The day following thanksgiving was just us lounging around the park doing as little as possible. We knew trying to travel out into the city would be an absolute nightmare since it was black Friday. A little online shopping was all that we did, and even that wasn't much. Shirley will be getting a new exhaust header, mid-pipe, high flow catalytic converter, and Banks catback exhaust when we get home. There were also a pair of rear leaf springs and a new oil pump thrown in for good measure.
Trolling through internet for local events I stumbled upon the riverwalk holiday float parade. For those of you not in the know, San Antonio has an amazing riverwalk that wiggles through a few blocks downtown. We had actually spent some time on it during a prior trip to Texas back in 2015 which allowed us to skip the daytime madness of the holidays.
Our arrival was greeted with much fanfare. You need tickets for this show. Twenty bucks a pop in order for you and your loved ones to watch floats travel by with their generators running. Seems way overpriced for what you get. Katie found a spot just outside the gates overlooking the route and we were able to watch the show for free. Halfway through we decided we had enough. It was back into Shirley and off to the mall for a quick glance of some sale items. Then it was us returning home at 2100 to a quiet and dark park. This is way too late for us. We should already be in bed.
Turkey day. A time for friends, family, and togetherness. Or you could just skip all that crap and do what we did. Take the dog for morning stroll down the long dusty road that made Roo dirty.
Katie is in a good mood as she preps lunch. It's been a few days since she's been able to actually cook a full meal and it is something she just needs to get out of her system.
The kitchen turns into a flurry of pans and spatulas. Things are constantly banging off the walls and the floor. That's the way she rolls. I give her a lot of shit about making an absolute mess every time she cooks, but holy smokes can she cook.
After our humble noon time lunch we both crack open a beer and sit outside with the dog. The holiday turns into a classic case of day drinkin' and we suds the afternoon away. Not a bad way to spend a holiday. Not bad at all.
A few phone calls netted us our next destination. We had originally thought about driving down to Corpus Christi for Thanksgiving but everyone was booked. I glanced at the map and looked to the east. Hmmm... San Antonio. One more phone call and we found home for the next few days. We opted to stay in one spot for the next couple of nights in order to avoid the holiday travel rush. The park we picked out was billed as a "Campground style RV park". Sounded interesting enough.
This place didn't disappoint. The long gravel road on the way in made the back of Roo filthy. Besides that, it was a very green and spacious place. With Shirley unhooked we went to Wal-Mart to stock up on supplies and buy some things for Turkey Day at home. There's something about Texas I don't think I've shared with you yet. People from Texas love Texas. The proud Texan flag with it's iconic single star is displayed everywhere. In addition to that there are stars located on nearly every public piece of property. I ran into a little bit of Texas pride at Wal-Mart and decided to buy into the madness.
Look closely at the top of the can. "The national beer of Texas". Keyword there: national. Texas considers itself a nation with the rest of the US just draped over it's shoulders as it carries the burden of holding it above Mexico. People here are fiercely conservative and open carry handguns on the sidewalks on the way to their trucks. Not just any truck, oh no. The trucks down here have special badging on them that decries them as "Texas Editions". What a bunch of lunatics. I love this place.
Shirley snuggles into the backdrop of another Texas sunset as she rests her weary wheels. The old girl has been towed 14,000 miles in the last 6 months and has driven another 5,000. Soon the whirlwind tour will be over and the monotony of dragging my ass to work will set in. Poor girl. It's so sad.
Shit it's early. My alarm was set for 0630 and to top it off we were in a different time zone just two days ago. Tough noogies. We hatched a plan late last night to wake up before the world and get to the natural hot springs on the rio grande. Within it's swift moving waters lies a blocked off portion of natural heated bliss. We hit the road before the sun is up and get to the spot right after sunrise. Only one person is there and he seems happy enough just to have someone to talk to.
At a blissful 105° the natural hot tub warmed us from the morning air that was in the low 40's. We could only stand about 30 minutes until we were just too hot and had to get out. The rest of the day would prove itself a downhill dissapointment from here.
We encountered trinkets for sale in the morning laying out on a rock. This would be the fist time either of us had seen anyone peddling souvenirs in a national park. There was no attempt to even hide it. A pile of stuff with prices and a bucket for money next to it. We had seen the same things for sale last night at a different viewpoint.
Getting back to the RV and out of our space by 1100 am was no problem. What was a problem was garnering our passes to use the kayaks on the Rio Grande. Following a lengthy permit application and ten minutes dealing with the gal behind the desk a final conclusion was yielded. We can't go kayaking. It was the same story as captain genius from the RV check in. She waited until after everything was complete to brief me on a few important details that quite frankly are ridiculous. Each kayaker must be wearing a life vest while paddling. Each group of kayakers (me and the wife) must carry an extra PFD in case of emergency. In addition to that, each group of kayakers must also carry an extra paddle, whistle, and water supply in case of emergency. What the hell? The conclusion was simple: The park has the river "Open" to people, but they put such random restrictions around it that people can't enjoy the ride.
We passed on the pain in the ass kayaking and opted for a short hike along the river. Once more we ran into souvenirs for sale. Accompanied with them this time however was a singing mexican named Jesus. Don't judge me. His tip jar said "Tips for singing mexican Jesus". It then became clear to Katie that there was some elaborate plan on this dude illegally crossing the river to sell stuff. I said she was nuts. But then...
In this picture there is a red canoe. That red canoe was Jesus's escape route off US soil and back to Mexico. Just out of the shot was a man in a white t-shirt perched on a rock with a pair of binoculars. Elaborate Ponzi scheme indeed. I'd categorize this as another let down from the National Park Service. It's not the fact that this guy was just trying to make a few bucks illegally. It's the fact that the NPS obviously let's this happen without trying to stop it. If Katie can crack the case in under a minute I would sure hope a well paid park ranger could do the same.
Overall we'd label the park a real let down. An amazing landscape ruined by people's inability to run a decent show. To cap it off there were only a couple of places to pull off on the 40 mile trip from the entrance. What that means to the casual visitor is it's basically a straight drive through, with little opportunity to get out and explore. There were precisely zero places that our RV could pull off, and parking at the visitor centers was a joke. It turns out the the parks directive is bigger than just the inability to kayak. Big bend doesn't want people to visit. It's merely a whole bunch of government ground on the border of Mexico. Let's just call it what it is. A national park border wall. Disheartened at the lost opportunity we hit the road and jam out the miles for south central Texas.
It was another 250 miles on the road battling the veracious crosswinds. Thirty mile an hour gusts with a steady 20 mile an hour blow made driving a practice of patience. We popped into the Amistad National Recreation area just outside of Del Rio and popped a squat for $4 a night. We had the place to ourselves which is always a mixed blessing. It's nice to have acres of public land to yourself to enjoy the piece and quiet. The negative side to this is that we always feel a little uneasy without having anyone else around. So we'll just sit around cooped up and listen to the wind howl for the night.
Following the routine we got up and walked the dog after coffee. Where the hell are we? Oh yeah... Fort Stockton. The days blur together after traveling for so long and it doesn't help that we showed up at dark. Waking up to new surroundings is a surreal feeling. This place gave us what we needed for the night. We had used Roadrunner RV park just for parking and WIFI. Now it's back on the road to keep slamming through the mile markers. Big Bend National Park is on the agenda and it is a long way out there. With the rig warmed up and ready to roll we start counting down the 140 miles in front of us. That doesn't sound like much when you are in a comfortable car with the cruise on. For me it's driving 70 ft of billboard on an air suspension against a stiff headwind. It's three hours of total focus on the back roads of Texas. Elevation gain and the headwinds wreak havoc with the coolant temp.
Skirting the outlands of the park we hook a left into Stillwell. It's a 6 mile commitment down a narrow two lane road in order to get to an RV park. Our arrival was less than glorious. No cell signal, no cable, and more importantly no class. No class? The mobile homes surrounding the office had old tires holding tarps down on the roof to stop leaks. I hook my phone to the store WIFI (the intelligent owners put the password on the outside of the building) and made a phone call to the National Park. Now let me preface this by saying I checked the park's webpage before we left. It said they were all booked up. I ring up the office and the scholar behind the phone let's me know someone left early and a spot is available for just one night. I proceed to ask the genius on the other end, "Full hookups?". He resounds with an enthusiastic "oh yes". Sounds good to me. We'll take it.
It's back on the road and towards the park. Once past the front gate it's just a meager 40 miles to the bottom of the park. We finally arrive and get checked in. The genius scholar behind the desk walks us through the whole speel about where to go and how to hook up. It's not until AFTER he finishes his speech that he points out a few key things. "Oh. We don't have water. So the laundry room and bathrooms are closed" I look at him a bit puzzled. "Any water at the site?" I inquire. The man with a masters degree looks back at me " Oh I don't think so". Strike one against Big Bend National Park.
The mighty Rio Grande is a couple of hundred feet from our parking spot. On the other side of the bank are some horses grazing the shore. Not just any horses. Oh no, those would be Mexican horses. This river serves as the border wall for the entire park. Unimpressed we hop into Shirley and drive down the road to check out a quick trail. An old abandoned post office and school remain on the park grounds from the early 1900's. It's getting dark so we decide to call it a day. Tomorrow we'll hit a few key places and see some more of what's around.
Lazy. There's no other word for it. Knowing that I've got a job lined up in just a couple of weeks has completely changed the way I look at this website. It's no longer something I look forward too. For the the last 4 months I would go out of our my way and find things to do in order to write out my experiences to the world. Now I'm just writing this out of obligation to my readers. At least that just the way it feels. Time for life to get back to reality. The trip is over.... the adventure has ended... and I have sulked into the mundane day to day actions of planning the actions of our future in order to get set up to live again. I will carry on to the end.
It's early morning and the dog is sitting outside. He likes to hang out in the sun away from us and we get him out whenever we can. It's not always this easy. Roo is parked in the middle of some New Mexico BLM land and there isn't a tent within 100 yards. Eli takes full advantage of our distraction and covers himself in dirt. Awesome.
We pat off dusty dog and leave him behind. The other day we stumbled into some volunteer park rangers on the Smith Springs trail. They suggested we hike McKittrick Canyon for the fall colors. That's the destination for the day. A fairly easy 7 mile out and back trail shows us some gorgeous Texas countryside.
Katie and I both share a moment we didn't realize we were missing. Fall. The last month has been in the desert and there wasn't a fall. Soon we'll be going to St. Louis in the heart of winter. It was relieving to see another season besides the oppressive heat of the southwest. Tromping through the colors of dying leaves was wonderful. Halfway down the trail lay a stone cabin. It was built in the early 1930's and donated to the park for visitors to walk through.
Another mile to the end and we hit the grotto. This place was merely a further escape from the cabin for it's owners. Some stone picnic tables next to a small stream provided a beautiful backdrop for an afternoon out. The hallowed out cliff side complete with stone drippings added a bit of mystery to the location.
With the hike complete we need to stack some miles on. Roo was pointed southwest and Fort Stockton was the destination to hit. It's 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the goal is to pound out 180 miles of Texas landscape. Through the rows of oil rigs we traveled. The well beaten roads were punishment for the old girl. The next 3 hours would just be boxing match for Roo's suspension. At the end of it we were rewarded with a late pull in to an RV park.
That wind. Oh that wind. Twenty mile an hour constant winds accompanied by thirty five mile an hour gusts rocked the RV all night. Every time a strong gust hit the side of Roo we were rustled from our slumber. She shook from side to side as nature hurled it's wind energy at us.
The rules said we have to exit our parking lot spot by 11 am. It's off to north to hit up a small hike known as Smith Springs. It's only 2 1/2 miles and the loop is pretty gradual. The wind has died down and the sun is out. Time to hit the open trail and see what Guadalupe has to offer.
Our morning hike out of the way allowed us to continue northward. Carlsbad Caverns is another National park just across the border in New Mexico. They have the largest cave in the western hemisphere and experiencing this place first hand totally blew us away.
The caverns were absolutely astonishing. The pictures that did partially turn out don't even start to do it justice. The trip down the natural entrance descends 800 ft. From there it's a 1.5 mile walk to the Big room. On the way visitors trounce through hallways with 100ft tall ceilings and so wide people can get lost. The big room itself is just that. With a 70ft ceiling and 1.25 miles long it swallows hundreds of people without even trying.
With our minds blown it came to one of those reflection points. Days like today remind us why we gave it all up to travel. Now we'll go find our home in the New Mexico desert and bed down for the night.
Too the next park we go. Say farewell to Caballo Lake as we roll south to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It's here that we can hopefully find a spot to park in the RV parking lot. They'v only got room for 9 rigs our size, and it's on a first come first serve basis. So it's hammer down and towards El Paso as the miles stack up. Upon our arriaval highway 10 slows to a crawl as we pass a semi truck carrying cardboard being extinguished.
The elevation is starting to stack up and so are the winds. We get the the outskirts of the Guadalupe mountains right as the hill really starts to climb. Staring forward at what lies ahead I make the go ahead call to pull over and unhook Shirley. There is a steep unmarked grade that I know will be a tough climb.
The hill gets steep. Real steep. Just where you see the road end in the picture above it hooks to the right and climbs at probably 9-10%. This is the first time I've been forced to climb most of a hill in 2nd gear without Shirley attached. She's got the power... oh that Cummins power. But there's no chance of keeping her cool without taking my time and keeping the load light. The GPS displays what I had thought to be the problem. We're at 5,600 ft and the turbo is huffing hard. Add to that a 20mph headwind with 30mph gusts and it's a recipe to overheat the little diesel humming along 35ft behind me. At last the crest is made and we can turn off into the RV park. A quick chat with the host shows us that there are two spots left. Good enough for us because we only need one. With Roo resting at a final altitude of 5,850 we can set up camp for the night. It's gonna be a sleepless night for sure. This sea level body doesn't like altitude and the wind is blowing violently.
What? That's the name? Yep, sure is. Back in March of 1950 a radio show host of a trivia show said he'd air his 10th anniversary show from any town that would change it' name to match the show. So this nut job of a town made the change and still bares the name today. Our reason for visiting the town actually had nothing to do with sightseeing. Our fridge needed to be defrosted. Sit back, and listen to my story.
Traveling full time isn't always glorious. Our RV is equipped with an absorption style fridge. I'll keep this super simple so you don't space out and stop reading. House fridge: compressor and fan blow cold air around. RV fridge: aluminum fins get cold and absorb heat from the air. So when these fins get cold they ice up like the old style fridges from way back in the day. We unload the fridge and I get to work scraping the ice out with a wooden handle from a wire brush.
With the fridge scraped clean it was time to get the food back in. I noticed the water in the bottom of the freezer wasn't draining. The little drain hole must be plugged. First I tried to put some windshield washer fluid in the bottom and waited a minute. No dice. So then it was time for drastic measures. Poke it open with a coat hanger. Yay! The water went down. Then I went outside to see where it drained from. Turns out it was from an electric outlet inside of a luggage bay. Uh...that's not good. Some investigating yields the realization that the drain hose was broken underneath the fridge. That would explain why the sub-floor had a water stain when we put in the vinyl planks.
Time to go shopping for supplies. Oh look, the town of Truth or Consequences has a hardware store. We should go there. What began as an earnest attempt to look for a simple hose ended up being thrift store browsing and lunch at Tony's Mexican Restaruant. Word to the wise: Don't eat at places that look nice on the outside. It's almost a guarantee their food isn't as good as the rundown place serving food on paper plates. In fact most of the town looked on the well worn side. It wasn't a place that has a lot of economy and you can see that in the streets.
Back to Roo with our vinyl hose in hand the repair was completed. We elected to spend the rest of the afternoon walking the dog and getting the kayaks off of Shirley for some much needed water time. It's the first occasion since the valley of vegetables that we've been able to float the afternoon away in careless bliss. No noise, no people, no problems. Could be worse....
Another day another drive. Pack up our stuff and hit the open road once more. With Roo pointed north it's just a quick stride over to Hatch NM. This tiny town is self proclaimed as the Chile capital of the world. Is it true? Probably not. The reality is that Hatch just doesn't have a whole lot else going for it. They stay true to the cause and Chile's are hanging from almost every building on main street. Go to the hardware store for some lumber... might as well pick up some chiles. Oh, you planned on stopping by the thrift shop? Might as well grab some chiles while your there. Looking for a night's sleep at Grajeda's hotel? Some chiles would probably lull you into a fire gut induced slumber.
Another hour ticks by as we head northbound up highway 25. Caballo Lake State Park is the destination we have picked out. It's been a while since we've had an opportunity to drop the kayaks in some water. This is something we're looking forward too. At this park we decided to splurge a little and spend the extra few bucks for electric. For a grand sum of $14 a night, we get to park with 30 amps of juice and water hooked up to the RV. The next two days Roo will take a rest as we get out and explore the area a bit more.
The lake is nothing special. It's really little more than a dirty water reservoir of the Rio Grande. Muddy murky water greets us as we walk to it's edge. The land is barren. There's nothing on the shoreline worth looking at and the mountain just across the lake looks the same as it does from the campsites. It's still water in New Mexico, and that's what we were after. Situated at 4,204ft in elevation this little campground has the climate of high desert. It's 85° during the day and drop's into the 50's at night. The other thing it does is zap the energy from sea level dwelling folks. Eli is begging for a walk and it's our dog parent duty to get him out for a stretch. That'll be all for today. Time to sit back and relax.
So long Tuscon. Strapping into a half day drive it's off to Deming NM. Somewhere out amongst the stark hills is a small national park that has boondocking for $10 a night. I know what you're thinking. Sounds a little steep to be camping without any amenities. As cheap as we are we've started to grasp the reality that where we spend our money will change what we take away from this trip. Sleeping at Wal-Mart sucks. It's loud and unlevel. You can't set up your chairs or even go outside to enjoy nature. Sleeping at truck stops is way worse. Locked into a row between semis means the slide has to stay in. The cramped confines make everyone miserable. Then stack the hum of diesel motors and the constant traffic noise which make for an absolute miserable night. Free BLM boondocking is great but is hard to find outside of the southwest. Short of paying for an RV park, this is the next best thing.
This tiny park only has about 30 campsites and every single one of them is full. I stop in to chat with the campground host and he gives me the rundown. "We've got a couple of spots we can make work. Hop in the gator and I'll show you around". Mr. Host and I set off for the top of the campground where the spot is very cramped and slopes downhill. "You got anything else?" I inquire. He smiles back at me and says, "Yeah I got something that can work". Back down the road and to the side of the park we head into the day use only area. He points to the handicap parking spot next to a picnic bench. "Will that work?" I pause... "I'm not handicap and that says day use only" is my humble reply. He glances at his watch and looks back up at me. "Parks about to close for the night. We do it all the time". A smile crosses my face as I realize this guy is just trying to help folks out. "I'll take it".
Settled into our level spot we gaze out at the hill in front of us. Most of the park is just this big lump of rock. Out in the stone are gems locked beneath the earths crust. I'd give you a list, but I didn't really care. Apparently people come from all around to come out here and dig up geodes and opal. It's one of only two national parks in the system that actually encourages visitors to take a piece home with them.
We don our Camelbacks and hit the trails. It's a short 1.3 mile hike about halfway up the slope and then back down. My bum knee has kept us from longer hikes for nearly a month now. It's frustrating that we can't explore the way we really want to. What's worse is knowing that my shortcomings are holding up Katie from being able to take in all the things this trip has to offer.
Settled in for the night I set up camp and Katie preps dinner. There's 13 channels available off the antenna thanks to a few towers on top of the hill. The backdrop is absolutely stunning. I've never seen Shirley look so good.
Prickly shit and dangerous reptiles. Here the saguaro cacti grow over 50 ft high and live for 250 years if they can reach the end of their life-cycle. The saguaro is a slow growing thing. It takes 10 years for it to be a few inches high, and another 10 to reach a foot. Then at an adolescence age of 50, it can start growing arms. Until that time it's merely a green stump with prickers on it.
This random ass space set aside for cactus is split into two divisions. There are an east and west section divided by the great city of Tuscon. The park on the east side is the smallest section and the visitor center was closed when we arrived. No big deal. Just download the map from NPS and head on your way. We picked out an easy hike that was only a mile long. No reason for us to sweat to death in the 90° Arizona sun. The road turned from pavement to gravel. An unexpected twist we didn't anticipate. We've been on dirt roads in national parks quite a bit, but not one that is considered the main route to the parks attractions.
A mile of graded gravel brought us up to the first hike of the day. Weaving in and out of cactus we marched forward towards the top of a vista point. On the way our eyes were peeled for rattlesnakes, scorpions, and Gila monsters. It's bad enough the desert is constantly trying to dehydrate and stab you. Then it throws poisonous critters in for good measure.
Moving on to the next spot is a hike to the petroglyphs. The park has no idea who made these or when. It's hypothesized that native americans made these images somewhere between 300-3000 years ago. Not the most accurate guess if you ask me. So it's up to us to hike up there and see what all the huff is about. It's an easy climb with little elevation change. The path is well marked and clear of any potential stabby things. Upon our arrival we can see the petroglyphs on the rocks. Theres just a sign stating please don't climb on the stones and ruin our crap. That's easy enough to follow for most people. For some reason there are always the douchebags who think the rules don't apply to them. Some of the rocks have graffitti and are scratched over with names. Do me a favor. If you ever see some piece of trash doing this just push them into a cactus.
The hike back to Shirly gives us something else to stare out. This dry rotting cactus carcus completes the tutorial of the day. Inside is the tubular water delivery system and the guts that go with it.
Driving home we can't help but snap a picture of a road sign in kilometers. Highway 19 in Tuscon is the only city in the country to have this. Some sort of short lived experiment that failed.
Enough for today. It's finally time to kick back and relax in the Casino parking lot. One of my favorite shows is on PBS and I couldn't be happier. TV can be hard to come by for us. On this episode of Antiques Roadshow more people bring worthless crap to be told it's worth way more than they will ever sell it for. Priceless.
Phoenix traffic isn't so bad. Hauling ass east we hit this tunnel that was about a 1/2 mile long. Now I don't know about you, but when I drive a vehicle in a tunnel I have to floor it for a few seconds. Roo is no different. The acoustical echo of the turbo spooling up and the nearly straight piped exhaust sounds great bouncing off all that concrete. Katie gives me her obligatory eye roll of disapproval. At least by now she knows it's going to happen.
After only 2 hours on the road we end up in Tuscon. Casino Del Sol is the only spot in or near town that we could find a place to park for free. Turns out this joint is well known to the RV crowd. Scanning across the parking lot there were 20 or so others who came here to park as well. We have had relatively good luck at casinos and have become our go to spot if we need to do some blacktop boondocking. They usually have plenty of space, fairly quiet, and security cruising the lot. This one even had a dumpster in the parking lot for all of us to toss our trash into. Classy touch. This will become home base for the next two days as we explore the area. Today it's off for a little sightseeing.
Mission San Xavier church on the south side of town is one of the oldest structures around. Originally built in 1797, this magnificent piece of architecture still holds services today. We happened to be there right after Church had let out.
On the outskirts of the property were some food stands and a couple of landmarks to walk to. What really caught our eye on the way in was the cemetery. It was completely fenced off and had signs telling the casual observer that this place was meant for the congregation, and not for tourists.
From here we turned North and headed towards downtown. The shopping district with flair that is known as 4th Avenue. It's a few blocks long and has a real punk vibe to it. Half of the people walking the streets were covered in tats with pieces of hardware hanging off their face. It felt safe and there were definitely other tourists walking along.
Goodwill was done up with a unique flair. It's not very often you are able to find corporate businesses that stray from the traditional form.
We went in and out of some vintage stores looking for a denim jacket. Don't even get me started... I can't explain. Anywho, one of the cool things we found was a small pinball arcade. This is a good place to burn some time and revert back to having fun like a child.
With a couple bucks spent we were back on our way. A few blocks off the side streets was Crooked tooth brewery. A small local pub with the suds made on sight. We stopped in for a beer to give it a try. It was good, and would definitely recommend if you're ever in the area.
With the afternoon weening away it was time to head home. Walking down the other side of the street back to Shirley yielded the final surprise of the day. A lonesome street piano asking to be played. Now typically Katie wouldn't just sit down and play the piano in the middle of the sidewalk. She's not one who likes to have attention drawn to her. But you must realize, she just drank a 9.5% beer on an empty stomach and here judgement is a little loose. PLAY ON!
Real short post today. All we did was laze around the RV park until mid-morning. Then it was off to the west side of Phoenix to see some of Katie's family. It's been 10 years since she's seen them and it was the first time for me. The whole event turned out just fine. We sat around and talked BS for a couple of hours and had lunch. Then by mid-afternoon it was time for us to depart and head home. Overall a good time, and some cool people. I didn't even think to snap a pic of all us for the blog. So in lieu of that I give you an evening shot of our home for the night. Enjoy.
Do you ever wake up and just have one of those days? You know what I'm talking about. When you reach up to grab a coffee cup but then you end up dropping not one, but two of them on the floor.
Katie swings out of the bathroom to see what the noise was. She snickers at me and teases me about not being able to pull a coffee cup out of the cupboard without screwing it up. A couple of minutes later she attempts to open a bag of frosted flakes and it explodes into two pieces. You know what I'm talking about. Those big cheap ass store brand bags that has plastic so brittle you thought it would of been better packed in a grocery bag. Yep. Karma's a bitch.
Forget breakfast. The much anticipated day of reckoning has come. My ugly ass long mullet and frazzly beard are completely out of control. I can see it in Katies eye's.... I look like I live in an RV. I've been waiting to get it cut so my hair is long enough I can start a new hairstyle. Oh yes. Time to live on the edge. I scour through google reviews and find a barber that I think will do a decent job. We pop into the place and it's packed. I immediately turn around and tell the wife, "Nope. Not waiting an hour for a haircut." She tells me to suck it up and wait because I won't be happy with a half ass cut from great clips. Touche my dear. Touche.
With that checked off the list we can get back to the RV and head to the park. Leaf Verde proves itself to be a well run joint and check in was a breeze. Roo gets parked in her space and the hookup process begins. The hose is leaking. Why is the dam hose leaking? Oh I know why, because it's gonna be one of those days. Time to head to Wal-Mart and buy a new hose and a sewer support while I'm at it. Stupid things aside it's time to get out and see Phoenix. Traffic isn't bad so it's straight to downtown for a little walk in the streets.
It's the same old story that we've seen on the west coast. Homeless people on the streets and in the parks. We're hassled for change within the first few minutes of walking. The greater metro Phoenix is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in Arizona. To be fair, the population of Phoenix is just over 4.5 million people. Arizona as a whole state rings in a 6.9 million. After 45 minutes our time at the meter is running out. Off to the state capitol building.
State capitol buildings tend to offer us what we are looking for. A free place to walk around for 10 minutes and kill some time. This place was different. We arrived after 4pm and the building was already locked up. What we didn't expect was the vast amount of attractions on the grounds. Phoenix has done a spectacular job with honoring the nations veterans and more specifically those who were from Arizona.
With the daylight fading I turned my attention across the street. Some outdoor mining equipment was on display to commemorate Arizona's involvement in digging for copper. That'll be the last thing for the day. We've been busy and I'm excited to get home and watch TV. It's been a few days....
Another day in the desert. What used to be a novelty is starting to wear on us. One more 4 mile sprint with the unleashed black menace blazing trail. So far the old chap has done well with the unfamiliar surroundings. He hasn't brought home any cactus prickers in his ass or rattlesnake bites on his face.
With our Quartzsite experience accomplished it's time to move on. There's nothing left here for us to see and there ain't much to do. So we round up our stuff and start packing away our things once more. Everything that isn't bolted down needs to be put away into it's spot. With Shirley hooked up we hit the road and haul ass across southern Arizona on our way into Phoenix. Arizona has been gripped in a heat wave and we want to get the miles in before it gets too hot. Unfortunately our timing didn't matter because the oppressive heat set in. It was early in the afternoon when we finally rolled into our spot for the night and the temp had hit a paltry 90°. Roo's fat ass broke a sweat and warmed up on the temp gauge, but never got to the point of worry.
Ten miles south of Buckeye, AZ yielded us with a place to boondock for the night. We ended up setting up just for the night and tried to look for a TV signal. Nothing. Crap. We decided to get the bikes out and go for a star lit ride through the desert. It was a really cool feeling to be wrapped in the darkness. I tried to get a picture, really I did. However that kind of dark shot is out of grasp for my Samsung S7. The best part of the night was laying down for bed and falling asleep, only to be awoken by the sound of singing coyotes in the hills.
We're out and about at a bright and early 9 am. Some folks are already back from there morning walk. Never mind that, it's our turn and the desert is still a cool 70° degrees outside. Katie is finally back to full speed as she totes her camelback through the brush. Sidekick black dog is with us and trodding along at full speed through the brush. We push on for a total of four miles before finally returning back to the RV.
I've been wanting to see town and today we get that chance. Although it's not the bustling metropolis that occurs during the peak snowbird season, there are still a few things going on. We drop into the post office to mail off our earnest money for the new house. I can say this is the first time that two ATV's have parked next to me at the post office.
Just across the street was a flea market selling all sorts of random junk. After rifling through the junk we meandered over to the grocery tent to look around. Oh yeah, tent groceries for sale.
Just look at all of that well organized non-expired goods that are displayed under the hanging lights. What's not to love?
Then there is the largest industry in Quartzsite. Rocks. People come here to buy rocks. Technically they are called "gems" and you can buy them by the pound. We passed no fewer than a half a dozen permanent rock stands and found that every flea market stand also had a rock section. To be honest it was actually quite impressive. We browsed the aisles and looked at rocks from all over the world brought here to be sold. I can only assume when the massive influx of RV'ers show up they buy rocks. Then they take the rocks and sit in the desert to make crafts. You see these crafts at a flea market near you, being sold out of an RV. The perfect circle.
We left the rock garden and avoided botulism from the tent grocery store. Shirley steered towards the northeast corner of town and started to weave through the side streets. It turns out there was an entire neighborhood dedicated to houses that had garages for RV's.
A final stop at Hi Jolly's tomb on the way out of the town would seal the day. This guy apparently came over with a herd of camels that the US Army bought to run supplies through the desert. It was supposed to be an effort to help develop a supply chain through the arid land. Locals adore him and camels are prominently displayed around town.
When our traveling the southwest it is almost obligatory to swing into Arizona to do the "Quartzsite thing". This place is legendary for allowing RV'ers to take over the land and settle down for an extraordinary amount of time. You can either opt for the free 14 day camping area or pay $180 and stay from August to April on public land. With a paltry population of just over 3,000, Quartzsite isn't a place one would typically be overly excited about. However come winter the snowbirds flock in. This place swells to over 250,000 people living in the surrounding desert and can see as many as 1.2 million visitors during the winter season. It's suppose to be a garage sale haven for those who like to barter for deals.
Right now this place is still dead for the most part. The season won't pick up until after Christmas. We had no problem finding our home for the next few days and claiming our own little piece of desert. Theres no tv signal and not much here to do. Looks like we'll be spending the next two days trying to entertain ourselves and going for some long walks with the dog. Katie is finally just about back to normal. So it's to the dog cabinet for a leash and we hit the desert for a quick two mile jaunt. Time to see some cacti in it's natural environment.
That's weird. With the key on before starting the engine there's a little red light on. The little red light illuminates the "CHECK TRANS" idiot light. Well... that can't be good. I crank the motor over and the light goes off. Ok, that's a good sign. I've been staring at this dash for 12,000 miles and I've never seen the check trans light stay on for more than a second when everything else lights up. So it's to the internet to pull up the trouble shooting info from the Allison Transmission website.
I follow the manufacturers instructions and check for fault codes and oil level. Everything checks out ok per Roo's ECM. " Lower your expectations and you'll never be dissapointed"- Mike Finnegan. Gotta love roadkill. If anyone out there is reading this and you like anything about cars just type in ROADKILL on youtube. Enjoy the goodness that is awesome project cars.
So time to get back on track. Katie is still feeling under the weather and I need to make another quiet day for her. Remember back when I said I couldn't wait to detail the RV? I'd hope so because that was yesterday.
I've had an affliction for clean cars since I had my first one. My bro Stick can vouch for my attention to my S10. Cowboy Tony will tell you that I kept my RX-7 spotless. Whitey will tell you that my corvette was the cleanest FRC that roamed the streets. Even Mark and Mario have seen me wash and wax my deleted Cummins work truck. There's no reason to neglect Roo and not show her some love.
I'm always up for learning new tricks and the RV taught me another one. This dirtball cheap cleaner from the Dollar Tree is hands down the best cleaner I've ever used to remove water stains and black streaks off of fiberglass. That means I'll be spending the next 3 hours hand wiping down the side of Roo with this, then going back and giving her another loving rub with some quick detailer. A final coat of vinyl protectant over the graphics should just about cover it. Oh and dont' worry, I spent another 45 minutes hand polishing the wheels. I'll do the other side tomorrow.
Today was worse than yesterday. Katie hasn't really eaten in 48 hours and can barely keep water down. Her fever has gotten worse and she just wants to sleep.
I spend the morning performing my butler chores on keeping up the life. It's normal stuff that we usually split, but I'm going nuts from boredom so it's ok for me. After the RV is cleaned and the dishes are done I go about making myself breakfast. Then it's check on the wife and get out of the RV for a while to give her some quiet space. My trusty sidekick is always up for anything. We hitch Eli's collar up to a leash and hit the road for a walk. Ironically I've also been suffering some sort of ailment. For the last 2-3 weeks my knee has been bothering me. It's fine to walk on but hurts to climb stairs or even walk up a steep hill. At first I thought it was nothing, but it hasn't gone away or gotten any better. I'd compare it to getting punched in the back of the knee a few hours ago and having that overall sore lingering feeling that just doesn't go away. Katie being on the sidelines has given me a chance to rest to and it's starting to help.
I get back to the RV around lunch and check on my bride. She's in the same state and things are looking grim. We're going on day 5 of boondocking and we have to go to town today. There's no more water and our waste tanks are full. I get put everything away and get Shirley hooked up to travel. Katie is forced to sum up enough energy to sit in the passenger seat for the next hour and a half while we drive. This is the way we say good bye to California. It's been a good 6 weeks, but we're glad to see it go.
Quartzsite AZ is our destination. After arriving at the park I get us checked in and find out the RV park has a FREE wash station. You read that right. FREE. Roo has taken on a nice sheen of dirt and I'm way to cheap to pay a truck wash $60 to clean it for me. Katie is already curled up in bed and passed out again. I'm sure she won't mind if I pressure wash Roo while she takes a nap.
The hot pressure wash and soap-down lays the foundation for what I've got planned tomorrow. An hour and a half is what it takes to wash 40' of fiberglass wrapped house. After a night's worth of drying I'll be able to spend the day wiping down the sides and giving this thing the full detail it deserves. Can't wait.
Katie woke up halfway through the night with the chills. By morning it was full a full on fever and everything thing that goes with it. I spent the day acting as her butler and performing every task she asked with a smile and that oh so cheery "as you wish madam" attitude. I picured myself dressed in a tux and having an english accent. It helped me get through the day.
For me the hardest part was being quiet, but staying close. She needed her rest which meant no loud noises, no work on the RV, no work on the Jeep.... just silence. Damn you silence, you are my mortal enemy.
Toxic dust. Highest rated child asthma cases in the state. Rancid water landlocked with a salinity 50% greater than the Pacific ocean. Welcome to the Salton Sea.
A dam failure in 1906 diverged the full force of the Colorado river into a small basin for an entire year. The result of this was a 350 square mile lake in southern California. In it's early days the locals were elated to have a beautiful oasis of water to irrigate their crops and bring in tourists. By the 1950's folks from LA flocked to the lakes shore as their summer getaway spot. Then the plight of man began to turn the tides. Over used pesticides created hazardous washoffs. The lake did not have a natural way to drain out, and began to absorb the dried salt from the bottom of the basin. What lays here now is the most heavily polluted lake in the USA, an abandoned wasteland of mankind's mistakes.
Bombay beach is one of the towns that succumbed to the chain reactions of failures. Situated at -223 ft below sea level, the lowest community in the country, it felt the wrath of the lake first hand. In the 1960's the lake quickly rose and flooded part of the town. For years it remained under water. When the lake finally retreated all that was left was the structures and equipment tangled in salt. In this town of 350 people nobody cared enough to clean it up.
The buildings that weren't completely destroyed were abandoned to rot. They have since turned into an artists canvas for those who like to tag. Unnervingly, you can't tell which homes are still occupied.
Some of the pieces were picked up, but only for a montage of sculptures. Walking around the area made our eyes burn, and our throats itch. The state of California has issued official toxic dust warnings due to the amount of arsenic that is encapsulated in the shore line dust. Ironically, there was a state camprground just one mile down the road open to tourists. It's $30 a night for hookups and is right on the beach. What a bargain.
Enough of this place. Heading back north drops us into the irrigated fields of the basin. A place where plants still grow from the diverted Colorado River. I see a tree I've never seen before. It's a date tree. We had no idea this agricultural oasis would be on our agenda for the day.
With our return trip nearly complete I spy one more thing that peaks my curiosity on the side of the road. A sign describing the BLM land and all of it's off road trails. I love driving off-road. We should check it out.
With the long day behind us it's finally time to call it quits. The sun begins to set and gives us a gorgeous farewell. Could be worse...
Another day another national park. This time it's off to Joshua Tree. Situated at the bottom of California this 1,235 square mile park shares it's land with two deserts. To the northwest lies the great Mojave along with it's climate and vegetation. To the southeast begins the Colorado desert with a feel all it's own. The trip starts off with us bombing down the first dirt road in the park we come across. It's nice to get a feel for the spots that are a little less traveled and Shirley is always up to taking us there. With the pit-stop complete it's back into the saddle as we buzz pass the cactus fields and hiking trails. We're heading due north to the other side of the park to get some fuel. Then it's a return trip back into the north-western side where we go for a quick trail hike to see the only man made damn in the park.
The original part of the dam was made in the early 1900's so cattle wouldn't die. Then in the late 40's another local ranch family built it a few more feet up to save some more of that oh so precious water.
Time to cut to the good stuff. We are here for the Joshua Trees. These unique creatures live in the Mojave between 2,000 and 6,000 ft in elevation. It's the only place in the world they can be found.
Keeping with the desert theme we just keep running into things with spikes. Everything out here has a pricker on it that will make the rest of your day suck if you get to close. It's a really nice way of a plant saying, "I'm full of water and I'm keeping it. Get the hell away from me"
Sharp pointed objects are only broken up by the giant granite monoliths in the background. Split rock, skull rock, jumbo rocks, the list goes on and on. Joshua Tree National Park offers a great chance for novice hikers to get out and plod along some level trails in order to get in touch with nature.
With our rocks found it's back into Shirley for the trip home. We've been cruising the roads for the better part of the day and I want to get out one last time to stretch before our 27 mile drive back to home. Just around the bend is the dirt road we first pulled off onto this morning. It had a nice little paved parking space off to the side. A skateboard in the empty lot is all that can be found. Looks like we are taking home a memory from the park besides pictures. This will be easy to pack and fun to mess around with on the rest of our trip. Hopefully I won't break my leg.
Back home it's time for us to unwind and kick back. Katie settles into the couch for a nap and I'm looking out the front window at Shirley. I had ordered a new center cap a few weeks back and we picked it up at Uncle Bill's house in LA. Finally.... it has little black pieces of plastic on all wheels. Crisis averted.
.Time to leave LA. Let's start off the day with some asshole next to us washing his RV. It's really not a huge deal, but it's one of those things you just don't do in an RV park. Another thing I've learned on this trip; the nicer the RV the bigger the jerk that owns it. Rich snobby people tend to think it's ok for them to do whatever they want because that's probably how they made their money. We see it all the time. They park where they aren't supposed to, don't put their dogs on leashes, and wash their RV's right next to the neighbor hence letting all the wash water run out across the lot. Captain snobby next to us just grinned at me this morning and was talking on his phone while washing his RV. I reciprocated by letting the RV park host know jerk face in space 99 was washing his RV, too which the host happily responded he'd love to take care of it. Enjoy your surcharge asshole.
It's off into the mass confusion of traffic and time to head due East into the desert. The next 45 miles of road is all highway and five lanes of traffic. Things are flowing pretty well which can be a lot scarier than driving in bumper to bumper traffic at 10 mph. Three hours pass and we hit Palm Springs. Roo pulls her big ass over to get some fuel (B15 crap diesel) and we stop at Wal-Mart for a supply run. Then it's back on the road and off to some BLM ground south of Joshua Tree National Park.
The drive over was mostly a blur. Half because I was so focused on not hitting the car in front of us and the other half on the fact that our trip is going to be put on hold. Yep. I got a phone call from an old boss a couple of weeks back and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse. There's a new company starting up around the St. Louis area. I agreed to work 6-8 months in order to help get the business launched and running. After that, we'll be free to go. So that means another house to flip for some spending cash and a little time to regroup before we finish our trip.
So what does that mean for us? Our plan is to put the trip on hold. Not to end it. Put on hold. We're ready to downsize our RV (Roo is just too big for where we like to go) and head back out onto the road next fall for the east coast. However for the time being our first half of the trip is still not over. Time to sit back and keep enjoying what we're doing.
Universal Studios in LA promises it's visitors to be a real unique experience. To others who exercise the right to be frugal, it's a drain on resources. But, what the heck. We'll probably never be in LA again. It started with a 45 minute drive through insanity that landed us at the parking garage. Time to cough up $25 to park on site or $40 if you want "preferred" parking about 200 ft closer to the entrance. There should be a sign: "Welcome to Universal Studios, home of the upsell". With the money deducted from our account the nice lady at the booth looks at the kayak mount on top of the Jeep and asked me how tall it was. Apparently I gave her the right answer and she handed us a sheet to park in the over-sized lot. Turns out over-sized vehicles park in the preferred lot right next to the entrance. Sweet. A stroll through Universal city leads us up to the entrance gates, but not before we were approached by a lady trying to sell us the "discounted" fast pass tickets before we get there. For those of you not in the know, a fast pass ticket is just a mere $72 over the price of a regular ticket. What do you get for your money? A chance to look like a complete dick and skip the line in front of everyone else. Upsell #2.
Another $210 gets us past the metal detectors and ticket checker people. That inital entrance immediately gets you hit with a "Let me take your picture" person. Upsell #3. Forget it, I'm not going to even try and to keep track of the rest of the day here. Guests are then treated to the Universal studio globe twirling for the world to see. The skies above it are dark and it's unusually cold. Brisk temps in the low 60's have kept away the mass exodus of people who usually flock to this place year round. A light drizzle hit the park just a couple of hours ago. That's good new for us. Cold doesn't define when we are able to be outside and the lines are shorter because of it. First up: Universal Studio Tour.
The tour tram takes us through building fascias where movies are made on site. It actually doesn't look like much up close. I suppose the attention to detail isn't needed when the most movies are glazed over using CGI technology anyways.
The tram passes by some filming. Our tour narrator gets all serious about being quiet and flashes on the "filming in progress sign". Most people are all "oooo.... aahhhh" that they are witnessing something being filmed. However the stark reality of it is the tram's diesel engine is so loud it echoes down the streets as we drive. Then consider we can see another tram in front of us, and another one behind us. Let's just call this what it is folks. Staged acting for the audience. Supposedly that staged actor in the chair is Scott Eastwood as identified by the tour guide.
We went to turn left for the King Kong exhibit and then got stuck on the hill. The driver calls for a dumptruck to come over and give us the final nudge up the incline because of the rain. So far.... not real impressive Universal Studios.
Continuing past a line of movie cars peaked my interest. Unfortunately these real deal movie cars are just sitting outside wasting away. Above is Biff's car from Back to the Future 2.
A quick stop into the scene from Jaws and a seriously cheesy shark attack on the tram. Lame. What's next? An exploded plane from "War of the Worlds" from a scene when it crashed into a suburban town. Now this was cool. Well done and attention to detail here gives me hope into the rest of the day.
Off the tram and back into the park. Suddenly we find ourselves walking through Sprinfield, an icon of TV if there ever was one.
We spent the rest of the day hitting up rides and walking the streets. Most of the rides are small and contained inside a building. You get strapped into a roller coaster seat and are subsequently bounced and jostled in front of a huge 3D motion picture screen. Damn things made me nauseous.
Off to the Waterworld set for a live stunt show. And why not? It makes sense to use one of the biggest losses in all of film to entertain their paying audience. In all fairness, the stunt show was pretty cool. A little corny, slightly cheesy, but I definitely could appreciate the things accomplished by the stunt performers.
The live shows and entertainment just kept on coming. Next it was over to the presentation on special effects and how it works in film. Lame. Maybe some redemption with Hollywood animals? How about no. Yeah... they were able to accomplish about 3/4 of their routine correctly. One poor volunteer kid got peed on by the dog instead of being jumped over. You read that right. The trained universal studios dog peed on him.
Overall it was a pretty cool day. Most of the place had some amazing buildings and there was plenty to do without getting bored. We had to go just to go. That being said, I'd rather be in the desert.