49

Montana checked off the list: my 49th state. Stayed for a few days in Billings. Lots of prairie ‘tween Dickinson, ND and Billings, lots of cows. One thing that has puzzled me on my travels over the past year and that is the apparent lack of land usage for agricultural purposes. Out west it makes some sense because so much of the land is owned by the government, but even so, it’s been noticeable and puzzling, as I say. Found a cool trail to hike at a place called Phipps Park. The main geologic feature of the area is a series of rimrock ridges left by the sea that was here millions of years ago and as further cut by the Yellowstone River. The trail at Phipps Park takes you up on one of these ridges.

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It’s about 300′ up to the ridge, so in my case there was plenty of huffin’ and puffin’, but once on the top there were some spectacular views.

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There were a lot of little side trails, as can be seen in the photo just above, making for an interesting place to explore. The other neat thing: there was a disc golf course that ran all up and down the ridge.

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Blisters, though. My boots failed me with blisters on both heels.

The Rig has 2 propane tanks, each holds 10 gals of propane. When hooked up to electricity most things run on electric, except the oven/stove. But when boondocking with no electric then the propane or battery power takes the lead: refrigerator, heater, the LED lights, vent fans. Some things don’t work without shore power: microwave, A/C, the AC outlets. Bottom line: I don’t use a lot of propane. So far while traveling I’ve had to refill one tank a month. But in Billings I ran out of propane in both tanks. Fortunately I was in a place where it was no problem getting them filled. Seemed odd, though.

Spent the weekend driving from Billings to Heber City, UT, which is near the ski areas just outside of Salt Lake City. The drive from Billings took me west to Bozeman then south, along the west side of Yellowstone Park. The scenery on this part of the drive was fabulous. Most of Yellowstone Park doesn’t open until May 1st, so it’s still a bit early in the season, a good bit of snow still on the ground.IMG_5161 (2)IMG_5162 (2)IMG_5167 (2)

The scenery from Billings to Bozeman was less rocky than that seen back to the east: rolling hills with lots of greenery and some heavily-forested patches. Some rock outcroppings, but not a lot.

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Salt Lake City is underrated as a mountain destination, I think. Of course it’s located on the Great Salt Lake, which is an interesting geologic feature, but not particularly scenic, but SLC is also surrounded by mountains. Here’s a shot driving through downtown on I-15.

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Hard to beat the view from my RV site:

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Heber City is about 45 minutes southeast of downtown SLC. It’s not itself a ski town, but just a few miles away from Park City and Deer Valley (think 2002 Olympics), which are world-class ski areas. Heber is in a valley with a couple of beautiful lakes within a few miles. So, all in all, a good location. Time to check on some hiking trails…

Sunny California

Temecula, to be exact. Slightly to the east of the L.A./San Diego axis, but about halfway in between, maybe a wee bit closer to San Diego. The drive over from PHX on I-10 was mostly desert terrain. The area near Palm Springs is inundated with windmills.

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Kind of hard to tell from the picture, but there must have been at least 50 windmills in sight when I snapped the pic, maybe more. Overall in the area: hundreds. Driving through Palm Springs you see signs for Bob Hope Road and Gene Autry Trail and Sonny Bono Freeway. It’s like sitting on Johnny Carson’s couch. “We’ll be right back with our next guest, the Lady from 29 Palms.”

After turning south off of I-10 the land turns more to the green rolling hills that I normally associate with California. There was still some snow in the high country at Big Bear Lake and Mt San Jacinto.

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Temecula is a wine region, so it’s not a coincidence tht it became my destination. The environs at Temecula are very much California, but also very reminiscent of northern Italy. Tourism has boomed in the area in recent years due to the wine industry and a casino. There are over 40 wineries in the Temecula Valley AVA, many of which have very nice tasting rooms and restaurants or lodging attached. The area historically was devoted to citrus and avocados. Still a lot of orange trees.

My pal Natalie, ever the wine hobbyist, came in for the weekend. Saturday we met up with my former colleagues from JD Fields & Co., Mike and Chris Leone and their spouses and hit 4 or 5 wineries. They were all crowded but a good time was had by all. You can tell from looking at the tasting lists that they grow a bunch of different varietals in the area.

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Most of the wineries seem to sell their production through wine clubs and the tasting rooms. Not much seems to get into other distribution channels. Even the restaurants in the area don’t tout the local wines as much as you see in other wine regions.

It’s very pretty country, no doubt.

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Ah, springtime in Cownifornia!

There are 2 Presidential Libraries in the vicinity: Nixon and Reagan. Nixon is in the middle of Yorba Linda. Took about an hour to drive over there one afternoon. Traffic was not especially heavy, but lots of turns and lights. The building itself is designed to look like the White House.

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The first thing you see is quite an impressive work of art.

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Nixon today might well be a Democrat. He ended the war in Vietnam, as promised, albeit in a manner perhaps not to everyone’s liking; made real progress toward completing the integration of southern schools; initiated significant outreach programs for minority businesses and self-determination for Native Americans; established EPA; launched the War on Cancer; signed Title IX. And he was perhaps the most accomplished President in terms of foreign policy, certainly in my lifetime. The Media was not his friend, mainly, I think, because he was not JFK (although his anti-communist activites in the 50s may have had something to do with it). Of course, his paranoia led to the Big Mistake of Watergate, and with the media not on his side, it was curtains. A very interesting character, though. In going through the Presidential Libraries I am always struck by the unique individual stories of the men who rose to be President. In every case I think: “only in America”!

Most all of the Presidential Libraries have some sort of exhibit of the gifts that were given by foreign states during the tenure of the subject. I was particularly struck by the disparity in the gifts given by the Brits and the Saudis. Herewith, the Brits:

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Autographed photos of Anne and Charles. Really? Now the Saudis brought the bling:

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There were some interesting displays of of the official daily diary.

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In the first one Nixon had an “interplanetary conversation” with Apollo 11 astronauts. The second one shows the Pres gettin’ his Elvis on. He also got a call from Mrs. Tommy Dorsey that day, but she ain’t no Elvis!

Ever noticed that famous people seem to hang out with other famous peeps?

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Bob Hope on the left, Arnold Palmer on the right. Kissinger and Gerald Ford also in the mix.

My RV park is on the same property as the Pechanga Casino. Big place. Stays busy. Apparently very profitable. Owned by an Indian tribe that has only 1000 members. They are banking big time.

 

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Flashy, lots of slots, many of the 1 cent variety. Quite a few restaurants. They have some tech advancements I’ve never seen, such as electronic craps and roulette tables.IMG_4760

But even amidst glitz and glamor sometimes RV life makes you kick it down a notch.

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A couple days later I headed over to the Reagan Library, which was quite a trek: 135 miles and about 3 hours each way. Of the 6 PLs I’ve been to the Reagan struck me as the most “cheerleaderish” of them all. All of them deal with problem issues. Nixon started right off with Watergate. This is not meant as a criticism of the Reagan, just my gut feel. Perhaps his administration had fewer controversies than others. But the long drive was worth it. Definitely the most scenic setting of any of the other PLsIMG_4794IMG_4795IMG_4796

Several items caught my attention. Reagan was of course known as the Great Communicator. But at this speech there was at least one guy that was not spellbound.

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They represented this guy as being Reagan’s uncle.

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But if he is anybody’s uncle I say it’s Dr. Phil.

Overall, a nice stay in Temecula. They say it gets hot in the summer but spring is very pleasant. Now back to PHX for a few days and then to Alpine, AZ to look at some property.

West Texas

Not much to say about West Texas. It’s there. There’s a lot of it. Speed limit is 80 on most of I-10. That’s about it. There was a haze to the horizon in all directions the last 2 days, someone said from the wildfires in the Panhandle. Amazing to think it has such a big effect 300 miles or more away. After a day and a half driving from Georgetown I finally reached escape velocity and entered New Mexico this afternoon, after a night at the Fort Stockton Walmart.

Walmart hasn’t changed much in the 4 months since I’ve been on the road. I count that a good thing. Especially the Supercenters, they just have the stuff you need while traveling.

I neglected to include the menu from the Brennan’s Throwback dinner mentioned in the last post. Hard to believe those prices! What a fun event.

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Life in the evening is pretty quiet when boondocking in the Walmart parking lot (tonight: Deming, NM). Tight quarters inside because the slideouts stay in. Battery power is insufficient to run certain things: TV, microwave, A/C. And since the trailer is still hooked to the truck, there is no leveling in place and the living space is a bit slantical. But the LED lights inside work, so reading is in play, and if cell service is available I can use the cell phone to hotspot the laptop. The temps the last 2 nights are down in the 40s, so no need for A/C. Last night I ate in the trailer, tonight I scored some mexican food a few hundred yards down the street. Not so bad, really.

Off to Arizona tomorrow. Booked for 2 weeks at an RV park in Goodyear, AZ. Figure to see some Cactus League baseball and a few other local sites. Maybe check out some hiking trails.

Just over a year now since I retired. During the last week I’ve visited with two of my former colleagues at JD Fields & Co. When they ask me if I miss it I tell them: not for a single day. I have to admit to enjoying their jealousy. Does that make me a bad person? Yeah? Well, tough. One guy said “Man, you look a whole lot better than you did when you left here!” Maybe there’s a book there. Retirement: A Salubrious Pursuit.

Shut Down Mode

I’ve been back in Houston for about 10 days now and through the holidays at least. The Beast is at the dealer in Baird, TX getting some minor maintenance done and I reckon to go up there this week and then park it in an RV storage unit in Georgetown.

So let’s call this the conclusion of the Maiden Voyage in The Rig. The final log shows 12,000 miles on Big ‘Un, maybe 7,000 or so on The Beast; 87 days; 19 states. No major mechanical problems. Good weather all the way, except unseasonably hot/warm most everywhere. Very little rain.

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America is a beautiful country, so many interesting things to see and do. And the people are good, everywhere.

Not sure where the next voyage will be, though right now I’m leaning toward Astros spring training in West Palm Beach, FL in March and then head west after that. Alaska is probably not in the cards for next summer, but we’ll see.

Thanks for all the encouragement and good wishes on the blog. It’ll be back back once the Beast and Big ‘Un are rolling again.

Headin’ South; Observations

After a couple of days in Ithaca, including some good dinners with Rachael and Brian, a trip to the Chevy dealer for routine maintenance on Big ‘Un and a haircut (finally – between Keene, NH and Ithaca NY I was 0 for 6 trying to get a walk-in haircut) I headed south on Saturday, retracing much of my original route through Corning, NY, Williamsport, PA, etc. Actually, the most colorful foliage yet was between Watkins Glen and Corning. It was overcast all day and drizzly most of it, but the leg terminated safely at a Cracker Barrel in Winchester, VA in the northwest corner of VA. In the stretch of about 30 miles you hit 4 states: PA, WV, MD and VA.

Cracker Barrel is one of those places that sometimes permit RVs to park overnight. This is the first time I’ve done it and it worked out OK once I got the rig parked. Then an early supper in Cracker Barrel and time to hole up in the rig. The etiquette when using a freebie parking lot is to not act like your staying: don’t unhook the trailer from the truck, don’t use the slideouts, don’t make noise by running the A/C, etc. Fortunately it was cool enough the A/C wasn’t needed. It is a bit cramped inside with the slide outs not extended, but I did some reading, fell asleep on the couch then went to bed. It makes for an easy getaway in the morning, after a Cracker Barrel breakfast, of course.

While in New England there were a couple of road signs that had me scratching the old coconut. As I was driving into Fryeburg, ME the welcoming sign sign proclaimed proudly that it was the oldest town in Oxford County. That’s worth a sign? Think the marketing department worked overtime on that one? This was on a Monday morning and there was quite a traffic jam on both roads into town. I stopped in at the Maine visitor center (this place is right on the border to NH) and asked about the traffic jam. Turns out it was in the midst of the weeklong Fryeburg Fair and that morning was the lumberjack competition. But for the traffic I might have stuck around and checked that out, but I was off to the White Mountains.

Here’s another sign: a diamond shape yellow caution sign with the words “thickly populated”. Huh? Why not “heavily populated”, or “beware of folks” or a picture like a deer crossing sign with people leaping over the road? Thickly populated. Is it any wonder about our natural human concern for our Yankee brethren? Bless their hearts.

Is Florida known for fried chicken? In Pennsylvania there was a sign touting a joint serving “Florida Fryed Chicken”. Now Florida is known for many things, bad spelling perhaps being near the top of the list, but fried chicken? Never heard of it.

Passing from PA into MD brought a moment of unexpected bliss. No later than 1 minute after crossing the Mason-Dixon Line I saw a sign for Waffle House. There followed a feeling of such calm and serenity, enough to bring repose to the most tortured soul. There’s no place like home no matter how broadly defined.

Granted, most of my travel recently has been in rural areas. But I gotta say, the Trump signs WAY outnumber the Hillary signs.

Today’s drive brought me to Fries, VA. It was a beautiful day and most of the drive was on I-81, then I-77. Good bit of traffic, and one thing I noticed is that the state rest stops were all very crowded, especially with big trucks. Maybe they stop more often these days to answer texts and emails? The last few miles were a bit hairy, though: winding narrow roads, as Fries (pronounced like freeze) is one of those places you can’t get to unless you’re going there. It’s just a few miles north of the NC border and not far from TN either. It’s  small RV park snug up against a babbling brook.

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Close observation will reveal a few leaves retreating before autumn’s onslaught:

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Serenity abounds, one might say, buttressed by this long-awaited sight today, after wandering helplessly for weeks in the Dunkin’ Donuts wilderness:

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Giving The Beast a Break

After a day as Rodney Dangerfield, today was more easy and laid back. Bing Crosby-ish, perhaps. Although I have generally been sleeping very well in The Beast, last night not so much. Woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep. Ergo, off for an early breakfast at Lindy’s Diner, locally famous for hosting presidential candidates and politicians of all stripes. No one in there today at 6:30 this morning that I would have voted for. Eggs, bacon and coffee all so-so, but pretty good pancakes. Guess they have to bring a good pancake game in these parts since they are so fond of their maple syrup. After Lindy’s a trip to (GASP!) Walmart. These Walmart Supercenters actually do a pretty good job on the grocery side. Good prices on drinking water. Man, I’ve been drinking a ton of water with all this hot weather everywhere.

I’m ensconced for the next 2 weeks at the Ashuelot River Campground in Swanzey, NH. The place is wide open in the middle but ringed by trees all around the perimeter and bounded by the river itself on one side. It’s not too crowded as their season winds down. I strolled the grounds after breakfast this morning.

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The river was mirror placid this morning. The plan is to use this place as a base of operations for day trips into Maine, Vermont and other parts of NH, perhaps a night’s stay or two elsewhere, but in the Big ‘Un only, not in The Beast. You can cover a lot of ground within 200 miles of here (the yellow line):arcg

How ’bout those Astros? Still in contention, but hanging on by their fingertips. When they had a rough patch a week or two ago I predicted they would finish strong but just sort of a playoff spot. We shall see…

Oh, go Texans! This place doesn’t have any TV reception so text me updates!

 

 

Tough Day at the Track

Imagine Rodney Dangerfield sitting in the guest chair on the Tonight Show between Johnny and Ed:

“Oh, I tell ya, Johnny, I had a tough day today a TOUGH day!”

“Really Rodney? <Johnny grins at audience> How…tough..was it?”

“It was so tough that as soon I as I got here I headed for Ed’s private booze stash…and it was EMPTY! Tough day I tell ya!” <rim shot>

So yesterday my name was Rodney. The route: Wilmington, NY to Swanzey, NH. When I first plotted the route Tuesday night in the RV Trip Wizard app it showed 177 miles and 4 hours travel time. But then there was a low bridge along the route so I chose plan B, so now it was something like 203 miles and 4.5 hours. OK, so be it. So Wednesday morning there I was among the trees at the KOA:

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The plan was to dump the tanks, hook ’em up and skedaddle by 9 AM. One thing I’ve learned, hook up, especially with a dump, always takes a bit longer than I think. So, actual departure time was more like 10 AM. No problem, the destination campground charges extra for checkin before 2 PM. I stop before turning out of the KOA and fire up my map app: no go. The map was not populating on the screen on my phone (even with the WeBoost !), so I could not see the route. I remembered turn left and go half a mile, but that was it. Not good enough. I remembered that navigation service is provided under the OnStar introductory package, so I called them and told the lady my situation. “Oh yes, we can provide directions right to the screen in your vehicle!” OK, but I have the route problem with the low bridge so don’t send me that way. Next thing I know the computer voice is telling me the route is on its merry way to my screen. And so it was: “in 100 feet turn left on county road so-and-so.” So now I know the problem with OnStar navigation: they only show your next turn. Again, not good enough since I’m a big picture guy. I prefer to be master of my route, not lead by the nose in the dark on a turn by turn basis. I don’t want them to “tell me” I want them to “confirm for me”. But, there seemed no other choice so I yielded to the machine.

After the first few turns I was confident that OnStar was sending me on a route similar to the one I mapped out the night before…until we got to the interstate. Now I recognized this interstate as being part of the planned route, only it should have been a right turn and OnStar said turn left. And OnStar was telling me to turn on a road that was maybe 100 yards past the interstate entrance, only I could not see the road. So I bit the bullet and turned left on the interstate and within 30 seconds OnStar was graciously telling me I screwed up. Well sweet, the next interstate exit was maybe 15 miles ahead. Oh well, it’s only time (and gas). But fate stepped in: 6 miles down the road was a “text stop”. So I pulled in there, hauled my laptop out of the Beast and was able to get the map app to work. Finally I had the much needed big picture.

After getting headed in the opposite direction on the interstate I was feeling back on track. But for some reason I left OnStar navigation on. It said get off the interstate, so I did, but as soon as I did I could tell this was not where I wanted to be. Fortunately, I was at a 4 way stop in a huge intersection with no other traffic and I was able to u-turn the Rig and get back on the interstate. Adios OnStar.

The scenery in eastern upstate NY was quite nice: more rolling hills compared to the mountainous terrain around Lake Placid, mostly agricultural (more corn!). But after getting off the interstate and rolling into Vermont the road turned to 2 lane state roads with more curves and ups and downs, which is just more stressful when dragging The Beast. Plus there were several bridges under construction cut down to one very narrow lane. Mega stressful.

Then the topper. Going through a small town, following the route on the map app I came to a right turn. Before turning I looked to the right and about 100 feet away was a bridge with a clearance of 11 feet. Sheesh! That would have shaved the top 2.5 feet off The Beast! Long story short, after an extra 40 or 50 miles and almost 2 hours I finally got back on a road that got me to the destination. The 4 to 4.5 hour trip turned into 7 hours. Ed, where’s your stash when I need it?