Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Gunnison for the Summer

 At Palisades RV Park, Gunnison, Colorado...

We had really begun to enjoy our nearly month-long stay in Cortez, especially when Steve and Jackie joined us at our wonderful West View RV Park. But it was time to make tracks for our "gig" in Gunnison, first with a stop in Grand Junction for Phannie's annual service. We had an appointment with Inland Truck there, and they were super-accommodating, as have been all the Inland facilities we've used around the Southwest. Luckily, the shop was directly across the street from Junction West, our RV park, so we didn't have to get up too early to make our 0900 appointment. Here's Phannie--all finished at Inland and ready to go:

By the way, for you techies out there, Phannie has a Caterpillar C7 engine, an upgrade of the legendary 3126, used in countless pieces of construction equipment across the world. Upgrading the 3126, Caterpillar built 300,000 C7 engines, which were used mainly in over-the-road trucks and RVs. It has an expected service life of 500,000 miles before overhaul, which means--knock on wood--that Phannie's engine will outlive me. It does have a weakness, however: It insists on having clean oil and clean fuel, something about which I am obsessive, following the manufacturer's service specs religiously. Perhaps that's the reason--along with a fuel additive that I've mentioned before--that the engine has performed flawlessly for 120,000 miles now. And I delight in the fact that I've never had to buy a single drop of DEF.

When the EPA requirements became really onerous in 2010, Caterpillar decided it could not build their over-the-road engines and still retain their near-bulletproof reputation, so they simply stopped building them, concentrating on engines for construction equipment that is not subject to the same EPA emission standards.

Okay, let's get back to our trip to Gunnison. Highway 491 from Cortez to Moab was vey scenic--especially around Moab, one of our favorite places. However, from Moab to Grand Junction, including an endless hour on I-70, was a different story. To call it wasteland would be way too generous. 

Grand Junction is a bustling place with lots of new construction (and places to shop, which thrilled Sandy). However, it is just too danged HOT in the summer--like 100 degrees hot! I couldn't wait for Inland to finish their work so we could get to higher ground and cooler temperatures.

On U. S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison, the highway is reduced to one lane due to an apparent washout some time ago. We were at a standstill for about an hour while a single stream of vehicles took turns each way through the construction zone. The highway was leading ever upward, however, and we noticed the outside air temperature gauge decreasing steadily with the rise in altitude. We stopped for lunch at the top of a pass just west of Gunnison. At 8,300 feet, the fresh mountain air was exhilarating! 

It wasn't long until we had descended to the Gunnison River Valley, where U. S. 50 snaked along the beautiful shore of Lake Fork, formed by a dam of the river.  Here is a photo of Lake Fork and the point where the Gunnison river empties into it:

Farther east, the rocky Gunnison canyon provides great views:

Arriving at Palisades in Gunnison:

Here is a layout of the park; it's a relatively small park, and most of the residents stay here all summer. There is almost always a waiting list for reservations.

We check in at the office:

Manager Sherri is at the desk, holding up a chocolate bar (baiting the hook, I'm sure).

We snuggle in beside two fivers:

View from the rear of our campsite; note that Starlink is up and running:

Friendly deer run past our campsite!

Below is a summer resident's site where his dining table is enclosed in a tent.  We soon found out why--mosquitoes!  We didn't have to contend with these pests at Cortez because of the drier climate and ever-present wind, which is usually calm here in Gunnison. We just make adjustments, however; the park sprays frequently, and we use insect repellent and bug zappers, so there really isn't much of a problem.

Some of the summer-long residents do a nice job of decorating their sites:

Since we're going to be here for the summer, we have kept an eye out for a small propane grill that will be easy to transport and set up. We spotted one while we were in Cortez, and it looked perfect, especially since we're not "power" users. So we ordered one and, so far, are very happy with it. The legs fold in, and it winds up being no larger than a small suitcase!

So, to try it out, we had burgers for brunch (we don't really eat breakfast, for reasons that I really don't see any need to divulge):

As is common here in the mountains, a rain shower frequently passes through, cooling things down:

It's almost criminal to show you the temperature as I am writing this during that shower: 

 The grounds around the park are very well kept with manicured grass and flowers everywhere:

We took an early evening drive around the area to get the lay of the land, and found some handsome photos to share. This first one is overlooking Gunnison from the south. In the mountains in the background lies Crested Butte:

Looking west, we couldn't help but be mesmerized by the mountain sunset:

The moon was nearly full this night, so we got this photo that we liked:

Driving back through town, Gunnison is a little sleepy as the moon looks on:

Arriving back at the park, the gazebo is all illuminated, waiting for friends to sit and chat in the cool evening:

I mentioned earlier that I had a "gig" up here. Well, I will be playing the piano on occasions, in addition to doing some photography, both for which I will be fairly well compensated.  I'll have to include a video of one of these sessions in another post.

Stay well and stay cool, y'all!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Sunday, July 3, 2022

"And That Has Made All The Difference"

 At West View RV Resort, Dolores, Colorado...

Many will recognize the title of this post to be an abridgement of Robert Frost's famous quotation: 

Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

To further illustrate the overall themes of this post, I must include a snippet from the lyrics of Frank Sinatra's iconic song, "My Way" (the tune composed by Claude Francois):

Regrets, I've had a few but, then again, too few to mention...

You may have noticed that my posts of late have begun to point toward this blog's eventual conclusion, not that I'm contemplating it by any means, but perhaps because I have many more years behind me than those ahead. This month marks the 17th year of the publication of Phannie and Mae, and it is entirely appropriate, I think, to look in the rearview mirror and reflect upon the path we have traveled.

Having extra time on my hands among the idyllic mountain settings of Colorado affords a perfect opportunity to reminisce about having taken the road "less traveled by" and its having resulted in regrets "too few to mention."

An unknown butte in the foreground with Ute Mountain in the distance.
(Photo taken near Mancos, Colorado.)

You see, we believe we have enjoyed the best of both worlds--having spent most of our years working, raising a family in a nice home and being involved in a community that included friends, family and church activities. Then, in preparation for retirement, we decided RV travel would be a good way to visit all the places we had longed to go when we were no longer tethered by our responsibilities. And so we did--and it has "made all the difference," as has been faithfully recounted from day one in the hundreds of posts and countless photos in this blog. And we ain't done yet!

As we sit outside with friends Jackie and Steve, sipping a cold beverage and feeling a bit too cool in the high country breeze, we can't help but think of family and friends back in the cauldron that is Texas in the summer and how unthinkable it would be for them to need a jacket in mid-afternoon. We would, indeed, feel a bit guilty had we not worked hard to enjoy this privilege. 

From time to time, we question ourselves as to whether we miss having a regular house, and the answer inevitably comes back with a shudder. No! The reasons have been stated in previous posts, and nothing has changed. When we are forced to hang up the keys, we will be looking for something small and simple in a 55+ neighborhood. You will recall from previous posts that we have a hybrid of that now in Ranchito Hondo.

For those who wonder if we get bored when we go to Colorado for months at a time, we just say, "Are you kidding?" We have arrived at the age when simple pleasures matter most. These include being with good friends, talking with our family members, shopping for and sending trinkets and souvenirs to the grandkids, playing games, exploring, having potlucks and, most of all, remembering all the good times and good friends we have met along the way and wishing they could be with us. It also doesn't hurt that we are enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery and weather imaginable.

This brings me to what is perhaps the more important of the two pearls of wisdom expressed above by Messrs. Frost and Sinatra:  Regrets...too few to mention. One thing I have always thought would be a tragedy is to arrive at my sunset years regretting things I wished I had done. I can testify to the incomprehensible blessing of our having no regrets for having taken the path that has made all the difference.

If you find yourself wondering what kinds of things we do during our escape to southwestern Colorado, I have to tell you that relaxing is a mainstay. Here are a few photos of places and activities we also enjoy:

Steve proudly holds up his baby-back ribs, having outdone himself with his smoker.
So good!

A rainbow ends on Phannie's roof! No pot of gold was found, unfortunately.

Historic Durango is only an hour's drive away and, on another day, we were able to have lunch al fresco downtown at the Thai Kitchen. The weather was absolutely perfect--79 degrees, no wind, and no pesky insects. We lingered for quite a while, not wanting to leave:

On yet another day, we just had to make a visit to the Dolores farmers' market, held in a lovely park in the town center:

I scored a big bag of freshly-picked salad greens that were so good. (We had already used half the bag when I took this photo.):

Jackie purchased a couple of greeting cards made by a local crafter using something called  'quilling,' an amazingly intricate and laborious technique of which I had never heard. Impressive, huh? I don't know if she'll be able to bring herself to send them to someone:

Another trip to Durango required a visit to Honeyville, a specialty factory that deals in everything imaginable having to do with honey, as well as homemade jellies, preserves and other goodies. I was especially fond of the honey peanut brittle--perhaps my favorite candy of all time.

Sandy's making friends with the honey bear at Honeyville.

Having spare time to putter with Phannie, I installed a couple of cameras on the outside, so we won't be quite so oblivious as to what's going on when we're away or when all the shades are down at night. The video shows up on the cell phone wherever we are, and this is made possible through our constant wi-fi service via Starlink. The cameras are wireless and are easily detachable when we are ready to travel:

I thought you might like to get a flavor of what the first few weeks of our stay in the mountains was like. We will be leaving Cortez in a few days for Grand Junction, where Phannie will get her annual service. After that, we will proceed higher in the mountains to cool Gunnison for the rest of the summer. Stay tuned!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Saturday, June 18, 2022

We Took Starlink With Us; How Does It Work?

 At West View Resort, Cortez, Colorado...

We've been Starlink customers for about five months now, so when they announced their new portability feature, it was a no-brainer to take it with us to Colorado for the summer. I had read on some Facebook groups that there are some problems when you take the dish away from its home base, but that didn't deter me from signing up for portability at an additional $25 per month.

If you've read this rag for a while, you probably know that we have disconnected our DirectTV satellite and gone to full wi-fi streaming. Before Starlink, this was done via a Verizon unlimited hotspot (which is really not unlimited) and our T-Mobile cell phone hotspots. Now this gives us over 200 gigs of unthrottled data, but who needs the hassle of running up against limits and having to change devices to get wi-fi? Enter Starlink, where you just turn it on and forget it--unlimited lightning-fast data, all the time. There's no need to turn it off; your "home" network is on all the time.

We left the Starlink dish in a belly compartment (it comes with a protective carrying bag) and used the Verizon hotspot during the two-week trip to Colorado. Once we arrived here in Cortez--where we will be for three weeks--I set up the dish and fired up the router. Within seconds, the dish came alive and pointed itself northward. The network came up immediately, and a speed test revealed that the data throughput was somewhat slower than it was at Ranchito Hondo. Even at the slower speed, it was still faster than DSL and the Verizon hotspot. The slower speed was a known factor, as Starlink advertises that its use in portability mode results in a lesser prioritization than that given native users. This was fine with me, as I much prefer the "set it and forget it" nature of a wi-fi network live all the time with no worries about throttling at some point--which is what Verizon does with my hotspot at 100 gigs. We're hanging on to the Verizon hotspot, however; we don't want to be without multiple backups (including the cell phones) when we're not using Starlink.

So, here is a pic of our setup--so easy to do and so easy to move to our next location:

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 

please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Friday, June 17, 2022

Colorado, At Last!

 At West View Resort, Cortez, Colorado...

Seeing Edgewood, New Mexico in our rearview mirror was a relief (see the previous post). I eased Phannie onto I-40 and set the cruise control on 62 mph, the old gal's sweet spot. The tranny doesn't shift into sixth gear until 57 mph, so that gets her a little cushion against downshifting while maximizing her fuel economy, if you could call it that.

I chose a somewhat longer route to Cortez to avoid the mountain driving that would have been required going through Santa Fe and Durango. We've done quite a bit of mountain driving over the years, but it's not a favorite of mine because the management of the steep grades is nerve-wracking and hardly easy on Phannie. That having been said, I continue to be amazed at the incredible stamina and dependability of this old motorhome; I can tell no difference between now and the day we bought her.

Our route took us to Gallup and then northbound on New Mexico 491 through Navajo Indian territory; the last few miles cut through the Ute reservation. It is a lonely, boring highway that is in rough shape in some spots. The scenery was that of a bleak wasteland--that is, except for passing by Shiprock, an interesting rock formation somewhat resembling a sailing schooner:

If one lets his imagination get out of hand, he can easily catch himself looking atop ridges across the badlands to see if an Indian war party has amassed on horseback to attack our wagon train. (That's not me losing it, you understand...just a hypothetical. I'm glad we cleared that up!)  It is pretty easy, though, to see why the Indians would be mad at us; just look at the wasteland we gave them after the Indian wars!

So why southwestern Colorado instead of the more cosmopolitan big-city areas on the eastern slope of the Rockies? Well, I think it's because this is the jumping-off point for some of the most beautiful mountain scenery that is fairly close to Texas and relatively free of urban influence. Besides, we've done the eastern slope many times, and we love the relatively undiscovered San Juan mountain area.

Making it through the New Mexican badlands without an Indian attack, we finally arrived in Cortez, Colorado, a good-sized town of around 20,000. The elevation has risen to around 6,500 feet here, so the temperature is 15-20 degrees cooler than the triple-digit furnace that was Texas. The elevation rises steeply to the northeast as the majestic peaks of the San Juans are in full glory:

We had a bit of a shock on our first morning after arriving:

Yes, I turned on the heat right away, still pinching myself after baking in triple digits for the past ten days!

Looking west from our area, we captured a wonderful sunset with some low hills visible about 12 miles away:

The West View Resort is easily the nicest facility anywhere around these parts. The park is quite full of RVs, which was a bit of a surprise, as we were expecting more people to stay home during these ridiculous fuel prices. A local couple owns the park, and they have spent much time and treasure making it beautiful:

Old friends Jackie and Steve will be joining us tomorrow, and we will be here a couple more weeks until traveling to Grand Junction for Phannie's "well-woman" check. From there, we will be moving to higher ground as the summer heats up. Our final destination, Gunnison, is at 8,000 feet, and we expect the same wonderfully cool summer we've enjoyed there before.

Our recovery from Covid?  Going great--just an occasional cough now; we're 99 percent back to normal.

Stay tuned. The next post will contain a Starlink update.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 

please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Thursday, June 16, 2022

What's It Like to Get Covid Now? (We know.)

At West View Resort, Cortez, Colorado...

We had just pulled into an RV park in Plainview, Texas after a weekend with our daughter, son-in-law and grandsons in Dallas. I remarked to Sandy, "I have a doggone tickle in my throat." She nodded and disclosed that she, too, had the unmistakable beginnings of a cold. We were both taken aback, as it had been years since we had a cold of any kind, and we couldn't remember the last summer cold either of us had experienced. 

Luckily, we had planned for a week's stay at this park while we visited nearby friends, so we thought we would give ourselves a couple of down days, and these sniffles would go away. Alas, it was not to be; each day brought with it more coughing, drainage, fever and a slight breathing restriction. This was anything but a summer cold, we thought. About the time we were becoming concerned as to the nature of our malady, our daughter, Mindy, who is a nurse, called and said she had tested positive for Covid, as had her entire family. She said we likely have Covid ourselves because of our exposure to them in Dallas. This was a shock, because none of them appeared to be ill, except for our oldest grandson, who lost his voice near the end of our visit. 

We hadn't even thought about Covid for a long time, as we had been fully vaccinated and boosted.  We assumed, therefore, that we were at relatively low risk, especially since we were also in relatively good health for an older couple. Nevertheless, we hurried to a local emergency care clinic for testing; it was, indeed, Covid. We looked at each other with the realization that we had finally contracted the infamous virus that had been the scourge of the whole world. It was a somewhat sobering moment, but we also knew the lethality of Covid had lessened greatly over time. The doctor gave us a prescription for Paxlovid and told us to come back if our conditions worsened or we had any difficulty in breathing. Once we began the medication, we improved quickly, with only the cough and drainage lingering.

According to the doctor, we were fortunate to have contracted Covid after the virus had mutated many times, rendering it far less dangerous than the original. The downside, according to him, was that the current variant is highly contagious.

We're just sharing this personal experience for your health information and in memory of friends and loved ones who were not so fortunate. We are grateful to God for our good outcome.

At the end of a week in which we felt pretty lousy, our energy had returned to an extent, and we set off for Colorado on schedule.  We wished our friends well until we see them later this summer at our park in Gunnison. Our only stop enroute would be in Edgewood, New Mexico, some 30 miles east of Albuquerque. But first, we had to travel past Earth. No, not the planet...Earth, Texas:

The tiny town of Earth (population around 1,000) is in the panhandle of Texas, not far from the New Mexico border. It was established in 1924 and originally named Tulsa, which the post office rejected. It was then named "Good Earth" due to the good farming land surrounding the area. After a while, the name was shortened to just "Earth." According to the mayor, there are no other towns in the world so named...something I haven't fact checked, but I would like to believe it's true.

Earth is not what you would call vibrant, but it DOES have a Dairy Queen, so there's that...

Since leaving Plainview, we were plagued with a vicious headwind for the entire 287 miles to Edgewood. I don't even want to know what kind of mileage Phannie was getting, but I'm sure it was less than her usual 7.4 mpg. I tried not to think of the nearly one dollar leaving my bank account for every mile traveled.

We arrived at the Route 66 RV Park, dog-tired and still somewhat weak from our bout with Covid. There was not a sprig of vegetation anywhere in the park--just powder-like sand, mixed with gravel in places to form RV sites. The wind was whipping up dust devils everywhere and, when I stepped outside the coach, my hat blew off, and I was covered with a layer of fine sand. Suddenly, I thought I was in an old foreign-legion movie or something; I expected to see a camel at any moment. It didn't dawn on me until later that I had not recovered fully from Covid, one of the effects of which is diminished lung capacity, and look at what I'm breathing! 

Water, I thought; I must have water! I fought my way to where the water hookup should be and, upon brushing the sand away, found that the faucet was located beneath a steel manhole cover about 18 inches below ground level! Now consider what this means for someone who has one bad knee and one fake knee, neither of which is designed for kneeling on gravel and reaching 18 inches below to hook up a water hose. The meme below best describes my thinking at that moment:

Through the dust storm, I could barely make out the office in the distance. Wondering where my hat was by then, I stumbled to the office, where my windblown countenance visibly frightened the poor girl sitting at the desk. I explained my circumstances and asked if they had a maintenance person who could help me drill for water. "Um, the owner has gone to Albuquerque, but I'll call him," came the answer. Not at all sure how this would help, I thanked her and rode the tailwind back to Phannie. It would have been nice, I thought, if I had included a divining rod when I was preparing to leave Ranchito Hondo. (I wonder who will know what the heck I'm talking about here.)

In a short while, a young fella showed up. (At least that's what I thought the visage was, as I was trying to see through the dust on my eyelids.) I explained the situation, and he quickly hooked up the hose after half his body disappeared through the manhole.

It wasn't long until nightfall, and the wind began to moderate. After a nice shower, we settled in for a short night...we had over 300 miles to go the next day.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 

please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Small Town Charm

  At The Hitchin' Post RV Park, Plainview, Texas...

As we travel around the country, we are encouraged in these trying times by the simple friendliness that abounds in small towns. Such was the case in Kress, a lonely burg on the high plains of west Texas. A stop at Jeff's restaurant was a step into another world, where we were greeted by Rhonda (Jeff's wife) with a, "Hi, y'all, sit anywhere; I've got a fresh pie comin' out of the oven."

We were treated as though we were friends from next door and the train wreck that is our country had been a bad dream. We sat near the buffet, fussed over by Jeff and his young grandson, who was obviously learning the ropes. As the excellent home-cooked offerings were gobbled up by customers, Jeff put his hand on the young man's shoulder, saying, "Come on, boy, let's cook up some more catfish."

After our meal, we bent the rules and shared a slice of Rhonda's coconut pie, a little piece of heaven that had somehow made its way to earth. As we left, Rhonda waved and said, "Y'all come back now," in a syrupy Texas drawl. For this brief stop, it was fifty years ago. Oh, if only time could stand still...

I posted the passage above in Facebook and received an unexpectedly large response, for reasons I don't quite understand. Perhaps it was because, considering these crazy times, a lot of people are reminiscing about the 'good old days.' In fact, it will be published in my hometown monthly newspaper, and the editor, a high school classmate, asked me to write a column to appear in each issue. Totally surprised, I accepted; We'll see how that goes. (Hint: Next topic--Covid.) We leave Plainview for Colorado tomorrow.

 Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 

please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Sunday, June 5, 2022

And...We're Off!

 At Hapgood RV Park, Henrietta, Texas...

We are four days into our summer escape from the Texas heat...except we really haven't yet escaped. As usual, we plan our summer travel after oldest grandson Mason's birthday on June 3; this was his thirteenth, and we joined the family in Grapevine, Texas, where he was feted at the Great Wolf Lodge.

Upon our departure from Ranchito Hondo, I discovered that Phannie's dash air conditioner was not blowing at its normal chill. Uh oh, this was not good--especially for someone who thinks air conditioning should appear in the Bill of Rights. Fortunately, it was an unusually cool day with some showers around, so the cooling was adequate for the first leg of our journey. However, when the weather warms up again, it will need to have been fixed, or I'll have to call a tow truck. With that in mind, we have a few stops to make in the coming week to take care of this and some other minor issues.

The first of these stops will be in Wichita Falls at an auto air conditioning shop. In preparation for this, we stopped at the city RV park in nearby Henrietta before taking the old girl in to be "Freoned." We discovered this little gem of a park several years ago--a great little place, well away from busy U. S. 287, with all pull-through level sites, full hookups (some with 50 amps) and manicured grounds--all for $15 per night, paid on the honor system:

As you can see, we are almost alone in the park; I suppose this is because few RVers know about it. We have found that many small towns in Texas and in other states have municipal or county RV parks available at very low cost, assuming, of course, that users will patronize local businesses.

This trip's departure is the first where I have experienced a subtle psychological change in myself that I've been expecting. The aging process, I believe, naturally brings with it a more cautious and guarded outlook on life--something that seems to increase in older people until their spirit of adventure is more and more circumscribed, ultimately to be suspended permanently. It is said that a person's world is very small at birth, very large in young adulthood and middle age, only to become small again in old age. I'm pretty sure that's what is going on here but, having recognized it, I'm going to do my best to bring it in for a soft landing--perhaps years from now. In the meantime, we will have had two decades of incredible journeys and, most important, no regrets for having 'slipped the bonds' and lived the dream. We feel blessed because so many are not afforded the time, resources or good health we have had in order to make these memories and form treasured friendships along the way. In the meantime, I must keep an attitude like that of Clint Eastwood, whom I quote at the end of every post.

Well, that's about enough self-psychoanalysis for one day; perhaps sharing this little insight will be a signpost for others traveling this road. 

Once Phannie's little hiccups have been cured, we will be spending a few days near Plainview, Texas with old friends Bubba and LouAnn and their family. More to come as we push forward to the mountains.

 Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 

please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood