Arizona to Ohio to New York to Indiana
Pictures can be found here
We left AZ in early May and went to Fontana, CA to visit a company called Alfateers. When Alfa went bankrupt in 2008, some employees bought the remains of the company and setup a service company. They have spare parts that can't be found elsewhere, build records from the years of production, and most importantly the expertise of the employees who originally built the coaches. Our purpose for going is to get our basement heat pump serviced. While the heat pump is a Coleman unit, due to it's age and the manner in which Alfa installed it, there are only a few places in the county that will work on them. Ours is working, but I'm sure it needs a thorough cleaning which requires removing it from the bus. That's where that factory expertise will come in. Alfateers has a great reputation with Alfa owners, both for the quality of service, and for the fact that they have room for several units to be lived in while work is being done. We got there just before their closing time and met Martin, the guy that coordinates customer service. He showed me where to back in and helped us get plugged in for the night. The service will consist of removing the unit one day and sending it to their subcontractor who actually does the a/c work, and then reinstalling it a couple days later when it is returned. The days they are actually working on the bus, we will take the car and go sightseeing so we are out of the way. The unit came out as expected, was packed with dust and dirt as expected, and was reinstalled two days later. All in all, our experience was good. My only complaint would be that since they are located in CA, their price for this service was more than twice what it would be done for elsewhere. But, since there are only a few places that will service the units, you have to use the one you are close to.
We had several play days while in southern CA. The first day, we drove from Fontana (eastern outer suburb of Los Angeles on I-10) to Santa Monica (west end of I-10 at the coast). We walked out on the Santa Monica pier and checked out the sights. From Santa Monica, we drove south along the coast to Long Beach. In Long Beach, we went to the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary was purchased by the City of Long Beach rather than going to the scrap yard. It has been turned into a museum and hotel. We signed up for a guided tour which was very interesting. It's pretty amazing to see the opulence of that era. After we left the Queen Mary, we met up with old cruising friends Craig & Liz from Salida for happy hour. They are still cruising, and their boat is in GA, but they were here cleaning out Craig's mom's house. We just happened to catch them the day before they left town. We met at a local bar and caught up. We hadn't seen them in person since we were all in Grenada in 2009.
The other day trip we took was north of Fontana into the San Bernardino mountains. The day was overcast and cold. Once we were up in the mountains, the temperature was about 40, and the clouds frequently were enveloping the road. Our first stop was Lake Arrowhead. It was lunchtime, so we found a restaurant called Woody's. Since one of our favorite places in the islands was Woody's in St. John, we figured we couldn't go wrong. We had a nice lunch and then continued our trip to Big Bear. If you aren't familiar with southern CA, this area is where you can ski in the winter within a drive of Los Angeles. One thing we noticed at all the lakes up here was how low they were. The CA drought was definitely noticeable. From Big Bear we continued north and west across the high desert to Victorville where we picked up I-15 back to Fontana. The next day, when we were safely back in the low country, Big Bear got enough snow to close the schools. Guess we timed that well.
Since we were out west and had our repairs done, we had time to kill. We decided to make our way to Laughlin, NV to attend Phins to the West, a regional Parrothead event. We have a week to kill before the event, so Friday afternoon as soon as Alfateers was done replacing the heat pump, we headed to Needles, CA. Needles is right on the CA/AZ border. The RV park was right on the Colorado River. It was pretty amazing how the difference in geography made a difference in the weather. We had gone from the LA Basin, where it was cool enough to run the heat at night, to the San Bernardino mountains with snow, back to the desert where it was very hot. We were giving the newly serviced air conditioning a workout, but it proved to be fatal for the air conditioning in the car. There was literally nothing to do in Needles except watch TV and listen to the trains. Needles is the perfect example of a town that died when the interstate bypassed it. Historic Route 66 runs through the heart of Needles, but Interstate 40 bypassed it many years ago. The railroad comes through town also and it appears the only reason there is as much of a town left is because it's a crew change stop for every train. The RV park was less than a mile from where the trains stopped to change crews, so we were constantly hearing the low rumble of them getting underway again.
After a few days in Needles, we headed an hour up the road to Laughlin, NV. Since we will be staying at an RV park right across the street from the casino where the event will be held, we won't need the car. So, it was a perfect time for the a/c to need work. As we passed through Bullhead City, AZ (right across the river from Laughlin), we dropped the car off at a service center. I told them they had a couple days to work on it. We proceeded into Laughlin to Riverside RV Resort where we got checked in. The event is being held at the Aquarius Casino, which is right next to the Riverside. We spent the next five days partying with friends and listening to lots of good trop-rock music. Unfortunately, we were not big winners, either at the casino, or the 50/50 at the event. A couple days after we got there, we got a call from the garage saying the car was ready. We borrowed a friends car and went to pick it up.
From Laughlin, we headed to northwestern New Mexico. My ex-wife Barb and her husband own property in Timberlake Ranch near Ramah, NM. Every spring they take their 5th-wheel RV up there from Phoenix and leave it there until late October. They get away from the heat of Phoenix as often as possible and spend time there. They took their RV there a couple days ago, and we are going to meet them there for ten days. Ramah is in the northwestern part of New Mexico, south of Gallup. We took I-40 through northern AZ, and then local roads through the Zuni reservation to Ramah. Ex-Barb had told me that the property was about ten miles from Ramah, down a dirt road. I hadn't really processed what dirt road meant, as I have been on plenty of "dirt" roads out west that are well maintained. Well, this road would be an OK road after its annual spring maintenance, but that hadn't happened yet. The problem was that the road was quite a washboard. This reduced our speed to about 10 mph for a good portion of it. The parts that were in better shape got our speed up to about 25 mph. So that last ten miles took a while. We finally got to Barb & Rick's road and found them waiting for us. Their driveway was the next challenge. I unloaded the car, and detached the dolly before turning into the driveway. The road was only about 15 feet wide, with a deep ditch on either side. The culvert that made the driveway was only 12 feet long. There was just enough room to make the turn and get in the driveway. Once in the driveway, I found the ground to be very soft, but not really muddy. The property is six acres, so I drove about 100 feet in to where Barb & Rick's 5th-wheel was parked. I stopped there and we walked around to survey the area and decide where to park. The place that looked good and was near an electric plug was a couple hundred feet away and would require a couple turns. I got in the bus and went for it, although in the back of my mind I wondered if I was driving into a place I would not get out of. Although it was quite soft, and I was leaving tracks several inches deep, the vegetation was tough enough that I wasn't making mud, and didn't spin the wheels. I backed up to the power plug and we were there. I now had 10 days to worry about getting out.
We enjoyed our time there, up in the mountains with pine trees and cool temperatures. The weather was nice and the ground was drying out making my escape plan seem more doable. During our stay, we took a trip into Gallup (50 miles), and a trip to Albuquerque (130 miles). We met some other Phoenix friends of Barb & Rick's who also own property there, and took a couple of hikes with them. One of the hikes was to a small waterfall not far from the property. You would never know this waterfall was there if you didn't hike half a mile off the road. Another hike we took went up the mountain to a tree that was some type of shrine. This tree had numerous trinkets hanging from it, rocks obviously arranged around it, and we knew there had to be a story about it. Since we didn't know the story, we made some up. A couple days later, we attended the annual owners meeting and pot-luck barbeque at the main ranch office and museum. Totally by accident in a conversation with another landowner, we found out that the shrine tree was on her property, and that there was a real story behind it. Her now deceased husband had always liked the tree, would sit there relaxing and enjoying nature and he had started the decorating just as a whim. When he died, his wife scattered his ashes around the tree since it had been his favorite place. She was quite tickled to hear that we had found it and added more trinkets to the collection.
The time came when Barb & Rick had to leave to go back to work. We were welcome to stay as long as we wanted, but since we were reaching the limits of our water supply and holding tank, we decided to leave too. I also wanted extra help there in case I got stuck getting out. We got ready to go, and I started out. The ground was not quite as soft as when we came in, but the angles of the turns were different resulting in a couple of challenges. The first challenge was getting past a large tree. It was a pine tree with several stubs of old branches sticking out. I stopped before damaging the bus, and took a saw up on the roof of the bus to cut the stubs off. Then we got to the road. I was pretty sure that going this way I couldn't turn sharp enough to keep the back wheel on the culvert as I pulled out. I was right, but I had a plan. I pulled out to the point where the wheels would have gone into the ditch and stopped. I then took all my 12" square leveling blocks and stacked them up in the ditch making a path for the wheels to go over the ditch without dropping into it. It took a couple adjustments to get it right, but eventually I pulled out without dropping the tires in the ditch. Once in the road, we pulled the dolly out and loaded the car up. We said our goodbyes and started the ten miles out to pavement. While we had been at the ranch, the annual road grading had begun. So much of our trip out was not as much of a washboard as it had been coming in. But, there was one place where they were bringing in 18-wheelers of new gravel. We had just enough room to pass the freshly dumped gravel and the men working with graders to spread the gravel and to move off the road so we could pass. When we got out the highway, I pulled over to check that the car was still attached tightly. The sight of all the dust on the car and the back of the bus was pretty amazing. Check out the picture section to see what I mean.
From New Mexico, we headed back towards my son's house in AZ. But, we weren't in a hurry. We went from NM to Show Low, AZ, where we stopped at K-Bar RV Resort. Show Low is in north-central Arizona, north of the Mogollon Rim. The Mogollon Rim basically delineates the southern AZ desert, from the White Mountains of northern AZ. When I lived in AZ, we camped in the White Mountains every fall. But, since I left AZ, there have been two major forest fires in the White Mountains. I was curious to visit the area where we camped to se if had actually been burned. The next day, we took an all-day road trip to check out the old campground. The first stop was at Big Lake which had not been affected by the fire. From there we continued towards where we used to camp. The first obvious thing I noticed different was that the road was paved. Last time I was here (maybe 1995) we took at least 25 miles of gravel Forest Service road to get to the camp. The other thing that was painfully obvious was that the fire had burned much of the area past Big Lake. As we drove, it was like a moonscape with black sticks from the ground on both sides. I was not hopeful about our camp area. It took me a wrong turn or two to remember the route to the camp, but I found it. And thankfully, not far from the final turn, the burned area stopped. When we got to the gate we used to have to open to get the last mile or so, I found the gate to be new, and the road past the gate much more used than it ever was back then. Not sure of the condition of the road, we parked and walked in from here. When we got to the spot where we used to turn into the woods and weave our trucks between trees to get to the meadow where we camped, we found a freshly bulldozed road. We walked down to the meadow where we found a bunch of construction equipment. Further down the embankment to the river was also a freshly bulldozed road and a crew was working in the river with a bunch of heavy equipment. There was a guy in a pickup truck in the meadow, so I approached him, explained my interest, and asked what they were doing. He said they were building a fish barrier, which is supposed to keep non-native species from migrating upstream and disturbing the native fish population. He wasn't interested in talking much, so I thanked him and we walked around a bit. The meadow was pretty torn up by all the work, but I pointed out to Barb the exact spot where we always setup camp and it was not torn up. As we started to hike back up the hill to leave, an SUV was coming down towards us with a woman driving. She stopped, obviously wondering who we were and why we were wandering around the site. I explained my history with the spot and she told me more about the project. The contract to build the fish barrier also includes restoring the area to its original state, as much as that can be done. It would be interesting to return in a year or two and see how that goes. So, while I was relieved the fire had not burned our camp, I was disappointed that "progress" had found the spot. When ex-Barb's father had discovered this pristine area in the midst of Forest Service land, it was indeed virgin land. Where then we could barely weave a pickup or van between the trees to get to the meadow, I now could probably get the bus.
After a few days in the White Mountains, we headed back to my son's house in Dewey. Our plan for the summer is to head north and tour the western US, but it's still a bit cold to head into the western mountains. But, our plans changed right after we got back to my son's when we got a call that Barb's mother had passed away in Ohio. We had known this could happen any time, and had not planned to return to Ohio when it did, we changed that plan after realizing Barb's sister would need some help dealing with things. So, on June 4th, we took off on a cross-country four-day trip. We drove long days, spent three nights in truck stops, and arrived at Barb's cousin Cindy's farm on June 7th. We spent three weeks in Ohio, taking care of family business, getting an oil change done on the bus, and deciding what our summer plans would be now that we were on the east side of the country.
Since we were in the east, we decided to stay in the east for the summer. On June 30th we left Ohio and went to my brother's in NY state. He had two projects going on this summer that he could use some help with. One was taking down the remains of his 100+ year old barn. The roof had collapsed two years ago under a heavy snow, and he is finally going to take down the remains and have a new building built. We are trying to take the remains apart as gracefully as possible to salvage some of the wood. My brother and I were taking boards down and Barb was removing nails from them under the lean-to that was still standing. We were doing fine and making good progress up to the last wall. That's when the last wall and the lean-to decided to come down on its own. My brother and Barb both heard the boards popping and ran to safety with inches to spare. I was on the tractor moving lumber when this happened and turned around just in time to see the wall fall and both of them run out just ahead of it. Barb retired from barn demolition after that, and my brother and I finished up the job over the next few days. The other project was clearing about an acre of 80-100 year old trees to accommodate a solar panel installation. The solar is on my niece's house which is on the same property as my brother's. These were large oak, maple, and cherry trees. My brother and his son-in-law did most of the heavy work with chainsaws, while I used the tractor to move and stack the wood. Between the two projects, I did more physical work than I have in years. I was a tired boy.
In the five weeks we were in NY, we took two side trips. One was to Lime Rock Race track, where we spent three days attending an IMSA sports car race. Our second trip was to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. This was our third year to attend Falcon Ridge, and we had a good time as usual.
In mid-August, we left NY and headed to Indiana to get some warrantee work done at McMiller's where we had the bus re-skinned and painted a year ago. We spent a total of two weeks at McMiller's where they not only did the warrantee work, but also installed a new air conditioner on the roof. Even after servicing, the original basement heat pump just isn't quite adequate for hot summer days. They also fixed numerous other little things that we came up with. We stayed at their shop, which is directly across the street from a busy railroad line. After the first week, we had actually gotten used to the train horns and were sleeping through the night. Several times while at McMiller's we were visited by six wandering peacocks who belonged at Amish Acres next door. They were very used to being around people and were looking for handouts. When we had our rig re-skinned at McMiller's, we weren't there to watch the work. But, while we were hanging around this time, we got to see two other rigs getting the full treatment. It was very interesting to me to see how they do the job. One day we took a little side trip up to Elkhart to visit the RV Museum and Hall of Fame. It was cool to see some of the old campers they have there.
On Aug 24th we left Nappanee and headed southeast. Next update...