Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cruisin' - 3

Next day’s stop, Sunday, was Cococay for a variety of beach activities. Cococay is a Bahamian island, Big Spur Island on the maps, leased by the Royal Caribbean cruise line. A Carnival ship was anchored nearby near its leased island. Cococay has beaches and all sorts of beach activity -- snorkeling, sailing, parasailing, sunbathing, ... , and of course a barbecue buffet. Even after the crowd arrived in the afternoon, the place was not overcrowded. It's nice to have your own island.

Mike, Karen, Jason, Jeff, and I opted for a guided kayak tour, first thing Sunday morning. We paddled a triangle-shaped course and at a couple of rest stops our guide told us a little history.

In the cluster of islands including Cococay the water is quite shallow. Blackbeard the Pirate would chase unsuspecting ships, at high tide, into this area, block their exit routes, and wait for low tide to strand his victims and make them an easy target for plundering. In modern times, cocaine smuggling was the illicit activity of choice. Planes would fly in to a nearby island and transfer their loads to fast boats which would then deliver the cocaine to Florida. That ended when, on a dark and stormy night, a plane went down, the crew radioed for help, the Coast Guard (or Bahamian Navy I forget which) arrived, found a bunch of funny packages bobbing in the waves, and put an end to that particular operation.

We had thought the kayak tour would take us over scenic waters -- fish, or sunken pirate ships or airplanes, whatever. It didn't, though I did stumble upon a nice conch shell when we made a beach stop.

Several of our group went snorkeling and enjoyed that a lot – many colorful fish to see. Where Mike and Karen were snorkeling, an attendant tossed out fish food where they were swimming and they were quickly swarmed with fish. Sort of like The Birds under water.

On shore, some of us happened upon this rather large lizard. Sorry, I don't know the technical name.

After Cococay, we sailed overnight back to Port Canaveral. This was the one night we all ate together in the dining room, at assigned tables, the classic cruise way. I think, though, we all finished up later at the buffet, which is also the classic cruise way.
Bottom Line: Everybody had a blast. Susie and I especially treasured this opportunity to get all our immediate family together and to see them enjoying being with each other and having some great shared experiences.

Caribbean Cruise Cheers,

Susie and Rob

Cruisin' - 2

We sailed overnight and arrived at our first stop, Nassau, Bahamas, about noon on Saturday. Most people hit the shops - jewelry is a big attraction. I opted for a guided walking tour. My guide was Vernita, who was pleasant, but a bit like a rent-a-tape: Go to tourstop 1; push the play button; listen to the tape; go to tourstop 2, etc. For the most part the tour centered on the government buildings - Nassau is the capital of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

Just a taste of history to make this thing educational: The Bahamas received their independence from Britain in 1973. The chief exec is the Governor General who reports to the Queen. There are 700 islands and 2000 cays (small islands of sand atop coral reefs) in the archipelago that makes up the Bahamas. Only 40 islands are inhabited. Each island has a rep in the country's Parliament. Here are a couple of government buildings.

No, I don't think this is called the Pink House.

Also walked by several churches. I'm always fascinated by old, downtown churches. Here are the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. Went back later to look inside but they were both locked.

One of the Nassau attractions is the super-luxurious Atlantis Resort, located on Paradise Island adjacent to Nassau. More info here. The Mike and Jeff Easterling families had opted for a paid excursion for a guided tour of the grounds, see aquariums (aquaria? - this is the dawning of the age of aquaria, ... ), and to hear stories about the lost continent, Atlantis. There's also a large waterpark at Atlantis with slides and the opportunity to swim with dolphins, for additional fees. None of our group did that, but I've heard reports that the dolphin-encounter is a fantastic experience.

In late afternoon the rest of us took cabs to Atlantis. For free, we could roam the lobby and see the large aquarium located there.

Back in Nassau, we opted for the Senor Frog Bar and Grill. As luck would have it, they had a karaoke show going. With a large, enthusiastic group there, celebrating Susie’s birthday, still, it wasn’t long until the emcee/singer invited Susie on stage for a duet. She went without much protest, she's so shy - said no one would know her here - and put on a show.

Next day, on a tender taking us from the Monarch to Cococay (the Royal Caribbean’s private island), lady next to us said, Aren’t you the Susie celebrating her 70th? I saw you last night singing at Senor Frog’s. She was so embarrassed - NOT.

Anyhow, back to the ship for buffet and a magic show that was quite entertaining.


Susie and Rob

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cruisin' - 1

Finally. The centerpiece of this Tuzitrip - our family cruise to the Bahamas. All went well with the fly-in and by late Christmas night we were all (18 of us) bedded down in the Cocoa Beach Comfort Inn. The kids had made big plans for celebrating Susie's 70th birthday - a 70s party - and we surprised her by showing up at breakfast the next morning on the patio in tie-dyed splendor - beads, shades, sideburns, do-rags(?), mustaches, ... .

The back of the t-shirts read: Susie is 70; 70 is the new 40; Susie was 40 in the 70s; Time for a 70s Party! When we boarded the ship that afternoon it wasn't long until it seemed everybody knew Susie was 70. And they all told her, You can't be 70! On board, we got a professional group picture in our t-shirts and I'll scan that in and add it later.

After breakfast everybody gave their list of Things I Love About Susie. This wasn't sappy -- a theme soon developed around suppositories: Susie's prescription for what ails you. So far, though, the Easterling family members have not gotten this treatment. A second theme was the wooden spoon weapon of choice for childhood and grandchildhood punishment, but more importantly, the THREAT. Nevertheless, everyone loves Susie! It's the smile, sense of humor, personality, and obvious love Susie has for her family.

In early afternoon we boarded our cruise ship, the Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas. Lunch was being served. We soon became very familiar with the phrase, Buffet's Open!

Here's a picture of the ship I took from our Sunday stopover at Cococay.

More pictures here. The ship is 880 ft. long and its capacity is 2744 passengers.

With our distinctive garb, we soon made our presence known. Susie became famous. One of the kids overheard a conversation on board, someone saying: I met Susie!


Susie and Rob

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sonrise Palms

Got to the Sonrise Palms Christian RV and Rally Park, in Cocoa, early Monday afternoon, situated Tuzi, then went to Cocoa Beach to check out the arrangements we'd made for our arriving family members. CB is about 20 mins. from the RV park. I'd made online family reservations at a La Quinta Inn , got a good price, too.

Well, we drove through the action center of town, locale of Ron Jon's Surf Shop, advertized all over the east coast ("world's most famous surf shop"), and several motels, but no La Quinta, contrary to my expectations. Drove another mile or two south and there it was, dark and lonely. I went in to confirm our arrangements. Driving back toward mid-town, I notice silence from Susie's side of the car. Finally, she says: I think we should switch motels. We don't want everybody, 16 people, to be trapped out here all Thursday afternoon and Friday morning and we can't very well relay them back and forth in the Explorer. I resisted -- I didn't know the cancelation policy, but thought for a group it wouldn't be pretty. What's wrong with hanging out at La Quinta? They've got TV. Susie said, let me check the Comfort Inn, which is just a block from Ron Jon's, right in the middle of the action. She went in and negotiated a price that was quite reasonable (I grudgingly admitted), given the enhancements and convenience. Didn't finalize the deal, though, until we looked into canceling the LQ.

Heading home from the CI I espied a storefront labeled Old Fish House. Couldn't turn that down. Excellent, reasonably priced meal improved our (my) outlook on our arrangements.

Tuesday am I canceled the La Quinta, not too much damage, and we reserved rooms at the Comfort Inn. All is well. Susie scheduled a Friday morning family breakfast at the C Inn and a little later she suggested, I think we should get a room there Christmas night, so we'd all be together for breakfast, then go to the ship in early afternoon. Avoid the hassle of driving back and forth to Tuzigoot. She was truly worried about how much driving I was going to have to do.

So, we went to the CI at CB after lunch today and set that up. We also got to thinking: ship gets into port 6am on Monday. Most of the kids are not flying out until mid to late Monday pm. What do they and their luggage do in the meantime? The solution: rent a room at the CI for Monday morning. So, we did that. Very pleasant, helpful sales agent at the Comfort Inn.

Next logistics issue: I had naively thought I could ferry everyone from the airport to Cocoa Beach in the Explorer, but if you do the math, it wasn't working out. Sixteen people coming with luggage. Explorer could hold four passengers and luggage, at the max, I think. RT airport trip is probably 2.5 hrs. There are five people in Matt's family. Arrival times are not neatly spaced. Hate to leave someone(s) sitting at the airport for a long time. So, we've reserved a van service to do part of the driving. Got that figured out (though just now it occurred to me: I could have rented a UHaul trailer for the luggage! Second thought: just another logistical hassle, probably). Got room assignments at the CI figured out. We're ready! Good thing that we got here a day earlier than originally planned. Jeff and Valerie Hinkle are arriving tomorrow, Wednesday, from Aberdeen, SD. Hoping they won't be snowed in is our main worry now. Also hoping everybody remembers to bring their passports.

This process stuff may not be very interesting, but I know our mental states are of interest to many of you.

Oh, I almost forgot. We've got more Tuzigoot problems. Sunday, Susie said (right after escaping from the Flying J, I think), The power footrest on my chair is not working right (when you're roughing it, it's always one thing or another). The toggle switch doesn't feel right. Monday, on the way to Cocoa, it quit working, with the footrest extended so that it almost blocks the way in and out of Tuzi. That afternoon I tried to figure out if there's a way I can lower the footrest. There was power to the chair, so it can be moved back and forth, up and down, to get it partly out of the way. Also, you can rotate the chair. But I can't, at this writing, see a mechanical way to lower the footrest. Some time during all this, I noticed that the chair no longer had power. Also, the driver's chair (the Captain's) and the dashboard no longer had 12V power. Now what? Toggle switch must have shorted out. I changed a couple of fuses, but still no power. At this point I've got RV repairman coming next Tuesday morning to take a look. We shall see.

Day's highlight was finding an Amish deli for lunch. Good sandwiches. We also bought cookies, apple butter, a bagel, and Amish Root Beer (who knew?) to bring back with us. Weather, which was still chilly yesterday, was very nice today: sunny, low 70s.

Now, about the RV park. It's a nice park, though located very close to (noisy) I-95. Haven't heard a train. Our parking slot is at the corner of Isaac and Noah. Susie found out that this park is used by a lot of young people training to go out on missions. Owner/manager has been very helpful, providing fax service to CI and identifying RV repair outfit.

What I think is interesting is that here, in addition to the usual ten commandments, there are some other ones, posted:

11. Please clean up after your dog.

12. Please limit use of paper. Too much will clog the toilet.

Don't you think Please is friendlier than Thou Shalt?

Then there's this one:

13. Please do not use baby oil in the shower. It makes a mess! !

Must be a story behind this.

You can tell an RV park's attitude from its signs. The Starke KOA has some good humor: Speed limit 7 1/2. Say No to speed bumps. A nice way to threaten: If you speed, we will install speed bumps.

Getting pretty trivial now. Time to quit.

Merry Christmas to all, from our house to yours.


Susie and Rob

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Sunday, 12/21. Got to Florida today -- staying the night in a KOA in Starke. We stayed here just over a year ago and found it to be one of the nicest and best-run RV parks we've been to. Still is.

Pretty uneventful trip from Red Bay, thank goodness. Friday morning I visited the Tiffin Service manager. Found out that the warranty on Tuzi's fiberglass was for five years. Found out that first owner bought her in July 2003 -- do the math. I wasn't really expecting much sympathy, but this pretty well closed any appeal options. Here's a picture of the Tiffin campground, from our visit in fall 2006 - a sunnier, busier time.

Got the new windshield installed in early afternoon, and could have left, but by then we'd already decided to stay the night in Red Bay. Another chilly, drizzly day. We thought a half-day of semi-rest would be good for us.

Got a hair cut from a young goodoleboy. He said there wasn't much to do in Red Bay. I said, Yeah, last time we were here we saw the Coon Dog Cemetery and the Tammy Wynette Museum, so we don't need to do that again. That led him to wax rhapsodic about coon-hunting. If it's not deer or turkey season, he goes coon huntin' and had done so recently. Here's a cemetery picture from 2006.

We did find a barbecue place we hadn't been to. Nice lady in the Tiffin campground office said don't be discouraged if there aren't any cars parked outside. It does big takeout business. Well, that's how it turned out. Dark side street, no cars out front, but OPEN sign on, so we went in. Two nice ladies there -- had the feel of a church kitchen. While we were studying the menu, young man came in for takout. Susie says, What are you having? Pig Spud was the enthusiastic answer. We had pig spuds -- very large baked potatoes soaked in butter and covered with pulled pork barbecue. We each ate about half and I had two more meals out of the remains. Susie swore off pork or barbecue or both.

Saturday we left early and transected the state from NW to SE, ending up in Dothan, AL. Drizzly again for first 2-3 hours, then gradually dried up and warmed up. Dothan was downright balmy -- we actually ran A/C a while. Only tense moment en route was when we pulled into a Cracker Barrel near Birmingham in order to drop off a couple of recorded books. This turned out to be a CB with no RV parking and a very full parking lot. However, we circumnavigated the place with no problem and continued what seemed like another five miles to the next Cracker Barrel. Dropped books, had lunch, checked out two more recorded books.

Book Report Section. In Abilene I picked out two Florida-themed recorded books. One was Flush, by Carl Hiaasen. He's written several humorous novels about Florida despoilers - developers, criminals and the like - and assorted noble but flawed characters who generally bring them to justice. In this case the bad guy owned a floating casino and was dumping the boat's holding tanks into the ocean, fouling a nearby beach that was a nesting place for giant tortoises. Two kids, a brother and sister, clean up (flush) that operation.

Second book was Santa Cruise, by Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, a "beloved mother-daughter duo," it says here. They always have books on the best sellers shelves, but this was my first encounter. Don Imus has them on his radio program occasionally and tells them he would never read one of their books, but he has fun talking to them. Anyhow, this is about a Christmas cruise, like we're taking, but this one is spiced up by a couple of escaped cons who are heading for a Caribbean Island from which they cannot be extradited. The Miss Marple on board is Alvira, a former cleaning lady who won a huge lottery and subsequently became "a pretty good sleuth." Makes sense to me. The cons disguise themselves as Santa Clauses - there were 10 Santas on board - but two suits were stolen by the guy who sneaks the cons on board so you can imagine the confusion that causes.

Next, we picked a book by Fanny Flagg. After about 15 minutes, we said, Nah, we can't take this. Next we listened to Cover Up, by John Feinstein. Feinstein is an occasional sports columnist for the Washington Post and has written several books on sports. This one is a novel, concerning an upcoming Super Bowl game in which one team has had its offensive line test positive for banned steroids, but the evil owner has conspired to cover this up so they won't be kept out of the game. I didn't read the whole cover blurb, but this turned out to be another in a series of Feinstein's teen-age-focused books in which two 14-yr. old reporters (a boy and a girl in young love) uncover various nefarious conspiracies pert. to sporting events. I was worried that the book might be too juvenile, but after the week we've had, no problem. It was entertaining.

Feinstein uses this forum to skewer some of his favorite targets: TV sports people, Redskin owner Danny Snyder (the owner in the book owns an expansion team, and is credited with taking over the title of most disgusting owner from Snyder - they're both short, too), Jeff George (a real backup quarterback who "must be 100 years old" and does nothing but fumble and throw interceptions), and the drug culture of big-time sports. In addition to the kids, the hero of the piece is an honest, noble, hard-working sports columnist (hmm, wonder who Feinstein has in mind here).

Saturday evening in Dothan was warm, but the cold, drizzly weather moved in overnight. We parked for the night next to an Allegro Bay motorhome that had also come down from Red Bay on Saturday. The owners had come there from Chicago and were heading for St. Augustine. We had a good visit Saturday pm.

We don't have too far to go now, so we spent Sunday morning in Dothan. Attended a local Methodist Church. Good sermon: God revealed Jesus via common people, Mary and Joseph, rather than a rich and powerful person. And that still applies to us common people.

You try to focus on the positive, but we couldn't help remarking that the organist played way too loudly. Church had an elaborate pipe organ, with a couple ranks of pipes that pointed out over the sanctuary like guns on a battleship. We attended a service that didn't have a choir and the congregation didn't have a chance to be heard. Oh, yeah, the cellist who played a special number really picked a weird un-Christmaslike sounding piece. All in all, we left in good spirits.

We often stop at Flying J travel stops for gas. They have dedicated RV islands, good prices, and a discount card. But, they often, for some reason, have very slow pumps. Well, this afternoon we pulled into a Flying J that was the worst yet. The RV island was so near the station entrance that we could barely get off the road, to line up behind a couple of rigs at the pumps, and subsequent cars turning in could barely get around the motorhomes in line. Susie helped direct me in safely; she talked to guy ahead of us who said the pump is terribly slow. We waited a long time for him to finish, then we just drove through and out to buy gas elsewhere. Lots of congestion, still, at the entrance, but we finally escaped. Found a nice, new, Mobile travel center a few miles later and gassed up with no hassle.

Late afternoon, but it was only 86 miles to Starke, so that's where we headed for the night. Last half-hour was in the dark on a two-lane highway. No problem. KOA hosts still as friendly and helpful as ever. Free waffles tomorrow. Nice to be here. Turned on a weathercast: record warmth yesterday, cold and drizzle coming tonight. Nice, though, by Christmas. We're ready!

We're not scheduled into our Cocoa RV park until Tuesday, but we'll drive there tomorrow, assuming they have space available, and have a couple of days to get ready for the kids and grandkids arrivals.


Susie and Rob

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 5 - Red Bay, AL

Thursday: Nothing bad happened.

Another foggy, drizzly day. Got to Red Bay about noon, checked into the campground adjacent to Tiffin's service center, and turned our list of problems in to the authorities. Not many motorhomes waiting for service -- the plant goes on a two-week Christmas-New Year break after tomorrow, Friday. Thus (in contrast to the last time we were here), we got in immediately and drove into Bay 15 where Charles waited to fix/advise me in re problems.

On the main problem that prompted our visit, paint blemishes, I was told that since we were a second owner, not the original owner, redoing both side walls of Tuzi would likely be my responsibility (that's bad news, but everything is relative -- see following rationale). Will probably pass on that -- could schedule it for some time in 2010, but very expensive. The tiny fiberglass cracks are only visible on close inspection. One more visible blemish, a spider-web pattern caused, probably, by a nail head or some other bump under the fiberglass, I was advised, probably shouldn't be fixed because doing so would exacerbate the other problem. And, it's not terribly visible, either, relative to sideswipe damage. I plan to keep Tuzi long enough that it's trade-in or re-sale value won't be much affected by the current paint problems. I may have to quit going to RV rallies and lining up against factory-perfect coaches. However, as Susie said, To keep Tuzigoot in prime condition, we'd have to stay home!

Charles replaced the vent cover that blew away last Sunday and took care of other fairly minor things. He got a chuckle from my tale of woe about our last four days on the road. I'm not chuckling yet, though.

Oh, I did talk to guy about stabilizer failure. He said that brand/model had had a lot of problems. I'll call the manufacturer tomorrow and see if they can give me anything more than sympathy -- like pay service call expense. Again, as second owner (original owner bought stabilizer as a dealer add-on, not original equipment), probably not much they will do.

We will have windshield replaced tomorrow (also replace the small mirror that the bird destroyed -- I somehow left that out of the list of problems I had addressed today). Will probably come back on the way home in January to have the damage caused by yesterday's sideswiping incident fixed. One of the service guys at Tiffin told me that he and some buddies have their own body shop, where they work evenings, and can fix the damage at a significant cost savings, because I have a deductible that is higher than Tiffin's charge would be for the work, and they'll charge less than Tiffin. That's sort of good news, if they do a good job.

So, we'll head south tomorrow or Saturday -- still about 800 miles to go to Cocoa, FL where we'll park Tuzi while we cruise. Maybe we'll see sunshine soon. Maybe we'll see something we want to take a picture of. So far, it's just been a cross-country slog, no sightseeing on the agenda, bad weather all the way. Gave a literary nod, though, to William Faulkner as we drove by Oxford, MS, today, followed by Elvis's hometown of Tupelo.

Had catfish today for the third time in four days, so that's good, too. Maybe grits tomorrow, though we tend to eat breakfast in.


Susie and Rob

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 4 -- RV, The Movie

Wednesday -- it gets worse. If you saw the movie RV, you'll know what I mean when I say I feel like Robin Williams.

This morning, as per usual, after I raise the leveling jacks I look under Tuzi to be sure they really went up. Oh, no. I see something -- long metal contraption -- hanging down between the front wheels. Turns out, I soon learn, that it's a stabilizing bar. It's attached to steering mechanism and is there to improve handling -- keep the coach going straight and not wandering around the road. Not knowing what I was seeing, though, I went in to the KOA office, explained my finding, and they called a local repair shop. Mechanic came right away and diagnosed the problem. The bracket supporting one end of the stabilizer had broken off. This is a piece of metal about a half inch thick! Frank asked if I had had any steering problems. Well, yes, two days ago in Roswell, but problem cleared up. When he took the stabilizer off, he found that it was frozen up, frozen in the sense of not being able to expand and contract as it's supposed to -- that's what keeps vehicle going straight -- not frozen as in ice-cold. That rigidity is what pulled me left, then right, on Monday. The force put on the bracket when I jerked the wheel back to center to go straight just snapped it. But, the stabilizer didn't drag on the ground (it was about 3 in. off the ground, and I probably wouldn't be able to hear or feel occasional scrapes), so I didn't hear or feel anything. Also, a vehicle is drivable without the stabilizer and there was certainly no dramatic difference in handling ability, so that I, keenly attuned to Tuzi's pulse and other vital signs, didn't detect a problem. Further, at the Rays in Abilene, we hadn't put the jacks down, so there was no reason the check them Tuesday morning when we left there. So, we'd driven two days with a dangling stabilizer, clueless!

Frank couldn't find a replacement stabilizer in Shreveport, but assured us we were good to go, so we did.

Low clouds across LA, then rain in MS. Ugly day, but above freezing. Speaking of which, in the past I've commented on Texas's road signs: Watch for Ice on Bridge. Every bridge has one. Now, you don't want that warning year-round, so these signs are hinged in the middle, so in spring and summer, they fold up to say Don't Mess With Texas and maybe other inspirational sayings. This means, I've conjectured, that some guy drives from north to south every fall to fold the signs down, then in spring reverses his route to fold the signs up. Is that a good job, or what? Anyhow, in LA and MS the signs say, Bridge May Ice in Cold Weather. With that conditional piece of information, you don't have to make the spring/fall message sign changes.

Maybe I was thinking of that bit of language trivia when the next bad thing happened. In late afternoon a pick-up comes alongside and the driver flags us down. I think maybe he's telling me we've got a problem, like no tail lights (it's dusk) or a flat on the Explorer. But, Nooo .. o. We pull off on the shoulder and I go up to talk to him. He says we brushed against each other as he passed us. I didn't feel anything, and I didn't happen to be watching him in the rear view mirror as he approached and passed so I didn't see anything either, but he knew we had brushed -- his right side mirror was snapped in. We look at Tuzi -- there are scratches and abrasions near left rear wheel, but nothing bent or broken. Pick-up's right front wheel well is dented a bit and scratched. We talk about what happened and exchange insurance information. Susie remembers him saying he hit us, and I think that must be the case as I generally keep just right of center in the outside lane. Whatever, the last straw is getting closer. Sure hope writing about all this is therapeutic, not perverse.

We go on, find an RV park, and set up for the night. Thankfully, rain has stopped. A little later Susie says, Oh, there's a baby. Mouse, she means. Small mouse is roaming around our bathroom. With a combination of wastepaper cans and plastic grocery bags we catch him, put him in a trash bag and deport him out of Tuzigoot. Could there be more lurking around? Stay tuned. We still have glue traps out. Susie and I have deep philosophical discussions. I think I should read Job again.

Incidentally, this is Malia's birthday. Three years old. If you haven't checked her blog in a while, take a look at

Tomorrow we'll get to Red Bay by noon. I've called service rep and said we're coming to show you some paint problems, but we've got a few other things requiring attention. Hope you all can get to them in time for us to leave Friday. We've got to be in Cocoa on Wednesday and we've already had a Red Bay weekend a couple of years ago.


Susie and Rob

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 3

Day 3 - Tuesday, 12/16

Well, no mouse ventured onto a glue trap overnight. We have a lovely breakfast with Ken and Elsie and head out. No problem with steering, just with the human steerer who takes a wrong turn out of the Rays neighborhood, which we have often exited before, and end up at a dead end. We quickly disconnect and smoothly back up, re-connect, and proceed. At an early rest stop Susie discovers that a basket of bananas on the kitchen cabinet has been visited and dined upon by friend mouse. Yuck! How did he climb straight up the side of a cabinet? We clean up and place a trap at the crime scene and proceed.

Our route is I-20, through Dallas and on to Shreveport. Pretty heavy traffic around Dallas. Also, skies thickening and lowering as we go, but it's not precipitating and the pavement is dry so we keep going. It's cold, though, and we wrap up in blankets and turn the furnace on to supplement the heater. The heater that comes with the truck chassis that Tuzi is built onto can't heat a motorhome cabin, we've found.

At one spot on south side of Dallas there has been some snow and an accident and we move very slowly through there. Just east of Dallas there's another slushy bridge that backs up traffic again for a considerable period. We had just debated turning south on I-45, towards Houston, and then taking a more southerly crossing, but traffic was moving well at the intersection, so we stayed on I-20, but then almost immediately got in the back-up from the slushy bridge. Should we take the first exit, turn around and catch I-45 south? Once we get by the slushy bridge, though, traffic flows normally, so away we go. Right decision, though. So far, so good.

The GPS had wanted to route us from Dallas up through southern Arkansas, but we'd had the Weather Channel on and saw that parts of AR had icing conditions, so no way were we going any further north. I-40 through OK and AR were said to be seriously iced and snowed, so that confirmed that our Sunday decision not to try to go to OK was the right one. The optimum decision, though, in hindsight, might have been to leave Tuzi home and fly to Florida, but look at all the fun we, and you, would have missed.

Mid-afternoon we stop on the shoulder of an off-ramp for a potty break. I check the kitchen counter and Bingo! there's a mouse stuck to the glue-trap. Pitiful, but without sentiment we toss trap and mouse out the door.

We stop for the night at an RV park just west of Shreveport. We've still got 500 miles to go to Red Bay, so we won't make it tomorrow as we had hoped. We find our way to a restaurant advertizing the best catfish in the ARK-LA-TX area and then call it a night.


Susie and Rob

Florida or Bust - Day 2

Monday morning. Driving through Roswell, our (Tuzi's) steering wasn't working right -- it pulled strongly to the left. I pulled over and called Tom, my RV service expert in Albq, to ask advice. He was busy, but would call me back. I drove a little further. Now, it was pulling strongly to the right. I pulled into a K-Mart parking lot and checked the power steering fluid tank, it was properly full. Tom called back. I explained the problem and he said he would call the manufacturer. While waiting, I made a couple of laps around the parking lot. Now, everything seemed to be working OK, so I ventured back onto the Roswell streets. Still OK. Tom called back and said the expert opinion was that it could be an air bubble in the hydraulic line, or it could be a pump problem. After I said things seemed OK, he said go ahead and drive it; apparently just a transient fluke and not the sort of problem that would strand us. Knock on wood, or fiberglass.

Couple of hours later, just leaving Plains, TX, we meet a truck. WHAP, WHAP, WHAP! Rocks fly off and hit the front of Tuzi. By this time, the cold front has moved through and there's a strong north wind blowing. This guy is hauling gravel or crushed rock, poorly covered, if at all, and he's rounding a curve as we meet and conditions combine so that he nails us. I glance up and there's a big chip out of our windshield. Some of you may recall our windshield woes in Tuzigoot One. Here we go again. At least, Susie says, the rock didn't come through and hit me in the head.

A little later, we have lunch in Brownfield, TX. Leaving there, a couple of birds are trying to fly across the road in front of us. Tough going into a north wind, and we hit one bird. Not in the windshield but with the back of the drivers side mirror. No big deal, but then I look at the mirror and see the impact has knocked the mirror-glass loose, and it's gone. There are three mirrors, a large one in the middle that is the main mirror, but fish-eye mirrors above and below that help you survey high and low behind you. It's the top mirror that's gone. Oh, well, they can probably replace that in Red Bay.

About this time, we see that we will get to Abilene in late afternoon -- so we'll spend the night there. We call our friends, Ken and Elsie Ray, and they graciously invite us to park in their driveway. This will be doubly good because we haven't been able to get Tuzi's hot water to work, so we can shower at the Rays and even sleep in their guest room. We'd had Tuzi winterized and part of that process is to turn a couple of valves that isolate the water heater. I knew about that and had reversed two valves -- located in an area that you can barely access and see -- but still no hot water. Susie asked a couple of times, have you looked in the book? No, I say, I know the process. Finally, Susie looks in the book. She reads: open two valves and close the third valve. Third valve? I ask. I didn't remember that. I go back, find that there is a third valve on the back side of a line, out of sight. I close that valve and we now have hot water.

Anyhow, as we're nearing Abilene, Susie's been in the back prettying up, and she comes up and says, I hate to tell you this, but we've got another problem. I can take it, I say. Tell me. We've got a mouse on board she says. I saw him come out from under the bed. So, in Abilene, after dinner I go into Wal-Mart and buy glue-traps. As I write this Tuesday morning, I haven't checked the traps yet. We'll let you know.

I'm going to post this, maybe update it later with Susie's input.


Susie and Rob

Florida or Bust - Day 1

Dear Family and Friends -- It's been an interesting two days. But things have to get better.

We had planned on a fairly leisurely departure, Sunday, Dec. 14. Plan was to go to Corona, NM, about an hour and a half away, to have lunch with Susie's brother, Charlie, and his wife, Sue. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary next week. From there we would work our way up to I-40 and proceed toward OK to see my mother and sisters. We had only one goal on our trip to FL and that was to stop by Red Bay, AL, Tuzigoot's birthplace. Tuzi has some defective paint and/or fiberglass and we wanted to get that evaluated. Friends in the Allegro Club have told us that the manufacturer will likely fix it, but you have to get their OK and then they will schedule your repair, two-plus years from now!

The last I had looked at the weather forecast a winter storm had been predicted for Monday, not Sunday. Early Sunday morning I walked up to get the paper; it was cloudy but not threatening. As I was leisurely breakfasting and reading the paper I looked outside and snow was falling, heavy snow and howling wind. I got Susie up and said we've got to get going. I disconnected Tuzi and backed out of the driveway. The one thing I really worried about all week was getting stuck in our driveway. Adrenalin flowing, I guess, I managed one of my smoothest exits (the neighbors often wonder, How do they get that thing in and out of that driveway?). That was the last thing that went smoothly.

We packed all our foodstuffs and otherstuffs not already loaded into the Explorer. We didn't connect the Explorer to Tuzi, what with being in the middle of a blizzard. The first hurdle was getting out of the subdivision. The driveway slopes upward to the road. Susie got out and signaled me when the way was clear. I got a little run at it and managed to get up the slope and onto the road. So, I guess I have to say that part was smooth, too, or at least slick.

Anyhow, down the hill to I-40, still planning to drive east. The radio reports were saying, Don't do that. Blizzard conditions on I-40 east. I got as far as the on-ramp and decided, No, I don't want to try this. Susie and I conferred in the middle of the road and decided to turn around, go in to Albuquerque, then drive south. We'd have to forego visiting Charlie; also forego the stop in OK. I drove a ways along the frontage road, aka Historic Route 66, and found an intersection where I could turn around. Helpful Sheriff's deputy came along and stopped traffic and I negotiated the turn-around OK. Not particularly smooth, but OK.

Albuquerque was only having light rain. We got on I-25 south and stopped on the south side of town to hook up the Explorer. Tentative plan was to go all the way to El Paso, then head east. This would take us further south than necessary for getting to Red Bay, in NW AL, but we wanted to avoid blizzards. Skies were fairly clear, though, so I opted to exit I-25 south of Socorro, NM, and head east on US 380 across the state to Roswell, NM, then continue on into Texas, eventually connecting with I-20 which would take us east via Dallas toward northern AL. If weather dictated, we could always detour further south.

The wind was howling. Going east it was a crosswind from the south. Susie had mentioned once or twice that a vent cover was partially open and she couldn't close it. It wasn't raining or snowing, and I didn't fully process that information until way too late, so I didn't stop to work on the problem. Some time later, she said the cover has broken loose and is banging around up there. Unfortunately, there was not enough shoulder to pull over and see to it right then. Got a few miles up the road to Carrizoso and pulled over. About that time the cover blew off, hit the road and shattered. I picked up the biggest piece, got a garbage bag and roll of Duct Tape, climbed up on top of Tuzigoot and managed, with a lot of tape, to cover the vent. That took a lot of time: I'd tear off a strip of tape, the wind would catch it, twist it on itself, and not be usable. So, I'd tear off another strip, being more careful in the process. Duct tape has a tendency to split if you don't tear it just right, too. So, that was a lot of fun. Now, when we get to Red Bay, we'll also get a vent cover.

Got to Roswell in late afternoon and found an RV park. The cold front had not gotten to Roswell yet and I walked around in a T-shirt while getting set up. We transferred all the stuff we had thrown into the Explorer, made the obligatory trip to Albertson's, not being near a Wal-Mart, picked up some Subway sandwiches, and settled in for Sunday night football, which I slept through.

Tomorrow will be/was another day. I'll report it in a separate posting.


Susie and Rob

Thursday, December 04, 2008

La Posada, Winslow, AZ

Dear Family and Friends:

Our ninth wedding anniversary was Nov. 20, on which date Susie was in Nashville and I was in Gainesville, FL. Bummer. Some time during Thanksgiving week I decided that it would be fun to make a delayed anniversary trip to Winslow, AZ and stay at the La Posada hotel. Faithful readers know that the La Posada is a handsomely restored and enhanced Harvey House hotel. I wrote an article about it that appeared in the Albuquerque Journal in 1999 (my debut as a travel writer, since blossomed, or morphed, into travelblogging). Since that time we had stopped by for brief visits on trips to or from Las Vegas, but we hadn't stayed there since Halloween, 2000, when we and a group of friends rode the train over for a weekend stay.

The rooms in the La Posada are named for various famous persons who stayed there back in its heyday of the 1930s -- John Wayne, Clark Gable, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, etcetera, etcetera. Susie came up with the idea for a Halloween party in which each couple would do a skit or presentation depicting the person for whom their room was named. As luck would have it, we were in the Shirley Temple room. In our skit I played Shirley and Susie was my evil sister, Susie Temple, and we, appropriately costumed, lip-synced and danced to the Good Ship Lollipop. Mortifying! The horror, the horror.

I told you that to tell you this: I asked for the Shirley Temple room and it was available. I made the reservation for Dec. 2. That morning when Susie awakened, I told her, "Pack a bag. We're going on an overnight trip." Oh, was she surprised.

(This was not a Tuzigoot trip, but there is a Tuziconnection, as you'll see below.)

We can report that the La Posada continues to improve and appears to be doing quite well. A few years ago they added a top-notch restaurant -- it's still going, owned and managed separately by the chef and his wife. The hotel has also added a really spectacular gift shop, called the Mary Colter Room in honor of the remarkable woman who was the architect of the La Posada and other Harvey establishments in the southwest. It's full of southwestern and international arts and crafts. I don't know whether the Colter room is a restoration of what was in the original hotel, or an enhancement, but it's a great addition, worth a stop on its own. Also, the grounds and gardens have been further developed/restored. I saw a newspaper article posted saying that the La Posada had been designated something like the outstanding Northern Arizona site for a weekend getaway. It was fully booked for Thanksgiving weekend, which is why I booked it for the following Tuesday.

Also new to us, there are two videos playing in the lobby. In one, owner/restorer Allan Affeldt talks about Mary Colter's design and his restoration work. It's a long video, but worth sitting through. Colter controlled the minutest of details and saw to every painstaking touch. Her mental model was that of a Spanish family estate, assembled over several generations. She lived in the La Posada even after it opened and Allan says they had to kick her out because she kept making improvements.

Incidentally, Affeldt is now working on restoring the El Garces Hotel in Needles, CA, scheduled to open this month.

In the other video, Allan's wife, Tina Mion, talks about her art. Many of her large and dramatic paintings are on the walls, so in this sense, the La Posada continues a vibrant existence and is not a static period piece. Her series on President's wives is highly acclaimed and her dramatic depiction of Jackie Kennedy, which always moves me even when I just think about it, is now in the Smithsonian. Spend some time exploring her website to see pictures and her explanations.

There's a strong sense of morbidity running through Mion's art. A large fairly recent piece on display in the ballroom is this one: A New Years Party in Purgatory for Suicides (where would the idea for that one come from?!)

It's hard to see on this scale (I copied from the website; the picture is floor to ceiling high), but if you go to this picture on the Mion website, you can move your mouse over each face to identify the famous and not-so-famous suicides. In the front row, the gray man with the flower in his lapel is Ernest Hemingway. Note the head wound. Just behind him is Marilyn Monroe. At the right end of the second row is Judy Garland with a necklace made of pills. In front of her is Tina Mion herself! Creepy, huh? On the other hand, front and center is Liberace, not a suicide, but she just thought he would like to crash this party!

On a warmer note, here is Mion's tribute to the Harvey girls, two women she became friends with during the hotel restoration process.

Two other artists featured in La Posada are Daniel Lutzick, a sculptor, and Verne Lucero, described in the souvenir guide as "the greatest master of New Mexican tinwork."

Anyhow, on the way over we had had a sizable lunch at Earl's cafe in Gallup ("famous since 1947"), so were not inclined to partake of a La Posada gourmet dinner. (Note. The link to Earl's raves about its breakfasts, but reviews on other websites are not so flattering. The present Earl's is a modern reincarnation of the original, famous Route 66 Earl's in Gallup.) After sightseeing in downtown Winslow we opted for Sonicstuff and took it back to our room. Gourmet dining would wait for breakfast (and it was "worth waiting for," as they say about Clines Corners in NM).

The other thing Winslow is famous for is the Eagles' song, Take it Easy, with a line about standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. Well, we stood on the corner and visited the two adjoining Route 66-themed gift shops, and that was about it for sightseeing. At the corner, though, is a brick plaza that includes a brick that Susie bought to honor our one-year anniversary. We made sure it was still there.

Here are a few pix of the La Posada and your intrepid travelers.

Wednesday morning I was up very early, reading by the fireplace in the ballroom (one La Posada amenity is books and magazines everywhere), and then checking out sunrise over the railroad tracks. Just after 7:00 am Amtrak rolled in, took on about a dozen passengers, and left for Albuquerque and points east, on-time at 7:09. I talked to one couple who had spent the night in the La Posada. Wife said, "With airline travel being such a nightmare now, this is the only way to go."

Now, here's the Tuzigoot connection. On our Tuzitrip with the Allegro Club to Tombstone, we agreed to organize a rally some time in 2009. I've driven through the Mogollon Rim country of Arizona, near Show Low, a few times and thought that would be a nice place to spend some time. So, on the return trip from Winslow to Cedar Crest, I decided to check out a couple of RV parks in this area (south of Winslow). We have in mind a fall rally, say early October, timed for fall foliage finery. We did find a couple of possibilities and will check them out further before we finalize our rally plans. Might include a trip to the La Posada for lunch and corner-standing one day.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we left Show Low. There is some awesome ranch country heading east on US 60 from there, then angling up to I-40 near Grants, NM. Some of it we could barely see, though, because it was dark for our last hour on that stretch. Got home about 7:30. A fine time was had by all. Plan to stop at the La Posada in Winslow next time you're trekking across AZ on I-40.

Leaving soon for Florida. Until then,


Rob and Susie

Monday, November 03, 2008

Arizona - Day 3

Saturday was another opportunity to be in a confined underground area: we went to Bisbee and I (was the only one who) opted to take the Queen Mine tour.

The first claim on this copper mine was filed in the late 1880s by some soldiers who came across an outcropping with mineral content. Mining continued until 1975. Our guide had worked in the mines from 1948 to 1975, I think he said, though he didn't look that old. Anyhow, as one website commented, several miners made the transition from miner to mine guide so the mine contributed to the local economy even after it quit producing copper ore.

A group of about 30 of us rode a mine train back into the mountain just over a quarter of a mile. The mountain has 2500 miles of tunnels. The deepest shaft is 3400 feet and there are drifts (tunnels) branching off the shaft every 100 vertical feet. Elevators and chutes connected the drifts vertically for moving miners, ore, and mules. Before mechanism came, mules pulled the ore carts throughout the mines. There were something like 100 mules down there and they never came out. You’d think they’d get an occasional week of R&R, but they didn’t have a strong enough union. Here we are all suited up like miners. That's a light hanging over that first person's shoulder.

We spent about an hour underground, looking at some of the drilling equipment and learning about underground copper mining. Not surprisingly, the process is pretty similar to gold mines I have toured in Colorado: Get the ore out to where it can be processed.

Our guide said he recalled about 15 deaths in the mine during his years there. A dangerous job and other hazards akin to black lung disease. One of the more grisly accidents (recall, this is Halloween weekend) was when an elevator cage landed on someone who didn't realize it was on the way down.

I got out of the mine in time for lunch with the group in the historic Copper Queen Hotel. Bisbee, if you’ve never been there, is built on some steep hillsides and narrow canyons. In fact, it’s built that way if you have been there. Here's a historic shot and one of mine. It's a fascinating old mining town that is now something of an artistic and retirement retreat.

Here's a website with a lot of great Bisbee pictures:

After lunch Susie and I drove some of Bisbee’s streets and alleys, then headed back to camp, with a stop in Tombstone for an ice cream cone and some more western music. Saturday evening, back at the RV park, was a group cookout, potluck, and(more) story-telling time.

Sunday morning we enjoyed continental breakfast with the group, then said our goodbyes and headed out. This was our first outing with the Zia Chapter of the Allegro Club and we greatly enjoyed it – met several new couples, had a good time. Our "wagonmasters," Brenda and John Barber, from Alamogordo, put together an outstanding rally in one of my favorite parts of the SW. We look forward to more Zia outings in 2009.

Sunday, puttering along driving through some awesome, but barren country, intellectual stimulus came from roadside signs as well as every word Susie said to me. The signs:

WARNING: DUST STORMS MAY EXIST, read one. This would be material for a George Carlin routine. I mean, black swans may exist, too. Also unicorns, etc. But, then, maybe they don't exist. Maybe we don't exist, .... . Did you ever think of that?

Then: VISIBILITY MAY BE ZERO. This message seems to need some elaboration. For example: IF YOU CAN READ THIS, VISIBILITY IS NOT ZERO. Also, IF YOU CANNOT READ THIS, WELL, NEVERMIND.

One unique aspect of the day was that we did not have to re-set our watches for Standard Time. I'm not sure that's ever happened to me. Once we set our watches on AZ time on Oct. 28, we didn't have to change it for NM time on November 2! Doesn't take much to entertain me for 500 miles. XM radio helps, too.

Got to Truth or Consequences and found an RV park just before dark, then home about noon on Monday. The Rio Grande Valley was gorgeous in gold and green and as Susie said, "It's kind of nice to drive slower and see more." I don't detect any crack growth on the tires, but will now be able to replace them with a little more control of the situation.

We had a great time and we look forward to more Zia Allegro Club outings in 2009. Our next major Tuzitrip is to Florida in December. Those shuffleboard courts are calling.


Rob and Susie

Arizona - Day 2

Friday, Halloween, was pretty much a free day: the only scheduled event was dinner in Tombstone followed by a cowboy and western music show - turned out that an annual festival was in progress.

I spent most of the day, however, traveling to and from Tucson on Tuzigoot business. As I mentioned, somewhere on the trip down Tuzi’s hot water heater cover came off. I had called a RV supply shop in Tucson, found they had the part, and decided to pick it up. We had planned to go to Tucson on Monday, en route to Las Vegas, but we changed our minds because of the sidewall cracks in Tuzi’s tires. They didn’t look threatening (to me), but conventional wisdom is that you only get 5-6 years out of RV tires - aging gets them before tread wear does. Tuzi’s tires are 5.5 years old. I consulted with a couple of our fellow travelers (in the good sense of that term) and they thought caution dictated replacing the tires. Personal stories of blowouts were quite sobering. (Club rallies provide excellent opportunities to learn.)

So, when I got to Tucson I called tire shops and found one that had six tires of the size that I thought I needed. I arranged to come in Monday to have them installed. Then, when I got back to the RV park, I discovered I had mis-remembered the tire size. How dumb is that? Calling back to Tucson, I could only find six tires of the correct size at one shop, but they were an off-brand - not Michelins.

Now, I must admit I had not diligently checked the tires for cracks before we left Albq, so I figured that if I had driven down on cracked tires, I could drive home on them, too, albeit more cautiously. (Extending that logic, I could drive on them endlessly, but no-o-o.) I generally drive in the low 60s on interstate highways. I stayed in the low 50s returning. As I write this, it’s Sunday evening in a T or C RV park, we've had no problem, I can’t see any change in the tires’ condition, and we’ve only got 160 miles to go tomorrow. [Update Monday evening: No problem.]

But, back to Tombstone. We had some time before dinner to look around. Here's the historic Tombstone courthouse and a passing stagecoach.

Meanwhile, on Main Street, outside of where we were fixin' to get some vittles, it looks like trouble's a-brewin.' That's Wyatt in the red tie. Something tells me that this situation will not turn out OK.

Dinner and the show were fine, though we left at intermission. I was tired and the festival schedule showed that the second-act acts would be playing on Saturday afternoon and we could come back for that. Which we did.

Next: Day 3


Rob and Susie

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tombstone - Fall 2008: Day 1

Dear Friends and Family:

Tuzigoot's manufacturer, Tiffin Motor Homes, has an owners club, called the Allegro Club because some of the company's models are named Allegro, like our Allegro Bus. NM has a chapter, the Zia Chapter. One of our members organized an extended weekend rally at the Tombstone Territory RV Park, located about 12 miles from Tombstone, AZ, interestingly enough, and where better to spend Halloween weekend than Tombstone -- Oooooo? Seven rigs, 14 people, came to Tombstone. Six of the rigs were Tiffins; one was an SOB (which we learned meant some other brand), but we're an inclusive group.

But first, I will note that on the way down we lost the cover to Tuzi's hot water heater. Either the latch wasn't secure (I don't recall messing with it, or checking it) or it worked loose on the way. The last time we made a trip to AZ, in Tuzi-one, we lost the hot water heater cover, too. Weird, huh -- Oooooo. Also, inspecting Tuzi's tires, during our overnight stay in Deming, NM, I found some sidewall cracks. Wasn't sure how worried to be about them. More on this later.

The Tucson Territories RV Park is a large park, well set-up for groups and large rigs. Had a nice kitchen and dining/club room that we used. Not too many people there at this time, but we understand it fills up for the winter season. It's fairly remote, 25-30 miles from the nearest grocery store, but has great panoramic views and a very friendly, helpful staff.

First day, 10/29, morning, we went to Kartchner Caverns State Park. This is a very new cave, in the sense that it was just discovered in 1974, purchased by AZ from the Kartchner family in 1988, and opened to the public only in 2003 after considerable construction and stringent design work aimed at preserving this active "wet" cave. For example, we went through four or five air-locks getting from the entrance to the cave itself. This maintains the natural atmosphere. Access is by a tram that takes you from the visitors center to the entrance. Also, nightly they hose down all the paved paths in the cave. There's no food, no picture-taking, no back- or fanny packs, no touching (the cave walls and formations) in the cave. The period from 1974 to '88 was one of secrecy and intrigue -- the discoverers above all wanted secrecy to prevent vandalism of the cave. The first time they took a State Parks official they blindfolded him, drove in circles a while, then to the cave after dark.

One neat thing is that the introductory video you see before entering the cave features the two discoverers. They explain and re-enact some of the discovery scenes. They had previously found a sinkhole partway up the side of a small mountain, thought it might lead to a cave (these guys know caves), but couldn't find an opening. On a later trip to look again, they found that the cave was exhaling -- the distinct odor of bat guano. They dug around, found an opening and eventually worked their way through a small tunnel -- in some places barely allowing head and shoulders through an opening -- some 400 feet into a room filled with formations like the ones in these pictures (copied and pasted from the website).

These are "soda straw" stalactites. The longest is about 20 feet long.

We've often found that the guides at historic and scenic landmarks really make the visits by their knowledge and enthusiasm. That was the case here: an octagenarian couple (I'd guess), he was the guide, she was the trailer, making sure no one transgressed or lagged behind, led and followed our group. He had lots of stories and theories about the chemistry underlying some of the formations. She carried a large flashlight that I suspected she would use on anyone who strayed. One piece of technical information from our guide: What's the difference between a cavern and a cave? A cavern has a gift shop.

One formation new to me was helactites. Couldn't find a picture, but these are small, ribbon-like, gravity-defying formations that grow horizontally and twist and turn in all directions. They look like petrified fungi of some sort. Water flow, mineral content, and air flow are believed to be the factors shaping these formations. Our guide thought that maybe microbes, one-cell living organisms, not just chemical reactions, might contribute to these formations.

(Note: When I say we went to the cave, that’s an editorial we. Susie doesn’t do underground confined spaces so she was one of our group that stayed in camp.)

After the cavern, the group then went to Sierra Vista for lunch and those who wanted to, including us, toured historic Fort Huachuca after lunch.

Fort Huachuca was one of a gaggle of forts strung across the SW in the late 1800s to protect settlers and travelers in the area and to fight the Indian wars. After Geronimo was captured and things settled down, many forts closed, but Huachuca remained active and it was from here that General Pershing led a “Punitive Expedition" into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa, who had attacked Columbus, NM, in 1916 and killed 18 people. Various other missions such as intelligence and electronic warfare have kept Huachuca in business until this very day.

This statue, called The Eyes of the Army, celebrates the Indian scouts who guided the cavalry. You could say that intelligence and communication have been the Fort Huachuca missions for over a century.

Fort Huachuca sits above the desert floor on the flank of the Huachuca Mountains, which gives it a good view of the border country and its climate is not quite as hot as you might think. From various soldier quotes that we read in the Fort’s museum, though, it was not a particularly beloved spot. Mostly, though, they complained about having to do common labor building and maintaining the fort, rather than real soldier duty. Various luminaries served there including Patton and the father of Fiorello LaGuardia, who was the fort’s bandmaster.

The museum has some interesting exhibits and a good video thoroughly describing fort history. The famed Buffalo Soldiers served here in several capacities, as is well-represented at the museum.

A busy, interesting day. Here's a campground sunset.

Next, Day 2.


Rob and Susie

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Oklahoma! September 2008

Greetings, Family and Friends:

My sister, Verla, turned 50 on September 25, the same day I turned 66. To mark the occasion she put on a dance party in Edmond, OK. We went -- via the Ford Explorer, not Tuzigoot. (We couldn't leave until Friday and the party was Friday night, so there wasn't time to take Tuzi.)

Earlier this year Susie and I had gone to a friend's 66th birthday dinner, which was fetchingly-themed with Route 66 memorabilia, so we adopted that idea and had this birthday cake created for the party. It depicts Highways 50 and 66 (get it?) and is topped off with a couple of buses from my collection.

Here's some of the birthday revelry:

My brother, Lael, flew in on Saturday. He and his wife, Katherine, are preparing to sail from their dock on the Chesapeake Bay to Australia over the next year or two, so it may be a while before he gets to see us again. Pictures and more at their Painted Skies website. Here's a picture of Mom and kids:

We've made several trips to OK in recent years in which we just zipped over and back on I-40. Enough! I said. This time we'll get off the beaten path and see some other country, and some family. So, leaving Edmond on Monday we headed for NW Oklahoma, where both my parents grew up. I rode with Lael in his rental car and Susie followed as we careened across the landscape. Our destination was the farm where my mother and her four sisters were raised. Cousin, Dennis, now farms and maintains the home place and we're grateful to him for preserving the buildings as we remember them from our childhood visits. I drove a tractor for my grandfather the summer between my junior and senior years in HS and have some great memories from that time. Here are pictures from an earlier visit (2003). If you look closely, you'll see that I was wearing a Route 66 t-shirt even then.

After a good visit with Dennis and his son, David, we drove on to nearby Buffalo for lunch and more visiting with two more cousins, Ross and Charlene, and spouses, Marsha and Frank. Ross had given me great directions to the cafe: "It's two blocks north of where the stoplight used to be."

We left Buffalo (school mascot: the bison) in mid-afternoon and drove straight through the OK panhandle and stopped just across the border for the night in Clayton, NM.

Several years ago I bought a book titled Miles from Nowhere: In Search of the American Frontier, by Dayton Duncan. It was published in 1993 and is about US counties that had less than two people per square mile in the 1990 census. I've been recently rereading it. Lots of interesting insight into today's frontierspeople. Anyhow, one of those counties is Cimarron County, OK, the last county in the panhandle and another is the adjacent Union County, NM. Lots of wideopen spaces. I love it. Here's the Union County courthouse and some wideopenness:

Tuesday morning, on the way to Springer, NM, I spotted a sign for the Dorsey Mansion, so I U-turned and we drove 12 miles up a dirt road to see the mansion (a maneuver you can't do in a Tuzigoot). I've read articles about this place in NM magazines and newspapers and thought it would be neat to see. The mansion was built by a Senator Dorsey, close by the Santa Fe Trail, and was quite the place to be in the late 1800s. Here's a picture and some text from the website:

Construction on the rambling 2-story log house began in 1878, with completion in 1880. In about 1884, he began to remodel his home, adding the stone castle structure that included faces of his wife Helen Dorsey, his brother John and himself carved in stone on the castle tower. (Along with a few gargoyles.) Among a few of the amenities of this magnificent house, is an art gallery, billiard room, library, 9 bedrooms, a 60 guest dining room, servant quarters and the first indoor bathroom. (Prior to that, he had a spacious 8 hole outhouse behind the mansion.) But, not to be outdone, the grounds boast an 1800's swimming pool, with 3 islands and a gazebo!

Unfortunately, we found, you have to make reservations for a tour and you can't get close to the building, without ignoring a No Trespassing warning. Rather jarringly, there's a large junk yard on the property, just to the right of these pictures. Out here in the middle of nowhere you wouldn't expect either a mansion or a junkyard.

Here's a windmill and stock tank along the road to the Dorsey Mansion:

We then made our way across the mountainous regions of northern NM -- Eagle Nest, Red River, Taos. From Taos we headed south over what is called the High Road to Taos. Beautiful day, beautiful fall colors. The ancient village of Truchas is a fascinating place on this route. Assorted pictures:

So, lots of family fun and fall foliage packed into five days.


Rob and Susie

p.s. I think our front door looks particularly welcoming at night, so here's a home-again picture: