2017 Summer/Fall OR/UT/CO/NM/TX
Pictures can be found here
Our last update ended as we were leaving Arizona and ready to start another summer adventure. We had been in Camp Verde, AZ for a week. Our next big goal is Oregon, but our first stop is only an hour or so away in Flagstaff, AZ. We stopped at Black Bart’s RV Park, where we have been before. We are spending the night in Flagstaff, because our Trop Rock friend Mark Mulligan is playing a house concert in town. We got the RV settled and found the place where Mark is playing. We do not know the hosts, or anybody else there, but Mark was glad to see us again. He was confused at first, because he forgot we traveled in an RV all the time. I’m sure anybody in his line of work meets way too many people to remember everything about them all, but they probably associate them with a particular town. We have now seen Mark three times in five months in Tucson, San Carlos, and now Flagstaff, so we had to remind him about our travels. The next morning, we left for Las Vegas. We are staying at a KOA at Sam’s Town Casino which is on the east side of town. We are spending two nights here, so we have a little time to throw away some money. We spent some time in Sam’s Town, some downtown on Freemont St., and some on the strip at New York, New York. Overall we actually came out a little bit ahead on our gambling. We left Vegas and headed north towards Idaho on highway 93. Highway 93 is a two-lane state highway that is mostly straight. I used to think west Texas held the record for a lot of nothing as far as the eye could see. This part of Nevada may rival that. The terrain was kind of interesting, with snow-capped mountains in the distance even though it was July, but there were long stretches of road with no signs of civilization. We broke up the Vegas to Idaho trip with one night at a KOA in Ely, NV. Next stop was Jerome, ID, which is just outside Twin Falls. We spent two nights here at a KOA that was just up the road a couple miles from the Perrine Bridge over the Snake River, where people regularly base jump. Base jumping is where you jump off a stationary object and immediately deploy a parachute to land. We were lucky enough to see a number of people jump when we stopped. The other thing to see in the area is Shoshone Falls. I had read many reviews of Shoshone Falls saying that due to the summer flow of water, the falls were not too impressive. Well, if what we saw was the low end, the spring high-floe time must be incredible. We were very impressed with what we saw. Our next stop was Baker, Oregon, where we have an appointment to get new tires on the bus. I made this arrangement a month ago to make sure they had the tires in stock. Les Schwab is a large north-western tire store and they all work on trucks as well as cars. We stayed at the Mountain View RV Park on the edge of town. This was a very nice park, and we had an end spot so out space was larger than most. The day after we arrived, we took the bus to the tire store. They had our tires ready and had us in and out in less than two hours. The reason for getting the tires in Oregon was that Oregon does not have a sales tax. Since a set of six tires for the bus cost about $3000, saving the sales tax was worth the trip.
Our other reason to come to Oregon this year was to attend the second annual cruiser’s rendezvous. Last year we met up with eight couples at a friend’s house in McCall, ID. All but one of the couples were people we had met during our boat cruising years. Some of them have done like us and transitioned from a boat to an RV, and some still boat in the Caribbean in the winter and RV in the US in the summer. This year, most of last year’s attendees, and a few new folks, are meeting for almost a week at Wallowa State Park in northeast Oregon. Again there were eight rigs present, with five of them being from last year. Wallowa State Park is located just outside Joseph, Oregon. Joseph is a cute little town with a main street full of small touristy shops, restaurants, and the normal businesses you would find in any town. One of the restaurants, while not a brewpub itself, served a long list of craft brews from the region. We ate there twice. We made several day trips as a group while we were here. One day we went to Enterprise, the next town about twelve miles down the road to listen to a free concert in the park. One day we took the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mt. Howard. The top of the mountain offered great views of Wallowa Lake, a summit bar and restaurant, and several hiking trails. We took a short hike out to a great overlook where hang gliders launch, and then went back to the restaurant for lunch and a beer. One day we spent the afternoon on Wallowa Lake. There are half a dozen large rafts anchored out in the lake that are first-come-first-served. One of our friends had brought an inflatable dinghy, and another rented a small aluminum boat at the park activities center. We claimed a raft and spent a couple of hours out there. The lake was pretty cold, so only one or two brave souls swam, but it was fun to be on the water enjoying friends and adult beverages. The campground itself was very nice, with large trees all around. We had not satellite TV because of the trees, and no cell service, so we had to enjoy the great outdoors, watching the deer that routinely wandered through the park, and enjoying campfires every evening with our friends. After five nights at the park, we left and went to McCall to our friend’s house where we did the rendezvous last year. This was not the whole rendezvous gang, just two rigs. The reason for stopping here was that they were hosting a house concert with Trop Rock artist Rob Mehl, who performed here last year during our rendezvous. They day after Rob’s show, Thom Shepherd and Coley McCabe performed a free show at the Payette River RV Park. Both were great shows and it was fun that they fit into our schedule perfectly.
Our next scheduled stop is at Charlie’s Service Center near Salt Lake City, UT. We made it a two-day trip from McCall to Charlie’s, with an overnight in Twin Falls. Charlie’s is well known in the Alfa community. Charlie, who is now deceased, owned an Alfa and had become an authorized warrantee repair place when Alfa was still in business. Since they had factory training, they continued to specialize in Alfa repairs even after Alfa went away. They also do general auto repair and will work on just about any RV. They have about six spots to park with full hookups for people who live in their RV full time, and they do most of the work on your RV in your parking spot so you don’t have to move back and forth each day. Our primary reason for coming to Charlie’s is to have the passenger’s side of our windshield replaced. We took a stone on the freeway near Flagstaff which immediately ran several cracks top to bottom. Since we are here, we came up with a list of other things to have them check out or repair. They checked out our dash air conditioning and basically rebuilt it making it work better than it ever had. They checked out our basement air conditioner and diagnosed a problem that should have been fixed by the place that serviced it a couple years ago. We elected to live with the problem until such time as the unit has to be removed for other reasons. They cleaned our radiator and replaced the engine’s thermostats which resolved our tendency to overheat when climbing a mountain. And they tightened the belt on our generator so it no longer squeals under load. We ended up spending a week here, but we got out to see a few things too. We took a drive up to Snowbasin Resort which is about a sixty mile loop through Ogden to the north and Mountain Green to the south. One day we drove south through Salt Lake City to the Little Cottonwood Canyon and Snowbird Ski Resort. We took the gondola to the top where we had lunch at the summit restaurant and enjoyed the views. On our way back to Charlie’s from Snowbird, we drove through downtown Salt Lake City, past the Mormon Temple and the state capitol. We also took a day trip to Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salt Lake where we saw lots of bison, antelope (of course) and toured the historic Fielding Garr Ranch. There was another funny thing about being at Charlie’s. They are located literally across the interstate from Hill AFB. Every day the base played Reveille in the morning and Taps in the evening over a loud PA system. We could clearly hear both from the bus, as there were base buildings right across the street. It brought back memories of when I went to Boy Scout summer camp.
Our original plan for this summer was to tour Utah and Colorado. Now that our tires, cruiser rendezvous, and repairs at Charlie’s are complete, we can turn our attention to the summer plan. I sat down with maps, and Google and started plotting a path to see both states in somewhat of a logical route. We started out with a relatively short trip, but it did include climbing mountains to make sure our overheating was resolved. We headed east, over the Wasatch Range to Jordanelle State Park near Park City, UT. When we go to the spot I had reserved, I found out why it was one of the few open spots. It was not level at all, but we made it work. I had to use lots of blocks under our jacks in order to get the back of the coach high enough to be almost level. The wheels were six or eight inches off the ground when we were done. It wasn’t as precarious as it looked, but I don’t like to count on the jacks that much. As we came into the park, we noticed another Alfa already here. In the evening we walked over and introduced ourselves to Rich & Connie, who were volunteering there as park hosts. We chatted with them for a couple hours and came to realize that they had stayed in the same parks we stayed at in Kemah the past two summers. Both winters we had seen their coach, but didn’t catch them at home when we had stopped to say hello. We spent another afternoon in Park City, visiting with Phoenix friends Ken & Chris Wilson who spend their summers in the mountains instead of Phoenix. We had missed them the short time we were in Phoenix, but it was good to catch up over a long lunch. Also in Park City is the US Olympic Training Center where they have things like ski jumps and bobsled tracks. Another day we took a ride into the mountains west of Park City. The Wasatch Range runs north/south, with Salt Lake City on the west side and Park City on the east side. Southeast of Salt Lake City, you can find four ski areas in the Wasatch; Solitude, Brighton, Alta, and Snowbird. On the East side of the range you find the Park City and Deer Valley ski areas. There is a road that is only open in the summer that runs from Park City to the Big Cottonwood Canyon where Solitude and Brighton are. We thought it would be a cool ride to go over the mountain and have lunch. Unfortunately, the day we chose to take this ride was also the day that the road over the mountain was closed due to the Tour of Utah. This is Utah’s version of the Tour de France bicycle race. So, instead of going west over the mountain, we went south and east through the Wasatch Mountain Sate Park and into Heber City, UT where we found a cool little place for lunch on the patio.
From Park City, we took state highways southeast to Moab. This is probably the peak of the summer vacation season, so finding RV parks with space has been a little challenging, but we found the KOA south of Moab proper a bit had space. From Moab we will start our National Park loop. There are five large National Parks in Utah. The Utah National Parks are all similar in that the primary things to do are look at the amazing geology and hike. We don’t do much in the way of hiking, so we pretty much drive the parks, stopping at all the pullouts to take pictures. It’s a good thing we don’t have to pay for film processing anymore so we can take hundreds of pictures and then pick out the winners later. Our first Utah park was Arches National Park. Arches is basically one road that winds through the park and dead ends. So we drove the round-trip, stopping at most every pullout. Since we would be coming back on the same road, we only hit the pullouts on our side of the road each way rather than turn across traffic. The park was crowded, but nowhere near as busy as the big parks last year where you couldn’t ever find a place to pullout and park. When we entered the park, I purchased a Senior Pass for $10. I already have one, but they are not replaceable if you lose the card, so I wanted a second one just in case, since the price is going up to $80 next month. We found only a few complete arches that you can see without a significant hike, but there were lots of amazing views. As with last year, we noticed that the vast majority of visitors to all the National Parks are foreign visitors. As much as 75-80% of them are international tourists. What surprises me about this is that more Americans aren’t enjoying these treasures in their own backyard relatively speaking.
The second park within driving distance of Moab is Canyonlands. Canyonlands is about a thirty minute drive west of Moab. There are three distinct parts of Canyonlands Park. The Maze, in the southwest part of the park is only accessible by trail. The Needles, in the southeast part pf the park, is accessible by car and has more hiking options, but it is 75 miles from Moab going southwest. The part of the park that most people visit is Island In The Sky, and that’s where we went. The road in this portion of the park is a T, and we drove the full length of it all. Island In The Sky is so named because it is bordered by the canyon containing the Green River on the west, the canyon of the Colorado River on the east, and the convergence of those canyons and rivers to the south. The “island”, where the road is, is a relatively flat mesa two thousand feet above the bottoms of the canyons. You can see a map of this here. The views were amazing. It’s hard sometimes to take in the vast open areas of the US west. Another thing that struck me was how quiet it can be out in a place like this. Even with the occasional car or other people around, there is no underlying background noise of civilization. While in Canyonlands, we had commented on the lack of rangers we saw out and about. At one popular overlook, we found the parking lot full, so I parked along the shoulder of the exit road, right next to, but not blocking an access road with a chain that looked like it had not been opened in years. We walked to the overlook and enjoyed the view. As we were returning to the car, there was the first ranger truck I’d seen, putting a parking ticket on the truck that had parked behind me blocking that access road. I’m sure if the ranger had been grumpy, she could have made a case for giving me one too, but I got lucky. I didn’t make any more comments about there being no rangers around. Just down the road from Canyonlands National Park is Dead Horse State Park. Similar to Canyonlands, Dead Horse is a high, flat mesa that is like a peninsula into the huge canyon formed by the Colorado River. The name of the park comes from back in the 1800’s. The following explanation comes from the park’s website: “According to one legend, around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30-yards-wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs straight down on all sides, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.” It’s easy to see how this worked when you visit, and while we were out on the point I kept an eye out to make sure nobody was closing a fence behind us. As we were leaving Dead Horse State Park, something bright blue caught my eye amongst all the rock. Around the next turn was a pull out where we could see huge bright blue pools in the distance on the valley floor. Research after we got home found that these were evaporation ponds for the mining of potash.
Another day while based in Moab, we took a drive northeast of town to Red Cliffs Lodge. Red Cliffs Lodge is a beautiful small lodge on the banks of the Colorado River. It also is the site of a small Film & Western Heritage Museum. It turns out many films have been made in the Moab area because of the scenery. One of the more famous was Thelma & Louise. The famous final scene where they drive off the cliff was filmed here. From the lodge, we went south through Castle Valley. Castle Valley is a valley with homes on several acres each. There were lots of nice homes, and few that you might call eclectic. The cool thing was that all of them were in sight of Castleton Tower. Those of you old enough may remember Chevrolet making a commercial with a car on top of Castleton Tower back in 1964. The road we are on is the La Sal Mountain Loop Road and it continues south of Castle Valley and loops back through the mountains to Moab, but there were signs that said it was closed. We thought we would continue as far as we could to see the sights. Eventually, we came to the turn off to Moab which was supposed to be closed. The other option would take us to Colorado. It was a Sunday, and the “road closed” signs were moved to the side, so thinking maybe it was only closed while they were actually working, we took a chance. The road was dirt, and narrow in some places where they had been working. We were climbing into the mountains, and after several miles we came across a girl in a car parked by some parked equipment. She got out of the car as we were approaching. I assumed she was going to tell us the road was indeed closed, but instead she said since they weren’t working, she would just have to make sure nobody was coming the other way because there was a one-lane area. She tried calling her counterpart on the radio she had, but got no response. After several tries she got out her cell phone. I thought “what are the odds”, but after twenty minutes or so, she finally got a text through and confirmed nobody was coming the other way. We were free to go. The next couple of miles were rough and narrow, winding past equipment and piles of rocks where they were cutting away the cliff to widen the road. Eventually we reached the other flag-person and waved as we passed. The road wound on through the mountains and eventually came back out to civilization in Spanish Valley, a little south of Moab. In total it was a 75 mile trip that took most of the day.
The next National Park is Capitol Reef. The trip from Moab to Capitol Reef was about three hours. We stayed at a nice RV park west of the park itself, called Thousand Lakes RV Park. The park had nice sized lots, and lots of on-site amenities, including a family-style cowboy BBQ dinner hall. I joked about the name of the park, since there are no lakes within sight of the place. It turns out there are lots of lakes up in the mountains nearby. Speaking of names, I wondered where the name Capitol Reef came from. Turns out there is a large domed mountain nearby that reminded early settlers of the dome of the national capitol. And the ridge of the mountains, also known as the Waterpocket Fold was hard to cross, just like a reef would be hard to cross in a boat. So it actually does make some sense. Capitol Reef has a nice visitor center and a scenic drive that goes south from there to Capitol Gorge. We drove to the end of the pave road and then walked another mile or so down the dirt road to where we were right at the base of the sheer red rock cliffs. This road makes a loop to the west, but there is a section from here that is about 10 miles only for four wheel drive vehicles. The next day we took the highway from the RV park south to Boulder where the Burr Trail Road comes out on the highway, and we drove in to the other end of the four wheel drive portion in the park. The geology on this end was very different from the red rock in the park. The rock was white and had a rounded texture. As we drove, we suddenly came to a demarcation where the white rock formations turned to the red rocks that we had seen when coming from the other end of the road. It was quite interesting.
Our next hop was about three hours to Bryce Zion Campground. I picked this parked because it was roughly midway between Bryce National Park and Zion National Park. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a crummy park. It was obviously a former KOA, and it looked like it had not had a bit of maintenance in years. Fortunately, we only needed a parking space, so it worked. The one cool thing they had was horses. We had a few carrots, so we fed them to the first horse that came to the fence when we walked up. It appears the nearby town, Glendale, UT, isn’t much better that the RV park. There were no open businesses and the homes were very run down. Our first trip from here took us northwest to Cedar Breaks National Monument. This had not been on my radar when making our plans, but it looked like we could make a same-day loop through this park and then go on to Bryce National Park. We were pleasantly surprised by Cedar Breaks. We drove to the small visitor center which was in a nice wooded area. We went in the gift shop and were looking around. I noticed a large window at the rear of the building and just casually walked up to it. I was totally surprised when I saw the view from the window out into a huge canyon. This was why we were here. The thick cedar forest gives way to a huge canyon that does not have any vegetation in it and has remarkable rock formations. It was really quite spectacular and a total surprise. Next stop was Bryce Canyon Nation Park. In some ways, Bryce was similar to Cedar Break, in that you drove through wooded areas and then pulled over to look out into the canyon which was amazing rock formations. A large portion of Bryce burned in a wildfire in 2009 and the evidence of that is still quite visible. We had brought a picnic lunch with us today, and the first picnic area we came to had been in the area that burned, so that wasn’t an option. We went all the way to the southern end of the road at Rainbow Point where there also was a picnic area. After a bit of a parking confrontation and our picnic, we enjoyed the view from the lookout. At another lookout we stopped at heading back north, I lost my sunglasses. When my sunglasses are not on my eyes, they are on my head, with or without my baseball cap. I am always very conscious of not leaning over a ledge or something and dropping anything. But at this overlook, my glasses were on top of my hat and a huge gust of wind came suddenly from behind us and took them off my head and out into the abyss before I could begin to react. While they were only $25 sunglasses, I didn’t have any others to replace them, except for a pair of funky yellow lensed ones I found back at the bus. First chance I got, I found a replacement pair at a gift shop.
Next day we went southwest to Zion National Park. The entrance to Zion from the east takes you through some amazing scenery and a couple of cool tunnels. Even though Zion is only about 40 miles from Bryce, the geology is entirely different. There are two tunnels to pass through. The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel is quite an engineering feat. It is a little over a mile long, and cannot accommodate vehicles over 13’ high. At one point we came around a corner to some stopped cars. They were stopped because there were a half dozen big horn sheep grazing just off the road. Once in the heart of the park, there is very limited parking available, so similar to the Grand Canyon, the use of shuttle busses is required. You drive in to the village of Springdale, which is just outside the park, and park your car. You then board a shuttle bus which stops at eight places along the way where you can get on and off the bus to see the sights. We got off the first stop, which is the Zion History Museum, and toured it. When we got back on the bus, we decided to ride all the way to the north end, get off there to look around, then stop at whichever stops looked interesting on the way back south. The northernmost stop is the Temple Of Sinawava. From here you can hike along the river to The Narrows. We started out on this hike, but Barb got tired about a third of the way there. She sat while I continued to the point where the paved trail ends and you continue in the river if you want. It was pretty there, but I’m not sure it was worth the walk for my old bones. We took the shuttle back south with a couple of stops. Once back in the town of Springdale, we went to the Zion Brewery. I haven’t mentioned, but Utah has some crazy liquor laws still. One is the alcohol percentage of beer. Grocery store beer, or bar draft beer is limited to 4% alcohol. Even at a brewpub, what they serve at the bar is 4%. Additionally, most places are “restaurants” not “bars”. So, you have to order food in addition to your drinks. So, in order to enjoy a beer at the Zion Brewery, we also ordered an appetizer.
This summer is a Utah/Colorado tour, but to get from SW Utah to SW Colorado, one must pass through Arizona. It is hot in Arizona this time of year, even at its northern-most edge. We stopped at the Wahweap Campground, which is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This is a large campground, on the banks of Lake Powell, and the only reason we got in was probably because we are here during the week. On the trip here, we got hit by a stone which put a chip and two short cracks in the driver’s side windshield. While I was happy it wasn’t the new passenger’s side, I was still upset that the bus had made it twelve years into its life with the original windshields, and now we’d gotten whacked twice in a few months. So, the day after arrival, I took the bus to a glass shop in town (Page, AZ). They were able to repair the chip and short cracks so hopefully that will be that. We had been told that if we were in this area, to not miss Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is on tribal lands, so you have to book a tour with one of the authorized tour companies. We chose Antelope Canyon Tours and had a great tour. You normally ride in the back of a pickup truck with benches, but since there we two more people than bench space, we rode in the backseat of the king-cab. The canyon itself was amazing. Our tour guide was Lynette, and she was very good about pointing out exactly where to take the best pictures. The other must-see here was Horseshoe Bend. Horseshoe Bend is a bend in the Colorado River. The cool place to see it, other than from the air, is a hike off of the main road just south of Page. We parked and surveyed the trail. The trail is about a half mile and the first bit is uphill to a resting area. Barb decided to sit this one out, so I set off with a bottle of water. I assumed the lookout wasn’t far over the hill. At the top of the hill, I found that the lookout was downhill from there, about three times the distance I had already come. As I made that hike down, I kept thinking about the fact that it would be uphill most of the way back. There was no shade anywhere along the way and the walk was mostly in loose sand like walking on a beach. Once at the overlook, I was surprised to find an area with no protection for the stupid people to keep from hurting themselves. No railings or warning signs or anything! The view was worth the hike. Watching the people there was pretty fun too. Many were too afraid to go anywhere near the edge, while others just dashed up to the edge without a care about the 1000 foot drop. On the way back to the bus we made a short stop at the visitor center at Glen Canyon Dam, which is what makes Lake Powell. It was quite informative and offered great views of the dam.
Our next leg took us back out of Arizona and into Colorado. Our destination is Sleeping Ute Casino, a little south of Cortez, CO. On the way there we stopped for a brief visit at the Four Corners Monument. Somehow, in the twelve years I lived in the Phoenix area, I never visited either Lake Powell or Four Corners. So this was new territory for both of us. Four Corners Monument is on Navajo tribal lands, so there is a small admission fee to actually see the spot where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. Speaking of “the spot”, apparently the exact spot has been disputed over the years, but if you look at the vast amount of nothing all around the area, it’s hard to see how it would matter if they are off by a little bit. The Sleeping Ute RV park is right next to a casino in the middle of nowhere. Unlike some casinos that allow dry camping in their parking lots, this one has their own RV park and they want you to pay to use it. From here we took a day to go to the Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is known for its cliff dwellings and archeological digs. It was very interesting. The next morning was the big day of the total eclipse of the sun in the US. We are not in the path of totality, and we made no effort to be there because it seemed like it might be a little crazy. Where we are, it is supposed to be about 85% obscured at about 11AM. The park doesn’t require checkout until 1PM, so we have plenty of time to hang around and see what happens. We had picked up viewing glasses at one of the parks recently, so we were ready. It was cool to watch through the glasses and see the moon pass, but we were both surprised it wasn’t darker than it was. It barely got dark at all. But we saw it and stowed the glasses for next time.
Next stop was just a few hours away in Bayfield, CO. Bayfield is the next town east of Durango in SW Colorado. We picked the park because a fellow Alfa owner is there and recommended it. It was a nice park along a creek. We are here for a week and made many day trips. Probably the coolest day trip was a ride on the Durango Silverton Train. The train is a narrow-gauge railroad that follows the Animas River north from Durango forty-five miles to Silverton. It uses a steam engine and vintage cars. There are several levels of service on the tour. You can ride in an open gondola car where you sit on bench seats facing the side of the car, or enclosed cars where you just sit and watch, a first-class car that includes snacks and beverages, or the deal we did, which is an enclosed upscale car that has a narrator. The narrator is dressed in period clothing and plays a character that had some importance to the region back in its mining heyday. There is also a bar car in the middle where you can obtain beverages and snacks. The ride is a little less than four hours each way. You can ride the train only one way and bus the other, but we rode the train round trip. Our narrator on the way to Silverton was Otto Mears (his character name). Otto had been a mine owner, toll-road builder, and railroad builder in Colorado in the second half of the 1800’s. On our back south, our narrator was Ann Pinkerton who, along with her husband, had sold supplies to miners in the area. Both of the narrators were very good and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The train stops in Silverton for about ninety minutes during which you can visit the many shops or have lunch. We went to the Golden Block Brewery for lunch. It’s pretty amazing that this little town counts on the train to bring them tourists, and they turn them all around in ninety minutes. The downhill ride on the train feels a lot different than the uphill. Since the engine is holding back the momentum of the train, it is a little jerky, but it was still great. Although the train is following the river, once north of Durango it starts climbing the mountain and the tracks are right along the edge where the mountain was carved out for them. This is called Cascade Canyon and there are some breathtaking views. On the return trip in the afternoon, the train runs along the river just north of Durango and passes a popular park on the other side where a tradition of mooning the train has developed over the years. We were not disappointed, although the battery on my phone had died by then, so there are no pictures. When we disembarked the train, we took advantage of our free parking and walked across the street to BREW, which is a brewpub, and had a beer and early dinner.
One day we took a road trip east through Pagosa Springs, over Wolf Creek Pass, and on to South Fork. Many years ago I had done ski trips up here where you flew into Durango, and got taken to Pagosa Springs to stay. You then got bussed to Wolf Creek Pass to ski for the day. On your departure day, the flight wasn’t until late afternoon, so they took you to Purgatory, north of Durango to ski for the day, and then took you to the airport. You had to change from ski clothes to traveling clothes in the airport bathroom. So, it was fun to find the hotel in Pagosa Springs, and see the ski area today. Wolf Creek Pass gets over 400” of snow each, making it the most in the state I believe. It is also the Continental Divide. When I skied here 25 years ago there was almost nothing in terms of facilities at the base of the ski area. There was one building with rentals and a small bar. Now there are several buildings, although it still isn’t a huge resort type of place. We continued down the east side of the mountain to the town of South Fork where we turned around and went over the pass again. We stopped in Pagosa Springs for lunch at Riff Raff Brewing. While in Pagosa Springs, we saw a business with a big sign that said “goldsmith”. My necklace with the Atocha coin had broken recently. What broke was the piece that attaches the coin to the chain. Fifteen years of it riding on the chain had worn it through. I took it in to the jewelry maker and she was able to repair the piece and even build it up more than original, so it should be good for another fifteen years. On the way back home, we took a little detour to go to the Chimney Rock National Monument. You can see Chimney Rock from the highway, but have to drive several miles down a side road to get to the entrance. I found it interesting that while this is designated as a national monument, they receive no funding. The place is totally run by volunteers, and they charge a small fee for the tours (and don’t honor the NPS Senior Pass) because that’s their only income. We got there just in time to drive up to the top of the hill and do a self-guided audio tour of the Mesa Village Trail, but missed the last guided tour to the top. It was still very interesting to see the archeological dig.
Another day was taken with a road trip north through Silverton to Ouray. This would be the shortest route for us to continue our Colorado tour, but many people have said it is not a good route for a large RV. So, we are making the trip in the car, and will decide if it doable in the bus or not. The trip from Durango to Silverton on the highway offers an entirely different perspective than the railroad route. It is about seventy-five miles from Durango to Ouray, with Silverton being about the mid-point. The views along this route are spectacular, and there are some places where the road is a bit narrow and twisty, and there may be a few places with no guardrails. In reality, I wouldn’t be afraid to drive this in the bus, but I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the scenery, and Barb wouldn’t enjoy looking over the edges from the passenger’s side, so I think we’ll take the long way. Once in Ouray, we stopped at the Ouray Brewery for lunch. Ouray Brewery has a second floor patio and we sat on the edge overlooking the main street watching the world go by. It was a Friday, and there seemed to be lots of tourists in town. On our drive back to Durango, we caught up to some traffic. In this line of traffic were eight pickup trucks that were all covered in padded covers velcroed together to disguise their brand. I did a bunch of googling and I think they were 2019 Chevrolets. I’m not sure what they would be testing out in public that couldn’t be done at their test track, but we followed them almost twenty miles back into Durango.
We did have a couple of days in Durango that we weren’t doing tourist things. We got caught up on things like a haircut, and oil change in the car, grocery shopping, fixed a problem with our slideout, and had a visit to Steamworks Brewing in Durango. While we were at this park, we met two other Alfa’s and visited with them several times.
After a week near Durango, we started our clockwise tour of Colorado. Today we are headed north to Montrose. We didn’t take the short route (125 miles) through Ouray, but rather the less white-knuckled but longer (190 miles) route. In Montrose we stayed at a KOA that was just on the edge of town. We found the local brewery, Horsefly Brewing, and had our mid-afternoon main meal. The main attraction near hear is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The park has a South Rim area and a North Rim area. The South Rim is the easiest access from Montrose, and probably gets the most visitors. Similar to other parks we’ve been at, since we aren’t hikers, this is a drive-stop-take pictures place. Some of the pullouts were right near the canyon edge and some were almost half a mile hike. At each pullout there was a small sign that told you how far it was to the overlook. We judged whether we would take the walk based on these signs. After driving the length of the South Rim road and back to the Visitor Center, we took the East Portal road down to the Gunnison Diversion Dam. This road is only eight or nine miles, but it is a consistent 16% grade. That’s steep. We went down the hill and eventually came to the dam. This dam diverts water from the Gunnison River into the Gunnison Tunnel. The tunnel takes the river water for irrigation in the Uncompahgre Valley. This is not your average pipe through a mountain. This tunnel is twelve by eleven feet, and six miles long. Considering it was built in the early 1900’s and they started at both ends and met in the middle, it’s a pretty amazing feat. We continued to the end of the road and found ourselves at the base of Crystal Dam. This dam creates Crystal Reservoir. The road ends here, so it was now back up that big hill. I didn’t think anything about the climb, but it turned out the car did. As we climbed, the temperature started rising until it was in the overheated range. I probably should have pulled over, but we kept going to the top. Once at the top, it immediately cooled back down into the normal range, so I wasn’t worried. I did notice though that on the rest of the drive back to the bus, any hill made the temp climb a little higher than usual. When we were home at it was cooled down, I checked and found that we had pushed out almost a gallon of the coolant. So, off I went to an auto parts store to get coolant. The good news is, after refilling it, there were no further issues.
The next day we took a trip east to Gunnison. We found High Alpine Brewing for lunch. They had a basil beer which sounded odd, but was very good. After lunch, we took a walk along the mains street shops and found Christmas store that drew us in. I was immediately taken by an upside down Christmas tree. It wasn’t a real tree, but a “half tree” mounted on the wall. I have since learned that this is a current trend, but I had never seen it before. I started chatting with the owner about it and in the course of our conversation we somehow came around to us living in an RV and formerly on a boat. It turned out that he and his wife use to live on a boat too. We had quite a nice conversation, but still didn’t buy anything. On our way back to Montrose, we turned off on a road that in a few miles took us to Morrow Dam. This is the next dam upstream from the one we saw the previous day. Down by the dam we found a section of railroad trestle that was obviously there as a display. The sign on it said the locomotive that used to be there was being refurbished up at the top of the hill. We stopped there at the Cimarron Canyon Rail Exhibit where we saw the engine and a nice exhibit about the railroad that was here in the mining era.
Our next stop was in Grand Junction. Grand Junction is near the Colorado National Monument. We drove north to the town of Fruita where there was a farmer’s market going on. We stopped at the market and bought a few things, then went into the northern entrance of the national monument. The road through the park runs south and east and comes out in Grand Junction, so this was a very convenient loop. This park is another geological wonder. We’ve started to joke about “more rocks?” but they really have all been stunning. Back in Grand Junction, we found the Edgewater Brewery for dinner.
Next stop was Carbondale, which is between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. For much of the summer, we have been on roads that were not Interstates. From Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs we were on I-70. We were pleasantly surprised by the scenery east of Grand Junction as the interstate follows the Colorado River through De Beque Canyon and then Glenwood Canyon. There are numerous tunnels, bridges, and a section where the east and westbound lanes are almost double decked to reduce the footprint the highway takes through the canyon. As we got off the interstate in Glenwood Springs, we got screwed up by construction. I usually plot a course using Google Maps, then put the destination in the bus’s navigation system and see if they match. I usually know the highway numbers and know if the navigation is leading us astray. Well, I screwed up this time in that I didn’t know the highway numbers. So, when we saw signs for a detour for Highway 82, I ignored it and followed the navigation system, because I didn’t realize Highway 82 was what we wanted. This resulted in us getting to a dead end in the heart of town. We can’t back up with the car attached, so we quickly got out and disconnected the car. Barb backed the car up, and I backed the rig into a side street to turn around. She then followed me until we were out of the construction area and on the right track before we pulled over and reconnected the car. That’s only the second time in four years that we have had to do that, so I guess we’re doing ok. From Glenwood Springs, we went south towards Aspen, but stopped in Carbondale at a KOA. This may have been the tightest KOA we have been in, and I had to disconnect the car again before we got to our parking spot because a turn was too tight.
One day we drove southeast from Carbondale through Aspen and up to Independence Pass. Ever since we left I-70, we have been seeing signage about a length restriction of 35’ on Independence Pass. The real restriction doesn’t start until south of Aspen, but once we got to that part of the road, we understood why the restriction exists. In addition to the narrow road and tight turns, this is a very popular road for bicycles. Near the top of the pass is the ghost town of Independence. At the top of the pass, you are on the Continental Divide. I hiked from the parking lot to the lookout at the top where you can normally see a long way, but there is so much smoke from wildfires that it is very hazy. It was quite windy and cool for shorts and a t-shirt, but I braved it. We returned to Aspen, where we found Hops Culture for lunch. Back in town, it was a perfect day for shorts and t-shirts and lunch outside. When I did a Facebook check-in at lunch, a cruising friend who used to live in Colorado replied to me, to stop by a local jewelry store and say hi to an old friend of his. So we did. We met Kathryn at Kathryn Penn Jewelry and told her about our mutual friend. After that visit, we walked to the John Denver Sanctuary. The John Denver Sanctuary is a city park, with an event building, a small amphitheater, paths along the creek, and boulders that have the lyrics to many songs engraved on them. Our Trop Rock friends Tom & Michelle Becker also do a John Denver tribute show. They will be performing here in October at the 20th annual John Denver Tribute.
Our second day trip out of Carbondale took us south through Redstone to Marble, CO. Marble is appropriately named because they have a marble quarry there. Marble is a tiny town and we never would have found it except that a guy we met in the RV park said we had to go to this BBQ place in Marble for lunch. Slow Groovin BBQ was a rustic looking place with indoor and outdoor seating. They serve craft beers and great BBQ. We timed our arrival perfectly, as the place was full ten minutes after our arrival. It was interesting that being a town built around a marble quarry, there were huge chunks of marble all over the place. There were many that were carved and maybe for sale, and many that were just big white rocks in the yard. On the way back home, we stopped in Redstone. Redstone was the site of a large coke oven site. Coke (not the soft drink) is what you get when you heat coal in an oven and remove the nasty gasses, but don’t actually burn it. The coke is then used later in big furnaces in steel mills. This whole process was terribly unfriendly to the environment and eventually was discontinued. Many of the ovens are right along the highway and are being preserved. The other cool thing in Redstone is the Redstone Castle. Redstone Castle was a huge home built by John Cleveland Osgood around 1900 when he was one of the country’s richest men having made his fortune in coal and iron. It has had many owners over the years and is still being preserved as a historical site. Unfortunately the tours were temporarily suspended when we were there, but will be restarting in 2018. The rest of the town, which had been little cottages for the coke oven workers, is now an upscale mountain retreat. We checked the prices on a few homes that were for sale, and they were ridiculous. On the ride back home, the road runs along the river, and the railroad that transported coal and marble did also. There are a couple places where there a huge square marble blocks along the banks of the river. Apparently this is the result of derailments that dumped the load and weren’t entirely cleaned up.
Our next stop was Steamboat Springs. We stayed at Eagle Soaring RV Park a few miles west of town. My first choice would have been a KOA right on the edge of town, but they were full. Eagle Soaring may be the most basic RV park we’ve ever stayed at. They had nice large pull-thru spots, and free Wi-Fi, but that was it. No pool, no cable TV, no office, no nothing. Many times, I’d be perfectly happy with a place like this, since often we don’t use any of the amenities anyway. But, it should be priced as a “no-frills” park. This place was as expensive as almost any we’ve stayed at. There were no big attractions here, like national parks. We took a drive west to Craig, CO for lunch one day and found a local sports bar (the emphasis being on “local”). We also explored Steamboat Springs proper. Although there are three breweries in town, none of them are restaurants open for lunch. So we found another sports bar that was ok but nothing special. We also found a Mexican restaurant in Steamboat called Salt & Lime. Mexican food throughout the country can be very different. This place was no exception, with what they called a “progressive Mexican menu”. I had a bison burrito, which was different but very good.
Our next stop was Winding River Resort in Grand Lake, right by the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. This park was neat, because although it had all the amenities you could want it was laid out in the woods with plenty of space between spots, more like a state park than a private RV park. They also had cabins, a neat little store, trail horse rentals, and a river running right next to the property. The same guy back in Carbondale who had recommended Slow Groovin BBQ to us had told us not to miss Pancho & Lefty’s in Grand Lake, so that’s the first place we went. We go there just as a heavy rain storm started. Right after we got inside, the rain turned to hail. Guess we timed that just right. Once we sat down at the bar, the first song we heard on the house music was Riding With Private Malone, written by our friend Thom Shepherd. I’m liking this place more and more. While the bartender could have been more attentive, the food was good. By the time we were done, the storm was past and we went home dry.
One of the main attractions of Rocky Mountain National Park is the Trail Ridge Road. This drive takes you all the way from the southwest entrance to the park in Grand Lake to the northeast entrance at Estes Park. It’s about fifty miles from the Grand Lake entrance to Estes Park. Along the drive you pass through groves of Aspens which are beginning to turn golden in the early fall weather. The other primary trees in this area are Lodgepole Pine and Ponderosa Pine. Unfortunately, the bark beetle infestation of the past ten years has killed as much as 80% of the trees in some areas of the park. It is truly heartbreaking to see all these dead trees, but it is a cycle of nature. It also seems like such a waste that there is no easy way to use the dead trees without making a mess harvesting them. A good portion of the Trail Ridge Road is above the tree line. This part of the road is fairly narrow and there is no guardrail. There aren’t cliffs here, just large rolling hills that go on forever. Even without cliffs, you have the sensation that if you ran off the road you would just keep going downhill forever. We saw quite a bit of wildlife along the war, including deer, elk, and a host of little critters including a couple or marmots by the Alpine Visitors Center. When we go to the northeastern corner of the park, there is more to see, but we went into Estes Park and found a place for lunch. After lunch we reversed the trip. As is the case on roads like this, you always see something you missed when you are looking at it from the other direction.
The second day we were in Grand Lake, we took a ride south to Granby, and then further south to Winter Park. We drove through Winter Park, and even though it’s summer in a ski town, we were surprised how dead the town was. We found the Peak Brewery, but questioned if it was open, despite the sign in the window that said it was, because there were no cars in the parking lot at noon. We checked the door and they were open. We had a couple beers and a nice lunch and we were the only customers there the whole time. We stopped at the large new grocery store in Granby on our way home and picked up a few things.
Our next stop will be Estes Park, on the eastern side of the national park. The choice of how to get there is the fifty or sixty mile route on the Trail Ridge Road, or a hundred seventy-five mile route north of the park. Having driven the park road in the car already, I was not that intimidated by it, but there was a lack of places to pull over to let people pass, so I didn’t want to be “that guy” holding traffic up. So from Grand Lake we went south a little to Granby, back west to highway 125 north to Walden, the highway 14 east through the Poudre Canyon to Ft. Collins, then back southwest to Estes Park. While this route was much longer, it was fun. We timed our departure so that we got to Walden by late morning but in time to get breakfast at the Moose Creek Cafe. There was easy parking for the RV across the street and the breakfast was very good. The eastbound trip from Walden to Ft. Collins took us through Poudre Canyon. This was beautiful ride. I honestly don’t think this part of the road was any easier than if I’d gone through the park, but I was glad we did it this way and saw this area. Our stop was at Spruce Lake RV Park, just outside the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
From Estes Park, we took a day to drive into Rocky Mountain NP again and see what we had not visited the day we drove through from the other side. We drove up to Bear Lake, but the parking was full so we couldn’t hike to the lake, but saw lots of nice scenery on the drive. The leaves are changing, especially the aspen trees, and it is getting quite colorful. We found the Estes Park Brewery for lunch one day. They had a nice raspberry wheat that merited returning with my growler for a refill. We also strolled through the downtown area where there are lots of little shops. The morning we left Estes Park, there was snow on the mountains inside the national park. Must be time to head south!
From Estes Park we traveled south to visit friends just north of Black Hawk, CO. Black Hawk is one of two towns in Colorado that were designated to be casino areas in an effort to revive old mining towns. We met Steve & Linda Kraskey the first hurricane season that we spent in Grenada. We last saw them in St. Maarten in 2009. Steve & Linda cruised for a few years and then sold their boat and settled here in Black Hawk. They have a little over 100 acres with a nice house, a huge shop, room to park an RV, and lots of beautiful woods. The first evening we were there three elk were grazing in the front yard. We spent three days with Steve & Linda catching up, visiting their new property closer to Estes Park, and touring the area. They showed us around Black Hawk and neighboring Central City, telling us lots of the history of the old buildings and some stories of the casino development and how some have made it and others haven’t. We also stopped in Nederland, just north of Linda & Steve’s and visited the Carousel of Happiness. The story of this carousel is that a guy bought the mechanism, but then carved all the animals himself from scratch. While we were there taking a few pictures, the owner/carver just happened to stop by and we met him.
From Black Hawk it was on to the Denver area. We stayed in Golden, CO, as there seems to be a distinct lack of RV parks in the immediate Denver area. Dakota Ridge RV Park was conveniently just off the interstate so it was a good place to spend a few days. Golden is the home to Coors beer, so our first beer stop was not exactly a micro-brewery. I did the Coors tour more than 25 years ago, and even though it is the same place, nothing really looked familiar. Even though it’s not craft beer, I love touring places that have production lines. I’m always fascinated by how it all moves so fast and rarely screws up. We enjoyed the free tour and then enjoyed a couple of beers each in their tasting room. I learned a few things that I wasn’t aware of on the tour. The world of beer has become so consolidated over the years Miller-Coors and Anheuser Busch/InBev own dang near everything. But, I didn’t know that Blue Moon, which Barb drinks sometimes, is a Coors brand, and they make a line of several flavors under the name Colorado Native that are only distributed in Colorado and compete with craft beers. Of course we also had to visit a local tap house that lots of local craft beers. While based here we met another cruising friend Dave Daniels who now lives in Castle Rock, south of Denver. We met him for lunch at the Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton. We probably hadn’t seen Dave since 2009 either. While in the area, we also had dinner with an old high school friend who lives in Broomfield, just north of Denver. We also found a wonderful liquor store called Tipsy Liquor. In addition to having a great name, the place looked like a Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop, and they had a huge inventory.
After Golden/Denver, we headed south to Colorado Springs. We stayed here at the Garden of the Gods RV park. When I made the reservation for this park, they sent me a detailed e-mail about how to get there. Apparently move navigation systems will lead you astray, taking you down small streets arriving at their exit. To further compound the confusion the multi-lane street that their entrance is on is undergoing a major construction project. Did I remember to consult this detailed e-mail when we made the trip? Of course not. I relied on the navigation which took us down several narrow neighborhood streets complete with low branches an arrived at their clearly marked EXIT ONLY. (In hindsight, I should have pulled in and begged forgiveness.) But, we continued to let the navigation lead us around the neighborhood in an effort to basically go around the block. We scraped tree branches on the roof several times and I just hoped they weren’t damaging anything. I finally got to a point where I could pull over and stop and get my computer out to consult Google Maps. I realized where I needed to be but because of how the navigation had led us astray, I would now have to make a U-turn into the park entrance. That wasn’t going to happen, so I pulled into the construction area, where the workers chuckled as I unhooked the car so I could back up and get in the entrance. When I went to the front desk to check in, the nice lady asked how I was doing. I told her that once I found them I was good. She gave me a look and said “you didn’t read our e-mail did you?” I sheepishly said that I had read it a couple weeks ago when I got it. Anyway, all was well and the park itself was pretty nice. From here we went over to RV friends Jim & Becky’s house for dinner. We have gotten to know Jim & Becky through the Alfa owners club. Much of the Colorado part of this summer’s trip has been planned around a presentation they gave the club a couple years ago about how to tour Colorado. Another day we toured Garden of the Gods. We joked again about more cool red rocks. We took a day trip up to Cripple Creek, CO, which is the other designated casino town in the state. Cripple Creek is at about 9500 feet elevation and there had been overnight snow. It looks like we are moving south at just the right time if this cold weather thing is going to become a regular occurrence. I had visited Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek about twenty-eight years ago with the thought of buying property and possibly moving there, but I really didn’t recognize any of it. I don’t know if it’s changed that much or my memory is shot. I’m going with the former. We also found the cute little town of Manitou Springs. This is where the base of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway is located. We were going to take either the cog railway or the car to the top of Pikes Peak one of the days we were in the area, but it rained every day we were there, so we never made the trip. Manitou Springs was a neat little town though and we found the Manitou Brewing Company for a nice lunch.
Our next big destination is Albuquerque for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We are taking a few days to get there with stops in Taos and Santa Fe. We left Colorado Springs, and timed our departure such that we were passing through Pueblo at lunchtime. Somebody told me months ago to eat at Obie’s Filling Station. Conveniently there is big vehicle parking across the street and the place is right of an interstate exit. We were not disappointed by the BBQ at Obie’s. We continued on to Taos where we stayed at the Taos Valley RV Park. While in Taos, we drove up to the Taos Ski area. It was cold and dreary, so we had Irish Coffee at the very nice hotel bar that was open. We spent two nights in Taos, but the weather wasn’t conducive to see much else. We left Taos headed for Santa Fe with storms still in the area. The drive between Taos and Santa Fe is pretty flat, so you can see isolated storms coming pretty far away. We could see what looked like a strong storm in the direction we were traveling. As we got closer, the road just disappeared at the edge of the downpour. There was a motorcycle a little ways ahead of us, and he seemed to be planning to continue in the rain. When he hit the storm and found it contained hail, he quickly stopped, pulled a U-turn, and hightailed it back towards Taos. We slowed down and continued, questioning the decision as we went. The noise from the hail was very loud. The hail wasn’t huge chunks, but more like marble sized and slushy. Of course the windshield started to fog up on the inside from the sudden temperature change, making the visibility that much worse. We slowly pressed on, and the storm only lasted maybe ten minutes. Once through the storm, the weather cleared and we found Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Resort with a little bit of trouble. This park is right in town, but it sits back off the street with other businesses between it and the street, so you don’t see any RVs from the street. We saw the one tiny sign for the park just as we passed the opportunity to turn left, so we continued to the next street. We turned into a mall, and I had to be a little rude using multiple lanes to basically go around a block and get back out to the original street, but we did it without unhooking the car this time and found the park on the second try. Through the magic of Facebook check-ins, we realized that friends Tom & Leslie from Idaho were also in Santa Fe for a few days. We met up with them for dinner one day and then again for lunch in the old town square area the next day. While we were at the park, we were joined by a convoy of old military vehicles. The Military Vehicle Preservation Association is a group of veterans who had restored an odd collection of vintage military vehicles and were doing a cross country Route 66 trip from Illinois to Santa Monica, CA. Many of the vehicles looked military but had been made into basic RVs. They definitely stood out scattered though the RV park.
Then we were off to Albuquerque. We are not simply going to the Balloon Fiesta, we are volunteering at it along with a bunch of other Alfa owners. In order to coordinate our camping at the Fiesta, we are meeting at an RV park a couple days early. Enchanted Trails RV Park is just off I-40 west of Albuquerque. There are 17 Alfas that are going to be participating in the event, so our ringleader negotiated a rally rate for us here at the RV park we are meeting at. It was good to see a bunch of Alfa owners we hadn’t seen since our rally last April, and meet a few new ones. In addition to plotting our group move to the Fiesta RV grounds, we had a potluck dinner one night and overwhelmed a local brewpub the second night. On the morning the Fiesta RV grounds opened, we all paraded the fifteen miles to the grounds. The deal is that they park RVs pretty much as they arrive. So for us to be parked together in a group, we need to all arrive together. We all got checked in and then parked in two rows, facing each other. The Balloon Fiesta is a huge ten-day event. It is put on each year by about twenty-five full-time employees and twelve-hundred volunteers. When you volunteer and work a minimum number of hours, you get a nice event jacket, an event vest, an event t-shirt, and admission to the whole ten days. In addition to that, our group was a pilot to comp the RV parking fees in exchange for enough volunteer hours. So, we had all signed up for various jobs throughout the event. I was driving courtesy shuttle golf carts, and Barb was working in the hospitality tent providing food and drink for the volunteers. The Fiesta has morning and evening sessions. The morning sessions are when the balloons launch, weather permitting, and the evening sessions are glows. Barb and I both volunteered for morning sessions. The problem is, the balloons launch at dawn. That meant our shifts started at 4AM! Going from retired and sleeping until 8AM to working a 6-day 48-hour shift starting at 4AM was quite a shock to our old bodies. Did I also mention that it was cold? The weather was beautiful in terms of little wind and no rain, but it was cold. Two of the mornings, it got down to 32° just before dawn. We were bundled up in layers with the little bits of cold weather clothing we own. The great thing was that even though we were working, we were able to enjoy the mass ascensions. There were 500 regular hot air balloons there, and another 70 of what they call “special shape” balloons. The weather being great resulted in the best event since 1996, with all but one launch and one glow going off as planned. Driving the shuttle carts was fun. It was nice dealing with mostly happy people. We had several gatherings of the Alfa crowd in the campground in the evenings, although some of the folks worked evening shifts. Barb and I scheduled all our work in the first six days so that we were free on the second weekend. Friends Barb & Rick joined us the second Saturday and we were down on the field for the mass ascension. Monday, after being at the Fiesta grounds for ten days, we went back to Enchanted Trails. The Fiesta grounds was dry camping, so we need to dump our holding tanks, fill our water tank, and get fully charged up.
With the Balloon Fiesta in the rear view mirror, it was time to head to Texas. First stop was a KOA in Lubbock. We didn’t even unhook the car, as this was just an overnight. The second night we used our Harvest Host membership and stayed in Eola, TX at the Eola School Brewery. Eola is a little east of San Angelo. It is pretty much a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. The old school is a large building that had been abandoned for years. About ten years ago the owner moved here and bought the building. It took him several years to just clean the building up enough to open a small part of it as a brewery. He brews small batches that he sells on premise and in local stores. In the evening, he fires up the grill and cooks hamburgers and a few other things. We were one of three rigs that spent the night here. The business is truly a one-man show and it was fun visiting with him and the other RVers. A very interesting thing here was a huge ash tree behind the building had hundreds of monarch butterflies in it. This area is on the path of the monarch butterfly annual migration, and we timed our visit perfectly. We had a nice quiet night and pulled out in the morning.
Next stop was our friend’s house in Floresville, TX. Parrothead friends Fred & Sara are hosting the first stop of the 2nd annual Karavan To The Keys. The Karavan is a week-long moving party of people going to Key West for the national Parrothead convention in RVs. It started informally last year and was such a hit that this year it is an organized event. Musician Donny Brewer is the host and he will perform almost every night along the way with other musicians. We arrived on Thursday along with a couple other RVs, although the real event doesn’t start until a house concert here on Saturday. Fred & Sara have room and electrical hookups for five RVs in their driveway and we filled them up. We went to the San Antonio club’s regular happy hour Friday night, and then had the house concert Saturday night. Sunday it was off to Kemah, TX where we took over half of a city parking lot next to T-Bone Tom’s. We picked up a few more rigs, and had seven or eight there. The show was at T-Bone’s that night. Monday morning we moved to L’Auberge Casino in Lake Charles, LA. Since it is a weekday, they don’t mind if RVs stay out in the far end of the parking lot away from the casino. We were up to ten or twelve rigs here. We spent a couple hours in the casino in the evening and more than paid for our free stay. Late in the evening an impromptu party broke out in the parking lot, but we didn’t partake in that one. Early the next morning, it was off to Island Retreat RV Park in Gulf Shores, AL. We are here for two nights. The first night we had a show at the local community center, and the second night was a show at a club in nearby Orange. At this point we bid the Karavan farewell. We are not going to Key West this year, so we turned around and headed back to Kemah. We made the trip in two days, stopping in New Orleans to have dinner with our friend Sheila.
Arrival in Kemah was on October 27th. We are back at Gordy Rd RV Park, the same place we have spent the past two years. It will be good to have a little non-traveling time, although our calendar is already filling up with holiday events.