Archive for September, 2013

2013 Balloon Fiesta Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

We are working our way to the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque where we will attend the WBCCI Special Events Rally held right on the Balloon Fiesta grounds.  The Fiesta is a huge public event but the rally is sponsored by the WBCCI Four Corners Unit.  This will be a first Balloon Rally for us and we can’t wait!

Since 200 Airstreams have been confirmed for the rally we are wondering if any of you are among the other 199 Airstreams that will be there.  If you’re going, please leave a comment so we can look for you!

Airstream Bonding Over a ’65 Caravel Airstream

Friday, September 27th, 2013
Ed Richards and his 1965 Airstream Caravel

Ed Richards and his 1965 Airstream Caravel

Hats off to Ed Richards for his extensive work on a 1965 Airstream Caravel. We had the pleasure of meeting Ed at an overlook for the Kaibab Plateau on Rt. 89 in Arizona while traveling from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff. A fellow east coaster Ed is from Quincy, Florida.

Over a period of two years Ed breathed new life into this ’65 Airstream with a frame-up remodeling including adding a gray water tank. Airstream bonding once again took hold as we stood at the overlook with Ed admiring the shine on his 48 year old aluminum beauty. Soon we were no longer strangers and Ed was inviting us in to see the interior that he had gutted and re-worked.

Ed’s long-term devotion to the project reflects more than a passing fancy with his Airstream. My suspicion was confirmed when he opened the Airstream door. Yes, this man is an Airstream aficionado, for right there staring at me from the magazine rack was the latest edition of Airstream Life magazine.

The Journey through Monument Valley

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

“You can’t travel but the first four miles,” says the woman with the soft voice at the entrance to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. “Yesterday’s rain damaged the road.”

“You mean the 13-mile loop road is closed?” I ask in disbelief. “Yes,” came the reply.

Not wanting to miss anything, I feel crestfallen. Driving through Monument Valley was large on my list of travel goals. We buy our tickets committed to seeing what we can. Launching forth we zip over the smooth roadway into the parking lot. Passing the lodge we search for the dirt road that will take us off the mesa and into the valley. We find it, turn right and enter another world.

Our new red Tundra eases over a blend of washed out road and rock as we bounce and weave our way downward into Monument Valley. For a moment I wonder if we made a mistake coming in our own truck. After all, this is a rough dirt road that recently took a pounding from the rain.

Fred points out how much rougher the ride would have been in one of the open-air tour vehicles where the bed of a pickup truck has been adapted with bench seats. Not only do we have comfortable seats but we also have the freedom to stop and go at will. Plus we can get uncrowded photos and we can take our dog Katie.

Once down the hill and into the valley the dirt road improves for a while. It’s about 7:45 in the morning and we rejoice that there are just a few other vehicles on the road. We ride with the windows open much of the time to enjoy the pleasant September morning air.

Everything is red—buttes, mesas, the desert floor. We pass the memorable Mittens, two almost mirror buttes that, well, look like mittens. Scrub brush and rocky terrain cry out for John Wayne or the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

The scene around us is the quintessential western movie set. Not really a valley in the traditional sense, this is a vast desert floor with giant oddities of nature adding intrigue to the distinctly western flavor of the place.

A corral of horses marks the turn to John Ford’s point where native women have set up tables to sell handmade jewelry. According to the woman at the gate, this stop represents the end of the road for us today. Yet we watch as a couple of tour trucks continue onto the loop road we had understood to be closed. Fred chats it up with a local man who is confident that with our high clearance vehicle we will be fine to continue on the loop. Not to be denied, we venture forth.

Yes the road narrows and is at times hard to find amid the ruts but oh what a journey. Moving deeper into the Valley we make a large circle around Rain God Mesa. Memorable places such as the Totem Pole, a very tall but narrow spire, and Elephant Butte that really does look like an elephant, are now forever etched in our minds. Only the road leading to Artist’s Point proved impassable. Yet I’m sure Fred must have earned some sort of merit badge for his flawless driving through muck and rut, over rock, and even through a flooded area.

They say to plan on two hours to travel and view these 17 miles. But two hours fades to three as we soak in the magic of the legendary Monument Valley. Though not allowed to venture far, I trudge through sand and kneel on rock to capture humble photos of scenes made famous by Hollywood.

By the time we leave Valley Drive the traffic has increased notably. Japanese, French, German Dutch and Americans are among those who sit shoulder to shoulder on tour truck benches to venture into the land of the wild, wild, west. Some wear face masks to guard against the red dust. Others sport hats to guard against the sun. All come with cameras and smiles.

Driving up the rough road out of the valley requires a take charge attitude and a little more rattling and jostling than our 11 pound dog finds comfortable. She climbs in my lap and leans close seeking reassurance.

Not surprisingly our adventure left our truck a new shade of red. Fred washed the truck, but I’ve yet to clean the red dust from just inside my window. Silly I know but it makes me smile.

A man on horseback adds the finishing touch to our Monument Valley experience.

A man on horseback adds the finishing touch to our Monument Valley experience.


Four Corners Monument-Mud and All

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

We are in the middle of nowhere. But this is the heart of the somewhere we came to see. The rain has stopped so we decide to detour a few miles to see the four corners monument that marks the spot where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. After all, we are here to tour the larger four corners area.

Friends had told me before we left home that there wasn’t much to see there other than a marker designating the only place in the USA where four states meet. But hey, we are in the neighborhood so why not stop in and see the place. Little did we know.

Little did we know that the paved part of the parking lot was tiny and full. Little did we know that the rain had turned much of the road and the rest of the parking lot into a giant mud pie. Little did we know that it would be hard to find a place to turn around with the Airstream behind us, let alone a place to park.

Yet, we were there. So Fred threw it in park on the entrance road (people could pass us) and we trotted through the mud toward the monument. I only slipped once but managed to stay upright.

Once to the monument, we found pavement and just enough time for me to grab a shot of Fred with his feet in four states before it started to rain again. I stuck the camera under my rain jacket and wondered about the wisdom of having paid the entrance fee.

In all fairness to those who operate the monument, which is on Navajo land, there were clear signs of attempts to make the monument a friendlier place. New facilities had been constructed and road equipment was on the job while we were there.

Going there seemed like a must, since this is our Four Corners trip, but Fred was happy when we managed to get the truck and trailer back to the paved highway. Some experiences just turn out better than others. At least we saw the heart of the country we came to see-—mud and all.

Fred at the Four Corners Monument

Fred at the Four Corners Monument

The Million Dollar Highway and Silverton, Colorado

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

After the heat of the Utah desert the mountain town of Durango, Colorado is a pleasant respite. We trade our shorts for jeans and carry a light jacket to wander in and out of the shops of downtown dodging the occasional drizzle. I’m on a mission to find a lovely piece of silver jewelry but nothing strikes my fancy. Poor Fred.

We camp right by the tracks of the famed Silverton-Durango tour train but alas we decide not to take the train. Our dog has evidently been bitten by a spider somewhere along the way and it has turned nasty. It is necessary to take her to the veterinarian. We manage to get an appointment at 2:30 PM. With a comfortably early departure we have time to drive to Silverton, Colorado and back before her appointment.

Green is a refreshing color after the extensive khaki and red of the desert. Tall lean evergreens are accented by the white trunks of scattered Aspen. Further up US 550 the Aspen disappear, due to the altitude I suppose. Alpine meadows with scattered trees take over the scene as we continue to climb in altitude. Dramatic mountain views explain the road’s label as the Million Dollar Highway.

Stepping out of the truck at the Molas Pass outlook we are greeted by a chilly 52 degrees. An altitude of 10,899 feet will do that. Being flat-landers we pace our steps and breathing to adjust to the thinner air. Carved by glaciers about 15,000 years ago, the ups and downs of the San Juan Mountains literally and figuratively take away our breath.

Three miles of steep downhill grade await us as we head on toward Silverton. We round a curve to find free range cattle standing unconcerned in the road and mindlessly stopping traffic in both directions for a few minutes. Curve follows curve as we descend to Silverton’s altitude of 9,305 feet. Though lower than Molas Pass we are still about 3000 feet higher than Durango.

By driving ourselves we miss the hubbub of train tourists and enjoy a peaceful walk through Silverton’s late Victorian era stores. We think of Alaska since the main street is the only paved road in this old silver mining village. Lunch is at a place called Handlebars Restaurant and Saloon and it exudes every bit of the character the name suggests.

I love it in this valley. Mountains embrace the place and colorful storefronts speak to a time gone past. What’s more, the town delivers on my silver jewelry which is quite befitting for a town called Silverton.

Renee and Fred at Molas Pass on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

Silverton, Colorado
Silverton, Colorado

Moki Dugway–Utah

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

We giggle and laugh out loud. We are one with the red cliff as we grin through three miles of pure delight–or terror depending on your point of view. We are traveling the Moki Dugway.

Dugway pretty much describes how this narrow, very serpentine gravel and dirt road was made. This part of US 261 in Utah was dug out of the rock in the 1950s and used for hauling uranium ore. It is not for the faint of heart or those uncomfortable with heights. Trailers are not allowed.

When the paved road gives way to gravel and dirt at the beginning of this adventure we round a corner to an overlook dead ahead. (Dead may not be my best choice of words!) In all of our travels we have never seen a panorama spread so far and wide.

This is indeed an adventure—short but intense. Pieces of the edge of the road have washed away on both sides in places making the road one thin lane. Perhaps this was aggravated by yesterday’s rain. With a speed limit of 5 MPH we navigate 10 % grades and dramatic switchbacks all the while dodging fallen rocks.

Other than the pullout at the top of the Moki Dugway there are no guardrails. A sheer 1000 foot drop on one side of the truck is balanced by jagged red rock wall on the other side. And yes, as narrow as it is in places, it does accommodate two-way traffic. One of you may just have to stop and snuggle the rock while the other passes.

Photos really don’t do this experience justice. “Oh my, this is crazy,” is followed by spontaneous laughter and the undeniable joy of being one with the mountain. Hitting pavement again at the bottom was almost disappointing. With the spirit of a child I looked at Fred and said, “Let’s do it again!” He laughed.

Have you traveled the Moki Dugway? Feel free to comment about your experience.

The Moki Dugway in Utah

The Moki Dugway in Utah

It Never Happened in a White Box

Monday, September 16th, 2013

The thirty-something year old man picks up his pace dashes into the road in front of our truck, raises his 35mm SLR camera and shoots. Camera still held to his eye he moves across the road still shooting photos of us…well, of our Airstream. This kind of thing never happened when we traveled in a motorhome.

Fred is pumping fuel into the truck. A middle-aged man avoids eye contact with me as he circles on foot around the front of the truck. He seems not to care that I know what he is doing. He sizes up the subject, raises his camera, and shoots…our Airstream. His friend, now emboldened, says something in German and follows suit. Click, click, click, he gets several photos to satisfy his aluminum bullet curiosity.

A woman with an instamatic camera approaches us in the campground and requests permission to photograph our silver home. We hear it all of the time…”Look at that!” “How much does one of those cost?” “Those things are so cool!” “Love your Airstream.” “What year is that? It sure looks new.”

And so goes life with the Airstream paparazzi.

Our Airstream Flying Cloud in Bluff, UT

Our Airstream Flying Cloud in Bluff, UT


Mesa Verde National Park: Spruce Tree House

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Mrs. Gallman assigned the reading. It was just another day of homework at first. Then I turned the page and saw the photo. The image captivated me more than anything else in my fifth grade social studies book.

There in the photo, hanging on the side of a cliff was a place where people had lived. The setting stood in stark contrast to the rolling hills of my upstate South Carolina home. My only insights into native people of this land had been the stereotypical characters found on western movies and TV shows.

Really? I thought. People lived in cliffs in our country? I’ll have to see that to believe it. Surely it must be in South America.

Now, here I am—walking down the steep and winding trail to Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park. History is alive as I gaze between the shrubs to see these cliff dwellings ahead. But the trail I walk is for modern tourists. The inhabitants of this community would have accessed Spruce Tree House via foothold and finger-hold niches cut into the rock cliff as they descended from the mesa above.

I stand in silence trying to imagine the life of the inhabitants in this dwelling constructed between 1200 and 1276 AD. In addition to 114 rooms, the community has eight circular ceremonial chambers called kivas all built into a natural cave on the side of a cliff. Fred descends into one of the kivas while I gaze into one where the roof has long since collapsed.

Imagine women grinding corn against a stone in the courtyard while others sit weaving baskets. And then there are those who are creating the distinctive white and black pottery of Mesa Verde. See residents weave turkey feathers or rabbit fur into Yucca cord to create warm clothing. Meanwhile, crops are being farmed on the mesa overhead. No modern tools, no beasts of burden, just ingenuity and hard work.

Smell the smoke of winter fires burning around the clock to keep the community warm. Notice the black soot on the rock overhead. See the animal hides covering the small doors to keep out the cold.

Wooden poles stick out from the stones reflecting the framework of the ancient pueblo’s construction. A small patch of geometric pattern painted on the wall remains and is a reminder that the walls were once upon a time decorated–the urge for creativity and aesthetics an ingrained part of human nature.

Spruce Tree House is the third largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde where an extensive number of archeological remains exist. It captivates the imagination and stimulates curiosity. And well…Mrs. Gallman, even standing in the Spruce Tree House in person, I still find it hard to believe.

IMG_1227 Spruce tree house distant

Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park

IMG_1288 BLOG at Spruce Tree House

In Spruce Tree House


Fred enters a kiva at Spruce Tree House

Fred enters a kiva at Spruce Tree House

Plan B

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Many the cliché about those times when life redirects our intended path. I’ll spare you those and simply say they ring true for us today. Like the GPS, we are now recalculating.

When our air conditioner starts leaking Freon and stops cooling and we’re camping in the desert and there’s not a Dometic service center in town, we recalculate. We (okay I) grumble and sweat and regret that it is the weekend. Then we search the Dometic website for a service center that is authorized to do warranty work.

Recalculating means backtracking 100 miles to Grand Junction, Colorado and we are grateful it is not further. There David Fritzlan assesses our problem, handles the warranty certification, and orders a new AC on Tuesday. By Wednesday night he has it installed. We like David.

Now we are recalculating our route for the rest of our trip. We think we shall head to the mountains for a respite from the desert heat. Feeling grateful and cool in Colorado.

The End of the Road—Canyonlands National Park

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Did someone go crazy with a giant cookie cutter carving this wasteland into random shapes? It would seem so from Grand View Point Overlook in Canyonland National Park. Yet the lay of the land with its deeply scalloped canyons is not the product of a baker’s hand. It is instead the product of millions of years of creation.

Incredible. The view from the high mesa commands the silence of awe.  Standing at an altitude of 6080 feet we see the broken landscape of another world stretch far and wide. Neither gentle nor welcoming, the land below nonetheless demands our respect.

Layers upon layers of deposits created the effect we see in the rocks. Then more than 100 million years later geological factors caused the uplifting of the Colorado Plateau.  But rivers, like people, prefer a state of equilibrium. They wear away at that which disturbs their natural flow.

The Colorado and Green Rivers have thus carved this landscape.  In fact, they have played a monumental role in the creation of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.  The Colorado River has etched so deeply into its canyon as to be hidden from view.

To be here is to experience another aspect of the diversity of our great land.

The end of the road at Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky

The end of the road at Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky



About the Author

I'm Renee Ettline. For twenty-something years my husband Fred and I have been Airstreamers. Since 2005 I've been writing for Airstream Life magazine on every topic from destinations and lifestyle to rivets and tires. Currently you'll find me in a section called, "Living the Life." We've Airstreamed from Alaska to Florida and California to Nova Scotia and loved every minute.