Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

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.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Monument Valley

After leaving Durango and the delightfully cool mornings in the San Juan mountains, it is a relatively short distance westbound on U. S. 160 to a jarringly abrupt change of scenery.  In the short 42 miles to Cortez, Colorado, we were finished with mountains and looking ahead to a foreboding and bleak landscape, almost devoid of vegetation.  We were a little uneasy leaving the security of Cortez, because we weren’t sure we would be seeing civilization again, based on what we were seeing ahead of us.


We decided to eat lunch at Cortez, stopping at a tiny mom-and-pop diner named Popillo’s.  I had a Navajo taco with some extremely tasty green chile sauce on top, and Sandy had a burger and fries.  All of it was cheap and delicious.  We sort of lingered over our meal, probably due to a subconscious uneasiness over what was “out there.”


We finally mustered our courage, and I took special note of the amount of diesel fuel showing on the gauge.  It was nearly full, as I had refueled in Durango, and I had already calculated that I should have plenty of fuel to reach Monument Valley.  Nevertheless, Sandy questioned me several times about the fuel supply, nervous Nellie that she is about such things.  After several reassurances, I finally talked her into giving me the keys.  (Not really.) 


Since we were about to enter no-man’s land, we decided we didn’t have enough provisions!  I should modify that to, “we didn’t have enough JUNK FOOD provisions.”  Now bear in mind that Homer’s refrigerator and pantry contained sufficient foodstuffs to take us to Monument Valley even at wagon train speed, but we were very uncomfortably low on carbs!  A stop at a local corner mart solved that problem, as I picked up a collection of favorite “sin” foods and, for Sandy, a glass of iced tea large enough to fill a wading pool.  With this in mind, I felt lucky that Homer’s restroom was following along behind us. 


We past by the Four Corners area (where the states of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah join at their respective corners), but the actual marker was not accessible due to construction.  This wasn’t particularly bothersome, because we had visited this place before when Mindy was a kid, and we took her photo lying at the four corners marker with her hands and feet all in different states. 
After four corners, the landscape became even more barren, with the ribbon that was Highway 160 stretched straight ahead as far as the eye could see.  There was no cell phone signal, of course, and Sandy was getting increasingly fidgety.  She turned toward me, her eyebrows a little higher than usual, and said:
“Do you suppose there are any buzzards out here?”
“Why do you ask?,” I replied.
“I was just wondering how long our carcasses would last for identification purposes.”
Bless her heart; Sandy really hates desolate, isolated spaces, and she is a trooper for enduring all she does to satisfy my wanderlust.


After what seemed like a week in suspended animation, we finally reached Kayenta, Arizona and our turn onto Highway 163 to take us to Monument Valley.  We filled up with fuel, of course, and I thought Sandy would hug the diesel pump at any minute.


After refueling, we set off on the final leg, and it wasn’t long until the unmistakable buttes of Monument Valley appeared before us, instantly recognizable from countless photographs.  This was the fulfillment of a bucket list item for me, and there truly is nothing like “being there.”  The movies and photos just don’t due justice to the grandeur and breathtaking vastness of this area.  Of course, one has to appreciate the clear desert air that allows the impossibly long vistas, resulting in unrealistically long travel times to reach a point that you can clearly see 70 or 80 miles ahead.


We pulled into Goulding’s campground in late afternoon, with the Mittens (famously named buttes) clearly visible from our spot in the red sandstone hills.  I don’t know how the Gouldings were able to assemble such an enterprise as they have here for tourists, but they are about the only game in town other than the Navajo tribal facility, which isn’t nearly as significant.  If you can think of an enterprise that would be used by tourists, there is a Goulding name on it:  Goulding’s Lodge, Goulding’s Restaurant, Goulding’s Campground, Goulding’s Tours, Goulding’s Grocery Store, Goulding’s Car Wash, even Goulding’s Airport.  This family simply has a gold mine here.


The famous formations around here are what’s left of vertical sandstone rock areas that have eroded more slowly than the softer sandstone shale areas around them.  This erosion has been taking place over tens of millions of years, and one day, they will finally be gone.  (Don’t worry, Bubba, it won’t be on our lifetime.)  These formations are said to constitute the most photographed landscape in the world.


Of all the photos I took, the two above are my personal favorites.


We had a nice steak dinner in Goulding’s Restaurant overlooking the valley, and afterward, a nice Fourth of July fireworks show.  
Goulding's Restaurant overlooks Monument Valley.


Only foodies take photos of their meals. (This was quite good, and we don't apologize for being foodies.)


Lucille just had to get into the act.  She's pretty fetching, don't you think?


View from Goulding RV Park at dawn


A view of our parking spot with Lucille and Homer in the foreground

I can’t help remembering the countless photos and movies I’ve seen with this area as the backdrop, and it’s hard to believe it’s taken me so long to see it for myself.  I am truly humbled with gratitude that God gave me life, eyesight and a perfect companion with whom I can behold what must be some of His best handiwork.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Train Ride to Silverton

If you are a railroad buff (or even if you’re not), taking the narrow-gauge rail trip between Durango and Silverton, Colorado is not to be missed.  It is one of the truly iconic train rides in the country, the railroad having been in business since 1882.  The ancient coal-fired steam engines are throwbacks to an era unknown to the last three generations or so of Americans, and the fact that these 1920s relics are still operating reliably is an engineering wonder.  Parts for these locomotives have been nonexistent for decades, so the Durango and Silverton Railroad rebuilds them or manufactures new ones themselves in their state-of-the art shops.
IMG_0054
I had ridden the train in my childhood, so my memories of the trip were very hazy.  Sandy had never experienced it at all, so Bubba invited us to meet them in Durango and make the trip with them today.  He made reservations months ago, and if you intend to take this trip, you need to do the same.  Don’t bother to show up on the day of departure and expect to get a seat.


We were to meet at 8:00 a.m., to arrive at the station and get parked in time for the 9:00 a.m. train and, almost as amazing as the locomotives, Bubba and his group were on time! 


Sandy had been a little nervous about the trip, as she has some degree of acrophobia and feared the train would be negotiating hairpin curves overlooking deep chasms, a situation that would be very uncomfortable for her.  Unfortunately, I didn’t remember enough about my childhood ride to offer her much assurance that the route wouldn’t be a challenging in this way.  However, as the train made its way up the Animas River valley, it became clear that there would be no hairpin curves overlooking deep canyons, except for a short stretch near Rockwood that was relatively benign but simply too picturesque for her to be apprehensive.


The vast majority of the route followed the Animas River, a gorgeous clear stream cascading over millions of rocks and through calm eddies, as well, making its way south to Durango and beyond.  The water flow is substantial enough to offer a good ride to countless rafters and tubers, and such an adventure seemed really appealing due to the picturesque setting in the cool mountain air.
IMG_0058
Typical scenery en route to Silverton
The train travels quite slowly, taking three and one-half hours to reach Silverton, a charming old mining town at 9,300 feet elevation, at which point a layover of a couple of hours was provided for lunch and sightseeing before returning to Durango. 
IMG_0059
Main Street in Silverton
A popular option for riders is to omit the return trip in favor of a much faster bus ride.  We chose the bus for the leg back to Durango, and we’re glad we did.  The road trip was through gorgeous mountain scenery, and the driver, who gave an excellent touristy narrative, pointed out that the San Juan Skyway, a part of which is the route between Silverton and Durango, is one of the ten most scenic drives in America.  We would have to agree and vowed to return sometime to make the entire 126-mile trip.


Is this train trip one that I would do again?  Probably not.  Once you get past reliving the rich history of the railroad and the novelty of passenger travel on a steam train, the trip is really little more than spending three and a half hours looking at the Animas River at the bottom of picturesque, but not dissimilar, canyons.  I think one hour would have been enough.


After our return to Durango, we drove about ten miles north to Hermosa and visited Honeyville, a purveyor of honey, jams and jellies and other novelties since 1950.  We got quite a few samples before deciding on six jars of tasty, but rather expensive, honey butter and jellies.


We then came back to town and toured the Durango and Silverton Railroad’s museum (free with your trip ticket), housed in the old roundhouse, still in use by the company to perform maintenance on its rolling stock.  We enjoyed this interesting exhibit and then walked to a nearby Thai restaurant (named the Sizzling Pot, I think) for what turned out to be some really second rate food.  We won’t be going back to this one.


Returning to the RV park, we stopped by Bubba’s trailer and spent a couple of hours sitting outside chatting with the group.  We laughed a lot and finally broke up the merriment as the warmth of the day yielded to the growing coldness of the night mountain air.


It was a good day--a very good day--and tomorrow we will be leaving for Monument Valley.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cool Colorado

It was a beastly drive to Durango from Clovis--some eleven hours to travel the 430 miles, including fairly long stops for fuel and lunch and another shorter stop to make a sandwich to eat while we drove.  Lucille’s computer showed 12.9 mpg, which I thought was quite respectable.  I’ve paid between $2.79 and $3.28 per gallon for diesel, usually around $3.08 in this area.


We hate driving such long distances but, we were behind schedule, and my days off are not yet unlimited, like you lucky retirees!  Grrrrr.  The journey was unremarkable, but Sandy’s knee was beginning to bother her due to the long sitting spells that deprived her of the movement she needs for optimizing the healing process. We shouldn’t have any more of these long driving days; I’m trying to keep the legs below 300 miles.


Bubba met us at Lightner Creek Campground in Durango around 10:00 p.m., and boy, was it dark—country dark!  We didn’t even attempt to unhook Homer from Lucille, because setting up in the dark is not only a struggle, but it’s noisy, and the other campers don’t appreciate all that racket so late in the evening.  We just hooked up electricity and water and went to bed, dog tired.  We would finish setting up in the morning.


We awoke to find ourselves in a very nice campground that followed the banks of Lightner Creek, a clear, gurgling stream that flows down a narrow mountain valley about five miles west of Durango.  The place is full this July 4th weekend, and we roamed around until we found Bubba and his crew. 
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Bubba, LouAnn and Sandy in front of their trailer

We then went out on our own for a little shopping, during which we ate lunch at La Margarita, a fairly good Mexican restaurant, but certainly not up to Texas standards.  I’m not sure why we keep trying Mexican restaurants outside Texas; so far, it hasn’t yielded very good results; I guess it’s because hope springs eternal.  By the way, the worst Mexican restaurant we have ever patronized, and the one by which all other bad Mexican restaurants will be judged, is the one in London, England.  I can’t even remember the name now, as I have attempted to obliterate it from my memory.  Suffice it to say that it truly deserved to be dispatched to the dustbin of history by a talented arsonist.   Sandy enjoyed looking in all the shops in the bustling downtown area, she bought some very handsome earrings in the shape of a Suguaro cactus, which I thought appropriate, given the area in which we are traveling. 


Durango is a vibrant, busy town that is very clean and well-policed, appearing to be almost devoid of the kind of blight we saw in Clovis.  I’m not sure how they manage that, given today’s economy, but it reminded me of towns we have seen in Switzerland and Austria that appear to have no citizen underclass.  Amazing.  (Post-publishing note:     We found the, ah, more modest residential area some distance north of the city, in the Hermosa area.)


On tap for the evening’s entertainment was dinner and a show at the Bar D ranch, serving a barbecue dinner to about a thousand folks, who remained for music from a talented quartet singing mostly western songs including, to our delight, the iconic “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” which I’m sure the group has done every night since 1969 when the place opened.    The dinner was forgettable, but the guys were superb instrumentalists and singers, and we enjoyed the show very much.  We got back to Homer quite late and slept well, enjoying a short rain shower peppering down on the roof. 
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Bar D Ranch audience pavilion covered due to brief shower
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Bar D Ranch singers and the Barker Family
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Barry and Algene, Bubba’s mom and dad        Pavilion cover retracted after rain

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ain't Lovin' Clovis



We got a late start from Wichita Falls due to my failed attempts to get the new Pressure Pro tire monitor to work.  It never would initiate as the instructions describe, so I think I’ll have to send it back for a replacement.  The leg from Wichita Falls to Clovis was just 300 miles, but we were pretty tired when we got there and decided to stop for the night.  The next leg to Durango will be a fiendish 430 miles, so I’ll have to take some Geritol or something, I guess.


I really hate to disparage communities, because every town is someone’s home town.  But Clovis seems to go out of its way to invite criticism.  U. S. highway 84, the main east-west drag through town, has been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that it could possibly damage your suspension.  Pulling Homer through town gave the new Air Safe hitch a workout as the pin box gyrated around wildly on the air-suspended hitch head.  Even with this marvel of a shock-dampening hitch, we found a few things tossed around inside the trailer when we stopped for the night.  The city fathers should be flogged for allowing a main artery to get in this shape.  Even for the streets that had been resurfaced, the work was inferior.  The asphalt overlay had not been applied to cover the entire street, but only those portions that had deteriorated.  While this fixed the potholes, the uneven surface made for a terrible ride everywhere we went.  Except for the newer, more affluent north end of town, the area along U. S. 84 looked very bleak, impoverished and worn.  This was certainly one of the least appealing cityscapes that I can ever remember seeing in all our travels in the U. S.


Traveler’s World, the more desirable RV park, had no 50-amp site available, so we stayed at KC Campground, a pretty low-rent place with dusty and unkempt dirt and gravel (mostly dirt) sites and no shade anywhere.  It was priced pretty well at $24, and the proprietor was friendly.  After parking and exiting Lucille, we couldn’t help but notice in the breeze the unmistakable odor of the stockyards south of town.  After retreating into Homer, we elected not even to unhook, as there was not really any more of this place we cared to explore.  We made a very tasty Caesar salad with grilled chicken, watched a little TV and turned in fairly early.


Sunrise at Clovis


View from our window: