Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Stuff all over the State, Some Downtime for Repairs

 Leaving Parker and heading for the Mojave Desert, our stretch goal was Bakersfield for the night. The plan was to visit a Sound Bath along the way; we thought it might be a silly, quirky and kitchy little stop, apparently people take it seriously though...  it’s booked solid until late February. Oh well, we’ll catch one the next time around.

Oranges trying to get in the drivers side window

Just West of Needles I noticed the driver’s side trailer tire looked wonky. All the tire gauges read well, albeit running a little warmer than usual but all the same I decided to have it checked out. We found a truck repair in Barstow called In and Out Truck Repair, they said they would look at it but then continued to work right around us without so much as a nod hello. After about 20 minutes of that I gave up and found Koch Mobile Repair, we met at the Barstow Loves truck stop and John repacked the trailer bearings which were rather dry and loose enough to allow some slop but otherwise undamaged. A few minutes later we were rolling again. The trailer tire wobble was much improved but still there. I didn’t want to alarm Mom so I simply dialed down the speed a little bit and tried to be subtle about obsessively checking on it at every opportunity. We made it uneventfully over the Tehachapi Pass to Bakersfield and found the most adorable little RV park hidden among the orange groves at the foot of the mountains. At checkin they handed us a bag and invited us to pick all the oranges we wanted.

Mom picking oranges for breakfast

Oddly enough, at the exact moment we were settling in with our orange bounty Lance was many miles away with nomadic friends in Napa discussing their favorite RV parks and the same park came up: Orange Grove RV Park. Apparently in the Spring the scent of orange blossoms is intoxicating.

The next day we rolled on to the parking spot I’d prepaid in Loomis close to my folks. The whole time Mom and I have been on this rescue-Loretta-from-Albuquerque mission, Lance has been meeting with surgeons and planning the strategy for the 13th and hopefully last surgery. We knew this was going to be a long pause and we have been accumulating a lengthy project list, and it wasn’t a mistake that Loretta and the trailer will be close to Dad’s toolbox and helpful family; so Loretta, the trailer, and Lance can all get in some healing together.

As usual we broke our list down and prioritized it.
Loretta project #1: fix the cracked kitchen vent to prevent leaks. We first noticed the vent leak way back in August's Syracuse squall, caught up with the the replacement vent delivery in Denver and have been driving around with it ever since waiting for the right repair window. We expected the simple remove and replace project to take an hour but it took 3 hours (that rooftop sealant takes persistence and patience to remove properly), now she can safely shuffle around the shop yard without taking on rainwater damage. Loretta Project 2: find a repair shop that will coordinate with the insurance company and get the bumper repairs rolling.

Trailer project #1: fix the tire situation. The wobbly tire is wearing weirdly. Newly greased bearings are healthy and happy, axle and springs appear undamaged... final diagnosis: the rim is bent. Time for new rims and tires. Of course nobody sells them both together, so it took some running around to get it all sorted but now the trailer is good to roll again.

Lance putting the new wheels on the trailer

We got a good repair shop recommendation in Sacramento, and they were willing to take on both Loretta and the trailer jacknife-repair project, so we left them both at Dr. George's RV Repair. They had hardly rolled in the shop door before our Allstate rep showed up and started writing checks. Huzzah.

We've been considering some modifications to the boat rack, so we'll be tackling that project while we wait.

I feel a bit like George Carlin in that skit about Stuff. Stuff over here, stuff over there, little bags to transport the stuff I really need, stuff being stored elsewhere. Our stuff is spread all across the state of California right now.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Wild, Wild West

Historic Cochise County Courthouse in Tombstone AZ

After leaving Roswell we continued South to Carlsbad Caverns which has long been on Mom's bucket list. The wind was really kicking up as we climbed the hill and parked on the mountaintop.

Typically there are thousands of bats in the caverns, and the Thing To Do is to wait for them at sundown at the cavern exit. But these bats don't like the cold, so most of them migrate to warmer climes as the weather cools, the few remaining hardy critters that are left hibernate deep in the caverns. All the same, it was an excellent tour. We chose to skip the flashlights and camera flash and enjoy the ambient LED lighting as laid out by the rangers, which was haunting and magical. We were very grateful for the elevator as the Big Room is almost 1000' down - a very long and steep hike.

The winds continued to grow in strength while we were touring the caverns, and we were getting slapped around on the highway so we nestled into the Guadalupe Mountains State Park and called it an early night. The site was only $8 but had no hookups so Mom got her first boondocking experience.

Red Sunrise at the Guadalupe Mountains Campground

The next morning's sunrise was stunning and red (you know the saying: red sky at night sailor's delight, red sky at morning sailor take warning) so we packed up and rolled quickly to get ahead of the wind. We got as far as Willcox which put us within reach of Tombstone, AZ.

The Guadalupe Mountains were once an ancient seabed. On the other side of this mountain was beautiful white sand which looked very beachy.

Tombstone is the home of the OK Corral shootout. Basically this gang of cowboys was runnin' their mouths and the local sheriff family of Earps didn't like it much, and it all culminated in a shootout with three cowboys dead and some injured Earps. The re-enactment was worth the $10 entrance fee. The rest of the town is as original as possible considering it's burned to the ground three times and was left abandoned for quite some time. In its heyday the town ran on silver, bordellos, and whiskey and when the silver mines flooded beyond hope most everyone simply left, the population overnight went from 10,000+ to less than 200 folks.

Earps patrolling the main drag in Tombstone

As I was wrestling Loretta out of her parking spot in Tombstone I jacknifed the trailer, causing damage to both the trailer and Loretta's bumper. Rrrrgh. This was followed by a sleepless night turning it over again and again in my head, thinking of all the woulda, coulda, shoulda, and what if moments that would have resulted in less damage. So here's what I've learned:
  1. If in doubt, get out and look.
  2. Ignore advice from strangers standing around - they don't have all the facts and they don't know what you/your rig need.
  3. Get out and look again.

The next day we continued on through Quartzsite to the Blue Water Casino in Parker, AZ and settled on the Colorado River (if you're an Angeleno this region is simply called The River as if there was no other river in the world). This location hosts an outdoor bar at the marina, an outdoor theater, a multi-level pool with slides, and a wakeboard island where a zipline-type contraption propels you and your wakeboard over the ramps. All was quiet in the off season but I'll bet it's a hoppin' place in the summertime.

The pool playground at the Blue Water Casino Resort

There's ugly weather ahead and ugly weather behind, so we'll wait here for a moment before launching across the Mojave Desert.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Springing Loretta / Roswell, New Mexico

The mechanics were finally ready to release Loretta, it was time to fly to Albuquerque and pick her up. Lance couldn't go - he's meeting a new foot surgeon - so my Mom volunteered to ride shotgun.

The International UFO Museum & Research Center was $5 well spent

While waiting in the Cummins guest lounge for the final paperwork to be drawn up, we anxiously watched the weather news - a big storm was bearing down on Albuquerque and promising epic snow. We fidgeted with our luggage and passed worried looks to one another, the other folks in the waiting room looked like they were wilting, they'd been there long enough to lose faith. Their dog lay farting and snoring on the floor at their feet while they recounted their long tale of repair shop woe. When I couldn't stand the wait any longer I went hunting down the necessary paperwork to wrap things up so we could flee.

Shortly thereafter we were rolling with haste, up the mountain and away from the approaching wall of black storm clouds as quickly as possible, wallet still whimpering from Loretta's 7-page long repair bill.
Destination: Roswell, New Mexico.

We escaped the snow but the wind followed us down the mountain.
Mom's hanging on for dear life while gale force winds blow through town.

This town has embraced all things alien. The street lamps have painted eyes on them, currently decorated for Christmas with little red bow ties and Santa hats. Many storefronts hosted chainsaw carvings of aliens, and even the City Hall has green tiles on its domed roof.

Roswell City Hall

 The winds are predicted to start slowing down soon, we'll make a short jump to Carlsbad Caverns tomorrow, and start making our way West as good weather windows appear.

Meeting the alien from the Day the Earth Stood Still.
It was rather creepy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Happy Rain Dance

The collective rain dance done by all Californians has been rewarded. Rain, heavenly rain, how happy we are to see you.

The whole town of Napa, probably like the rest of the state, emerged from their homes, blinked and smiled up at the downpour, and took a long-awaited deep breath. Followed by some dry hacking that went on for a few days. The smoke is finally gone. The firefighters can go home. And we can start the process of rebuilding. Again.

The Pacific Ocean on a beautiful Fall Day (Bodega Bay, CA)

Lance and I went for a drive yesterday.  It started off as a casual conversation over breakfast "it's been so long since I've seen the ocean" followed by deep sighs from both of us; 5 months since the Atlantic and 13 months since the Pacific... but who's counting? So we loaded up the dog and drove to the coast.

The Pacific at Bodega Bay welcomed us home with fluffy clouds, birds cruising comfortably on the consistent ocean breeze, whales spouting in the distance, Chloe running happily along the ridge, and bellies full of dungeness crab and bay shrimp happily gobbled at our favorite outdoor restaurant by the working boats' marina. All better now.

It's always better to take the scenic route. The grapevines are stunning this time of year. (Sonoma Valley)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Homeless in Albuquerque sucks. We're outta here.

The mechanic called us with the final diagnosis... the exhaust manifold is cracked. Also a bunch of ducting on the cold air side of the turbo had perished allowing leaks here and there, robbing Loretta of critical turbo power. Grand total $3400. The shop itself was also undergoing a major overhaul, in that their computer system was being completely rebuilt from the ground up, which caused significant delays getting our parts underway. Altogether we waited two weeks until the actual work started, and when it did... major oops.

The technician in charge of separating the exhaust manifold struggled with removing the broken parts because over the years the bolts holding everything to the engine had seized, and in trying to remove them he managed to break two bolts off in the head, the first of which he was able to extricate, and on the very last one the coup de gras - he broke the head itself.  So now we're looking at a pretty major engine refit. Probably weeks. Final bill likely closer to $8000. Ugh.

Well, we've definitely had enough of Albuquerque and have no intention of spending Thanksgiving here, and so the decision was made to pack up the whole furry family, check out of the hotel, and hit the road to spend some time with family in California.

This meant visiting Loretta at the shop to collect some clothes and pet supplies, and throw away all the food in the fridge/freezer (rrrggghh).

When you spend so much time with a vehicle, it sort of takes on a life of its own; seems to breathe, triumph, suffer. You become used to each of the little sounds and learn to interpret their meaning. Our boat was the same way, so we shouldn't have been quite so surprised at how it would affect us to see Loretta torn apart this way.  The shop had the bed propped up so they could work, and from the hallway we could see all the way through to the shop floor.  Her engine parts were separated and spread around. She was not plugged into any shore power and the propane was off, so she was cold and dark, and the usual warm happy smells of a life well lived were replaced by sharp shop smells and just a hint of food beginning to spoil in the fridge. While we negotiated the scene collecting our things it felt like standing in the middle of a surgery room or murder investigation, the way her guts were exposed and spread around like that was just too much to witness. We packed as quickly as we could, patted some love on her dash, and fled for California. Yes we heard the smoke is bad... how bad can it be?

Lance and the cats are having a battle of wills

Traveling with two cats and a dog in the Subaru is a challenge. The dog settles right down in her usual bed and is fine unless any cat tries to share it with her, which they do every now and then probably more to annoy her more than for any other reason. They each have their own comfy safe spaces created for them which they choose to ignore in lieu of being all over the driver and passenger and trying to climb the seat backs. I know what you're thinking... "Why don't we leave them in the carrier?". We tried that. The yowling is neverending and soulful, it goes right through to your bones, and the driving days were really too long to ask anybody to sit that tight in their little carriers. Eventually they found their own space at the passenger's feet or the backseat footwell and settled down. We drove for two days like this, taking care they didn't escape at fuel and bathroom breaks, doing a pet head-count before rolling from each pause.

California is on fire, as it usually is this time of year nowadays. We first started noticing the smoke in Phoenix, and without a doubt the majority of it is being held back by the mountain range separating the Mojave Desert from the Central Valley.  Our last clean breath of clear air was on the Tehachapi Pass; when we started dropping into Bakersfield on the Central Valley side we instinctively held that last breath as it seemed like we were being slowly dropped into soup. The buildings and cars along the roadside in Bakersfield had a thick layer of red dust/ash on them and combined with the dark skies at midday it all felt very apocalyptic. The schools are closed, the traffic minimal as everyone tries to stay at home and exert themselves as little as possible.

Pray for rain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Albuquerque - petroglyphs, chili and dragon lights

The waitress said "chili?" and stared at me expectantly in response to my taco order. What went through my head was this:

and I just couldn't wrap my brain around how this one word was a question, and what it had to do with my simple order of street tacos. She shifted her weight, adjusted the pen in her hand and continued to stare expectantly at me for a few seconds. I started to get nervous that I'd picked the wrong place for lunch. I wished I'd been paying better attention when our friends placed their orders in Santa Fe as they did it with ease, and I tried to ignore the angry somersaults my stomach was doing over the concept of dumping a can of goopy chili on top of my fresh, light and crunchy tacos.

Eventually the waitress clucked her tongue, and said "tourists?", to which we both smiled sheepishly, and then she finally explained. In New Mexico all the food comes smothered in chili sauce which is really just a very finely blended salsa. There is a choice of red or green, or you can opt for both by saying "Christmas". I do recall my friend adding the word "Christmas" to his order - aha - now that made sense, at the time I thought I had simply misheard him.

Whew. No cans of chili here. As it turns out you can have your chili on the side and enjoy your meal as smothered (or not) as you want. Excellent.

Street tacos @ Garduno's, chili on the side

We've been waiting for all of Loretta's parts to arrive and be installed, and searching diligently for something to love about Albuquerque in the meantime. On one such venture we noticed a sign for petroglyphs, so we veered over to check it out. This land was once Anasazi land, although the natives nowadays prefer to refer to their ancestors as Ancestral Puebloans. These glyphs were made between 1300 and 1700 AD and hold cultural significance, warnings or instructions for the people of the time although much of their true meaning has been lost to time.

Petroglyphs at Albuquerque's Petroglyphs National Monument
The view of the West Albuquerque suburbs, as seen from Petroglyph National Monument

We saw some signage one day for Dragon Lights of Albuquerque, and it turned out to be quite a singular little side trip. The lighted displays are made from silk stretched over wire frames, and took about an hour to walk through them all. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. There were also live performances with a face-changer and a pair of contortionists who somehow fit themselves into an impossibly small barrel. It was painfully cold so we didn't linger at the craft stalls or food lines, if you're in the area I definitely recommend catching this little show.

Dragon Lights of Albuquerque

Once again, it looks like we've overstayed our welcome. Winter has followed us down the mountain from Denver and has taken advantage of our mechanical pause here to catch us. Temps hit 19 in downtown Albuquerque last night. Brrr.

Tinkertown Museum on the hillside behind Albuquerque, just 20 minutes up the hill from us
We hope to get Loretta back later today and will be rolling towards warmer climes as soon as we are reunited.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Albuquerque, Home of Breaking Bad

When I worked for a post house in Hollywood, one of the Sony techs used to talk about buying a condo in Albuquerque... for 15 thousand dollars. That about sums it up. This was 2004 or 2005. 
Finally the leader of the Parade shows up. Things move at their own pace here, the parade was very, very late getting started.

This crazy float was about 20' high.  At one point it got hung up on the power lines we were all sitting under.

We are stuck here waiting for hideously overpriced Cummins repairs, and while we wait we're trying to find something redeeming about this town. So far a two-block plaza area with historical adobe buildings and the Dia de los Muertos parade have been the high point.

Day of the Dead parade

Sketchy characters abound.

One of the touristy things to do is the "Breaking Bad" tour. Great... exteriors from a show about cooking meth... Pass (although I would like to throw a pizza on the roof).

Maybe we haven't found the heart of Albuquerque, but not for lack of trying. For my California friends - it's like Riverside without the charm. The balloon festival is a big deal, but we missed it by a week. Can't wait to get back on the road.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The color of the smoke is white

So I got some bad advice.
It all started off innocently enough. Why take the boring route from Denver to Santa Fe when we can take the pretty route? The one recommended, repeatedly and with vigor, by a local?

Well, in short, because...
Rocky Mountains.

About the time the elevation imagery on the gps was looking frighteningly vertical and I was coming to the realization that I'd made a horrible mistake, Lance called on the walkie talkie to tell me Loretta was spewing some pretty copious smoke, and instead of it being the usual diesel-under-load black it was a shocking grayish shade of white. Not good. We were on a crazy high grade, with nowhere to turn around and limping along with a significant loss of power; she finally crested the summit at 9630' amidst much coaxing, pleading, and patting her dash with "come on Old Girl".

Santa Fe Skies RV Park has 360 degree views that are ever-changing.  At night the coyotes yip and sing just out of reach. The park, like most of Santa Fe, is heavily influenced by the local artist community, and the sculptures on the property are plentiful.

We eventually made it to Santa Fe, where friends were waiting for us. After taking a moment to shake off the flop sweat we headed out to a traditional Santa Fe dinner with sopapillas, blue corn tortillas and the best chili relleno I have ever had.

One of the best things about our nomadic lifestyle is being able to catch up with friends on the road

Downtown Santa Fe can be a bit crowded if you get there in the afternoon. On the second attempt I arrived early on a Monday morning and the crowds were a lot more manageable - in fact I found parking right in front of the Cathedral on the Plaza.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

The Cathedral is amazing, and the accompanying graveyard has a metal sculpture over the entrance that translates precisely from Spanish to "God gives and quits", likely meant to reference "The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away" from the story of Job's suffering, but the literal translation works, too. This church was not the first one built here, previous churches were destroyed by angry natives, the most bloody of which earned the label The Pueblo Revolt.  I expect many a Spanish settler on the receiving end of the natives' wrath may have felt "quit" in the 1600's.

The door to the cathedral is covered in vignette sculptures like this

The stained glass windows are breathtaking

Baptism wells

Santa Fe is an adorable town. The homes and businesses all share the same pueblo adobe style and are painted in desert colors. The downtown plaza is an organized chaos of street vendors, many of them from local native tribes, selling handmade wares.

A Gallery just off the Plaza, in typical Santa Fe architecture

Within a few days we found the right folks to give Loretta the attention she needed, so down the hill we went to Albuquerque to hand her off to the Cummins specialists. Fingers crossed that the white smoke isn't fatal.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

On the Road Again... Goodbye Denver

Denver is starting to feel like home. Well, except for the occasional REALLY cold blasts. Yep, winter's coming for real and it's time to move on. The campgrounds that were too crowded to get into in the summertime became impossible in the winter, as many of them either shrink down to bare bones or close up altogether. We've been pretty creative and had to exercise some significant flexibility skills to stick the landing this long.

Lance's foot is finally ready to travel, it looks like we might be able to avoid the predicted last round of surgery with some magic shoe inserts so we're trying that next.

When I look back on our time in Denver, almost three months - our longest pause since we started this adventure over a year ago - we still managed to experience a whole lot while working around the foot appointments. Most of it was spent with close friends from LA who moved here recently.

First adventure: we had a special request from Victoria to see the zoo, and I'm glad we did. The Denver Zoo is hands-down the best zoo I've ever visited. Bring your comfy walking shoes because it is huuuuuuge. In fact I'd recommend seeing it over a couple of days so you don't miss anything. The unexpected bonus here was the landscaping. Check out these flowers - they're bigger than your face!

The Brown Palace high tea was a singular luxury experience in downtown Denver. The tea is served in the middle of the hotel which has a stained glass ceiling, the whole effect is sort of ethereal.

Don't let the drab exterior deter you, the Brown Palace is stunning on the inside.

Lance and I got a private tour of Old Colorado City from local historian Leiloni, who, despite the silly picture below, takes history quite seriously. Around here most of that history centers around gold, brothels, hauntings, shootings and even more gold. Leiloni volunteers at the Old Colorado City Historical Society & History Center, where they do costumed reenactments - the volunteers tell stories in first-person and it is an experience not to be missed.

It's easy to be silly with Leiloni

Our October houseguest
Crutches and a cast in the snow.
He handled it with grace.
We experienced our first snow in the RV. Apparently typical for this time of year, it didn't last long but it's an experience I'm glad we had once. Winterizing the rig wasn't as difficult as we expected, and we were cozy and warm inside with hot beverages, Hulu and a puzzle.

Post-Brunch snowfight at John, Ana & Victoria's place

Within a few days the snow melted right off the bus

Doing a haunted house is an annual girls' night out tradition, and the 13th Floor did not disappoint. There was one very long line at the entrance, then once you're in you stay in for what seems like forever, going from one terrifying room to another. One room was canted sideways so it felt like you were climbing the walls, another room restricted your movement from the waist down so it truly felt like the stuff of nightmares - where you are trying to run but you can't. Awesome.
We dragged Leiloni along for this one. She had no idea what to expect.

When the boys went to the Lemons car race, the girls went hiking. There's no shortage of hiking to be done in the Rockies.

Shawna, Ana and Victoria at Evergreen Lake

"Mountain Man" at the Evergreen Spillway

The Three Sisters, we did the hike in a little over 5 miles which was a bit much for the toddler. There are trails that loop all around here and they are shared with mountain bikes and horses. You could easily make this into a 10-mile day or more without repeating any sections of the trail.

We've been spoiled beyond repair by Ana's fabulous Brazilian cooking, and for our last dinner Victoria serenaded us beautifully.
"Tia Shawna... Listen!"

But the storms are coming, the road is calling, and we must roll. Thank you Bieberlys for the warm love in Denver.

Bye Bye Bieberlys