highlight of the 12th, however, was an evening dinner with my good friend Debra Burke Rockman. The dinner at El Pinto was great (I had the stuffed sopalillas), but the company was truly excellent. Deb and I caught up on what had happened since we last were together 12 years ago, reminisced about our time together in the Housing Mediation Program of Madison's Tenant Resource Center, and Mary got acquainted with Deb for the first time (although she's certain heard enough about Deb in the past). Thank you for a GREAT evening, Deb! Let's not wait so long for the next time!

On Wednesday, 13 July, we traveled from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. After a leisurely morning, we made the drive up the mountains. The V-10 Ford engine in this motorhome does have to work pretty hard in these mountains, particularly since it is pulling a car too. I did manage to pass a truck or two crawling up the grade although I sure got passed by a lot of other vehicles. Everything went well, though, and even the downgrades weren't too bad thanks for the automatic engine braking system that this coach includes. We are camped for the week at the Rancheros de Santa Fe RV Park. On Wednesday, we just made the drive and got settled in for the day.

Can you see the bunny under our table?

Thursday, 14 July, was my 64th birthday. One year from Medicare (if it still exists in a year -- don't worry, I'm not going to go political; I save that for my facebook page as my friends know). We quickly headed off for the Santa Fe visitors center to collect information on the area.

After arming ourselves with a stack of brochures, maps, and other assorted pieces of paper, we immediately crossed the street to tour the New Mexico State Capitol building, also called "The Roundhouse". It is a great piece of contemporary architecture influenced by the history and cultures of New Mexico. Part of what that means is that like almost everything else in Santa Fe it is made to look like it is an adobe constructed building (and some of them actually are made of adobe, too). After that we went on a walking tour (self-led) of the historic area of Santa Fe. The capitol building also has a fine display of New Mexican art.

We saw the oldest house in USAmerica, the San Miguel Mission  and toured the Loretto Chapel with it's amazing free-standing staircase. We toured the Plaza with its countless stores and vendors.

The "oldest house" in the U.S.

The Spiral Staircase of Loretta Chapel
Two complete 360-degree turns,
no visible means of support and no nails

The highlight of the day was dinner at Thomasita's Restaurant. It had been recommended to us by a local. The food was quite good, but not the best I've had. Still, it was a delightful evening with my favorite friend, wife, and dining companion, Mary.

Friday, 15 July, we had a slow morning, did the laundry, and then headed off to Santa Fe (the campground is actually about 10 miles southeast of Santa Fe) where we toured the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum,  which was interesting but we both agreed that (1) we were disappointed that more actual paintings by O'Keeffe were not on display (they had a lot of paintings by those who had influenced her and who were contemporaries) and (2) that Georgia O'Keeffe was not our favorite artist.  We then went back to the Plaza and its marketplace where we bought a black-on-black pottery "summer" owl made by Merton and Linda Sisneros of the Santa Clara Pueblo near Espanola, NM. Merton gave us a good lesson in the lore of the owl and of the Santa Clara Pueblo, and the little owl will grace our RV in it's travels. May it give us the wisdom and enlightenment of the bird it symbolizes.

For the evening, we went to the free open hours of the Palace of the Governors, the New Mexico History Museum and the Museum of Art. Built in 1610, the Palace of the Governors is the oldest structure in continuous public use in the United States. Outside the Palace, under the portal, is where we found Merton Sisneros and his pottery and many other Native artists/potters/craftsman. The portal is restricted to the Native American artisans. Others are across the street in the Plaza itself. The New Mexico History Museum is a very well done presentation of the long history of New Mexico and its peoples and cultures. This is a tremendously diverse state and the museum was an excellent way to get a grasp of the many cultures that have influenced its history and nature. The Museum of Arts was good, but I think we were getting too "art and museum-ed" out to fully appreciate it.

Saturday the 16th was spent in Taos. We drove the High Road to Taos. I sure am glad I was driving the car and not the motorhome! The road is beautiful but it sure is winding. We did see many CLOSED signs in the National Forest due to the fire danger that exists in New Mexico. We also saw smoke from fires that are burning in the distance from where we are.

Along the way, we stopped at El Sanctuario de Chimayo, a place of "holy ground." As a person of faith, I am always interested in the faith experiences and expressions of others. El Sanctuario is a Roman Catholic shrine, but one catches a sense of the Holy regardless of one's own personal religious or spiritual sensibilities. It was a good visit.

El Sanctuario de Chimayo

We had hoped to catch the tour that would take us to Taos Pueblo, but the drive took longer than we expected (partly due to the time we spent in Chimayo and we wanted to eat some lunch, so we decided to catch the Pueblo on our second trip to Taos which would probably be Monday. Instead, after lunch at El Taoseno, which seems to be a favorite of the local residents. It was a good New Mexican-style meal.

After lunch, we wandered the Plaza in Taos. I let myself purchase a silver-mounted turquoise ring, something that is rare for me. I simply don't focus much on jewelry, but this one called out to me and fit so well that it just had to grace my finger!

We also drove northwest of Taos to see the Rio Grande River Gorge and High Bridge. What an amazing sight!

We then returned home along the Rio Grande River route, stopped and shopped at the most frustrating Walmart grocery I've ever seen and came home for supper. That's life through 16 July.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Days 23-25
9-11 July 2011
Albuquerque, NM

Saturday the 9th we drove up from Las Cruces to Albuquerque. It was a relatively easy drive and went well. We're camped at Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post. The main building is the "trading post" and dates back to the late 1940s as a site on the old Route 66, the "Mother Road" of USAmerica. It is also called "America's Main Street." The Enchanted Trails trading post has a lot of character and the RV Park is pretty good. We actually have a tree to provide some (limited) shade. There are also some classic trailers that can be rented as places to stay while here.

On Sunday, we visited the Petroglyph National Monument. Unfortunately, due to the fires and fire danger in the area, only one of the trails, the Rinconada Canyon trail, was open. We took the 1-1/4 mile trail (1-1/4 mile in and 1-1/4 mile out). We saw petroglyphs all along the trail, but most of them were located at the head of the canyon. Although it was another scorcher of a day, the walk was great fun and quite interesting. After the visit to see the petroglyphs, we drove to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, wanting to be there in time to catch the 2 p.m. native dances.

The IPCC is one of the best museums we have ever visited! It is exceptionally well done. The exhibits are informative and well laid out, the activities are pertinent, and the restaurant is very good! (Yes, there is a full restaurant in the IPCC, the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, and it was our stopping place for a late lunch/early dinner.)

One of interesting and informative displays was "INDIVISIBLE", a Smithsonian Institute traveling exhibit. The exhibit is about African-Native American lives in the Americas. I want to applaud the IPCC for sponsoring this exhibit which has to be controversial in the First Nations community since it is the story of the coming together of African and Native Americans and the resulting genetic mix of both traditions/origins and the difficulties which the African-Native Americans experience in both Native American and white USAmerican cultures. It was an eye-opener to a subject that had not been very much in my consciousness.

The dances were fun to watch and the commentary provided insight into the cultural and traditional expressions that are present in these dances. I appreciated and admired the stamina of the young people who danced in the HOT sunlight, seemingly with inexhaustible energy. I'm sure they were exhausted after the dances. The dances all had spiritual significance and were explained as prayers and communication with the Spirit. I had thought about videotaping some of the dances and putting them on here, but I know I don't think it's appropriate for people to tape my prayers and so I didn't tape theirs. And it kind of bothered me that others didn't feel any restraint from photographing and videoing the dances. But, in all fairness, the IPCC had said that photographs were okay.

The Pueblo Harvest Cafe provided us with the first experience of the classic New Mexican question, "Red or Green?" The question is asking whether we want red chilies or green chilies on our food. I wimped out and said "Christmas" which means "give me both". Mary picked green. Green chilies are the livelier of the two and the red are the more mellow. Both were good (although I drank more than my usual allotment of water, which I completely attributed to the dehydration due to the long walk in the hot sun at the Petroglyphs National Monument). We both had enchiladas (mine with chicken) and they were good!

Monday we took a leisurely morning with a good walk ... which just happened to take us to the Camping World store which is next door to Enchanted Trails. After a few strategic purchases made necessary by the purchase of our new coach, we walked back, ate lunch, and then headed off to Old Town Albuquerque. We could have driven down I-40 to the proper exit and been right at the Old Town area. Instead, we chose to drive down the route of the historic Route 66 which goes right past our RV Park. The drive down "Nine Mile Hill" was interesting. It is a LONG constantly downhill drive to the Rio Grande River. We crossed the river and were quickly at Old Town. It is a market of everything you might want to buy. Many old adobe buildings, open plazas and courtyards, and interesting people were the order of the day. We both "shopped 'til we dropped" without actually purchasing anything. I seriously considered buying one of the Tilley hats which are perfect for walking around in this kind of sunlight but since they run about $75, I decided to pass. Although it is still tempting. They have a lifetime guarantee against wearing out. And for the first two years are insured against loss. Quite a deal! We saw lots of beautiful pottery and jewelry and many other items of "classic" tourist junk. And we didn't buy any of it.

Today (Tuesday) will be our last day here in Albuquerque. We're still deciding where we'll go for the day, but are looking forward to tonight when we'll meet Debra Burke Rockman and her boys for supper in one of the local eateries. Deb and I were part of the Housing Mediation Program of the Tenant Resource Center in Madision, WI. Deb was actually the coordinator that I worked for as a volunteer and then I took her place on staff after she moved to New Mexico. I'm looking forward to reconnecting and catching up with all that has transpired in her life since we last saw each other.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Days 21-22
7-8 July 2011
Las Cruces, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument is an out of this world experience! That's where we went on Thursday. We had an ambitious agenda for the day. We'd head over the mountains, see the White Sands Missile Range and Missile Park, run on up to White Sands National Monument, and continue on up to Alamagordo to see the town and the Space Museum.

Well, the White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park turned out to be quite an interesting place. We spent much more time there than we anticipated. That's okay. It was a fun tour, quite informative, and even evoked some old memories as we saw the manuals that used to be distributed on how to make a bomb shelter for protection against atomic bomb fallout, civil defense "barrels"  of supplies that used to be placed in public bomb shelters in anticipation of "THE Day"! I also saw radio equipment reminiscent of those I used to dream about from military surplus. There was also a great deal about the history of the area that became White Sands Proving Grounds and then White Sands Missile Range. Sitting outside the museum is a missile "park" with dozens of missiles sitting there to be viewed and to get a grasp of the U.S. efforts in building guided missiles. There was an original V-2 rocket brought over from Germany after WW II (they had to keep it it in a special building to protect it from the elements since it is now old and fragile; it is still an impressive rocket). The highlight of the park is the Redstone missile that was so instrumental in the early space program, but there are lots of interesting smaller missiles. I'd show you pictures, but we were given to understand that if we did take pictures, we'd be treated as spies and taken out in the desert and summarily shot (or some other similar horror). We did get to take a few (legally) by shooting "towards the mountains" only. I'll have to get them from Mary's camera and put them up.

That's one of our divisions of labor. I write the story, she takes the pictorial documentation. Unfortunately, that also means that we don't always get the two together for publishing this blog, thus the paucity of photographic material.

After the missile stop, we drove on to the White Sands National Monument. What an amazing place! In the words of their website:

 Like No Place Else on Earth
Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert creating the world's largest gypsum dunefield.

 White. White extending for miles. White white. On a 100 degree day in the desert. Somehow or another we escaped serious sunburn (due to serious use of sun block). We consumed LOTS of water too.

The gypsum "sand" is amazingly fine. It reflected the heat and wasn't unbearably hot even though it was a blazing hot day. We saw lizards and skinks but NO rattlesnakes (fortunately).

We stayed long enough at White Sands that we didn't get to go on to Alamogordo. That's was unfortunate, but means we still have something to see when we come back to NM.

Friday was a slower day. I took the coach in for one more warranty item. Unfortunately the part didn't get in so it came home unfixed. It's not a big deal. The co-pilot's chair swivel mechanism lock is broken but since it's in lock position it's safe. We just can't use the recliner feature until it gets fixed. While we were waiting to hear about the coach, we went to the Las Cruces Railroad Museum. Small but fun. Then we went to Dripping Springs.

Dripping Springs is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) site. It used to be a resort and a tuberculosis sanatorium. What it was for us was a delightful hike up to the mountains. Here in this part of NM, the mountains just kind of jump up out of the desert. You drive through the desert with a gradual rise and all of a sudden the rocks just sprout from the ground, rise to the heights and then drop back down again. That means that there are some steep mountain faces. In this case, the resort and sanatorium facilities were built right up against the point where the rocks spring from the desert.

The scenery here is so different from what we are used to that it is all awe inspiring.

Today (Saturday) we'll move on to the Albuquerque area.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Days 18-20
4-6 July 2011
4 July - Brantley Lake State Park, Carlsbad, NM
5-6 July - Siesta RV, Las Cruces, NM

I've been pretty quite the past few days. Some of it was resting time. Some of it was busy doing stuff.

We spent the 4th of July not doing much at all, just resting after a busy few days. It was a good holiday. For fireworks, we drove over to the overlook at Brantley Lake State Park and watched the fireworks in two nearby towns, Carlsbad and Artesia. We'd look south and ooh and aah, then we'd look north and do the same. We were too far away to have the noise of the fireworks (although my problem ear didn't mind that at all since LOUD noises hurt) and the visuals were small but we enjoyed it.

On the 5th of July we drove from the Carlsbad area through El Paso, TX, to Las Cruces, NM. And I got my first experience of driving in the western mountains courtesy of the Guadalupe Mountains. Let me tell you, that Terra's Ford V-10 works hard when it's climbing and is LOUD. And when descending and the engine break cuts in since I'm in "Tow/haul" mode, it gets even LOUDER! It's not speed demon but it works. (I wonder how the Chevy 8.1 L Vortec in the Fiesta would have handled those grades? I know it didn't have the engine braking mode and I had to be careful to downshift early but it sure did have power!)

We are now camped at the Siesta RV Park in Las Cruces very near to the Old Mesilla area and even nearer to the Sunland RV dealership whose service department has agreed to take time to work on some of the warranty issues we have already experienced (I spared all of you my rant over the problems with Fleetwood's Quality Control in the manufacturing process but let's just say I have some issues with Fleetwood RV, Inc., BUT they are addressing them.)

Today, the 6th, we took the coach to Sunland where they did great work on many of the issues, solving several major issues, and only had to order one part. So I guess we'll be in Las Cruces through Friday at least.

While the coach was being worked on, we took the car (that's why we've towed it all this way!) and went to Old Mesilla, the site of the territorial courthouse where Billy the Kid was convicted and sentenced to death. The building still exists, but today it is a store. We walked around the old town looking at southwestern architecture and reading about local history and checking out local art galleries. Lunch was at La Posta de Mesilla, an historic restaurant with good New Mexican food. Mary had a couple of Compas (tostados) and I had rolled tacos. Both plates were good. Even better was the cold water to drink since the day is another scorcher, hitting 99 degrees (and even at 7 pm MDT it is still 95 degrees). That's why I'm glad we have two working air conditioners in the coach.

Tomorrow, we'll head over to White Sands and Alamagordo to check out that part of the area.

Speaking of the coach, let me give you some pictures (courtesy of Fleetwood) that show our new abode on wheels:

Floorplan of the Terra 34E
(By the way, we have all the options listed)

Driver's "cockpit"

Kitchen Area

Upper Woodwork and Storage in the Living Area Slide

Bedroom Closet and Storage
(we have a TV mounted in the area over the shelf)

Another View of the Drawers and Storage in the Bedroom

Queen-sized Bed and Slide Out

Dinette Area and Adjacent Couch
(note the storage drawer under the dinette/couch area on the left)

Front of Coach with Overhead Queen-size Bed Lowered

Front Area of Coach with Bed Raised and Recliner Out

Living Area

Co-Pilot's Recliner

Bathroom Shower and Vanity Area
As I said, these photographs are courtesy of Fleetwood's promotional material. Our coach looks much like this with some very minor differences: a different lamp shade and a tv in the bedroom.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Day 16-17
2-3 July 2011
Brantley Lake State Park,
near Carlsbad, NM

What an interesting and fantastic two days! The reliability of my internet connection comes and goes, so I hope I get to finish and publish this posting.

I'm using my Samsung Mesmerize cell phone as a tethered hot spot (legally too! I pay U S Cellular for the privilege of using my 5 Gb of data each month for computer connections. It often works but every once in a while (usually when I'm data roaming), it objects and will not connect to the internet even though the computer and and cell phone hot spot will connect.

Yesterday, Friday, 2 July, Mary and I went to Carlsbad Cavern National Park. When we left home, we weren't sure we'd get to see the cavern since one of New Mexico's several forest fires was located there. And was it ever there! Burned vegetation was visible right to the edge of the parking lot at the visitors' center. Literally. We walked over to the edge of the parking lot and looked out over a whole canyon of burned desolation and could reach out and touch the burned vegetation without leaving the pavement. 

However, this fire is out and people can see Carlsbad Cavern. All the guided tours were booked (they say reservations in the summer can be very hard to come by) so we took two self-guided tours assisted by the recorded narration (which is really quite well done). We walked down the Natural Entrance trail (a one hour continuous descent) and then toured the BIG Room (that was an hour and a half walk around the perimeter of the room).

I grew up in cave-rich Tennessee and lived in Kentucky, home of Mammoth Cave, so I am no stranger to caves. I've even crawled around in a few on my hands and knees exploring dark, narrow, wet passages. Carlsbad is a beautiful cavern. The tour route is well planned and the stories of this and other caves in the area are well told. The formations are amazing and beautiful and the cave itself is HUGE! 

Mary, on the other hand, had NEVER been in a cave! (There are very few caves in Wisconsin where she grew up.) She was constantly in awe of the amazing sights before her. She doesn't like edges that look out over deep holes, but the rails along the trail enabled her to go to the edge and take in the wonderful vistas before us.

We did not try to take any pictures IN the cave. Caves do not lend themselves to good pictures, particularly those with big rooms that stretch out beyond the reach of a weak flash on a camera. Besides, there were other picture takers constantly messing with my dark vision through the flashes of their cameras and I decided that I didn't need to do that to others or myself. So the pictures of Carlsbad will live forever in my mind.

We spent over 2-1/2 hours down in the cave. We could have spent another 1-1/2 hours walking out but we decided we were both hungry and so we rode the elevator 754 vertical feet in under a minute! That thing travels.

After the cave exploration, we toured the grounds of the National Park. Normally there are excellent hiking trails to be walked. However, the fire has curtailed that. We did walk out through one area to an overlook where the trail ran through a totally burned out section of the park. Cooked cactii are not very pretty! And there were plenty of rocks that clearly had "exploded" (at least at their surface level) due to the extreme heat of the fire.  There are still fires in New Mexico. Fortunately the one near Los Alamos is being controlled which means that in another week it MAY be possible for us to visit LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory). There is another fire in Cloudcroft which lies between us and our next destination of Las Cruces. We may have to go through El Paso to get there instead of taking the mountain road that is much prettier (and, I will admit, much hairy-er to drive in a Motor Home).

Later that afternoon, we went to the Living Desert and Zoo State Park in Carlsbad. That was a lot of fun. They have exhibits of the flora of a desert. The Chihuahuan Desert of NM is a "living desert" and has the greatest bio-diversity of any desert in North America (there are four of them; did you know that?). They also had representative samples of the wildlife to be found in the desert, birds, hooved animals, BIG cats, bear, elk, and others, including huge tarantulas, scorpions, and nasty looking rattlessnakes (all of which were WELL caged, mind you!).

Today, Saturday, July 3, we drove back up the road to Roswell, home of the "incident" in 1947 that has fueled the fantasies and speculations of generations of UFO-believers. The first weekend in July is the Annual Roswell UFO Festival so there was a lot going on. I didn't realize that I shared my natal month and year with such an historic moment! Do you remember hearing the story? A "flying saucer" supposedly crashed in the New Mexico desert outside Roswell and there were even dead bodies (and perhaps a living one) of true aliens. Aliens from outer space, not from across the border. 

There wasn't as much silliness as I expected although there was some, including the alien walking around for people to get their picture taken with it. We went and toured the International UFO Museum where several (presumably important) authors were hawking signed copies of their books about UFOs and other related phenomena. The many displays tell ALL about the incident at Roswell, the "cover-up" carried out by the U.S. government and had lots of "testimony" from people who purportedly saw something and how some of them were even threatened with dire consequences by military representatives if they didn't keep their mouths shut. I will admit to being a skeptic but something happened in early July, 1947, and it is clear that there is a lot of speculation about what we do or do not know. And probably will never know since the U.S. government has kept classified lots of things that might explain what this was all about. Was it a weather balloon? Was it a crashed alien space ship? Or was it a Russian experiment into space travel gone tragically awry (as suggested in a recent book claiming to review the story and to bring forth some new evidence from an interview with one who was there)? Or was it something else? 

I wish all of you a good, happy, and memorable Fourth of July! We'll celebrate ours at one of the local communities (either Carlsbad or Artesia, I suppose).

We also walked around the downtown taking in the sights of the festival, including the belly dancing troupe putting on an exhibition in one of the plazas (although I'm not sure what that had to do with UFOs). We also had our first New Mexico meal at El Toro Bravo near by to the International UFO Museum.
Day 15 (part 2)
1 July 2011
Brantley Lake State Park
near Carlsbad, New Mexico

We have arrived in New Mexico. Brantley Lake State Park is in southeastern NM, not too far from the Carlsbad Caverns where we hope to visit tomorrow. We'll be here until July 5 visiting sights around this area. Then we'll head for Las Cruces (where I hope a local Fleetwood service center can repair the shower drain that was installed wrong at the factory.

Some odds and ends from our journey here:

How about the Jesus Christ as Lord Service Center? It's a gas station, service center for trucks, and convenience store.

I can only apologize for the quality of the picture. Mary had to take the shot while we were passing it on the interstate and the RV window has a screen in it, thus the picture.

Long horn cattle from the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX:
I started this post two days ago, but my lack of a reliable internet connection interrupted me. So today, when my connection is working, I'm sending it on.