To the Great Smokey Mountains

April 19 – 22, 2018

Black Rock Mountain State Park, GA

Up we climbed on a narrow two lane road, following signs, not knowing what to expect. This may seem an innocuous statement, but climbing a thin strip of blacktop in a 28’ motorhome while pulling a car is no laughing matter. One, we can’t back up while the car is attached to the coach. Two, the coach is eight feet wide. And three, tight blind curves are disconcerting! Honk-honk!

At the top we found a gentle dome about 500’ wide. Barb backed the RV in to a spot on the West side of the dome. We had inadvertently put ourselves right on the crest of the Continental Divide!

When we turned off SR23, we had no idea we were climbing the highest mountain in Georgia – 3640’. The park offers 1700 steep acres that include the Continental Divide and part of the Appalachian Trail. We hiked for a couple of hours around the side of the mountain, over the divide and back, and on the ridge line, part of the Continental Divide.

I remember the first time I was on one of these geographic delineations. My dad, sister, Barb and three of our children made an extended fishing trip across the Northwest and into Canada near Banff. My dad talked about the Divide and how the waters flowing from mountains there went to one side or the other – east or west.

While we were at Black Rock, a water leak up hill from our site had water running down to our spot on the dome. It didn’t make it far enough to have to choose which side to go down. It, like the glass of water I poured out to test the divide, simply soaked in and disappeared.

This is a great park but not for the faint of heart towing or Coaching. There are only 38 mixed use campsites and some aren’t very level at all. Still, the hiking was wonderful, photo views plentiful and the black rocks at the summit of the trail are pretty.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park

The drive to Cosby Campground in the GSMNP took us around the park to the Northeast side. From Black Rock Mountain State Park in Georgia we followed SR 23-441 over to I-40 and north. The trip became interesting after taking Exit 447.

From this campsite in Cosby Campground inside the National Park, I advise anyone towing or driving an RV, do not look at GPS or Maps to get you over to CR 32. In fact I’d venture, don’t take exit 447. We admit, we do like to use Maps (iPhone) and Google Maps.

Our GPS took us down a wide one lane road which we finally, shared with a school bus. We stopped and asked the driver about the road. She shared that the way we were heading led to a more narrow road but that it would indeed get us up to 32. She advised taking it slow because we’d be going past folks houses and she’d been depositing children along the way.

We did exactly as she said and arrived at 32, by then the GPS had abandoned all hope. The voice wanted to re-route in a circle, every few feet we rolled forward ‘she’ freaked out. You know when that happens?

Cosby campground sounded pretty good, when we saw the sign. Phew!

The campground itself is graveled, RV sites are paved and vary as to their flatness. We tried one site, gave up when we couldn’t level and moved to another. There isn’t any cover between sites at all and the RV sites, at least, are packed pretty tightly – the play-doh the kids at the next site use is brand x, for instance. This is a good place from which to hike or drive out to explore the park.

I made Andouille Sausage and shrimp with veggies and quinoa for a spicy good Gulf style dinner. The recipe is from Cooking Light magazine, always reliable for simple, tasty meals. During the night it got cold enough that Rudy (the handsome silver-gray old meow of our tribe) climbed under the covers!

We woke to a bit of a calamity. Dasher (the young, destructive, butter-gold newest meowster of the tribe) amused himself during the night by chewing up one of my new hearing aid ear molds. Luckily, he didn’t damage the BTE part the mold plugs into.

I always take my old HAs along when traveling, so I can use them and I am grateful for that. The new HAs are so technologically advanced that to compare the old with the new is to compare an iPhone 8 with a 20# black rotary dial phone. They make 150 decisions a second to adjust to my hearing environment, the experience is gorgeous.

Gatlinburg is thirty minutes away from Cosby Campground and there are lots and lots of RV parks, RV Resorts and cabins for rent as you head through to the GSMNP Visitor’s Center. Those choosing to stay in them pay a premium for hook-ups and summer time amenities like swimming pools.

We drove to the Visitor’s Center and enjoyed the ubiquitous movie and displays of preserved plants and creatures that once lived wild. We also called Candace, my audiologist. In about two weeks, I should have a new ear mold. We’ll figure out where to have it sent as we get closer to the date. What a relief!

After exploring the Visitors Center and identifying a this flower we saw at Black Rock Mountain SP, we headed up to Chimney Rocks picnic area for lunch. Running beside the picnic areas is a gorgeous trout stream. After lunch we walked along the water – staying to trails and being conscious of not stepping on any uniquely biodiverse plant life.

The park has 2,115 miles of streams in it’s boundaries and is one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern US. Though acid rain from nearby coal and manufacturing plants damaged the waterways and affected the health of trout the park has seen steady improvement since the Clean Air Act went into effect. Note: the administration has recently seen fit to repeal the Clean Air and Water Act so expect continuing damage from human short sightedness.

The thousands of streams, brooks and trickles that contribute to the rich diversity of plant and animal life here in the park:

Five separate riparian zones host 1,500 flowering plants, dozens of native fish, over 200 species of birds and 60 of mammals.

The park is Salamander Central with more species of salamanders concentrated in one area than anywhere else on earth. Thirty species live in the park and 24 of them are lungless. Some exist only in GSMNP.

The smoke in the Smokies is a misty fog that rises from all the moisture in the mountains.

Lastly, elevations in the park climb from 660’ to 6500’ and the Appalachian Trail wends it’s way through the parks length. We did a cameo appearance, walk on walk off, on AT just to say we did it, but I think it might be fun to take on a section here in the park someday. Turns out that most of the flowing water in the park originates up on the crest of the Smokies along the Trail.

Some of the people who have used the 848 miles of trails in the park have paused to deface trail signs and shelters with graffiti and leaving behind their trash. 1,500 lbs of trash were hauled out of backcountry campsites and shelters in 2017. Is there a lack of awareness and education or are some people simply mean and destructive?

Today, Saturday, is a writing, meditating and cleaning day for your travelers. We walked a nice one mile trail, leaving behind nothing but footprints and taking lots of photos of flower carpeted glades and streams. We’ve seen a few new (to the trip) birds here in the park – the American Turkey, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Black Throated Green Warbler and the Blue Headed Vireo were standouts.

Both of us were enamored of the streams and trickles that appeared around every bend. The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is a wonder and worthy of a visit.

Here’s food for thought. The folks in the space next to us ran their generator, which sat in the back of a pickup truck, from 9 am to 7 pm on Saturday. They seemed to stay inside their pop-up camper and watched a huge screen tv. We went hiking to escape.
A few other campers thought it was our generator and had to be disabused of that thought. When the generator people turned the thing off, they hopped into their trucks and left the pop-up. I never did that type of camping and just don’t understand what the appeal would be. Surely, it’s much easier to stay home?

I just opened Pandora’s Box. The type of travel camping we do really isn’t camping, either. I’ve heard it called “Glamping” which makes me think of forty-five foot rigs that must be plugged to a fifty amp nipple or their residential refrigerators won’t run. That’s not what we do either.

In motorhome and towable land, we’re small. We hold a high standard of Camping Etiquette – footprints left behind, campsite cleaner than we found it, maintain quiet, be respectful of other folks, pets leashed etc.. We don’t run our generator longer than necessary and even then we wait for folks around us to leave when possible.

We sure aren’t ‘roughing it’ tenting or tear dropping though. Our RV is filled with luxuries – it even has an in house vacuum, for crying out loud. I don’t know what to call our style. Ideas anyone?

For now enough about defining our type of travel. Barb and I started RVing together in 1994 and purchased our first Safari Trek in 1995. I don’t guess we’ll change how we go after all this time.

 

Thank you for waiting:

Here we go! It’s April already, 2018 and we’re making tracks again. Hope you can come along for the ride.

Last week we devoted ourselves to tying up loose ends and finalizing the planning for this trip. The route we will travel is pretty much planned, we know where we’ll be stopping for nights and for sights and have lists of bike trips, hiking, museum-ing, learning and visiting goals.

Our 2017 traveling, taught me (Liz) something about food storage and I hope to have implemented enough changes that we won’t have to shop quite as often. For instance, we eat tons of veggies and fruits. The little bins at the bottom of our Norcold fridge proved to be inadequate. I got a couple of plastic boxes that fit the shelf above the little bins and they are now filled with the overflow produce we will eat this week. I also froze some favorite foods we won’t find once we leave the South (Gulf Shrimp, for sure!).

We will be holding a north-easterly heading all the way to the Catskills in New York. First big camp, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We hope the weather holds and it isn’t too cold up there. In fact, that’s my wish for this whole trip – that it not be too cold. Even where we live, it has been a long cold spring.

Barb and I have a Fly Fishing class – 6 days – in the Catskills in upper New York State in early May. We are both looking forward to learning more and getting in some practice in the storied waters that hosted the very start of the sport. The class is one of Road Scholar’s offerings, Elderhostel’s new brand. RS caters to traveling learners who are over 50 years old.

Last spring, we went to RS Summer Camp. It was held in Arkansas at Trout Lodge, a beautiful YMCA camp on a lake. Did we have fun! It was so much like camp when I was a girl, there were kids everywhere – all thoroughly engaged in the activities du jour, laughter and kids shouts from the lake or the trails across the conifer shrouded hills. It was fabulous. We over-50 campers enjoyed canoeing, kayaking, sailing, hiking, zip-lining, tower climbing, target shooting, crafts, horseback riding and a locked room challenge; seriously it was the best camp experience ever!

Today we camp in Georgia at an Army Corps of Engineers campground in West Point, Georgia. We both look forward to a walk on whatever trails or roads the campground offers, to shake off the road – if we get there in time.

I feel right at home as we take the exit from 85, this is the same exit we took around St. Patrick’s Day to spend a long weekend at a (very expensive) RV Park with the Heart of Dixie Chapter of RVing Women. We visited Calloway Gardens and Roosevelt’s Little White House and met some really nice gals. Franklin Roosevelt loved this part of Georgia and came here for healing waters treatment. We agree with him, this is a gorgeous part of the US!

Back to the present though. R. Shaefer Heard Army Corps of Engineers Campground is on West Point Lake – technically the West Point Project water resource management area. This campground is an easy 6 or so miles off I-85 N.

What a place – waterfront property today for these girls! The entire door side of the RV faces the water, we have a deck and stairs leading to the water where we could tie our boat up to a tree.

The campground is really large, 117 sites and all are reservable. On our walk, we found many campsites clustered together for families and groups. Eleven pull-through sites (one of which we occupy) make it easy for folks who are passing through or aren’t good at backing into sites. Most of the campsites are right on the lake, many are surrounded by trees and bushes that make them very private. This month, the campground isn’t full at all. One thing to note; there appears to be one shower building but most of the small tan buildings hold sinks and toilets.

After the hot drive on 65 and 85, fresh breezes coming off the lake are welcome. The campsite is busy with Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, Chickadees, Eastern Bluebirds and Carolina Wrens. We hear a woodpecker working for dinner and the shushing of the tiny red waves rushing toward our shore. Red waves because this is Georgia, red dirt reigns.

4-18

Leaving the lake side window shades up all night afforded us a rare treat, a view of the lake as we woke with the light. Lake water moves in a most mesmerizing fashion, she says after falling back to sleep.

Another thing learned; long drives are exhausting. We decided to drive shorter distances and spend more of each day out of the RV during this eastern US sojourn.

The plan is to make a short trip (under 3.5 hours driving) to the next overnight.  We’re zooming along on 985 N right now. Barb just suggested we keep going for another hour to Black Rock State Park closer to the Smokeys… I’ll let you know how the longer drive today meets out goal to drive shorter distances.

We’re glad to be traveling again.  Please leave comments for us and don’t forget to hit the follow button!

Breathe.

 

Christmas Day and it’s Catch-Up Time

We’re staying at Gulf Shores State Park and being back in our second home has inspired me to get our last trip’s posts up and finish that chapter.  It’s been insane since we got ‘home’. Not only was there tons of yard, neighbor and house catch-up but Alabama faced a Special Election and we dove in to support Doug Jones! Luckily there was enough to do that we were put to good use knocking on doors. It sure wasn’t due to our meager efforts that Doug got elected, but it felt so good to do something to counter the insanity.

Crazily, we also decided to join the Jubilee Pickleball Club and learn to play pickleball. It’s crazy fun and Barb has taken to it like a duck to water. Problems with my right hand have gotten in the way for me – almost as much as mastering the scoring system (you know how I am with numbers).

We decided on a staycation for Christmas to get our heads clear and enjoy time with our friends Ray and Cindy down here near the Gulf. Good thinking! I got clear enough to have time to sit and get this posted! Yaaay!

It’s throwback Monday I guess… we’re hopping in the time machine and heading back to early November…

We said goodbye to Stroud, OK and headed down to I-40 again (can you tell we’re anxious to make tracks?) and spent a two nights at Robber’s Cave SP down near Wilburton. Really a pretty park and I wished we could hang out a bit longer as there is a fishable river and lots of hiking. We did manage to take in some overlooks and went up to the cave – the ten million people walking up the path dissuaded us from following suit. This park has a big equestrian campground with small corrals and places to tack up one’s horse. Really a lot of folks using it and the sight of so many pinto and paint horses was a real treat.

We trekked across OK-270 through some little towns and lots of trees into Arkansas. AK-270 is a good road, made the interstate look raggedy (big surprise). We’ve really found that to be true though, the “infrastructure” that the Fed is supposed to maintain is in BAD shape. States do varying jobs of keeping ahead of entropy on their own roads, it’s been quite a study.

After a long drive we pulled in to Hot Springs National Park and found a nice site by the creek. The campground was about half full this time of year and the weather was chilly out of the sun.

A fellow RVillage.com member welcomed us to the park (via email) and told of their experience at the hot springs. The advice seemed sound so we followed their lead. The National Park has renovated and restored several of the old bathhouses – some are used by the park and some will be rented out when they are finished. The history of this area begins with Native peoples and their use of the natural springs that come (came) right out of the mountain. The waters from the various springs have different minerals in them and there have always been claims as their healthful nature.

The Fordyce (above), opened in 1915. Opulence went to the men’s side of the baths and utilitarianism to the women’s. In fact, so many women came for the baths and treatments offered that the owners had to add space to accommodate them! The building is now the Park Museum. Free. Yes! it’s free to enter. There are three floors and a basement and we climbed around, poked at the very weird machines that were used for ‘treatments’ and looked at pictures of gentlemen and ladies at leisure and taking the baths.

Folks really considered the waters to offer them relief from many maladies – it was a very serious health trend in both Europe and the US. No more bathing at the Fordyce, though it really is a wonderful trip back in time.

On the advice of our mentors, we went to Quapaw Baths (no photos, sorry). Built in 1922 and renovated through an agreement with the Park Service and local businessmen, the Quapaw offers a modern spa experience. We chose this spa because it offered four large tubs that moved from 94* to 104* and we could migrate between them with other bathers – this is not clothing optional, much to my relief! We availed ourselves of the massage services as well but fore-went (?) the cave experience, authentic underground steaming hot cave. I could have spent all day in the water but we had the massages to undergo (lovely) and then headed home.

The other functioning bathhouse is on our list for next time. “Because it has been in continuous operation since it opened on February 1, 1912, it is one of the best preserved of all of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, but it has undergone many changes over the years. Originally it had a large hydrotherapeutic department. Only it, the Fordyce and the Imperial had these.” NPS website. In this spa bathers have a private tub to enjoy and move from there to the other bath services.

There is plenty of information on the NPS website: https://www.nps.gov/hosp/learn/historyculture/bathhouse-row-today.htm should you wish to hot-foot it to this unusual National Park and avail yourself of the baths.

Did you know the town pretty much went to pieces when the local sheriff and the feds shut down the illegal gambling houses in Hot Springs? Yes indeed, Al Capone (who used to be a regular at the Ohio Club (below) and the rest of the gang left town and that was that! Years of decay later the NPS stepped in to save the day and history is again yours to enjoy.IMG_3615

 

You own the National Parks. You own the National Forests. You own our National Monuments. These lands have been designated ours by presidents from Ulysses S. Grant who gave us Yellowstone National Park in 1872 to the Great Sand Dunes National Park which an act of Congress gave us in 2004. There has never been a time that you are more needed as a participant and protector of these lands than now. Please, let your representatives know that you care about the lands and ask them to cease plundering them.

Home Stretch!

Our RVillage.com pals told us about Crater of Diamonds State Park south and west (wrong direction, girls!) of Hot Springs and we decided to head over there and check it out.

Down AR-70 to Murfreesboro (which I always thought was big but really isn’t) and out some country roads to the park we rolled. The park was pretty empty and the day drizzly but we got set up and headed over to park HQ to check out the little museum and find out about what folks needed to do to dig up diamonds.

First. This place is for real. There were diamonds of several colors on display at the museum that had been found in the park. Very cool was a photo of a big yellow diamond from the park that had been made into a beautiful ring that the First Lady Hillary Clinton wore for both of her husband’s inaugurations. Lots of other stones are found at the park as well, jasper of several colors was the only one I knew.

No photos. It was an ugly, wet, cold, muddy time and neither of us thought to bring our camera. We’re sorry.

Next day, we put on rain togs and headed to HQ to pay the fee and go rent a bucket, camp shovel and two sieves. There is a nice concrete sidewalk leading out to a big plowed field and we ‘miners’ just picked a spot, dug up some dirt to fill the bucket and headed to one of the many covered sluices.

Now came the hard part. The water in the sluice was cold and opaque from the rinsing away of the mud shoveled into the sieves – a stack of two wood framed screens of two decreasing sizes. When the frames were full of muddy dirt (did I mention it was drizzling?) they weighed a considerable amount. But, we were game. So sluice, sluice, sluice and when the mud had disappeared, the frames were lifted out of the water (pouring all over legs and shoes…) and separated and the top frame twisted over with a decisive wham to upend on the wooden benches between the sluices – whump! Then the smaller screened sieve returned to the water for more sluicing (cold water, cold, cold water) and it was similarly whumped on the bench at another spot. We then got to pick through the leavings and hunt for diamonds. This sequence repeated about 10 times too many for me… and we didn’t find anything shiny. However!

Next to us was a young lady who had a pile of orange buckets from a big box store, full sized shovel and three screens. She was working away, while she talked non-stop to other folks working in her sluice. Suddenly, she hollered, “Got one!” and tucked it into a little plastic bag. She trotted up the hill to the diamond certifier guy and he got out his loupe. By golly, it was a tiny clear diamond and she came back with the Certificate of Authenticity to prove it! That was really fun to see and share in her excitement.

Though it took a while to warm up and our shoes never did dry until we were home for a few days, Crater of Diamonds SP was a fun outing and another one of those things we never even thought about doing.

Next day we took AR-371 to AR-275 and made our way to Lake Chicot State Park which is part in Arkansas and part in Mississippi. Another big park with a winding river / bayou. Really pretty with huge pecan trees and only three other RV’s. It made a good stopover and has a cute museum about the area.

Next day – we made it to our Hudson’s Bay Stop near home and got ready to unload perishable foods and our clothes (and laundry), cleaned the rig up for next use and began making trips to the house.

It’s been a fun ride and really nice to have everyone along for the trip. I’ve appreciated the texts and comments on RVillage and FB about the blog – sometimes it feels so one sided, it was great to hear from folks.

Next trip? A couple of shorties to ride bikes – Christmas at the Gulf (GSSP has the MOST AMAZING bike trails, miles and miles. In January we’ll go with the Slow Bike Society on a long ride in Florida, I think it’s a Rails to Trails ride. We had thought Alaska was calling for next year but the call faded. Instead, in April we’re heading up to the Catskills which is very exciting for me as I’ve never been in that part of the country! We’re going as Road Scholar students to learn more Fly Fishing skills. The river and streams we will be fly fishing up there were the birthplace of the sport, should be sweet. Of course, no trip would be complete without seeing family and friends along the way. Fellow travelers, let us know where you are and maybe we’ll meet up!

Gulf Shores State Park Christmas Day, 2017:

GSSP Sunset 12-25-17

Until next time, happy trails and don’t forget to BREATHE!

Oklahoma and the 2 day hotel stay

On I-40 going into Oklahoma City we decided to stop at Sprouts in Norman, south of OKC. While we were eating lunch, I noticed this beauty and Barb went outside to take some pics.

We picked up some gas as well at a Murphy station (foreshadowing tones of doom sound). Most of the stations in Oklahoma have ethanol free gas available – it isn’t what we usually use, so we passed. We made a quick stop in another gas station to use the air compressor as one of the tires was suddenly beeping the “low tire” warning on the TPM System. That didn’t work out well at all, the compressor couldn’t handle the inflation of an 80 lb. RV tire. It ended up letting air out instead of putting any in (next trip will include a small compressor in a storage compartment).

While pulling out of that station the Trek acted like it wanted to stall. Barb said it felt like no gas – that hollow feeling you get when you press on the gas peddle and nothing happens? But then it engaged and took off again. We both wondered what could be happening but since no dash lights were flashing and the RV was moving now like it should – we decided to continue.

Traveling east on SR9 just outside of Tecumseh, it happened again! That no response-to-pressing-the-gas-pedal started up. Barb said it didn’t feel like transmission or like a broken belt (I thought serpentine belt but we didn’t think the Workhorse engine even had one…). Poor Trek was switching between positive forward motion and no response in the accelerator as we poked up hills and coasted down.

The RV ended up limping into Tecumseh with emergency lights flashing and stopped right in a turn lane. There isn’t much in Tecumseh, but there was a Napa Auto repair right across the street, yaaay! Surely they would have an idea. And… they didn’t. They “don’t work on motor homes and don’t know anything about Workhorse engines”.

No worries. That’s why we have Coach-Net, our on the road break down saviors. They dispatched a tow truck from D & D Towing out of OKC. Meanwhile, counting on the off again – on again nature of the problem, we pulled the truck into a parking lot. The truck that came was large enough for towing our 20,000 lb. bulk and the operator, Sean, really knew what he was doing and had the patience and tools to do it right without damaging the Trek! He carefully towed us about 55 miles North to Poskey’s Auto and Wrecking in Stroud, OK where we spent the night outside the gate.

First thing in the morning we were greeted by Mark, the owner, and James, his best man for the job. Of course, the Trek started right up and behaved nicely driving onto the lot. But a gas pressure check showed low to no-go. Barb told them about the blown fuel pump relay we changed in Santa Fe and the cheap gas.

They checked that again and the replacement relay was already damaged. Diagnosis: “fuel pump needs replacing”. It wasn’t the gas, Murphy has been absolved. Guess what though… the fuel pump sits inside the fuel tank and to access it the fuel tank must be dropped. The original one had to come out so the part number could be obtained!

Remember, we had just filled up the 75 gallon tank about 40 miles ago? Yikes. But Mark and James figured out how to do it without spilling any or draining the tank. (shop jack anyone?). Barb got on the internet and located a Workhorse replacement, ordered it and it was shipped overnight arriving Friday morning (this was Wed. evening).

IMG_3610

That’s our fuel tank dropped down with a shop jack.

I however, was figuring out that we couldn’t stay in the Trek. The smell of gas was noxious, we were fanny up in the air, and the replacement fuel pump was two days away. I packed up a bag or two, filled all of our water containers, grabbed snacks and got us ready to head to the local hot-EL.

The Hamption Inn in Stroud was sure a surprise. Brand new, ultra modern and clean as a whistle, with staff who treated us like long lost cousins, it became home base until the pump arrived. These were the only two nights in all these months we stayed outside the Trek and it was luxurious! I showered for about 4 hours, watched TV for about 30 minutes, caught up on internet nonsense and complained about the icky, scratchy hotel sheets enough to drive Barb insane!

We went to dinner at “The Rock” a Route 66 time machine with new owners and a super interesting menu. Our server was so friendly and the owner came out to chat us up as well. It was really fun to look at all the old 66 stuff and to talk with some nice people.

The next day we went over to Chandler for lunch at a former Route 66 gas station. Another good meal with friendly folk… it was time for me to experience an epiphany!

I’d not thought too well about Oklahoma before and really just wanted to get through the state. Here it comes… I realized, during our stay, that I really like Oklahoma! The people are just incredibly friendly – we didn’t hide our relationship at all, folks just treated us like we treated them, offering bits of their lives and the history of the area. I also realized that this state has much to explore and tons of people to learn about. I can’t wait to go back and really dig in to learn about this diverse state folks call “Indian Country”.

Finally, new pump installed (and boy howdy, it was fast once it arrived! We got back on the road again heading for home.

 

Palo Duro Canyon

Next stop was Ute Lake State Park, New Mexico. After an uncomfortably windy drive an overnight in this park was perfect. It was on Hay 54 near Logan. Right on the border into Texas. We paid the Iron Ranger and pulled through a site. It stayed windy the whole time we were there. The lake was pretty, this time of year the campground was pretty empty and we were out of there in the morning.

This RV of ours has been giving us a hassle, the sensors in our grey water and black tanks don’t seem to work, also, the black tank flush flusher wand doesn’t spray. Why is this important? When we look at the indicator lights to see how full the tanks are, the reading is unreliable. Sometimes the black tank shows full just after it’s been emptied. We don’t hook up to sewer at every site and we sure don’t hook up and leave the tanks open! We let the tanks get pretty full before dumping them, see the problem? When are they pretty full? We’ve been guessing and trying to dump every four to five days depending on water use.

I’ve been working on clearing the sensors with a borax and laundry soap mixture dumped into the tank.. Sometimes it seemed to open up a few of them and then they would clog up again. Most of the time, I pushed Barb to keep our tanks pretty full so they would slosh the stuck-on-stuff off the sensors. At Ute Lake we availed ourselves of the dump station and re-armed the tanks with my ‘magic mixture’. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

From Ute Lake we headed across the Texas pan handle to skirt Amarillo and make our way down to the town of Canyon, Tx. Canyon is home to West Texas A & M University and at the U is an amazing museum. First, the museum is HUGE! Second, it has an oil derrick inside. Third, it tackles the history and technology of the Oil and Gas business that Texas has quite famously been a leader in since the 1800’s.

Parking didn’t work in the lot, so we went around the block and parked on the street to walk (through a chill wind) to the museum.

The museum comprises two packed floors that cover prehistory to pioneer times, geology to windmills and the advent of the automobile, and that’s just the first floor. The first floor, between exhibits, was filled with tables created by local schools, businesses and families to honor the Day of the Dead. Some were so sad, some were funny, there was one to honor Robin Williams and Suicide Prevention and numerous other tables highlighted other social issues. They were set up for the public to view and for that night’s Gala honoring Dia de Los Muertos.

Since we have museum-ed through geologic and human time, we high tailed it up to the second floor. Since we drove across Texas at the beginning of our trip we had been chewing on all of the oil and gas well heads and new drilling we saw. Not knowing how any of it worked was sure frustrating! The second floor answered our questions. Most of our time was spent in the Panhandle Petroleum Story exhibits. Full sized examples of antique and contemporary well drilling, capping, storage and transport of black gold, Texas tea and the gasses that often accompany oil. We watched a film about how the Panhandle changed with the oil boom and bust and another on Fracking.

Fracking, presented in a friendly colorful film with positive points about the practice and nothing said about the kerfuffle raised by people who live near giant fracking operations.
When we were walking away and finished with this great museum, my mind was puzzling out just how to make sense of how water and particulate matter pumped hard and fast into porous rock to break it up and release the oil manages to not leave behind a layer of very dangerously unsteady and unreliable rock. In fact, one little statement stuck on the side of a display did mention the greater occurrence of earthquakes in areas that had been fracked… This practice might be something folks want to take a close look at… the quantity of water used is disturbing as well, since water is estimated to be the next most valuable exploitable resource due to shrinking supplies.

From Canyon-town we went right down the road to Palo Duro Canyon. “Another canyon???!!” you say? Yup. But after Mesa Verde, Palo Duro is pale. The canyon is wide and not very deep. There are some notable formations to be hiked to and photographed. The campsites are very pretty, if a bit close together. Trails wander all over the canyon and bike trails dominated when we were there. An upcoming mountain bike event had the trails being pounded by cyclists trying to prepare. A little river runs through the canyon, the Canadian River, I believe, and it managed to put out an incredible quantity of mosquitos and little biting flies. I’m not much for being eaten by annoying bugs but (gamely) went on a few hikes with Barb (covered in repellant that did nothing but attract the bugs).

Palo Duro was a pretty spot to spend a few days and when it was time to leave, we made our way up the canyon, hooked up the car and headed over to Oklahoma. I always want to write that with a ! for some reason and often hear “Ooooo-kla-homa where the winds go sweeping down the plains…”

Nest stop, Red Rock Canyon State Park in Hinton, Ok. From the Registration building we had no idea at all where the canyon was, though we did see some tree tops where tree bottoms ought to have been. Down a thin twisty road (do not attempt this drive 40’ RVers) and into a shallow canyon with steep red and orange walls we went. Not many campers and a pull-through site was open, so our set up was easy.

Right away we took a walk to explore this fascinating little canyon. The walls are soft Permian Era stone into which folks have incised their names for many years. It is also a rock climbing and repelling canyon. Barb and I climbed up using some cut out toe and hand holds – it was pretty fun. The canyon has several branches and proved to be a great habitat for trees and birds with a pretty little stream running through it. The camp sported a swimming pool and fishing pond that we are sure were big hits in the summer heat of the Oklahoma plains. If you look at the center picture, you can see vertical cuts in the cliff where climbers have anchored their lines and worn through the rock

Next morning we popped out of the canyon, made our way up to the highway and barreled along toward our next stop.

 

 

Mesa Verde to Verona

The drive from Mesa Verde to Navaho Lakes, NM (our first overnight stop in New Mexico) wasn’t long but was pretty interesting. We drove through oil and gas country with well heads dotting the countryside. White trucks with lights on top and tall springy poles that had fluorescent flags flying identified them as workers on those wellheads.

After driving way back on country roads, the road led right up over the dam. Picture this! Anglers dotted the stream emitting from the dam – literally every 20-50 feet way down stream. We realized that this was angler heaven and a super spot for trout. Not that the realization made us feel good, mind. We still had no waders or boots to get into the stream with! Grrrrrr. Oh well, the lake was gorgeous, we walked all over the rather complicated campground and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon.

After that, we headed south to Los Sueños RV Park in Santa Fe for a few days of laundry, groceries, catching up on internet and, and…. MEOW WOLF!!! Yes! We bought online tickets and headed in to an experience. LINK TO YOUTUBE ON MEOW. PUT UP PHOTOS. Meow Wolf interior presents the curious and puzzle lovers with a mystery!

The House of Eternal Return

Inside the house – a normal sized Victorian Home with all of the amenities – we discovered journals and newspapers that told about the disappearance of one of the house’s inhabitants, the young son. On the ground floor is a parlor, living room, dining room and kitchen. Soon after reading the journals we noticed people talking in a mirror on the dining room wall. Watching them for a while led us to the parlor where we looked through papers, drawers, books, artworks (took them off the walls, even) then to the kitchen. AS I walked around the house. I noticed some weird things: the fireplace seemed to glow greenly and the back of it was not solid; the moulding in the hall going from parlor to kitchen was dirty and when I grabbed it a door opened! In the kitchen the stove had pans and a teapot on top but nothing was inside them. The whole house is set up like a family of four lives there. Clothes, antimacassars, furniture, drapes…

We cautiously edged upstairs, studying the framed photos on the wall, to search the study and read some papers in the desk that alluded to a small safe on a table and it’s combination entry code. We looked at, riffled and read everything we could in that room – including notes on the small cork board. One more was from the daughter of the house exclaiming about seeing her brother disappear and wanting help getting him back. Then we headed to the bedrooms.

More Meow…

The first bedroom belonged to the son. With a desk, bunkbed, bookcase, dresser and posters on the wall this looked like a young teenager’s room. There were dinosaurs, books about flowers and references to his grandmother who had taught him about flowers and botany. The boy seemed very interested in science from the model, books, drawings and geegaws set about the room. The closet in the room had a weird glow and while we were there a man and woman walked right out of the closet! We decided to keep exploring the house, although it was obvious the house contained some kind of doorways or portals to other places.

The bathroom had a big footed tub, sink and toilet – a cabinet above the sink opened and way back in a hole dimly lit through translucent walls was a bottle of pills! The black and white tiled floor (you remember those little octagonal tiles?) was really strange – it was wavy, like 5” waves around the toilet! In the bottom of the toilet the ‘water’ was dark and when we looked closely we could see a boy who seemed to be swimming in the air or water or something.

In the bedroom on the right of the hall was a double bed, parents room, no doubt. The dresser had their clothes and the desk a computer with many channels of the dad talking about some electronic/metaphysical/spiritual stuff to do with his business. Altogether weird! Again, the closet opened and some kids came sauntering through the coats and clothing hanging inside.

Further down the hall we found the daughter’s room – neon pink with barbies and big blankets on the walls. By then we were in full search mode trying to figure out the mystery of what happened to the son and then the family.

We knew that the grandfather had invented a machine something like a time machine. That the father had ordered the kids to stay away from it and that the son had used it and disappeared. More clues seemed to be in the safe, so we went back to the office to try to crack it.

Now, all along we had been seeing a man in a while lab coat, we had read that there were scientists who would be recording our every move and to stay away from them. Turns out, this guy was a good resource for information! We learned from him that we had been inputting the safe code incorrectly! It got pretty funny. Here we are Occupying the office. The safe had a 5-10 minute timer that made it so the code couldn’t be tapped in over and over. I see the timer on my phone and when a guy came running into the room, arms outstretched to touch the keypad, Barb blocked him and said “No! It’s on a timer and we’re waiting before we can try the code again. He said what he thought the code was and we let him know that he had it wrong and he went back to the living room to read more from the papers there. When trying the code a couple of times (after the requisite wait) we decided to explore a portal to see what clues could be had…

This is the fantastical! Portals! The portal we chose was in the laundry room – through the washing machine door, down a tube and into the washer which was washing clothes and photographs of the family! Another tube led to… what? A very strange universe! Lit by neon and fluorescent colors, more doors sprouting in every direction, cave like spaces we ducked or crawled into, dinosaur bones we played like xylophone keys, mushrooms that sand when we popped on their tops, stairways to other realms and catwalks overlooking stranger places to explore than the last one.

A super modern room advertising vacations on other planets, rooms with weird textures and colors, a bumpy, soft floored room kids kept falling into, sculptures made of trash turned silver, vines, vines, vines, creepy rooms, a little vintage trailer to sit in and visit with other searchers, doorways leading back into the house and confusing passageways leading to even odder realms.

So, since Meow Wolf is the product of over 100 artists and is an organic and ever changing immersive art experience, don’t go there expecting to see what I’ve described. Just go there! It is a magical, mystical, crazy fun, organic, growing art experience. The artists sought to turn the traditional art viewing experience on it’s head and they sure did! The art community is inclusive and cooperative, something that wouldn’t seem to work – how did 100+ individuals come to agree on anything much less Meow Wolf? Go see.

For some reason, the RV wouldn’t start when we were ready to leave. We puzzled around and contemplated calling someone to look at the engine – naturally, it was the weekend. Barb is not trained to be a chassis/engine mechanic. RV systems yes, engine no; but… Some of the stuff she learned got her poking around in the fuse box (after extensive internet searching for where the thing is located and looking on our trusty Trek group site Trek Trax to see what others had encountered with the same symptoms).

After struggling to take off the lid, Barb got busy testing fuses and relays. Some genius stroke led her to pull the relays and take a look at them. One was completely burnt looking on one leg and up the side. A quick trip to the parts store for a new (fuel pump) relay and we were on our way! We didn’t leave at Check-out time and Los Sueños staff was most generous in letting us stay until the problem was solved.

A quick drive took us to our son, Gabe and his wife Erin’s ranch to hang out with our newest grandchild – the first girl! Verona, still a tiny baby, slept and ate most of the time we were there. It was good to be with Gabe and Erin and to learn about their plans for Nizhoni Stables and Pas de Cheval, thorough bred horse rescue. The ranch is beautiful – even the chicken coop for which Barb built and installed nest boxes.

Erin’s dad, Mark, took us into one of the pastures to teach us artifact hunting and boy did we have fun! Barb got addicted and was out there in various fields and paddocks looking for more the next few days, of course. She did find a lovely 2500 year old pottery sherd. I found lots of purple glass pieces from some unremembered homesteader’s place and a more plain pottery sherd. Mark found a drilled Cerillos turquoise bead, very old – quite a find – and a metate, another amazing find.

The weather started turning colder (this is close to the 7000’ altitude of Santa Fe) we decided to head for home via some more interesting places.

 

 

Mesa Verde National Park!

Review: WOW, just wow!

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So WOW, that in 1978 Mesa Verde National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site; one of the most important designations a site anywhere in the world can receive.

Let’s jump right in, we sure did! Having booked a ranger tour online for Balcony House we had to get moving early the next day. We were advised to be in the Park by 0830, so we made lunch and filled our water jugs that night. It takes about 45 minutes to get to Balcony House from the Visitors Center on the hiway.

 

One of the best preserved sites in the park, Balcony House – our destination – requires climbing a 32’ ladder, crawling through an 18” wide – 12’ long tunnel and climbing up a 60’ open cliff face with stone steps and two 10’ ladders to exit. Visitors are duly warned when tickets are purchased.

The first view one gets of the site is when you step into Balcony House. There are 38 rooms and two kivas and divided into three plazas. The engineering skills required to build in this deep cliff alcove are considerable. The two kivas are a good example. Built side by side they are shaped like old fashioned keyholes. A bench or banquette runs around the inside broken only by a tunnel for air that has a rectangular rock about 6” wide and flat on both 2 to 3 foot sides that deflects incoming air. Rising from the bench are six pilasters that would have held up the roof beams. In the floor is a fireplace and a smaller hole called a sipapu (believed to allow the spirits of elders entry and egress).

 

The only site at Mesa Verde with a retaining wall and each room sporting strong wood vigas. The vigas stick out in front of the doorways and were covered with brush or smaller wood pieces and plastered with mud. The People traveled from room to room on the balconies. One cool thing was the two types of doorways – one was a normal rectangle denoting a room that was likely a home; the other was shaped wide at the top and narrow at the bottom to allow one to carry things in and out of the room, probably used for storage. The rooms were two and three stories – with plastered floors similar to the balconies.

 

I could go on and on about this site and don’t want to spoil it for anyone planning to go. Over 750 years old it is precious and I felt honored to be allowed to enter it at all. We spent the rest of the day driving the loop road and going back further in time.

Mesa Top Loop Drive is billed “from Pithouse to Pueblo.” Ancestral Puebloans lived in Mesa Verde for more than six centuries from around 600 to 1300 AD. These folks didn’t start with the incredible engineering and architecture we see in the Cliff Dwellings.

 

The first People, in 550 – 700 AD or the “Basketmaker” period built pithouses – shallow pits dug into the ground that were covered with pole and mud roofs and walls. Entrances were through the roofs. Each pithouse had a fire pit, and a hearth with a stone in front of it to deflect the outdoor air brought in by small tunnels. Think about these people. They needed a snug shelter and chose to dig pits, with a stick in hand. These People farmed corn, beans and squash; hunted wild animals and gathered a wide array of edible and useful plants.

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There are whole villages of pithouses built on the mesa around 750 AD. These dwellings were cut deeper into the soil, had irrigation to keep them dry and divert water to crops for these Ancestral Puebloans were farmers and prosperous and their population grew. They depended on the land for everything; food, water, fiber, shelter, animals, and clay for pottery. Inside the houses archeologists found metate and manos for grinding corn and seeds, deer bone awls and turkey bones, pottery sherds and a charred piece of someone’s woven sandal.

By 850 AD, the People began to build above ground. Most villages we could see from this time were series of rooms delineated by slabs of rock – the rooms would have had lattices of poles and sticks plastered over with mud.

Interestingly, the pithouses evolved from 550 to 900 AD into the kivas found in all later dwellings. There are hundreds of dwellings spread over the tops of the cuestas. Yes, cuestas, a mesa is flat while the Mesa Verde (so named by the Spanish) ranges from 7000 ft to 8,571 ft in elevation. It is more angled than flat – that angle helped the People capture water.

The next day we had another tour scheduled! This tour was at 0900 (we had to be in the National Park by 0730, ugh). We drove out to Long House. The instructions on our tickets warned that we could be hiking about 2.25 miles and climbing two 15-foot ladders to deal with an elevation change of about 130 ft. Long House is on Wetherill Mesa (1.5 hours from the Visitor’s Center).

Long House is the largest of the cliff dwellings and is South facing. Where do I start? Long House is enormous and was built in pieces during the Pueblo III period, 1200 to 1280 AD. It served as an administrative center for various smaller cliff dwellings and housed around 150 at any given time. With 150 rooms and 21 kivas – think one kiva per family who built their own group of rooms. The most frontal of the dwelling is a large plaza with rooms built nearby, possibly for travelers from other cliff dwellings or further away.

 

The porous rock at the back of the alcove provided a seep of water. The People scraped small bowls into the sandstone floor with channels leading one to the other. Found in Long House were small handled ladles that were used to scoop up water from these bowls. A baby was found buried in the back of the alcove, in the crack between floor and ceiling; this is of note because most of the dwellings had no burial component. In fact, the ranger said that it is likely that bodies were tossed off the front of most of the cliff dwellings with other rubbish.

Sites in the park range from one room dwellings to Long House with it’s 150 rooms. Some sites have not been stabilized or excavated. More mesa top sites were exposed by the fires that burned recently. Once dense forest of Juniper and Pinyon Pine has been vastly reduced. Some stands of forest that have escaped the fires hold Juniper that are over 1,000 years old and Pinyons that have lived 700 years. The trees have never been tall, but now so many are just gone. It is disturbing to think of how long it will take for contemporary grassland to grow the forests that once were.

 

Now, I know I’ve woven you between times from 550 to 1280 AD and it’s probably been a bit confusing since I didn’t write a time-line. The Mesa Top Road sites and the tours aren’t chronological either. The whole place put me into a state of overwhelm. My eyes ached from trying not to miss a detail – thank goodness for cameras – and from looking over the distances and views.

Here’s the most overwhelming piece of the whole of the Mesa Verde experience (3 days worth, for us), the cliff dwellings are gorgeous and took many years and incredible skill to build and the Ancestral Pueblojans lived in the cliff dwellings for only around 100 years!

I am reminded by the desertion of these Peoples about attachment to Things. In no spiritual tradition are we urged to become so terribly attached to Things that we imperil the driving force of life; love. Whatever the reason for the migration, the People were not attached to these structures. In fact, in some ways, we people of the future seem terribly attached to the structures and to the other Things of our lives.

There is much speculation about what caused the People to leave: first, the last quarter of the 1200’s were drought stricken with attendant crop failures, but the People had survived times of drought before; second, perhaps the soils, animals and forests (of Juniper and Pinon Pine) were depleted; third, maybe political and social problems erupted in the community and the People simply looked for new places to live. It is known that the people joined thousands of other Ancestral Pueblo People who were moving South into New Mexico and Arizona. Today the Hopi of Arizona and the People of Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, and the pueblos along the Rio Grand trace their ancestry to the People of this area and some to the ancient builders of Mesa Verde.

Note: I use the capitalized word People/s to denote persons of Native American ancestry as a sign of my respect, especially as I am an immigrant.