A "land cruise" adventure with Captain Bill & Admiral Jann
Author: Contessa & The Toad Get Hitched
After years traveling this beautiful country by boat, the Captain and the Admiral are bound for land adventures. Whenever Contessa (the motorcoach) and the Toad (Jeep Grand Cherokee) get hitched (towing the car) - we’ll post our adventures!
How could we have ever envisioned when we arrived home from California a year ago last April, that we would just now begin to really feel like “normal” is within reach. We have been so blessed in our cocoons – but the butterflies are more than ready to emerge!
We did take Contessa to the west coast of Florida for most of the winter, but like everything else in this world, it was strange and limited. Contessa did her part on our way down – when she had an issue with the transmission, she made sure it was within 25 miles of the absolutely best place on the eastern seaboard to resolve the issue! What could have been disastrous was instead a pleasant and prompt resolution and we have found the right people to service her in Savannah for the foreseeable future.
January, February & March was spent near St. Petersburg and Anna Maria Island which allowed us to have socially distanced visits with a few friends and relatives. Our site at the Tides RV Resort was lovely and while many were open for partying, we kept our distance, which seemed really strange but necessary. We truly tried to keep a balance between safety & sanity!
We returned to DryDock for the spring – and on Thursday, June 10, we “sprung the lines” (that’s a boating term) and pointed Contessa west. Having missed the Alaska Adventure last season, we originally thought we would make that our 2021 trip. As we looked at “things” in January, which is when planning had to occur, there were so many unknowns about traveling, Canadian border limitations, time away from home, etc. that we decided to savor a shorter trip this summer – and target the Pacific & Canadian Northwest in 2022.
So, this Adventure is the Ratts Reunion & the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! We’ll spend a weekend with Niece Christy & Chris in Nashville TN before heading to North Central Arkansas. We’ll spend most of a week there on the property of Cousin Pam and Leslie Cooper, where some 35 Ratts Cousins will converge!
One thing you NEVER do on a boat is to leave on a voyage/trip on Friday. It is simply bad “juju”!! With Contessa, we also plan our first day to be a short one, allowing us to easily close up the cabin, finish any preparations, make sure everything is right with the coach — all without stress and pressure. So, we launched on Thursday, June 10.
We packed the “final” load into the truck to take to Contessa across the river and started to pull up the driveway, only to be met with a wall of trees!
A storm the previous night evidently was all the old maple tree could handle. Unfortunately, as she came down, she took a tulip poplar and part of a rhododendron with it. So, back to the cabin for work clothes & gloves, loppers and chain saw. About an hour and a half later, we had the driveway cleared. Bill was able to cut the trunk of the maple such that we could roll pieces to the side of the drive – as there was no way we could pick them up! Thankfully, our reliable friend Kim Bishop & Crew will finish the job while we are gone. They have the equipment to handle it and we don’t have to face it when we return.
We were able to depart Brevard at 1:00p and, with our shortened schedule (~100 miles & fuel stop), arrive at our first overnight destination before 4:00p. Bill says it is always the last mile that is the challenge of every day and this one was low hanging branches & power lines. He navigated around them and we got to our site without issue. The leveling system on Contessa had her workout, but was able to level on a fairly steep site – all is good!
The next morning we delayed departure to avoid “rush hour” traffic thru Knoxville and arrived Nashville at 2:15p CDT. We’ll be here until Monday visiting with Christy & Chris and enjoying the hot but exciting city of Nashville!
View from Contessa’s front window of J Percy Priest Reservoir
Contessa pulled into her home port yesterday (Saturday) about 12:30p. And, oh, it is so good to be home, even as we enjoyed the adventure of sheltering in place with the shelter moving.
We had a very productive 4 days in Tampa. All the Dr appointments and tests occurred on the modified schedule, with both of us feeling very safe with the precautions that the medical facilities had implemented. On Thursday morning, the culmination of the week was with Bill’s Hearing & Balance specialist, located at Tampa General Hospital. There was a palpable pall hanging over the entire facility. Medical personnel in scrubs walking purposely toward a long day – with their heads down and not making eye contact with anyone.
Before Bill could enter the building, they took his temperature – which provided again a reassuring sense of protection. And the results of the MRI — the tumor on his audial nerve that we have been chasing for 12+years has shrunk since the last scan! This is such amazingly good news – his specialist (who was unexpectedly in the office) said that unless he begins to exhibit any of the symptoms we have watched for – primarily balance & right side facial muscles, there is no reason to return! He said “Go have a good life!” Now, that doesn’t mean he has or will regain any of the hearing in that ear, but our concern of additional and frankly more life-impacting effects has been all but erased! Thank God!
We did a little jig in the parking lot of the hospital – and then immediately headed back to Contessa, who was all closed up and ready to head north. We got out shortly after 11 and traveled about 120 miles to Starke FL for the evening. We stayed at a lovely little KOA Campground – totally quiet except for the trains that we love to hear.
We were out at first light on Friday – just anxious to get going, even though we were not trying to make it all the way home in one day. As we crossed the Florida-Georgia border heading north, we saw the barricades on the south bound lanes where Florida State Patrol had set up a total roadblock for all vehicles except semi-trucks. At 8:15a, the back-up was minimal, but we later heard reports of 5-6 mile back-ups. They are interrogating every vehicle, querying specifically those entering from New York/New Jersey/Connecticut. They were taking license/car/phone information and the destination of the passengers – and demanding 14 day quarantine and assuring the passengers that they would be checked on! We missed a similar experience coming into Florida last week – by just a few hours.
With our early departure, we got to our destination for the evening by about lunchtime – HomeStay RV Park near Orangeburg SC (off I-26). What an absolutely fabulous spot for our last night on the road! It is .6 mile down a dirt road to a 40 acre slice of heaven. The owners are building their dream of an event center (barn) and a few campsites (ultimately 10-12) in a several acre clearing around a stocked bass pond. They currently only have one site – so we fundamentally had the place to ourselves, except for the owners in their barn/house.
Saturday dawned bright & beautiful and we savored the many colors of green as spring has definitely come to the Low Country. As we headed north, the dogwoods were in bloom, the red buds were gorgeous and the wildflowers danced in the wind.
We pulled into Brevard about 11:30a Saturday morning, stopped just east of downtown to disconnect the Toad – and we headed up the mountain. Admiral Jann stopped by St. Philip’s to get our Palm Cross and admire the Palm Cross on the front of the church.
Since we arrived home, we have been settling in – which means moving all the stuff off the coach (and from the CA casita) into the cabin. That not only requires multiple trips with the Jeep & F-150, but it means figuring out where to put all the “stuff” into a cabin that is already full! By this evening, almost everything is in its place – or at least a temporary place.
So, now we will shelter-in-place like all of our friends & family have been doing. We have enough food for a month – and enough work on the property for at least twice that long, so we will be fine and will have no problem being bored!
It will probably be mid-late May before we learn whether our Alaska Trip will happen – but if not this year, then next. If it happens this year, we’ll need to leave by June 1 in order to be in northern Washington State by June 24. So, we’ll pause the blog until the next time Contessa & The Toad Get Hitched.
Please take care of yourselves and savor this very special Holy Week! Y’all are always in our thoughts & prayers!
Contessa & The Toad, with Captain Bill at the helm and Admiral Jann navigating, pulled out of Mississippi JUST in time to get across the Florida border on I-10 heading east! We got to Tallahassee, FL on Saturday afternoon -only to learn that they had activated a “checkpoint” for all vehicles entering Florida from the west. Their purpose was to identify and notify anyone arriving from Louisiana (specifically New Orleans) that they should either return home or totally self-quarantine for 14 days. While we would not have had a problem, it would certainly have been unsettling as well as time-impacting.
We did have a good “down day” in and around Gautier, MS. As with much of our travels (especially here in Florida, where we lived for 20 years), it is so disappointing to not be able to connect with great friends! Dirk Young & I worked together at Harris Corp (after I left MOT) and it would have been so great to connect with him and his wife, Amanda. But, sometimes we must be adults, even if we do not want to be!
The Captain & Admiral did check out Huck’s Cove Marina & Grill – where they actually had patio dining! The tables were a good 8′ apart and there could be no more than 10 people in any group. We had a lovely respite – and no one even at the closest tables. It was nice to be “out”.
Our cruise through downtown Mobile was again rather eerie – even though it was Saturday morning, there was almost no traffic on the roads and not a single slowdown thru the tunnel or anywhere. As we exited “downtown”, off to our right was the USS Alabama – what a glorious sight!
After a relaxing evening in Tallahassee, we made our way to Wesley Chapel yesterday (Sunday) to Quail Run RV Resort, where we will be for 4 nights. Ironically, our first night out on this trip was at Quail Run RV Park in Quartzsite, AZ – very different LOL. This is a lovely park with well-spaced lots. Many people are here much longer than they anticipated, but it is a lot better to be here – at least for our neighbor, who is from Long Island NY.
We’ll have time to clean windshield, bow of coach & car; re-provision some produce; get our appointments done – and head north on Thursday afternoon.
Wow, how soon one forgets what life is like in the south! We pulled into our site last evening and just plugging in the coach created a sweat event that I haven’t felt in months (except for Zumba!)
We enjoyed our “day off” in San Antonio – again so thankful that we had enjoyed so much of this delightful city on our journey west in the fall of 2018, as everything was shutdown this time. We were amazed at how empty the campground was, as it is very nice KOA facility. We learned that in addition to everything else – this was to have been NASCAR Race Weekend, which was cancelled.
As we did in 2018, we took a drive northeast about 30 miles to the future home of good friends, Ferril & Gayla Sorenson. Much construction has occurred around their lot and it is about to get started for them.
We had a delightful bike ride – and it was the first “ah-ha — there is that humidity”. San Antonio has a network of bicycle paths that wind through parks and river/creek ways that will get you to the Riverwalk, but we didn’t go that far. Also, there are more hills in San Antonio than in Indio – which my legs told me about later.
We set out early from San Antonio. Even though we are loosing time zone hours as we head east, we seem to leave earlier and earlier. We adjusted our goal for the day to make it the remainder of the way through Texas. We did encounter a bit of rain and were again so thankful to have the windshield wipers in full operation. Construction all across Texas makes for a tense and exhausting ride for the Captain. There are miles and miles of concrete barriers on either side of the highway. The lanes are narrow in Texas (10′) and Contessa is 8 1/2′ wide – which does not give one much leeway – especially when being passed by a semi and his air wake!
We went straight thru Houston – and while there was certainly traffic, not a single slowdown or set of brake lights did we see. Traveling is certainly easier in these times!
After stopping for fuel in Vinton, LA, we made our way to a campground a mile away and had a relaxing evening, complete with delicious ribs! We also marveled – we filled up this beast of a motorhome for $125!!
Yesterday was Louisiana – and, oh, how we dreaded it! So much of I-10 is bridges across the bayou. It makes the Seven Mile Bridge seem short compared to miles and miles of highway that rides more like a roller coaster. BUT, since we had no intention of getting anywhere near New Orleans and its “hotspot”, we were able to take I-12 across the north side of Lake Pontchartrain from Baton Route to Slidell. That eliminated 20 miles of travel and it was a smooth, easy road.
We pulled into Gautier MS – with a plan for two days here. Now that we are nearing our destinations, we can take our time a bit more. We found another lovely campground – and again another blessing came our way this morning! Every schedule change has a cascading impact – and Bill’s Hearing Specialist office called wanting to move his appt from Friday to Thursday, but that means moving the Thursday appts to earlier in the week, as each is dependent upon the other. Everything worked out – and we will now be able to leave Tampa on Thursday afternoon instead of Saturday morning.
We’re off today for lunch out (pick-up & picnic table) and then blood tests in preparation for next week.
One of the many joys of traveling in Contessa across this great land is the changing topology, especially as spring is emerging! The multitude of shades of green across the hillsides of West Texas are amazing – and the scent of spring and wildflowers are so calming.
Our first night in Texas was in Ft. Stockton – where we had spent a delightful afternoon and evening in November, 2018. We were thankful we had toured the fort and visited a bar (imagine that!) that had recently opened – as nothing was open this time.
We took a nice walk around the campground – greeted (from an appropriate social distance) many folks including two that had been at Las Cruses NM with us the night before. In a “normal world”, we would most certainly shaken hands and perhaps shared some time together. Not this time!
Another indication of spring is the plethora of bees & bugs – that seem to attack our large front window and “bow” of the coach while underway. In an effort to alleviate some of “big yellow splats”, Captain Bill used the windshield washer & wipers. Unfortunately, just as he did that – a speeding semi passes us and the bow current from his rig whipped the driver side wiper clean off the windshield and behind the rear-view mirror. Bill pulled over as soon as he could and we were able to prevent it being ripped off the rig.
So, a plan developed to contact a truck or RV repair facility in San Antonio the following day – and say a prayer for no rain during our travels. And, if it did rain, we discussed we would simply have to pull over until the rain passed.
Even though we have “lost” an hour each day for the last two days, we were up and out early this morning – which is our normal mode of travel. The sun was brilliant, which we were thankful for, even if it makes heading east a bit irritating. It didn’t take long, however, to have all that sunshine disappear behind dark storm clouds and signs of rain all around us. The roadway was wet – it had clearly rained just minutes ahead of us. We had about 2 minutes of a light mist that dried almost as soon as it hit the windshield. And then, all signs of rain dissipated and we spent the rest of the day with overcast but dry weather! There He goes again – taking care of us!
During the drive, calls were made to SouthWest Mobile RV Repair, who agreed to meet us upon our arrival at the Alamo KOA Campground mid afternoon and to Carlos to get Contessa washed on Tuesday. We also confirmed all our Dr & MRI appointments for next week. Providers are aware we are driving in – so if anything changes, they will advise, but for now, we are all systems go!
Traffic was eerily almost non-existent! There were miles and miles of I-10 where we didn’t see a vehicle either head or behind us – both in our lane and in the opposing direction.
The last few miles were the worst of the trip so far, with the confluence of multiple interstates in the center of San Antonio and construction/concrete barriers. Captain Bill, as always, did a marvelous job and we arrived safe & sound at the Alamo KOA Campground at 2:15p. After “settling in”, he just couldn’t help himself but HAD to start working on the windshield wiper before Levy arrived (we knew he was on his way). Sure enough, he had the diagnosis done before Levy arrived – and together they were able to “save” the wiper arm!
So, here we are for TWO DAYS! It is our first stop for more than an overnight, which many of you know is not our standard 3-3-3. This travel is, of course, quite different and we are doing OK with the rate of travel – even while we are looking forward to a “gentle day” tomorrow.
It was an absolutely glorious day as we continued our trek (Day 3) on I-10! While there is more traffic than we anticipated, it has an interesting mix of around 60% truckers (God bless them!), 25% motorhomes & campers and 15% cars/pick-up trucks.
Yesterday, we enjoyed seeing the saguaro cactus, ocotillos in bloom, and fields of jumping cholla – and we marveled that just two years ago, we could not have identified any of these beautiful creations! Today, it was wildflowers -pink, orange and fields of yellow!
And blooming yucca for miles & miles!
The elevation of southern Arizona added interest to the drive, as we appreciated the mountains in the distance that we did NOT need to traverse. We expect to see snow-capped in northern Arizona (Prescott, Sedona, Flagstaff), but yet – in mid-March, southern Arizona has some, as well.
And then, just the rough terrain that is everywhere in this part of our great land!
We put another state (Arizona) in our rear view mirror, as we entered New Mexico – and lost an hour on our clocks entering Mountain Daylight Time. The topology has a combination of high plains and two “types”of mountains – the Burro Mountains that are granite, and the “fault block mountains” that seem to rise out of the plains floor, the result of volcanic activity similar to Joshua Tree National Park.
We pulled into Hacienda RV Park in Las Cruses, NM just before 3:00p – where we stayed in November 2018 on our first trip to Southern CA with dear friends, Bob & Sue Grote.
We’re settled in for the night, after an hour or so of washing the windshield & “bow” of the coach (daily event). A nice walk around the park – nodding to people at an appropriate “social distance” and then a delightful dinner & evening aboard Contessa is on our plan. Tomorrow, we’ll go thru El Paso on our way to Ft. Stockton TX. We’re keeping our ears & eyes tuned for changes to state & federal plans – while keeping with “our plan” for now.
Yesterday, we shared the Freymiller truck – today is a trucking line (Danny Herman) that we so enjoy, as every one has a scriptural message. This one particularly touches my heart from our Bible Study at Desert Shores this season. It was so wonderful -and so helpful in these days of worry and the unknown – “Anxious for Nothing” by Max Lucado – based on Philippians 4.
For those of you that have sent messages on “Messenger” – we no longer use this app as the number of hacks and disruptions are untenable for us. We would love to hear from you – text message or email work great!
How all our world has changed in the last two weeks! It is the consummate example of one of our favorite quotes – “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plan!”.
But, then, we stop and think about all the blessings that we see around us every day. The beauty of people caring for each other (not the hoarders snatching up all the toilet paper), the unbelievable magic that when we decided to sell our RV site in CA that it sold in 14 days – and then closed two weeks later, how our hesitation to “plan” for the allocation of funds from the sale (to not jinx the sale) kept us from putting it in the market and the list goes on and on!
While it was painful to leave our friends at Desert Shores and our church family at St. John’s, we knew when we returned to the desert from our Christmas trip home that we needed to be home “more”. With our desire to travel with the motorcoach to see this beautiful country (which requires summer travel) – and then being gone for several months every winter – we were not going to be happy and neither would the cabin. We finished up the “last projects” and listed the property at the end of January. We were so thrilled that Dave & Nancy Anderson from Meridian ID fell in love with it – and made it their “second home” by the end of February.
So, we had it all planned – fly to Florida for doctor appointments on April 1, help dear friend Judy by driving her car to NC, spend April & May at home and then return to California in late May, pick up the coach, meet up with friends, Tom & Peggie and head for Alaska. So much for planning!
Then came COVID-19! After spending a few days contemplating our options, we decided that flying into Ft. Lauderdale was not “happening” – neither the airport, the airplanes, nor the uncertainty. With our own social distancing bubble (ie, Contessa), we decided the best course of action was to “Go Home, Country Roads!”
We got on I-10 Thursday afternoon about 2 miles from Desert Shores – and plan to stay on it for 1,975 miles to Lake City, FL. From there, we hope to take the Toad to Tampa/St. Pete for doctor appts and then head north to be home by Palm Sunday. If something happens that those appointments get cancelled, we’ll head north at New Orleans and see Nephew Jim in Tuscaloosa on the way home.
We departed about 1:30p yesterday after getting our transmission and coolant system serviced (routine). We made our way to Quartzsite, Arizona for diesel fuel ($1.89/gallon – yahoo!) and spent the night there. Shortly after we hit the road, California Governor Newson ordered “shelter in place” for the entire state. We were the last job our mechanics did for the time being. Yesterday to Tucson was a beautiful drive with loads of trucks (delivering goods to Americans) and motorhomes & trailers heading home. Today is Las Cruses NM!
Please, dear ones, take care of yourselves & each other. We will post along the way – but with everything shut down, our experiences will be limited. But we are safe traveling in our own bubble – and coming home!
The Captain & the Admiral wish you all a Very Merry Christmas! May your days be filled with joy and wonder as we celebrate the Birth of Our Lord!
As you may know, Contessa & the Toad arrived in the Southern California Valley as planned on Monday, October 7. Our target was to get the renovations completed on the casita before we returned home to the cabin on Saturday, November 23. We made it – with 3 days to spare!
We were so blessed with great contractors and are really happy with the results of their work. Below are a few “before & after” pictures –
So, we are ready for company! We return to the desert on December 30 and plan to remain there until the first of April. We were blessed with several visitors last season and it works amazingly well, as we stay in Contessa, so the guestroom and bath are ready for your visit!
In order to get the work done and to enjoy Route 66 on our way west in the fall, we departed the mountain long before the majority of the leaves fell. We returned to literally a mountain of leaves to be removed. Fortunately, Bill Wanless came for Thanksgiving – and was a tremendous help in corralling 55 gallon bags of leaves and getting them to the landfill. In all, we removed ~1600 lbs of leaves and blew another ~800 or so into the ravine at the “back” of the property.
We also shared the joy of getting our Christmas tree, as this is going to be a Very Special Christmas at Dry Dock! Sister Sue and Brother-in-Law Rik, along with Nephew Jim, Niece Christy and her guy Chris will all be with us – which has not been possible for many years. Rik retired at the end of July, which means he doesn’t have to worry about getting back to patients in bad weather – for which we are very thankful. The first to arrive will be tomorrow when Jim comes from Tuscaloosa AL; Rik and Sue arrive on Monday from the Eastern Shore of Maryland (via their new home close to Wytheville VA); Chris & Christy will arrive Christmas Eve from Nashville TN – and we will have several days together as they can all stay until Saturday! YAY!
The Captain and the Admiral then return to the desert on Monday, December 30. Fortunately, Dry Dock won’t be totally abandoned as cousins plan to house sit for a couple of months while their new home is being built in South Carolina. Contessa has been at “the spa” getting a mani/pedi, so we will pick her up early in the new year. She will be bright and shiny – and ready for our adventure this summer when we go to Alaska! Our plan is to return to the mountains (via American Airlines) for April & May – returning to the desert about June 1. We’ll link up with dear friends, Tom & Peggie Perrotto and depart almost immediately for the Canadian border. There we will rendezvous with Guy Deutermann & Kathy and 21 other coaches on June 24 for a 62 day journey through British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and some 37 days in Alaska. We’ll return to the States about September 1.
It is going to be another fun-filled year – we are SO VERY blessed! Wishing you and yours the most wonderful of Christmas seasons and a year of joy, peace and good health!
This adventure that we’re on has so many facets! As we have made the trip back and forth from North Carolina to Southern California, we’ve taken a different route each time – with some special components of each route. This fall trip allowed us to visit family, but also to investigate another portion of “The Mother Road”, “Historic Route 66”, “Main Street of America” – they are all the same name for the first road that connected the United States from coast-to-coast. While there had been routes from the east coast to Chicago and the Mid-West, it was not until November 1926 that it was possible to drive all the way to the Pacific ocean. It would be 11 years before all portions of Route 66 were paved. From Chicago, IL, it ran through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County, California. It was removed from the US Highway System in 1985 after it had be replaced by the Interstate Highway System, primarily I-40.
We connected with “The Mother Road” in Oklahoma City, where we spent two fabulous days. As we headed west, we explored many towns that have the remains of Route 66 as their main thoroughfare. Many towns that were strong, vibrant communities have become rather sad and derelict enclaves. We traveled about 150 miles each day, which gave us afternoons to explore these small towns with their restored (or not) segments of Route 66 and several that had “hometown” museums. Elk City, OK claims the “National Route 66 Museum” and yet we found most of the content to be more local and history focused. It was extremely well done as a local museum, but the content for Route 66 was rather limited.
Clinton OK, on the other hand, is home to the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum and was clearly the best we have seen so far on the entire Mother Road. We spent a couple of hours immersed in their well-presented material.
We, as well as many Americans, have had a love affair with Route 66, from the folklore of “go west, young man, go west” and replicated in the TV Show “Route 66” with Martin Milner and George Maharis (1960-1964). What was a great surprise to us, however, was the global interest of this iconic American piece of history. On this Sunday, in the first two hours, the guest book was peppered with visitors from England, Spain, Australia, France, Norway and Ireland.
Next stop – Amarillo, TX – where we planned to spend a couple of days to explore all aspects of Route 66. Unfortunately, perhaps because it was a Monday, the “13 blocks of vibrant Route 66 rebirth” was closed, dark and dingy. We spent the afternoon, however, enjoying the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum. Jack and his family have lovingly restored and treasured all manner of RV living – and make it available for the public to enjoy at no cost. Imagine that!
All along Route 66, we kept hearing about Cadillac Ranch – it was a must see, so “they” said. Located about 1/2 mile from our campground, we made our way to a field where there are 10 Cadillacs embedded in the turf. Creativity artistic in spray paint is strongly encouraged. It was, however, a very windy day and we had no interest in wearing spray paint.
As we continued our journey west, we again fell in love with the terrain of New Mexico. Our first stop was Santa Rosa, home of the Blue Hole and Bozo’s Route 66 & Car Museum. Our first stop was the Blue Hole – and naturally fed bell-shaped pool approx 80′ deep that is a haven for diving and those that feel compelled to swim in 61 degree temperatures!
One of the joys of this type of travel is that we can “follow the sign” to places like Puerto de Luna, about 9 miles south of Santa Rosa along the bank of Pecos River. Reputed to have been visited by Francisco Zasquez de Coronado in 1541. The first recorded permanent settlement was in 1863, when 6 families built a dike on the Pecos to divert water for irrigation. Billy the Kid reportedly ate his last Christmas Eve dinner there in 1860, while being transported to trial in Las Vegas.
We skirted thru Albuquerque just before the Balloon Fiesta, where there will be 900,000 people enjoying the sites of hundreds of balloons aloft. Perhaps another year – we are on a mission to get to Indio for construction oversight.
Next stop – Gallup, New Mexico! Named for David L Gallup, the Paymaster on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, it’s an indication of the importance of the railroad in the creation and evolution of Gallup. Mining, primarily coal, was the primary production and the railroad was the way to move it to markets. From 1880 to 1948, there were 57 coal mines in the area and few of them were more than five miles from the center of town – important because most workers walked to work!
Today, Gallup is a center for Indian culture and artwork as well as continuing its importance in the railway system that is a key part of our economic structure. We walked the downtown area, and with the aid of a well-done brochure, we were able to locate and appreciate the dozen murals on building exteriors throughout the town center.
It seems so often that the majesty or uniqueness of a location is overshadowed by a personal experience which is unknown, unplanned and exceptional. Such was the case as we walked by Stoneweavers, a nondescript building with an interesting porch. As we walked by, a gentleman apologized for the cigarette smoke bothering us, which I really appreciated. When we asked him what Stoneweavers was, he invited us in to see. Inside were artisans hard at work crafting beautiful jewelry by hand! We spent a delightful hour with Steve Harper, owner and craftsman of Stoneweavers, hearing his stories of Gallup, the craftsman story and challenges in today’s world vs that of 45 years ago when he started his business at the age of 22. He has 26 artisans working for him in two locations and supplies high end turquoise and other precious gems to distributors and dealers around the world. He took us back to his “treasure room” where he has an amazing inventory of literally hundreds of different types of stones, awaiting an artisan to cut and craft it into a thing of beauty. Of course, Admiral Jann left with a beautiful pair of earrings and great memories!
We were off again the next day with a stop at Meteor Crater and a destination of Flagstaff, Arizona. Meteor Crater is located about 5 miles south of I-40 near Winslow, AZ. Yes, Winslow – Captain Bill chose not to replicate “standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona with seven women on his mind” – which was an excellent decision as the Admiral would have questioned who the seven women were!
Meteor Crater is the largest and most perfectly preserved example of a major impact of a meteor striking the Earth. Occurring approximately 50,000 years ago, the meteor was probably broken from the core of an asteroid during an ancient collision in the main asteroid belt some half billion years ago. This meteor made of iron and nickel is estimated to have been about 150 feet across and weighing several hundred thousand tons. It came hurtling to Earth at a speed of about 26,000 mph, passing through our atmosphere in seconds, and in a blinding flash, struck the Earth’s surface with an explosive force greater than 20 million tons of TNT!
The impact and the pressure of over 20 million lbs/square inch caused vaporization and extensive melting. The result of this was a giant bowl-shaped cavity 700 feet deep and 4000 feet across (enough for 20 football fields and bleachers for 100,000 spectators).
In 1902, Daniel Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer, became interested in the site, established the Standard Iron Company with four placer mining claims with the Federal Government, thereby obtaining the patents and ownership of the two square miles containing the crater. Today, the property is managed jointly by the Barringer Family and Meteor Enterprises, which is a small group of cattle ranchers who utilize the land for grazing purposes.
Meteor Crater has seen a plethora of scientists making amazing discoveries for the world’s benefit, as well as a perfect training site for early astronauts.
We thoroughly enjoyed our morning adventure at Meteor Crater and then we were off to Flagstaff for a couple of nights.
That first afternoon, we enjoyed the energy one can only find in a college town – especially on Parents’ Weekend! Northern Arizona University (NAU) is a major component of Flagstaff – individuals and business alike support that collegiate atmosphere. After a lovely walk around town and a great experience with Scotty McPeak (owner of Olive The Best olive oil shop), we thought it imperative that we imbibe in a local brew at Mother Road Brewing Company!
It was a clear night, so we headed off to the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered in 1930. Originally decried as the 9th plant, it is now identified as a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, which is a ring of bodies beyond Neptune.
Once again, we were in the right place at just the right time! The Grand Opening of the Giovale Open Deck Observatory was to occur the following night, with much fanfare and associated attendance of all the donors and benefactors. This public observing plaza features six advanced telescopes that will collectively give a viewing experience that goes far beyond seeing those faint smudges of light. To our amazement, they opened the facility a night early – and we were right there! We were able to truly see Saturn’s rings, Jupiter and the Dumbbell Nebula, a distance of 1,360 lightyears from the Earth!
The following morning, with clear skies and cool temperatures, we headed off to Walnut Canyon, a National Monument, which was home to the Sinagua American Indians more than 800 years ago. The Sinagua – Spanish for “without water” – People made their living by farming, hunting deer and small game, gathering an assortment of useful plants, and trading.
Inside the canyon, there is evidence of some 300 cliff dwellings built between 1125 and 1250. It is a tribute to their ability to turn a relatively dry region into a homeland. There is much evidence of the success of the people, including turquoise from Santa Fe, seashell ornaments from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California, and macaw feathers from Mexico.
The cliff dwellings were occupied for little more than 100 years. Why they left is a mystery, but by 1250, they had moved to new villages a few miles southeast. It is generally believed that they were eventually assimilated into the Hopi culture.
The journey in the canyon with breathtaking – both in the view and also in the 287 step descent and returning ascent – in very thin air!
On Sunday morning, we had the opportunity to visit the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Flagstaff and were warmly welcomed by many of their members. The couple seated directly behind us had been to Brevard on Labor Day this year and attended services at our St. Philip’s – we had so much to share!
We scrambled back to the coach (after a lovely coffee time in the social hall) to make a departure as close to check-out time as possible. We were off to North Phoenix for the night – and then an early departure to our “western home” in Indio on Monday, October 7.
We arrived as planned – our contractors are delightful, extremely gifted and diligent in getting the work done! We are so blessed!
And, oh, did the winds sweep across the plain as we made our way from West Memphis, Arkansas – across the entire state and into Sallisaw, Oklahoma and the next day on to Oklahoma City. West Arkansas provided some beautiful rolling hills and a rather benign day of travel. But, then, the winds came as we headed west to Oklahoma City. We started early (as we almost always do) to get into our campsite early, as the winds were forecast to build significantly in the afternoon. And – this time the forecasters were correct!
In addition to avoiding the worst of the winds, it gave us the afternoon to begin our exploration of Oklahoma City. Our first stop was the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum commemorating the horrific act of terrorism and loss of life at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building explosion on April 19, 1995. The memorial is very well done, with a significant focus on the individuals – those that lost their lives, those that survived the horror and the American spirit of coming together in times of great sorrow and tragedy with selflessness, courage and compassion. In total, 168 people, including 19 children, lost their lives at the hands of Timothy McVeigh. His use of a Ryder truck loaded with explosives to “avenge” the Federal Government’s siege on the Branch Davidian compound carried out two years before near Waco, TX was beyond comprehension in our world of 1995.
The Federal Building housed US Customs Service, US Secret Service, Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, VA, Department of Health & Human Services, DEA, GAO, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, ATF, Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation, US Army & Marine Recruiting, Defense Investigative Service, US Postal Service, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and, horrifically, America’s Kids Day Care.
The force of the explosion collapsed one-half of the 9 story building; the children were located on the second floor. Additionally, nine other buildings were destroyed and 25 were seriously damaged. Miraculously, only one first responder, a 29 year old nurse, lost her life from injuries sustained in the rescue efforts.
After several emotional hours, we headed for some light-hearted learning at the American Banjo Museum, located in the Bricktown area of downtown OKC. Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the banjo, the museum focuses on expanding both the appreciation and the understanding of the banjo’s history and its music. On display are over 400 banjos from very early examples of strings stretched across a drum head to amazing works of art from manufacturers around the world. There are piccolo banjos that are pitched an octave above a standard banjo that perform as the soprano in a Banjo Orchestra. There are three-string, four-string, five-string and eight-string banjos and some beautiful ukuleles (originally pronounced ohh-koo-lay-lee).
There were several connections we felt as we toured the museum. There was the highlighting of Steve Martin and his contributions to the recognition and renewed respect for the banjo – and a bit of a glow from the docents that he had made an “unannounced visit” in June of this year. After his visit, he tweeted “Only problem with visiting the American Banjo Museum: not enough banjos. Har”
Bela Fleck, a world renowned banjo player who holds a Banjo Camp at our Brevard Music Center each August, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016 in the Performance Category. And, not the least for us, was the 2019 Hall of Fame induction of John Hartford in the Historical Category. Known by most for penning “Gentle on My Mind,” John was a close and dear friend of our special friend, Wade Barber (best man at our wedding 30 years ago).
A very special “Special Exhibit” that will close the end of the month was a Salute to Jim Henson. Jim’s life passion for the banjo and his insatiable desire to leave the world a better place because he was here were certainly evident in his character development of Kermit and the entire array of Muppets. No one of our era can forget the “Rainbow Connection” in the 1979 film The Muppet Movie. It reached #25 on the Billboard Hot 100, remained in the Top 40 for 7 weeks, and nominated for Best Original Song at the 52nd Academy Awards – a Green Frog singing and playing a banjo!
Without a distillery to visit (tasting rooms not legal in Oklahoma), we chose to “wet our whistles” at the Bricktown Brewery – and a delight time we had!
Early Saturday morning, we headed for the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. We arrived 25 minutes after opening, the parking lot was completely full and we were directed to remote parking. Thinking the draw to this museum was overwhelming, we learned that there were fall graduation ceremonies for several colleges of University of Oklahoma occurring at the museum! We reaped the benefit with a marvelous bagpipe production – and an almost empty museum to tour.
Founded in 1955, this is an amazing collection of historical artifacts and artwork of every facet depicting the impact the vaqueros, as they were first known. It tells a fascinating story of how the western movies, originally written and produced by eastern filmmakers, shaped the perspective of the frontier as well as the men and women that attempted to “tame” the vast area simply identified as “the west”. More recent productions, such as Lonesome Dove, present a more historically accurate picture of what life was truly like.
While the movie industry and folklore represented a gun-slinging, crusty man with a withering and helpless female, the reality of the early west was much different. The 1900 Federal census of Payne County, Oklahoma revealed its diverse and immigrant origins. Birthplaces included 44 of the then 45 states, and at least 19 countries: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Russia, Mexico and Canada.
The bronze works of many artists were breathtaking, but the true Remington’s were beyond words. While most of Remington’s work was duplicated multiple times with the art of lost wax molds, the Museum has the only single unique cast, Buffalo Signal.
We retraced our steps to the American Banjo Museum, with the call of a “Celtic Jam Session”. We enjoyed an hour of local musicians in what appeared to be a “workshop” with gifted fiddle, banjo, guitar and percussion artists.
Our delightful adventure that was Oklahoma City culminated in dinner at the Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in the Stockyard District. Founded in 1910 as a dining establishment for workers in the District, it has a warm environment, amazing service and out-of-this world food. It has, as well, a bit of history that truly aligns with the “aura of the west”. On Christmas Eve, 1945, a gentleman by the name of Gene Wade was enjoying the gambling tables at the Biltmore Hotel (don’t miss the irony of this name!). At the table was Hank Frey, the owner of Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. The story goes that Hank ran out of money – and as a last, desperate move, he wagered the Steakhouse against Gene Wade’s lifetime savings. The bet was that Gene could NOT roll a “Hard Six” – two dice with 3s on each. The brand of Cattlemen’s is a vivid reminder of the results of Gene’s roll!
So, we depart Oklahoma City in the morning – with great memories of delightful experiences. And, with the yearning to return for more of both places we want to re-investigate and places yet to be experienced. We are off to “seek and find” parts of Route 66 as we head west on Interstate 40.