Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Strolling Salado

Salado, Texas (pronounced Sah-Lay-Doe) is a quaint little community on I-35, about 50 miles north of Austin.  It is bisected by Salado Creek that, before a recent devastating flood, formed a bucolic setting for dozens of shops selling artsy-crafty things at mostly hefty markups.  The flood didn’t wash away any of the structures, but the creek bottom, once a wide grassy area perfect for picnics, is now uninvitingly strewn with pebbles and rocks.  I don’t know if it will ever recover. 


The blemished creek bottom didn’t seem to bother the folks who, like us, were participating in the Salado Christmas Stroll, an event held on the first two weekends in December of each year.  The Stroll, of course, is sponsored and promoted by the merchants and community leaders to attract shoppers to the stores and restaurants.  It is a very popular event, especially among the ladies.  Luckier husbands may have been allowed to spend their time at the Mill Creek golf course, a golfing venue of some significance, I’m told.  Since I’m not a golfer, I’ll have to rely on others’ judgment about a Robert Trent Jones golf course; I have no clue who he is—or was.  Those who take the stroll encounter extra vendors of all kinds and multiple performances by carolers and other musicians.


Perhaps most well-known in Salado is the Stagecoach Inn, built in 1861 as a stopover for stagecoach passengers.  Expanded many times, the inn and restaurant have had a loyal following, enjoying home cooking served by waitresses who recite the menu by memory at each table.  The place was looking a little tired on this visit, however.  Perhaps the bad economy has caused some maintenance to be deferred.


Stagecoach Inn 2
Stagecoach Inn



















Several of our friends, Marty and Cathy, Jim and Terri and Bubba and LouAnn had decided to accompany us on this little odyssey from the DFW area, and we all had a good time.  Marty and Cathy drove down for the day, and Jim and Terri stayed overnight at a hotel.  Bubba and LouAnn brought their fifth wheel to keep Homer company.  We parked at the Cedar Ridge COE campground at Lake Belton, one of our favorites.  We love this quiet and beautiful park, right on the waterfront at Lake Belton.  It’s fun to watch the many deer that wander around; they’re quite tame, obviously since no hunting is allowed in the park.


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Bubba strings kitschy lights at the campground.  Very risky behavior.




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Homer (left) and Bubba’s coach


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Waterfront spot at Cedar Ridge COE Campground


Mercifully, Sandy didn’t buy anything in Salado, and my job evolved into shuttling our friends back an forth from one shopping area to another along the main drag.  Jim and Terri found a beautiful framed print that will look great in their new home.  We all had a good time, however, with lots of laughing and carrying on.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What is it with Black Friday?

This was the first Thanksgiving during which we took an RV trip.  We pulled Homer from Ft. Worth to Houston on Wednesday and set up at the Lake View RV Park on South Main, a very nice park with modern facilities and friendly hosts.  The trip down here was uneventful, except when I turned on the rig’s running lights, I noticed the trailer lights worked only intermittently.  I checked the cannon plug in the bed of the pickup and didn’t notice any play, so I’m not sure what the problem might be.  Fortunately, we don’t find ourselves on the road that often after sunset, so the fix is not urgent.


On Thursday, Sandy and I met her sister, Brenda, and our daughter, Mindy, and son-in-law, Tyler, and our grandson, Mason, at Brenda’s new apartment in River Oaks.  This place is beautiful, with great views from floor-to- ceiling windows—high rise living at its best.  Brenda had gone all out in providing a Thanksgiving feast for us, all of which was acquired from gourmet venues in her local area.  We had smoked turkey with all the trimmings and scads of appetizers, imaginative sides and desserts that clearly showed the pride of the professional chefs who prepared them.  Frankly, this was a first for all of us; never before had we cooked, well, nothing, for Thanksgiving dinner.  However, this could signal an ominous trend, as the womenfolk all agreed this was an idea whose time had come.  The men looked at each other with worried faces, as if to say, “What have we done?” 


As much as we would like for our wives to be freed somewhat from kitchen chores, I think I can speak for the other guys in saying that we missed all the homemade goodies that  have become synonymous with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.   I allowed my good judgment to lapse for a moment and mentioned to Sandy how much I missed her homemade cornbread dressing, sweet potato casserole and pecan pie and, without missing a single bite of smoked turkey, she pointed to a three ring binder, yellowed with age and stained from its proximity to hundreds of episodes of meal preparation, and said something like, “The recipes are in there.” 


It wasn’t clear why she had brought her personal recipe book with her on this trip; I suppose she would have cooked something if asked by our hostess.  I took this as an indication that a paradigm had shifted, at least for now.  I'll approach this minefield from another direction in the future.


After an obligatory nap, enabled because cleanup was such a breeze (we ate on paper plates) the ladies began planning a Black Friday frontal assault on certain of their favorite stores that was set for a zero hour of 9 p.m. this very evening!  Yes, Toys ‘R Us was planning to open for Black Friday sales at 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving day!  What’s up with that?  This is just not Biblical, at all!  Sure enough, they all piled into Brenda’s BMW SUV around 8:00 p.m. and roared off, waving purses, credit cards and singing some kind of shopper’s battle cry like a bunch of drunks.  These women had obviously done a mind-meld with the bargain flyers sent by the stores to lure them in for a shopping spree.  Never let it be said that advertising doesn’t work!


Around 11:30 p.m., there was a knock on Homer’s door, and there they were, having returned to unload into Homer the spoils of their crusade.  As I type this, I’m looking at a giant box containing a Little Tykes Prep ‘n Serve Kitchen that is occupying most of the area where guests normally sit.  The rest of the haul, hopefully, will fit into the cargo bays.  I still don’t know how they stuffed it all into the Beamer when they left Toys 'R Us.


This was not to be the last of the Black Friday battle plan, however.  Brenda found herself at a Gap store at 5:30 a.m. the next day, hopped up on a pot of coffee and eyes dilated by Red Bull energy drinks.  Sandy and Mindy didn’t join her, however, perhaps having had a moment of clarity.  Even so, that didn’t keep them from supplying Brenda with their credit cards and a list, so that they could engage in Black Friday by proxy!


I will confess that these ladies were able to get a good deal of their Christmas shopping done at big reductions in price, but I just know that guys would never put up with the hassle.  I haven’t seen the newspapers yet today, but I’m sure there is probably mention of some casualties from the melee.  This Black Friday thing has gotten completely out of hand, the womenfolk having left earth orbit and clearer heads (guys) behind.  These gals are headed into uncharted territory, and it’s a place none of us guys wishes to go.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Preparing for Thanksgiving Trip

It has been a balmy weekend here in Fort Worth, but an arctic front is due on Thanksgiving day.  We're going to try to outrun it by dragging Homer down to Houston on Wednesday.  Sandy's sister, Brenda, lives there, and we're planning to have Thanksgiving dinner with her and her family.


Although the weather was kinda inappropriate for it, I decided to make a pot of chicken chili, using a recipe that I had been kicking around in my head.  We have a small farmer's market in our neighborhood that carries Hatch chiles (roasted and frozen), and I had been wanting to use those in chicken chili.  If I say so myself, it was wonderful!  Now, I'm not convinced that the Hatch chiles had anything to do with it, but these chiles, grown in Hatch, New Mexico, have quite a following.  Their cachet may be justified, but I'm always suspicious that such notoriety is more likely an opportunity to inflate prices.  I mean, really!  Could there possibly be that much difference in a chile grown in Hatch and one grown elsewhere?  On the other hand, I'm sort of okay with it, because I like the fact that it puts Hatch on the map, complete with a festival.  I think every town should have a claim to fame.


The recipe?  Okay, here goes:


1 large onion, chopped
6 medium tomatillos, chopped
6 Hatch green chilies, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped  (Note: Use mild variety if you're not a fan of very spicy chili.)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. butter (oil or bacon fat can be substituted)
2 cans chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken soup, undiluted
6 chicken thighs, deboned and chopped slightly in food processor
1 can white hominy or white beans (great northern or navy), drained  (Note: the flavor of the hominy will be more distinctive than the flavor of the beans.  I sometimes add a drained can of white beans along with the hominy.)
1 T. cumin 
1 T. McCormick Montreal chicken seasoning
1 T. Badia Complete Seasoning (found in many Latino markets)
1 T. Los Chileros Salsa Santa Fe Seasoning (http://www.888eatchile.com; this is a favorite mixture of dried New Mexico chilies that I use in all Mexican dishes.)


Note about dry seasonings:  I like bold and spicy flavors in Mexican food, so I use plenty of seasoning.  Consider using teaspoons of these seasonings if you are not so inclined.  Warning: The Los Chileros seasoning is VERY spicy; one tablespoon gives a hefty burn to this dish.  You may want to moderate this a bit.


In a medium pot, saute' the first four ingredients in butter until softened.  Add one can of chicken broth and bring to a low boil.  Add the processed chicken thighs, cream of chicken soup and the dry seasonings.   Add chicken broth from the second can to the desired consistency, if needed.  Simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the hominy or beans during last 10 minutes.  Serves 4-6.


Well, let's see...you're probably thinking about President Franklin Pierce, aren't you?  You should, because his birthday is coming up on November 23.  What?  You're not exactly up to speed on President Pierce?  Neither was I, until I did a little research after I happened upon a reference to him.  After reading his bio, I was struck by the similarity between Pierce's presidency and that of our current president.  In an effort to suppress political partisanship in this main blog, I have included a comparison on a separate page that you can find here.  If you don't want to get into politics, don't go there.


194 days to retirement!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Countdown to Retirement

Feeling the need to accomplish some profound preparation activity today, I added Sandy to the insurance plan that I will retain after retiring as a federal employee.  We’ll be dropping the separate coverage she has had since she retired from teaching.  That change will save us about $140 per month in premiums, which I’m sure she will let me use to buy more toys…uh, for Mason, our grandson.  Yeah--that’s it--for Mason...not for me.  Really.


We’ve also found that we are simplifying our meals and cooking less.  That isn’t the result of retirement planning, it just sort of happened, but it’ll be a good thing when we’re on the road.  When we became empty nesters, the need to prepare multi-course meals diminished greatly, and we discovered that abandoning the practice freed up a lot of time and effort, not to mention avoiding making a mess in the kitchen, something for which I am notorious.  (I should mention here that I generally cook the meals at our house, and Sandy generally cooks the desserts; she is very good at desserts, and I am very good at eating them.)
 
We’ve found that it is often cheaper to eat out, if we are careful, than it is to buy groceries and cook for two.  Because most restaurants seem to go overboard on their servings, Sandy and I often split entrees.  We tend to choose modestly-priced mom and pop joints where we know the food is good.  One of our favorite places offers a fajita dinner with all the extras for $9.99, and the serving is ample for two.  It’s hard to fix a complete fajita dinner at home for that price.
 
When we’re traveling in Homer, we almost always cook a hot breakfast and sometimes one other light meal or snack in the coach, but we typically eat out for at least one meal at a restaurant favored by locals that we’ve researched beforehand (the Internet is a wonderful thing).  It wasn’t always that way; when we acquired our first RV and prepared for our first trip, we stocked its kitchen in much the same manner as the kitchen in the house was stocked.  We loaded the same staples, canned goods, spices, meats and vegetables that we were accustomed to having on hand, spending a great deal of time and effort finding places for everything and filling up the refrigerator.  Imagine our surprise when we found that almost all of it came back home with us, unused!  One would think that we knew ourselves a little better than that, but I guess we didn’t.  One thing we’ve learned about RVing is that after you get one, your likes, dislikes and habits don’t automatically change. If you really enjoy eating out before you get an RV, you’ll still really enjoy eating out afterward.


After traveling by RV for five years now, we think we have the food thing figured out.  Homer’s kitchen is stocked with a limited supply of cookware—among which an electric skillet and Crockpot are essential--and a few basic condiments that don't require refrigeration.  We use unbreakable dishes, glasses and cups, and we carry a portable icemaker.  (Thanks to Gordon, again, for this idea.)  Just before departing on a trip, I carry a large Igloo-style cooler into the house, empty the icemaker bins into it and then load it up with any refrigerated items that might spoil during our absence—like deli meats, eggs, bacon, milk, etc.  Then I put in any refrigerated condiments that we’ll be using, along with a few soft drinks.  That’s it!  To save time stocking the fridge (we are notoriously late on departure day), I load the cooler into the trailer’s cargo bay, and when we reach our first stop, I turn on the refrigerator and unload into it the items from the cooler.  The fridge stays on for the rest of the trip, then we unload everything when we get back home.  Anything else we want to eat, we buy as we go.  It’s quick, simple and, most importantly, low impact. 


I mentioned toys while ago.  I have learned to try to be thoughtful (to the degree possible) when buying “toys” for me, as I am sometimes suckered into purchasing something whose usefulness may not be as compelling as first thought.  Well, I ran across this thing, which I think could actually be useful for those of us who spend a lot of time on wireless connections to computers.  This may be my next toy.





Saturday, November 13, 2010

At Home and Counting the Days

I’ve read numerous blog posts about the experiences of folks during their last year before retirement as they prepared for full- or part-time RV living.  Most appear to make the transition in a fairly well-ordered way, having decided on their goal and exhibiting little indecision as they moved forward.

I don’t think I like those people.

Yes, I’m jealous.  Jealous, because I’m not doing this as gracefully as they did.  I am, at the same time, excited and apprehensive, euphoric and depressed, focused and distracted, self-confident and paranoid.  Having had a long career requiring good judgment, focus, logic and responsibility—even for the very lives of other people—I am not comfortable in this state of being.   

The notion of not working at a job, as I have done for, let’s see, 43 years, seems strangely incomprehensible.  I’ve been trying to imagine what it will be like to start out on an RV trip without any consideration given to the need to race back home and go to work.  That’s got to be a little like Heaven.

The hardest part has been deciding what retirement would look like—full timing or part timing.  This is probably the principal source of the uncertainty that has been hanging around.  The fulltime lifestyle is incredibly attractive, as the bondage of owning and maintaining a stick and brick house evaporates, allowing the freedom to roam from place to place, staying as long as desired and doing whatever we want.

On the other hand, we have some pretty deep roots here with our church, family and friends, not to mention the house we built specifically to accommodate an RV. 

Then there’s the financial thing.  Are we sufficiently prepared to live on something less than a rather substantial salary?  I think so, but are my calculations too optimistic?  Does the economic climate today place our investments in jeopardy?

See what I mean?  My prognostications have all the reliability of a blind fortune teller, but things seem to be pointing to part-timing until clarity returns.

There’s also Homer; it’s been a good rig, but it is hardly up to snuff for fulltime or even part-time use.  Besides, we think we want a higher-end fiver that will include all the bells and whistles we have grown to covet.  We’ve been looking at Mobile Suites and Carriage products and like them both, except the closest Mobile Suites dealer is in Granbury, some 50 miles away; that pretty well nixes it as a contender.

So, a little sympathy would be in order from those of you who have entered and exited this tunnel with your dignity and reputation intact.  As for me, you may just find me in the same condition as Yossarian in Catch-22—sitting naked in a tree.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran’s Day

To all the brave military personnel who have served our country without rejoinder to the traitorous politicians who have shamefully denigrated you, I offer my undying respect, admiration and gratitude.  The republic still stands because of you and in spite of them.


This is what our veterans have preserved for us and those who follow.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blogging, Unwrapped

I was sort of shamed into doing an update to this blog after reading Jay’s blog post from November 3rd. (http://jayandstellasadventures.blogspot.com.)  He was explaining that he hadn’t been posting daily because there wasn’t much going on but, to put things in perspective, he quickly mentioned other RV bloggers he reads who haven’t posted in a much longer period of time—one of them back to July! 

Now, I’m not sure I am the blogger to whom he referred, but that spitwad certainly found its target, since July 26 was my last post.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you may have noticed that I’ve been struggling with the posting frequency issue, although I’m fully aware of the reader psychology involved.  Reading a daily blog, if it’s written well enough to hold my interest, is much like reading a good book or watching a favorite TV series.  Each episode ties into the next and, after a while, I get to know the characters and get caught up in the story.

I know I enjoy reading a daily blog that’s interestingly written, even when not much is going on with the writer. Oddly enough though, I still find it excruciatingly difficult to write when my day is unremarkable, like those when I’m chained to my desk at work.  And yes, I’m sure that my disdain for the remaining 209 work days could have some bearing on my recalcitrance. This excuse is a little lame, however, as other bloggers mentioned below, like Dee and Jim, Boris and Natasha, John and Bridget, Randy and Pam—it didn’t deter them!  They blogged almost daily before they retired.  (I probably need a good therapist.)

Many of the blogs I read (like Jay’s) reveal the writers’ ability to overcome any pre-retirement writer’s block by, well, writing, I suppose.  Not only writing, mind you, but writing, as in Jay’s case, in a highly personal way.  For example, Jay was very candid about his last months as a police officer, compelling me to read his entire blog—something I do only when I find a favorite.  I found his story engaging and highly revealing of his personality and the way he and Stella handled the big changes for them and their family members as they transitioned into retirement and fulltime RVing.  

Jay, like others I follow, has a natural ability as a writer and knows instinctively that the essence of holding a reader’s interest is not to recount merely what he sees or where he goes or what he experiences, but how he and the other characters feel about those things. Nothing will make me click out of a blog faster than viewing a bunch of photos with the writing amounting to little more than photo captions.  If there is no story and no characters, I’m outta there.  Blogs that are interesting to read don’t require professional writing skills, either.  The ones I mention below show various levels of facility with language, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as telling the story in a way that causes the reader to feel he or she is there, using all the senses—seeing, talking, hearing, touching, smelling—experiencing it in person.

Besides Jay’s, here are a few other favorite blogs by great storytellers:

There are others, of course, that are very good, but I think these are among the best.  I’m always on the lookout for interesting bloggers. 

So, what does all this analysis have to do with me and (the infrequent posts in) my blog?  Well, just bear with me; I’m working through my fear of being criminally boring, so I am going to start slowly—maybe posting once or twice a week when not traveling. We’ll see how it goes.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Trip Reflections and What’s Next

The leg from Big Spring to Fort Worth was an uneventful slog along I-20, with a stop in Sweetwater for lunch.  Our intention was to visit Allen’s Fried Chicken, a local family-owned joint of longtime notoriety in Sweetwater.  Bubba had strongly recommended the place, but upon our arrival, we found an empty parking lot and a sign on the door indicating that the proprietors had gone on vacation.


Having anticipated this stop for, oh, several hundred miles!, we were sorely disappointed, to say the least.  Sandy immediately sent a text to Bubba regarding the status of Allen’s, along with a good deal of invective that was not exactly deserved by poor Bubba.  However, he was wisely restrained in his response, allowing Sandy to vent harmlessly, as it turned out.


Since we were parked already, we strolled over to a local eat-a-bite next door and had a thoroughly substandard lunch.  I can’t remember the name of the place or what we ate, because I successfully blocked it out of my mind.


The featureless grind along I-20 gave us time to reflect on this trip and to begin to make plans for our first 'breakaway’ adventure after retiring next June.  Now you might have learned from an earlier post that I am not much of a planner, but leaving the work world will be such a momentous event, I can’t help but do some imagining as to what that will be like.  That seems like planning, and it’s only 313 days away! 


Our initial hack at this ‘planning’ thing is to head back to Colorado next summer then continue northwest to Yellowstone. (Sandy’s never been, and I was ten years old when I last visited, so I don’t remember much.)  After that, we would make our way eastbound through the Dakotas to check out Mt. Rushmore (neither of us have seen it).  Then we would continue east to arrive in Wisconsin and upper Michigan in the early fall.  From there, we would make our way back to Texas.
 
I’ll have to give a nod to Gordon and Juanita, whose posts of their meanderings in that area have kindled my desire for this to be our ‘maiden voyage’ as new retirees.  We will certainly be reviewing those sections of their blog.


We’ll have to figure out just when to leave Texas in order to complete, in a fairly leisurely pace, this journey we’re planning.  We want to be able to arrive in Wisconsin and Michigan in time to enjoy the fall foliage.


We’re going to have to do a good bit of research in order to capture all the ‘can’t miss’ things to see on such a long trip.  If you who read this have suggestions, we would love to get them.


There are other possible changes in our thinking that we’ll talk about in future posts.  For now, this is enough to make our heads spin…

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Home Stretch

The relatively leisurely pace of our travel picked up considerably after Silver City.  Looking at the miles in front of us versus the days available to travel them, we knew we were not going to be able to stop and smell the roses along the way as we much prefer to do.  Those of you who have retired may have forgotten what it’s like to have to show up back at the salt mine after the last day of your vacation had expired.  You have forgotten?  Well, I don’t blame you; I intend to obliterate it from my memory, as well, when my time comes.

We stopped in Las Cruces only long enough for a forgettable hamburger and a tank of fuel, then on to Ruidoso for the night.  We liked the looks of Las Cruces and decided it was a place we’d like to spend a little more time—whenever that may be.  It goes on our “redo” list.

It was a long uphill climb from Las Cruces northeastward past the Organ Mountains to Ruidoso, where we arrived very late at the Circle B RV Park, located on the side of a hill and whose parking sites were much too close together for our liking.  As it was a weekend, the place was almost full, but the staff was nice enough in accommodating our late arrival.  The after-hours attendant was Jimmy, an ebullient and highly energetic older man from Texas, who was almost more helpful than necessary in getting us parked, sardine-like, between two other rigs only inches away.  Since time there was so short, we decided not to unhook Lucille from Homer and go foraging as we usually do.  We merely extended Homer’s front legs and the rear stabilizers and called it a day.  Sandy made some fajita nachos for dinner, and then we watched a little TV and retired early.  Thankfully, highway 70 through Ruidoso is a wide thoroughfare, unlike the hilly and curvy road from Show Low to Silver City.  It was a long enough climb in lower gears to reach here, but the excellent highway will prove to keep our speed up downhill from Ruidoso.

Our impression of Ruidoso, from the standpoint of just passing through, was that it was a nice enough place, nestled in the mountains in the cool air, but if you aren’t a horse racing enthusiast or a casino gambler, there’s not much to do there.  And, since we’re not either of those, we probably won’t put this on our “must redo” list.

Approaching Roswell and the Pecos valley (and the Texas state line beyond), we rediscovered the meaning of “flat.”  Again, we had time only for a lunch stop at Roswell, with a little extra time thrown in for Sandy to do a little shopping.  She wanted to get a few souvenirs with an alien theme (did we tell you we have a grandson?).  The alien obsession here, of course, is due to the “incident” that happened near here in 1947, wherein some folks discovered in the desert what they thought to be a crashed alien spacecraft, a discovery said by the government to be the remnants of a spent weather balloon.  The discoverers insisted, however, that the craft was not of earth origin, and various conspiracy stories spun wildly afterward that the craft and its deceased or dying occupants were spirited off by the authorities to a secret location and any existence of such denied to this day.  The conspiratorial climate around Roswell has endured since 1947 and is only exacerbated by the presence nearby of Area 51, a super-secret military facility used for research and development of futuristic weaponry and craft for use in air and space combat.  The Conspiracy is now a cottage industry, worth untold millions to the city’s economy over the years.

We ate lunch at the Cattle Baron restaurant, easily the nicest eatery in town and one of a regional chain of steakhouses.  They had a huge salad bar and an extensive menu, but we were totally unimpressed with the food.  The steaks were tough and flavorless, and I left most of mine on the plate.  For the fifty-dollar price tag, we thought it was a total ripoff, and we wouldn’t think of returning.

We rather liked the town, however, and we were surprised in that it was larger and more bustling a place than we expected.  We especially liked the alien themes in some of the more touristy places.  We would have liked to visit the alien museum, but we just didn’t have the time.   The city sponsors an “alien” convention during the first weekend in July each year.  This attracts scads of visitors who gather from all over the world to dress up like aliens and act silly.  These sound like my kind of people; I must join them some day!  We are putting Roswell on our “redo” list for sure.

From Roswell into west Texas, we entered the vast flat farmlands surrounding Plains, Brownfield and southeastward to Big Spring.  The highways are endlessly straight here and were almost totally devoid of traffic on this Saturday.  We set Lucille’s cruise control and didn’t touch it for hours on end.  This was a good place to listen to CDs and marvel at what a huge place Texas is.  In fact, if I were pressed to articulate one overall impression of this trip, it would be that I was reacquainted with the incredible vastness of the open spaces of the West.  It is so different from say, Dallas/Ft. Worth eastward, where a traveler encounters a city, town or village seemingly every few miles.  Out West, the harsh topography serves as an effective deterrent to development, and you can still see the pristine beauty of the land through unpolluted air, much as the Indians saw it before white men arrived.  It is a place so remote, so spectacular in its immensity and over-the-top topographical features, that I feel very small and insignificant, awestruck and reverent in beholding God’s creation. 

We bedded down for the final night in Big Spring, arriving late again, at the Whip-In RV Park a few miles east of town on I-20.  This was a small place, nicely kept with gravel roads and spaces (ours wasn’t very level), and very close to the noisy interstate.  Without a noisemaker like the air conditioner in our bedroom, it would have been very unpleasant, I’m afraid.  We were met, graciously, after hours by the manager, a gangly lady with weathered, leathery skin and no evidence of teeth, and who was probably quite a bit younger than suggested by her high-mileage visage.  Her speech was rather tragically hampered by the absence of her teeth, and I could only guess at much of what she was saying.  She was accompanied everywhere by a vanilla-colored Chihuahua and, once we were inside the office, a friendly gray cat hopped up on the counter in order to be more accessible for petting by the new visitor.  I obliged the cat’s gesture and asked the manager, as I usually do, about local restaurant recommendations.  She mentioned several names, the only discernible one of which was “Furr’s Cafeteria.”  I elected not to ask her to repeat what she had said, as it would have called attention to her manner of speech.  Armed with this sparse information and the somewhat alarming notion that Furr’s Cafeteria could be among a list of highly recommended restaurant venues, Sandy and I decided once again to raid Homer’s refrigerator, settling in with a ham sandwich for the short evening.  We left Lucille and Homer hooked up, ready to launch at the break of late morning the next day. 

I couldn’t easily get the woman with the Chihuahua out of my mind, wondering what sort of circumstances she had met in life and what choices she had made to arrive at this juncture in her less-than-winsome condition.  Was now a good time or bad time for her?  I’ll never know, of course, but it makes me thankful for God’s favor in giving me good parents, good upbringing, a good mate and the wisdom to have made more good choices than bad in my life.  So many people can’t lay claim to that, I think, and therein lays the cause of many of the problems we see today.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Silver City, New Mexico


The drive from Show Low to Silver City was tiring, as it was almost all in the mountains.  It was a beautiful drive, but towing a heavy trailer is much more difficult here than, for example, on Interstate highways, where you can just set the cruise control and forget it.  Even with the powerful diesel engine, climbing and descending steep grades is a challenge; the 11,000-pound Homer demands much of the engine and transmission, and careful monitoring is necessary to ensure the engine exhaust and transmission temperatures are not exceeded.  This often requires manual shifting to lower or higher gears, as the transmission is not designed to monitor and control precisely these limitations.  I know that some folks don’t install the extra gauges in their trucks, but according to some experts I trust, drivers ignore these parameters to the peril of their transmission and engine, especially when pulling heavy loads in the mountains.  Some trucks, including Lucille, have warning lights to indicate, for example, excessive transmission temperature.  The problem is, by the time the light illuminates, the damage has likely already been done.  I hate these idiot lights—I suppose because of all my years flying airplanes, where we have gauges for everything imaginable; I am not comfortable not knowing what is going on with the engine and transmission.  

By the end of this leg, I was exhausted, so we selected the Silver City RV Park (another imaginative name, isn't it?), and were escorted to a shady pull-through spot by a very officious, if not brusque, older gentleman.  When I pulled out my credit card to pay for the night, he advised me that he didn’t take credit cards, as it wasn’t worth it to him for the $23.00 per night fee.  I thought this was a good enough bargain, and happily handed over the cash without further comment.  I asked him for a nearby restaurant recommendation but, instead of answering, he gave me two brochures on Silver City, one of which showed all the restaurants in town.  Perhaps he was a bit grumpy because it was a little past closing time, but I don’t think it would have taken much effort for him to have been ever so slightly friendly.

Lots of nice shade in the Silver City RV Park 

Since the park manager was of no help in our finding a good restaurant, I went back to Homer and fired up the computer.  A quick check at http://www.yelp.com yielded recommendations for several restaurants in downtown Silver City.  We selected Jalisco’s Mexican Restaurant, which was within walking distance of the RV park. 

We had a very pleasant walk of some 10 blocks, during which we were able to observe an oddity in the layout of downtown Silver City.  When the streets were laid out in 1870, the principal north-south thoroughfare through the business district was named, as you might expect, Main Street.  The street one block to the west was named Bullard Street, in honor of the founder of the town.  A couple of decades after the downtown buildings had been erected facing Main Street, a flash flood roared through the town and demolished many of these structures.  To prevent a recurrence, the city fathers decided to replace Main Street with a canal that would carry the runoff harmlessly beyond the city proper.  This had the effect of rendering the storefronts unusable, as no vehicle or pedestrian traffic was possible.  As a result, Bullard Street, to which the rear store entrances faced, became, in effect, the new Main Street, and patrons would simply use the rear doors as the main entrances to the buildings.  Newer buildings were constructed with their fronts facing Bullard Street but, to this day, a number of the older downtown buildings have their more elaborate and unused front entrances facing a dry ditch.  This canal is referred to by the locals, appropriately, as the Big Ditch.

This is one of the old buildings fronting on Main Street, now a ditch.

The same building from a different angle; the ditch that was Main Street is just beyond the iron fence.


We had a terrific dinner at Jalisco’s. Sandy had combination tostadas and I had green chile stew, made with the famous Hatch chiles—scrumptious!  


Afterward, we enjoyed the cool breeze as we walked back to the RV park.  Like Flagstaff and Show Low, the high altitude here makes for mild summers and cool evenings—very pleasant, indeed.

Silver City, so named because of silver deposits discovered in the vicinity, is the home of Western Arizona University, and many of the town’s residents are employed by Phelps Dodge in a nearby copper mine.  The company has given the city notice that the mine will play out within a couple of decades, so the growth prospects of the city seem a bit limited, at least in the short term.

All in all, this was a pleasant and restful stop.  Tomorrow, we’re off again, headed toward Texas.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Show Low

Our route back to Texas consists of overnight stops at places we’ve never been before.  Show Low, Arizona is such a place.  We really had no idea what to expect, especially after traversing the bleak landscape southeast of Flagstaff.  Happily, however, within 25 miles of Show Low, we began to climb from 5,000 feet elevation back to nearly 7,000 and encountered some very picturesque forested mountains as we approached Show Low.

According to local legend, the town was named after a marathon poker game between C.E. Cooley and Marion Clark. The two men decided there was not enough room for both of them in their settlement. They agreed to let a game of cards decide who was to move. According to the tale, Clark said, "If you can show low, you win." Cooley turned up the deuce of clubs and replied, "Show low it is." The stakes were a 100,000 acre ranch. Show Low's main street is named "Deuce of Clubs" in remembrance.

We were surprised at the size of the community—larger than we expected—and the bustling commercial activity here.  They have a new Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s and a very large community of resort home developments, including Venture In, an RV/Park Model development where we are staying overnight.

We’re told that, besides a significant number of retirees who live here year round, a good many of the vacation homes we see belong to residents of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson who flee those cities in the summer for the Show Low area and the much cooler White Mountains.

We had a very nice prime rib dinner at the Branding Iron restaurant last night and breakfast at Aunt Nancy’s, a local favorite operated from the former home of a local resident.

Aunt Nancy's Restaurant

We didn't eat this; just ordered it for the photo.

Many park models in the Venture In community. There is a retirement/recreation home here that will fit anyone's budget. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Flagstaff

After an uneventful drive from Monument Valley to Flagstaff, we decided to take a day off before beginning the long trek back to Texas.  This is as far west as we will travel on this trip, and we think a break will be good preparation for the long driving hours ahead of us.  Besides, Flagstaff is a  nice town, nestled among forested mountains at 7,000 feet elevation and, therefore, relatively cool—especially at night.  I cannot stress enough us Texans' appreciation for a cool climate in the summer.

We are at the J&H RV Park north of town on U. S. 89, an older park that is well kept and appears to be popular with older folks.  The owners make a big deal out of potential noisemakers; I was asked twice if we had dogs (allowed) and three times if we had motorcycles (not allowed).  What I’m inferring from this is that older folks don’t put up with much noise, and I guess we fit right in, because we don’t like noise, either.  Anyway, there is a cost to all this quietness—forty dollars a night at this park, even with a Good Sam discount!  Cost doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, however; the park was full both nights we were here.  It is located adjacent to a busy highway, but we didn’t notice any significant noise from traffic.  Perhaps the owner doesn’t allow that, either.

We explored the old downtown area, which was surprisingly vibrant, with a lot of young people hanging out among many mom and pop shops and restaurants.  Understandable, I guess, considering this is the home of Northern Arizona University.  We had intended to tour the old Riordan Mansion, a 13,000 square foot circa-1900 residence built by one of the founding families of Flagstaff.  Unfortunately, the house and grounds—now a state park—are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  We’ll just have to catch it next time.

Foodies that we are, we were delighted to find a couple of good restaurants.  We had Cajun shrimp tacos—perhaps the best ever—at Salsa Brava and some killer Thai food at Swadee Thai restaurant downtown.  I highly recommend these if you are in the area.

We did a little window shopping, Sandy at a women’s apparel store and me next door at Best Buy but, to my amazement, neither of us bought anything.  (I felt Sandy’s forehead, but she didn’t appear to have any fever.)  In Best Buy, I marveled at a new Samsung LED TV display; I guess this is the successor to plasma and LCD in the manufacturer’s unending quest to increase the high definition of television sets to the point where the TV image is sharper than real life!  Frankly, I think it already is.     

In the late afternoon, we decided to drive to Sunset Crater, located in a national park just north of town.  I didn’t know much about this now-extinct volcano, and I was surprised to learn that it erupted only a thousand years ago—very recent, in geological terms.  There was a very nice visitors’ center, where we perused the highly informative displays regarding the eruption.  While we couldn’t drive to the top of the crater, a paved road took us past the base of the cone, where we were shocked to see how little vegetation had returned to the lava flows and cinder cone after a thousand years!  If asked to guess how long ago the eruption took place, based on what we were seeing, I would have offered maybe ten years as a guess!

I’m including a few photos below, but they really don’t show the dramatic sharp edges of the lava rock and the total absence of erosion that I would have expected after a thousand years.  Compared to the lava flows of, say, the Hawaiian Islands, many of which are millions of years old and completely overgrown with vegetation, this really underscores the shortness of a thousand-year span in geological time and the mere blink of an eye that we humans are here.  (I don’t need too many reminders of the brevity of life; time is passing ever so much more quickly as I get older, and I’m really not all that happy about it.)  However, now that they are getting so good at replacing body parts that wear out, perhaps 60 years old will be the new 40, who knows?  Sandy is doing so well with her new knee, she may rival the Sunset Crater in still looking young when she gets all the rest of her parts replaced!  (I can't figure out if that is a compliment or not; I'm sure she'll let me know.) 

  Sunset Crater, as seen from nearby lava flow.

Lava rock shows little erosion and little vegetation, even after 1,000 years.

Photo doesn't reveal the length of the lava field--more than two miles and 100 feet thick.

The cinder cone looks much as it did 1,000 years ago; note the pieces of lava rock that pelted the area.

Irrepressible life:  From the devastation springs a wildflower; this plant is growing from the cinders through a thin layer of straw.