Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Slowly moving down to the RGV

I arrived back to San Antonio on Sunday, November 18th.  John survived my absence in style: ate out often and picked up a new set of golf clubs for his birthday!  I do believe he’s looking forward to a winter of golfing with Tony, Bill, Fred & Bill…

Late afternoon found us moving across town to Iron Horse RV Service for our appointment tomorrow so that we can get the car set up for towing.  The poor technician had a pretty hard time removing grills and cutting into a brand new car!  They also checked out our “smoky” generator and installed a new AC breaker.  The whole process took a couple of days and on Wednesday morning, November 21st, we moved back to Admiralty.

John ate out again without me on Thanksgiving: the RV park had a potluck, but I wasn’t feeling too good so he went alone.

We spent the next week doing odds ‘n ends, including John’s VA appointment and even went to a movie.  And, washed the car a couple of times.  It just doesn’t do to have a dirty new car!

On Friday, November 29, we drove across town to see John’s dad’s 1974 Airstream trailer that we had sold earlier this year and to give them the Airstream book that we had bought for John’s dad years ago.  Wow!!  It’s really shiny now!


The folks who bought it are really enjoying fixing it up and using it.  It’s always nice to have something like that go to someone who appreciates it.

Afterwards, we wandered down to the Riverwalk to see the Christmas lights.  Beautiful! 



They drape what looks like zillions of lights all over the trees.  The picture isn’t very good but it really is pretty.


Even the Alamo was lit up.


We had a nice leisurely dinner while listening to some Junior High choirs and then headed home.

On Saturday, December 1, we enjoyed a yummy burger place with John’s cousin, Judy & husband, Rick.  On December 2nd, we drove over to Victoria for an overnight visit with RGV friends, Dick & Karin.  And, on Tuesday, December 4, we drove up to Cabela’s in Buda for a quick lunch with our friend, Merle and his new wife, Jan.  (Merle is the guy that we travelled back from Alaska with in September 2008.)  I’ve probably said this several times before, but one of the neatest things about this unusual lifestyle of ours is that we get to see far-flung friends and family lots oftener!

Wednesday December 5: time to travel to Weslaco for what will probably be our last winter in the RGV for at least awhile.  We no longer have the family responsibilities there and it’s getting time to get back to our original travel plan…  So, after a quick trip to the VA for one last appointment, we headed out at 11:45 and arrived at Magic Valley a bit after 5:10 p.m. – 260 miles and now it’s time to settle in for the winter!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kids Again for Mom’s Birthday

Last summer, my brother Mike had the idea to celebrate our Mom’s 80th birthday with all of the six kids in Alaska (we’re scattered out between Alaska, Oregon, Kansas and wherever I happen to be).  Our Dad’s 80th birthday had been celebrated during a family reunion at Priest Lake, Idaho in 2010, so this seemed like a great idea!

Besides, Mom and Dad had for some time been talking about some of their ideas and wishes for future planning now that they were in their “Golden Years” and they really wanted to have a chance to discuss this kind of stuff with their six kids.

So on Saturday, November 10th, the out-of-towners descended on Wasilla, Alaska although brother Jon ran into flight delays in Kansas and didn’t actually arrive for several days.  The female family members who lived up there – sister Deb, sister-in-law Alana, niece Danae and daughter-in-law Kari – had all been busy planning the big birthday party for Sunday, the 11th.  We had a fun time with a gorgeous cake, fun decorations and lots of yummy food!  Thanks, gals!!!

The rest of the week was spent reminiscing and helping Mom & Dad with some household projects, including installing a new dishwasher and some computer work.

One evening was set aside for the “big” family discussion.  This was the first time we could remember having just the eight of us together since we were all adults and it was a truly amazing experience to feel the years fall away and be just the “kids” again!  Mike did an outstanding job of keeping the discussion on track and I believe it was very helpful to Mom & Dad to be able to express their ideas and wishes and also to hear our reactions.  We highly recommend that all families try to do this and we are certainly hopeful that this discussion will smooth the way for all of us as the years go by and we need to deal with changes/crises/etc.

The three brothers from out of town stayed at Mom & Dad’s and I stayed at Eric & Kari’s (sister Deb’s upstairs) so I got lots of grandson time!  Also got to take them Christmas shopping while I was there – wish John & I could do that every year…

On late Saturday night, November 17th, brothers Jon and Tim and I headed for the airport, dropped off the rental car and one by one, flew back home.  Mike had left a couple of days before as he had work commitments.  A wonderful time with my family…

Friday, November 9, 2012

Crossing Texas

Sunday morning, November 4, time to head east…  We left Benson a little before 9:00 a.m. and crossed the New Mexico border at 10:50 and crossed into Texas at 2:00 p.m.  We traveled about 260 miles and called it a day at 2:30 stopping at American RV Park near El Paso.  The campground wasn’t much more than a gravel lot, but it worked for an overnighter.

The next morning, Monday, November 5, we headed out a little after 9:00 a.m. and ventured 308 miles before stopping for the night at a rest stop near Iraan, TX at a bit before 5:00 p.m.  We’re in the mode…  Drive, eat & sleep!

Time to drive again: 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday, November 6.  263 miles later, we finally got across west Texas, arriving at Admiralty RV Resort in San Antonio at 1:30 p.m.  Time to settle down for awhile!  Neither of us felt like cooking, so we moseyed over to Schlotzky’s for sandwiches.  Can’t remember the last time we ate at a Scholtzky’s…

We spent the next few days running errands and doing a little shopping in preparation for Lora’s upcoming trip to Alaska.  And the shopping culminated on Thursday, November 8 in a big way!!  We FINALLY found the car we’d been looking for for who knows how long!  We had researched small sedans for ease of towing (don’t want to have to pull a fuse anymore), size (wanted something similar to the Cobalt but hopefully a little more comfortable), and mileage (we weren’t willing to lower our mpg and the Cobalt did pretty good).  We had looked at the Lincoln MKZ in Iowa, Washington and at least two other states, but either they didn’t have a hybrid in stock or they only had dark colors.  Since we spend the majority of our time in warm climes, we really wanted a light color – inside and out.  We had planned to wait and see what the new model 2013 looked like, but the deal South Park Lincoln in San Antonio offered us on a 2012 was too good to pass up!  Right color and it even has heated AND cooled front seatsSmile  Love this car!


We took possession today, Friday, November 9 and on Saturday, November 10, John will drive me to the airport for my flight to Alaska.  Hate to leave that brand new car, but family beckons!  All five of my siblings are planning to converge in Wasilla to celebrate our mom’s 80th birthday and have a chance to sit down all together to discuss our parents’ plans and ideas for the future.  Besides, I get to see Eric and Kari and two of our grandsons, Jacob & Jonah!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Arizona Adventures

After arriving in Casa Grande, Arizona yesterday, Thursday, October 18 and settling in at Rover’s Roost SKP Park, we got haircuts and picked up some groceries the next day before heading up to the Phoenix airport to pick up our friends from Washington state, Curt & Diane.  They flew down for a long weekend to celebrate their anniversary and we had a fabulous time taking 5th wheel shopping trips to Tucson and even north to Camp Verde.  Even got to see this tarantula at the campground!  Scary, huh?
On Tuesday, October 23rd, the four of us drove about 30 miles away from the campground to see Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  This four story building from the early 1300s is the largest known structure of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert. 
The walls face exactly north, south, east and west and there are openings that align with solstice sunsets and sun or moon at other times. 
P1160684Curt & Diane!
It’s always fascinating to get a glimpse – however brief – of other cultures.
On Wednesday, October 24th, John & I packed up and left Rover’s Roost at 10:45 am and arrived at LazyDays RV Park in south Tucson several hours later.  A few days earlier when we were 5th wheel shopping with Curt & Diane at LazyDays, the dealership gave us a camping coupon so we decided to check them out.  Nice park with lots of fruit trees!
We spent most of our week in Tucson visiting good friends from Iowa and doing housekeeping chores but did find time to tour Biosphere 2 near Oracle (north of Tucson) on Friday, October 26th.  This amazing facility was where the eight “Biospherians” were sealed in for two years in the early 1990s to find out if people could live totally enclosed in a large glass “bubble”.  It is now operated by the University of Arizona and is being used to study ecosystem processes under controlled conditions.  It is quite fascinating!
Saturday, November 3 – Time to leave LazyDays and mosey on down the road to Benson, AZ to visit RVing friends Bob & BarbAnna at Cochise Terrace RV Park.  We had a fun dinner out with them – thanks, B&B!
The view from our campsite was pretty cool!
Tomorrow we head on east, but had our usual fun time in Arizona!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Aiming for Arizona

Tuesday, October 16: A longer than usual travel day – 335 miles to Banning, California.

We decided there must be a holiday coming when we saw this huge inflatable pumpkin on a hillside…


We pulled in to the Banning Stagecoach KOA at about 4:00 pm and got settled in for a couple of days.  Pretty quiet and peaceful here.


Wednesday, October 17 – time to go exploring in a new area!  Joshua Tree has been a national park only since 1994, but was a national monument since 1936.  It encompasses 1,234 square miles that we’d never before seen.  After driving nearly 50 miles toward the west entrance, we stopped at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center (always our first stop at a national park!) and enjoyed the current photo display and picked up some maps.

Not exactly like the forests we’re accustomed to!

P1160548 - Joshua Tree forest_edited

Lunch time found us at the Hidden Valley picnic area where this little chipmunk kept us well entertained!


And, the view from our picnic table wasn’t too bad either…

P1160560 - view from picnic table at lunch

After eating, we headed over to the trailhead for the Hidden Valley Trail.  A fairly easy 1-mile loop, this area was reputed to be where cattle rustlers took stolen livestock to re-brand.  Easy to see why: the only apparent entrance to this area was a very narrow trail between pretty large rocks.  Not sure how anyone ever found it to begin with!  This is the entrance…

P1160561 - trail to entrance of Hidden Valley

We enjoyed watching the rock climbers, too.


The whole area was encircled with pretty cool rock formations.



We even discovered a little baby Joshua tree!

P1160607 - baby Joshua tree

We thought this “Indian Warrior Rock” was pretty cool, too!

P1160636 - Indian warrior rock

All in all, a fun day in another of our wonderful national parks!

On Thursday, October 18th, we headed out of the campground at 8:15 am (early for us!) and crossed in to Arizona three hours later – our 14th state line crossing this year!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Eastern California Adventures

Can’t wait to get back to Yosemite, so on Saturday, October 6 we gassed up our trusty little car in Coarsegold on our way north on Hwy. 41.  It was 27 miles from our campground to the south entrance of the park and then another 80+ miles to the Gaylor Lakes parking lot.  On the way, we pulled off the Tioga Road at Olmstead Point for this view of Half Dome (it’s that little bump on the horizon near the center of the picture).

P1160207 - Olmstead Point
In considering which hike to do we decided on a “Moderately Strenuous” one and Gaylor Lakes seemed to fit the bill: 2 miles RT, 2 hours, and 500-ft. elevation gain.  Hmmmm….we should be able to handle that.  What we failed to take into consideration was that this particular hike is very near Tioga Pass.  9,945 feet.  High.

Didn’t get far till we were totally out of breath and not feeling that great.  Darn elevation got us once againSad smile, so we beat feet back to the parking lot and retraced our path back to the area near the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center and Lembert Dome.  Not quite as scenic, but quite a bit lower and reasonably FLAT!  It was a beautiful afternoon and we had a nice several hour hike just wandering around and exploring.

This is Lembert Dome:
 P1160221 - Tuolumne Meadows hike
And the Tuolumne River:


A stop at Tenaya Lake on the way home:


Sunday, October 7.  Time for a rest – spent the day just lazing around and took a walk around the campground.  Even managed to snag a little tour with one of the resident SKP’s in her golf cart and got a little history on the park.  Neat place and nice people, just as we’ve found in nearly every Escapee park we’ve ever stayed in!

On Monday, the 8th, we ordered a replacement GPS from Amazon.  This time we chose the Garmin trucker GPS that will allow us to input the height, width and weight of the motorhome and thus avoid any roads that might cause us problems (hopefully!).  Then we headed for Fresno to order a pair of replacement clip-on sunglasses for Lora’s glasses.  California is not a good place to be without sunglasses!  Also did a little shopping while we were there – even found an REI store.  We always feel right at home in REI stores and invariably find something to buy…

Time to head back to Yosemite, so on Tuesday, October 9, we got gas again and headed north.  This time our destination was the “Valley” where most of the tourists go.  One nice thing about this time of year is that there aren’t quite so many of them, but it was still fairly crowded.  We stopped first at Tunnel View where one can see “up” the valley.  That’s El Capitan on the left.


Next, we stopped at Bridalveil Fall and took the short hike back to it.  Not much water this time of year.  Guess we’ll have to come back in the spring sometime…

P1160298 - Bridalveil Fall

Finally arrived at the Village and went to check out the Ansel Adams Gallery.  This gallery was first opened in 1902 by the Best family, whose daughter, Virginia, married Ansel Adams in 1928.  Adams died in 1984 but his amazing photographs will hopefully always inspire us to maintain what wilderness is still remaining.  One of the gallery displays included a quote from David Brower* that impressed me:

“There aren’t many places left where we, ourselves, can choose whether to exploit or leave wild.  Although the budget of natural things may have looked unlimited to grandfather, we know it is a finite budget.  Wildness is a fragile thing.  People can break it but not make it.  And we are quite capable, in our own time, of breaking it all – quite capable of using up all the choices America will ever have between saving and spending what is left of its unmarred natural heritage.”

On down the road was the famed El Capitan.  We always marvel at the climbers, some of whom overnight on the rock face in tiny hammocks.  Not a good place to be a sleepwalker…


And, the famous Merced River:


Yosemite is surely one of the most beautiful spots in this good ole’ USA.  We need to ensure that our children and grandchildren treasure it enough to keep it and all other special places safe…

*Brower was an ardent conservationist and the first executive director of the Sierra Club.

On Wednesday, October 10th, we ventured about a dozen miles up the road to Oakhurst for a bit of shopping and a movie.  “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” was a bit farfetched but we still enjoyed it!  Got back to the park in time to wander up the highway a mile or two to eat at the Chukchansi Gold Casino.  Decent food but no big win….

One last visit to Yosemite on Thursday, October 11, but it was cool and rainy this morning, so we had to stop in Oakhurst first to pick up some new wiper blades and gas for the car.  Then it was on to the Mariposa Grove near the south entrance.  At least we didn’t have such a long drive today – only about 30 miles!  We did the hike around the Lower Grove.  Fortunately the weather cleared up as the day went on.


This Douglas squirrel (chickaree) was apparently preparing for winter!

P1160383 - chipmunk #2

So amazing how these trees survive after fires…  This is the “Grizzly Giant”.

P1160391 - Grizzly Giant #5

So long, Yosemite – we’ll be back.

Friday, October 12: time to go see Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks.  Our original plan was to make a loop by going in the west entrance of Kings Canyon by way of Hwy. 180 and then follow the General’s Highway and out through the Ash Mountain Entrance of Sequoia.

Unfortunately, the fog was so thick going into the park, that we almost turned around before we even got there!  We ended up only hiking around General Grant Grove in the west section of Kings Canyon, so guess we’ll have to come back here also!

Walking through the “Fallen Monarch”:

P1160454 - Fallen Monarch #5

“General Grant Tree” in the fog:

P1160464 - General Grant Tree #3

“Centennial Stump” and its story:

P1160503 - Centennial Stump sign #2
P1160502 - Centennial Stump #2

And, still foggy on the way home!


Saturday, October 13th found us headed over to Squaw Valley to visit some of John’s cousins.  Thanks, Mark & Betty Ann and family, for a wonderful visit!  It was nice to see all of you again – it’s been a lotta years!!

Here’s all the little cousins watching a movie,


and, the adults.  How did our kids get to be adults already??


We lazed around on Sunday again, waiting for Monday, October 15 to arrive so we could check the post office – again – for the GPS that we had ordered a week ago.  It finally came in in the afternoon, so on Tuesday, October 16th, we hooked up and left the campground at 9:00 a.m.  Time to leave California.  It’s been fun!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

California’s Central Coast

Time to work our way further south.  At 8:55 a.m. on Monday, October 1, we pointed the rig toward Santa Rosa.  We stopped to fuel up the rig before leaving Redding.  At $4.24/gal. it was the most expensive fuel since Alaska and Canada the summer of 2008.  When getting ready to leave, we also noticed a burned out taillight on the rig, so we also stopped in Anderson, CA at a Camping World to pick up a replacement and quickly got that fixed.

We pulled into the Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa at 2:45 p.m. after driving 242 miles.  We got settled in for a four-day stay.

On Tuesday, October 2nd, we went to check out Point Reyes National Seashore.  I had been here briefly with Eric back in 2005 and I was anxious to show it to John.  First, we stopped at the Bear Valley Visitor Center for a quick look-see before heading over to Point Reyes Beach North.


SOOOO good to be back on a beach again!  We spent a long time just hanging out and enjoying the warmth, sounds of the surf, the sun bouncing off the waves, and just being lazy.


Beautiful fall colors here, too.


We took a different way home, along Tomales Bay on Hwy. 1 and then on the Bodega Highway through Sebastopol.  Always fun to see new areas, although we were sure hoping there wouldn’t be an earthquake because a submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault is right down the middle of narrow Tomales Bay!

Time to knock off one of John’s bucket list items: Alcatraz.  On Wednesday the 3rd, we headed to Sausalito to catch the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Little did we know how busy that ferry is!  We had already purchased our tickets online for a 12:30 tour, so when we were totally unable to find a parking space, we just gritted our teeth and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Fortunately, traffic wasn’t too bad…


…and we managed to find our way to Fisherman’s Wharf and easily find a parking space.  We even had time to wander around a bit before catching a bite to eat and hopping on the tour boat.  The weather was gorgeous and everyone was in shirt sleeves and shorts.


This picture, which we saw upon arriving at the dock, shows remaining signs from the 1969-1971 Native American occupation of Alcatraz by the “Indians of All Tribes” (AIT) group.


The tour was amazing and the use of recordings on individual headsets was really nice because it allowed us to go at our own speed.




Here’s John checking out one of the six isolation cells in D Block, nicknamed “The Hole”.


The 1946 escape attempt and the 1962 escape by Frank Morris and the two Anglin brothers are well documented, as are more famous inmates such as “Scarface” Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly.

About halfway through the tour, we looked out one of the windows near the old superintendent’s office and, WOW!  What happened out there???  Fog, rain going sideways and chilly!!  By the time, we were at the gift shop, everyone around us was busy buying jackets and sweatshirts for the trip back to the mainland.  But us Alaskans have previous experience and we just dug our jackets out of the backpack and even sat on the open upper deck on the way back to the wharf!  Here’s the San Fran skyline from the tour boat:


‘Course by the time we docked, we were out of the rain and fog and it was beautiful again.  Weird…


I think this is the Bay Bridge.


Loved the architecture here…


…but not so much the traffic going home.


Oops, here’s that fog again.




Much better.


Fun day!

On Thursday, October 4th, we drove down to the town of Napa for lunch and then headed up the valley on Highway 29 to do a couple of winery tours.  Napa itself is very trendy and fun and we probably could have spent all day just wandering around.  Besides, there were flowers there that I hadn’t seen before…

P1160044 - town of Napa




After a yummy gelato for me and some coffee for John, we headed north to the Robert Mondavi winery.  Beautiful SoCal kind of place with some interesting artifacts scattered around.  The tour was well done and the wine pretty good - until I priced it in the shop later and decided it wasn’t THAT good!





Next up was the Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love) winery.  This one we picked because of the building.  It’s a medieval Tuscan-style castle and is very cool!  There are 8 levels and 107 rooms and it was built as authentically as possible based on 700-800 year old methods.


Quite an imposing entrance…


…and quaint little side buildings, too.


Here’s John checking out the moat.


The views from the tower area were outstanding!


There were lots of interesting architectural details.




Time to head for home…


Moving day: Friday, October 5.  Years ago - I believe it was October 1996 - John & I made our first visit to Yosemite National Park.  We fell in love with it and we finally get to go back for another visit!

After crossing the Bay Bridge…YIKES!!!  We have to cross that in the motorhome????


Good thing we made it across safely, because otherwise we would have missed this spectacular sunset at the Escapees RV park near Coarsegold, California.