Monthly Archives: April 2010

Touring New Mexico: Roswell to Acoma Sky City pueblo

Thursday we drove with our WBCCI Airstream Caravan from Carlsbad KOA to Roswell Elks Lodge.  We both were parkers, part of a team helping arrange where all the Airstreams would park upon arrival.  The Elks Lodge has 22 parking spaces with water and electric service, and a full-service restaurant and bar in their lodge.

We arrived two hours before the rest of the crew so we could receive our various assignments and organize how we were going to work this.  Some were flag people at the last two intersections to bring people into the correct driveways.  Three of us worked within the camping sites, directing the RVers into sites best suited to their rig’s lengths.

The weather was trying.  The sun was shining hotly and we peeled our coats and rolled up shirt sleeves.  Rain started falling, and we donned our rain coats or held umbrellas over our heads.  Rain would stop but the sun hid behind the clouds and we pushed our sleeves back down and put on sweaters.  Repeat; repeat.

Friday the day started very cool, 46 degrees, and warmed to 66 degrees with constant winds and sunshine.  Forecast calls for gusts to 55mph in the afternoon.  We visited the UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, NM.  This museum claims impartiality, presenting what is known and what was reported, and purports to let the visitors form their own opinions.

Deb has found my alternate for long distance trips

We’ll probably never learn the full background and purpose of the government’s operations.  We are convinced the U.S. government conducted apparent cover-up operations regarding some event. Jim’s poli sci studies included a class on Machiavelli’s The Prince.  The story essentially reads: the ends justify the means whenever preserving the republic and cementing the peoples loyalty to the leader.

After museum and lunch we took our truck to fill the gas tank with some of the $2.73 gasoline we saw on the way in yesterday.  Not available, least expensive is $2.84 — we bought anyway, 26 gallons, so spent almost $3.00 extra from waiting a day.  Lesson learned: don’t procrastinate.

young rider stands below much older one in Lincoln, NM, museum

Saturday is our fifth consecutive very windy day.  Spring is roaring in like a lion, it seems.   We drove an hour to Lincoln, NM, a very well preserved old town of the west. Our Lincoln walking tour and museum browsing occupied several hours and we could have spent longer in this neat little unincorporated settlement.

nice little museum honoring Smokey Bear

Our caravan requested we arrive at our campground by four o’clock, so we saddled up and drove toward BLM’s Capitan, NM, has a must see attraction, though. We visited the Smokey Bear Museum and Park, and actually viewed Smokey Bear’s gravesite. His successors have ably carried on the courageous and important work Smokey started in 1950. This is a nice little museum with plenty of on-street parking for RVs, nice displays and an informative video show, and with a short nature trail.

BLM's Valley of Fire campground

From Capitan we had a short drive to Valley of Fires Recreation campground. This is a gorgeous but not-so-large campground especially for 32 Airstream trailers and motor homes. Our caravan’s parking committee had their hands full spotting our entire group in a campground organized for 19 RVs, but they did a fine job and we all had fine spaces.

Resembles an asphalt dump?

Valley of Fires is the site of New Mexico Department of Transportation’s (and possibly the USA’s) largest surplus asphalt paving dump site (no, not really). You can see in the picture this huge gnarled hunk of black basalt rock. The valley contains a forty-four mile stretch of this extremely rough volcanic rock and looks as though it could have been a decades-long collection of asphalt debris. The stuff looks tough enough to tear the treads off an army tank.

Sky City (Acoma) pueblo

We stayed two nights at the Sky City Casino and Campground. The casino effectively refunded each of us a night of camping as credit for ten minutes worth of a nickel slot machine ($20). The real attraction, though, is the Sky City pueblo and cultural center. Our caravan arranged a guided tour of the Acoma Sky City pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States.

Our tour guide shows us the interesting points on the mesa

Our tour guide for this 3/4 mile walking tour explained the history and current lifestyle of living almost 370 feet above the desert floor. No running water then, nor now. Water is carried up from drinking water cisterns far below. No electricity then, nor now. Food was cultivated far below, and now Wal-Mart vends food to the inhabitants. But religious practices have remained largely unchanged, according to Conran, our guide.

Thanks to the handholds, our trek down was reasonably safe

A dozen of us, at the end of our guided tour on the mesa, elected to descend by one of the seven paths down from the mesa. This path is less a path and more notched steps in ancient sandstone. Thankfully someone worked handholds into the stone. We doubt the Acoma Indians needed these — the handholds were cut to benefit tourists like us. And we found these very helpful in our descent.

We toured the Sky City Cultural Center (opened just two weeks ago on April 16, 2010) after our tour of the Sky City pueblo. The museum, gift shop, and building are beautiful and very nicely built. And the Cultural Center’s Cafe served very reasonably priced and delicious posole and lamb stews, both accompanied by fry bread or horno bread. The fry bread is tasty but neither good for regular consumption nor, apparently, truly traditional Native American food.

Our tours, short drives, and the weather all have been very nice, if windy. We’re enjoying the caravan and looking forward to more in the coming weeks. We head next to Albuquerque for five days of small tours including a Segway adventure and an i-House tour. We’ll tell you about it next time.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie
locate us here
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

It was undersea, after all

Our travels Friday and Saturday took us from Cleveland, Mississippi, across Arkansas and to Andrews, Texas. Andrews is named for Stephen Andrews, the first Texan soldier to die in the Texas Revolution. Our giant book of RV parks listed a park in Andrews and one nine miles north of town. We opted for the closer one, listed as a motel/RV park, for our overnight stay instead of burning almost two gallons of gas for an overnight parking space.

The little motel/rv park formerly had rental RV spaces behind the motel. Apparently someone made a good deal (if there is such a thing) on a dozen former FEMA trailers and set them up. Now the motel’s roadside sign states, “One bdrm trailers for rent”. The formaldehyde might keep these trailers rodent free, too!

Not having found a place in the motel’s “rv park” to park our rig, we opted to park temporarily in the adjacent lot of the Means Memorial Methodist Church. Having determined we would not be renting a space at the motel/RV park, we decided to ask the church if we could use a little of their large, level parking lot.

Means Memorial UMC

Rock music was echoing from the sanctuary as we approached via an unlocked exterior side door. The music stopped and we poked our heads in and asked if our overnight parking was okay. We readily received a welcome and permission to park, since we weren’t going to use any utility connections.

We made a cup of tea, showered, and were relaxing when someone knocked on our Airstream’s door. Happens all the time, you know, people just want to know if they can see inside one of these trailers. But no, this was Reverend Rick Doyle, the pastor of Means Memorial Methodist Church.

Our campsite

Rick visited with us almost an hour, talking with us about what makes Andrews, TX, such a good place for his church and his family. We enjoyed listening to him and sharing with Rick our experiences with various Methodist churches across the U.S., and what seems to make some of them stand out for us. Rick warmly welcomed us to stay the night in the church’s parking lot but also told us of free camping with full hook-ups.

The Chamber of Commerce, apparently, offers a half-dozen full hook-up sites for overnight visitors to Andrews, TX. We suppose it’s unsurprising the commercial campground directories wouldn’t list free parking, but how would we find this otherwise? Umm, ask at the churches?

West Texas pumpjack

Sunday we left our friendly overnight space at Means Memorial Methodist Church in Andrews, TX, and made a leisurely drive to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The drive was interesting for us — never had we seen such a large number or variety of pump jacks, or horse head, or nodding donkey, or thirsty bird oil pumps. And we didn’t see ANYTHING else, save a couple of deer bounding across the highway ahead of us.

Carlsbad Caverns Entrance

We enjoyed our visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We drove directly to the Park with our trailer, counting on RV parking, so we could wait until late afternoon to find a campground for two nights. Parking was easy because we are early in the season and the Park Service has several large parking areas. We opted to walk into the Cavern rather than use the elevator (lowerator?) to drop 750 feet from the visitor center to “The Big Room”, an area as large as 14 football fields.

Last glimpse of daylight

Our walk lasted almost three hours and covered just over two miles. The walking wasn’t strenuous or overly long, but the low light taxed our eyes and brains mightily. We had just enough artificial lighting to see the features and, with 1/8 to 1/10 second hand-held camera exposures, to take these pictures. Only upon arriving back at our RV did we realize how tired our eyes were from straining in the cavern.

Whale's Mouth

Carlsbad Caverns holds the most amazing array of naturally formed figures. Most amazing to us is the time required to build these speleothems — approximately 500,000 years of single drops of water, each loaded with calcite. Our lifetimes are a mere speck of time compared with the build time of a stalagmite. We weren’t thinking about our eyes when we were staring at many forms of cave decorations, the stalactites, stalagmites, domes, columns, and draperies.

Massive Stalagmites

We also weren’t thinking about the thousands of bats who make their home in the Caverns. A ranger advised us, on our way down the entrance trail, the bats have not returned from their Central America snowbird location. This year’s unusually cold and wet winter apparently dampened (or cooled) the bat’s interest in returning until later.

Just as well for us — in our old house we had as much bat fun as we could stand, before we finally enlisted professional help to relocate the bats to our neighbors’ trees and houses (at least, that’s where we think the bats might have gone).

This week starts our Southwest Adventures caravan with over two dozen other Airstream trailers and motorhomes. We’ve been looking forward to this for over a year, and are excited about starting. We’ll try to share the highlights with you as we go along.

Until then, we’re on the road again.

Jim and Debbie
locate us here
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

Our iHouse can be ready in three weeks!

We left Chattanooga this morning after a sweet two day visit. Chattanooga was five sets of tennis; a couple of world-class walks; the world’s best hamburger from Zarzour’s, the oldest restaurant in Chattanooga (by many years); two wonderful meals and a great visit with Jim’s sister and her husband; and fantastic weather. We left for Mississippi early, very early, Wednesday morning for Cleveland, Mississippi.

Our route took us from Chattanooga through Huntsville, AL, and Muscle Shoals across the MS border through Corinth and over to Olive Branch, MS, then down through Clarksdale to Cleveland, MS, to visit Jim’s aunt and uncle. This was a really easy one-day drive, four lanes highways all the way, and very pretty across northern Alabama and Mississippi.

Earlier, before Chattanooga, we had an exciting pair of stops in Bean Station and then Alcoa, TN. We toured a Clayton Homes production facility in Bean Station, TN, and viewed the prototype iHouse in Alcoa, TN.

The plant manager, Charlie Hemphill, met us and guided us through an extensive tour of the Norris Plant. The plant produces high quality modular homes, including i-Houses. An i-House II with two large Flex units on the lot piqued our interest. These were in final stages of preparation for shipping to an owner, and have highly customized floor plans and appointments. More interesting still is the work flow and coordination inside the production facility.

We saw many modular homes, in various phases of production, throughout the plant. Every part of the process seemed attended by numerous skilled individuals, working together to complete their tasks and send the house on its way. The production process is a finely choreographed ballet of floor frames, interior components, and wall and roof systems to compose completed modular homes in five day to twenty day cycles, depending upon the complexity of the model.

Our favorite part, of course, was surveying the i-House and Flex units at the production facility.

We spent awhile peering inside and all around the exterior of the i-House and Flex units at the Norris plant. The production facility was fun and our tour very educational. Charlie Hemphill, the plant manager, has been with Clayton 36 years and at this plant 21 years. He operates a very clean and effective operation, and was a great guide for our tour.

Now let’s go to Alcoa, TN, to meet Brandon O’Connor, Clayton i-House Product Manager. Brandon introduced himself to us months ago after we had written a couple of blogs about our impressions of the i-House. He invited us to visit Bean Station and Alcoa. We felt like we already knew him when we arrived at Clayton’s retail campus in Alcoa.

The i-House entrance still captivates us as sharply as it did at our first visit in Everett, Washington, last September. The soaring roof overhangs the entrance doors, the two lights bracket the doors, and the entrance just seems to call to us, “Come on in!”

We could look forward to coming home to this beautiful and clean-cut interior. The kitchen is very inviting and fresh-looking with IKEA-style cabinets, glass-block backsplash behind the range, recessed-can CFL lights and pendants over the island and dining table.

We love how the i-House looks from every angle. Natural light abounds, the open floorplan works great with this IKEA furniture. The ceiling rises from the kitchen to the entrance wall, creating a tall ceiling height. The glass entrance wall and large windows on one side combine with clerestory windows on the other side to light up the Shaw bamboo floor.

Another cool angle, the view down onto the roof shows this roof is about more than just keeping the interior dry and collecting rainwater for storage in a cistern — this roof supports all the solar panels you want to throw onto it. We counted 1,800 watts of photovoltaic panels, almost ten times our Airstream’s panels. The panels are connected to a grid-tie to feed the kW back to the power company. Everybody wins!

The Norris production facility has tuned all parts of the home-building process very finely. Floor systems are built on one side, roof structures on the other. Walls systems are built in-between. Completed floors move ahead, are locked together for the remainder of the production process. Components like tubs and interior wall sections are added onto the floor systems before exterior walls are attached. Roof structures carefully crane overhead and into place atop the walls, insulation is filled onto the ceilings, the roofs are sheathed and shingled.

The i-House requires more time to build than the production facility’s other models due to it’s more complex materials and other features. Like an Airstream trailer, it can be a bit more customized and has features requiring more time to finish, like smooth ceilings. Still, Charlie Hemphill and his team have optimized the production cycle so the i-Houses are built both with high quality and expeditiously.

What amazed us most about our tour? We learned our i-House can be ready in as little as three weeks production time. If only we knew where to put it. . . We’re looking for a place with 75 degree temperatures.

Jim and Debbie
locate us here
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

Ready to go

Today we’re on the road again. This stay in Kannapolis, NC, has been short and very productive. We both had long lists, at least two dozen items on each. Every item is complete on each list, so we’re ready to go. Our stay has been unusual because we are thinking in terms of the longest journey yet.

We’ll be one year before returning to Kannapolis. We’ve decided, for the first time, to fly home for the 2010 holidays. Therefore we’ll be returning after less than nine months but our trailer and truck won’t. This longer time away from “home base” is probably far less significant than we’ve made it out.

Our previous frame of reference has been six or eight months away then replenishing clothes or gear from our North Carolina storage unit. We’ve spent the past two weeks working carefully on our lists for the truck and trailer. The house of Deb’s parents is a great place to work on every kind of project.

Installed a new very heavy duty Curt 15208 receiver, adjusted the exhaust tail pipe to clear the new receiver, cleaned and re-packed trailer wheel bearings, cleaned, checked and adjusted trailer brakes, rotated truck’s tires, changed oil and filter, modified ham radio station’s master switch, cleaned and repainted the hitch, tightened the gas regulator connections, repaired the trailer’s CB radio coax outside connection, reorganized the storage unit, and thoroughly repacked the truck bed and the trailer’s cargo compartments.

Did we reduce the trailer’s weight? We won’t know until we next stop by a weight scale. The trailer is bound to weigh less, and the truck may weigh a little more. We are carrying a lot fewer books, we moved a few clothes to the storage unit and some to the truck, and moved extra linens from the trailer to the truck. Small changes, but we were only looking for around 100 pounds reduction.

One year just seems a whole lot longer to us. This feels like a bigger commitment to the road. This year’s travel isn’t really any different than what we’ve done the previous three years. We set our expectations before any trip and try to prepare accordingly. Our expectations rise every time as we consider the past trips against the next ones.

We’ve made lots of preparations, we have lots of anticipation, and we’re excited about this year’s travels. Our itinerary includes Asheville, North Carolina, Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Cleveland, Mississippi, and Carlsbad, New Mexico. That’s the first ten days.

The next forty-something days will be with the WBCCI Southwest Adventure caravan. Gillette, Wyoming, will be our home for June, after which we’ll tour our way across British Columbia to Vancouver, then we might tour Washington state awhile. It should be a great year of traveling. We hope we’ll see all of you.

We’re ready to go, and we’re on our way!

Jim and Debbie
locate us here
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

Why we’ll miss Florida

  • (1) Friends
  • We enjoyed meeting and spending time with so many wonderful people in Okeechobee, FL. Tennis partners, dancing friends, card game buddies, projects cohorts, and great neighbors all are blessings we’ll never forget.

  • (2) Sunshine
  • Florida sunshine wasn’t as warm as last year, but helped us overcome the chill winter. Last year and the previous one we enjoyed more warm weeks. The Florida sunshine this year helped us stay warm, as long as we were in the sunlight.

  • (3) Beaches
  • Well, we only had two beach days this year and one of these was extremely windy and too chilly. Less to miss this way than if we had great beach days throughout the winter.

  • (4) Citrus
  • Not only citrus but all kinds of fresh food are abundant. The outdoor fruit stand was only a couple miles up from our resort, had wide assortment of fruits and veggies.

  • (5) Warm
  • Okay, not so warm this year but surely warmer than almost everywhere else on the continent save Vancouver, BC, during the winter Olympics. One or two days the television reported 50 degrees in Vancouver, and those same days we, along with most of the rest of USA, were below 50 outside.

  • (6) Green
  • So green, grass everywhere, palm trees, and this very wet winter kept it maximally green. We’re conditioned to appreciating green lawns and pastures and golf courses, and enjoyed plenty in Florida.

  • (7) Tennis
  • Not as much as we hoped, but we played many weeks. This was a far cry from the previous two months spent in Arizona, where we played every day some weeks. Our spot in Florida was not close to tennis courts, and the weather wasn’t close to ideal for us. Too windy, sometimes rainy or cold, the weather encouraged us to find more compatible activities.

  • (8) Dancing
  • We danced with friends once weekly most weeks, and twice a couple or three weeks. We learned a few new steps, practiced some we had learned last year during our Florida stay. This is a nice group activity, fun with friends, and a lot of fun for the two of us.

    Not everything we expected, but Florida was nice this winter. We’ll miss our friends more than anything else, and look forward to meeting with them elsewhere throughout the year.

    Jim and Debbie
    locate us here
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    ©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

    Isn’t alcohol lighter than water?

    We’re overweight. What’s new, right? I mean, aren’t something like sixty percent of Americans overweight now? Except I don’t mean “us”, but our home. How much does your home weigh? You don’t know? Who weighs their home? We do, up to 2X/year. How else can we maintain any margin of safety relative to our trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) or our truck’s gross combined weight rating (gcwr)?

    Jim likes to pull occasionally into a Flying J or Pilot or another truck stop with scales. He can pull the truck and trailer onto the scales platform and, for less than $10 and five minutes, we obtain a printed weight report for each of the truck’s two axles and for the trailer. We try to have our home weighed once or twice a year.

    How’s it working out? Not too badly for having moved everything from a 3,000 sf house into a 184 sf trailer. Well, not everything — it wouldn’t fit. We moved what we thought we should and could take with us. We tried to be very judicious about our belongings, only taking what we thought we would need and use.

    Gradually we have accumulated stuff. Mostly the increase seems to be food, clothing, and books. Wait a minute, aren’t these the only things we have in the trailer? Not really, since we have cookware, place settings, radio equipment, and cleaning stuff, too.

    Still, the trailer has gained weight in the three years we’ve been full-timing. Here are our weights over the past four years:
    date              trailer truck
    25-Sep-06 5580 7400
    12-Aug-07 6060 8160
    17-Aug-07 6040 8080
    4-Jun-09 6120 8840
    22-Oct-09 6220 8760
    28-Mar-10 6400 8700

    The first weight is one of our first outings with this trailer, packed for a weekend. The next two are in the first week of our maiden voyage as retirees, on our 8,000 mile shake-down cruise. The weights, interestingly, are pre-solar panels (60 pounds), pre-6 volt batteries (50 pounds increase) and pre-roof-mounted ham radio antenna (40 pounds?). Also, we had a weight in 2008 (not shown) that is 800 pounds heavier and we attribute it to scale (or math) error and tossed it out.

    Our last three weights are current, last year and last week. And we decided we have finally reached the tipping point. We are officially over-weight. Last year we emptied the trailer’s outside storage bins (curb side and rear) of all weighty gear, including chemicals and shoes. Nice thought, but this left a lot of work yet to be done.

    Today we earnestly started cutting out excesses in our rolling home. First to go? Bose Sound System sub-woofer and Almost Invisible speakers, comprising 20 pounds, are de-mounted and heading for storage where they’ll await another, heavier home sometime in our future.

    Next? We pored through our clothing totes in the trailer and found almost five pounds (woohoo!) of clothes to give away or store for backpacking or winter. The stored ones will stay with us, but in the truck which has almost limitless weight capacity. Well, not really, since the gvwr is 9,200 pounds and we’re already at 8,700.

    And we’re carrying all the gear we have room for — the truck bed is full enough already. We lack no tools or fun gear. We will swap out Jim’s golf clubs and add our backpacking gear for some adventures in Washington or Oregon late this summer or fall. Our challenge, then, is to find the stuff we aren’t using and don’t really need but just happen to carry along.

    The best examples are our pretty Airstream books, or our complete Martinis and Medicine MASH dvd collection. We can’t watch but so many episodes in a year’s time, and as much as we love the books we spend more time reading books and periodicals. Speaking of periodicals, we’ll save a few pounds if Jim will catch up with Debbie on Time, Appalachian Trail Conference, Carolina Alumni Review, and QST magazines so we can carry fewer of these.

    And we have increased our food stocks without any regard for weight totals. Who wouldn’t? What do you want to do without, beer, chocolate, or ice cream? Nah! We want them all! And the truck isn’t a good place for these items. But we can move ten or twenty pounds of canned and other dry goods to the truck.

    What else can go? We have carried two spare sets of sheets and one spare set of towels. And have never needed them. We can wash and dry either in one day and put them back in service. Rarely do we have overnight house guests needing linens, although once we did have a granddaughter stay overnight two nights. Okay, we’ll shed the oldest set of bed linens and the remainder comprise almost five pounds more we can move to the truck.

    This weight reduction will help, but we could cut the most weight by keeping our fresh water tank empty. Jim prefers to maintain the fresh water tank full. But at 39 gallons X 8.3 pounds per gallon, we can trim some part of 320 pounds right there. Traveling without fresh water isn’t a great idea, but we can carry less than a full tank. Lacking water, if we get thirsty we’ll still have a case each of beer and wine and a few fifths of liquor, right?

    Jim and Debbie
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    ©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr