Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Last Leg

At Oasis RV Resort, Amarillo, Texas...

Tomorrow we will be home.

It has been quite a trip--seven weeks and 6,000 miles in Phannie, dragging Mae behind, plus the Alaska cruise. We had the grandest time seeing old friends and meeting new ones that we previously knew only through their blogs. We traveled many new roads and saw many new sights, some of which were far more grand and inspiring than we expected. Although we thought this a "bucket list" trip of places we had to go, it had the effect of whetting our appetite to see more than our fast and superficial sampling provided.

We will be very busy when Phannie is tucked away in her RV port at the side of our house. Besides the household chores and other personal business awaiting us, there is some reorganizing we want to do in Phannie's storage areas. Living seven weeks in an RV while on the road has illuminated some ways in which we can make better use of her space. We'll keep you posted on all of this, but the blog will have more gaps for a while now that we're going to be off the road.

As I am reflecting on the trip  now ending (thank heavens for the blog to help me do that), I am trying to think of  "a few of my favorite things," as the song goes. That is proving to be much more difficult than I thought. Scrolling through the many posts, I think I see something that I could call a favorite, only to have it eclipsed by something else closely in sequence. I think I will have better luck naming a least favorite. That's pretty easy--the trip from southern California through the Mojave Desert and our visit to Las Vegas. I'm not going to revisit that because I have more than exhausted my readers and myself whining about the experience. Besides, it's my own fault; a light bulb should have illuminated when traveling through the Mojave in August became a consideration. What's even worse is my carrying on as though we were stranded somewhere in Death Valley with the buzzards circling! Why, we weren't even uncomfortable 95 percent of the time, thanks to Phannie's air conditioning overkill. I think what got to us was the shock after spending so much of the trip in cool climes, which, of course, was our goal in getting ourselves out of the Texas summer heat in the first place! Basically, we traded the witch for the devil, and it was I who was on the bridge.

Yes, I could have planned this part better, but then I wouldn't have had learned from the experience. And perhaps you wouldn't have read about it and felt a good deal of satisfaction in knowing that your choices would have been so much smarter. 

And although I am reluctant to brag on Phannie and Mae just before the last leg, these two have taken us through drought and flood, biting cold and searing heat, fog, dirt, mud, to say nothing of dust and smoke. They have wound themselves around innumerable hairpin curves and climbed and descended some of the steepest passes in the country. To keep the old girl from running away or bogging down in the mountains, I have downshifted and upshifted Phannie's transmission so much that I can now play it like a piano. All of this, and not so much as a whimper from any part of their drive trains. Had it not been for a small hole in an air hose in Fresno, all would have been perfect. I am so pleased with these two vehicles that seem not so much like machines as family members.

Let me pause here and give you a little tip: On the recommendation of a trusted diesel shop owner, I have used Stanadyne diesel fuel additive religiously as prescribed on the label in all the diesels I have owned. In ten years, I have never had a single hiccup...not even once...from any of these engines. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so.

Of course, I must give kudos to my best friend and partner, Miss Sandy, with whom I had the privilege of sharing this adventure. It was even better than I always thought it would be once we were free from the w*rk world.
And most important, thanks to the Almighty for good health and protection as we had the opportunity to see just a little of His fabulous handiwork. I try to acknowledge Him with the closing note at the end of each post, used by permission from longtime friend, Martha Jo:
Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough each day.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Making a Run For It--to Gallup, New Mexico

At USA RV Park, Gallup, New Mexico...

We were pulling out of Las Vegas at 10 a.m. this morning. That may be a new early record for a departure! We were ready to escape the desert heat, and we didn't stop except to gas up at Kingman, Arizona. We made about 400 miles today, twice as many as we usually drive. We stopped here at Gallup because it was getting dark, and I really don't like setting up at a parking spot in the nighttime. Here in the high desert, it was very noticeably cooler outside and, after the sun had fully set, it got cool quickly. Now this is more like it!

We had a nice dinner at Jerry's Diner, and old time Gallup dive that was totally devoid of charm but the food was good. My Mexican combination was covered with their green chile sauce that was unusually spicy, just the way I like it. It was very, very good and very cheap. Winner, winner!

Historic Route 66 provides the main drag through Gallup, and we decided to drive the length of the town, taking in the old motels and restaurants that were obviously built well before I-40 was conceived and Route 66 was abuzz with Buick Roadmasters, Pontiac Chieftains and Lincoln Premieres. Of particular interest was the El Rancho Hotel/Motel, an imposing two story hotel built in 1937 by the brother of film director D. W. Griffith as a headquarters for moviemaking and lodging for movie stars.

Fireplace in the Lobby of El Rancho
This part of New Mexico was very desirable for making western movies back then, and this hotel hosted production crews and stars for movies like these:

  • The Bad Man 1940
  • Sundown 1941
  • The Desert Song 1942
  • Song of the Nile 1944
  • Four Faces West & Colorado Territory 1947-1948
  • Streets of Laredo 1948
  • Rocky Mountain 1950
  • The Big Carnival 1950 (AKA Ace in the Hole)
  • New Mexico 1950
  • Fort Defiance 1950
  • Raton Pass 1951
  • Fort Massacre 1957
  • A Distant Trumpet 1963
  • The Hallelujah Trail 1964

  • Just about every major movie actor of the era was housed in this hotel at some point, and their photos line the walls of the hotel loggia. We stopped and toured the lobby, finding it fascinating and surprising that so many of the old movie stars had stayed here. The rooms were even named after them.

    Well, this was a pleasant stop, for sure. Tomorrow, we're off for Amarillo and the first time we've set foot on Texas soil for nearly two months!

    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough every day.

    Thursday, August 20, 2015

    Vegas: Not Like It Used to Be

    At Oasis RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada...

    To avoid any chance of heatstroke, we're making a run for it--back to Texas. There will be no detours or stops for sightseeing, as we've pretty much seen all of the sights on other trips between here and there. Besides, it takes some of the fun out of it when paramedics have to be called when we set foot out of the coach in the heat. We also have chores, appointments and obligations at home, and the longer we lollygag around, the more of them there will be. (You can stop gloating now, fulltimers; it's not very nice.)

    The passing of years has dimmed the excitement we used to have for visiting the old Las Vegas. It has morphed into a series of monster hotels, casinos and parking garages that all seem to be joined together into nonsensical theme park-like subsections, as though the mishmash was conceived by someone doing LSD. There are vast throngs of people everywhere, traffic on the strip is a mess and drivers are rude.

    All of the gigantic buildings in this alternate universe are funded by the hundreds of thousands of folks who happily come here and push money into machines and onto gaming tables where the house will gladly take it, secure in the knowledge that it will always win in the end. We came out here mostly for the shows in the old days, enjoying immensely the crooners and the big orchestras that played the old standards we loved--you know, the ones that had a melody?

    Today, we recognize almost none of the entertainers whose faces appear on the billboards advertising their shows. And, with few exceptions, the orchestras are gone, replaced by keyboards and thumb drives in computers. We don't recognize any of the music, either. It mostly sounds like some kind of primal chanting and thumping while someone is clearing his sinuses--and that's just the rap music. I don't get it, and I never will; I'm just glad to have been around when music was music.

    As I mentioned in the last post, we went to see the Australian Bee Gees, and we wish we hadn't. It was a seriously ham-fisted tribute with deafening amplification that made the inadequacy of the performers unbearable. We haven't walked out of very many shows, but this one we did. The next night--again, looking for some music we might recognize--we took in the show "Hitzville," a Motown revue. It was actually quite good, the performers being very talented. We thought this one was well worth seeing.

    As far as our restaurant experiences go, I already mentioned Sonio's, a place on Charleston where locals go for good food on the cheap. On our last night, I took Sandy for a birthday dinner to the nightly seafood buffet at the Rio Hotel. It was probably the best buffet we've found anywhere, considering the number of items--no fewer than 160, not including the salads and desserts--and the freshness and expertise shown in their preparation. It's pricey, but you can get discounts at the ticket brokers. Well worth it, in our opinion.

    Okay, that's it for Vegas. We hardly knew ye this time. Not sure we'll be back.
    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough every day.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2015

    Karma in Vegas

    At Oasis RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada...

    Karma, as expressed in Buddhism, is an action taken in this life or in a previous incarnation that brings about an inevitable result, for good or bad, that has an impact on one's present situation.

    While I'm no adherent to Buddhism, I do believe the fact that Las Vegas is currently having a record heat wave (it was 109 degrees today) may have something to do with my insufferably smug reporting to friends and family of our enjoying the cool weather when we were in the Rockies and in Alaska. I am a victim of my own karma!

    Readers of this blog probably get tired of hearing me whine about how much I despise hot weather. So what, other than karma, explains why I find myself in this pit of fire and brimstone here in the Nevada desert?

    It sounded good in theory: Since we had to travel across the vast desert southwest to get back to Texas anyway, why not just accept a little discomfort outside occasionally and stop at some places we haven't seen for a while?

    I already recounted our trek of insanity across the Mojave to get here, but I didn't expect the blast furnace to follow! Another odd thing: This was the first time there were no bugs on the windshield after a long leg like that one. I suppose they all died of heatstroke before they could commit suicide by crashing into my windshield! Karma for the bugs, too, it seems.

    This might be a good place for me to insert a photo or two from our Alaska cruise, so I can remember our wonderful cool surroundings before we decided to come here to see what hell is like.

    This is me, standing in front of a stuffed bear in Sitka, Alaska. Notice my jacket; the temperature was in the fifties there. Those were the days!

    And this one is of Sandy on the cruise ship at the glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska. It was cold out there on the deck!  There, I'm feeling better already. We really were there! (Too bad we couldn't have stayed.)

    I didn't bother to take any photos of overheated people here in Las Vegas, as most had shed as much clothing as they could to help them cope. For most of them, however, taking their photo would not exactly be a kind thing to do. 

    In our earlier life when I was with the airlines, Sandy and I flew to Las Vegas occasionally to see some shows, and we always enjoyed the big productions starring our favorite performers. The place has changed a lot since then, and I'll have some more observations about that in the next post.

    For today, we managed to get up and get ready by the crack of noon (no, we don't drink, so we weren't hung over). I did a little quick research on the computer and found a lunch joint, Sonio's, where the locals go for a good meal on the cheap. It was as advertised, and we enjoyed some excellent chicken tacos and an Italian beef sandwich au jus with French fries. So delicious, and a steal for fourteen bucks! On the strip, our bill would have been at least twice as much.

    After that, Sandy did some shopping (what else?), and we decided to see a show later at the Excalibur where the Australian Bee Gees were performing. We hadn't heard of this act before, but the real Bee Gees were popular back in our younger years, so we thought it would be pretty good, as we would probably recognize their music, unlike most everything else that passes for music these days.

    One thing we noticed about Las Vegas this time was that there were no shows featuring music from our teenage years, the fifties and sixties. Then we looked at each other and realized that no one from that era comes to Las Vegas anymore--they're too old! Can you imagine how many handicapped parking spaces would be needed? Suddenly, we felt out of place. I guess Branson is more our speed now; at least you can find music there with classic lyrics like this: "It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater..."

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

    Tuesday, August 18, 2015

    And We Thought Texas Was Hot!

    A Oasis RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada...

    Okay, maybe this wasn't a good idea--going to Sequoia and Kings Canyon, that is. The reason? Well, the only way you can get to Texas from there, if you don't want to do a lot of backtracking, is to bite the bullet and go through some really hot landscape from southern California to Nevada. And that's what we did today. Let me just go ahead and get this out of the way: Driving from Bakersfield to Las Vegas in August in a motorhome is just plain dumb!

    Thankfully, Tiffin did a good job with the dash a/c in Phannie, as we have six nozzles blowing good cold air--four of them on Sandy, as it should be in this, ah, time of her life. This is almost always plenty of air conditioning for us without firing up the generator and running the roof airs. Until today.

    We did pretty well until reaching Barstow, a town that will surely serve as Satan's headquarters some day, as it could only have been conceived in some hellish hot place in which he would be comfortable. When we opened the door and stepped onto the parking lot pavement at a local burger joint, we were instantly hit by a wind so hot that it must have come from a convection oven. It was almost impossible to breathe as we gasped for air, not really caring about food any longer. It was easily the hottest place we have ever been.

    The air conditioning in the café couldn't possibly keep up with the  furnace outside, so I tried to pick a table underneath a ceiling fan, which was also quite inadequate. We didn't much care for the burgers, so we scurried back to Phannie and started her up quickly. We had left a couple of roof airs running when we went to the restaurant, and we didn't bother to turn them off for the rest of the trip.

    It was just as we passed the south end of Death Valley that the outside air temperature gauge reached 121 degrees. I-15 was quite busy during this leg, and we saw a number of trucks that had just given up on the side of the road near the long inclines leading east from Bakersfield. Fortunately, we were unfazed by the heat, as Phannie's cabin was almost chilly with the dash air and both forward roof airs going. During part of the trip today, we were on the phone whining to friends about the heat, only to get precious little sympathy, given the number of posts we made from the Rocky Mountains and Alaska reveling in our cool surroundings there. Having no one to commiserate with us made our plight even worse, but I guess I understood.

    We reached Las Vegas without incident, thankfully, after some 240 miles of some really unattractive landscape. Just to be clear, we're pretty sure we won't be doing that route again in the middle of summer or maybe--ever.

    Oasis is a very large and nice RV park in Las Vegas, and we plan to stay here for a couple more days. As a bonus, it's also a Passport America park, for which we pay half price for three days. It's nice enough, in fact, to put it on my "best of the best" list.

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

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Sequoia: Can't See the Forest for the Trees

    At A Country RV Park, Bakersfield, California...

    Yes, my posting is a trifle behind; Phannie's little air hose problem sorta threw me off my game. After that experience, we took a day and drove out to Sequoia National Park to see the big trees.

     Neither of us had been there before, so seeing these giants was truly amazing. The photos we've seen in books and magazines definitely didn't do them justice.

    Can you see Sandy at the base of the tree on the left?
    The sequoia trees are sometimes confused with redwoods. The sequoias are related but larger, and the redwoods grow on the coast, while the sequoias grow inland. The redwoods are well suited for lumber, but the sequoias are less so because of their tendency to splinter easily.

    The star of the park and drawing the most crowds was the General Sherman, the largest living tree on earth. We could not approach the tree, but you can get an idea of its size from the people on the observation platform to the right in the photo.

    The General Sherman
    It's not the tallest, but its record is established by virtue of its trunk volume, estimated at over 52,000 cubic feet. Other measurements are equally impressive: The diameter of its trunk is 36 feet, and it is estimated to weigh over 2,700,000 pounds. At 2,200 years old, it may have been a mere seedling at the time of Christ.

    Here is yours truly, standing in a tunnel hewn through one of the smaller sequoias that had fallen:

    On our way back to Fresno, we stopped at an overlook in King's Canyon National Park, where we saw smoke from one of the many forest fires currently burning in California:

    One of the things that struck us here in California is the devastation caused by the long drought. So many of the trees and other vegetation are dead or dying, it is tragic and disturbing. Take a look at all the dying trees in this photo taken between Kings Canyon and Fresno:

    Of course, this post wouldn't be complete if I didn't include a photo that I can add to the Oddities and Imponderables category. I don't even know where to begin speculating about this, which we saw near the small town of Three Rivers, California on the way to the park:

    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough every day.

    Saturday, August 15, 2015

    Phannie Gets a Hole in Her Hose

    At Blackstone North RV Park, Fresno, California...

    It never fails. A couple of posts back, I was doing some bragging on Phannie for her almost trouble-free reliability in the four years we've owned her. I was reluctant to do that, but I knocked on wood, and I thought that gesture would somehow cancel the jinx that I knew might result. It didn't.

    As we were approaching this RV park in Fresno, I noticed that both air pressure gauges were reading lower than normal. I dismissed this at first, because I had been on the brakes a good bit in the stop-and-go traffic. However, upon turning into the RV park driveway and setting the parking brake, I noticed the air pressures were even lower, and suddenly the low air pressure annunciator light illuminated along with the very annoying buzzer that accompanies such warnings. Now it was obvious something was wrong.

    It was too late in the day to make any repair arrangements, so we drove ahead to our site after checking in. We had plenty of pressure for braking, as it increased above the minimum 65 psi when the engine speed increased beyond idle.

    I pulled up my trusty Freightliner 24/7 app on my iPhone and queried for a nearby service center. Fresno Truck Center, a bigtime Freightliner facility, popped right up. The next morning, we hopped in Mae and drove there, as I figured a meeting in person might convince the service manager to work me in the same day. I didn't have much hope for that, however, when we reached the facility and noticed perhaps a hundred trucks were in the shop or parked outside.

    Undaunted, I went inside and strode up to the counter, where I described the problem. I also asked when I might expect repairs to be made. The service writer smiled and said, "I have only about five rigs ahead of you, so we should be able to get to you sometime this afternoon." I was a bit taken aback, but I didn't dare ask how we managed to get ahead of a whole parking lot full of Freightliner trucks.

    So we hot-footed it back to the RV park and began preparing Phannie for her journey to get well. Since I was able to keep the RPM up during the freeway travel, we retained plenty of pressure for the brakes to work well. After dropping Phannie off, we went to lunch, and then Sandy went shopping while I played chauffeur for her.

    When we returned to Freightliner, we noticed that they had pulled Phannie into one of the bays, and a technician was on a creeper looking underneath. He saw the problem right away: Two of the rear air hoses had apparently been misrouted at the factory and had been rubbing together since the coach  was new. Finally, a hole appeared in the heavily-worn flat spot on one of the hoses. That's where the air was going.

    Fresno Truck Center had the hoses on hand and they installed them rather quickly. Problem solved, and we were out of there before 5:00 p.m.  Oh yes...and we were $481 poorer.

    I noticed a truck wash business nearby, so we drove over there and got a very nice wash job on Phannie, complete with towel drying and tire dressing, for $80. What a deal, and they did a great job!

    Because of the positive experience at Fresno Truck Center and Fresno Truck Wash, I heartily recommend these places if you're ever in the area.

    As for Phannie, I don't take back a single word of my praise for the old gal. A rubbing air hose is something that could happen on any coach, and that is no indication of a chronic problem or flawed design. She's still like an old friend on whom we can rely. I might mention, though, that I'm currently knocking like crazy on my wooden computer desk.

    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough every day.

    Thursday, August 13, 2015

    Crater Lake and Almost Off the Grid

    At Durango RV Resort, Red Bluff, California...

    After leaving Canyonville and the Seven Feathers RV Resort, we set the GPS for Crater Lake RV Park in Prospect, Oregon. Since Phannie had up a pretty good head of steam on that straight piece of highway 62, we nearly blew by the RV park--and the town, for that matter--before we realized it. Prospect is a really, really tiny place. So tiny, in fact, that we figured it didn't have cell service. We were wrong--it did. But the RV park, a very short distance from town, didn't. This would prove to be an enlightening experience for us.

    You know how I like to post photos of oddities and curiosities. Well, here is a bit of artwork that we noticed in Prospect that added a certain flair to the curb appeal of one of the residences in town:

    In case you're having a little trouble with what you think you're seeing, this is a wooden fence upon which have been affixed work boots, into the top of which an artificial flower has been inserted. The wooden framing in the diamond shape makes the décor pop and adds to the curb appeal, don't you think?
    We set up in our space in the RV Park, which was heavily treed. Even so, I thought the satellite dish on Phannie's roof would find the Direct TV signals, as there was a small break in the trees toward the south. Well, it didn't, so I finally pushed the button to stow the dish. Then I had to share with Miss Sandy that not only did we not have cell service and therefore, no Internet service, but we now had no Direct TV. She plopped onto the couch and looked at me with her face turning clockwise and back, much like a puppy that tilts its head from side to side as if trying to understand the indecipherable language of a human who is speaking to it.

    As odd as it may seem, we almost never find ourselves with any part of our technology inoperable. When these eye-popping inventions came along, we didn't dismiss them as new-fangled things that would never catch on. We embraced them. No, we belly-flopped into them, wondering where they had been all our lives. I recall that we had the first VCR in the neighborhood, an old RCA Victor VHS behemoth whose blank videotapes cost something like 30 bucks. Whenever an improvement came along, we got it, and that hasn't changed. So, with Phannie nearly capable of receiving signals from a distant planet, being incommunicado like this was incomprehensible, much like our having to get up before sunrise--an event that happens with about the same frequency as the arrival of Halley's comet. Perplexed, we found in an overhead bin a rectangular stack of printed papers bound by a hard cover, which we vaguely recalled was known as a "book." Then we laughed hysterically, put it back, and watched some programs we had already recorded.

    Okay, enough silliness. It wasn't as bad as all that, but we definitely missed our communications--more than we thought we would. We busied ourselves by driving Mae up to the rim of Crater Lake. The drive and the lake were beautiful, of course, although the air was a little smoky from the several forest fires that were plaguing southern Oregon and northern California at the time. It often gives me a bit of a shudder when I see for the first time some iconic landmark like Crater Lake that I had read about all my life. Fortunately, there weren't many visitors on that day--a Wednesday--so we had no trouble looking around to our heart's content and taking photos with no one in the way. And yes, it looks just like the photo:

    It was also inspiring and humbling to contemplate the forces of nature at work in the volcanic action that formed this caldera. It was a fine time of inspiration and awe, and we felt privileged to be here in person to see it.

    Not to diminish the moment, but you know how I like to take pictures of odd things. Here's another photo of something we saw parked at the rim of Crater Lake:

    Now I don't know about you, but this was just about the last thing we would have expected to see at this place. I suppose it was genius, however, because it was probably photographed by every person there.

    On our way back from Crater Lake, we stopped at the Natural Bridge over the Rogue River. After a brief walk from the parking lot at the viewing area, we saw the river flowing through an ancient lava tube that had formed during the active volcanic period. The river, which was quite significant in volume, disappeared into the tube about 200 feet upstream and emerged, leaving a natural bridge over the river:

    Here's the downstream end of the lava tube with the river water emerging. The natural lava bridge above provided a walkway across the river.

    And now, for the piece de resistance: On the same walk, which we took in the late afternoon, we happened upon a scene that photographers love--one that you know right away is going to be a beautiful shot and one that will be a source of delight as we look at it and remember the moment. I got the shot, and it was a good one--but through no great effort or skill on my part. The camera was on auto and I merely pressed the shutter release, and here it is:

    The Rogue River, looking west at sunset near Crater Lake, Oregon
    That night, we slept well after a very enjoyable day and were on the road again the next morning at the crack of around ten a.m., I think. As soon as we returned to civilization, our cell phones began an incessant series of dings and warbles as pent-up messages and emails began announcing their arrival. Miss Sandy purred as she began her usual triage, catching up with the goings-on of her peeps after a whole night of, well, what it must have been like on the frontier.

    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough every day.

    Leaving Cool Oregon and a New Favorites List

    At Durango RV Resort, Red Bluff, California...
    (Yes, I'm behind with posts; I'm going to try to catch up.)

    As we saw the temperatures televised in triple digits back home in Texas, Sandy and I looked at each other and said, "Now tell me again why we're leaving here?"
    The 70-degree weather we've been enjoying in Winchester Bay and other Oregon coast locales seems surreal. Were it not for the influence of the cold Pacific ocean air flowing inland for several miles, the Oregon beaches would likely assume the "real" temperature of perhaps 90 degrees. So, we've been smug, thinking we're getting away with something God hadn't intended.
    So knowing all good things must come to an end, we pulled in the slides and pointed Phannie away from the cool air and toward the furnace to which we'll be returning in a couple of weeks. Why? Well, the best reasons we can come up with is more medical and dental appointments with our own medical professionals and a nagging need to check on the house--who knows what may have broken there? (I think it is times like these when I really envy fulltimers.) I console myself somewhat with the knowledge that, on this trip, we escaped to cooler climes for a couple of months during most of the hottest part of the year. That was a first, and it was so appreciated.
    Our first stop after leaving Winchester Bay was the Seven Feathers Casino and RV Park near Canyonville, Oregon. This is another "best of the best" RV parks in my book or rather, now in my blog. As mentioned before, I'm beginning a new page today, "Best of the Best RV Parks," for which I've placed a link above, near the "Favorite Restaurants" link. So why do this? Well, it's really for my own use, more than anything else. We seem to find ourselves gravitating toward the higher-rated parks and their more reliable amenities than those for which a low price is the only consideration. Some of the cheap overnight spots we've found from time to time have been sort of scary, and we think paying a little extra is okay to increase our comfort level. I needed a way to consolidate these better parks for easy reference, so I thought I would offer it to others, as well. I've looked at some websites that claim to list the best parks, but I've found they are not immune to being manipulated to include parks that shouldn't be listed. Bear in mind that this list is not nearly finished, and I'm hoping that readers will help with their own recommendations, as well as to help me catch those that don't belong.
    So, how does a park make the list? Well, these are the criteria, as they appear in the actual page when you click on the link. A best of the best park must:
    • Be reasonably secure and safe, not in proximity to troubled areas
    • Be very well kept, with good landscaping and tidy throughout
    • Not accept mobile homes or permanent residents
    • Have all paved roads and hard surface pads that are reasonably level
    • Accommodate big rigs, preferably with pull-thru sites
    • Not accommodate very unsightly rigs
    • Have 50 amp electrical service, cell service, free wi-fi and cable
    • Have parking spots that are not crowded
    • Not be too near sources of excessive noise 
     If I've stayed at one of these myself, it's pretty easy to make judgment on it. (I've placed an asterisk by the names.) If not, I do some research, looking at photos and checking out their ratings among the various directories. I also look at forums and solicit recommendations from readers. I'll also reveal a little secret: We have a rather serious dislike for parking places that are muddy. Most unpaved parking places have this potential, and we steer away from them whenever possible. I'm afraid we will never be boondockers, and we don't apologize for it; we're pretty well in touch with what we like and don't like. 
    We found Seven Feathers RV Resort obviously worthy of inclusion, but we had a pretty good idea about that from some forums we happened to read. The photos below show what we think a best of the best park should look like:

     Now, I know what you're thinking: Mike, you have gone all hoity-toity on us, haven't you? Well, no. Remember that we live in a relatively modest house, and we don't buy new RVs or cars (any longer). For goodness' sake; Phannie is nine years old! It's just that we can stay in a lot of nice RV parks, eat out a lot of meals and buy lots of diesel fuel with the two hundred grand we've saved by buying Phannie and our cars used. She may not be the fanciest rig on the road, but she has all the comforts we could want, she is well cared for and she has repaid us by performing nearly flawlessly for years of fairly heavy use.

    But, with all this in mind, we're not such prima donnas that we don't love discounts! We belong to several discount RV clubs and use their cards often.

    So, I don't know if this new list will be useful to anyone, but it's helpful to me and, like the favorite restaurants list, it's just my opinion and worth only what it costs you. Now, remember, it's not nearly complete yet, so if you know of a best of the best park that meets all the criteria above, please let me know, and I may include it. I'll even give you an attribution.

    One more thing: There are some really fine parks out there that may be among your favorites, but they don't have all the criteria listed like, for example, paved roads and sites (Goulding's in Monument Valley comes to mind--a great park, but no paved sites). That doesn't mean these aren't fine and desirable places, it's just that I have to draw the line somewhere, and the list can't be so long as to lose usefulness.

    Next post: Crater Lake and Almost Off the Grid

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

    Monday, August 10, 2015

    Kicking Back at Winchester Bay and a Visit With Friends

    At Winchester Bay RV Resort, Reedsport, Oregon...

    We enjoyed the smooth but winding highway 99 from I-5 over to Winchester Bay. Passing through Elkton, we stopped at Arlene's Café for a burger (pretty good), and while walking back to where Phannie was parked alongside the highway, we noticed a large rambling house on a small hill nearby and, for some reason, I zeroed in on a porch swing attached to the house that appeared to be inaccessible by its occupants. If you've read this blog for a good while, you know that I like to include photos of odd things, and I decided this was enough of an imponderable that I should memorialize it with my camera. Perhaps some of you can figure it out:

    Arriving in Reedsport/Winchester Bay, we were delighted with our accommodation at the Winchester Bay RV Resort. I'm thinking about starting a new page on the blog that I'll call Best of the Best RV Parks, and this one would surely belong there. It is a premium park (with a premium price, I'm afraid), well manicured and spotless, and our parking spot was overlooking the marina on Winchester Bay. It just doesn't get any better:

    Naturally, we had to try out some of the local cuisine, so we stopped at the Harbor Light Restaurant in Reedsport for a late supper:
    We shared a seafood combo platter that was outstanding, so yes, this place goes on the list.
    The next day, we decided to drive Mae down to Port Orford to drop in on Gordon and Juanita, longtime blogger friends who have visited us in Texas. They were more than cordial and showed us around their quaint little fishing village. Taking us to a great viewing area in town, they also arranged for good weather, and we were finally able to get a good long look at the iconic Oregon coast and, at the same time, we watched several gray whales that were frolicking and spouting not far from the hill upon which we were standing. Gordon loaned us a pair of binoculars and we had an even better view of the whales than we had on the cruise. What a treat!
    Gordon and Juanita with Luna and Abbey. What a view!

    After spending quite a while enjoying the view and watching the whales, our friends took us to The Crazy Norwegian for a fine dinner of fish and chips and fish tacos. The place was packed, and for good reason. The food was fresh and home cooked with lots of care. And yes, it goes on the list!
    We spent a fun time laughing, talking and catching up, and we eventually had to say so long to this lively couple who are obviously loving their life and each other. Thank you, friends, for a nice visit!
    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough every day.


    Sunday, August 9, 2015

    Goodbye, Portland

    At Winchester Bay RV Resort, Reedsport, Oregon...

    It is with some reluctance that we leave the far Pacific Northwest, as God has blessed the area with much beauty and a mild climate. I think especially about the climate part because, as we head south and east toward Texas, the climate will become increasingly, well, un-mild. I think we're going to have to find a place in the mountains to spend summers now that we're both retired. We seem to be getting less and less tolerant of the blazing Texas heat as we get older.

    The Seattle-Portland area, with all its attractiveness, has some liberal quirkiness that tweaks a staunch conservative like me, but I try not to bring too much of that into this blog. I've found that most people's minds are made up about such things, and that's not what this rag is about, anyway. But, there are some things we became aware of here that we just don't see in Texas, like Prius taxicabs or billboards that read, "Tax the Rich."  (In Texas, we like the rich, because it's a good place to get rich.) We also don't see the point in paying inflated gas prices so someone can perform the unneeded task of pumping our gas. (Why stop there? Let's bring back elevator operators and put firemen back in the locomotives.) And lastly, we think the only pot smoking we should see is when someone burns the chili!

    Okay, I digressed; let's move on.

    As a last meal in Portland, we selected Seasons and Regions, a neighborhood place with an eclectic menu, where we ordered halibut amandine and a shrimp salad. They were wonderful, and not excessively priced, so they go on the favorites list!

    Seasons and Regions Restaurant

    Halibut Amandine at Seasons and Regions

    As we moseyed toward the Oregon coast, we stopped at Tillamook to check out the Tillamook Cheese factory. We like their cheese and buy it in Texas, but we didn't know they make other dairy products like ice cream and yogurt. Their large plant complex is built adjacent to Highway 101, but we were surprised to find that the place was mobbed with tourists--a virtual madhouse!

    Now we really don't like crowds, so what were we to do? We wanted to take a look, never having been to a cheese factory before, but was it worth it to brave the throngs of people who were spilling out of every door and waiting in long lines to buy cheese and ice cream? We decided to give it a shot, knowing that we may never go this way again. We made our way inside and up to a viewing area where, on a self-guided tour, we saw big blocks of cheese being cut and packaged in a part of the factory floor. That's it...not what you would call riveting, by any means. 

    On the same level was a long counter where they were selling Tillamook ice cream, and they were doing a landslide business. We had to get some, of course, and I counted about 30 people ahead of us in line. There were even more people downstairs waiting in line to buy stuff in the dairy store, café and gift shop.

    As I observed the mob of people crammed into the visitor area, I had to tip my hat to the Tillamook organization. By offering a rather rudimentary tour of their factory with no employees dedicated to conducting it and selling them mass quantities of their products while they're captured there, they rake in a pile of money with little overhead. Genius!

    The ice cream? Well, it was good, but it wasn't Blue Bell (sorry).

    The ice cream was a nice appetizer, but it was lunchtime, and there was no place to sit in the Tillamook headquarters café, so we crossed Highway 101 to a dumpy little restaurant called the Old Oregon Smokehouse. It appeared to be a prefab metal building, housing a seafood market and a small open kitchen behind the refrigerated case. The name was a complete misnomer, as there was no smoker that we could see and nothing smoked offered on the menu. My guess is that it may have been a barbeque joint that was turned into a seafood market. Since the fish looked very fresh (they said it was caught that morning), we ordered two servings of (what else?) halibut fish and chips. They were amazingly fresh and tasty, but I can't include the restaurant on my list of favorites because they didn't serve iced tea or glasses of ice, which was the kiss of death by Miss Sandy, for whom iced tea is as essential as water and air. She threatened to report them to the authorities, but I finally convinced her that their failure to offer iced tea was not illegal, to which she replied, "Well, it would be in Texas." (She's probably right.)

    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough every day.

    Friday, August 7, 2015

    The Surprising Evergreen Aviation Museum

    At Pheasant Ridge RV Resort, Wilsonville, Oregon...

    I know I may be pushing the limits of readers' tolerance for airplane-themed posts, but this part of the country is ground zero for certain events long ago that were highly contributory to my career as a pilot. So, you'll just have to grant me a little leeway, hopefully, as I get this out of my system.

    We drove out to McMinnville, Oregon to the Evergreen Aviation Museum, located near the McMinnville Airport and across the street from the office building that housed Evergreen International Airlines, for which I flew as a pilot some 35 years ago. The airline, now out of business, was owned by Delford Smith, a successful aviation entrepreneur who, along with his late son, Richard King Smith, envisioned and built the museum. The star attraction, of course, is the "Spruce Goose," giant wooden airplane designed and built by Howard Hughes at the end of World War II.

    I won't go into the long and dramatic story of the historic fabled airplane and its eventual move to Oregon from San Diego, but it is a fascinating one that is easily Googled.

    I wasn't quite prepared for the very elaborate and modern campus that houses the winged flight museum, the space museum, an Imax theater and an airplane-themed water park. Here's a look at the buildings:

    The Evergreen Aviation Museum (Where the Spruce Goose is Housed)

    The Space Museum

    The Imax Theater shows aviation and science-related films. They even serve popcorn!

    The Indoor Water Park (Note the water slides exiting from the rear fuselage of the 747.)

    The Spruce Goose is so large that it won't fit into the camera's field of view.

    A replica of the Spirit of St. Louis offers a stunning comparison.

    Bow line and anchor of the Spruce Goose

    Here are the specs of the Spruce Goose (Its wingspan is greater than the length of a football field.)
    Here are the specs for the eight Wright R-4360 Wasp engines.
    Unfortunately, not on hand was the aircraft I flew for Evergreen, a DC-8-73 freighter, the first large jet transport aircraft I was trained to fly. It was a favorite of mine, and I really wish one had been on display. Here is a photo from the Internet:

    I am including some more photos of airplanes below, but you can ignore them, as I am posting them for my grandsons. These are some of the airplanes that I have flown during my flying career, and Mason is already becoming very interested in airplanes and what his granddad's flying career was like. I have a feeling that Pryce will, too, when he gets older.

    I know I've posted this before, but this is an Aeronca 7AC, the kind of airplane in which I took my first solo flight at the age of 16.

    A Piper J-3 Cub. I flew one like this a good bit when I was a student pilot.

    A Beechcraft Bonanza - A Cadillac of an airplane, in which I flew some charter flights.

    A Beech 18, like one in which I flew a nightly mail run for five years. (Posted previously)

    A Cessna 310 B - The very model in which I took my multiengine flight test (before I graduated from high school).
    A Learjet like one I flew part-time for a timber company in Texas.

    Douglas DC-3. I only flew this once, but it was enough to say that I flew it. I wish I had gotten a type rating in it.
    Lockheed Super Constellation that I flew part time. I posted this before, but I wanted to get it in this collection. (Another interesting, but disturbing, note: The airplane I flew eventually crashed years later, having been mistakenly fueled with jet fuel instead of aviation gasoline.)
    At a later time, I'll add photos of a number of other airplanes I flew, including the DC-9 and Boeing 727, the last two airliners in which I served as captain before retiring. I'll have to dig around in my records to find them, I'm afraid.
    I was amazed how many of the types of airplanes I have flown were encountered on this trip. The visit to Evergreen was especially interesting to Sandy, as she had to remain home in Texas during my training in Oregon and had not seen this area that was such a significant part of my career.
    Another positive note: The Evergreen museum was not crowded at all, which added much to the enjoyment of the experience. It seems to be a hidden gem of a place and, in my view, it is well worth the drive to visit.
    Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough every day.