Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Burgled! I didn't think this happened to RVers...

At Pine Mountain RV Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee...

We had returned from an evening concert when Sandy noticed that things weren't right in Phannie's bedroom. Her usually meticulous arrangement of the vanity area was in a state of disarray, and the usually neatly stacked bed pillows had tumbled down on the bed. She opened the drawer containing her jewelry case and found it closed. Opening it quickly, she shrieked to find it completely empty. By that time, I had stepped into the kitchen and noticed that my Apple MacBook was missing from its usual perch on top of the cabinet under the window. Not again! We were instantly transported back to our discovery of the burglary of our house a couple of years ago, and the feeling of violation was no less intense now. A quick inventory of the rest of the coach revealed nothing else missing, although there were numerous other items of value that were visible. The police found the window over the couch shattered, but not punctured, so the thieves didn't enter that way. We were left to conclude that I had not fully engaged the door deadbolt when we left for the evening, and they must have been able to jimmy it back open.  Note: I am having trouble posting with my iPad, so I will have to give more details in a few days when I purchase another computer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Memphis to Pigeon Forge

At Pine Mountain RV Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee…

The leg from Memphis to Pigeon Forge was a long one, so we decided to break it up with an overnight stop in Crossville, Tennessee at the Deer Run RV Park. This turned out to be a poor choice, as the park was not big-rig friendly at all. Nestled in the deep woods near a picturesque lake, the park is perfect for nature lovers with smaller rigs, but it was difficult for us to negotiate the narrow and bumpy gravel road to our site and the precipitous entry to the gravel parking spot, which was anything but level. As we creeped along the sinuous trail through the trees, I almost thought I heard the theme song from Deliverance, but I guess I didn't. Once parked, There was obviously no point in raising the satellite dish due to the surrounding trees, but we had non-HD cable at our site that was okay. Due to the somewhat loose gravel at our site, I decided not to lower the jacks to try to level Phannie, so we had cope with the little annoyances brought about by a tilted rig. For one night, I thought, we could put up with anything, and we did. The next morning, we checked each other out and found that we still stood and walked fairly upright and straight, so there was no apparent harm done by sleeping at a slight angle. This was one instance when we were led astray by RV Park Reviews, a website I often use to find an overnight stop. In this case, none of the problems we encountered were evident from the few entries I read but, then again, I don't think I gave adequate due diligence to the search. My bad. 

Reflecting on our experience at Deer Run, this brought to mind the  diversity of experiences available in the RV lifestyle and the reason for its broad appeal to people with differing interests. We have discovered, for example, that we are not exactly enthusiastic about a "roughing it" style of camping, and we're not alone, given the number of luxurious rolling villas we see around us in most places we park. While we enjoy beautiful scenery and the wonders of nature, we simply prefer to observe them while comfortably seated in Phannie's air conditioned lounge or underneath the awning when the temperature is 72 degrees and no insects are present. Oddly enough, those were the exact conditions when Sandy snapped this photo of me here at Pigeon Forge, enjoying a cold drink and listening to the babbling brook behind me. What a perfect day! And yes, this is about as much "roughing it" as you'll find me doing.

If we had more of a desire to commune with nature, we certainly would not have made the hefty investment in Phannie and outfitted her with all the comforts of home that we have tried to duplicate so faithfully. We have a number of friends who simply shake their heads in wonderment about our being such prima donnas, but it makes sense to us, and that's really all that matters. We acknowledge that we were built for comfort and that we should celebrate that calling in every way possible. So, don't bother giving us static because we have two ice makers in Phannie…we're not going to change!

Our arrival in Pigeon Forge was a bit of an eye-opener, as we really didn't know what to expect. We weren't quite prepared for so many tourist attractions and restaurants, and we certainly weren't prepared for the traffic! However, the setting here in the Smokies is quite pretty, and we can already see there will be plenty of things here to occupy our time.  

We settled into a great parking site at Pine Mountain RV Park, located just a couple of blocks from the main drag. Now this place is everything Deer Run wasn't: Paved streets and a level concrete pad, perched at the edge of a clear running stream! Perfect for us prima donnas!

Yes, blogging has slowed down a bit, because we find ourselves pretty busy attending events at the National Quartet Convention, sightseeing and, of course, trying new restaurants. More on all that a bit later.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Eastbound to the Smokies

At Tom Sawyer RV Park, Memphis, TN…

After a very busy few days at  home after arriving from our trip out West, we are off again--this time, eastbound to Tennessee and North Carolina. We didn't even bother to park Phannie in her RV port alongside our house; we left her in the driveway with all the slides out to facilitate unloading, loading and repairs. Yes, a few little problems had developed on the long haul just finished. The bedroom TV had begun to receive its DirectTV signal intermittently, and I couldn't figure out the problem, as none of the connections appeared to be loose. I called Russ, my satellite expert, who discovered the culprit: A small crack in the input connection board of the TV. In a few minutes, he had wired around the board to a spare HDMI port, and all was well again. We also had another fresh water pump failure, and the tech installed a new one on the morning of our departure. Just in time…we really must not be without all of our conveniences, must we? 

My Tire Tracker pressure monitor system also gave up the ghost just as we departed, so I will be ordering a new one, of a different brand--probably a TST system--to be delivered in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where we will be parked for about a week. So far, I have had problems with the Tire Tracker and the Pressure Pro, so I won't be ordering those again.

We had an uneventful journey to Memphis after an overnight at Shady Pines RV Park in Texarkana. Between there and here, I-40 was rough with a lot of repair construction, but that's not surprising, considering the incredible traffic volume. We probably won't return home this way, I'm thinking. We are parked at the Tom Sawyer RV Park on the Mississippi River. Although a little scary getting into the campground, this is a fun stop to watch the boats go by as they slowly ply the river.  

Dawn over the Mississippi River at Tom Sawyer RV Park in Memphis

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amarillo on the Way Home

At Oasis RV Resort, Amarillo, Texas…

It was fairly late in the evening after our arrival at this park when I turned on the computer and the listing of wifi networks popped up on the screen. Among these was a personal one with a familiar name. We hadn't been keeping up with Facebook, so we hadn't noticed Jesse and Ginger's status here at Oasis. We sent them an email asking to see their new 2015 Mobile Suites fiver the next morning, and they graciously agreed. 

And a beautiful new rig it was! Double Tree makes some elegant high-end products, and this was no exception. Sandy was so envious of the new residential refrigerator and the dishwasher, and we couldn't help but appreciate that "new car" smell.  We had a nice visit with these friends, delighted as we were at our good luck of having crossed their path again. Congratulations, you guys, on a beautiful new home!

Jesse and Ginger in their new Mobile Suites
Before we knew Jesse and Ginger were in town, we had a craving for some Thai food, so we checked Yelp and selected the Thai Star restaurant on the east side of town. Now this tiny mom and pop place in a somewhat downscale area and its ramshackle appearance could have completely opposite effects on first time customers. Diners comfortable only in upscale surroundings would be horrified; foodies like me would be delighted. It was with great anticipation that we strode inside just before closing time. 

We know people who, I can assure you, would not be caught dead in a dump like this. They don't know what they're missing.
We ordered spring rolls, a beef salad and chicken with vegetables. It was dirt cheap and seriously divine, just as I imagined.

Since we were obviously the last customers of the evening, the friendly owners came out of the kitchen and sat nearby, and we enjoyed sharing information about each other. I think we were something of an anomaly, as the vast majority of their customers are hometown regulars. According to the proprietors, who were, indeed, mom-and-pop owners who did all the cooking themselves,  few out-of-towners go to the trouble to find the unobtrusive little place, as it is very easy to miss unless you're just creeping along Amarillo Boulevard. They didn't seem to care, though, as they have been serving their clientele as adopted members of their family for 25 years, not aspiring to anything bigger and flashier. We felt very lucky to have found this little gem, modest as it was, and we enjoyed immensely their hospitality. By the time we left, we felt like family, too. 

Well, it's time to close the book on this trip. We have really enjoyed this post-retirement adventure to Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, and we can't wait to get on the road again. We will be back home in Fort Worth tomorrow for a few days. Next Wednesday, we'll be leaving for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and beyond (yet to be determined). I'll be posting again when we head out on that trip.

A closing thought: I had a nice email from Shirley, a friend who was a work colleague of mine before she retired from the FAA prior to my own retirement. She is a person who gives every appearance of enjoying this part of her life immensely. Several of us who were approaching retirement couldn't help but be a little jealous, in fact, but we didn't let her know. In her email to me, she stated that she had been reading my blog and gave me the following meaningful bit of affirmation: "It looks like you've got retirement figured out, Mike." Well, yes, Shirley, I think so, too. Thanks for being an inspiration.    

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Stop in Albuquerque to Shop for a Hubcap

At American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico…

I don't know exactly when Mae's left front wheel cover came off, but it was somewhere between Estes Park and Denver. We noticed it after walking back to our rig after a lunch stop, and I really didn't realize how the mere loss of a wheel cover could make a car look so much like a junker. And it's not as though we had a cloaking device; a big motorhome pulling a red dinghy is not something that goes unnoticed, you know. Now a gray motorhome pulling a red HHR is not exactly a study in color harmony anyway, but Mae's missing wheel cover seemed to make the incongruity so much worse. I imagined we looked for the world like gypsies looking for the next carnival. (Parenthetical information: While I am very pleased with Mae, our Chevy HHR, I don't like the red paint job. It's just that I got such a good deal on it, I was willing to ignore the color. Now I'm not so sure; I'm thinking about a new paint job.) 

Unfortunately, I had to suffer this indignity for several days while I called around to Chevy dealers and junk yards along our route trying to find a replacement. None could be found until I called a Chevy dealer in Albuquerque, who agreed to order one for me from the factory and have it waiting when we arrived. I picked it up today and conned a service writer into putting it on for me at no cost. How, you may ask? Well, I have a slight arthritis limp anyway, but I confess that I may have accentuated it a bit while I was in the shop asking how to install the wheel cover--something that would have been obvious to a six year old. The guy had to conclude, I think, that I was not only crippled, but stupid. He insisted on installing it, and I didn't offer much of an objection.

As shameless as this bit of subterfuge was, it worked, and the service writer seemed delighted to put it on for me.  I have the photo to prove it:

Before you shake your head in disapproval, you may wish to consider this: I offered to pay the man for his trouble, but he adamantly refused.  More important, however, was that both the service writer and I reaped a benefit from this little episode: The guy got to feel good about doing a kind deed for someone elderly, infirm (and, obviously, addled), and I got to feel good about keeping my hands and clothing sparkling clean. Win-win! (I guarantee you, this gentleman will recount his good deed to his wife at dinner tonight, and she will place her hand on his arm, smile, and tell him how proud of him she is.)

I can't help but wonder what's going on with wheel covers this year. In an earlier post, I wrote about losing a hub cover from one of Phannie's rear wheels and the rather steep cost of a replacement. In that case, however, I had to install it myself; Sandy didn't buy for even a second my bad limp routine. (The woman is so cold, she has to lie down in a freezer to warm up.) Okay, I'm kidding; she is the exact opposite, actually.

After checking out a few restaurant reviews online, we tried some dining venues in Albuquerque over the time we were here. I didn't take photos, because the restaurants were not particularly noteworthy; here is a summary of my impressions, however:

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse - Even though this place had been featured on the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives TV show, we had a couple of unacceptable steaks. The grill was apparently too hot, and the steaks were so charred by the iron grill grates that they tasted very bitter with carbon. The french fries were too chewy, and the "baked" potato had been boiled.

Mac's Coffee Shop - This 50s-era joint had all the ambiance (nothing changed in 60 years) that would signal a good restaurant, but we were quite dissatisfied. The enchiladas were unidentifiable as such in a glop of chile sauce and cheese, the tacos were tasteless, and the green chile sauce tasted as though out of a can. The chile relleno was passable, and the sopapillas were pretty good.

Mary's and Tito's Cafe - Classic New Mexican-style cooking, but not exceptional. Pretty good green chile sauce. Awful salsa.

Sharkey's Mexican Seafood - Ceviche was fresh but too watery; the shrimp cocktail had plenty of large shrimp in it, but I prefer the sweeter tomato base of some Mexican shrimp cocktails. This one didn't have enough flavor and was also too watery.

Blake's Lotaburger - Pretty good burger, but no competition for Whataburger.

By the way, here's a photo of Mae with her new wheel cover. I also need to mention that the American RV Park was one the nicest we have seen on this trip, and one of the top five we've visited anywhere. I highly recommend it.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Monument Valley, Utah

At Goulding's Campground, Monument Valley, Utah…

Leaving Moab, I was determined to follow highway 163 upon reaching it while southbound on 191. I wanted to approach Monument Valley from the northeast, which we didn't do when we were here in 2010. This highway is about a third-tier road and lived up to the somewhat anemic line on the map that usually signifies an "iffy" road for big RVs.  The route passed through a hilly no-man's land of reddish aggregate dotted by scrub brush plants that must have done something hideous in their lives to be banished to this desolate location.

I didn't see another class A diesel motorhome anywhere on this road, and I can understand the reluctance of their drivers to take this route. The road builders didn't do us a favor, for some of the grades were very steep in places, and some of these had sharp turns at the bottoms. I found myself quite busy managing Phannie's upshifting and downshifting while monitoring the speed and RPMs closely. There were few turnoffs to allow following traffic to go by, so I kept Phannie's speed up as much as possible. We were pretty slow in some places, though.

At about 15 miles from Monument Valley, we topped a hill to see a view captured by many photographers of the ribbon-like road across the flat prairie to where the Monuments jut upward in the hazy distance.  I stopped to take a photo, of course:

I had to take a photo of Phannie, too, since she had a new wash job, and the buttes behind her made a nice background:

We parked at Goulding's Campground, a very attractive RV park nestled in the red rocks above the valley:

We had an early dinner at Goulding's restaurant, which had a nice view but only serviceable food. I had a taco made from Indian fry bread (not a favorite) covered with canned chili with beans, something that no Texan should admit to having eaten. The view from the restaurant was great, but don't go there for the food.

The next day, we signed up for a tour with Navajo Spirit Tours, one of several very busy outfits that carry tourists to the floor of the valley, quite close to the many interesting geological formations. Taking this tour was my idea, but I'm not sure why. I suppose my rationale was that even though I didn't immediately see the point, I really didn't want to miss something that I might have regretted.  (The older I get, the harder I try to avoid any regrets; I don't think I'm alone in that mindset.)

As it turned out, I really wouldn't have missed much, but the experience--well, let's just say it was quite an experience. The tour participants loaded into a truck upon whose chassis was an enclosure with three rows of seats and a roof overhead. Our guide was a native Navajo named Will:

Once we were seated, Will headed down the hill from The View Hotel where we loaded.  The View, located next door to the visitor center on Navajo tribal lands, is relatively new, and the hotel and restaurant have the best view by far of the iconic monuments in the valley below.  (But it will cost you $20 to enter the Navajo nation and reach the visitor center and hotel.)

I knew the roads used by the tour vehicles were unpaved, but I really was unprepared for how ill-kept they were. The ride in places was so bumpy that it caused the passengers to be tossed slightly above their seats. Will made several stops en route to afford some good photo views and interesting geological oddities. At each stop, he would give a brief narrative on the sights we were viewing, and at one point, he picked up a drum and sang an Indian chant of some kind.

We actually enjoyed the outing. The temperature was perfect, and it was not windy, and we marveled at the closeup views of the various interesting formations that showed the results of their slow but inexorable erosion over the millennia. At one point, we visited a typical primitive Navajo hut called a hogan and inside watched a Navajo woman make yarn from sheep's wool. From the yarn, the Indians would make blankets, rugs and fabric for other purposes. The tour took us in places that only the tour guides were permitted to go, and the scenery was quite beautiful.

Here's a photo of the hogan. It is quite a bit larger inside than apparent, and the dried mud exterior is supported by an intricate system of trusses inside made of small tree trunks.

Here's the bottom line on this tour: We didn't think it was worth the price of about $75 a head. If you decide to go on one, I would skip Navajo Spirit and take a Goulding tour. We noticed that the Goulding tour vehicles had a loudspeaker through which the driver (or in some cases, a separate tour guide) could be heard giving a non-stop narrative to their passengers. Our truck had no such device, so we heard from Will only at the stops he made, and the information he imparted seemed quite sparse.

The incredibly bumpy ride was something we may have enjoyed as a kid, but older folks like us don't do well with a lot of bouncing. We have too many fake parts, and our various organs have been in place for so long, they tend not to like being rearranged by all this jostling. We noticed that the other passengers on the tour were about half our age, so that tells us that we are probably not alone in shying away from the acrobatics to be suffered while bouncing along the desert floor. We also learned that about 80 percent of the persons taking these tours are from foreign countries; in fact, everyone else on our truck were from other countries. I'm not sure what that tells us, but maybe we're not as smart as the 80 percent of Americans who don't take this tour.

I also need to mention our dinner at the restaurant of The View Hotel. I must emphasize again that this restaurant has the best view of the valley hands down, but the food underwhelmed, and it was expensive. Examples of atrocities: The fried chicken tasted like that you might find in a frozen dinner; the mixed vegetables were so overcooked, they were mushy, and the baked potato, advertised as baked, was actually boiled. The food is somewhat better at Goulding's Lodge Restaurant, but not by much, I'm afraid. I think these are the only choices in the area unless you go about 15 miles into Kayenta.

Here are a series of photos I shot of some of the more iconic formations in Monument Valley both on this trip and on our earlier visit in 2010. I hope you like them:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Canyonlands National Park

At Goulding's RV Park, Monument Valley, Utah…

While waiting on the sun to sink further in the west for good photography, we decided to do lunch at Milt's, a local burger joint that claims to be the oldest restaurant in Moab, established in 1954. 

We saw no reason to dispute this, as it appeared outside and inside to be original and well worn.  Sandy and I both ordered a burger, and we shared an order of onion rings.  The burger would have been okay had they not tried to grill onions along with the patties. The onions burned and gave the burger a distinct bitterness. We also didn't like the spring mix they put on the burger instead of iceberg lettuce. The spring mix is much more delicate than iceberg and, consequently, wilted into nothingness on top of the meat patty. We also didn't like the onion rings, which were dipped in a beer batter, which we also don't like, and they were mushy inside.

Milt's best days, I think, are in the past.  Way past.

It was a perfect day for the drive north of Moab to Canyonlands. It was warm, but not excessively so, and there was no wind at all. The park was not crowded, as the kids are all back in school now. We sort of knew what to expect at Canyonlands, having seen photos in books, but what cannot be gleaned from books is the vastness of the of this land of tortured geology. And the quietness. When looking over an escarpment of incalculable depth and width, my mind has trouble comprehending the forces that formed such a wound in the earth. I am also struck every time by the deafening SILENCE from the vast uninhabited canyons. It doesn't seem possible that such a void in the earth, gaping for countless miles before me, utters no sound at all at the same time the visual senses are on such an overload. 

As in the previous post, I am including only those photos that turned out a little better than average. If you love the beauty of the great Southwest, as I do, you may enjoy these shots from our outing today. The resolution seems to hold up well when I enlarge them on my (Macbook) computer screen, and it really enhances the detail.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Arches National Park

At Portal RV Resort, Moab, Utah…

We tried yet another different restaurant today for lunch--Eklectica Coffee and Collectibles on Main Street. There are any number of factors that contribute to our choices of new and untested restaurants. This one was chosen out of sheer curiosity; there was nothing like it in the whole town. The restaurant was obviously an old house in its former life and, for the world, it looks like the new owners did nothing to it but let the yard get out of control. They didn't do much inside either, as the rooms had been rather minimally converted to a small dining room, a baked goods counter, a storage area and a kitchen.  

We were met by the owner, a personable woman of about forty who was no slave to makeup or fashion. She wore jeans that needed to be a bit less snug, and her hair was pulled back into a pony tail that clearly was not part of a discernible style. 

There were a number of other customers in line at the counter and, judging by their ordering of vegetarian dishes and expressions of concern about gluten, Eklectica may have a cult following of those souls who eschew the meat, fish and fowl that God intended for us to eat in favor of the weeds, twigs and briars that God intended for the animals to eat. (Please don't write me nasty notes; I'm just pulling your, uh, thistle.) Feeling a need to plant the flag for us carnivores, I filtered out anything on the menu that seemed cholesterol-free and ordered a hamburger. Sandy, ever supportive, selected a gyro. A hush fell over the room, but we didn't blink. Neither did the cooks, who did a fine job with the big, meaty sandwiches and for which the pony tail was happy to collect about 20 bucks.  Especially worthy of honorable mention were the homemade salad dressings. A large side salad accompanied Sandy's gyro, and the ginger-sesame-soy dressing was superb.

Another surprise was the owner's ability to discern our state of residence; as we left, she said, "Have a safe trip back to Texas." We had not revealed this information to her, and our car was parked out of sight, so we had to assume that our Texas twang may be more pronounced than we thought!

Yes, this place is worth a visit if you happen to be in Moab; you'll enjoy it.

We waited until mid-afternoon to drive the short distance out to Arches National Park, knowing that the sun's position would be much better for photography as it dropped lower in the sky. This creates shadows, of course, that give depth and contour to the landscape.

The drive through the park was not exceptionally lengthy, and most of the attractions can be adequately viewed without much walking. We found the geological formations fascinating and beautiful, so much so that they would not have seemed real if we had not been seeing them in person.

I am including some photos of some of the more iconic views of the rock formations we saw, being mindful of how boring some blogs can be when the writer includes dozens of mediocre shots of the same thing. I certainly shoot my share of photos that fall into this category, but I try to be very discerning for you readers, as I cull all but the best for inclusion in the blog.

In the photo below, the more distant formation is called the "Courthouse."

Next is one of two "Windows" arches.  The other window is not visible without a hike, and we weren't up to it:

I can't remember what this formation is named, but I just liked it with the mountains in the background:

Next is the "Balanced Rock." Sort of appropriate, don't you think?:

One of the most photographed arches in the park is the "Delicate Arch" below:

The Delicate Arch is much more distant from the non-hiking viewing area than we expected. Had it not been for the 40X zoom on my camera, this image would not be much to see. 

I took many, many more photos, of course, as there was a lot to see. The ones I included above will hopefully give you a flavor of what to expect in this magical place. The geology of Arches is also interesting, of course, but I didn't mention it here, in order to keep this blog from reading like a textbook. If you're interested in a more in-depth study, there are many sources on the Internet that would be better than what I would try to summarize here as a layman.

Trekking around Arches made us hungry, of course, so we selected the Szechwan restaurant for dinner:

As I always check reviews of restaurants before making it a choice, I was a little nervous about this one, as it didn't receive the best comments. After studying them a little more, however, it seemed most of the reviews involved a dissatisfaction with the prices. What we found was some of best Chinese food we've had in a long time. We had egg rolls, chicken with vegetables and pork fried rice. We made a special request to specify the vegetables to be used in the chicken dish, and they happily complied. Sandy remarked that the pork fried rice was very similar to that which we make at home and which, of course, was to our liking.  The chicken was plentiful and oh, so tender. The only slight blemish involved the egg rolls, which were slightly mushy underneath the crispy exterior; I probably wouldn't order those again.

Was it pricier than normal? Well, yes, I suppose so, but not to the extent that I would exclude it. I'm willing to pay a bit more for really good food.  I suppose we are getting accustomed to price gouging at popular tourist destinations; such was the case at Estes Park, and Moab is only slightly less guilty.

Tomorrow we go to Canyonlands National Park; see you afterward! 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Taking it Easy in Moab

At the Portal RV Resort, Moab, Utah…

We took it easy today without too much on the schedule. The first order of business was to contract with C&C Power Wash to give Phannie a much-needed bath. I learned about the service from watching the wash job they performed on the coach parked next door. I strolled over and made an appointment for later in the day. We left for lunch and some more sightseeing around town and when we returned, Phannie was shining like a new penny!

In case you're wondering what a wash job costs on a 40-foot motor home (they usually charge by the foot), I have been paying between $100 and $135. When we were in the Rio Grande Valley last winter, we only paid $75; what a bargain!  A wax job runs $400-500.  (Phannie doesn't get many of these.)

We had lunch at Sweet Cravings Bakery and Bistro on Main Street. The sandwiches were pretty good, as were the baked goods we tried, but we couldn't recommend this place as anything special. In fact, it didn't impress me enough to include a photo.

Sandy did some shopping (of course), and I used that time to position myself to take a photo of the downtown area. I snapped this while stopped at a traffic signal:

This photo is a little deceiving, as the town actually looks bigger and busier than it appears here. Main Street, pictured above, is very wide, and the business district stretches for a considerable distance. The tourist trade clearly supports the economy here, and there doesn't appear to be much commerce of other kinds. Due to the rugged natural beauty of the area, many movies have been set in this location or have had scenes shot around Moab. You may recognize a few of them: Wagon Master (with John Wayne), The Lone Ranger, Thelma and Louise, Forrest Gump, Need for Speed, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Mission Impossible II. Oh, and yes, the sky really is that blue.

We decided to eat dinner at Buck's Grill House, again on Main Street:

I've included a photo above, but I don't have anything exemplary to report about the food. Sandy and I shared a steak, and it seemed about the same quality as that of an Outback Steakhouse, except a bit more expensive. Nothing against Outback, mind you, but I don't think that chain can claim its restaurants have the status of a fine steakhouse. And neither can Buck's. 

After dinner, we took an evening cruise on a flat-bottomed sightseeing boat operated by Canyonlands at Night, a tour operator whose headquarters complex includes a boat dock on the Colorado River just north of town. (The not-very-good photo below is used with permission of the tour operator.)

The tour began as the sun was setting, so we motored upriver for about three miles while the tour guide, Preston, gave a lively and informative narrative describing the Moab area and sights along the river:

As we reached the terminus of the three-mile upriver leg, it was fully dark, and then music started. Suddenly, the walls of the canyon were illuminated as a narration began over the music and the boat began to drift slowly back downriver. The lighting of the canyon was provided by a truck upon which was mounted a large generator and a bank of powerful lights, the illumination of which was synchronized perfectly with the narration and the music. 

The truck and the light operators drove slowly along the road adjacent to the river, mostly out of the sight of the passengers, playing the light above us on the rock faces of the high canyon in varying angles and levels of brightness. For example, some of the recorded narrative included thunder, and the lights on the canyon walls flashed in perfect timing to simulate lightning just before the thunder sounded. I can't imagine how they were able to synchronize the presentation so perfectly. 

At one point, the narrative suddenly was interrupted by a loud gunshot on the recording, totally unexpected by the passengers. Sandy, who is easily spooked, very nearly jumped out of the boat! (She wasn't very appreciative of my mirth afterward, which I was not able to control at all.) 

The music was a symphonic mixture of patriotic and religious themes and was very effective in setting an emotional mood among the passengers of pride and awe in living in a great country and enjoying God's creation. One worry that I have is that some pinhead will challenge the (very mild) Christian theme and, once again, the religious freedom of the many will be stifled by a noisy minority and godless politicians.

The whole experience was very pleasant, and the weather cooperated fully with a perfect temperature in the canyon and a few clouds allowing the moon to dart in and out. I can't call this a "must see" experience, as it wasn't really breathtaking. But I can tell you that we enjoyed it and thought it was worth the price of admission.

Tomorrow we tour Arches National Park, so stay tuned!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Aha! Utah!

At Portal RV Resort, Moab, Utah…

Since we're sort of planning this trip as we go, we decided to head over to eastern Utah and visit a couple of National Parks we've never seen: Arches and Canyonlands. Leaving Aspen, we trekked westward on I-70, and the topography soon changed drastically from a mountainous wonderland to, well, pretty ugly landscape--miles and miles of high desert with no sign of civilization after crossing the Utah border. It was a relief to turn southward onto highway 191 and, in just 30 miles, we dropped into the valley at the base of the red rocks surrounding Moab. While the giant walls of red rock are clearly different from the alpine visages of the Rockies, it has a rugged beauty of its own that is just as compelling.

On the north side of town, we turned into the Portal RV Resort where we had made reservations. This is a hybrid park, part of which has deeded sites and the rest for public rental. Since many of the owners are absentee, the resort will rent the owner's spaces to the public, providing you pay a substantially higher fee and you have a motorhome that is no older than ten years.  Fortunately, Phannie has a couple of years to go before she will be shunned.  

We elected to stay in the owners' area, and it was a treat to be in such upscale digs. Following are several photos of the views from our site area. Here's a view looking north:

Looking east from our site:

Notice the stucco structures behind the motorhomes above; these are RV ports built on the owners' sites. Their motorhomes are parked alongside. (Our site did not have a permanent residence on it.)

Below is the view of Portal RV Resort from highway 191. The stucco structures in this photo are the ones visible in the photo above. Would't you love to have a view like this from your RV port? I know I would!

After staying in our last park back in Basalt--a dreadful place for sure--we had to pinch ourselves. This was one of the most beautiful RV parks we have ever seen. The nightly $56 price (with discount) of our site was not exactly surprising, considering its upscale nature, but it was still a little tough to swallow.

After getting settled, we drove around downtown Moab for a while and decided to eat at Devran's, a restaurant serving Mediterranean food. We were a little skeptical that this would be a good choice in such a small town, but it had been a while since we had this kind of food, and we decided to go for it. The restaurant is housed in what used to be a residence on a street that runs parallel to Main Street. Whoever did the remodel did not spare the funds, for the place was very well appointed and attractive to the eye. Here's a photo of the tasteful sign outside:

Sandy and I shared a cucumber-tzatziki dip, a garlic shrimp appetizer and a turkish chicken kebab. Was it good? Oh my, yes!  Everything was outstanding, and the garlic shrimp dish was so good that I considered water-boarding the chef until he gave me the recipe. For your own protection, I've included below a photo only of the garlic shrimp dish. Too much food porn can't be good for you.

More adventures from Utah upcoming; stay tuned!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Aspen ($$$)

In Aspen, Colorado…

After reluctantly leaving Estes Park, we drove via 1-25 and I-70 to Basalt, Colorado, which is about 12 miles from Aspen. The Aspen-Basalt Area Campground was the closest park that could accept a rig of Phannie's size, and this former KOA had seen better days.  (No, that's not accurate; it was a dump!) We didn't even have 50-amp power at our site, so we had to be judicious with the high-draw items while using the anemic 30-amp service. Even though we were careful, we had one main circuit breaker trip when I turned on the microwave when one of the air conditioners was running. Phannie is a power hog, and she clearly was making her displeasure known. My takeaway from this was that we could either cook or be cool, and being cool is something we needed during the day here, as the weather has really warmed up since we left Estes Park. Fortunately, we're not doing much cooking in Phannie on this trip, so managing the electricity was really not that big of a job.

Why did we choose Aspen? Well, Colorado has, for a long time, been a state way undervisited by us, most of our trips having been made to the southwestern part of the state, notably Durango and environs. So, we're catching up now. Aspen is another well-known Colorado location we had not seen--mainly because we're not rich.

The first clue regarding how well-heeled the denizens of Aspen are can be gleaned when you pass the small local airport on highway 82 coming into town. The private jets parked here numbered more than I have seen at most major airports and, as a longtime pilot, I have seen many, many airports. 

I'll give the wealthy credit for choosing a scenic area for their second or fifth homes. Aspen is nestled in a valley among mountains with ski runs and Red Mountain to the north where the millionaires and billionaires live.  Here's a wide shot from several miles away:

Here is a closer view of downtown Aspen.  As you can see, it is a smallish place, and the residents probably want to keep it that way:

 The nearby ski slopes are easily visible on this photo:

Below is the main intersection in downtown Aspen; this is typical of the understated architecture, but don't be deceived. Luxury stores abound with names like Dior, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, providing quick shopping access in case someone left her favorite scarf in the jet.

Aspeners must be accustomed to having good gardeners, so they insist that downtown is well turned out in the horticulture department. Flowers are everywhere, as in this photo of a small shopping area below street level:

Here's something we don't see every day; a large black bear climbed a tree just outside the downtown sandwich shop where we ate lunch. The police quickly cordoned off the area, but not before I was able to take this photo. Sandy asked one of the policemen if this sort of thing happened often, and he said that it did:

The next photos show just two of the hundreds of magnificent homes that dot the side of Red Mountain just north of Aspen. Most of these are second or third homes owned by billionaires and millionaires, including well known celebrities. Home prices in this area  of Red Mountain run upwards of five million dollars.

Below is a residence that is typical of a home within the Aspen city proper.  You only have to be a millionaire to afford this one:

Since there didn't appear to be any affordable housing that we could see near town, we assumed that household help and service personnel either drive into town each day or make use of the disproportionately well-developed bus system that serves the smaller bedroom communities between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Establishing such a system by the well heeled would make sense, given the staffing required for the upkeep of all these large and upscale residences. 

The larger wallets of these folks certainly have had an impact on local prices in Aspen. Sandy and I shared one chicken wrap and a Diet Coke for lunch, and the bill was over ten dollars. Leaving town, we saw this sign at a gas station. You can be sure we will not be bringing Phannie here for refueling:

So, we now know what Aspen is all about: Money; big, big money. Frankly, we were not unhappy to leave; we felt very, very out of place in our car whose value was about that of one of the headlights on the Mercedes and BMWs that glided around town. 

Oddly enough, Sandy and I decided that we have really not missed anything by not having a second home in Aspen (or a first one, for that matter). Of course, there's also the possibility that that is a bunch of hooey; if I had a few hundred million bucks, I might have a completely different perspective. But I don't think so.