New Mexico – Majesty Abounds

There seemed to be a line drawn at the Arizona & New Mexico border – we could REALLY see a difference in topology almost immediately. It was a delightful day to travel first to Grants NM for an overnight stop and then on to Santa Fe, about 50 miles north of Albuquerque.

Our stop at Grants was driven solely by our 3-3-3 rule of motorcoaching (less than 300 miles, in by 3 pm and, at every opportunity, stay 3 days). Grants met the criteria for two, but we did not plan nor did we need to stay 3 days. Once a thriving town on Route 66, its employment and riches came from the uranium mines throughout the area. When those closed, so did the town. We were, of course, reminded of our fabulous visit to the North Channel Yacht Club in 2015 aboard Ivory Lady as we did The Loop. Their entire marina, including all the rails for storage and launching of vessels, came from the uranium riches of that area.

The KOA campground was everything we have come to expect from this organization- clean, level sites, pleasant people and often not much else. This one set itself apart by offering home cooked meals delivered to your coach every evening! After touring Grants, we understood why – the only restaurants were McDonald’s, KFC and Sonic. There was a Mexican restaurant, but I would not have set foot in it and it was closed on Sunday. However, we are fully equipped and stocked, so having them deliver dinner (complete with home baked pie and ice cream) was only a temptation.

We were on to Santa Fe on Monday morning, without issue as we drove through downtown Albuquerque. As the state capitol and prior to that the center of Native American history, Santa Fe has a distinct vibrancy and energy. The galleries of amazing New Mexico and Native American art will take your breath (and your hard earned dollars) away.

Our first stop was San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure in the USA. The original adobe walls and altar (ca 1610) were built by Tlazalan Indians from Mexico under the direction of Franciscan Padres. There is an area within the church where excavation exposes some of the original adobe bricks. We would learn later why the buildings appear as new on their exterior.

On to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the mother church for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of the southwest and home to the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Most Rev. John C. Wester.

We spent a lovely day wandering shops, chatting with locals and absorbing the energy of the “old town.” Near mid-afternoon, Captain Bill expressed concern on the ever-darkening clouds and our distance to our car without an umbrella. Off we hoofed at a lively pace and slid into the car as the first pellets of a downpour began. A quick stop at the gallery where we had purchased a wall-hanging for our casita at Desert Shores and we were off for the coach.

Wednesday we were off early in the Toad for an amazing journey up the Rio Grande Gorge to Taos. We knew the day would culminate with connecting with good friends, but we had “a day” of learning the history and structure of the Taos Pueblo and its people.

Taos Pueblo is the largest pueblo of the nineteen pueblos in their council. There are three councils of the Pueblo Nation, but structurally are less “governed” as in the Navajo Nation. The Red Willow People of Taos Pueblo have been there since approximately 1,000 BC, but no archeological testing has been allowed, as they see no need!

The loose definition of a pueblo is a defined settlement (usually a walled community) that provides for the needs of the people that reside therein. The first church at Taos Pueblo, San Geronimo, was built in 1619 during the first “invasion” of the Spanish. It was destroyed twice, first during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, (led by Red Willow and other Pueblo Indians including Hopi & Zuni) when they drove the Spanish back to the Mexican border. Their rebellion was driven by both their treatment by the Spanish, and because of the forced Roman Catholic beliefs and the elimination of their own sacred spiritual and natural beliefs. They destroyed “their own church” because it was seen as not theirs but of the Spanish.

The Spanish returned 12 years later; an event known as the Re-Conquest. This time, however, they came with missionaries who rebuilt the Church – but also respected the beliefs of the Pueblo People and included them in their worship and life.

In 1847, another uprising, this time against US occupancy, was led by Native and Hispanic forces. Governor Bent was murdered and the retaliation by US forces was a bloody and costly conflict where hundreds of Hispanic and Native people were killed as they sheltered inside the church. The remains of the church stand today overlooking the central cemetery for Taos Pueblo.

The second and current San Geronimo – Center for the Taos Pueblo Community.

The current San Geronimo was built in 1850 and serves today centrally to the community for mass, weddings, etc. Today, the Red Willow People say they have a dual-religion of Catholicism and Pueblo spiritual beliefs.

The Red Willow Creek was raging with all the winter snow melt and significant rains.

Blue Lake, a glacier lake located 25 miles up into the Taos Pueblo wilderness area of the Sangre de Christos mountains feeds Red Willow Creek. Not only the only water source for the pueblo, Blue Lake is also revered as sacred. Under Theodore Roosevelt, the lake and surrounding lands were taken in 1906 and placed under the US Forest Service. Through much effort by many, Taos Pueblo regained 48,000 acres in 1970 from President Richard Nixon, utilizing the Religious Freedom Act. Today the lake and over 100,000 acres remains in its pristine state and is cared for and utilized exclusively by tribal members.

The community is a combination of single level, dual level and multi-level structures that look like “apartments”. Each “home” is one or at most two rooms, always on the same level. The homes are owned by a family and passed down from one generation to the next. The homes have no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. The ladders you see allow the owners on the homes on higher levels to gain entry to their home, as there are no interior stairways. Some homes have been retrofitted with propane to provide heat and lighting, but many remain with the kiva (wood fireplace) as the only source of heat and light.

The structures are built with hand-made adobe bricks of mud, straw and water, with a smooth layer of the same adobe material spread over the brick. Each year, the adobe is repaired at the right temperature for curing and drying by adding another layer of mud, straw and water — making it look “new” again. The walls are very thick and are natural insulators.

A traditional Horno – seen throughout Taos Pueblo

Outside many of the homes, you will find a horno (oven) structure. Introduced by the Spanish, the Pueblo people have perfected the structure to suit their needs. Commonly used for baked goods, a cedar fire is allowed to burn down to coals, the coals are then removed with something akin to a wet mop and then the items are placed in the oven for baking. It is by testing the oven with pieces of straw that determines when the oven is the correct temperature for baking. If a piece of straw placed in the oven catches fire, it is still too hot. But wait too long and the baked goods of pies, cookies and breads will not completely bake!

Our guide, Summer, is a college student whose family owns a home in Taos Pueblo. Like many today, they also own home outside the walls where more modern accommodations (heat, light, plumbing) are allowed and available, but they often spend time in their family ancestral home. Summer is studying to work in the dental field, but spends every minute she can at Taos Pueblo, both to honor her heritage and to learn the native language, Tiwa. Her first language was English, as her mother was not from Taos Pueblo, but she wants very much to maintain the language and heritage of her forefathers for the next generations. The importance of this can’t be overstated as all of the native history is oral and not chronicled anywhere.

With much reluctance, we departed Taos Pueblo, having a great appreciation for their way of life and their commitment to the continuity of that way of life for centuries past and centuries to come.

We made our way to the Rio Grande Gorge to view the bridge that spans the Gorge and the surrounding majestic views. The gorge was originally created as a result of volcanic action that separated the mountain range, leaving a 10 mile wide plain. Over the last several million years, the Rio Grande River has cut the gorge some 800 feet from the surface. The gorge runs approximately 50 miles from the Colorado border from northwest to southeast and then the Rio Grande continues its way south to become the border of Texas and Mexico. It is not nearly the magnitude of the Grand Canyon simply because it is much younger than the Canyon and the Colorado River cutting through it.

After a perfectly lovely day, the best was yet to come — an evening with Bruce & Sherry Popham (and Bruce’s mother, Barbara). Good friends from our days in the Florida Keys, Bruce & Sherry sold their business, Marathon Boatyard, last June and by January of this year had sold their home and relocated to just outside Taos. What fun it was to catch up with them – and share with each other all the changes in our lives since our days in the Keys! For those of you that have traveled with us since the beginning of the Loop, it was Sherry to saved us on our first day! Ivory Lady developed a sensor issue not two miles off the dock on the day of our departure (Saturday) and Sherry made magic happen with one of their technical team from Marathon Boatyard and we were on our way the same afternoon!

They have a lovely home near the Rio Grande Gorge and less than 25 minute drive (in good weather) to the ski slopes that they love so much. They are certainly treating life well, seem so happy with their “next chapter” and very happy to share their heaven with friends. We look forward to more opportunities to connect in the seasons to come.

Our last day in Santa Fe found us in the Railyard District, an up and coming area of town where people go to “see and be seen.” It has a variety of art galleries, boutiques (sweatshirts are $250!), movie theatre and delightful restaurants. It also has a sweet little tasting room for Santa Fe Distillery – which we were forced to visit! We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Santa Fe Train Depot as a train disembarked – it runs from Albuquerque to Santa Fe with 9 stops in between. It’s wonderful that they are maintaining and utilized this classic train depot.

We love trains – and have gone to sleep almost every night of this trip listening to the sounds of their whistles!

But, alas, all good things must come to an end. We returned to Contessa to prepare for an early departure the following morning – for our longest travel day of the trip.

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilled, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” – John Muir

The Painted Desert and The Petrified Forest

We left Williams AZ early on Saturday morning for the ~125 mile journey east to Holbrook.  We checked in, grabbed a quick lunch and were off to explore The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park.

Millions of years ago, this land was actually located around 10 degrees north of the equator – where Costa Rica lies today.  Archeologists have identified animal artifacts that eerily resemble current day animals of that region.  As the lands separated, the North American continent floated north to where this land is now approximately 33 degrees north.  The land was under water for literally hundreds of thousands of years and the forests that subsequently formed are the result of changes in our earth that are hard to fathom.

The word “forest” conjures up large stands of shady tress and moss covered paths.  Nothing could be further from the truth in this barren desert and the remains of the “forest” are now in barren desert land.

The Painted Desert covers over 7,500 sq miles of northeastern Arizona with the Petrified Forest lying in the heart of the Painted Desert so colors and majestic views are prolific throughout the 28 mile journey.  These mudstone and sandstone formations are called the Chinle Formation and were deposited some 227 to 205 million years ago.  All the colors are the result of iron in the sediment.  Drier climates allowed the minerals to be exposed to oxygen, rusting the iron and creating the red, brown and orange colors.  Wetter climates “drown” the sediments, allowing little or no contact to oxygen, causing the layers to be blue, gray and purple.

In this area, as well, was the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark.  Originally built in the late 1910’s, it was acquired by the Petrified Forest National Monument along with 4 sqaure miles of land for $59,600.  The facilities was rebuilt by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), beginning with the first camp being established in the spring of 1938, a second established in 1936 and the third camp in 1938.  They used ponderosa pine and aspen poles cut from nearby forests for roofing beams and crossbeams.  They hand-made light fixtures, tables and chairs, following the designs of Native Americans in the area.   It opened for business on July 4, 1940, but enjoyed a short life (October 1942) due to the US involvement in WWII, when the CCC was disbanded.  Most of the young men went to war, and travel was curtailed by wartime rationing.

The Painted Desert Inn reopened in the 1940’s under the management of renowned Fred Harvey Company, which had many businesses aligned with the Sante Fe Railway and offered a luxurious plan for travelers to dine and lodge until its closure in 1963.  It has since become a museum and example of design and workmanship of the southwest.

One amazing section of the Painted Desert is called “Newspaper Rock”, where as many as 650 petroglyphs are visible, some as old as 2000 years.  The National Park Service provides permanently installed binoculars so that we could see the artwork “up close” and it is truly amazing.  That being said, we have no pictures to capture this amazing depiction of life of centuries ago.

The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park holds the distinction being the only National Park with the Historic Route 66 running through it.  In the area of the park available to visitors, there is no sign of the road but they do have a monument to the Historic Roadway and the remains of a Studebacker that was half-buried in the sand.

As we traveled south, we entered the “Blue Mesa” area, where colors were clearly the result of wetter climates centuries ago, with the shades of blue, gray and purple.

The Agate Bridge is an amazing example of petrified wood — spanning 110′ across a cavern.  You can see the concrete support that was installed in the 1950’s, but eventually Mother Nature will win out and the bridge will collapse.  Throughout of journey, we saw evidence of changes that occur in the forest, both major and minor.

The Petrified Forest is littered with the remains of those trees of thousands of years ago.  Many of them, ironically, have broken into pieces that eerily appear to have been cut with a chain saw!

Our last stop was the Crystal Forest, where a 3/4 mile path takes you through an amazing collection of petrified wood where the interior of the trees have become totally crystalized.  The colors resemble the painted desert – in the rust, orange, blue and purple of the desert we had traversed over the past 4 hours.  

After leaving the Park, we returned to Holbrook to trace more of Route 66. We HAD to find the Wigwam Motel, which is such an iconic symbol of what this historic byway was in its heyday.

It is hard to read, but sign says “Have you slept in a wigwam lately?”

It was an amazing afternoon!

One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

Neither words nor pictures can capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon!  While both of us had been here before – it was during our youth, so everything is “new and known” at the same time.

We arrived in Williams AZ, known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, on Wednesday afternoon and settled into the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park.  Quite functional and easy access to both the town and to our train expedition the next day, the character of the park is severely lacking.  The Grand Canyon Railway is the major source of revenue for the town of Williams, which at one time was a “destination on Route 66.”   It still retains several establishments leveraging the Route 66 theme – and every budget hotel chain for overnight accommodations for those wishing to stay close to the Canyon.

Route 66 is “The Theme” for Williams AZ – the Pie Photo was at Pine Country Cafe.
Our friend, Chuck Evans, said we HAD to go  for their pie – it is the “star of the show”

We saddled up our bicycles and, having completed a tour of town well within a hour, found a lovely little watering hole at the Grand Canyon Brewing & Distilling Company!  We have so enjoyed in both our boat & land-yacht travels experiencing local breweries and distilleries – and this was no exception.  The bartender, Paul, had spent several years in the Virgin Islands prior to coming to Williams (never could get his story on how THAT happened!), so we had lots of conversation about Jost VanDyke & Foxy’s, Speedy’s Taxi and a myriad of other colorful memories.  We are departing with a numbered bottle (#201) of their small batch whiskey!

On Thursday morning, we boarded the Grand Canyon Railway at 9:15 for a 65-mile, 2 1/2 hour trip to the Canyon.  The original railway was the vision of William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill, the major of Prescott.  After five years of lobbying for funding of the railroad, he was successful – his underlying purpose being to reduce the cost of transportation of his mining operations.  On September 17, 1911, the first steam train took passengers and supplies from Williams AZ to the South Rim of the Canyon.  The Railway revolutionized the Canyon, sharing its natural wonder with the general public.

During its heyday, the Atchison, Topeka & SantaFe Railway Company had two scheduled arrivals each day to the Canyon – and as many as six special trains might also be deployed.  The train was the preferred method of travel until, of course, the advent and love affair of the American people with the automobile.  The final rays of sunshine for the railway occurred on June 30, 1968, when Train #14 pulling only one baggage car and coach car left the Grand Canyon Depot with just 3 people aboard.

The 65 miles of track lay dormant for nearly 20 years until a crop duster & his wife, Max and Thelma Biegert, dedicated $15M and every other resource they could muster to reinstate train service to the Grand Canyon!  They & their team of experts had to restore the depots in both Williams & the Grand Canyon, repair 65 miles of weather-beaten track, rebuild washout areas and bridges, replacing over 30,000 railroad ties and countless more rails, beams and spikes.

Their hard work paid off, and on September 17, 1989 — 88 years to the day from the first train to the Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway returned to service!  They currently provide two trains each day transporting 225,000 passengers each year (well over 2M passengers since it returned to service).  It is more than just alternative transporation – it is an opportunity for many who have never had the experience of rail travel and such a civilized way to make the 2 1/2 hour journey through 65 miles of majestic scenery and stress-free travel.

Our reservations were, of course, made months ahead, so it is the “luck of the draw” relative to weather.  The sun rises early here – 5:45a, which was just after the 5:30 train with his incessant whistle, came screaming right beside our RV park!  We had sun early but by the beginning of the journey, the clouds had rolled in and the forecast for the day was a high of 63 degrees and wind.

GC - Train

We had perfect seats in the dome car – so the view was amazing!

Arriving at the Canyon just before noon, we had our first glimpses of this Natural Wonder!  We knew that we were planning to return by car the following day, so did not feel the pressure to “run & see everything” when we only had ~3 hours before we had to board the train for our return to Williams.  But that did not in any way diminish the breath-taking sense of awe and amazement!

After a brief visit to El Tovar Hotel, the original hotel built and owned by the Atchison, Topeka & SantaFe Railway for their guests, we made our way west towards Bright Angel Trail.  After assessing the storm clouds gathering and listening to the weather alerts on our phones, we elected to stop in the Arizona Room for lunch.  We had not been seated more than 5 minutes when the skies opened up – to more than an inch of pea-sized hail, strong winds and rapidly reduced temperature.

As is often the case at the Canyon, the storm clouds move through quickly.  We ventured out to enjoy the clear, crisp air – throw a snowball or two – and enjoy the South Rim for quite a while before returning to the Depot for our return trip.

GC - Train with Champagne

The Admiral was happy when this greeted her as we boarded the train!

Friday promised and delivered a much more hospitable weather day and we took full advantage with an early departure and the bicycles loaded on the back of The Toad!  Traffic was fairly benign, but we know that once school is out for the summer, the crowds will exponentially increase.  There are more than 4M visitors to the Canyon each year!

Finding a parking place close to the Greenway/Bicycle path, we headed first to Mather Point – the most photographed and heavily populated area of the South Rim.


The Grand Canyon runs from the base of Lake Powell in Colorado to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam in Nevada,some 288 miles.  Covering 1,902 sq miles, the Grand Canyon National Park was established 100 years ago this year to protect and preserve this natural wonder.  On the South Rim, at an elevation of around 7,000 ft, there are spots where you can see the Colorado River, some 5,280 ft (1 mile) below.  This past spring we were in Borrego Springs south of us in Southern California to see the Wildflower Super Bloom.  That entire region was at on time part of the Sea of California, but the land was created from the silt flowing from the Grand Canyon!

GC - The Canyon & Colorado River

If you look closely, you will see the Colorado River!

The bicycle path fortunately is not the most desirable for the walking visitor, so we headed west without traffic for the 2.5 mile ride to once again attempt to reach the Bright Angel Trail.

We returned to the car for a picnic lunch and then headed out east to South Kaibab Trailhead.  A much less populated area of the South Rim, it provided one of the highlights of our visit – up close & personal encounter with two elk!

We kept our distance while attempting to capture some pictures of these massive ladies.  They had certainly taken over the bike path, so after enjoying the view, we retreated back to the visitor center and our vehicle.  In all, we had done about 7 miles of well-maintained pathways that are anything but level.  What an amazing place – we look forward to returning to the South Rim and exploring the North Rim!

GC - The Canyon 12 - Piper Creek Vista

 

The Many Faces of Arizona

On schedule, we left Desert Shores at 9:20 Sunday morning to clear skies but more wind that we would have liked.  Captain Bill handled Contessa beautifully as he battled crosswinds along I-10.  We took Loop 303 around Phoenix (what a dream) and arrived at our first night’s destination of Pioneer RV Resort at 2:10p.

There is a lesson or story behind this word “resort”, as it can have a wide range of application.  Pioneer RV certainly fell within the broader definition, but the people were extremely pleasant, facility easily accessible to I-17 and north of Phoenix for an easy get-away the next morning.


A special treat was the large saguaro cactus in the center of the property in full bloom – and the American Flag flying proudly the next morning — Memorial Day.


We timed our departure to arrive Sedona at noon – the beginning of check-in.  We pulled into our “slip” at 12:00 on the dot!  What a lovely spot and within walking distance to Tlaquepaque (ta-LOCKEY-POCKEY) and the galleries.

The Captain and Oak Creek – directly behind our coach at Rancho Sedona

The mesas of the northern Arizona highlands have a stark and graceful beauty.  The sculpting of these mesas into timeless monuments will take your breath away.  The Native Americans tribes of Hohokam (hoo-hoo’ kam) lived here as early at 700 AD.  Then came the Sinaguan (meaning “without water” or farmers who rely solely on rainfall).  They were forced to leave after a violent volcanic eruption in 1066 AD, but returned along with the Anasazi (or “Ancient Ones”), where they built sophisticated multi-storied pueblos, whose remains still stand today.  They left abruptly in the late 1300’s, some believe run out by the Apache.

The first white man believed to have travel to the Red Rock Country was Antonio de Espejo in 1583.  Pioneers, prospectors and trappers began to arrive in the early 1800s.  In 1901, a Pennsylvania Dutch couple, Theodore and Sedona Schnebly arrived and purchased 80 acres.  Hoping to get a post office established there, Theodore submitted the name “Schnebly Station” but it was rejected because it was too long.  His brother suggested using his wife’s name and in 1902 the town was officially named “Sedona.”

Author Zane Grey wrote his famous book “Call of the Canyon” here and in 1923 convinced producer Jesse Lasky to film the silent hit movie based on that book in its actual setting.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  Since then literally hundreds of movies have been filmed here and many actors/actresses have homes here.

The sun rises early here – and so do we!  Tuesday morning found us on the Munds Mountain Trail before 9:00a.  We had a lovely 4+ mile hike as we circled the base of Munds Mountain.

At every turn, we were stopping to look up and look down – to the amazing red rocks surrounds Sedona and the native vegetation at our feet.

The Prickly Pear cactus in yellow bloom, gives way actual edible “pears” from each of the nubs on the top of each paddle.

The Perry’s Yucca (known in other locales as a “Century Plant”) grows for up to 25 years before it sprouts its stalk.  The stalk will grow 3-4 inches a day, then bud, and finally bloom for 2-3 months.  The following year, the entire plant will die.

The afternoon was spent in a 4×4 Jeep adventure into a canyon.  There were only two couples and our quite knowledgeable guide bouncing from rock to rock down a rough hewn trail.

The bark of the Juniper Tree was amazing!  The Native Americans used the bark to make fabric!

Back to our “home on wheels” by late afternoon for a quick shower – and then off to a “restaurant not to be missed” according to dear Sylvia from Desert Shores.  And she was certainly RIGHT ON!

The Elote Cafe has won awards year after year – and their success continues with a rather small but amazing menu.  They are open 5-9p Tuesday-Saturday – and you better get there at 4:30p, if you want a seat!  At 7p,  you can almost count on a 1-2 hour wait for a table or a seat at the bar.

The Captain & I are truly “bar flies” so even though we did arrive at 4:30p, we chose two seats at the bar and were not disappointed.  Friendly conversation with the bartender and our seat neighbors blended with amazing cocktails and out-of-this-world food!  You MUST start with Elote, which is fire-roasted corn with a cream & poblano sauce.  Then it was carne asada for the Captain and smoked brisket enchiladas for the Admiral.  The beauty of dining at 6:00p is that you can sleep that night!

We delayed our departure on Wednesday morning until check-out time (11a), as we only had 90 miles to travel to Williams AZ, which at a 1p check-in.  Again, perfect timing as we pulled into registration at 12:59!  Tomorrow is the Grand Canyon by train!

The “Next Adventure” Begins

What a wonderful winter the Captain, Admiral & Contessa had in the desert of Southern California!  We arrived on Saturday after Thanksgiving to our “new to us” haven at Desert Shores Motorcoach Resort in Indio, CA.  Settling in took a couple months; but with the resources for a myriad of consignment shops and every retail outlet you could possibly imagine within 5 miles, a shell that had been neglected for several years began to take shape.

We had been here May of last year and contracted for some work to be done on the  patio, including a pergola (essential for shade in the desert), outdoor kitchen and  fire pit relocation, as well as repairs on a variety of “opportunities” that a neglected property provides.  We were so thankful that when we arrived, the work done on the patio was everything we wanted, completed on time and under budget! We spent weeks with Emmanuel & his boys from EQ Landscaping, Jeff at Desert Lighting Solutions and a wide array of opportunities that begins to make this place “ours”.

Our “backyard” with the fountain & island in the lake behind us –
you can see our neighbors across the lake

We had a marvelous season and met some great new friends.  And, just as in our boating years, having the shared experience of motorcoaching provides a camaraderie and connection that we truly enjoy.  We also found a church home here in the desert in St. John’s Episcopal Church only about 4 miles from home.  It is a small mission church with a compelling focus on multi-cultural celebration and inclusion.  We are so blessed to have a loving church family in both places we call home!

We flew home for Easter and returned to the desert in mid-May.  Contessa had been at “the spa” getting some loving attention – new carpet, upholstery and some minor repairs on her air conditioning.  She is a happy girl and as ready to “get going” as we are!  So, tomorrow, Sunday, May 26, we’ll hitch “the Toad” (Jeep) to her and we will be on our way!  First stop – North Phoenix for one night and then to Sedona, AZ!

 

I-10 – on and on and on!

The journey into New Orleans was an easy 50 miles, but it is ALWAYS the last 2 miles that make for tense moments – and the search for French Quarter RV Resort was no exception.  Having replaced our Rand McNally GPS with a “new and improved” Rand McNally specifically for RV travel, we hoped for better results.  However, such was not the case, as we have now determined that the unit chooses to change destination addresses sometime during that day’s journey.  This time, it put us a block past our destination and on the wrong side of a divided street.  The Captain, however, skillfully kept making right turns on wide/major streets and we safely navigated to our destination.  Our friends, Bob & Sue Grote, however, missed a critical right turn and ended up in “all the wrong places” which required them to unhook their toad and back their bus up almost two blocks – with the aide of several gentlemen drinking out of brown paper bags.

Settled in to our sites, we headed out for an afternoon of sunshine, char-grilled oysters and the sites of Bourbon Street in the daylight.  Little did we know it would be some of the last sunshine we would see for five days!

Sue, Bob & Bill beside Contessa, Acme Oyster Bar (top right),
Dualing Pianos and Bill & Bob at Pat O’Brien’s Bourbon Street

The next day was primarily dedicated to the National WWII Museum – and what an amazing place!  Originally established as a D-Day Museum, it has flourished with support from many around the country.  Why, New Orleans, you might ask?  The primary landing craft (LCVP landing craft, vehicle, personnel) for the invasion of Normandy in 1944 was conceived and built in New Orleans by Andrew Jackson Higgins.  It could hold a 36-man platoon, a jeep & a 12-man squad, or 8,000 of cargo.

 

Beyond all Boundaries, shown in the Victory Theatre at the museum, is a 4D journey through the war narrated by Tom Hanks.  It is an awe-inspiring experience that no one should miss and yet is only shown at the Victory Theatre.

The museum now comprises four massive buildings and construction continues on a fifth building and canopied pavillion.  Memorabilia from tanks to uniforms and letters to personal quotes take you “there” in a way that few historical facilities can achieve.  Building 4 houses a sample of the aircraft used during the grueling and wicked four years of battle (1941-1945) in which the US participated.

 

Entrance to Museum Complex, B25 (above) and B17 Flying Fortress (below)

When we entered the Museum, it was a warm and sunny day.  When we exited some five hours later, the clouds had rolled in, the temperature had dropped and the promise of rain was evident.  Galatoire 33 on Bourbon Street was our dinner haven for the evening.

Friday morning, we ventured out with umbrellas – headed for Cafe duMond for a classic beignet & coffee.  However, none of us are fond of standing in long lines – and theirs was longer than a Disneyland ride.  Having already purchased tickets for the Hop On-Hop Off excursion, we elected to pass on the sugary delights – and how fortuitous that was!  We were able to get seats on the upper level of the double decker, but under the canopy should it start to rain.  Perhaps 10 minutes into the 2 hour trip, the rains and wind appears with gusto.  Again, fortunes smiled on us, the bus stopped at the “Visitors Center’ – almost everyone got off, and we were able to secure seats down below for the remainder of a wet, cold and windy ride!

After a quick bite at Cafe Beignet (gumbo & muffaletta’s – no sugar!), we returned to our coaches for the afternoon.  The evening was a delight – taking the recommendation of looper friends, Denise & Mark Gillespie, we summoned an Uber and headed for Katie’s in MidCity.  Service was great and the ribs were AMAZING!

Ribs - Katie's MidCity New Orleans

Yummy!

We departed New Orleans in cool temperatures, never imagining what the next days would hold.  As we continued west on I-10, having joined it about 15 miles north of New Orleans, we were humbled by the miles and miles of bridges that make the Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys seem short.  Because of the endless miles of bayou as well as the southwestern portion of Lake Pontchartrain, the bridges seem to last forever.  Or, perhaps, it is because the bridge side barriers combined with the endless concrete barriers around the multitude of construction sites seemed to encroach on the traffic lanes – and the ride felt like a roller coaster with major bumps, humps and rolls.

This was our longest day of the journey – 375 miles to Houston/Katy, TX.  We were traveling on Saturday, thus minimizing the risk of rush hour traffic, so we elected to go further and get west of Houston, making our next leg of the journey easier.

We were in a lovely campground just a couple miles off I-10, but it was so cold and rainy that we never even got a picture!  Sunday morning was spent attending a local Episcopal Church – sure made us homesick for the warmth and friendliness of our St. Philip’s!

After lunch, we decided the warmth of the Johnson Space Center was an appropriate way to spend a cold, rainy afternoon.  So much for planning. Even though the main Center housed a theatre and some amazing exhibits, the vast majority of an hour tour was on an open-air tram!  We were, of course, not attired for such an event, so it was not as pleasant as one would have liked.  However, Mission Control was an exhilarating experience and the Saturn V rocket warehouse took your breath away.

 

Orion Mission Control (top left), Saturn V 1st Stage (top right) and 2nd Stage (bottom)

We all agreed, however, that the 747 with the shuttle on its back was the highlight of the Center!  This particular 747 was one of three purchased from American Airlines in 1974 and retrofitted to be the “carrier pigeon” for the Space Shuttle Program (Enterprise, Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis, Challenger and Endeavor).   The Program ran from 1972-2011, with two failures – Challenger was a launch failure on January 28, 1986, where 7 crew members including a civilian school teacher lost their lives.  Columbia was a re-entry failure where another 7 astronauts were lost.

We will always hold dear our memories of May 2011, when Ivory Lady was making her spring journey from Marathon to Charleston and we were anchored immediately off Cape Kennedy for the launch of the final Endeavor mission.  Atlantis embarked on its 33rd and final mission of the Space Shuttle program on July 8, 2011, landing at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, having orbited the Earth 4,848 times and traveling nearly 126 million miles.

Shuttle Atop 747

Our second day in Houston was spent doing inside chores, while Bob & Sue went to the movies.  Dinner was spaghetti aboard Contessa, the consummate comfort food for a cold and rainy night.  We did, however, brave the cold to prep the coach for travel the following day, ie. holding tank empty, water tank full, etc.  Even though it was to be a short day and we therefore couldn’t leave until 9:30a to coincide with check-in time in San Antonio, we were sure it would be more pleasant to do the outside chores in the afternoon rather than early the next morning with a freeze warning in place.  What – freeze warning in Houston!  Yes, sirree!

And, again, the best laid plans – while we were preparing the coach and toad at 8:30a for a 9:30a departure, Captain Bill identified a serious issue with the Jeep.  Evidently the roller coaster ride on I-10 between New Orleans and Houston had loosened the nuts from the Blue Ox mounting bracket that allows the toad to be connected to the coach!  We wouldn’t be attaching to the Jeep until it was repaired.  And, to add insult to injury, it was beginning to snow!

With the magic of the internet and the kindness of the Texas people, we were connected to Gary’s Tire & Auto only about a mile from the campground.  After alerting Bob & Sue, we were off to meet Gary.  After about an hour, they determined the issue and confirmed their ability to repair – BUT – they had to take the Jeep to a body shop to have the bumper removed before they could accomplish the repairs.  Another two hours passed, Bob & Sue departed for San Antonio and we arranged to either depart late or stay another day, when Gary proclaimed we were “good to go”.

We calculated we could easily make the 175 miles to San Antonio before dark, even though we would be arriving later than our preferred 3:00p.  While the rain and snow flurries had subsided, the wind was a force to be reckoned with – and it gave Captain Bill a work-out as we headed west.  As we made our way toward San Antonio, blue skies and sunshine appeared and it was a very welcome sight.  Somewhere close to San Antonio, we crossed the halfway point for our trip to our “western destination” – sure felt good!

Again, the last two miles added a couple elements of anxiety with low hanging power lines, abrupt railroad crossings and the GPS changing destination address, but we made it to our destination without issue and what a relief it was.

We awoke to clear blue skies, no wind and warming weather – so after an abbreviated workout in the lovely fitness center at the campground, we pointed the toad toward New Braunfels, northeast of San Antonio.  Dear friends, Gayla & Ferril Sorenson, have purchased a fabulous lot on which to build their “next home”.  It was so nice to see the land and be able to picture its progress into the lovely spot we know they will make.

A visit to Gruene Historical District and then a cruise through New Braunfels, complete with a visit to the Gruene Dance Hall where many a country singer got his/her start and a stop at the “smokehouse” for good German meats, was a great way to spend the day.  We topped it off with a late afternoon visit to the Alamo and an evening on the Riverwalk.

 

While history focuses on the Battle of the Alamo in March, 1836, the Alamo served as home to Spanish missionaries and Indian converts for more than 70 years.  Texas became the 28th state in 1845 and seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America, until the end of the Civil War.  Except for the Civil War period and until 1877, the Alamo was used as a supply depot by the US Army.

 

Today has been a lovely day — a workout & yoga, getting both the coach and the toad washed, doing a few chores and just basking in the sunshine and noticeably warmer weather.  The sunshine is giving way some clouds, but there is no rain in the forecast and we are to have two lovely days for our “next leg” that begins tomorrow morning.  We will depart early for 315 miles to Ft. Stockton, TX, overnight without even unhooking the toads and then off on Saturday morning for Las Cruces, NM. (All on I-10!)

FINALLY – On the Road Again!

Guess there is a LOT to catch up – since we haven’t posted since our Summer 2017 trip to the Canadian Maritimes!  We did spend a couple of months last winter in Florida, which confirmed several things for us.  The results are seen in our current and future plans.

During the summer of 2017, we were able to purchase the wooded area (~1 acre) across the Little River from our home in the mountains for a home for Contessa.  There is no way we could take her across the one-lane bridge, dirt road & driveway onto our home property, but with her “directly behind” us, we are set.  Of course, the land needed to be cleared sufficiently, a parking pad of gravel built, electric and septic tank installed and well drilled.  Some got accomplished while we were gone, but the final task of well drilling wasn’t completed until September of this year.

While in Florida, we began to accept that the reality of Florida as a winter destination for us had passed its allure.  Having lived there for 25+ years, the sense of adventure was long gone and while we enjoy visiting friends, our wanderlust is seeking more.  As well, our initial plan of north in the summer, south in the winter and “home in the mountains” for spring & fall had some holes in the thinking.  Specifically, if you want to go northwest in the summer, it takes many months to get there!  So…… we are on the road to California!

Contessa pulled out of her summer home about 11:00a on Tuesday, October 30 – just as we had planned.  Admiral Jann just MAY plan a bit too much, but at least we know where we are going and when – and that someplace will be leaving a light on for us when we arrive!

         Contessa on her parking pad – and the new shed that covers the well head

First stop was a whopping 35 miles away, but with closing the cabin, stops for fuel, weight & balance and tire pressure adjustment, it made the most sense to take our time, stop in town for a few last hugs and then have dinner with Dear Friend/Sister Nancy Weir!

Lakewood RV - Hendersonville

Contessa in the beauty of Fall Colors – Flat Rock  NC

Wednesday started early for us – and earlier than we like as it was still dark.  Only the opportunity to have breakfast with dear friend, George Richardson, would have us creeping out of the park in the dark.  The reward was a glorious ride down US25 as the sun came up over the mountains and the colors were spectacular.

Walmart provided the parking lot, George provided the local transportation, Waffle House provided the breakfast – and a good time was had by all!  We were back on the road by 10a with a destination of Lake Allatoona, north of Atlanta.  Captain Bill decided that the struggling starter battery really needed to be replaced.  Dealing with these types of queries is so easy with internet & cell phone service – so off we went to Open Road RV just a few miles north of our final destination.  Of course, it was two batteries – but they had them!  And, of course, Captain Bill reminded the Admiral that the two batteries and installation was less than half of one Ivory Lady battery – and she had eight!

Our destination at Allatoona Landing was motivated by being close to Cousins Ken & Linda Ratts, but also to meet Haley Stewart, daughter-in-law of our dear friends, Jill & Danny Stewart from our home Church, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Brevard.  Haley was a delight and we had an opportunity to spend a bit of time with her each of the two evenings we were there.

Contessa @ Allatoona Landing, the train just outside the campground (we love the sound of it!) and Bill, Haley & Crash with ball to throw!

We also had great visits with Ken & Linda, as well as daughter Megan, daughter Samantha and her guy, Zach.  Lots of family talk – and hopes for a Ratts Reunion in North Carolina next June.

On Friday, Contessa & Crew departed – this time in the daylight – with a destination of Helena, AL and a visit with Nephew Jim Davis.  It was an uneventful journey that kept us out of Atlanta rush hour and an arrival at Cherokee Campground about 2:00p.  Keeping with our desired travel of 3-3-3, we went less than 300 miles, arrived before 3p and stayed at least 3 days.

It was a lovely long weekend with Jim, spending time in his home as his first family visitors since he moved here in January to join Warrior Mining, following completion of his Masters work at Virginia Tech.  We toured Helena, which is a quaint “old town” with a GREAT pub for lunch.  We journeyed to Tuscaloosa to see the University of Alabama campus (on a Sunday) and have lunch at Avenue Pub, owned by the Craig, son of our dear friend Laura Oxman in Brevard.

Jim’s home, breakfast prepared by Jim, pictures from the Train Museum, Goodfella’s Pub-Helena and Avenue Pub-Tuscaloosa

Today we headed out early, but thanks to “standard time” we had morning light.  Everything was going according to plan until Captain Bill said, “OK, here we go with the power cord retraction” and nothing happened!  A check of fuses (MANY) with no obvious resolution then led to the Captain having to hand-roll the power cord into the coach.

This was one of our longer days with 289 miles to Picayune MS.  We had sporadic rain but, thankfully, I-59 is a much less “loaded” interstate so the travel was relatively easy.  We pulled into SunRoamers RV Resort before 1:00p to a lovely site – and a business card for a Mobile RV Service.  Kenny & Jeremy arrived by mid-afternoon and, with the help of Captain Bill, identified the issue with the power cord retraction motor – it had “lost” its ground.  Whew!  It was an easy and inexpensive permanent solution and we are ready to head to New Orleans tomorrow.

So, some of you may be wondering — CALIFORNIA?  As we considered warm locals for the winter and a way to “see the west”, we made a trip to Indio/Palm Springs area in early March.  The trip had a two-fold purpose – visit friends, Bob & Sue Grote, and investigate whether we wanted to winter 2018/2019 in that area.  At the end of the weekend, we had purchased an RV site in the same community that Bob & Sue also own!

We returned in May and contracted to have some exterior work done to make the unit more outdoor hospitable – we are excited to see the results in just a few weeks!

So, tomorrow we will roll into New Orleans and connect with Bob & Sue.  We’ll travel west together – prepare for a winter of sun and exploring a portion of our fabulous country where Bill & I have spent precious little time.