2015/16 Fall/Winter/Spring

Pictures can be found here

Our last update had us leaving the bus in storage near Atlanta, GA as we traveled to St. Maarten for two weeks.  We enjoyed two weeks with my brother, his wife, and a few other friends.  My brother has two timeshares in St. Maarten.  One is at Oyster Bay Beach Resort, and one is next door at the Westin.  We spent the first week of our trip at Oyster Bay and the second week at the Westin.  The two resorts are quite different.  Oyster Bay is strictly a timeshare property, and as such has lots of organized activities each week for their guests.  The Westin is also a hotel, so the timeshare guests are pretty much left to entertain themselves.

We have spent time at my brother’s timeshare before and of course lots of time in St. Maarten on the boat.  So for us, the trip was just an opportunity to be back in the Caribbean, relaxing around the ocean.  One thing we had never done in any of our previous visits to St. Maarten though was to take a side trip to the next island north, Anguilla.  Anguilla is only a few miles north of St. Maarten, but it is a different country.  Each time we have been at the timeshare, we have done a snorkeling trip with Captain Alan.  This time we arranged a day trip to circumnavigate Anguilla, including several stops along the way to snorkel and walk some beaches.  Anguilla is different than most of the eastern Caribbean islands in that it is not a volcano.  It is low and has lots of shallow water around it which results in nice turquoise water to float and swim in.  Captain Alan pointed out many haunts of the rich and famous along the way.  The Anguilla trip was our only “first” of this visit, but we also enjoyed visits to many other places we have been before.  We took a ride up to Grand Case to the lolos for lunch, a trip to Marigot to the weekly market, a trip to Phillipsburg to visit the jewelry stores and cruise ship souvenir shops, and a trip to Orient Beach for a beach day and people watching.  Much more time was spent by the pool with a cool beverage in hand.

Upon returning from St. Maarten, we found the bus back in a pull-through spot.  We had arranged for the RV park staff to move it out of storage the day we were to return, since we would be back late in the evening.  We left the next morning, heading for Choudrant, LA where we are going to have our refrigerator replaced.  The refrigerators in most RVs are what is called an “absorption” refrigerator.  They run off propane or 110v electricity.  The fact that they can run off propane is good if you do a lot of camping outside of RV parks.  Unfortunately, the model of refrigerator installed in most Alfas has been recalled due to a propensity to catch fire.  Ours is part of that recall, but the recall “fix” simply installs a heat sensor which hopefully shuts down the unit before it catches fire if it overheats.  Having seen several examples of the result of an RV fire, we decided to replace the absorption fridge with a regular residential unit.  Since we cleaned the fridge out for our two week storage period, and we are passing through Louisiana anyway this is the perfect time to visit Dick Albritton’s place in Choudrant where they have done many of these conversions in Alfas.  We had the new fridge delivered to Albritton’s before we got there and once there it was out with the old and in with the new in about six hours of work.  A large window has to be removed to get the units in and out using a forklift.  With some minor cabinet modification and wiring changes, the new unit looks like it was always there and we are very happy with it.

After the fridge work, we headed to Kemah, TX where we will spend a few months catching up on annual doctor stuff, enjoying the holidays, and visiting old friends.  We took a weekend trip to Austin to attend our friends Karen & Henry’s annual Christmas dinner party where we caught up with a number of our Austin friends.  The day after Christmas, we took the bus down to Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula for a full moon party on the beach.  We spent the night in a friend’s vacant lot just off the beach and enjoyed a bonfire and the music of Jerry Diaz.  Our trip to Bolivar included a ride on the Bolivar Ferry, which was a first for us in the RV.  On the ferry ride back to Kemah, we were the first vehicle at the front of the ferry and the seas were pretty rough.  This resulted in the front of the bus getting splashed big time with salt water spray.  We had already planned to wash the bus to get the salt spray off it from being on the beach, but this was adding salt water insult to injury.  To save us trouble, as soon as we got back to our spot in Kemah, we had a downpour.  Problem solved.

The new year started with our annual trip to New Orleans for Pardi Gras.  We drove the car, but left the bus in Kemah.  There is an RV park on the edge of the French Quarter, but it is almost as expensive as the hotels, and it is just far enough away from the action that we would need to take taxis back and forth, so we skipped that option.  We enjoyed our five days in New Orleans, listening to great Trop Rock music and catching up with friends from all over the country.  While we were there, the Mississippi River was almost flooding.  Near Jackson Square, if you stand on the river levee, the water level is normally ten or fifteen feet down from the top.  This year, it was only a few feet from the top of the levee.  River traffic for big boats was being restricted due to the high water and swift currents.

At the end of February, we packed up and left the Kemah area to head west.  Our first stop was another music event in Port Aransas, TX, near Corpus Christi.  Pirates and Poets is a singer-songwriter event put on by our friends Jon Burns and Dammit Earl Sanders.  We enjoyed two day of music there, and then continued west.  Last year we went from Houston to Phoenix in three days.  This year we plan to take our time and see some of west Texas and New Mexico. 

From Port Aransas, we traveled southwest along the Texas coast to Port Isabel, near Brownsville.  We spent two nights here.  We drove down to Brownsville to the Mexican border crossing, and out to the beach on South Padre Island.  We found that this area is home to many Winter Texans.  Winter Texans are those RVers who migrate to south Texas in the winter and back home to places like Idaho and Montana in the summer.  From the southernmost point in TX, we headed north to Floresville, near San Antonio.  Here, our friends Fred & Sara have room to park several RV’s with power.  We visited with Fred & Sara and attended the San Antonio Parrothead Club’s birthday event with them.  We knew quite a few members of the San Antonio club and had a good time.  We were especially happy to win a raffle while we were there.  The prize was a crate of booze.  Twenty-one bottles!  Not bad for a $20 investment in tickets.  We made a couple of day trips while based at Fred & Sara’s.  One day we went into San Antonio and toured the Alamo and the Riverwalk.  Another day we went to New Braunfels and toured the Natural Bridge Caverns.  We also hit Gruene, TX for lunch one day.

From San Antonio, we moved north to Leander, TX, just north of Austin.  As we were getting ready to leave Fred & Sara’s, the motor on our big slide broke.  I had to crank the slide in by hand, which is not an easy task.  We’ll have to ship a new on to Austin.  Our timing for being in Austin was not based on anything special.  It just happened to be when we got there.  Unfortunately, it was timed perfectly with the first week of South by Southwest (SXSW) which is an arts/music/tech conference/festival that draws thousands of people to Austin.  Because of the crowds associated with SXSW, we never did just go to downtown Austin to just explore around.  Instead we met up with several friends over the course of the week at places not far from where we were.  We caught up with Liz who Barb used to work with, Devin whom we met cruising, Henry & Karen who host the Christmas dinner, and Parrothead friends Pam & Duane who took us to see the college bar they own.  We also got to see our friends Chris & Dan, The Detentions, who had a gig in Round Rock, another town north of Austin.  Our new slide motor was delivered to the RV park, and I installed it.  I saved the old one to take apart someday and see if I can fix it to have as a spare.

Our next stop was not far to the west in Johnson City, TX.  Johnson City is so named because it was the home of Lyndon Johnson.  We spent several days in Johnson City and made several side trips.  The main trip was to the LBJ Ranch.  The LBJ Ranch was also known as the Texas White House because LBJ spent a considerable amount of time working from there when he was President.  There is a runway at the ranch, but it was not strong enough to land even the old Air Force One (a 707).  So, Air Force One would land in Austin and the people would be shuttled to the ranch aboard a Lockheed Jetstar, sometimes referred to as Air Force One Half.  That plane is part of the museum now.  The main house was lived in by LBJ and Lady Bird after he was no longer President.  Before Lady Bird died, the property was donated to the National Park Service to be restored to its mid-60’s condition after her death.  So today, it looks exactly as it did when LBJ was President.  It was pretty interesting and reminiscent of a simpler time, even for the President.  The property also includes a small collection of old cars that LBJ drove.  This includes the Amphicar that he pranked visitors in when he would drive it into the lake.  One day was dedicated to tastings.  We had lunch at the Pecan Street Brewery, and then visited the Texas Olive Oil Company, Dripping Springs Distillery, and Bell Springs Winery.  One day was a road trip through Llano, Lake Buchanan, and Marble Falls where we ate at Doc’s Fish Camp which used to be owned by old cruising friends.  Our last day took us for a visit with old BMC work friend Bruce whom we hadn’t seen since we took off in 2005.

Next stop on the Texas tour was Fredericksburg.  We stayed at a KOA outside Fredericksburg, and Peter, an old Parrothead friend from Houston joined us there, staying in one of the KOA Kabins.  We went to Luckenbach for the Mud Dauber Festival and some good country music, and enjoyed some German food in town.  The day after Peter headed back to Houston, our friends Ted & Sharlotte drove out from Austin to have lunch with us.  We had not met up with them in Austin, but Fredericksburg is still only about an hour west, so they took the time to come see us.  We went to lunch at the Hanger Hotel Diner, which is located at the Fredericksburg airport.  It is a popular place for private pilots to fly in for a meal, and it was fun having lunch while looking out at the runway.

Our last stop in Texas was Davis Mountain State Park in the Big Bend region.  The state park is just west of Big Bend National Park.   West Texas is a pretty sparse place, and at first glance, the park was too.  Once checked in, we followed the road back through a bit of a canyon and found our pull-through spot.  Although we did not have a hint of a cell signal, we had full 50-amp hookups, good Wi-Fi, and a clear view of the sky for our satellite TV.  So while it seemed quite remote, we were connected.  All we would miss would be those annoying scam calls on the phone!  The highlight of our stop here was a day at the McDonald Observatory.  We went there early in the day and took the official tour of the facility which includes the third largest telescope in the world.  We then went back in the evening for a star party.  The star party includes a presentation which points out many constellations using a laser pointer.  After the presentation you are free to roam about the grounds where they have a dozen or more telescopes set up on specific targets.  We went on a full moon night, which meant it was quite bright for observing the night sky, but we still saw a bunch of cool stuff, including some incredible views of the moon.  Another day, we took a road trip loop from the park through Alpine to Terlingua for lunch, then along the border to Presidio, then back north through Marfa and back to the park.  We didn’t count them, but we may have passed more Border Patrol vehicles than personal cars. 

Our tour of Texas officially ended on March 25th as we entered New Mexico and stopped at Carlsbad.  There seems to be only two reasons to be in Carlsbad.  Either you work in the oilfield, or you are visiting Carlsbad Caverns.  If you have never been to Carlsbad Caverns, I highly recommend it.  But, I recommend waiting until the elevators are repaired.  When we were there, the elevators were out of service.  All of them.  The bulk of Carlsbad Caverns is the Big Room, which lies 750 feet below the surface.  You can get there by elevator, or hike a mile and a half on a trail.  The “natural entrance” is a series of switchbacks, each no more than fifty feet long that zigzag down into the cavern.  Along with hundreds of other visitors, we took about an hour to make the trip down into the cavern.  While the real reward is at the bottom, the trip down was pretty cool too.  Once at the bottom, we had signed up for a guided tour of the King’s Palace.  This part of the cavern used to be open to self-guided tours, but visitors breaking off parts of the formations and touching things they shouldn’t made it such that to preserve the beauty, access has to be limited now.  After the guided tour, we had the self-guided tour of the Big Room to do.  The Big Room has a path that goes all the way around it, with one path that bisects the room.  Barb’s knee was bothering her from the hike down, so she elected to take the mid-way path and not see the whole room.  I continued around the whole room and was glad I did.  I would put the Big Room right up there with the Grand Canyon for it awesomeness.  Once I finished my hike, I found Barb back at the concession area, which was also scaled way back due to the elevator outage.  After a bit of a rest, we started the hike out the natural entrance.  We were both huffing and puffing and taking frequent breaks on the trip up.  But, about a quarter of the way up, Barb turned and we both heard her knee pop.  She almost went down when it happened, and she said a couple of words that the little kid passing by shouldn’t have heard.  Our hike out was now further slowed and it took us about two and a half hours to get to the top.  Fortunately, we had nothing planned for the next day, so we rested, and Barb’s knee doesn’t seem to be injured to the point of needing urgent medical attention.

Since we are in the neighborhood, a stop at Roswell, NM was in order.  I was expecting to see little green men on every corner, but we only found a few of them outside of the UFO museum.  We toured the museum which pretty much consists of a lot of pictures and printed material regarding the alleged crash of a UFO in the area back in 1947.  The big news in the area while we were there was that the flying saucer that had graced the outside of the museum had been stolen.  A surprise in Roswell was that the little airport there is home to American Airlines aircraft graveyard.  There were about 100 American planes there waiting to be scrapped.  While a few may get sold to non US carriers, most will be dismantled for any useable parts and then crunched up.

From Roswell we traveled west to Las Cruces, NM.  On the way we stopped at the White Sands National Monument.  There is a small visitor’s center here, but the real attraction is driving through the dunes.  There is no restriction on vehicles size, so we drove the bus through the park.  When you enter, there is a paved road.  A ways in, the pavement starts to be covered by the white sand that drifts daily from the movement of the gypsum sand.  A little further in, the pavement is gone and you are driving on hard packed white sand.  If you learned to drive in a place where it snows, it is very hard to tell your mind that you are not on snow, and there is no chance of sliding.  The dunes are constantly shifting and drifting, and people were sliding down the dunes on saucers or cardboard just like you would do in the snow.  Once parked in Las Cruces, we drove the car back to the White Sands Missile Range.  White Sands Missile Range is an active military base.  The museum is located just inside the main gate.  That means, for a civilian to visit the museum, which is advertised as “open to the public”, you must go through a thorough inspection of your vehicle (open all doors, trunk, hood, open all bags or boxes, mirrors under the car) and you have to fill out a form to submit with your picture ID so that they can do an online background check which takes about twenty minutes.  Maybe they should have built the museum outside the fence?  Once we were cleared we enjoyed the museum.  It was funny to see some of the “antique” equipment that was from the same generation of electronics as when I started working with computers.  The museum consists of display inside and a large park outside with many examples of the missiles used by our military over the years.

Next stop was Arizona.  We went from Las Cruces to Sierra Vista in southern AZ.  We spent almost a week in Sierra Vista.  My ex-wife’s family was from Sierra Vista and Bisbee, so I am fairly familiar with the area.  One day we took a trip to Bisbee where we toured the Copper Queen Mine and had lunch at the Copper Queen Hotel.  We drove the few short miles to the Mexico border at Naco and saw that the Border Patrol activity here now is much more visible than it was years ago when I was here.  One day we went to Tombstone where we met up with Steve & Ann who we met cruising.  They too have sold their boat and now have an RV.  We just accidentally realized from Facebook posts that we were in the same area.  We toured the Tombstone Courthouse Museum which is the smallest Arizona State Park.  We visited the world’s largest rose bush and took a trolley tour of the town hearing all the well-known stories of the legends of Tombstone.  Another trip we took from Sierra Vista was to Kartchner Caverns State Park.  This is our third cavern tour in about a month, and they have all been very different.  Pictures are not allowed inside Kartchner, and Kartchner is much stricter about taking anything into the cave.  While they have developed a very nice visitor’s center and RV park on the grounds, they have gone to great lengths to maintain the cavern and protect it as much as possible.

From Sierra Vista we went to Yuma for ten days for the annual Alfa Owners Rally.  There were about 100 Alfas there, and it was fun to meet up with owners we met last year and meet some new ones.  While there, we had one of the vendors who always attends the rally install new shock absorbers for us.  We also were elected to be vice president and secretary of the Roadrunners chapter of the Alfa Owners Club.  After the rally, we headed to Phoenix with a stop in Casa Grande to visit friends Tami & Dwayne.  We spent two weeks in Phoenix and then moved on up to Dewey, AZ where my son lives.

My son had purchased a new house since we visited last year.  Our timing for arriving this year was based on him getting the certificate of occupancy for the new house.  The rules say that we couldn’t stay on the property in the RV if the house CO wasn’t done.  So, they got their CO on a Friday, moved in over the weekend, and we showed up on Tuesday, May 2nd.  We spent the whole month of May in Dewey enjoying spring in the higher altitude.  While there we installed a 50amp service to where we parked the bus so we could be plugged in.  We’ll look at maybe putting water and sewer hookups in next year so we don’t have to move weekly to take care of that.