31 December 2009

Postcard from Arizona- 3

 Santa Fe, NM

We did a quick trip back to Santa Fe for the holiday and found a few inches of snow and our alley (it's 10' wide but the city insists upon calling it a street) paved with a 3" layer of ice... that ice will stay there till spring. 4-wheel drive got us up the alley OK and the street in front of the house was not bad at all. The yellow extension cord dangling from the front is for the block heater, so we didn't have to worry about the engine being hard to start.

The drive to Santa Fe was a little hairy at points. We saw heavy snow more than a couple times and I was wondering to myself 'so how much heavier does it have to get before I turn around?!' The snow wasn't sticking to the road, and each time I pondered the imponderable, the snow let up. So we made it to Santa Fe without a hitch.

We took a fair amount of teasing about being snow birds. Yeah, snow birds that don't have enough sense to stay away when there's snow on the ground! And on Christmas day the temps got up to a blazing 30 deg F for the high at our house after an overnight low of 6 F. Low temps like that usually mean the skies are clear and sure enough... all the clouds were on vacation for the week.

After a brief visit with friends we were on our way back to Benson, AZ. We bailed out of Santa Fe just ahead of the next bout of crap weather. We reminded ourselves that it is, after all, winter. Somehow it didn't help us feel any better!

All was well back at the trailer and we got some sleep before driving to Apache Junction on an errand. We had ordered replacement pillows which were supposed to arrive on 12/18 but didn't make it till 12/22. Don't you just love how on-line merchants claim they have things in stock but don't?

It was a quick get-it-done trip: get the package, stop at Sam's Club for a new computer for Bruce, then drive back to Benson. I guess there was a time when 1,100 miles in 2 days was easy, but I'm afraid I don't remember it!

We arrived back at Benson to find the park entrance flooded by a broken waterline. We still had a trickle of water at the Dog House, so we tanked up before they shut off the water to do repairs (the KOA in Benson has great tasting water!). We did some grocery shopping, then on Wednesday 12/30 we were on our way to Las Cruces, NM.

22 December 2009

Postcard from Arizona-2

When we returned from Santa Fe it took a few days to get our nearly frozen body parts thawed. We came to appreciate that while 65 deg F high for the day doesn't seem all that warm compared to the Florida Keys, it's a lot warmer than northern New Mexico this time of year!

Before leaving for home we had made an appointment to have an auxiliary tank installed in the truck by Cliff's Welding in Mesa, AZ. And, since we have the dogs roosting in the back seat while we're underway, we decided a lockable storage space in the bed of the truck would be nice too. Cliff's sells a combo tank/tool box built by RDS in Florida that seemed about right: 40 more gallons of diesel plus a 10" x 18" x 30" storage compartment. Installation took 3 hrs. and I was on the way. It was a great job except for one tiny detail: I couldn't move fuel from the auxiliary tank to the main tank. Cliff's figured it out quickly: RDS had neglected to install the siphon tube in the tank when they built it. Cliff's doesn't test the installation since insurance companies don't like welding shops to keep fuel on the premises (they told me how to test it). Thankfully it was no big deal for them to fab the missing part and 30 minutes later we were good to go. Lesson #127: make sure new equipment is working before you leave town!

We found a great place for BBQ in Gilbert. Called Joe's Real Barbeque on Gilbert Road, they served a great meal. Besides great ribs etc., they also have homemade root beer and Admiral-approved chocolate chip cookies. The folks that own Joe's also own the Liberty Market Restaurant across the street which we plan to try next time we come this way.

Scottsdale, AZ
We managed to get to Scottsdale on 12/19 and spent the day wandering around old-town. They had some helpful volunteers that mentioned a few things to see and loaded us with more maps.

The patio at Cien Agave restaurant/bar
After a couple hours we were ready to load the dogs back into the truck so we could get a bite to eat. A waitress at Cien Agave came out to admire the dogs and to tell us they had a dog-friendly patio where we could bring them with us and have lunch. Cool! Comfortable spot and, if you're ever there with your pet(s) and want to eat, they have great burritos.

In chatting with our waitress (who teaches school during the week) we learned that Arizona has a law that requires restaurants to serve non-alcoholic beer to minors if they are accompanied by their parents and the parents order it. N/A beer has as much as 0.5% alcohol which for me- I stopped drinking alcohol in the mid-'80s- is enough to get buzzed. I was floored that the state would permit teenagers to drink any kind of alcohol in public places. Our waitress hasn't been faced with the situation yet, but her plan is to refuse to serve N/A beer to a minor and fully expects to be fired if it should come up.

There were several things we wanted to see while here in the greater-Phoenix area, but all we could manage was to get Xmas packages mailed, buy some groceries, and it was time to leave.

Benson KOA
We had reservations at the KOA in Benson where we are right now. As you can see from the photo, reservation weren't exactly necessary! [ Reserving ahead using the on line reservation system for KOA saves us 10%, so we do it regardless. ]

We did some sight seeing yesterday (Monday) since Tombstone is only 30 minutes away. We wandered around Boothill Graveyard where the Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers are buried. Clanton and the McLaury brothers died in the gun fight with Wyatt & Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday at the OK Coral; three others were wounded. The stone cairn graves are from about 1879 thru about 1882. The ground seems impossible to dig for a conventional grave so this must have been the only practical solution. I can't imagine what it smelled like at the grave yard at the time!

Tombstone's boot hill
Tombstone must have been a difficult place to reach an old age. The more dramatic reasons for death ranged from 'shot in the head' to 'hanged' and 'poisoned', but there were also things like consumption, pneumonia, scarlet fever, mine-accident, and other less movie-worthy deaths. In case you can't read it, this grave marker gives some insight into the gallows humor of the day:
Here lies Lester Mor
Four slugs from a .44
No Les
No Mor

We walked the dogs thru the old town center where they got lots of attention. We must have said at least 50 times that
- they're Bernese Mountain Dogs;
- yes, they shed a lot;
- yes, they're very mellow;
- of course you can pet them.

All she needs is a saddle!
And so on. It was fun and the dogs loved the attention.

There were several locals hanging out that seemed to be there to add some flavor. They were decked out in boots, jeans and western hats, some with side-arms. The town offers a narrated stage coach tour for we tourists. We weren't able to take the tour, but we heard most of the spiel as we wandered around town and had the coach pass us several times.

We had a great lunch at the Longhorn in Tombstone. Not so much because of the sandwiches but because of the to-die-for desserts they serve. I haven't had apple pie that good in a long time. I probably shortened my life by at least a year because of all the lard they used in the crust, but it sure tasted good!

We'll leave the Dog House here in Benson while we drive to Santa Fe for the holiday. When we get back from Santa Fe we'll start heading toward Florida. There is a fly in the ointment...

I just received a jury summons. I believe that it's been less than 36 months since I served on a jury in Santa Fe, so I hope to be excused. If not, this may be the end of the trip till April when my time on the jury panel ends. [start whine!] I can't be sure, of course, but I believe they keep rotating the same people thru jury duty until they either move out of the county or die or they prove to be controversial enough there will be a problem with being selected. That seems to be the only reason they get new blood into the loop. Doesn't seem to be a very fair system as far as spreading the pain. [/end of whine!]

Best wishes for a happy holiday season!

11 December 2009

Postcard from Arizona

We wrestled the Dog House loose from the clutches of Albuquerque on 3 December and headed for Holbrook, AZ. It would be generous to describe the weather as chilly. We were afraid we might see ice and some scarey conditions, but it was just fine other than watching the fuel gauge dive toward the big E.

Our 38 gal. tank is big enough to give us about 350 miles range even at 10 mpg (we did a little better than that). While a 350 mile range should be adequate, we can't always count on being able to buy diesel whenever we want, especially when we're off the Interstate. I'd feel better with more fuel aboard and we'll try to fix that while we're in AZ.

Looking kind of lonely at the Holbrook KOA
We stopped at the KOA in Holbrook for the night. Nice campground with clean restrooms which the Admiral greatly appreciated. I think AAA needs to add a new rating: "Admiral Approved!" She's a tough sell and really has a lot to say about those that don't meet her minimums. Things like "&^%$@ pig sty!" come to mind. Happily that was not the case here.

I'd vaguely entertained the idea of staying over an extra nite. I thought it would be fun to visit the Petrified Forest NP again and see if any of the trees had grown in the 60+ years since I last visited. Chattering teeth when we stepped out to walk the dogs seemed to say this was probably not the time. So we gathered ourselves together and off we went in the Dog House to see if Apache Junction was any warmer.

The drive SW was spectacular. The whole trip was via state highways: AZ-377/-277/-260/-87/-188/-80. The route (picked by Mr. Garmin) took us through Payson, AZ. We first had miles of open, relatively flat land before we started climbing the first of the intervening mountain ranges. These rolling hills with their low now-dormant grasses were washed in pastel reds from the morning sun. The colors reminded us how much we appreciate this desert landscape. Where some might see dead, dry, useless land, we tend to see subtle shadings of the earth, rocks and plants of this amazing desert landscape. Unlike New Mexico, Arizona showed us more red and the mountains we encountered are more raw and rugged.

Gila National Forest was beautiful with mostly 2-lane and short sections of either a passing lane or divided road. Except in Payson, most businesses were closed (thank God we didn't need diesel!), so we had to pull over briefly to make a sandwich. So close to the forest, we had hoped to see wild life along the way, but I think all the critters took one look at that first snow and checked into a local motel. We had sunny, clear skies, but it was still pretty cold!

After the Gila NF we popped out into desert and saw our first saguaro cactus. They lined the roadway like sullen sentinels with their arms raised threatening to pummel the unwary. I find them intimidating. A few of these slow growing giants had to be over 30 feet tall and I couldn't help but wonder how they withstand the blast of wind from a T-storm. Beautiful does not come to mind when I look at them, but without a doubt they command respect.

The last part of the trip took us through the Usery Range before dropping down into Apache Junction on AZ-80. Once we pulled out of the Usery Recreation area we were into the farthest-east developments. Traffic was heavy enough that I was only able to get occasional glimpses of where we were, but my sense of it was that everything was new. There are surely older areas here, but the greater mass of what's here seems to be post WW-II. Very noticeable to someone that's been living in Santa Fe for a few years.

Superstition Mtn. at sunset...
We arrived at the KOA in Apache Junction in plenty of time to get hooked up. We were even treated to an amazing effect that sunset creates with Superstition Mountain.

... and during the day.
And just for comparison, this is what that same mountain looks like when it has midday lighting. I find the difference startling!

All in all a wonderful first trip on (semi-) back roads.

Our 2008 Ford truck has a Tow/Haul mode which made life behind the wheel very easy! It took care of all the down-shifting to keep our speed under control. Having a 15,000# hulk urging us along with insistent nudges could be unnerving and in the past would have required the driver to move the gear selector to the next lower gear and apply the brakes. But in this case, after the first touch of the brakes, the transmission understood I wanted to slow down without using just the brakes and it automatically started down-shifting without any other input from me. It really made me appreciate how truck design has moved ahead into the 21st century.

We're off to Santa Fe for a couple days of appointments made before we had any thought of an RV. More updates coming.

03 December 2009

Another learning experience, this time in Albuquerque

Our overnight stay in the Camping World parking lot was a breeze since we'd had a generator installed before we moved the Dog House away from TravelTown. Just push a button and presto! we had 115 VAC to run everything we needed on a cold night.

We also learned our little generator is even louder than those on the power boats we occasionally anchored near when cruising. We remembered their generators rumbling away all night, destroying the serenity of a quiet anchorage, so as soon as we had washed up after dinner we shut it off. Somehow a parking lot falls a little short of a quiet anchorage, especially with I-40 about 100+ yards away. And I doubt anyone noticed- or could hear!- our thoughtful consideration.

Camping World can be a one-stop cathartic for a bank account. We had a combo washer/dryer installed plus a satellite antenna that reminds me a lot of a small-scale something-or-other from a missile launch facility.

Parked at Enchanted Trails RV Park in Albuquerque, NM
After we got the Dog House back and had moved it next door to Enchanted Trails RV Park, we continued to make regular visits to Camping World so we wouldn't suffer withdrawals. Which is a lot like a smoking cessation program that lets you continue to smoke.

We found a few more can't-do-without items from home and from Home Depot. Like tools and a 2" x 8" board we had cut into a couple 6' lengths for leveling the trailer at a campsite. And a 2' step ladder for me cuz Mrs. Bowman's little boy has legs that don't quite reach all the way to the ground (I can't even see into the bed of the truck much less reach the hitch!).

I also spent an hour on the phone ordering DirecTV equipment ($0) and service (not $0). When everything arrived at the house in Santa Fe I hauled it to the Dog House and hooked it up. Everything went well except for this one small thing: I couldn't get the DirecTV receiver set properly so it would work with the automated dish. I finally had to give in and ask for help. One of the Camping World sales people mentioned just the right thing (18" round dish) and in a matter of minutes I had it all working.

Office, restrooms and laundry
Enchanted Trails RV Park is a funky nostalgic trip back to the days when Route 66 was the most-used route to cross the USA. As we pulled into the park the first thing we saw was the polished aluminum skin of a restored small travel trailer connected to a restored 1947 Hudson. And at the owners quarters at the back of the park is a restored 1950 Hudson. Hudson's advertising that year read "Step down into a Hudson", a reference to their "step-down chassis" design.

The park owners have also restored an old Wurlitzer theater organ. The organ arrived as a basket case (literally!) but today it's a beautiful old organ that looks for all the world as it did when it was in daily use decades ago. Well, except for this one small thing: right in the middle is a computer screen plus computer keyboard connected to a Dell computer. After restoring the organ they added the computer to voice the organ to match the Wurlitzer in the Paramount Theater in New York. Pretty impressive stuff and a real show piece!

The park is located beside what appeared to be a large open field. I found an unlocked gate and took Annie over for a walk. My idea was to get her off leash if it looked OK. What I was worried about was cactus, but what I found was miles of unfenced grazing land with cattle not very far away. So much for letting our dogs off-leash! No rancher is going to be happy with someone's dog chasing his cattle.

So our walks were around the park grounds or down the frontage road, but other than that it was a pretty boring stop unless you go into Albuquerque for some sightseeing e.g. to Old Town, Indian Cultural Center, or my favorite stop... PJ's Triumph/Ducati on the east end of Central to check out all the latest and greatest in 2-wheel dream machines.

Next stop Arizona.

20 November 2009

Getting started

So what do you do with a 37' trailer when you don't know squat? No problem: ignorance is bliss!

We left TravelTown on a Friday afternoon just before they locked the front gate. Which means we set up camp for the first time as the sun disappeared in the western sky, laughing all the way down below the horizon. I think we came close to getting it right since nothing blew up, burned out or leaked. Reading a book, and we read several, just isn't do the same as touchy-feely when connecting sewer, water & electrical yourself.

Lesson #1: pretty much level is not the same as level! I thought I was close, but when I stepped into the toilet compartment, the door would slap my ass as a reminder that closies don't count. That was a little annoying, but the coup de grace was the corner of the cupboard door that silently swung open and found my head every time I got out of my chair. Oh... and another cupboard door that swung in front of the TV screen during the best part of a movie.

By our 2nd night at Santa Fe Skies the weather had turned cold in Santa Fe. But the propane furnace made life comfy during the now-freezing nights. Lesson #2: the furnace sucks up 10#-15# of propane every 24 hours when you use it as the only heat source. We were going through a 30# tank every 2-3 days. Since the park hadn't renewed their propane filling station license in time and couldn't refill the tanks, I hauled the empty 30# tanks to Ferrell Gas in Santa Fe to get them refilled.

Corollary A to Lesson #2: why on earth would a sane person want to use propane to heat their trailer when they can use electric heaters that use electricity you're paying for anyway as part of the nightly fee? Duh! So off we went to Home Depot for a couple 1500 Watt heaters.

Celia, who by now had restored herself to her former rank of Admiral, let me know that hauling dirty laundry to the on-site laundromat was no better than when we were cruising and that we needed a change. Normally I, as the Captain, would have responded with authority and installed the needed equipment to keep the Admiral happy. However I have come to realize that staying an enlisted puke has its benefits. When something doesn't work out right I can just shrug and say "but that's what you told me to do, sir! Ummm, ma'am."

That's not quite how it went down. I did Google a neat ventless combo washer/dryer at Camping World, then confirmed they had one in stock in their Albuquerque store, and scheduled the installation.

By this point we had things livable enough that we thought it was time to suck it up and get the Dog House on the road. This time it was a big adventure as we pulled out of Santa Fe and headed south for the parking lot at Camping World. All of 65 miles and a chance to see what the fuel economy of this big truck really is like. We hit all of 10 mpg. Uh-oh. And since Albuquerque is at 5,000' elevation compared to 7,000' at Santa Fe, it was essentially downhill the whole way there. Double-uh-oh. Reality checks really suck.

For the benefit of those who don't already know, Camping World is a specialized retail facility created to remove all available $$$ from the pockets of RV owners. Lots of tantalizing toys that often diminish in utility once removed from the plastic bubble wrap. If you've ever played boats, it's akin to West Marine but with a giant service department.

Even though it was mostly just a chance to get things figured out on the RV, our time at Santa Fe Skies was actually very enjoyable. The setting is gorgeous with expansive views across the city to the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains; off to the south we could see the Ortiz mountains. These views are possible because the park is located on a low mesa south of town.

The park is very 'rural' and is actually located on a small portion of what is named Brown Castle Ranch. The owners (the Brown family) have added a 3/4 mile walking trail around the park which was ideal for getting us and our dogs out for some exercise. And they still have a lot of the old ranch equipment that was left behind by previous owners.

Being away from most of the evening lights of Santa Fe (street lights, buildings, parking lots) gave us the clearest view of the night sky I could have ever imagined. I would like to have been there when it was warmer so I could have stayed out and enjoyed it. A person would have to be hardier than Mrs. Bowman's little boy to enjoy it during the fall as the temps dropped into the high 20s, but a late spring or summer stop here should be well worth the above-average cost.

Next stop Albuquerque.

15 November 2009

So how do 2 old toots travel with 2 big dogs?

Frustration is what did it. We have a very old house in Santa Fe, NM, 2 wonderful Bernese Mountain Dogs... and between the 2 (or is it 3?!) there seemed no hope of traveling. You'd think that a couple who cruised on water in a sailboat for several years would have realized cruising on dirt in an RV is a logical next step. Nope. Took 5 or 6 years to connect the dots.

During the summer of 2009 we had sequential visits with 2 different couples who came to visit us in their RVs (they both had motorhomes). "Hmmm... we could do this. And we can take the dogs!" Or words to that effect.

Once the seed was planted it didn't take long. We started by looking for a motorhome but quickly realized what we could afford to spend on what was clearly an experiment was far short of what a sufficiently large motorhome would cost. A local dealer, TravelTown of Santa Fe, had a 2003 Montana 5th wheel trailer (6 years old at the time) at what seemed a bargain price and we already had a truck. What could be simpler?! 'Hold it dude. You just bought a 15,000# trailer and you want to pull it with what?! Let's talk this over.' We will be forever grateful to Wayne for his early guidance. We knew Wayne was a really cool guy cuz his dog Farley is about the nicest Chocolate Lab you could ever imagine!

So off we went to surf the CarMax site in search of a truck that could handle the load. We bought a 2004 Ford F-350 long bed diesel dually, probably paying a few thousand too much. Then on the trip home from Albuquerque to Santa Fe the truck decided to change lanes without asking first. Scared the crap out of me and we returned the truck a couple days later.

The nice thing about CarMax is that if you get the wrong vehicle you have 5 days to do something about it without additional charges. Just a few button presses by the sales manager to return the first truck and get a different truck on its way. So now we have a 2008 Ford F-350 long bed diesel dually and it seems willing to follow instead of lead.

Once the dealer had the new B&W Companion hitch installed (our truck came with a B&W gooseneck hitch from the factory, so the choice was a no-brainer), we moved our 37' 5th wheel trailer a whole 1.7 miles from TravelTown to Santa Fe Skies RV Park. That was a convenient location to move our "stuff" aboard without having to guess what we needed. With apologies to George Carlin, here's a little about "stuff".

In 2000 we bought our Gemini catamaran Goosebumps. Before we took delivery we had to decide what to bring with us from California to Maryland. We bought equipment cautiously, weighed everything to make sure we were under the manufacturer's 1,500# load limit. It included things like navigation "stuff", anchoring "stuff", dinghy "stuff", cooking "stuff", clothing "stuff". We tossed it into a rented van and off we went to Annapolis. At the other end we packed all the "stuff" aboard only to discover some of our choices were wide of the mark. So, with all our "stuff" aboard, we started buying the things we really needed with no way to get the unneeded "stuff" back to California. We ended up at about double the designer's load limit and as a result our speedy catamaran sailed like a pig.

We did much better this time. The Dog House was parked less than 10 miles from home. We stayed on board and only added what we needed to be able to live, stay warm and keep the dogs happy. No wild guess what would work.

The result was we needed far fewer extras than on the boat. We did add an Onan generator (a winner) and a combo washer/dryer (the jury's still out). We also replaced the old analog TV with a new flat panel digital TV. We're trying a VIZIO we bought at Sam's Club which so far is great. DirecTV again which we used on the boat. And a Winegard CarryOut antenna which simplifies finding a satellite each time we move the Doghouse.

Enough for now. I'll update with entries as we get underway.