Sunday, October 14, 2007

The RV Show

Yesterday Joe and I went to the RV Show. Every spring and every fall, several hundred RVs fill the NJ Convention and Expo Center in Edison, and we have gone to every show for the past 3 years. The first time we went, we didn't have Mo yet, and we were looking for a used RV which we could afford. Given our extremely modest budget, we didn't have too many choices. We found Mo on the Internet, at a dealer in Pennsylvania.

After living with Mo for 3 years now, we've come to several conclusions. The most important one seems to be that Mo really has virtually everything we want, and we love the floorplan. It seems amazing to me that we found something so perfect when we were essentially flying blind. It's true that at the time we bought Mo, I was thinking that a 24' long RV would be perfect; but several people on suggested that having more space is better, and that there isn't much difference in 27' vs. 24' when it comes to handling and practicality. 27 feet seems to be a bit more common, and that is what we ended up with.

Now, after living in Mo for an entire month, travelling on all kinds of terrain, and staying in all kinds of campgrounds, it seems that there is very little a new RV would offer us. The main thing, of course, is that a newer vehicle would simply have fewer mechanical problems--or at least that IS the assumption! I've heard stories about the lack of quality control in new vehicles, but I still think we'd have fewer problems with a younger RV.

That being said, however, there are only a few things lacking in Mo which I would like to have. A quieter generator would be nice--our old Onan raises a racket when we need to turn it on. But on the flip side, we seldom DO turn it on! I personally would like automatic levellers--only because it would be faster and easier to leave our campsite to explore, and then return, without having to level the RV anew each time. Joe feels this is not much of a problem, though, and I must admit, he is very proficient at figuring out how many levelling blocks we need on each side. We almost always were level within 5 minutes. And a new RV would, presumably, have cab air conditioning that works! Did I happen to mention last month that we had no AC while we were driving? Well, we managed without much problem--electric fans cooled us quite adequately when we needed it, and the house AC works once we are docked.

What else might we want? New trims on the interior--new style blinds, or less faded upholstery, or a fancier shower? None of those are worth going into debt for. New C-class RVs tend to have a lot more "basement" storage--now THAT would be nice. But they almost all seem to have a lot less interior storage, for some reason! And all in all, we had plenty of room inside Mo for everything we needed for an entire month.

Lastly, there is the issue of "house" repairs-- not the engine, but things related to the living functions of the RV. Joe has several times (including twice on our trip) had to fix sudden leaks in the water hoses which come from the fresh water tank. It is a relatively quick fix which required us to go overnight with no water pump. But no big deal--we "flushed" by pouring water into the toilet from a jug, and otherwise managed temporarily without the pump. The window shade pull came off... we put it back on. There are a few other small items which Joe has tinkered with over the years... mostly he enjoys it and gets great satisfaction from being able to fix both engine and interior problems. As I said back in August, RV repair is his new hobby--what's wrong with that? (The new engines are so much more complex and computerized that, given a breakdown, there's no hope he could rescue us without outside help.)

So, for the time being, we don't see a big advantage in going into debt for a new RV. We weren't much tempted, and Mo will continue to be our "vacation home on wheels" for a while longer. We are looking forward to taking off for a long weekend soon!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Last Night On The Road (for now!)

Sept 29

For almost every evening of this past month, I’ve sat inside Mo after dinner and typed up a review of the day, transferred photos from my camera to the computer, and uploaded the results to my blog. I can’t believe this is my last evening “ontheroad”. On one hand, it seems unbelievable that exactly one week ago, Joe and I were camped near Albuquerque, New Mexico. That was over 2,000 miles ago, and it seems like such a long time in the past! But on the other hand, I also can’t believe that the month is over—it seems to have gone so fast!

We have spent the past two nights at Miracle Farm in Floyd, VA, with Joe’s brother Ed and his wife Karen. As always, we had a lovely time. The farm is gorgeous and we are so proud of how much they have accomplished there in only about 20 months. Everyone should go to visit them—the Bed & Breakfast accommodations (individual cabins) are absolutely lovely and the vegetarian, mostly organic breakfasts they make are sensational (the dinners were awesome too—the veggies from Ed’s extensive garden are so delicious that I am always happy to be a vegetarian when we are there!)

A river runs through Miracle Farm
Turtle with a slug in its mouth
But we finally had to leave this morning, on the last leg of our trip—up Interstate 81 through Virginia, quick hops through West Virginia and Maryland, and on into Pennsylvania. Yesterday, at the farm, we also had a visit with Jan, a friend of Joe’s. Jan used to be a patient of his until she moved down to Roanoke, only about 45 minutes away from Miracle Farm. While she was there yesterday, she said that we should really stop to see Foamhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made of foam, near Natural Bridge, VA.
At the time I told her that we probably wouldn’t have time, but as we passed the signs for Natural Bridge, we decided to take in one more “scenic wonder”. Having just come from the far west, perhaps we are spoiled. But when we discovered that it cost $12 per person to see the Natural Bridge, we could not help deciding that it simply cost way too much. Considering that for $10 per car, we could visit Arches National Park for a week and see 100 natural stone arches, it just seemed that the state of Virginia was simply being excessively greedy—especially when the ticket booth was located inside a gift shop which rivaled Walmart in size! We left the site, a bit disgusted, and went back to Mo.
We were heading toward the Interstate when lo and behold, we suddenly passed the sign for Foamhenge! We quickly turned around, and drove Mo through metal gates which reminded us both of Cadillac Ranch, and also of the Legend Rock we saw in Wyoming. A short climb up a hill brought us to Foamhenge. Quite obviously, the artist, Mark Cline, has a great sense of humor. He posted a sign at the gate describing the installation, and another at the top warning against vandalism. He also added to the landscape a statue of Merlin, who is reputed to have built the original Stonehenge. As Joe said, the site was refreshingly silly, and a great antidote to the greed and commercialism of the Natural Bridge. Thanks for telling us about it, Jan!

That was our last tourist destination, but we simply are not quite ready to be home yet! So we are now camped for the night in Jonestown, PA, at a KOA, a mere two hours from home. This is a remarkably nice KOA, as it happens—in a grove of trees, several miles away from the Interstate, and it gave us one last chance for Joe to cook me a dinner, and for us to relax, and for me to write one more blog. The wifi is unfortunately inadequate—it is supposedly more reliable closer to the office, but I will wait for the morning to upload this, I think, rather than carry the laptop over in the dark.

And so….. that is that. Our plans for tomorrow: wake up early, and drive home to see Beth, our new front porch, and attempt to shift our brains back to Real Life. I’m thinking how it will probably take me several days to totally unload Mo. And I am already having trouble remembering how it was to be “on the road.” It was such a wonderful adventure. I can’t wait to do it again.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Miracle Farm

Just a quick blog to let everyone know we are safe and sound with Ed and Karen at Miracle Farm. Mo has found a snug space against the hill, and we have found hugs and fabulous organic food "upstairs" in the main house. Roxy has found nirvana--we took a long walk today through the fields, woods, and by the river (my favorite place is the bamboo grove!) and she was ecstatic. The whole morning to run free, sniff everything, roll in something we don't want to know what, and collect burrs.

Sad to say, tomorrow we will have to be leaving and heading back home. It has been a long and wonderful trip--also too short. But I refuse to think about it ending until we are actually back home. For now, I'm still on vacation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


We met the King this morning. And it was everything we thought it would be, and nothing like what we thought it would be. As we left the Graceland mansion, I asked Joey what he thought, and his reply was, “Astonishing!” I have to say, my reaction was the same.

The tour was very well handled, in my opinion. We got onto small buses at the main Graceland building, across the street from the actual Graceland mansion (which, by the way, was named not by Elvis, but by the original owner from whom he purchased it.) We were given audio cassettes which described everything in the Mansion tour, and which also offered additional recordings about the memorabilia, which could be accessed by codes indicated in each room. The audio included snippets from Elvis himself, Lisa Marie, and other people when appropriate.
Graceland, meaning the house itself, is actually smaller than I expected. Elvis bought it in 1957, when he was 22, and although I’m sure it was considered a huge home at the time, by today’s McMansion standards, it is not large at all. The ground floor contains only 5 rooms, one of which Elvis added onto the back later—the den which became known as the “jungle room”. But the rest of the first floor was quite grown-up and unexceptional in many ways (the 2nd floor is not on display to the public). It had a living room, with a music room on the far end, a dining room, a bedroom suite which was occupied by Elvis’s parents, and the kitchen. The Jungle Room was added behind the kitchen. Even the Jungle Room wasn’t quite like I envisioned—a den with avocado green shag carpet (oh, the wonderful 1970s!) had heavy wood furniture with animal motifs carved in the handles, fur-covered upholstery (more 1970s), and a custom-designed waterfall at one end. It looked like really bad taste, but someone obviously loved it


Living Room with peacock doors to music room

The "Jungle Room" den. Notice the lion heads on the arms of the chair. The round, fur-covered chair was "one of Lisa Marie's favorite places."

The basement was clearly the “hangout” of a 22-year-old guy, and was perfect for that, I thought! One room was done in yellow and dark blue, with 3 televisions (Elvis got the idea from LBJ, who said he watched all 3 network news programs at night), record player, and a bar. Across the hall was the pool room. Again, neither of these rooms would particularly turn heads today—they were not exceptionally large or even, I thought, ostentatious (although the fabrics in the pool room were a bit too much on the gaudy side! But Elvis didn’t do the decorating here, so he can’t really be blamed.)

Another display room (part of the original garage, I think) had memorabilia from all stages of Elvis’s life, plus furnishings that had once been in some of the rooms, but had been replaced. The items included Elvis’s jewelry, and I noticed that somewhere along the line he acquired a large diamond Chai!

It was not until we moved into the “Trophy Rooms”, however, that I was really astonished. These rooms were not part of Graceland originally; they were built over a patio area to house Elvis’s awards, memorabilia, and demonstrate the history of his music, and later his films. We moved through the music area first, which had tvs showing clips from his earliest appearances; blown-up newspaper articles describing his appearances, protests against him and his “dangerous” style of visceral rock and roll, and other items related to his earliest career. From there we moved into a long room with the walls simply COVERED with gold records, singles and albums; his 3 Grammy awards, and other music awards, both from this country and abroad. The sheer number of them was totally amazing.
The next rooms were devoted to memorabilia from Elvis’s stint in the army, and then his film career. This was followed by showcases detailing his musical “comeback” in 1968, and also a section on his charitable work and donations. One really touching display showed his award from the Jaycees as one of “Ten Influential Young Men”, or something like that. The audio accompaniment played Elvis’s self-written and very moving acceptance speech at the Jaycee dinner, the only award dinner he ever attended personally. He carried the award itself with him wherever he went. The overall impression of the entire experience was of an exceptionally talented musician who never outgrew his roots as a soft-spoken, polite, small-town boy; who was generous to everyone around him and never really stopped being amazed at his success; and who was absolutely adored by everyone. The scope of his success in a pre-Internet, mostly pre-satellite world was really amazing.

From there we went into the racquetball building which Elvis built later on, and again, we were overwhelmed by later awards of all kinds and from all places for his musical accomplishments in the 1970’s. A large TV played selections from Elvis’s first satellite concert, live from Hawaii. The awards covered the entire walls up to the ceiling. It was this room which dealt with his death at the age of 42.

We went from there to the meditation garden, which contains the graves of Elvis and his parents and grandmother. But even when the bus brought us back across the street, we weren’t finished—we also visited the Autombile Museum and saw many of Elvis’s cars, motorcycles, motorized “toys, and clips from his movies which showed scenes of Elvis in and around cars. We also went into a museum of Elvis costumes. Then we toured through his airplane, the Lisa Marie. By that time, we were getting totally overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of items associated with Elvis that had been collected into the Graceland experience.

Tributes line the walkways near the Meditation Garden. The estate accepts and displays all tributes until they are faded or wilted.

And it is true that the only thing matching the popularity of Elvis Presley is the ability of his estate to market his image, as well as his music and his movies, in every conceivable item that anyone could want. You can dress yourself from head to toe in Elvis clothing, furnish your entire house, and even buy items such as Elvis themed fabrics, luggage, and yes—scrapbooking paper and embellishments!

By the end we were pretty much Elvised out, but still really amazed by his accomplishments in the world of entertainment. Some of the most touching things, such as his reaction during an interview when asked whether he’d left any special girlfriend in Germany (after his army stint), when he looked genuinely embarrassed; or the sign his father had hung in the office, along the lines of “handle your business and then leave, don’t just hang around here getting in the way”; or the quotes on the walls: “I don’t care if the fans rip the shirt from my back—they put it there”, or “If the songs don’t go over, we can try a medley of costume changes!”, allowed the real person to come through the hype and the adulation. Most of all, I can’t get over that long long room simply LINED with gold records! It was simply amazing.

We finally left Graceland after about 4 hours, and drove to Nashville. There, we spent a few hours with Ben and Miriam, who gave us a delicious dinner. We are now “camping out” in the street in front of their house, and using their wifi. Tomorrow we are heading for Joe’s brother Ed’s home, Miracle Farm, and will spend Friday there visiting before heading home this weekend. It is so hard to believe our trip is coming to an end at last.

Hot Springs National Park

Sept 25

What fun! I don’t think either of us really expected this park to be quite so delightful. I only wish I’d had time to “take the waters”, as it used to be called. Hot Springs has been a spa-destination for more than 100 years, and it certainly seems to have been lovely in its heyday.

Hot Springs is unlike any other national park—it is right in the middle of the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The central part of the park is, in fact, Central Avenue, a main street of Hot Springs. It is lined on one side with cute-looking shops (I never have time to actually go shopping, boo-hoo!), and on the other side with the elegant bath houses which flourished for decades, mostly during the “golden age” of 1900-1930ish. The road is aptly called “Bathhouse Row”, and the park’s visitor’s center is the completely renovated Fordyce Bath House. The springs themselves come out of a mountain which backs immediately on the bathhouses. Or to be more precise, they were built at the very base of the mountain, in order to collect the hot water as it came out of the ground. The mountain has been landscaped in order to disguise the tufa, rock formations which are the result of the mineral deposits of the spring water. However, there is one “show spring” which is left coming down as it originally was. All the other springs are hidden; their water is piped directly to the bathhouses.

"Demonstration" Spring left to flow freely

Visitor's Center (Fordyce Bath House)

We walked into the visitor’s center just as a docent, in period garb, was just ready to start a tour, so of course we went with her. She was absolutely delightful—a devotee of the hot springs (she said she’d probably had 2,000 baths), and a fount of information herself (pun intended, hah hah!!)

We toured the first floor, which contained the men’s and women’s baths, which of course were separate. The men, however, had the much larger facility (they evidently were more frequent travelers and comprised 80% of the clientele), including a large central area decorated by a charming, if somewhat chauvinistic, statue of an Indian maiden kneeling to present Hernando DeSoto with a pitcher of water. Our guide says this statue commemorates the belief that DeSoto came to the Hot Springs himself in his explorations. The rest of the room was comprised of individual bathrooms with oversized tubs, a “needle-shower” for cooling down, and benches for seating. Small adjacent rooms contained sitz-baths (good for lower back problems, we were told) and steam-bath rooms (the kind with the big box to sit in, with just the head coming out.) The guide suggested the room would resemble a large toga party, given the fact that everyone going through the 5-stage bath process (hot soak, sitz bath, steam bath, hot packs, and massage) would be wearing nothing but a linen sheet wrapped around them. The women’s side was similar, without the huge central gathering place.

Men's Central Bath

Ceiling in Men's Bath

The third floor included a large lounge with a men’s side (pool table) and women’s side (baby grand piano), with large airy windows fronting onto Central Avenue below. In addition, there were a small beauty parlor, the massage rooms (complete with scary looking electrical devices which were the most modern thing for massage back then—a completely opposite environment than we would expect now for massage!), small staterooms where, for an additional fee, a woman could nap after her bath and massage, and dressing rooms. The gentlemen’s side was similar, and between the two, there were rooftop gardens (separated in their time by large dividers) where clients could sunbathe. Only the men had sun on their side, however, since it was unfashionable for women to tan their skin.

The most fascinating thing on the 3rd floor, I thought, was a special bath which was modified after its initial installation to accommodate polio patients after an epidemic of polio in the 30s. The bath is situated underneath a “monorail” with a track extending both to the women’s and men’s sides. The patient would be placed into a sling-chair-type seat, and then could be gently moved along the track to the bathroom, where the waters would await. The tub itself was very deep, and contained a chair which the patient could sit on to do rehabilitative exercises for the upper body. Or, the chair could be folded up, and the patient could be lowered deeper into the water where two adjustable railings would allow him/her to hold on while walking or exercising the legs. The entire concept seemed so unique and forward-looking to me, being such an excellent mechanism for physical therapy.

Ladies Lounge Area

Therpeutic Bath with Exercise Equipment

The bathhouse also contained a gymnasium, which is in its original condition (even the equipment is the original), and on the second floor were a number of displays regarding the history of “taking the waters”, as well as the history of Hot Springs’s own tourist industry. It was all absolutely delightful, and included a short video describing “Taking the waters today”, i.e. going to a bathhouse down the street (the only continuously operating bathhouse on Bathhouse Row), which is open to the public and provides the same kind of services as the original bath houses (without the electrical stimulation during massage, one assumes!!)

As I said, the tour and building were thoroughly delightful, and we followed that up by walking up and down the street looking at all the other old bathhouses which still stand in the “row”. By reading the informational signs, we figured out that the sidewalk we walked on was built over the original Hot Springs Creek, which originally ran in front of the buildings. We also wandered on the “promenade”, a brick walkway which meanders over the hill behind the bathhouses. Walking was part of the health regimen which was prescribed by the clients of the bath houses.

Hale Bath House

Buckstaff Baths--still open to the public as it always was

We finally headed back to Mo, who was parked around the corner from Bathhouse Row, and found that our only egress from the street was a winding road up the mountain to the overlook at the top (part of the national park). So we drove carefully up the side of the mountain until we reached an overlook of the city and environs. We decided not to go up the observation tower, which was a little bit above us, because the visibility wasn’t that great today—in fact, we had the first real rain we’ve had all month. Instead, we came back down the mountain, and found our way to the other side of the park, where there are several public thermal water fountains. Our guide had told us it was common for people to come and fill jugs with the water from the hot springs—it is tasteless, odorless (it never comes in contact with volcanic rock, which is what gives most hot springs that sulfuric odor), and many people swear by it. We happened to have 5 empty water jugs this morning (we save them until we can recycle them) so we filled them up with hot springs water—it comes out of the ground at 143 degrees, and wasn’t much cooler than that coming out of the faucets!! I haven’t tried it yet—I am sure I’ll like it better when it’s cooler.

After that, it was a relatively short, 3-1/2 hour drive from Hot Springs to West Memphis, Arkansas. Alas, the pain of the loss of my MP3 player was truly felt this afternoon. No Paul Simon singing “Graceland”; no Marc Cohn singing “Walking in Memphis.” We had to settle for an oldies station broadcasting from Little Rock. (I still can’t believe we are in Arkansas. And yes, Arkansas too is proud of its famous citizens: we did indeed pass a sign this morning welcoming us to Hot Springs, “Childhood Home of President Bill Clinton.”)

The exciting news is, we are currently camped at Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Resort. We are on the very shore of Old Man River, which does indeed “keep on flowin’”, and all we can see is tugboats pushing barges past us, and the lights of Memphis upriver in the distance. The last barge and tug were so close to the shore, and hence to us, that Roxy started barking at them! This is simply totally cool. Tomorrow: we meet the King!

Mo looks at the Mississippi as a barge goes by

Jeopardy Answer: ARRRRRRRRRkansas

Sept. 24 (written Sept 25, a.m.)

Jeopardy Question: Where do pirates live?

Yes, we are in Arkansas. We drove through eastern Oklahoma, which was much greener and less level than I picture Oklahoma to be. I can’t say too much about the drive, other than that Oklahoma loves its native sons and daughters! We passed signs for the Roger Miller Museum in western OK; and signs proclaiming, “Welcome to Henryetta, Home of Troy Aiken”; and billboards announcing that we were in the hometown of Carrie Underwood, “Your American Idol 2005”. The Cherokee Nation owns the eastern-most part of the state, including the “Indian Turnpike”, a toll road which we did not have occasion to utilize. It was hot, and I didn’t take any photos, other than of the buffalo corralled at our KOA . And that was Oklahoma for us this time around.

We left I-40 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, just over the border between the two states, and drove through secondary roads to get to Hot Springs, the home town of the smallest National Park, Hot Springs National Park. We stopped at the AR visitor’s center before we left I-40, and there was a great computer system which Joe played with while I looked at maps and talked to the lady at the desk. It seems this area has a lot of beautiful places to camp, including two state parks very close to Hot Springs, and lots of Corps of Engineer sites also, due to the presence of several lakes, including the large Lake Ouachita (man, would Mr. Stevens, my high school English teacher, rip into THAT run-on sentence!)

Joe loved the look of the state parks, so we decided that rather than look for a private campground, or try for one of the very few spots in the national park campground, we’d head for Lake Ouachita State Park, only 12 miles from Hot Springs. We got here just as total darkness fell, but we were able to tell several things: our campsite is right next to the lake; and this is one amazingly deluxe state park campground! The sites are absolutely huge, with lots of room to park (important not for us, but for people hauling boats, trailers, etc.), fancy accoutrements, and a large bath house with huge showers.

Unfortunately it seems that Arkansas also has one “commodity” that we haven’t had to deal with in weeks—humidity! Here we have this great campsite, but we ended up closing all the windows in the middle of the night and turning on the air conditioning—it was so hot and muggy I couldn’t sleep otherwise!

We woke up fairly early, and spent a while doing household chores (it’s funny how they seem more fun in an RV than at home!) And now we are reading to go into town and visit the park. After that, we will be heading up to Memphis, where tomorrow we hope to have our encounter with Elvis. I’m quite sure it will be memorable!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cadillac Ranch

Sept 23
We transitioned from the southwest to the Midwest today, and all on I-40. What a road. Long. Flat. Straight. Fast. LOTS of trucks…. Way too many trucks. We saw sagebrush in New Mexico, and farmland in Texas, and actually things got greener with slightly more rolling hills in Oklahoma. There was a lot of wind, too—and lots of wind farms: huge tracts of windmills spinning steadily. And off to the side, like a ghostly companion, runs the famous Route 66, often reduced to a mere access road to the interstate.

We crossed into Texas (and into the Central time zone) just at noon—which meant it was almost immediately 1:00. I planned for us to stop in Amarillo, Texas, for two reasons. The first was Cadillac Ranch; but we drove right past it! I hadn’t figured I needed detailed directions: “just west of Amarillo, in sight of I-40” was what I read on the Internet, and I assumed it would be in my AAA Tourbook. Nope—it was mentioned in the book, but NOT with a specific exit! I looked in all of my various sources, with no luck; and pretty soon we were inside the city limits of Amarillo, with no Cadillac Ranch in sight. I was extremely peeved, to say the least.

The second planned stop was harder to miss: “FREE!! 72-OUNCE STEAK!!” Thus proclaim the billboards for The Big Texan , for miles (even while we were still in New Mexico). To our disgust, the frequent billboards never actually said which exit to take! Luckily we saw the horribly kitschy western-themed mess on the opposite side of the highway as we whizzed past, and by then had figured out the approach to highway-side businesses in Amarillo: you take the exit after you see what you want, then head back on the service road which runs on either side of the Interstate. We got off at the right time, circled back, and pulled into The Big Texan. I considered taking a photo for the blog, but the place was almost too painful to look at: bright garish colors, a big steer in front (think Hilltop Steak House, those of you who have been in Saugus, Mass. I provided the link in case you can't resist peeking, LOL!), and big signs outside in addition to the 20-foot tall “Big Texan” on the roof. Inside there was a large gift shop, a saloon-style bar, and the restaurant with the iconic “72 ounce steak AND fixins!” at the doorway. If you can eat the entire thing in an hour, you get it for free! Otherwise, it costs $72.

Needless to say, we were not interested in challenging ourselves with 72 ounces of steak! But we did each get a larger portion than we needed, in order to have leftovers later. The steak was very good, and we had a great lunch (Gotta eat steak in Texas, right?) As we left, we saw someone sit down and heard an announcement, “The clock is running!” He was sitting at a table on a platform in the spotlight, and from the looks of him, he might have had a good chance of a free lunch! But as I said to Joey, what’s the downside? Other than risking folks coming over and staring while you are eating, if you don’t get the lunch for free, at least you get great leftovers!
The surprise of the Big Texan, however, was the sign out front as we came in, telling us it was a “free wifi zone”! So we brought in the laptop, and while we waited for lunch, I uploaded the past two days of blogs from Mesa Verde. I also googled Cadillac Ranch, and found Roadside America online with some directions—it was between exits 60 and 62.

So after lunch, we headed back down I-40 for 12 miles until we came to Cadillac Ranch. Once we knew where it was, it was definitely visible from the interstate. We parked and walked through the multi-colored gateway to the field (the trash container at the gate is also multi-colored!) Cadillac Ranch is an art installation—10 Cadillacs noses-down, planted in a working field (the crop was so small today that I don’t know what is growing there at the moment.) Well, anyway, we LOVED it! Not only was it great fun to see something we’ve heard about for years, but Cadillac Ranch is always a work in progress. The site was littered with empty spray paint cans, which previous visitors had used to add their own touch to the installation. Joey checked them all until he found a can which still had green paint in it. So after a discussion on the appropriate contribution, he painted “Deb and Joe On the Road” onto one of the Cadillacs. It was totally cool! We loved our stop there, and for the price (free), it could not be topped as a fun thing to do.

We got back in the car again, and drove another 100 miles until we crossed into Ohhhhhh-klahoma (yes, of course we sang!) We were feeling really fine when suddenly, to our shock, Mo’s engine turned off abruptly. Joe steered onto the road shoulder, but when he tried to restart the engine, it turned over without catching, and when turned off, it gave a loud backfire. This happened twice, and we were quite stunned, since none of the dials had shown any abnormality. Once again I called Good Sam, but once again, Joe pulled a rabbit out of the hat and got the engine started. This time it seemed to be a problem with one of the hoses—he had some hose-repair tape, and when he attached that, the engine started up again right away. After pulling off the highway (one of the scariest parts of the breakdown was being on the shoulder of the road, with trucks whizzing by at 75 mph; we couldn’t even open the truck door safely!), he rechecked his repair, we held a consult, and decided that we would continue on the road, but would only go as far as the next campground, rather than pushing on as we’d planned and boondocking. It is amazing how this kind of stress is so draining!
So 40 minutes later we pulled into yet another KOA (we have gotten our membership’s worth, that’s for sure—and we are using the air conditioning, too!) and tomorrow Joe wants to check the engine out one more time. But for now, it looks as if, again, we may be back in business. Tomorrow’s plans, God willing, are to drive from here (about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City) to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we hope to visit one more national park.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Erev Yom Kippur and Sequel

Sept 22
We spent a lovely night in the campground at Mesa Verde on Thursday night, and as I “slept on it”, I decided to spend a second night in the park. My plan was that we’d see the rest of the park during the morning and early afternoon, and come back to our campsite around 3-4 pm, where Joe would make us a nice “feast” as our pre-fast dinner. Then on Yom Kippur morning, we would take our time, perhaps simply stay put for a few hours, and then drive to Santa Fe, where we would arrive in time for dinner to break our fast. We would have two quiet, thoughtful days. Well, as they say, “man plans, and God laughs.”

We got a slow start on Friday morning, and we were delayed further by the road construction in the park. Just our luck to arrive when all the park roads are being repaved. There were approximately 4 traffic stops along the two-lane road which winds up the mountains,and each stop delayed us by anywhere from 5-15 minutes. We arrived at the Visitor Center to purchase tickets for the Cliff Palace tour at 10:30, and found a line out the door of the building! I waited about 20 minutes to buy our tickets, which meant that we took the 12 noon tour.

The tour was excellent! The ranger who led us was very knowledgeable and entertaining, and climbing down and up the rock-hewn steps, plus 5 ladders, each from 5-10 feet tall, was lots of fun. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute, and the buildings were fascinating.

Joe Climbs up the steep stairs to leave Cliff Palace

When we finished the tour, however, Joe shared with me his concern regarding Mo’s electrical system, yet again. The battery indicator was reading way too high, as was the voltage meter he uses to monitor the system. He was very concerned that evidently the voltage regulator had broken again (something in the system seems to be jinxing every voltage regulator!) and it was overheating the battery. We decided to skip the museum and head down the mountain and back into Cortez to buy yet another voltage meter. An added complication was that we also needed to buy new headlights—when Joe turned the high beams on in the park’s tunnel, they got a surge of electricity and blew out. I was NOT comfortable not having high beams--these national park roads are DARK!!!

So we anxiously drove out of the park (stopping at the traffic delays yet again), hoping to make it back to Cortez and the auto parts store before 5 pm. My concern was two-fold—we obviously needed to deal with Mo, but it was erev Yom Kippur, and I also wanted (ideally) to be back at our campsite, parked, and fed, by sundown. As we drove down the highway toward the town, however, the voltage meter essentially “went through the ceiling”, and a puff of smoke came out of our rear-view camera screen. Joe went “HOLY COW!” and pulled off the road, approximately 5 miles outside of Cortez.

We quickly disconnected anything remotely related to electricity, and I immediately called Good Sam. Well, this time we DID have some luck—they sent us Art, an angel in the disguise of a “mobile mechanic”. Because Joe was able to tell the Good Sam dispatcher exactly what was going on, and then was able to talk to Art before Art left Cortez, it meant that Art came out with a new battery, a new voltage regulator, and some other possibly useful electrical items in his truck. I should add that while this entire thing was going on—waiting for Art, and then waiting while Joe and Art worked on the engine—I myself was looking up motels, rental cars, and restaurants in Cortez in our DeLorme program. I was CERTAIN that we were not going anywhere again under our own steam, since there was reason to believe that the entire electrical system, including all the house circuits, could have been damaged. I was expecting the worst.

But thank God and thank Art too, I was wrong. He and Joe not only put in a new battery (meanwhile our old one, once it cooled down, actually registered that it was usable again!) and new voltage regulator. They brainstormed together regarding what could possibly be going wrong over and over again. They came to the conclusion that it was one of the two connectors that linked the alternator and voltage regulator. The other connector was the one that Joe already replaced back when we were in Rapid City. Sure enough, they pulled out the second one, and it, too, was in bad shape. This is so infuriating, since we had the guys at Express Automotive working on this system several times with the exact same problems. We are so disgusted that they didn’t do the simplest thing and replace the old, aged connectors! But since they didn’t replace one of the filters when we had them ostensibly replace all the filters, fluids, etc. with this trip coming up, I suppose it’s not surprising they didn’t replace simple connectors either. Plus they didn’t put the engine cover on right, Joe and I had to reseat it on our first day of the trip because it was crooked. There is NO WAY we are ever going back there again, that is for sure!

So anyway, Art and Joe replaced the faulty connector, and much to my astonishment, we were back on the road. (And would you believe Art charged a mere $60 for this rescue mission, plus the cost of the parts?) It was about 5:45 PM, and we now had to continue into Cortez to the auto parts store to buy new headlights. And it was STILL erev Yom Kippur! We drove to the store, and Joe ran in, bought the lights, and replaced them in what was probably record time. I meanwhile calculated the sinking sun and decided there was no time to eat dinner in a restaurant, or for Joe to cook dinner as we’d formerly planned (plus he was drained anyway, no wonder!) We went instead to the local grocery store, bought some roasted chicken and side dishes at the deli, and hurried back to our campsite at Mesa Verde, arriving just before sundown. A few brachot, a hasty meal, heartfelt thanks to God for bringing us back safely to where we wanted to be, and then we collapsed!

That was yesterday. This morning we got up and decided that anything physically ambitious was out of the question on a fast day. So we spent an hour or so in the museum, which we’d skipped yesterday. It is a remarkably well-done museum tracing the history of the Ancestral Puebloans of the southwest, and has incredible displays of everything from tools, clothing, food, architecture, and art to displays regarding the local animals, geology, birds, flowers, etc. We were very impressed.

We left the museum at about noon, and headed off again, this time toward Albuquerque. I had decided that by the time we arrived at either Albuquerque or Santa Fe, there’d be no time to do much but eat dinner there. And since Santa Fe seemed to be a longer drive (because of slower roads), we chose Albuquerque instead. We arrived as I calculated, at dinner time, and we pulled over for Joe to whip up, in a mere 30 minutes, a dinner of spaghetti and meat sauce (all from scratch of course), salad with a lime-hummous-soy dressing that he created himself (it was beyond delicious!!!), and garlic toast! And then we drove another hour or so down Interstate 40. We are now stopped for the night at a rest area, and will continue tomorrow toward Amarillo and points beyond.

Roadside Scenery in New Mexico

May we ALL (including, if it is not too superficial to add it, motor homes everywhere) be inscribed in the book of life and health for the new year!

Flying by the Seat of our Pants

Sept. 20
Today was filled with uncertainty and decisions made on the fly—but in the end, it all seems to have worked out great. Our day began in Moab, UT, where we first stopped at the grocery store. When I was imagining us being stuck without any interesting foods, I was NOT picturing Moab, Utah, as an oasis of culture and cuisine. But the grocery store was just fantastic—they had gorgeous produce, tons of interesting and offbeat specialty items (including a small kosher section and lots of organic foods), and a “Chef Prepared” foods section which had salads and all kinds of entrees, reminding me a lot of Whole Foods. My new theory is that when a town is a mecca for outdoor sports such as hiking, it also draws a lot of people into health foods, natural lifestyles, and crafts. That leads to interesting restaurants, good selections at the grocery store, and gift shops which are more interesting and less kitschy.

We left Moab heading for Cortez, Colorado, and nearby Mesa Verde State Park. We did make one stop before we left Utah, though—we finally passed a scrapbook store! Utah is almost the home of scrapbooking—it is known for huge scrapbook stores and is the place where this hobby first became really big. Much to my surprise, we had yet to pass a scrapping store anywhere we’d been. So of course we stopped, and I managed to find a few Utah- and RV-related items. They’ll be fun if and when I ever get a chance to make a scrapbook of this trip.

Wilson's Arch--your basic roadside attraction in Utah

We then drove for another hour, noticing how the red rocks had faded to prairie, and then the prairie became greener and more cultivated as we started to pass farms in the southwestern corner of Colorado. We got to Cortez and headed for the Visitor’s Center, since this whole direction was a change of plan for me, and I had no idea what else we might want to do besides Mesa Verde. I ended up spending an hour or so trying to figure out an itinerary and time-frame for the rest of our trip. It was very frustrating, and for the first time I felt that we simply do NOT have enough time, that there is so much to see that we have been forced to pass up. I know this was an ambitious trip, and because of the great mileage we are covering, it means we are seeing less. Even so, I haven’t felt quite as pressed for time as I did today!

I finally decided we should simply head for Mesa Verde, even though it was already 2 pm, and at a minimum do one of the self-guided hikes. Then, I thought, we could do a guided tour of one of the cliff houses tomorrow morning, see the museum, and be on our way. We didn’t make it out of Cortez that fast, though—we ended up stopping at a store with beautiful Indian crafts, and I did some shopping for gifts there. So it was already about 3:30 when we got to the park. As we came into the park, the ranger asked us if we were camping in the park. We said no—I hadn’t gotten reservations, obviously, and had assumed we’d leave the park tonight, find a private campground, and come back in the morning. But then I thought, maybe the campground here isn’t full—so we stopped at the camping store and asked. We were surprised to hear that it was NOT full, there were RV spaces available, and so of course we grabbed one for tonight! We also noted that there was a HUGE laundry facility right by the camping store, and we needed to do a laundry soon.

After we booked our site, we headed toward the Visitor Center in the park to book a tour for tomorrow morning and to get oriented. We had to hustle, because the process of finding a campsite and then checking in had taken almost an hour (this includes driving, and browsing in the store, of course!),and the visitor center closes at 5. Well, the irony is that today is the first day we’ve hit “construction traffic”—the first time was painless, someplace in Utah just as we were leaving the state. But the second time, and worse, was in Mesa Verde, where they are repaving the road! Joey pointed out how crazy it was that we’ve had the worst traffic on our trip at the top of a mountain! The mountain was high, too—the park’s main area is about 8,000 feet. Because we had to stop on our way up, we missed getting our tickets before the Visitor Center closed at 5:00, but apparently it won’t be a problem to come back tomorrow and get the earliest tour.

So we proceeded to the path for Spruce Tree House, which is a self-guided path down to the most easily accessible cliff dwelling. It turned out to be an easy hike, despite the very steep path, and it was more than worth it! We picked up a booklet to tell us about the trail, and there was a ranger posted at the site. We listened to him talking about the Ancestral Puebloans (it is now un-PC to refer to the people as Anasazi) and while he was answering someone’s question, he said he was from New Jersey! Of course, I then said that WE were from NJ too. It turns out that he “had a plant”, he said, in Edison, over near Costco, and now has a house in Bedminster. Then he adds that we should “notice his name”—which was Bruce Schundler (did I spell that right?)—he mentions that his brother ran for governor!! LOL! What a small world. He says he took an early retirement and now he spends 6 months/year living in his RV, being a park ranger. How cool—do you suppose I can get Joe to consider doing the same thing?

By the time we were finished seeing Spruce Tree House, it was 6:30. We started back down the mountain, and were treated to THE most spectacular sunset, across the countryside (the views from the park are sensational) with the Rockies to the east of us. We then decided that rather than go right to our campsite, Joe would make dinner in the parking lot by the Laundromat, and the laundry could wash while we ate! So we did that, and by 9:00 we were finished eating, and all our clothes were clean.

So now Joe is asleep, and I am writing this quickly, and then I too will head for bed. The real question now is, what will we do tomorrow? I am leaning toward staying in Mesa Verde for another night. I think it would be a nicer place for erev Yom Kippur, rather than taking pot luck in a commercial RV park, or worse, not finding one and being in a Walmart! As it stands, we will probably have to drive for quite a bit of Yom Kippur anyway—I seem to be “short” one day that I need for my itinerary from this point on. Something has got to give—probably it is going to be Santa Fe, although we may find ONE thing to do there late on Saturday (maybe break our fast in a great Mexican restaurant??) But for now, I need to give it a lot more thought. We are currently about 25 hours of driving from Memphis, TN—where we are hoping to visit with Elvis on the morning of Sept 26.

Sunset over western Colorado

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Canyonlands NP

>Another day with lots of scenery and red rocks! The Moab area is simply all red, and that's it. I have to say that I absolutely love the drive along Route 191 about 5-10 miles north of Moab--the red cliffs all along the highway are gorgeous.

However, we started the day in a more mundane, albeit necessary, manner--we finally got the oil changed for Mo. We lucked out and found a great RV parts and service place where the guy wasn't busy, and took us immediately. We couldn't have been there more than 30 minutes, and now we should be set for oil changes until we get home.

After that, we drove up to Canyonlands National Park. Route 313 is about 20-25 miles north of Moab, and if you don't want to go to a park, you are on the wrong road! It literally leads ONLY to Canyonlands NP and to Dead Horse Point State Park. We went to Canyonlands first, arriving at about 11 a.m. I had relatively low expectations for this park, for some reason; I knew it would be beautiful, but there is far less to see or do there than in most national parks. Canyonlands actually has three main sections to the park, and this was the Island In The Sky section. This was a perfect name--you go onto the "island" via a very narrow neck of land, and then most of the rest of "what to do" consists of 1) views at overlooks; 2) hiking or backpacking; 3) riding off-road vehicles on established paths. There are only a few short hiking trails; the rest are really backpacking trails. So we spent a lot of the day in the car driving from overlook to overlook.

View from the "Neck", Island in the Sky, Canyonlands NP

We stopped at the first hike we came to, the "Mesa Arch" trail. It was only about a half mile loop, but it was great! (I should say, I seemed to have shaken off my lethargy from yesterday, so I wasn't at all reluctant to tackle the hikes.) The arch was fantastic (although not the same red rock as the arches we saw at Arches NP yesterday), and the view FROM the arch was incredible. The arch was right at the edge of the cliff, too, so the entire thing was very dramatic.

Mesa Arch

One cute thing at the overlooks: today we opened a "Bag O'Fun" which specifically said "Open on Sept. 19". Betsy had told us that today was "Talk Like A Pirate" day. Our Bag O'Fun today contained a spyglass, plus an eyepatch and a big gold pirate's earring! The latter items looked great on Joe, since he hasn't shaved in a while-- but better yet, he carried the spyglass all day, and we used it to improve our long-range views at the overlooks. I meant to take a photo of him as a pirate; I'll have to do that tomorrow!

We also found ourselves quite taken by the plants we see in this harsh dry climate. We've seen cactus all along on this trip; but today I found this adorable purple cactus growing in the center of a cluster of green cacti. Is it a different kind of plant, or a renegade? I have no idea, I just thought it was cute!
The trees are also beautiful, in their own way. Joe loves the pinon pines--he spent some time the other day at Great Basin NP in a pinon forest, looking at all the pine cones. Evidently they produce a huge amount of pine nuts per cone, and it makes quite a serious harvest. We also love the way the pale blue juniper berries look against the dark green juniper leaves. We found out that the berry is actually the "cone" of the juniper tree; if you peel off the outer layer, there is a cone inside, with the seeds. They must be miniscule!

However, when they have died, the trees are even more fascinating. Because of the dry weather, the wood doesn't seem to really decay the way it does in moister climates. Instead, the dry bark simply seems to shred and fray, more like fabric than like wood. You see the dead wood everywhere (it is often used in the park to delineate hiking paths), and the soft gray against the red rock is very attractive.

"Frayed" Tree Trunk

As we returned from the Mesa Arch, we saw a squirrel run up into this tree. I thought the tree was really gorgeous, although it appears to be completely dead. Joe pointed out how the roots had grown between layers of rock, so you have a pattern of red/gray/red/gray. I thought the whole thing was just lovely.
After our hike, we had some lunch, then proceeded to the panoramic overlook at the end of the Island In The Sky:
The overlook was stunning, and I really don't think my photo is doing it justice at all. If you look around the rim of the deep canyons, though, you can see an off-road trail. Imagine riding a jeep or something like that down there! Utah is a big place for this kind of off-road trail riding, and with trails like that, I can see why. In our campground at the moment, there are a couple of trucks which have been modified for this kind of activity: the tires are huge, the handles to the doors are at my eye level, and they are COVERED in mud! Joe pointed out that one of the trucks has a message on the back window which says, "Pavement Sucks!" LOL!!

After another hike, and some more overlooks, and--yes--a nap, we were ready to leave Canyonlands. By then it was after 5 pm, and I wanted to stop at Dead Horse Point State Park. I'd heard that the panorama off the point was stunning. So we drove down the 4-mile road to see. The park gets its name from what I hope is an untrue legend: the "point" is much like the Island In The Sky--it is a small area of land 2,000 feet above the Colorado River below, with only a small neck of land connecting it to the rest of the "mainland". In the past, cowboys used to round up the wild mustangs which grazed up on the rangeland in the area, and trap them on the point. They built fences with wood across the 30' neck, and the area was a natural corral. Supposedly one time they forgot the horses were there, and left them all to die of thirst. Joe and I both agree that it must be just a legend, because any horse that thirsty would figure out a way to get out of the "corral"--at least, we'd like to believe that!

In any case, the viewpoint IS stunning, that part of the reputation was true! We spent about an hour there, admiring the layers of rocks (the park had a very good display to explain what era and type each layer was) as the sun made them redder and redder. I make the usual apologies for my photo:

View from Dead Horse Point

I also took this other photo, of a small wall (only about 3 feet high) with several "windows" in it.

So that was pretty much our whole day--views of beautiful rocks everywhere. We came back to Moab for the night, and are staying in the same campground as last night.

We have decided to change our route for the next couple of days. Originally I planned to go due south from Moab to Arizona, to see Canyon de Chelly, then make a quick detour west to the Painted Desert before heading east again on Interstate 40. However, I decided we'd seen an awful lot of gorgeous rocks, and I'm thinking I will save Canyon de Chelly for a trip to Arizona some other time. Instead, we are going to go south-east into Colorado, and stop at Mesa Verde National Park. We were there on our last cross-country trip in 1980, but I hardly remember it, and although Canyon de Chelly also has pueblo houses in the cliffs, you can't go into them, unlike Mesa Verde. The latter is only about 3 hours from Moab, so we should be there by early afternoon tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Arches National Park

Sept. 18

Today started with an hour of Mo-maintenance. You may remember that Joe was working on the electrical system, specifically the alternator, back in Rapid City, SD. At that time he decided that because the connection for the alternator had been faulty, it had damaged the voltage regulator. As a result, the dashboard indicator dials have been acting strangely and indicating problems, even though we have been pretty sure that there really weren't any problems. So this morning, Joe replaced the voltage regulator. It was very gratifying to see that all day, the dials read "correctly" instead of bouncing around in an irregular manner.

While Joe dealt with the electrical system, I was appreciating the fact that I had cell phone reception and good wifi. Beth sent me some photos, then called to make sure I'd received them, so we had a nice chat. I also caught up briefly with Lois, and Joe's mom called us too! I had thought about doing laundry while he worked on Mo, but 'twas not to be.

By 10 a.m., though, we were back on the road, and by 11, we were at Arches National Park. We rented an audio-tour on CD, and it was a great $5 spent! Our CD guides took us through the entire park, with lots of information we'd never have known otherwise. I did, of course, take photos; but they can't do justice to the rock formations. I overheard a lady saying to her friend that she was "just wasting film" and she should buy postcards, and I kind of felt the same way. For one thing, it was mid-day, and the light was flat; the formations were lots more impressive than they show up in my photos. Nevertheless, I will share some:

Three Penguins

Three Gossips and a Sheep

Park Avenue

Queen Nefertiti

What I noticed most at first was the sheer hugeness of the rocks. Driving in among them really made everything else seem very small. You can see in this photo--that is Mo down in the lower left corner!

Mo the Peanut about to be eaten by an Elephant

I just realized I haven't uploaded any photos of any actual arches! Yes, we did see them. Here are a few:

Delicate Arch

Double Arch
Neither Joe nor I was feeling very energetic today. I think I was having trouble with the altitude again, and I didn't drink enough early in the day. As a result, we only went on a few short hikes, although we did see a lot and drove through the entire length of the park. At 3:30, I was too tired to keep my eyes open, so we decided to stop and take a nap! We were at the Devil's Garden area, at the farthest end of the road through the park. So we turned our dinette into a bed, opened all the windows, put on our battery-powered fan, and took a delicious nap for an hour! I felt like a new person when I woke up.
The nap had the added advantage that on our way out of the park, we got to see the rocks in better light of the later afternoon. I took this last photo on the way out of the park.

We returned our rented CD and headed to Moab, 3 miles further south. Moab is a very tourist-oriented town, with lots of cute stores, restaurants, etc. Because it was so early for us (only 6 pm!), we had time to go look in some of the stores, and then we decided to treat ourselves to dinner in a Mexican restaurant. So we had a nice touristy evening, a change from our usual habit of pulling into a campsite well after dark, eating quickly, and never having time to see what the area is like.

Tomorrow our plan is to head back up to see Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point State Park, and then continue south toward Arizona. I wish it weren't so hot, though, and I am wondering if we should alter our route. The weather in Yosemite was so delightful, I could use some more mountain-cool air. However, it's not actually too bad in the camper right now, so I am sure we'll sleep well.