Posts Tagged ‘Airstream’

National Cowboy Museum

Friday, November 1st, 2013

imageTouring along the way we’ve seen all types of museums from extremely professional to homegrown.  So when when we roll into Oklahoma City and realize that there is a cowboy and western museum we aren’t quite sure what to expect. We decide to check it out.

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is no small deal!  We are blown away by the comprehensive nature of  this extraordinary facility.  Look in storefronts in Prosperity Junction a replica of a turn-of-the-century cattle town.  Visit an extensive array of paintings and sculpture.  See exhibits on everything from bunkhouse life, to rodeos, to the West in movies.  The vast array of exhibits includes many other things as well such as firearms, Native American art, the military in the West, and roping.

If you go, and I highly recommend it, allow plenty of time and be sure you pick up a map of the facility when you buy your ticket.  You’ll need it.

School in "Prosperity Junction" at the National Cowboy Museum

School in “Prosperity Junction” at the National Cowboy Museum

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

BLOG IMG_3499Red peppers hang in a cluster from a post where we register our status as visitors at Taos Pueblo. Heading down the dirt road we make our way to the San Geronimo Church courtyard where we will meet our tour guide. Ancient adobe buildings line the streets.

This is our third pueblo visit in the Southwest. While similarities exist with Zuni Pueblo (Arizona) and Acoma Sky City Pueblo (New Mexico) each pueblo has its own unique persona. Each makes us glad we visited.

Taos Pueblo sits just outside the northern edge of the town of Taos, New Mexico. In 1992 Taos Pueblo was recognized by UNESCO as the first settlement to be named to the Living World Heritage Site list. According to our guide, Taos Pueblo has been here about 1000 years.

After a short tour we are allowed to roam around on our own. Taos provides our first chance to wander in and out of pueblo adobe buildings looking at the crafts and wares of the locals. Standing on dirt floors packed hard by the years we appreciate the corner fire places that draw the chill from the fall air.

Clear water moves over stones through the middle of town. This, the Red Willow Creek, is the community’s only source of water. Running water and electricity are not allowed. A wooden foot-bridge over the creek connects the North Side of town with the South Side.

Colorful entry doors of blue, teal and pink spice up monochrome walls. Adobe stands three stories high in places and is further highlighted by the deep blue sky. The craftsmanship of the native people is impressive and we spend time chatting with the locals when the opportunity arises. They talk freely about their traditional arts but traditional beliefs are closely kept and guarded within the village walls.

The flavor of the place is rich but no less so than the flavor of their homemade bread. A young man standing at a simple table espouses the bread’s many uses and I fall prey. A round loaf baked in the traditional outdoor oven (a Horno) makes its way home with us for dinner. Funny how that happened. Just living the Airstream Life.

Sky City Acoma Pueblo

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Over 900 years ago bare feet walked the mesa of Sky City Acoma Pueblo where my boots now tread. As I stand at the edge of the mesa I wonder how they got here. It was certainly not easy to reach with its steep cliffs that rise 370 feet above the desert floor.

We cannot be sure why the Acoma people decided to make this mesa their home. Could it be that they recognized the great defensive posture they would have against intruders? Perhaps they wished to be closer to the rain or the sky.

What we do know is that the Acoma people must have liked it here, for here they remain making Sky City Acoma Pueblo the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. Not all current residents live here year round but it is a living community. Important community ceremonies still take place at Sky City which is the oldest of the three of the Acoma Pueblo communities.

Visiting Sky City Acoma Pueblo is about as close to time travel as you can get. It is living history in its truest form. Over 300 sandstone and adobe buildings line dirt and rock streets and most of the traffic seems to be on foot.

Acoma Pueblo and its San Esteban del Rey Mission constructed between 1629 and 1640 are each the National Register of Historic Monuments. The mission was constructed by the Acoma under forced labor by the Spanish and is noted for its amazing 21,000 square foot adobe construction.

Yet there is a strange dichotomy. Cars, although not many, stand in stark contrast to ancient buildings with native-made pole ladders. Contemporary portable toilets snuggle behind houses to compensate for the lack of indoor toilets.

Robert, our excellent guide, grew up here. No TV, no electricity, no running water. His ancestral home remains in the family. In this matriarchal society each of the homes is owned by Acoma Pueblo women. No one is allowed to sell their home, it must stay in the family.

Caroline Lucario stands outside her home at a small table. She is quick to show me which of her pottery is make the old way and which has been cast in a mold. Like Caroline, other women scattered throughout the Pueblo display the orange, black, and white pottery for which Acoma Pueblo is famous– similar in general appearance but each unique in details. Designs flow from the minds of these women directly onto the pots and that amazes me.

In the traditional Acoma way clay is made from a specific stone ground into a power. The clay is formed into coils and carefully handmade into fine, thin-walled but sturdy pottery. Paint is handmade from various natural sources and brushes are generally handmade from the Yucca plant. One woman told me she prefers to create her brushes from the hair of her children because she can make a finer brush for detailed design or a thicker brush if needed. Another woman proudly shares that she is a sixth generation Acoma potter while a woman at a neighboring table shares that her pottery is in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

The pottery is more than pretty. Each part of the design on a piece of pottery means something. The symbolism is traditional and the thought that goes into each design is phenomenal. A craft passed from generation to generation, rooted in an ancient culture, yet each piece so unique and functional as well. I am totally fascinated.

Acoma Sky City is located off of I-40 about one hour west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You must take a guided tour and be transported to the mesa by tour vehicle. The modern visitor’s center includes a museum, café, and gift shop. It is truly a cultural experience not to be missed.  Learn more on their website here.

Note: There are a couple of RV Parks in the area but  we stayed at Sky City RV Park and Casino. It was about 20-30 minutes from the Sky City Pueblo.  At the RV Park the Airstream was in sight of the Casino.  We’re not gamblers, but we’ve learned that casinos often have reasonably priced food and this campground has discount tickets for meals and Sky City tours.

Sky City Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

Sky City Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

The edge of the Mesa is just a step away from pueblos at Sky City, Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico

The edge of the Mesa is just a step away from pueblos at Sky City, Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico

Silver City Albuquerque Style

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Having friends all over the place is one of the advantages of being active in the Airstream community. There is definitely a spirit of unity among Airstreamers and you never know who might show up at a big rally. With 200 Airstreams at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, it was a perfect place to connect and reconnect with Airstream friends.

We were happy to reconnect with my fellow “Airstream Life” blogger Forrest McClure and his wife Patrice. They had returned to the Balloon Fiesta to share its magic with their two grandsons. Judy and Ken Bechthold were also there from California which was nice since we had not seen them for several years.

Our friends Kate and Don Tyminski showed up from the coast of South
Carolina. Participants of two WBCCI caravans attended the rally and included old friends as well as new. We got to meet people like Ken Johansen and Phil Glassey who we had talked with on the phone but not previously met in person.

And then there was the Good Samaritan, our next door neighbor Charlie Wright. For a variety of reasons we showed up at the rally without a generator. It did not take us long to realize that even with conserving power, coming without a generator was a mistake. Charlie plugged us into his generator which helped keep our trailer batteries charged enough so we could turn on some light and power a morning shot of central heat. We never met Charlie before but his willingness to help a neighbor out sure made our four days of dry camping nicer.

You probably don’t know these people. You may be wondering why I’m writing about them in this blog. I include them because they serve as an example of the advantages of being involved in the Airstream community. In addition to travel and camping experiences, getting involved with the Airstream community is about connecting with good people who share a common interest.

I have an article that will be coming out soon in the print edition of Airstream Life magazine that talks more about ways to get involved in the Airstream Community. I hope you will find it helpful. Happy Airstreaming!

For more on Airstream Life magazine visit the rest of the Airstream Life website.

My favorite balloons. I call this view "Bee Hinds."

My favorite balloons. I call this view “Bee Hinds.”

Bee balloons

Bee balloons

Breathing Fire over Our Airstream

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

A fire-breathing dragon is hovering over my bed, or so it seems.

My eyes pop open. “Is there a hot-air balloon right over the Airstream?” I ask Fred. “Yes, a bunch of them,” he replied. “Where’s the camera?” he asks as he heads to the door.

Firing off his gas flame to gain a bit more lift, the hot-air balloon pilot overhead serves as a curious alarm clock. I snatch on some clothes and head for the door. Circling over our Airstream travel trailer are a sea of hot air balloons.

We’ve been on the balloon field prior to dawn for a few days in a row now and then back on the field for balloon glow and fireworks at night. Today rather than walking down the hill to the balloon launch field we are scheduled to hook up and leave the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta* so to we slept until almost 7 AM.

Over the sea of Airstreams is a magical show of color and movement as hundreds of hot air balloons waltz through the sky. Working the box effect, air currents fairly unique to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the balloons move one direction at one altitude and another direction at a different altitude. Most seem to be circling a large area centered over the flight field. Some drift aloft off into the distance.

Over the days we’ve been here balloons take off, land, and compete in various games. Food vendors selling everything from breakfast burritos and funnel cakes to sandwiches line the “Main Street” at the Balloon field. Native American jewelry and craft vendors join official Fiesta souvenir vendors as well as a multitude of others. In the early morning and evening the so called Main Street is a shoulder-to-shoulder experience.

Diversified events ranging from chainsaw carving to concerts add variety to the week’s events. But of course the best part is the balloons. Young and young-in-spirit smile as colorful, fanciful shapes come to life and overcome gravity. Cheers ring out as each balloon takes flight.

If you have never been…go!

If you have an Airstream recreational vehicle go to the WBCCI rally and stay on the Fiesta grounds. It is dry camping (no hook ups) but it puts you in the middle of the activity. If you stay off the grounds, stay close by and be prepared to get up at 4:30 AM to get through heavy traffic and see the events. Dawn Patrol starts at 5:45 AM and many days the morning’s events are over by 9:00 AM. Competition days run a bit longer. Balloons don’t fly in the afternoon. Evening events include balloon glows and fireworks. It is a big plus to be on the grounds.

See the links in my previous post for details.

Find out about the Dawn Patrol at the Fiesta.

* NOTE: This Balloon Fiesta is a huge event held in Albuquerque, New Mexico and tickets are available to the public. In conjunction with the public event, the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI) which is an Airstream RV owners’ club, sponsors a special events rally for its members. We were attending the larger event by attending the rally which is held on the grounds of the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. The rally lasted four of the nine days of the Fiesta.

View from our Airstream dinette.

View from our Airstream dinette.

Dawn Patrol at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Brrrr…It’s 5:45 AM and 37 degrees in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lights from vendors brighten our path as we weave our way through the sea of people to the sound of loud speaker announcements. The Dawn Patrol on the first day of the 42nd Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has been slightly delayed due to the breeze.

Reluctantly I hand over $4.00 for a cup of coffee hoping it will return circulation to my hands and warm my cockles. Word blasts out that all but one ballon in the Dawn Patrol is ready to launch so we move as quickly as we can through the crowd to reach the gigantic grass field.

All of us here are privileged. This is the only hot air balloon festival in the world where observers can walk all over the field and right up to the balloons while the balloons are being set up and launched.

About twelve balloons make up the forerunner group known as the dawn patrol. By watching their early launch the other balloonists get a sense of wind direction and speeds at different altitudes. As dawn breaks the official Fiesta balloon takes the lead and launches to the tune of the National Anthem as it trails a large American flag beneath its gondola.

Whoosing flames add heat to each balloon. Slowly the remaining Dawn Patrol balloons take flight. It is a exciting sight.

We are here attending the WBCCI International Balloon Fiesta Special Events Rally along with 199 other Airstreams. The rally centers on the local event and has prime, (although no hook-ups) VIP parking adjacent to the balloon field.

More coming soon on the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and the rally.


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

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.