Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve in Rockport, TX

Odometer 27557

Trip meter- resting

All work, and very little play on this Christmas eve. Today we decided it was no longer possible to put off washing the bus. Of course I didn't warm up to the idea right away, but once it took hold, I was all in. We have to pay a fee to do any bus washing in this park so I met with the manager and paid my fee (some parks just prohibit washing altogether). At least I didn't have to sneak-wash like I did in California on the way down.

Being a former Safety Guy, I wrote out a fall protection plan for getting on the roof. (uh-huh) Joan was my safety monitor- only in this alternate universe, she worked from the ground yelling at me if I got too close to the edge. Seriously though, washing starts with the fiberglass roof, which had not been properly cleaned since July of 2011. In this case, too long ago, the crud up there was baked on and growing tentacles.

Luckily Joan did not take the picture while I was on hands and knees scrubbing the crust off and revealing white fiberglass again. After the roof we had a quick lunch and started the sidewalls and soon everything looked fabulous.
Another discovery we made was the grass here is filled with what the locals call Texas sand burrs!
These little buggers glom onto your shoes and drop off on the floor or stick in the carpet and rugs, then when you are barefoot, they impale you! Needless to say we are careful to take off our shoes at the door now.

Today was also the day to check out a long standing problem with the microwave oven. The turntable is fine turning counter-clockwise, however it refuses to turn clockwise. No big deal until you realize that the software reverses the turntable direction every time the door opens and closes.

I found the offending part- the drive motor, and we ordered a new one on-line and will have it shipped to us here at the park. We'll keep you posted on our progress.

This is our first Christmas away from Jeff's family since 1986 and it will be quite a transition. Luckily Joan and I are happy in this life that we chose, and we have great plans for making this a very Merry Christmas- just us and 36 fellow RVers, in this little patch of semi-tropical heaven.


Jeff and Joan

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Aransas Pass and Port Aransas

Odometer 27557

Trip meter 0 miles

One of the things I bought last week at Ikea in Dallas (Frisco) was a set of LED lights that I thought would work well for interior lighting in our motor home. I was delighted to find that several (I wrongly assumed all) of their lights worked on 12 volts DC power. I purchased a couple reading lamps with an LED light on the end of a flexible stalk for $10 each that on closer inspection work on 4 volts DC. Of course I found out the hard way when I wired one into the 12 volt wire in the bedroom and fried it! Thankfully, the other lights are 12V and seem to work well. We like the idea of diffused lighting in the evenings, the overhead lights are just too harsh, and we have task lights for reading, so the LED light strip at the top of the crown molding solves the problem.

Here I have just temporarily placed the lights to gauge the effect, in the final install I will conceal the wiring and install a wall switch.

After a morning of cleaning and fiddling with lighting, Joan and I took an excursion south to Aransas Pass, and from there, by ferry, over to Mustang Island and Port Aransas.

There is a fleet of 6 twenty vehicle, and two twenty-eight vehicle ferries that move cars and trucks from Aransas Pass over a short hop to Mustang Island and Port Aransas.

The Port of Corpus Christi is the fifth largest port in the US in terms of tons of material moving in and out. It turns out that all those ships have to come and go through the barrier islands in a narrow ship channel that includes Port Aransas.

We noticed this ship returning to the Gulf as we crossed on the ferry.
We wandered through the town of Port Aransas, and by the time we found the jetty that defines the ship channel, our container ship had made it to open ocean. We marveled at the construction of the jetty.
Turns out the jetty is made with Texas Pink granite blocks! Don't these guys know that these things should be used for counter tops and the exteriors of expensive high rise buildings?

Joan recognized that we left out a picture of the pier at our RV park so she snapped this photo so you could all see what we were describing.

One of the things that we are finding in our travels is that one has to let go of favorite brands that you once bought exclusively. For example we now have a new "favorite" brand of peanut butter, and a new microwave popcorn. As we move on we will most likely have other changes, some will be better some will be a compromise.

Joan adds that travelling a lot means occasionally waking up and having to take a quick moment to remember what town (park) you are in!

We hope you are all happy and well this Holiday Season.

Jeff and Joan

Friday, December 21, 2012

Copano Bay- Rockport, TX

Odometer 27557

Trip meter 0 miles

We ran for the border and the tip of the cold front caught us anyway. At least I can say that while others are experiencing sub-zero temperatures (and snow!) we are "suffering" through 50 degrees and partly cloudy.

Today was a day of exploration.

First the RV park that we are in has waterfront on Copano Cove, a small inlet off of the much larger Copano Bay. There is a pier for fishing and watching sunsets, and, if it gets warmer, a pool.

We drove in the car to Fulton harbor on the opposite side of this tiny peninsula, where we checked out Fulton Mansion which occupies a prominent spot on the water's edge. Built in 1877 it looks as good today as it must have looked back then.

We noticed all the piers jutting out into the water, and because of the shallow depth they go a long way out. The harbor is a working boat basin and looks not unlike the harbors along the Oregon coast.
We drove north on State Hwy 35 out of Fulton and checked out the Copano Causeway, the bridge that connects our peninsula to the north shore of Copano bay and Goose Island State Park. Workers are busy building a brand new causeway (bridge)structure alongside the existing one. The sun was dodging in and out of the clouds and gave us a beautiful backdrop for this photo.
We drove through Goose Island Park and just had to check out the largest live oak tree in Texas. This tree is 11 feet in diameter, and 35 feet around the trunk. Most impressive of all- it is 1000 years old!
This tree was 500 years old when the Spanish first explored Aransas Bay in the 15 hundreds. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the first fence around the tree in the 1930s.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be cloudy, but much warmer, with a high of 73, and staying warm all night, with a low of 61.- Yess! Joan and I will continue to explore, heading to Rockport and Aransas Pass- like always- we'll keep you posted.

We hope you are all wrapped in the warm spirit of the holidays.

Jeff and Joan

Home for the Holidays- Rockport, TX

Odometer 27557

Trip Meter 248 miles

We left a very windy Georgetown and headed south in front of the same cold weather that trailed us from the Dallas metroplex. We accidentally got to see some of downtown on our way to interstate 35. As we headed down the frontage road I took the ramp to my left thinking I would merge onto the freeway I could see a few feet away from my window. The ramp sign said "Austin"- then just below the sign I see those fateful words "toll"- Yikes! I just jumped onto a ramp that snaked us up and over I-35 and onto the Texas Toll Road 130. Let me explain why I was alarmed. When you take a toll road here (as elsewhere I assume) you are charged per mile/per axle- that means vehicles towing a car are charged for the motorhome AND the car. Joan tried to calm me down as I frantically searched for an off ramp. The ramp finally came 5 miles down the pike, and to get off it cost us $1.50! To get back to I-35 we ended up snaking our way through downtown- which as it turns out is very beautiful. If it were not for the impending cold snap, we may have stayed longer.

Once back on I-35 Joan started to plot us a course which would parallel the freeway and allow us to see more of the countryside. First we had to get through Austin, population 850,000. I admit it- I don't like big cities. One would think that all you have to do is drive straight through on the freeway eh? Not so! One has to be extremely vigilant to take the correct branch at every Y or ramp- and of course to be in the correct lane to do this, while dicing it up with semis on both sides of you and cars diving in-and-out like fighter planes attacking a bomber fleet. Did I mention it was windy? High wind advisory till 6PM today. Okay, enough sniveling, we made it through Austin and Joan plotted a route down State Highway 181 starting at San Marcos and heading in a straight line 150 miles south to Copano Bay (near Corpus Christi), our home for the holidays. (see map below)

We stopped at the only wide spot we could find alongside highway 181 near Kenedy, and had a quick lunch (thanks Sally), and planned our final destination in the Rockport area.

Motoring on we were surprised as we got close to Sinton to find ourselves in the midst of hundreds of wind generators (see Picture below). These things really look HUGE when you get as close as we were to them. Some of the wind towers were literally a couple hundred feet from the road, with many more marching off into the far distance. Awesome and graceful. (apologies for the hasty photo through the windshield)

With only a few missed turns I managed to pilot us to Aransas Pass and then things started to get interesting. We were loosing our daylight, the roads were diminishing into small two lane rural roads with no shoulder, and when we got to where we had programmed the GPS there was no RV park! How could we have missed it? We had to make about a 5 mile circle because there was no place we could turn around. We got close again and proceeded at a snails pace along the bayshore road- nope it was gone! Not a sign- nothing- disappeared. A quick huddle in the middle of the road as light traffic filtered around us. Plan B was a little further up the road. We had initially eliminated it after a flyover with Google Earth at lunch time, but now we wanted a place before it got dark- it would have to do. We drove on a couple miles to Copano Bay RV Resort and pulled in to register. The park was much nicer than it had looked from 2000 feet up. The spaces were all concrete and tidy green lawns separated each. We were home! It kept getting better the more we looked. They have a low weekly rate, the equivalent of about $25 a day, free wi-fi, bay frontage, only about 5 miles to Rockport, or Fulton which has a great little down town with WalMart, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. A good home base for exploring the area. The last photo below is a closeup of the Rockport area and I placed an orange arrow to indicate our location on Copano Cove.
Tomorrow we will get out and do some exploring and let you know what we find.
Best of the Holiday Season to you all

Jeff and Joan

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Georgetown, TX

Odometer 27309

Trip meter 208 miles

We left Dallas and the hospitality of the Austins this morning. Sally made sure we wouldn't go hungry by stocking our refrigerator with armloads of home cooked food! The coast is calling us and the pull is strong. In addition, another cold front promises to engulf most of Texas in subzero temperatures tomorrow and we think we can run in front of it. After a fabulous lunch prepared by Sally, we were finally hitched and ready to roll. We find that the longer one stays in one place, the harder it is to get ready to roll again. We have to traverse Rockwall, Garland, Mesquite, a piece of Dallas, and the tip of Lancaster before we get to Interstate 35 heading south. Did I mention that the wind has picked up in advance of the cold front? The wind was gusting up to 15 mph from the Southwest, which means that we were being pushed sideways a lot, and what with three to four lanes of side-by-side traffic, the various ramps and lane changes, it was taking a toll on my nerves. If I remember correctly, a wind speed of 15 mph would exert a pressure of 2 lbs per square foot, meaning we were experiencing 800 lbs of thrust, at random intervals. Needless to say, we where relieved to get to I-35 and turn into the wind (more or less) and to have the traffic thin out a bit.

I was driving 60 mph which helps to minimize the effects of the more ferocious wind shears, and gives me a lot more reaction time to stay in my lane. Doing 60 on a freeway with a 75 mph limit means that (a)just about everyone was passing us, and (b) it was going to take a bit more time to get to our destination.

We stopped in Temple for a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks and found the town of 70,000 to be quite nice. We were driving down the interstate observing the dark grey clouds and the bare trees, and whipping winds, so we were astonished when we stepped out of the coach to learn that it was 79 degrees! I know, we have a dash thermometer, but it just looked like a cold December day like we'd have had back in Oregon, and we were caught off guard. Back on the interstate we heading to Austin some 60 miles south. We said our mission was to explore the smaller blue roads, and that's what we named this journal, but today's mission is to run in front of the cold weather approaching! Jim Austin texted us at 9:30 PM with the news that it is cold and rainy in Nevada, TX where we were this morning, and we are sitting here in Georgetown with the windows open and a 72 degree breeze blowing through. We heard on the TV weather broadcast that a new record high temperature for December 19th was recorded here today- 84 degrees! Tomorrow we run again, as the temperature is expected to get to freezing by tomorrow night. We hope to make it to Corpus Christi or Rockport in about 4 hours of travel tomorrow. 66 degrees for a high and 42 for the low expected there and building to the high 70's as the week progresses.

Holiday greeting to all, Jeff and Joan

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dallas Day 4

The rain last night lasted about an hour or two and by Saturday morning the clouds were clearing, and by 10 AM it was a beautiful day. Jim and I planted daffodil bulbs and cut up the mountain of tree branches that were pruned off the trees in the driveway when we arrived Wednesday. Joan and Sally went into Wylie to get hair cuts. At 12:30pm in the afternoon Jim and I were finished and an getting hungry, and the girls still had not returned from the salon.
Jim called Sally and arranged for us to meet at Scotty P's Hamburgers near where Savannah works in Garland. We had a fabulous lunch! Joan and I shared, I ordered a grilled chicken avocado and jack cheese sandwich and Joan ordered a greek salad. Wow- was that a good combo. Savannah works at Movie Trading Company when her college schedule allows, and while we waited for her lunch break, I happened to spot the Jazz CD section and went bananas.
I picked up some lightly used contemporary jazz CDs for an incredible $4 a piece- awesome!

I have everything I need for changing the oil in the MH, but I just didn't feel like tackling it today, and Jim provided all the distraction I needed to put it completely out of mind. I still need to pickup a filter for the Onan Diesel Generator, and we kept our eye peeled for a NAPA store while we were out, but I didn't feel like traipsing all over the NE metroplex so we ended up coming home without one.

Tonight Sally and Joan collaborated on an outstanding dinner of pasta, pork and a delectable salad. After coffee and desert, we adjourned to the living room where Jim regaled me with a selection of rare single malt scotches. We may never leave here!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dallas, TX - Day 3

Odometer 27101

Trip meter 0 miles

Shopping nirvana. Jim and Sally have assisted us in finding, just about everything we were needing in this shopping mecca. We went to Walmart and purchased 6 gallons of Delo 400 motor oil and a big catch pan for changing the oil in the Caterpillar engine and the Onan generator. We went to Holt Caterpillar for a couple of oil filters, and to Tractor supply for a huge filter wrench. We also got a very small and compact upright vacuum for cleaning the floors, and a wireless mobile printer for our laptop and iPad. The printer is very cool- about the size of a loaf of bread and it interfaces by bluetooth connection, and will even run on battery power if needed.

Joan and I are amazed at the vast area encompassed by Dallas, Fort Worth and all the satellite cities. People here think nothing of driving an hour or an hour and a half to get to the particular store or restaurant they want to visit. At least the Austins are set up with the right vehicles for this task. Jim's plush diesel Jetta gets over 40 miles per gallon!

The weather was cool the day we arrived, and it even got a little below freezing the first night. Last night was warmer, however we woke to clouds this morning and it even has rained, on and off, during the day. The rains are much needed, but we kinda wish they would hold off till after we've moved on :->)

Sally offered us a glass of Chocolate Wine tonight, and I've got to say it was fabulous! Turns out this red wine is bottled in Walla-Walla, Washington. If you haven't tried it- please do. This vintage was labeled the Chocolate Shop, and it's a red wine with a distinct chocolaty finish.

Still working up the courage to actually crawl under the coach an change the oil. Maybe tomorrow...

Jeff and Joan

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dallas, TX

Odometer 27101

Trip meter 221 miles

After a chilly overnight in Abilene, we made preparations for what we hoped would be an easy 200 mile trip to Dallas. I woke at 5AM worried that the water hook-up bay was sub-freezing, and breaking all the plumbing fittings, and the new outside shower faucet I installed in Ajo. I have read on some of the RVers websites that Winnebago (our coach manufacturer) put some heat in the water bay ( water bay is my name for one of the outside compartments- also referred to by me as a "bins" or "the basement". These compartments accessed from the outside only- hang below the floor line of the coach, below the heated floor space). Wednesday morning I went out in the sub- freezing wind at 5 AM (in pajamas and a coat) to see if I could detect any warmth at all in the water hook-up bay. Nothing- not a whisper of warmth greeted my inquiring nose. Okay- maybe it only works on propane heat ( we have two separate systems for heating electric heat pump like most homes and propane heat like most RVs). So I switched over to propane heat and repeated the test. Nothing. So much for that information. Next I thought I'll hook up our electric portable heater and put it in there. Got it, and an extension cord out- its too big- wouldn't fit in the compartment. Next I get the idea of using the hair dryer. That works, and I crawl back in bed and snuggle up to Joan who jumps like a scalded cat at my icy touch.

After breakfast we asked the park host where we could get filled with propane. Turns out that is easy- 500 yards down the frontage road is a commercial filler who will sell to RVers. Good thing we asked because if we hadn't been told we would not even have found this place! The lot at the Centergas distributor is pot-holed gravel. On our way back out to the highway after filling up we hit a particularly bad set of holes and it sent things crashing in our cupboards. We have devised a system of bungee cords for the most vulnerable of our cabinets- and everything stayed inside. Whew!

As we approached Fort Worth we decided to stop for lunch, and this being Texas, we wanted to sample some BBQ. Joan found a Baker's Ribs restaurant and we dove off on the side streets, navigating by google maps. Of course, it is in a section of town that is undergoing major road reconstruction, roads closed, roads choked down to one lane, driveways torn up. We were able to find Bakers and find a place to park about 3 blocks away, AND there was a frozen yogurt shop across the street! Suffice to say, the brisket was superb, the yogurt was tasty- we were happy campers.

Back on the interstate, we braced ourselves for the heaviest traffic we would encounter thus far on this trip. Almost immediately we encountered a slow down and 3 lanes went from 65 mph to a crawl.
Turns out we were very lucky- we got past the wreck in 20 minutes or less. Joan got on the CB radio right away and found out the right two lanes were the place to be. The other side of the freeway wasn't so lucky. The police shut all 3 lanes, and traffic was backed up for four miles!
We saw this happen twice to the west bound lane, but thankfully not to us eastbounders.

These are the times when having a GPS calling out the turns is a lifesaver- we lived in Carrollton (far north Dallas) for 4 years in the early 80s, but twenty five intervening years left us lost. The "Farm to Market" roads as all the county roads are known, are in a dreadful state of repair. Once off the freeway we lumbered precariously down these paved roads, barely wide enough for our bus. The outside edge of the road has subsided in many places, making us slow to 35 mph or less to keep from overturning as the outside wheels dropped 4 to 8 inches at times.

We made it to the Austin's by 4 PM, and Sally, Joan and I trimmed the trees on both sides of the driveway in order to get the MH into place. We actually have it pretty good here. There is a pad where a mobile home stood before Jim and Sally built their present day home. We have water, sewer and electric!

We hope to stay here with the Austin's for a week. The weather is trending warmer each day (it didn't freeze last night). Jim Sally and Savannah are great fun to visit and Sally cooks Tex-mex and authentic Mexican food that is to die for. Today we will do some shopping for supplies and over the next several days I have some maintenance to do on the bus. Number one on the list is to fix the closet rod which snapped under the strain of too many clothes, over too many potholes.

. Jeff and Joan

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Abilene, Texas

Odometer 26,880 miles

Trip meter 301 miles

Abilene RV Park

We arrived in Abilene a day late. We got packed, car hooked up, and ready to leave Balmorhea State Park yesterday before my nerve gave out. OK, some back story is in order. We had a great relaxing time at this very nice, quiet and peaceful state park. We had time to do some exploration and best of all some time to relax and read and surf the net. Well...while surfing the net on Sunday evening I Googled the part number for the fuel filter we had installed on the side of the road, outside of Silver City, and to my horror- the description of the filter said it was a 14 micron filter. Before we left Medford we had purchased this filter at NAPA as a backup filter. I took the parts guy's word that it was the correct one for this application. The filter HAS to have a size of 2 microns- no larger, or it will let through impurities that will damage or plug the fuel injectors. (many thousands of dollars to clean or replace). I was Sick with worry.

So Monday Joan and I are literally ready to leave when I decided to call my brother Thane and ask, should I just drive the MH 124 miles to Odessa and find a filter there and put it on, or should I unhook the car and drive the car up to Odessa and back? After all, I've already driven almost 500 miles with this filter.

Thane called a diesel mechanic to help us decide and the mechanic says if the motor still runs now don't push your luck. Using a 14 micron filter is like putting large rocks in your injectors!

Joan went back to the office and re-registered us for one more night, while I unhooked the car. Next we got on the iPad and set out to find someplace that had a filter that would meet specs. No problem eh? Must be thousands of these Caterpillar 3126Es running around- should be a cinch! Odessa is the closest big city so we called all the truck parts and filter houses asking for our original (stock)filter brand and number. No luck, no-one had one and no-one had any suggestions for an alternate. Joan and I searched and cross-referenced dozens of filter brands until we came up with another brand and filter number(bless the iPad- what a lifesaver). After an hour on the phone and iPad we finally located this alternate filter at Freightliner in Odessa 2 hours away. We gobbled lunch, took some crackers and cheese, and headed out. Lucky for us Texas has mostly 75 and 80 MPH speed limits, but it's still 2 hours. Good news is we found Freightliner and got the filters, bad news is they did not have the clear plastic sediment bowl that screws on to the open end at the bottom. (It's not an optional item- the whole bottom of the filter is open without the bowl on it) We brought our old one, but no-one was sure if it was the correct application for this other brand of filter. After chasing down 3 more suppliers we found one that had the bowl! By now it is 4PM and we have the new filters (yeah, we bought a spare)and a new 2 gallon fuel can and we hit the road back to Balmorhea Park. That Texas State Park pass we bought for $70 when we got here is paying for itself now, our 4 nights average $17 each!

We get back at dark and fill up the small fuel can with a gallon of diesel as we pass through the tiny town of Balmorhea. We'll use the diesel for pre-filling the new filter. It's dark and cold out. It's going to freeze hard tonight- so we'll tackle the filter in the AM.

Tuesday AM the mercury is at 27 on the thermometer, but we are in good shape, thanks to our foresight in purchasing a heated water hose at Camping World, before we left Medford. The sun is up and the ice is melting. Time to install our second fuel filter of the trip.

I won't belabor this any more except to say that this process is is tantamount to doing open heart surgery in a dirty parking lot. The goal is to get the old filter off- clean everything spotless- and put the new filter (that you've filled with diesel) on, without introducing anything foreign into the fuel system that is greater than 2 microns in size. Easy-eh? A speck of dust/ a human hair/ a thread from your shop towel gets in and you lose the patient- or in my case the injector(s). The holy grail is when the engine starts right up without an air embolism and runs like a top. We had 300 good miles today, and I can sleep soundly tonight.

I am SO glad that one of the first things I did when we purchased this MH was to make the lower louver removable with 3 quick release pins. I have no idea how this filter could be changed without removing the louvers as I have in the picture above.

Sweetwater is the wind capital of North America (so they say) and there are hundreds of wind generators scattered along miles as you approach and leave the area. We should have taken pictures but couldn't figure out how you could show the depth of rows and rows of them spinning away.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

San Solomon Springs to Fort Davis, TX

Odometer 26579 miles

Trip meter (car 120 miles)

The wash in spring water wasn't quite what I thought. As much as I really worked at the squeegee, and the microfiber towel, the bus is, well, spotted. Have to revise my thinking about the quality of the water in the pipes here at Balmorhea Springs.

Today Joan and I packed a lunch, and took a trip in the car. South on State Route 17 32 miles to Fort Davis. We found this very nice wayside picnic area just outside of the town of Fort Davis

Fort Davis was first established in 1854. The first establishment consisted of wood building and thatched roofs. The fort was located along the supply route from San Antonio to El Paso, protecting emigrants, freighters, mail coaches and travelers, from bandits and native American tribes of Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas. When the Civil War broke out Texas went with the Confederacy and the US Army with drew from Fort Davis in 1861, only to take it back in 1862. After the War was over the fort lay deserted for 5 years. June of 1867 a new Fort Davis was established on the grounds of the old fort, and that is the one we see today.

Here is a picture of the officers houses. Starting in 1963 the Park Service has been working to turn back the hands of time

This picture is of a restored barracks building complete with period gear and beds.
Some of the buildings at the fort were dismantled and used for building materials before the NPS took over. This foundation is all that is left of a kitchen and mess hall
Joan and I toured the fort grounds for about 2-1/2 hours before we felt like we had seen what we wanted, including the old hospital, stables, magazine building and the foundations of the first fort-many of which still exist, even though they were built with sun baked mud brick! Here is a two story mud brick building that is now being preserved in it's present condition.
After getting an ice cream cone at the local Thriftway we felt up to more exploring. Jim and Sally have told us Alpine is one of their favorite places so we decided to drive the 23 miles South to see it in person. Alpine turns out to be a very nice little town of 6000 people tucked up against the Del Norte Mountains. To round out the trip we drove west 34 miles to Marfa which put us back on Route 17 and a straight shot back to Balmorhea Springs. We know most of you have heard of the Marfa lights- well check out this street sign.
They actually have a very elaborate viewing structure that you can use to watch for the zipping, flashing, colored light show.

As we arrived back at Balmorhea, I begged Joan to let me run up to see Balmorhea lake only 5 miles away. Turns out this was a very bad idea that got worse and worse. We made it to the lake on a rough 1-1/2 lane semi-asphalt road out of town. The lake is not very spectacular. The map on the iPad showed a road all the way around the lake and after some wheedling I got Joan's okay to circumnavigate the lake on a rutted gravel road. Well the road kept getting worse and worse.

We ended up on a very narrow 4 wheel drive track that dead-ended at an irrigation canal, and had to back track two or more miles with thorns tearing the finish on the car on both sides! I'm in the dog house for that one.

Here are some photos of a swim I took in the pool here at the park yesterday

The water is from a fresh water spring in the bottom of the pool and stays 72 to 76 degrees all year round. Only part of the pool has a concrete bottom, at 5' and the rest is all natural rocks and sand, and about 25 feet deep. There are fish in this pool and they don't appear to be afraid of you!
Off to Odessa tomorrow, in hopes of getting a proper fuel filter to save our injectors. Jeff and Joan

Friday, December 7, 2012

San Solomon Springs, Texas

Odometer 26,579 miles

Trip meter 132 miles

We literally left Carlsbad RV park without a plan this morning. I know, I know, what were we thinking? Joan and I had discussed the trip the night before, and I had said I preferred to head east on 180 towards Seminole and Lamesa, and staying overnight in Snyder. Joan was looking at going South through Pecos and down to a Texas State Park in Balmorhea, but had not voiced a final decision. Incredibly, we reached the end of the driveway without a plan! We took a quick vote and decided on Route 285 south to Pecos and from there, route 17 to the spring fed pools of Balmorhea. This day starts in a dark mood, brought on by the dog poop event. The RV park at Carlsbad is one of the grittiest we have experienced. The whole park is gravel and dirt. Not just the roadways and parking areas- everything. As I have mentioned before when you live in an RV it is a challenge to keep what's outside- out . This park had so much fine dirt in, and on the gravel and the gravel was so thin that we were loosing the battle big-time. We normally put out two mats outside and one rug inside. One outside mat is an industrial rubber backed 3'x 4' mat, the other is a smallish door mat. So clearly it was time to pull out the big guns. We carry a very large patio mat that is 8'x16', purpose made for this role, it is a heavy green open mesh. As we discover this morning, green was an unfortunate choice of color in a landscape devoid of grass. In an unfortunate turn of events, the doggy donut got folded into the mat, and didn't get discovered until I started compressing it to fit into the storage bay, at which time it squeezed out onto my clothes. So, not a great beginning, and the clean up delayed our departure by about an hour.

Finally we are united in our choice of direction, clean clothes on me, the patio mat washed and stowed, and crusing down the road- life is good. Well, almost. We soon discover that the last 10 miles of 285 to the Texas line is being chip-sealed on a mega scale.

This operation had an oil truck laying out a flood of sealer and trucks spreading gravel at about 5 miles an hour non-stop for 10 miles. Anyone's nightmare but times ten for a bus with at tow car ( know as a toad in RV speak) We were expected to be the rollers that pressed the rock into the fresh asphalt- for miles! I decided to do 35 miles and hour and it would take as long as necessary to get out of this mess. We let everyone get passed us and took our time and we came out relatively unscathed. The chip seal did not end until we got to the Texas border, some 8 to ten miles on. We also have now entered oil country. We have passed so many of the rocking pump jacks that we were not even tempted to count them- but this! This is a new hole being drilled!
This is not the only drill rig we saw in operation either.

This leg of the journey shall become known as the white pickup truck area of the US. Joan and I stared to become aware of the abundance of white pickups, both on the highway and on the side streets and parking lots. The majority of the 4 wheeled traffic was pickups and our guess is that 80 to 90% of those were white- I kid you not. The remainder of the road traffic was semi-tanker trucks, hauling either water or petroleum. We are guessing it's drill water not potable, based on the number of trucks that were covered in a half inch of dust. Chip seal and white pickups, not withstanding, we did eventually make it to Balmorhea State Park and got registered and set-up in camp.

The park has a modern wetland that was created to replace the one that was destroyed by the creation of a giant swimming pool built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) while were based here in the 1930's.
The park has the largest spring fed swimming pool in the USA, measuring 1.75 acres in size and averaging 72-76 degree water, with amazing clarity and color. The pool depth varies from 4 feet to 25 feet. I'll just have to try it out!
After checking out the grounds of the park we decided to give the bus a much needed wash-job. How many times do you get the chance to wash with real spring water! Tomorrow I hope to try out the swimming pool and get some reading and chores done.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Carlsbad Caverns

Odometer 26447 miles

Trip meter 0

Carlsbad, NM

December 6, 2012

Part of the RV lifestyle is keeping up with all the things that one needs to do, as well as the things one wants to do.

One thing I knew I had to do was to keep up with my exercise program. I don't go to a gym, I never have. Most of my life I have had a career that kept me physically challenged.
Now that I have chosen a quite different life situation, I still feel the need to stay fit.
Joan and I have bicycles that fold up and fit into one of the storage bays in the coach. We love to get our exercise riding around the smaller towns, like we did in Ajo. Today we drove south on Route 180 to Whites City, New Mexico- yeah, the town name is real close to the White City, in Oregon that we used to frequent. This Whites City is at the turn off to the Carlsbad Caverns. A seven mile entrance road takes you to the very top of a high ridge in the Guadalupe Mountains and a very nice visitor center. With my Senior Pass Joan and I get in FREE! Yeah! A short path winds down to a huge opening in the ground where a winding path allows you to descend into the mouth of the cave
The path is fairly steep and in goes down, and down and DOWN- 750 feet down in all and each turn, each passage takes one into another chamber and another landscape of beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and drapes. The temperature dropped down to a chilly 56 degrees, so we pulled on our fleece pull-overs
Luckily Joan brought the iPad to take photos, because even though I brought a mono-pod, most of my pictures did not stand the long exposures.
As we spiraled down, we came to "The Big Cave". The Big Cave is 8 acres in size and is still only the seventh largest underground chamber in the world. We walked the trail around the entire perimeter and it took us about 45 minutes to an hour The lighting in the caves is very subtle, and well placed- you can never see any direct light source.
By the time we had hiked for 2-1/2 hours we were very glad to see that there is an elevator that will take you back to the surface.

Tomorrow we head out for Dallas, TX. At our normal fast clip, it should take us at least 3-4 days and a few adventures in between! Jeff and Joan

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

RV Lifestyle Ramblings

Odometer 26447 miles

Trip meter- 154 miles

Carlsbad, NM

December 05, 2012

We were exhausted after 4 hours at the Museum, and spending several hours on the dunes at White Sands near Alamogordo, but that finish at White Sands with the gorgeous sunset left us upbeat and satisfied. On reflection, this has been a fairy tale trip so far. We love the mobility of our new home on wheels and who wouldn't want to wake up somewhere new and exciting every other day? The possibilities are endless and you may wonder how we decide where we will go, how we'll get there and what we'll do when we arrive. Some of the places on our list have been on the list for a while, others get added to the list because of the opportunity- we were going to go right by, or close to it. (i.e. Kitt Peak) Some places we have been to before and have really enjoyed (i.e. Ajo, AZ) Many of the latter will fall off when we leave the West and cross over into new territory.

We use the internet a lot, and the purchase of an iPad with 4G wireless has been transformative. We use it for nearly everything, researching new places to go, finding a good (inexpensive) park to stay in, keeping up with e-mail, staying current with news, finding RV parts, and service, GPS and mapping, a wireless hot spot for our laptop- well you guys all know this- it's the best RV tool of all.

Joan and I have been living in the bus since the beginning of July and I would say that the transition from a 1,840 sq home made of concrete and wood to a 309 sq foot home on wheels was very easy for us.

We have occasionally wondered what all the stuff in our storage container (and at Mark's house- thanks Mark!) is for- do we really need that much stuff? Probably too early to tell- I'll address this point again next June.

This morning we came across New Mexico on State Route 82 heading for Artesia where we would turn south to Carlsbad. Almost immediately after we left Alamogordo, we started to climb. I mean CLIMB! We were on a twisty, 2 lane road with no shoulder. Not only no shoulder, but after the crumbly edge of asphalt there was a very steep descent of 4 to 40 feet neither of which would be recoverable in any vehicle, much less a 13 ton top heavy motorhome. The ascent to Cloudcroft is 16 miles long with an elevation gain of 5,000 feet to the summit at 8,600 feet. On our way up we noticed a car pulled off the road with either steam or smoke coming out of the engine bay. We pulled over to see if we could help.

The temperature gauge was off the scale and we could smell hot oil, and see steam at the radiator. We offered up some water and some hand tools, but neither of us could figure out what was keeping the Jeep from re-starting. His brother arrived and gave him a ride to work.

Cloudcroft (and the summit)turned out to be less than a mile from where we had pulled over to help. It is a very delightful little town and we will be putting it on our list to spend some time there, but it snows there- a lot, and that kept us moving on this beautiful DRY and mild day. The descent down the eastern flank of the Sacramento mountains is a lot more gradual and we drifted through the varying ecosystems as the elevation peeled off under our tires. The Firs and large Ponderosas melded into Junipers and Pinons, which blended into Yuccas and prickly pears, as we leveled out on rolling desert again.

We drove another 100 miles or so to the small town of Artesia, where we turned south on Hwy 285 and drove the 35 miles to Carlsbad. Tomorrow we want to see the Carlsbad Caverns and have a little down time to read and relax. I know that relaxation part sounds extremely funny to most of you, but I know many RVers out there that understand. Being constantly on the move is stressful and for the health of our relationship down time is important.

Tomorrow- Caves!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Odometer 26,293 miles

Trip meter 0 miles

Alamogordo, NM

December 4, 2012

Today we visited the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The highlight of this museum is it's IMAX theater. We were very surprised to be the only ones in the theater, but the movie was fabulous! The show we saw was a documentary on the shuttle missions to fix the Hubble space telescope. To see all this footage of the inside of the shuttle and even up close on the Hubble was unbelievable. We got to watch the space walking astronauts take apart the telescope and gently guide in the new pieces, and put it back together. The Museum is in a 4 story building high on the flanks of the Sacramento Mountains.

On the grounds of the museum were dozens of rockets and missiles, some older tracking devices and space artifacts.
Inside the museum we browsed the displays on space exploration from the earliest rockets to the latest Scaled Composites Space Ship One. I was a little disappointed that the displays on Space Ship One were only photos, however there was a whole room devoted to the winning of the Ansari X Prize.

Joan caught me attempting to land the Space Shuttle in one of the museum's simulators.
Joan and I decided to break up our visit and get lunch downtown after the movie and then go back to the displays in the main building of the museum. We had the great fortune to happen upon a place called Can't Stop Smokin Smokehouse. We shared a platter of brisket and chicken with potato salad and beans for lunch and it was fabulous!

When we left the museum we were craving some frozen yogurt. Any of you that know us, know that our favorite treat is self-serve yogurt. Out came the iPad and a search turned up an ice cream place and a custard place called Caliche's. The frozen custard sounded interesting and we enjoyed the treat. We kick ourselves for not taking a photo, because Caliche's was a neat art-deco place with stucco and quilted stainless steel and real neon striping.

Once we had our snack, we were tempted to head home and take a nap, but we really wanted to see White Sands and it was already 2 in the afternoon- some sacrifices would have to be made. The tough keep on going, so we headed out the 15 miles north of town to the White Sands National Monument. I have been waiting for my chance to buy a Senior Pass to the National Parks, and it arrived today. We knew the $10 pass would get me into the parks but we didn't know that Joan who is not a senior yet gets in free with me in most cases- Cool! We watched a 20 minute video introduction which was very interesting. We were disappointed that the "theater" was set up with what looked like church pews- really! They were mega- uncomfortable. Armed with information on where the white sands come from and how they were deposited here, we headed out the 8 mile road into the park.

The sand is really very white, and it f eels very soft in the hand. According to the video it is from the mineral gypsum that has been leached out of the surrounding mountains by runoff over the last 7000 years
One of the all-time great things to do here is to watch the sunset from the white sand dunes, and today did not disappoint. We climbed a middle sized dune and got comfortable for the light show.
Joan took several dozen photos, because as the light changed it kept getting better and better.
Tomorrow we are off to Carlsbad, NM and the Carlsbad Caverns

Love to you all!

Jeff and Joan