Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Friday, July 31, 2020

Sometimes Stuff Happens

At Dakota Ridge RV Park, Golden, Colorado...

I had hoped not to have to resort to comment moderation but, thanks to some persistent spamming slugs, I've had to turn it on, at least for a while. Sorry about that. Please don't let that stop you from commenting; I love the dialog.

Besides enjoying the beauty of Colorado, there have been a few downsides and missteps that seem to happen on most trips. It's only appropriate to toss these into the narrative, as they can sometimes be instructive and even funny.

The first surprise happened on highway 94 coming into Colorado Springs. We would ordinarily have taken a different route, but U.S. 50 was closed at one point, requiring a re-routing. Highway 94 is not really a highway; it is a paved rub board. Some of you young-uns probably don't know what a rub board is; if you don't, ask somebody old. What it means is that the road was rough; every joint in each section of the pavement provided a bone-jarring jolt, and I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong with Phannie's air suspension. Making things worse was a strong headwind. Soon after turning onto the highway, we heard a strange fluttering sound on Phannie's roof right above our heads. We had no idea what made the sound, and there was no shoulder on the road to pull off and take a look. After about ten more miles of the fluttering sound and Phannie's galloping down the road, we heard a loud metallic bang above us, and the fluttering sound stopped. Since we were still in no place to pull over and take a look, I drove for about ten more miles before finally finding a vacant parking lot in a tiny town along the route. After stopping, I stepped out and walked about 50 feet away so I could see everything on Phannie's roof. I instantly noticed that the large round dome housing the old Kingdome satellite dish was missing! The dome I'm talking about can be seen in the photo below:

Yes, it was in completely gone! I knew then that the dome's departure from the roof was the origin of the loud sound we heard above our heads, but there wasn't much I could do at this point. I walked back and took a good look at Mae, hooked behind us, fearing the dome may have struck the car as it departed the roof. It hadn't, thankfully; she didn't suffer a scratch. But I was not about to climb on top of the coach to see what else might have been damaged. With my arthritic and unsteady knees, there would be a good chance that something much larger than the dome would fall off the roof--yours truly.  Besides, Sandy would appear outside with a pistol if she thought I might get an idea to climb up on the roof. One way or the other, I would probably be a goner.

Wise enough to know my limitations--not to mention my fear of flying lead--I climbed back into the driver's seat and motored ahead. Being able to see if anything was amiss on the roof would have to wait.

As soon as we arrived in Colorado Springs, I asked the park hostess for recommendations of a mobile tech, to which she responded with a couple of business cards. Not wishing to wait, in case of rain, I called the number on the first card and got no answer. I called the number on the other one, and it was answered right away. Then I described the problem, to which the guy on the other end said, "WHAT did you say blew off your coach?" When he was convinced I wasn't joking, he told me he would be at Phannie's site in about a half hour.

He arrived when he said he would, and I crossed my fingers as he climbed onto the roof and strode to where the dome had vanished. He looked around for a few minutes and then hollered, "You are one lucky guy!" He said it appeared that when the dome flew off, it made a clean break from the roof, leaving only a few screw holes and no tears in the roof. He said he could see that the dome struck a glancing blow on the middle air conditioner housing and that was probably what deflected it to the side and away from the car. Thankfully, the air conditioner wasn't damaged. He patched up the screw holes, and that was that. He didn't even charge me anything beyond the cost of the service call.

The reality is that the dome's blowing off did me a favor, as I had the dealership disconnect it 11 years ago when we bought Phannie. Knowing the Kingdome was ancient technology, I had a Direct TV Trav'ler dish installed, along with new Samsung digital TVs. I didn't bother to have the old dome removed because I figured it would be a big, expensive job, and it wasn't hurting anything where it was. Little did I know that it would be removed for me by driving into a headwind on a rough Colorado road 11 years later!

I also didn't know this would only be the first of some unusual circumstances as we entered Colorado. On our way to Golden from Estes Park, with Larry and Carolyn behind us, I passed several vehicles going the opposite direction on the two-lane road. Suddenly, we saw a large stone kicked up by one of the opposing vehicles--I couldn't tell which one--, and the trajectory of the rock was on a beeline for Phannie's huge windshield. Sure enough, it made a loud "BANG" on the lower driver's side. I knew immediately this was not something that could be patched, as it began right away to radiate cracks around the main strike area:

I was almost sick, thinking about the 11 years and more than 100,000 miles during which we had avoided a cracked windshield.  Why couldn't we have made it a little longer?  When we settled into our spot at Dakota Ridge RV Park in Golden, I called in an insurance claim and we agreed to put the replacement project on hold until after our trip ended at the end of August. The location of the fracture doesn't impair my vision, but I'm just hopeful that we can make it to the end of our trip before the whole windshield spiderwebs on us. We'll see.

Unfortunately, we still weren't through with the surprises. Bear in mind that Dakota Ridge is the nicest and most expensive RV park in the Denver area. We have always enjoyed a nice, quiet stay there in the past. Imagine our surprise when hard metal rock music started up at about 8000 decibels across the street from our park at nightfall! Not only that, but a cacophony of loud motorcycles were incessantly racing up and down Colfax Avenue in front of our park! It seems that, since our last visit here, somebody opened up a huge biker bar with a sound stage that acts as a megaphone for the "music."  I couldn't believe it! And neither could Larry and Carolyn, whose rig was parked closer to the street than ours. Bear in mind that we had told them how nice Dakota Ridge was and how we knew they would enjoy their stay. They didn't, and neither did we. In fact, they left early for their side trip to the Dakotas, and I can't say I blamed them. Here's a photo of the biker bar, named the Dirty Dog Saloon:

See the sound stage in the back? The noise coming from that thing was worse than standing beside a jet engine at full power. Not only that, but motorcycles came and went in droves all night, each rider gunning the motor to see if he could drown out the band. 

I was literally dumbstruck! How could this be, I wondered, across the street from Dakota Ridge, the premier RV park in an area that has way too few RV parks of any kind. Those who know me well are aware of my utter disdain for this kind of noise--it can't be called music--that must have originated in hell itself. Being an old-school musician myself, I am of the opinion that music reached its zenith of style, lyrics and melody in the 1940s, and that little music worthy of being called such has been written since around 1970. It was the first time ever that arson crossed my mind.  

Then I thought better of it; we'll only be here a few days. Just after ten o'clock in the evening, the noise from the band suddenly stopped, but that didn't stop the motorcycles from blasting up and down the street. Even that noise eventually subsided, and I was able to sleep, although I still dreamed about seeing the Dirty Dog going up in flames.

My first action the next morning, of course, was to march briskly to the office to see if they noticed anything a little unusual the previous evening--you know, something like an atom bomb detonating in their driveway? The clerks on duty, to my utter amazement, seemed quite indifferent, as if I were the first to complain. Finally, one of them said, "Yeah, sometimes they get a little noisy over there, but I think that's only about four nights around the weekends."

I was dumbfounded. There were several million-dollar motorhomes in this park, and I don't think their owners would be very tolerant of this nightmare, and neither would any of the others, for that matter; I was pretty sure I was probably about number 25,986 to lodge a complaint. Then it occurred to me that a certain reality was at play here: Dakota Ridge probably can't do anything about it. There are undoubtedly laws on the books about disturbing the peace, and these had to have been violated by those 5,000-watt amplifiers. However, Colorado is not Texas; it is a liberal state with a liberal government, and pretty much anything goes here, I guess. Marijuana is legal and, I suppose if you are high enough, nothing much bothers you. If this were Texas, the only thing left of the Dirty Dog would be a vacant lot with tumbleweeds on it. About the only thing I can do, in this case, is to warn others in the reviews I'll be leaving. I'll never come back, of course, as long as the Dirty Dog is there, and I did make that point clear to Dakota Ridge.

As Larry and Carolyn had left early (who could blame them?), we did a little touring. I rather like the old train stations that graced the large cities in the era of train travel. Denver has one, named Union Station, but only the exterior has been preserved largely as it was:

While the interior of the terminal still has an air of its original grandeur, it is devoted mostly to a hotel with modern decor and shops that seems incongruous with its original use. Still, they get credit for preserving what they did.

Denver also has the Forney Transportation Museum, and that sounded like a stop I would enjoy, having been involved with transportation all my life. (Besides flying airplanes and regulating them, I also owned a trucking company at one time.) So, we decided to hunt down the Forney Museum, with the aid of Siri on my cell phone. The GPS function led us to the right place downtown, but we weren't really paying attention when we drove into the parking lot. We got out of the car and walked into a very modern building, whose interior sported a large glass counter, behind which stood a rather startled young man. I noticed a strange odor, and so did Sandy. The clerk finally said, "Um, can I help you?"  

Seeing nothing that resembled a museum, I said, "Let me guess; this isn't the Forney Museum, is it?"

The young man said, "Well, no, that's in the back of the parking lot. But we would like to show you around while you're here. You happen to be in the first recreational marijuana store in the nation."

I looked at Sandy, and she looked at me, her eyes as big as saucers. "Well, I think we'll just move along to the museum; sorry for the confusion." He made another push for us to look around, but it fell on deaf ears as we rushed outside, each of us opening a side of the double doors. 

Afterward, we laughed about it, wondering what our friends or pastor (Robert Jeffress, also a Fox News contributor) would have thought if someone had taken our photo in there. It was also a rather sad realization that we're not as observant as we used to be, as the sign out front clearly revealed what kind of store it was:

Getting old isn't easy, folks. 

I did a quick tour of the museum, which was a little below average, but it did have some interesting old cars that I coveted and a full-size Big Boy locomotive--the largest ever built--this one number 4005. The locomotive is so large--with 16 drive wheels--that I couldn't get all of it in a photograph, so I'll include a photo of a Big Boy in the Ford Museum in Dearborn:

If you are interested in statistics, there were 25 Big Boys built for the Union Pacific Railroad by the American Locomotive Company between 1941 and 1945. They were and still are the largest ever built. Only eight remain in museums, and only one of the eight, restored by Union Pacific, is still operating. (You can see it on YouTube.) The locomotive and its tender weighed 1,300,000 pounds. The tender carried 25,000 gallons of water and 25 tons of coal to feed the engine, which was capable of 7,000 horsepower. The engines were built to haul freight over the Wasatch Mountains to Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming. The last revenue run occurred in 1959. These behemoths have always been fascinating to me--a testament to the engineering and manufacturing that produced such a complex machine of that time. One can only imagine the maintenance demands of such a locomotive. Here are a couple of photos of number 4005 in the Denver museum:

Above is the front of engine 4005 in Denver; as you can see, it is not well situated for a side shot showing the enormity of it.

Above is the mid-section of Big Boy 4005 in Denver. This locomotive was involved in a wreck in Wyoming caused by an error made by a switchman. The engine rolled over on its left side and, if you look closely, you can see some of the dents caused during that accident.

Above is 4005's cab. We couldn't go in because of the Covid mess, but I can't even count all the valves with which the crewmen had to deal.

There were other interesting things in the museum, but I found especially appealing this beautiful 1957 Dodge in all its finned glory:

One of the increasing habits of aging, I think, is reminiscing about the "good ole days." I suppose this is especially true now, given what a mess 2020 has turned out to be. I often find myself longing to be in my teens again, when cars had style and were readily identifiable from each other. I find today's cars particularly boring, because you have to see the nameplate to know what make they are. Such was not the case in 1957, for example. I knew every car at a glance, and it was such a big deal when we were able to go down to the car dealers' showrooms to see the new models every September. At least, though, I have those memories, and they will be unknown by today's young, who have their heads buried in their cell phones or watching TV. I'm glad I was born when I was.

There is more to see in Denver, of course, but that has been covered in other blog posts. So, I will end this post with a shot of the city taken from Lookout Mountain near Golden, Colorado. It has been nice to have a break here from the Texas heat. The temperatures have mostly been in the seventies during the day since we've been here.

Our next stop will be an overnight in Casper, Wyoming on our way to Cody--our base for visiting Yellowstone, this time from the eastern side. We'll be there for a couple of weeks, so we should have some more photos and stories to tell, so stick around!

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, July 23, 2020

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park

At Elk Meadow RV Park, Estes Park, Colorado...

At 7,500 feet in elevation, this gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park is a contender for a place we could stay all summer.  The crisp mountain breezes, the low humidity and the surrounding beauty is not found in many places. Oh, there are remote locations if you are diligent in seeking them, but we like to stay in places where we're fairly close to a sizable town with cell service and Internet readily available. This is our perfect spot at Elk Meadow:

(Credit for this photo goes to our caravan friend, Carolyn; good job!)

No matter which way you look, the mountains frame a lovely photo. For example, here's a look to the south:

Turn your eyes leftward a bit, and here's a view to the southeast:

Here's looking northward toward the historic Stanley Hotel (This is my favorite):

A view of Rocky Mountain National Park from our RV Park:

A veiw looking westward toward town at sunset:

I'm such a sucker for sunsets--here's one looking northwest toward RMNP:

Naturally, we had to make a foray into the park, and the majesty and beauty just got better and better as we drove up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Here are some pics during that journey:

The temperature was quite warm in the park, even at altitude. It was in the sixties when I took this photo of Larry and Carolyn:

We were even lucky enough to see some animals in the park. Here are some elk cows (yes, they're called cows, not does) looking disinterested:

We found a rather plump marmot posing very close to us, undoubtedly expecting a handout; I could identify with him:

Many of the animals are very accustomed to humans. Here are a couple of elks in downtown Estes Park, munching in one of the flower beds:

We've had a great time at Estes Park, and we had the good fortune to encounter by chance and to have dinner with Glenn and Joylea, some wonderful east Texas friends of ours. Of course, we got too involved in the conversation to take a photo. I've got to think of some kind of reminder--I dessert until I get a photo!  That should do it. Thanks, anyway, Glenn and Joy, for meeting up with us.  It was good to see you again!

From here, we're headed to Golden, Colorado for a few days. Yes, this means a little backtracking, but our friends have some things they want to see in the Denver area, so we adjusted the schedule a bit. We are nothing if not flexible!

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, July 19, 2020

Summer in the Rockies Begins and We Reveal Our Little Surprise

At Colorado Springs KOA, Fountain, Colorado...

One of the annoying things about the new Blogger format is the change in font sizes. As you may have noticed, I've had to change to a Verdana font instead of my preferred Georgia. This is because the Georgia font in the new Blogger is too small in the "normal" setting and too large in the "large" setting. Verdana allows a compromise of sorts, but I still don't like it. I wish they had left the platform alone; it was doing just fine.

I'll get right to the surprise about which I teased in previous posts, which has probably been blown way out of proportion. No, we're not replacing Phannie (shudder the thought), and we're not replacing Mae (she's doing just fine); we haven't gotten a pet, and Sandy is not pregnant (you would have seen that on worldwide TV for sure). The surprise is that we are caravaning, sort of, for the first time on a multi-state, multi-month tour. 

A couple of our many great friends, Carolyn and Larry, have met us in Colorado Springs, and they will be traveling with us for most of the next couple of months as we tour Colorado, Yellowstone and parts of Utah. They will take a brief detour without us to the Dakotas for a few days but, for most of the trip, we will be traveling together. Here they are with Phannie--almost a twin sister coach to theirs--in the background.

We are blessed with a number of couples who are great friends and with whom we've traveled together in the past, but this will be the first time we've done a long caravan-type trip. (I suppose you can call two motorhomes traveling together a caravan, can't you?) Larry and Carolyn seem perfectly suited for this, as we share many interests, and our mindsets are centered mostly around an easygoing lifestyle.

Our first adventure was to make the necessary Pike's Peak drive right away. This photo was taken at about the 10,000-foot level:

I also liked this view of the rocks and trees against the mountain backdrop. It would have been nice if the weather had cooperated a little better:

I couldn't help but take a photo of a chipmunk nearby, who seemed not at all uncomfortable with my close proximity. There's no telling how many times he/she has been photographed:

Next is a photo at the summit (I have a confession to make; this photo was taken on our last visit--not this one. This was because of the current construction of a new visitor center at the summit; there was little area to park, and the line of visitors to get to this sign for a photo was way too long. Out our ages, hanging around a long time at over 14,000 feet is, well, unwise.) By the way, the outside air temperature on the instrument panel read 52 degrees when we were here this time with Larry and Carolyn. From our attire in the photo below, it appears to have been colder on our previous visit. By the way, it appears that Pike's Peak has gained some height since I was here as a kid some 60 years ago. It's elevation was only 14,110 then. 

Naturally, we had to meet up with local friends Phyllis and her sister, Vicki, a high school classmate of Sandy's. They live in Colorado Springs and love it there:

That's Vicki nearest the camera and Phyllis to her right. Larry and Carolyn are in the background.

Vicki picked a really unique restaurant named 'The Airplane,' built around an old military C-97 now resting at the Radisson hotel near Peterson Air Force Base. 

In the photos below, you can see that the left wing of the airplane, including one of the engines, protrudes into the dining room. Dining is also available upstairs in the fuselage itself, but it wasn't air conditioned up there, so we opted to stay on the "ramp."  

In the photo below, you can see the landing gear outside the dining room window:

Naturally, the cockpit was interesting to me, and I have to admit it was the largest I've ever seen, and I've seen many.  I would love to have flown this bird.

Here's a photo of the airplane's exterior and the attached dining room:

Here are a few statistics for you airplane buffs (like me):

The C-97 was the military version of the luxurious Boeing Stratocruiser, which was a trans-oceanic passenger airliner in its day. More than eight hundred of these--mostly military versions--were built between 1944 and 1952, and they served a number of functions, including refueling tankers, cargo carriers and personnel carriers. They were finally retired from military service in 1978. Developed by Boeing from the famous B-29 (most of the airplane except the fuselage and cockpit was identical to the B-29), it was powered by four monstrous Pratt and Whitney R-4360 engines, each of which developed 3,500 horsepower. Later in its long life, one variant of the airplane was even fitted with a jet engine underneath each wing. Of 888 that were built, only one remains flyable, owned by a commemorative group in Germany.

Thank you, Vicki and Phyllis, for a memorable lunch. You couldn't have pleased us (especially me) better!

Back to our Colorado Springs adventure: We took Carolyn and Larry to the Royal Gorge in Canon City, where they walked the bridge and took the gondola across the 900-foot span that rises 955 feet above the Arkansas River. This was the highest bridge in the world until 2001, when a higher one was built in China. It was constructed in 1929 at a cost of $350,000. If built today, the cost would exceed $20,000,000:

We decided to take a little side trip to Cripple Creek, an old gold-mining town on the other side of Pike's Peak. There are two gold mines nearby, one of which is no longer in production but is conducting tours. The other, the Cripple Creek and Victor mine, is still producing with formidable proven reserves. It is the only active gold mine in Colorado and will probably be producing for many years to come.. 

The town of Cripple Creek is centered around one main street with quaint old buildings housing plenty of bars and casinos--and probably brothels back in the day:

Cripple Creek was founded in 1890 when a man named Bob Womack discovered gold near the surface of what was thought to be pasture land at an altitude of 9,400 feet. His discovery triggered the Colorado gold rush of 1890, and the town swelled with prospectors. Although some 500 million dollars worth of gold had been taken from the mine and various other claims within his lifetime, Womack died penniless. Poor guy--sounds like my kind of luck.

We also stopped in at the old train depot that is currently a gift shop. The girls, of course, had to buy something:

I just had to include one of the old locomotives that was once used to bring ore out of the mine. Grandson Mason is a train buff, and he will notice how similar it looks to Thomas the Train.  This one was built in 1935 in Germany and was used for around a half century before its retirement.

No trip to Colorado Springs would be complete without a tour of the strange red rock formations in the Garden of the Gods:

Since this was their first visit to Colorado (and to most of the places on this trip), Larry and Carolyn seemed captivated by the beauty of what they've seen, and we are delighted to serve as their guides. We certainly weren't the best available, but we were definitely the cheapest. There is, of course, much more to see in Colorado Springs, but we had to move on. We're fond of telling them they "ain't seen nothin' yet!"

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Finally, Heading North for the Summer!

At Texhoma RV Park, Dumas, Texas...

We're usually never found in Texas this late in the summer. We are amazed that anyone else is here either, except maybe horned toads and rattlesnakes. As wonderful as it is, my glorious home state would be a vast empty territory in the summertime were it not for sellers of air conditioners, who certainly must thrive during these uninhabitable months.  That's why Phannie's engine usually comes alive soon after grandson Mason's birthday on June 3, and we head north--anywhere north.

On such occasions, my desire to get outta town finds me wishing I were back in an airliner cockpit where, after taking off and pushing  a few buttons, there is little else to do except monitor the panel displays and enjoy a cool drink while the airplane flies itself at 600 mph directly where it was programmed to go. In fact, the airplane would prefer that I not get involved, as it thinks it flies better than humans. That's not entirely wrong; the only reason pilots are there is to analyze the weather and tweak things, intervening if some computer chip goes haywire. I've tried hands-off driving with Phannie, but it doesn't seem to work very well. (Just kidding.) And let's not even talk about the difference between 600 mph and 60 mph. Oh, well--that was a different time, and each season of life has its rewards.

We only stayed so late in Texas because of a need to visit my orthopedic doctor in Dallas when we were finished at Red Bay. We had intended to leave for Colorado from there, but I began to have knee problems that needed some intervention. The doc thinks I'll be a good candidate for partial knee replacements before long, but he gave me some injections that will, hopefully, get me through the summer. Poor Sandy is going to need surgery on her foot this fall, so we may find ourselves parked for a while later this year. This all depends on the virus thing's being mitigated somewhat, of course, in the Dallas and Houston areas. With all our annoying health issues, I think God is getting back at me for scoffing, when I was a youngster, about all the visits old people were making to doctors. Well, I'm not scoffing now; we're only held together these days by spare parts and chemicals.

We really enjoyed our stay in Aledo, a little town between Fort Worth and Weatherford, at Cowtown, a very friendly and reasonable RV park. We were able to visit with several of our friends, but in keeping with the forgetfulness that comes with getting older, I neglected to take a single photo of any of them!  I'm chalking that up to the excitement of the visits and catching up on everything. The only photo I was able to get was that of the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, an iconic old landmark built in 1884.

I've always admired counties who value and keep these historic courthouses, unlike my hometown of Nacogdoches, Texas, where the old courthouse was torn down when I was a kid to make room for a modern but nondescript structure. There are still citizens there and ex-citizens (including me) who are upset about this travesty. 

Well, that was a lot of digressing to report that we are on our way to Colorado. We will spend only one night on the road en route to our first destination, Colorado Springs, that overnight stop being in Dumas, Texas.  For those of you needing no more than an overnight space with 50-amp power, you can't beat the city-owned Texhoma Park, which has a couple dozen RV spaces that are FREE for a 24-hour stay. Now, there's no water or sewer, but who needs that for one night?  I think it's the best bargain we've ever found; it was a very nice park with perfectly flat gravel sites. What a find!

The July heat was miserable on our drive to Dumas. Need proof? Here's Phannie's outside air temperature gauge around mid-afternoon:


By this time, we were forced to turn on the generator and get help from the roof airs, and that made the rest of the trip much more pleasant.

The next post will be from Colorado, where we'll reveal our little surprise. Stick around!

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