Archive for October, 2011

Rich’s Moving Castle

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Thanks to Eleanor and Bill for putting an appropriate literary theme on my few days in the Caravel.  Like Howl’s Moving Castle, the Caravel never paused for long in this recent chapter of its four-decade adventures.

The saga left off on Friday, when I was making a coffee last for three hours so I could recharge my stuff and get some work done.  It was a beautiful sunny day and things were going well.  After the work was done, an electronic trail of crumbs (a waypoint stored in the GPS) led me back to the campground, otherwise I might never have found it again.  I spent all of 10 minutes installing the new braided-stainless hoses in the Caravel’s bathroom and — ta-da! — no more leaks.   Or so I thought.

That afternoon the bulk of the rally participants showed up and things got lively.  Among many other people, I ran into Tiffani and Deke of “Weaselmouth,” who I’d last seen at Alumapalooza in May, and we got into an evening-long conversation during the potluck dinner.  I went back to the Caravel that night pleased that the rally was turning out well, but a little sorry as well because it would be time to get going homeward soon.  The rest of the people were just getting started with their Halloween decorations and friendly yakking.  For me, the Moving Castle (aka Caravel) was destined to depart in the morning.

I lingered on Saturday until about 10 a.m. while the gang was cooking up a huge breakfast outside at the pavilion.  People kept asking me how far I had to drive to get home, and when I said, “Oh, about 1,000 miles” the second or third time it really hit me: I’ve got to get going. There were about 16-17 hours of driving ahead of me, plus stops, and very little of it would be interesting driving.

Like the little Bubble I pulled from Santa Fe, the Caravel is a joy to tow.  There’s no fuss, no bad behavior, no complicated hitching equipment.  I try to keep the fresh water tank at least half full to give the trailer better stability, but otherwise I just drop it on the ball and away we go.  I don’t trust it as much as I do the big Safari with the Hensley hitch, because I know the Safari absolutely cannot sway with that setup, but the Caravel is marvelously stable at any speed I care to drive.  Of course, it is equipped pretty close to the original factory configuration.  Often I’ll see small vintage trailers that tow horribly, and inevitably it’s the result of owner modifications (air conditioners, rear-mounted spare tires, altered floorplans or heavy household-style cabinetry) that corrupt the delicate center of gravity.  The original designs took care to ensure that when the trailers were loaded with water, food, personal items, etc., the trailer would remain stable.

I made a few stops along the way for errands.  The day before the GL320 gave me a warning that it wanted a top-up of “AdBlue” fluid, which is also commonly known as Diesel Exhaust Fluid.  These days you can find the stuff in any auto parts store, truck stop, and even some Wal-Marts, and it’s cheap at about $12.99 for 2.5 gallons.  I put five gallons in the special tank that holds the AdBlue, which should be good for another 7,000 miles or so.  I’ll top it off this week for a full 15,000 mile range.  I mention this only because a lot of people are still scared about the stuff, thinking it’s expensive, or complicated, or frequent, and it’s really no much more hassle than filling the window washer fluid.  Three-tenths of a cent per mile is a small price to pay for clean diesel emissions, in my opinion.

I’ve wanted to spend a night at Monahans Sandhills State Park (just off I-20 a little west of Odessa TX), but the timing has never worked out before. This time I hit Monahans about a half hour before sunset, which made it a great stopover point.  The park has only 26 spaces, which made me think I might get skunked on a spot since it was Saturday night, but it turned out to be only about half full.  About half of the spaces are short back-ins that were perfect for the Caravel but wouldn’t have worked for the 30-foot Safari.

I have to take this opportunity to gripe about a small thing.  Many state parks use an honor system for late arrivals.  You fill out a little envelope and put your nightly camping fee in it.  This envelope gets deposited into an “iron ranger” (a metal box) and picked up by the staff daily.  You have to indicate your campsite on the envelope, but you haven’t gotten a campsite yet, which means you have to go to the campground, find a site, then come back to the iron ranger.

At Monahans the iron ranger is at the entrance gate, but the campground is about 1.3 miles away.  By the time I was parked in the site, it was nearly dark.  Being an overnight stop I would have preferred not to unhitch but I also wasn’t psyched to walk 2.6 miles roundtrip in the dark along a narrow, winding, shoulder-less road in the cold.  I wanted to make dinner and fire up Calcifer, and I also needed to refill the water tank.  To get it all done quickly, the easiest thing was to unhitch and drive back to the entrance gate to deposit my envelope.  Other state parks set up two iron rangers, one at the gate and one at the campground for the convenience of their visitors, so there’s my suggestion to the powers-that-be.

This minor quibble aside, I liked the park, which is billed as the “Sahara of the Southwest.”  It’s not perfect by any means, but it is very scenic for a place that’s just off a major Interstate.  The downsides stem from the fact that this is oil country.  I caught an occasional whiff of petroleum in the air, and through the night I could hear the sound of an oil well being drilled somewhere off to the northwest:  WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP-whumpwhumpwhump…

The morning found me with 555 miles to go.  I debated whether to plow ahead or to stop along the way.  There were places I would have liked to stop, and friends to visit, but there was also a place I wanted to be more, namely home with E&E. Back in Tucson they were decorating the house for Halloween, and Eleanor was cooking things.  On the other hand, in the Caravel I’d discovered yet another leak, this time under the kitchen faucet.  I took this as a sign that I needed to get back to home base and have a long chat with the Caravel (wrench in hand) about its incontinence problem.

To be fair, the trailer is doing spectacularly well, especially considering its age.  (The leaks are all from the same type of flexible plastic faucet hose, at the compression fittings.  I don’t know if they are failing from age, heat, bad design, or over-tightening, but they are all getting replaced this week.)  Other than that, the Caravel has performed admirably.  We covered 1,000 miles at highway speeds, and encountered some pretty awful back roads too.  Not a rivet was disturbed on its tight little structure.

More important, I was entirely comfortable through the entire trip, with my little aluminum soap bubble to house me at night and Calcifer to keep me warm.  No matter how much I had to drive, at the end of every day I knew I would be back in my home, with my familiar things and favorite foods waiting.  An Airstream really is a moving castle, where you have everything you need with you no matter where in the world you go.  This is the magic of trailer travel.  Even though I just finished unpacking from this trip, I’m looking forward to the next one already.  Most likely it will be in mid-December.

A dark and stormy night …

Friday, October 28th, 2011

The Caravel is a wonderful trailer, into which we’ve lavished attention, parts, and buckets of money, but still it has a few bats in the belfry.  (Note: Halloween-y reference in appreciation of the upcoming holiday.)   I fired up the water heater in the morning, took a shower, and discovered several new problems.  Problems are to be expected in any travel trailer as a result of time, miles, or — worst of all — long-term storage, but it just seems that at some point I should get into it and find that everything works as expected.  So far, no luck on that one.

In fairness, the problems are small: water leaks in both of the supply lines leading to the bathroom faucet, and another water leak at the water heater output line.  It’s not that the issues are big or expensive, it’s simply that they are there when they shouldn’t be.  None of this plumbing leaked last April when I last used the trailer, and it’s only a few years old.  So what happened?

Well, storage happened.  There are some types of plumbing that are better than others for long-term reliability.  Nearly every part of the Caravel has been replaced or renovated in the past few years — except the plumbing.  It looked good, so we left it, and that has turned out to be a mistake.  I think these leaks are number 5, 6, and 7 since we put it back into service about two years ago.  Every compression fitting seems to be failing, possibly as a result of thermal stresses (heat in the summer, cold in the winter) or maybe just age.  Some have been fixable with teflon tape, others have required outright replacement.

Paul fixed the water heater leak by replacing a kludged set of rigid plastic fittings (going around a tight corner) with something more elegant.  That got me to the rally site in the Grasslands yesterday, although I have had to keep an aluminum pan under the sink to catch the water that is leaking from the other two leaks in the bathroom.  (After every use of the water, I turn off the water pump and de-pressurize the system to minimize the leakage.)

The other plumbing surprise was the smell of the hot water.  Yikes.  Imagine a mixture of onion, wasabi, and sulfur, and then take a shower in it.  Phew.  It was a result of leaving the trailer in storage all summer.  I should have drained the water heater before storing it.  Fortunately, I didn’t smell like it when I came out of the shower.  After that experience, we drained the hot water tank and flushed it out with fresh water, which seems to have mostly eliminated the issue.  I’m going to do a full flush of the system and sanitize it when I get to a full hookup campground, or at home, whichever comes first.

So with the emergency tweaks done, we lined up the rigs in the  driveway and set off. There were three of us: Paul & Anne’s 1955 Cruiser, my 1968 Caravel, and Pat’s 1966 Globe Trotter.  We paused in Decatur for lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe and then headed up to the Grasslands, in a steady cold drizzle.

There’s not much positive to say about the first night, unfortunately.  It was cold, windy, rainy, and a little muddy.  Six Airstreams were parked at the primitive campground we are using in the Grasslands, and all of us hunkered down for the night with the heat on (well, those of us who have heat –Paul never got around to installing his) and stayed inside.

I watched a movie and studied some travel books I’d brought.  The catalytic heater was my best friend, hissing quietly and glowing dimly all night long.

Today, however, is another story.  The weathermen were right: it is sunny, cool, and dry, and the wind is gone.  It’s the kind of weather that Texans have been waiting for all summer.  Airstreams are trickling into the campground for the weekend. I have no idea how many we are expecting, but when I left this morning there were 10 already.  I took off for a few hours in nearby Decatur to get the parts needed to fix the rest of the Caravel’s plumbing issues, and to take a couple of hours at the local Starbuck’s to catch wifi and charge up the laptop & phone batteries.  That’s where I am now, milking an iced decaf Americano with cream and hazelnut as long as possible.  This afternoon I’ll install the new pipes in the Caravel.  Tonight there will be a potluck dinner and I expect to find a few friends will have arrived when I return to the campground, so it should be a much more interesting evening than yesterday’s dark & stormy night.

Fast forward through Texas

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Hey, a day that went entirely according to plan!  That almost never happens, and especially when the plan includes a nearly impossible sequence of events like today’s did.

I started up at 5:30 local time in Santa Fe (an hour earlier than Tucson time, so 4:30 to my body clock).   I was the first guy at the motel’s continental breakfast at 6:10 a.m.  While I munched a bowl of cereal and yogurt I watched the local weather guru predicting a sharp drop in temperatures, gusty winds, and probably snow showers in the coming evening.  Time to blow out of town, I thought.

And so I did, with the ’56 Bubble complacently tagging along.  The trailer towed like a dream all day, even (once I adjusted the tongue weight and got my courage up) at a rollicking 70 MPH along the byways of west Texas.  I kept checking the tires, the bearings, the hitch, and the lights, but found no problems at all. The only minor issue was that a window cracked early on, which I taped up.  It was probably caused by flexing of the trailer body.  The trailer is known to have some floor rot, which will cause such issues.  I can’t blame it for being a bit crotchety, after all it has been on the road for more than half a century.  Eventually it will be all fixed up and I am looking forward to seeing it.

(Sorry for no pictures.  I was moving so fast and stopping so little that I never broke out the camera.  I wish I had taken a few more shots of the Bubble in action.  This is one of those times that I need a co-pilot just to help document the trip.  I tried to recruit a couple of buddies last week, but nobody was available.)

Fast-forward 520 miles:  I landed at my destination in Texas by 5 p.m., dropped off the trailer, visited with my friends for an hour, and pushed on 100 more miles to Paradise TX.  It was 8 p.m. by the time I arrived at Paul & Anne’s house, pitch-black out there in the countryside, and I found the Caravel neatly parked in the same place we had parked our Safari just about a month ago.  It was plugged in, with a full fresh water tank, and the refrigerator cooling.  After 1140 miles of driving in the past two days, the warm glow of the Caravel was a welcome sight indeed.

Now I’m set up inside, refrigerator loaded with drinks and snacks, my clothes put away, laptop and wireless Internet all set up, bed made — in other words, Home Sweet Home.  But I get only one night to relax because sometime tomorrow I will be hitching up and following Paul, Anne and Pat (in a third trailer) over to do some early setup for a weekend rally in the Grasslands.

The weather is supposed to be abysmal tomorrow (rain, 54 degrees) but who cares?  The early arrivals at these things are always good people to hang with — and if I don’t feel like going outside I can stay inside the Caravel and watch the rain while I do a little catchup work on the computer.  Now that the hard part of this trip is done, it feels like any small challenge I might face in the next couple of days will be absolutely nothing.

Tucson-Santa Fe roadtrip

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

It has been a good day.  I launched from Tucson about 8 a.m. and figured I had plenty of time to make my 5:30 appointment in Santa Fe.  The weather was as perfect as I’d expect from the southwest in October, traffic on I-10 was light, and at 75 MPH (the speed limit) it looked like smooth sailing.

Alas, I forgot that this time of year it’s an hour later in New Mexico.  Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings but New Mexico does.  Drat.  I trimmed my breaks to the bare minimum and opened up the throttle a tad.  The GL’s great range meant that I wouldn’t have a fuel stop all day, and Eleanor had packed snacks for the car, which meant that in 500 miles I only stopped three times for about five minutes each.  It all worked out.  By 4:30 I was in Santa Fe.

So I was an hour early for my appointment downtown, which gave me time to go check out the Bubble.  It was parked in a storage lot amidst a forest of weeds and sandspurs, which made kneeling down to check the underside a literal pain.  It had a cracked window, a bit of drooping belly pan (which I’m going to keep an eye on), the brakes don’t work, and the interior is gutted.  But it’s a cute little thing, only 15 feet long, and it’s one of those trailers that has obvious potential for an owner who cares to invest a lot of time and/or money.  I like it but I like the fact that the Caravel is done, more.  I taped the cracked glass, attached the temporary Texas ferry permit, and tested the 7-blade to 6-pin adapter to make sure the lights worked.  All good.

Since my next stop was downtown, I didn’t want to take the Bubble just yet.  In town I met Rebecca, who co-owns a food trailer called “Slurp.”  We had a very rushed photo shoot, trying to beat the sunset, and then I headed back to the storage lot to hitch up the Bubble.

It was nearly dark, so I worked by the light of a headlamp.  That’s when I discovered that the hitch mount I had brought was too low for the trailer.  The ball needed to be removed and installed upside down so that instead of yielding a two-inch drop, the mount would give a 3/4″ rise.  They’re designed for that.

I was patting myself on the back for being ready for this possibility. I brought with me a massive wrench specifically for the nut on a hitch ball.  Problem was, I couldn’t get the nut off. I fought with it for a while, and then of course the rain started.  That’s how it goes, from self-congratulation to humbleness in just a few minutes.  Eventually I got the nut off and completed the hitching job, installed the temporary license plate, and gave the whole trailer a good look-over one more time.  Then I slowly towed it through the lot with the windows open to listen for horrible sounds of impending mechanical failure (there were none), paused a few times to check that the umbilical line wasn’t binding, and got going to the hotel for the night.

Tomorrow will be another big day on the road.  The trip plan calls for 520 miles and they won’t be fast ones like I enjoyed today.  The tires on this trailer are from 2004, and atop that I am not yet sure that there’s sufficient tongue weight in the trailer (because it’s gutted).  Insufficient tongue weight can cause a dangerous sway at speed.   I’m going to load all my heavy stuff into the front of the trailer in the morning just to add some insurance, and I’ll be stopping several times in the first hour or two, to check everything over.

But I have to admit that I already like this little trailer.  It’s cute as a button, light as a feather, and it seems to be happy behind the Mercedes.  Tomorrow I wouldn’t be surprised to get a few thumbs-up from people on the highway as we toodle along through Texas.


Tree house in the carport

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Our lives have been so centered on traveling with our Airstream that when we don’t have travels planned it’s sometimes a struggle to figure out what to do.  The blog goes quiet (you may have noticed) while we take care of the non-traveling part of life and find our footing.  Fortunately, the feeling of being adrift never lasts for long.

We arrived in Tucson less than three weeks ago and spent the first week just digging out from the piles of work that had accumulated while we were traveling.  Both Eleanor and I try to keep up with stuff, but there’s no doubt that traveling for short periods is actually harder than full-timing.  With a short trip there’s the temptation to let things slide while you rush around to make the most of the time you have away from home.  When full-timing, there’s rarely any time pressure, so we never minded pausing for a week or two to catch up on life.  The beach was still going to be there when we got the laundry done.

This last trip was different: it was loaded with obligations and tight schedules, and we were rushing to get back to Tucson.   But a week after we arrived, the bulk of the obligations were resolved and suddenly we were looking for things to do.  So we began talking and planning, and reaching out to friends.  In retrospect that might have been a little early for us.   I discovered that our friends Ingo and Ehiku were going to be coming through I-10 on their way to California, without their Airstream, so I invited them to spend a night in our Airstream, which is fully hooked up in the carport as always.  They accepted, and suddenly we were faced with a weekend of rapid cleanup, because the house and Airstream were both disaster areas.  Well, at least it forced us to get it done.  They came by on Sunday and shared a big bowl of bucatini with a meaty homemade sauce with us.

The next day after they were gone Eleanor and I went out to the carport, and spent a moment reveling in the coziness of our immobile Airstream now converted into a guest apartment.  She had set out little treats on the dinette, a selection of teas and coffee on the kitchen counter, and drinks in the refrigerator.   The air conditioning was keeping the interior at a comfortable and dry 78 degrees.  The beds were made with fresh sheets and everything had been cleaned.  “Why,” (we thought) “do we only let guests enjoy this space?”  The Airstream is at its best when it is parked in a beautiful place — and also in the carport at home. It has that wonderful secret getaway feelings of a kids’ tree house: no adults and no concerns allowed. (Girls are OK.)  We’ll have to spend some time there.

We will have the clubhouse for a while, because the Airstream is going to stay parked until at least Christmas.  But that’s not to say we’ll be stationary.  In the aftermath of our overnight visitors I began thinking about all of the things I want to do this winter … and that led to a big planning session that has consumed much of the week.

The first trip will start tomorrow.   I’m finally going to retrieve the 1968 Caravel from Texas, so we at least have a chance to use it in southern AZ or CA before the nights get too long and chilly (our brief “winter” in December and January).  In the interest of avoiding boredom on the Interstate, a few stops are planned s that it will be more than a straight-line trip.  In fact, the first stop will be Santa Fe, where I’m stopping to photograph a trailer for a future magazine article, and pick up a ’56 Bubble for a friend.

I don’t normally ferry trailers around but in this case it was sort of on my way and it seemed like an interesting challenge:  pick up a 55 year old trailer that hasn’t moved in a year and tow it 500 miles to a new home in Texas.  So many things can go wrong.   All I know about this trailer is that it has recently had the wheel bearings re-packed, and the tires date from 2004.  Typically when you find an unrestored old trailer you’ve got to be prepared for all sorts of problems.  Do the lights work?  I’ve had belly pans separate on the highway, dragging on the asphalt.  I’ve had brakes fail, and ball couplers rusted solid.  When Rob B was ferrying my 1953 Flying Cloud through New York a few years ago, the wheel bearings disintegrated and he had to ditch the trailer in someone’s front yard until parts arrived.  Last year I helped a buddy move a trailer out of Austin and the front end of the trailer had separated so much that the body literally bounced on the frame for 200 miles.  So I’ve got parts and tools for all sorts of problems, and I hope I don’t need any of them.

It would be easier not to do this job, but so many people have done it for me that I feel it’s time to pay it forward.  I’d like to think that moving a vintage trailer takes moxie and builds character.  But even if it doesn’t, it will be an interesting experience, and I’ll try to blog it as I go.



Life in the third dimension

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Ever since my last encounter with John Long, a Bowlus owner who is also an accomplished photographer, I have been more curious about stereo or “3D” photography.  John is one of the acknowledged experts on the subject and showed me the beautiful portfolio of stereo images that decorates his home.

Now back in Tucson, I’ve started to play with 3D photography myself.  Composing a good stereo image is quite different from 2D photography, and it’s fun.  For practice purposes, I’ve been using “3D Camera,” which costs only a buck-ninety-nine.  The photo quality is limited by the iPhone camera, but for learning how to compose a good stereo image it’s quick and easy.

These images are all color anaglyphs, which means you’ll need a pair of those red-green glasses with paper frames.  If you’ve bought a DVD in the past couple of years that is in 3D, there’s probably a pair of those glasses in the DVD case.  If you don’t have a pair of those glasses, the image just looks blurry and crummy.  Click on the images to enlarge them.

This has been an interesting way to document the day.  The weather has been spectacular in Tucson lately, with every day in the mid 70s.  So we’ve been doing outdoor stuff and hitting the events of interest around town.  Today we dropped in on the Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona for an exhibit on “gas” (meaning elemental gases, not gasoline).  Sounds boring but it really wasn’t, since they kicked in plenty of neon. Above you can see Eleanor studying a neon sign through a spectroscope.

I’ve learned that shooting people is difficult to do well in stereo unless you have the type of camera that shoots two images at once.  With the iPhone I’m using the “cha cha” method, which means I shoot the left image, and then move the camera a few inches for the right image.  In between the shots, you don’t want anything to move.  As with HDR, still lifes are easier to shoot.

Downstairs in the Flandrau is a permanent exhibit on minerals, which Eleanor and Emma always love for the many fantastic examples.  For them, it’s like a prelude to the annual Tucson Gem Show.  One of the photos here is a display case from the Mineral Museum.

Our next stop was the Sonoran Glass Art Academy, where you can watch glass art being blown.  Emma made a pumpkin with the leadership of one of the staff.  It’s cooling in the kiln now, and we’ll pick it up in a few days.  The photo here shows some of the other pumpkins that have been made.

Once I feel I’ve gotten a handle on stereo composition, I’ll switch to the Nikon D90 and a stereo processing application on the Mac.  This will take longer, but the results should be much better.

I’m tempted to upload more 3D images as I get better at the technique, but I don’t want to freak out the blog readers who don’t have access to anaglyphic glasses.  So don’t expect more here.  At some point I’ll open up a Flickr album for the best shots made with the Nikon and reference that for those who are interested.


Getting Koozie at home

Friday, October 7th, 2011

It’s always good to have an uneventful return to home base.  Our last day’s drive was notable only for the headwinds that dragged down our fuel economy (11.3 MPG for the trip, dreadful for this tow vehicle).  We stopped a few times to relax, swat a few flies that had hitched a ride in Texas, and make phone calls, and finally pulled into Tucson about 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

The early arrival was by design; we knew we had a lot to do.  For the past few weeks I’ve been letting some pieces of work slide just because I haven’t had time, and I’m overdue to get serious about projects in the pipeline.  Likewise, Eleanor had been mentally compiling a list of things to do once we arrived, and so we were both dreading the onslaught that would begin the moment we parked the Airstream.

Our neighbor Mike made re-entry a little nicer.  He planted “FOR SALE” signs in front of our house.  You gotta love neighbors who care about you enough to do something like that.  We all had a good laugh about it, but the next day found out that our neighbor Dottie, an elderly lady who is very sweet, thought the signs were real and was a bit upset about the possibility of us moving away.  We reassured her we weren’t planning to leave permanently and later Eleanor said, “Now Mike is on my list [for upsetting Dottie].” But I’m still sort of chuckling about Mike’s prank.

The first 24 hours back were brutal because our “to do” lists kept getting longer instead of shorter.  I reminded Eleanor and myself that we can’t let the magnitude of everything we need to do overwhelm us.  “Look at the next step, not the mountain.”  If we were full-timing, this would have been one of those weeks when we found a good spot to park and sit for five or six days while catching up on everything.  That’s actually nicer, because in that situation we would be somewhere fresh and interesting while we caught up.  It’s a drag to come home after a month-long trip and have a pile of work facing you.  But I’d rather be busy than not, and I do like my job — well, most of it.

Last night was one of those fun opportunities that comes with the job.  David Beaudette, a former HVAC contractor from Michigan, called me a few weeks ago to arrange a meeting when we got back.  He is selling a light-up drink holder called a “Koozielight,” and he’s a fan of Airstreams.  We met up late last night at El Guero Canelo (because hardly any restaurants are serving after 9 p.m. in Tucson on a weeknight) for a little Sonoran chow and a chat.

David and his business partner Scott Kusmirek drove down from Phoenix and we worked out a deal.  I think we’ll have Koozielights for everyone at Alumapalooza next year, which should be cool for all the Happy Hours under the awnings.  And yes, that’s a real tattoo on David’s arm.  He really believes in his product.

We aren’t even thinking about Airstream travel for a few weeks, at least.  But the Airstream is still in use.  We’ve got it all hooked up to water, sewer and electric.  Yesterday I was wiped out from too much work, and wandered out to the Airstream for a short break.  When it is parked in the carport I think it is at its most cozy state, because the brick walls of the carport muffle sounds from the area, and dim sunlight light to the interior, which invites napping.  The Airstream isn’t going anywhere, but it is still a great place to hang out.  It’s like a little private clubhouse.

It’s also a great guest room.  So part of the work Eleanor is doing right now involves cleaning out most of our stuff, doing all the laundry, and putting a few snacks and drinks in the refrigerator. Then our little carport motel will be open for business.  We may be the primary guests over the next few weeks, since we like going in there as much as anyone, and right now we aren’t being inundated by snow-crazed northerners looking for an escape.  In February, there may be a waiting list …


Rockhound State Park, Deming, NM

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Once again I am compelled to start the blog with the phrase, WE ARE FINE.  Yesterday some large dust storms swept across I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, resulting in several major accidents, deaths, and closure of the Interstate for hours.  We were 300 miles away at the time.  We are coming home from Texas, and so wouldn’t be traveling that section of road west of Tucson anyway.  These dust storms are a serious problem and I hope that some better safeguards can be put in place for travelers so that we never see such a horrible series of pileups again.

In contrast, we were in west Texas last night and enjoyed a very pleasant drive down the last of Texas Rt 180 to the El Paso area.  Normally I hate going through El Paso with the trailer, as traffic on I-10 can be hairy. This time we were well positioned to try the Rt 375 loop around El Paso through Ft Bliss and Franklin Mountain State Park. That turned out to be a great way to go, except for the grade up the Franklin Mountains on the section known as the “Woodrow Bean Transmountain Drive.”  The GL320 didn’t like that.  Most of the time it does very well but with 7,500 pounds of trailer attached it does tend to bog down on grades over 8%.  Like the diesel Mercedes of the 1970s, it will always get there — just not very quickly.

The best thing about this route is that it drops you off very close to Rudy’s.  This is the last stop for Texas barbecue heading west.  We picked up a couple of pounds of brisket since it freezes well, and a bit more to give to friends in Tucson who have been watching our house.  From there, it’s quick two hour drive across southern New Mexico to Deming, where we have parked at Rockhound State Park, a place we have visited before.

The same weather pattern that brought dust storms to Tucson sparked numerous thunderstorms sound of here.  The campground at Rockhound sits on an amphitheater-like slope which gave us a fantastic view of the lightning all evening.  We got rumbles and a few spatters of rain but otherwise it was just a clear balmy night with a show provided by nature.

Eleanor filled up the memory card of her camera taking pictures of the scene (as you can see here, using the bumper of the car as a platform), and trying to capture some of the lightning on video (unfortunately, not very successful).  It was that kind of photogenic night, but I didn’t take a single photo with the D90.  I just wanted to watch it all happen.

From here our next stop is home.  Work has been piling up on me the past few days, and Emma needs to get her orthodontic repair.  For the last few days I’ve had a list growing of things that need to be done in order to make a smooth transition back to home life, and more things that need doing once we are settled.

From prior years I know that the hardest part of coming off a long trip is the psychological aspect.  It’s jarring to suddenly be parked at home after weeks or months away.  Nowhere to go, nothing new to see, just the routine of suburbia.  It can be a little depressing after the sustained exultation of a new place every few days.

That’s why I develop lists and ideas of things I want to do once we get home.  Being busy upon arrival helps smooth the transition, and the list gives us all things to anticipate.  The season is becoming ideal for travel and exploration in southern Arizona, so we’ll definitely look for outdoor things to keep us busy.

The immediate tasks are less interesting.  When we leave the house I use USAA’s “store vehicle” feature on the cars we’ve left behind, which cuts our insurance premium by 60%.  Now that we’re coming back, I need to get online or make a quick call to restore coverage.  Likewise, I’ll call our DSL provider and remove the “vacation hold” on that service, set up a new mail forwarding schedule with St Brendan’s Isle so that our mail comes to the house weekly, and finally put the Verizon Wireless air card on hold since we won’t be using it for a few months.  These little tricks save us hundreds of dollars every time we go on a long trip (or come home), so it’s worth exploring what services you can suspend when you travel too.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Guadalupe Mountains is one of those worthy national parks that we’ve repeatedly failed to explore adequately despite good intentions.  The park includes some historic sites that we have visited, but the big attraction is a network of hiking trails that have a great reputation and are undoubtedly beautiful.  We’ve never stayed long enough to do the big hikes.

Sadly, this visit will be the same.  Our stop here was on impulse, because we were tired and the idea of sleeping in the midst of the mountains in a national park sounded a lot better than parking in some nondescript RV park near Las Cruces.  Guadalupe has no hookups or dump station, but at $8 a night it’s hard to complain.

The tent area of the campground is pretty nice, surrounded by natural high desert vegetation.  The RV area is an asphalt parking lot with closely spaces sites delineated by white painted lines, and a bathroom nearby.  Our 48-foot combination just barely fit in the length of a campsite space, saving me from having to unhitch.  The fifth wheel guys all had to park their trucks elsewhere.

I can’t recommend the campground on amenities but the access to hiking trails and the views are spectacular.  The morning and evening light plays on the surrounding mountains and changes dramatically with the passage of clouds.

Having just hiked in Carlsbad we weren’t inclined to do much more than take a short walk around the park roads before dinner.  Eleanor had a pork loin she’d defrosted and which had to be cooked, so that was dinner.  She had planned to see a grocery store before cooking the pork, but the closest one to here is about 70 miles away, so she improvised with canned pears, red wine, and onions, and it came out great.

There had been an ambitious suggestion by Eleanor that we get up early and do a quick 4.2-mile hike on the Devil’s Hallway trail, but that was a non-starter.  Or to be more accurate, Emma was a non-starter, waking up slowly.  And then it rained, sealing the fate of our hike.  But we have pledge to visit Guadalupe again sometime (which will be our fourth visit) and really spend a few days to hike the trails.

Carlsbad Caverns National Monument, NM

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

We aren’t huge fans of the camping options near Carlsbad Caverns, so we devised a strategy:  we’d spend one night at White’s City with full hookups ($33) and then haul the Airstream up to the parking lot of Carlsbad Caverns, about 6 miles away.  A quick look at Google Maps revealed that there was plenty of space in the lot for long rigs, and being a Monday we figured park visitation would be fairly low.

This worked out but the park was far from deserted.  We got one of the last long spaces in the RV area of the lot.  Tour buses had shown up early, disgorging dozens of seniors and possibly a school group or two.

Because we arrived only a few minutes before the 10 a.m. “Kings Palace Tour,” we had to skip hiking down the vast and dramatic Natural Entrance route.  This is the first time we’ve ever ridden the elevator down to the Big Room.  It’s an ear-popping experience equivalent to a high-speed elevator in a 75-story building.

The caverns stay at 56 degrees all the time, and it’s fairly humid.  It’s fine for an hour or so in almost any clothing, because you’re walking around, but even with a sweatshirt I always get cold after a couple of hours.  Sitting on the concrete benches speeds up the chill, too.  We tried to keep moving so we could stay long enough to see everything.  Volunteers were in the cave, meticulously cleaning lint that has accumulated from the 35 million people who have visited, and they were dressed sensibly for the “weather” inside.  You can see them in the picture above, working by the light of their headlamps.

Not many people choose to exit the cave through the Natural Entrance.  It’s a steep hike (on paved trails) about 1.3 miles long, ascending 750 feet.  In fact, we didn’t run into anyone heading the same direction except for a solo Park Ranger.  Halfway through the hike I finally warmed up enough to take off my sweatshirt.  With this route out, we figured our total walking distance for the day was about 4.0 miles, all underground.

Since Emma didn’t yet have a Junior Ranger badge from Carlsbad, we stopped for lunch and she worked on it at the table in the cafeteria.  This is the only Junior Ranger badge she’s earned on this trip, since we’ve uncharacteristically made very few stops at National Parks.

Our “America the Beautiful” pass expired in September too, so we just renewed it while at Carlsbad.  It’s still a great value for anyone who visits more than a couple of park sites each year.  Back home in Tucson it gets us free parking at Sabino Canyon, free access to the Catalina Highway overlooks and parking, and free access to Saguaro National Park.

Our plan from Carlsbad was to head down to I-10 (El Paso) and look for overnight camping near Las Cruces, but after all the underground hiking we were more inclined to take it easier and just crash somewhere nearby.  Forty miles away we arrived at Guadalupe National Park (Texas), which has a small campground, and pulled in to spend the night among the mountains.  More on that tomorrow.

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