2017 Winter/Spring TX to AZ
Pictures can be found here
We spent almost four months in the Kemah, TX area, from early November 2016 to the end of February 2017. We stayed at the same RV park that we used last year, Gordy Road RV Park. They have added another twenty some spaces but are still almost always full. Most of the residents here are working people who travel to some type of oilfield or construction job. At the end of each month several rigs will come and go as contracts start and end. Our next door neighbor is a relatively young woman living in an old pull-behind camper from maybe the sixties. She has it painted and decorated and has things outside like a grill and chairs and some storage. It is cute, but would be stretching the size limits for me to be calling my full-time home. She seems quite content with her home, and thatís all that matters.
During our stay in TX, we caught up with old friends, renewed the car and bus tags, saw our doctor, and enjoyed being on the Gulf Coast again with its food and music. We took a few side trips during the TX visit. One was flying to NY to visit my daughter and grandkids, and my brother and his family over the week of Christmas. We had a great trip. We stayed at my brotherís house, an hour north of NYC for most of the week, but drove to my daughterís house on Long Island on Christmas Eve and spent the night. We enjoyed Christmas morning with the grandkids (teenagers) and stayed for Christmas dinner at my son-in-lawís brotherís house before driving back to my brotherís.
Our other two side trips were to the Austin area. A week before Christmas, we took the bus to Austin for the weekend so that we could attend our friends Henry & Karenís annual Christmas dinner party. This is a gathering of old friends that has been going on for about fifteen years, and since we have been back from the boat, we have been honored to attend the past few years. The other side trip was in early February when we went to Marble Falls, TX, a little north of Austin, in the bus to attend the first annual Lone Star Luau. This was a three-day Trop Rock music event hosted by Thom Shepherd and Coley McCabe. For their first foray into promoting a music event instead of just performing, they did great. The event was a singer/songwriter show and it was a ďlistening eventĒ, which means you are expected to sit in your chair and listen to the songs and the stories behind them. I really enjoy this type of show over hearing a musician competing with the bar crowd who arenít paying any attention to the music. The music lineup was outstanding, the venue was crowded but good, and those of us in RVs had the opportunity to stay at an RV park a few miles away or dry camp across the street from the venue. We stayed at the RV park two nights and dry camped one.
Four months flew by faster than it should have. At the end of February we were saying goodbye to Kemah, but not to all of our friends. Our first stop was Port Aransas, TX where we are attending Pirates and Poets, another Trop Rock music event. Many of our Kemah friends are attending also, so it stretches out saying goodbye to them through the weekend. Pirates and Poets is also a singer/songwriter show. It has a couple of performances at local bars, but the main show on Saturday night is a listening event limited to about 100 people. Saturday night after the show, we bid farewell to all our friends as many of them planned to leave very early Sunday morning. Unfortunately they were leaving early so they could drive to Port Arthur, TX to attend a celebration of life for our friend Bud Byram who was the percussion player for Jerry Diaz & Hannaís Reef.
Last year when we left Port Aransas after Pirates and Poets, we took six weeks to meander our way to Arizona. This time we are just going to boogie down the road and get there in a few days. Our first day found us stopping at a Wal-Mart in Ft. Stockton, TX. We were one of maybe ten RVs that spent the night there. We went inside and bought a frozen pizza to cook for dinner. On our second day, I had a mental plan to make it to Wilcox, AZ, but we didnít have any reservations. We were on the road early (because what else is there to do in a Wal-Mart parking lot?) and before noon we were passing through El Paso. It had been getting increasingly windier as we traveled west, and once we were through El Paso proper, we could see there was a lot of dust in the distance. We had planned to stop for fuel at the Flying J Truck Stop right on the TX/NM border, and when we did, NM was a wall of dust. It was like the world ended there at mile marker zero. At the truck stop, the dust was as bad, but the wind was easily blowing more than forty mph. I had to hang on to everything, including the fuel cap to keep stuff from blowing away. After fueling, I thought Iíd try to push on through the dust storm. As soon as we got back on the freeway, we heard a loud bang on the driverís side of the bus. After the second or third time this happened, I saw in the rearview mirror that the awning on the big slide was catching the wind and billowing out, and then the spring would roll it back up fast causing the sound. There is a latch on the roller for this awning, but I have never had to use it. I got off the first NM exit and made a U-turn to go back to the Flying J. We parked at the truck stop and I got out to see if I could latch the awning roller. Due to the position of the roller, I couldnít quite get the latch to catch a tooth on the roller gear. We sat there in the parking lot for about an hour hoping the wind would subside. While it may have dropped some, it was still blowing hard when we decided to try it again. Once on the freeway, the wind was still strong enough to catch the awning. This time, I pulled off the first NM exit and parked on the shoulder. I climbed up on the roof and crawled to the front driverís side where I could reach the awing latch over the side. Usually I stand up and walk on the roof, but with this wind, I crawled on my hands and knees to the front and then lay on my belly to reach over the side. I was able to turn the roller enough to let the latch catch like it is supposed to so now the awning canít unroll. We just have to remember not to put the slide out without unlatching it or we will bend the awning arms. (Thatís why I donít routinely latch it.) So, we taped a reminder sign over the slide switch. We continued on without the awning issue, but it still wasnít fun. We already had plans to stop for lunch in Las Cruces at a Mexican restaurant called Nopalitoís. This restaurant was recommended to us by Donny & Michelle Brewer and is known for their green chili. Conveniently there is huge vacant lot across the street from them so parking the bus wasnít a problem. We were relieved to sit down and not be fighting the wind. While we waited for our food, I made the executive decision that I was not enjoying driving in the wind so I made a reservation at the KOA on the edge of Las Cruces. We did enjoy the food Ė this was the first time we had New Mexico style layered enchiladas. Iíve always posited that Mexican dishes are really all the same stuff, just arranged differently, and this substantiates that point. Same stuff as other enchiladas, just layered instead of rolled up. After lunch we headed a few miles to the KOA. Chatting with the guy at the office, I found that we werenít the only ones who were making an unplanned stop due to the wind. After dark the wind abated and we had a good night. We learned on the local news that I-10 had been shut down a bit west of Las Cruces due to the dust storm, so stopping was a good move.
The next day dawned cool and clear. We got a fairly early start with no wind and no dust. We stopped in Benson, AZ for lunch. Back in my trucking days (early 90ís) I used to make a run from Phoenix to McNeal, AZ which took me through Benson. I would stop for lunch at the Horseshoe Cafť where they had a cheeseburger served with a slab of mild green chili on it. And they had easy truck parking across the street. When we stopped, we found the parking has been formalized from a long dirt lot along the railroad tracks to a genuine parking lot, but it was still easy to get in and there was room for the bus. The Horseshoe Cafť is still there, and some of the staff may have been the same from my earlier visits, but the green chili cheeseburger was not as I remembered it. It was still good, but instead of the slab of green chili, it was diced and just not as tasty. It was still a cool stop though in a place time has passed by. After lunch we got back on the road. Being NASCAR fans, Iím always on the lookout for team trucks on the road when we are near a venue on race weekend. We hit the jackpot today seeing three haulers from JRMotorsports (Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Xfinity team) traveling together on the way to the Phoenix races this weekend. We are headed to Casa Grande, where we are going to spend a week with our friends Tami & Dwayne. In addition to spending part of the year on the road in their RV, Tami & Dwayne have a house in Casa Grande. We got to the house and backed in the driveway and got set up. We will only have 15 amp power here, so itís almost dry camping. The weather here is still very pleasant so we shouldnít need any A/C and if it gets too cool overnight we can use the propane heat. While we were staying in Casa Grande, we made several trips to the south side of the Phoenix area for various reasons. One day we went with Tami & Dwayne to Chandler where they needed to pick out tile for a house project. After the tile shopping we went to San Tan Brewery for lunch. Downtown Chandler has changed a lot since I lived nearby thirty years ago. One day we went to lunch with my son, who works on the south side of Tempe. On evening we went with Tami & Dwayne, and friends (and their neighbors) Vickie & Gary to a comedy club in Scottsdale. We hadnít been to a comedy club in ages and we had a great time. We had to do Taco Tuesday at The Airport Inn, a local dive bar that Tami, Dwayne, Vickie and Gary call ďtheir barĒ. One day Dwayne and I watched as a guy installed two new garage doors and openers. Itís fun watching someone else work hard. On that theme, I watched Dwayne install a skylight in the master bathroom that he was in the middle of renovating. A little measurement mishap resulted in the hole not being in the right place, but after getting it all in it worked out better where it was rather than where it had been planned.
After a week in Casa Grande, we backtracked a little to Rincon Country West RV Resort in southwest Tucson. This is where the Alfa Owners rally is going to be in a few weeks. We couldnít get the spot that we will be in for the rally, but we are just across the street from it. The first thing we noticed at this park is that it is in the flight path for the Tucson Airport. Tucson is not an extremely busy airport, so it wouldnít be a big deal except that there is also an Air National Guard unit based there. So in addition to the semi-noisy commercial jets, there are also very noisy fighter jets zooming around, and they always go in pairs. We also found that every time a commercial jet went by, it apparently flew right through the path between us and the DISH Network satellite. I wouldnít have guessed that a plane could have interfered with the signal, but it was consistent. We got an e-mail from Trop Rock friend Mark Mulligan saying that he would be performing in Tucson a couple of days later. The venue was diagonally across the city from us, but we donít get to see Mark often, so we took the drive and enjoyed the show. Our other task to be accomplished in the first two weeks that we were at Rincon was to finalize the prep for the rally. There are really two back-to-back rallies happening. One is the National Alfa Owners Club annual rally, and for four days prior to that there is the Roadrunners Chapter of the AOC pre-rally. Barb and I are the co-wagon masters for the Roadrunner pre-rally. The wagon masters are responsible for making the event happen. Our co-wagon masters, Jim & Becky, have taken care of receiving the registration forms and money, and assigning the sites. Barb and I have made the schedule, arranged the catering for some meals, and purchased supplies for table decorations and a pancake breakfast. The rallies donít start until April 2nd, but we need to have everything ready by March 23rd.
The reason for the early deadline for the rally prep is that we went on a cruise just before the rally. We left the bus at the RV park in Tucson and drove to Phoenix to fly out because it was cheaper and had more flight options than Tucson. On March 23rd, we flew to Houston where we spent two nights with our friends John & Pege. On Friday the 25th, we flew from Houston to San Juan, Puerto Rico and spent the night at the airport hotel. Then on Saturday the 26th, we taxied to the boat. We are cruising on the Windstar Star Legend. The cruise is a music cruise with our Trop Rock friends Jerry Diaz and Donny Brewer. Half of the boat will be fans of the two musicians and we know lots of them. They will perform on the boat and also perform at local venues at most of the ports of call. We had to be out of the hotel by 11 AM, and couldnít board the boat until 1 PM. We were able to taxi to the boat and check our bags early though. We then went across the street to Senor Frogs for a couple of pre-cruise beverages. While there we met a couple of friends and a couple who were on the boat but not part of our group. We had to educate them as to what Trop Rock was. Shortly after 1 PM, we boarded the boat. This is Barbís first cruise. I have been on one before on a much larger ship, but that was twenty years ago. The Star Legend only has 106 cabins, which are all outside and all suites. It is an older ship that has been refurbished for Windstar, and being small, it doesnít have lots of the entertainment stuff that the mega-ships of today have. But, being a small ship means it can get into ports where the mega-ships donít go. That was part of what made this cruise attractive to us. We found our cabin and were impressed with its size and style. We unpacked and then found the bar where we figured we would find friends. We found a few, and then found more at dinner. Speaking of dinner, another thing about Windstar is that dinner is not ďformalĒ. It does however mean, no shorts, no t-shirts, no jeans, no flip-flops. For some of us, even that means wearing clothes we donít usually wear. I had borrowed a pair of white linen pants before we left, and brought a few Hawaiian shirts, so I was set. Barb had recently purchased a couple of new tops and she had appropriate pants, so it wasnít quite as problematic for her. At dinner, there is no assigned seating. Most of the tables are four-tops, with a few tables-for-two, and a few larger tables that can accommodate groups of eight. When you arrive for dinner, you either arrive with your group, or they ask you if you would like to sit by yourselves or join someone else. Our first night we joined Jerry & Mary Diaz and several other folks at one of the large tables. Dinner service is pretty formal even if the dress code is not. There is a bartender and server for your table. The menu each night had six appetizers, two or three soups, six ďspecialĒ entrees, and five or six deserts. In addition to the daily entrees, steak, chicken, or salmon was available every night. They made it clear that everything except the steak, chicken, and salmon would be different every night. So if you see something you were interested in, order it! Every night, I had an appetizer, soup, entrťe, and desert. On a few occasions I may have doubled up on the appetizers or entrees. The dining room service was impeccable, and being small meant that not only did your servers take good care of you, but the food service manager, who also was the MaÓtre D' stopped by to make sure all was well and if you needed something, he took care of it. One night we sat by ourselves, on a couple nights we arrived with another couple we knew, and a couple nights we rolled the dice and got seated with strangers who were not part of our group.
Our first stop out of San Juan was Culebra. Culebra is an island east of Puerto Rico, but it is part of Puerto Rico politically. We have been to Culebra in our boat, and have friends there on their own boat. We went ashore before noon and met Richard & Sue from Orion at The Dinghy Dock for lunch. We spent many a happy hour at The Dinghy Dock back in 2007. After lunch, we took a walk around town and then Richard & Sue joined us at Mamacitaís where Jerry & Donny were playing for our group. Even though there were light scattered showers all days, we had a great time and it was great seeing Richard & Sue again. Our second port of call was Phillipsburg, St. Maarten. Here we skipped the organized tours and took a local bus for $2 to the Yacht Club at the lagoon. This is where the Dutch bridge into the lagoon is. We got there just in time to see the outbound bridge opening, and then an hour later after a couple of beers, the inbound opening. The mega-yacht Limitless was in the marina and we were told she just came through the bridge yesterday. After the openings, we hopped another bus for $1 to the Sunset Bar and Grill to see some planes landing. We found Mary & Jerry there along with a few other friends. After watching a few planes and having lunch (they no longer serve their excellent tuna steak sandwich), we walked back to where the busses pass. We ran into several other friends and ended up commandeering a bus all to ourselves. Kind of like a taxi but a lot cheaper. And he never stopped along the way to cram in a few more passengers. Back in Phillipsburg, we went to the Greenhouse where Jerry and Donny played for a couple of hours. Richard, the captain of our ship, and Clair Bear, the Beverage Service Officer were there for part of the show. Our group filled the place for a couple hours, and then it was back to the ship. Next port of call was Montserrat. In 2007, when we first traveled south with MoonSail, we overnighted in a bay off Montserrat, but we never went ashore. The fact that this trip was stopping here was one of the primary reasons we took this trip. Since we had no experience with the island, we purchased the shipís tour of the southern end of the island where the capitol of Plymouth, the airport, and pretty much everything else was destroyed or buried by a volcano. The tour took us right into what was left of downtown Plymouth. The remains of buildings we were seeing were really a couple of stories taller before the volcano. What we were seeing now in many cases was the third floor at ground level. The woman, who was one of our tour guides, took us to a building where we looked in the window at the remains of what had been her second floor office in a government building. The file cabinets, office equipment, and some papers were still there covered in twenty years of dust. In the afternoon, Jerry and Donny played Soca Cabana, at a beach bar just a short walk from the dock where the cruise ship tender dropped us off. The owner of the beach bar is an American ex-pat who had been a musician too, so he welcomed the idea of our visit. I donít think he really believed how large the turnout would be though, as by the time we all went back to the ship, there was no beer and very little of anything else left on the premises. When the ship departed Little Bay, on the NW corner of the island, it went south and turned around the southern tip, giving us a sunset view of the barren end of the island including seeing the remains of the airport which is on the southeastern corner. Since we were heading north from here, the stern of the ship was pointed south. We had this opportunity to take several friends to the aft deck and point out the Southern Cross constellation to them. Next port of call was St. Barths. St. Barths is a French island just southeast of St. Maarten. We had stopped here on MoonSail, but again, just for one night. When we were here on MoonSail, it was on a Sunday, so even though we walked around the main city of Gustavia, we didnít see much because most places were closed. This trip, we are here on a Wednesday, so everything is open. St. Barths is known as one of the most expensive islands in the Caribbean, vacation place of the rich and famous, and many of the shops reflect this. The one place we were going though was Le Select. Le Select is allegedly where Jimmy Buffett wrote one of his iconic songs, Cheeseburger In Paradise. We had heard in the past that the cheeseburger was nothing special, so we just had a few beers while listening to Jerry and Donny entertain us again. We were especially entertained when somehow, Donny found his way onto the roof of the kitchen building (he uses a wireless pickup on his guitar). While Donnyís wife shook her head in disbelief, he played a long guitar solo for the laughing crowd. In the end there were no injuries. Next stop was in the British Virgin Islands. Since this is a small cruise ship, we were able to anchor off Jost Van Dyke, one of the smaller islands of the BVI. We took the tender ashore and walked from the ferry dock around to Corsairís. Corsairís is, in my opinion, the best restaurant on Jost. We have met Vinnie, the owner who grew up near me in NYS, many times, and asked for him at the bar. Vinnie came out from the kitchen and said hi. We re-introduced ourselves and shared a shot with him before grabbing a taxi to take us over the hill to the Soggy Dollar Bar. Jerry and Donny are performing here and we spent the afternoon enjoying the music, the Painkillers, the beach, and the people watching. The beach that Soggy Dollar is one of the places where you can pick up a cell signal from the USVI, so itís always fun to text friends and have them watch for you on the webcam perched on the roof of the bar overlooking the beach. Late in the afternoon, we went back to the ship for dinner, and then went back to shore with a bunch of others to pay a late visit to Foxyís. The ship isnít leaving the bay tonight, so we can be out until the last tender about 11PM. We had a few beers with the gang and it was fun to be partying with Jerry and Donny when they werenít ďworkingĒ. We took the last tender back to the ship and crashed. In the morning, the ship made the very short hop from Jost Van Dyke to North Sound Virgin Gorda. North Sound is home to well know places like the Bitter End Yacht Club, but our day will be spent on Prickly Pear Island. The ship brings everything ashore to put on a beach barbeque. We enjoyed an afternoon of playing in the water, good food, and generally laying around. Tonight is our last night aboard. We are headed back to San Juan and the end of the cruise. In the morning, we had to be off the ship by 9AM, and our flight wasnít until 3PM, but not being into shopping we elected to just go the airport. There we met several other friends and spent a couple hours at the Air Margaritaville restaurant. Our flight is to Houston where we spent the night at a cheap motel right near the airport since we have a 7AM flight to Phoenix. We caught our flight to Phoenix and then drove to Tucson to resume our RV life at the Alfa rally.
Thanks to a two-hour time change between Houston and Arizona this time of year, we got to Phoenix, drove to Tucson and were ready to start being Wagon Masters at the Alfa rally by 11AM. We moved our rig from the space we had been in to our official rally space, and then started awaiting arrivals of other Roadrunners. We had four days of the Roadrunner chapter pre-rally, and then six days of the Alfa Ownerís Club national rally. It was good catching up with many old friends and making several new ones.
After the rally, we headed up to the Phoenix area. In previous years, we have spent at least a month in the Phoenix area, so we have stayed at large snowbird parks. This year, we only plan to spend two weeks actually in the Phoenix area, so we are spending one week at Usery Pass County Park, and one week at Lost Dutchman State Park. Both stays were Wednesday to Wednesday. On each of the weekends local friends Barb & Rick brought their new fifth-wheel to the parks and visited with us. Even though both parks are no more than ten miles from their home, they are both just outside the developed part of the city and seem like you are much further away from the city than you are.
After two weeks around Phoenix, we headed up to Dewey, AZ near Prescott, to my sonís house. This will be out base for the next two months, with several side trips. The first side trip was just a week after arrival. We left the bus parked, and drove the car to San Carlos, MX. A year ago we bought something called Sky Med which is a travel assistance program in case of a medical emergency. A reward that came with that purchase was a cheap week in a condo. We chose a property in San Carlos, MX for a couple of reasons. The primary reason was that it was within driving distance, so we didnít have to buy plane tickets, and this property was not an all-inclusive one where you still spend a fortune for the meal package. We also know at least three people in San Carlos, so it will be fun to see them. The drive from Dewey to San Carlos would be almost eight hours, so we broke it up. We left the afternoon before our condo reservation and spent the night in Nogales, AZ right at the border. That took three hours off the trip. In the morning, we crossed into Mexico. It has been more than twenty years since I drove into Mexico, so I was unsure of the process, although I had read everything I could online about it. We had learned that we would need pesos to pay the toll-road tolls, so we exchanged $60 in Nogales before crossing the border. There is no ďcheck outĒ from the US, so you drive right across the border unimpeded. As soon as you cross the border you are figuring out signage, some in English, some in Spanish, and some in both. You have to be fast on the reading to stay in the proper lanes. Normally the first thing you encounter is a random red/green light that tells you if you need to stop for inspection. They were working on that light system when we came through, so everybody had to go through the inspection. The inspection was no big deal. We simply opened the rear hatch so the officer could look in the car, and he politely told us to carry on. Next stop was about thirty kilometers south where you stop and fill out your tourist visa. If you are staying no more than a week, it is free. From here south it was smooth sailing. There were a couple of checkpoints with Federal Police, but they saw Americans with Texas plates and just waved us through. The road to San Carlos is mostly a four lane road, heavily traveled by eighteen wheelers. Most of the trip is through pretty barren desert, with only two significant towns, Santa Ana, and Hermosillo. A good portion of the road is being rebuilt into a nice concrete highway, but many parts have one lane going each way on one side while the other side is being worked on. So there was some highway speed, followed by a crossover, then single-file, then back to highway. In a couple years it may be nice, but now Iím glad we were in the car and not the bus. We found our condo in San Carlos to be a very nice place right on the water. Our room has a nice balcony overlooking the pool area and the ocean. We spent the week relaxing, reading, eating, and drinking. Highlights were a visit to La Palapa Griega where we saw our friend Mark Mulligan perform. Mark lives near San Carlos full-time and this is the first weíve seen him on his home turf. We also spent an afternoon visiting with Sam Rainwater, another Trop Rock singer who spends the winter in San Carlos. Our third friend who spends winters there had to leave San Carlos early, so we missed her. Overall the visit was very nice and our week went by quickly. We checked out of our hotel fairly early on our departure morning and headed north. We passed a couple of the Federal Police checkpoints, and one place where you stop and they ask you where you were and where you are going and wave you on. Near the US border there is a place where you are supposed to stop and return the visa paper that you got on the way in. I missed the turnoff for this checkpoint though, so we just proceeded as criminals. Entering the US you get in lines at a tollbooth type of structure and inch your way forward. I found it interesting that there were no separate lanes for US citizens, vs. visitors like you would find at an airport. Once at the booth, we showed him out passports, he asked where we had been, and we were sent on through, back safely in the good ole USA where we drove all the way back to Dewey.
After ten days at my sonís, it was time for our next side trip. This one was in the bus. We were going to again join friends Barb & Rick at their mountain property in NW New Mexico. It is about a five hour trip with the last ten miles being washboard dirt road. This was Barb & Rickís first trip of the summer so they had pulled their new fifth wheel, which they leave at the property all summer, up the same day. We only spent five days in NM this year, as we have a commitment to be back at my sonís house to dog sit. My son and his wife are taking their first long vacation in many years, taking a trip that starts in Washington, DC and ends in Maine. They will be gone almost three weeks and weíll watch the house and take care of their dogs while theyíre gone. Just before leaving on their vacation, my son found out that he had gotten a great promotion at work, but it meant moving to Minnesota. So, as soon as they got back from vacation, they were busy making plans to move. We ended up staying another two weeks almost to help where we could in that process. Further complicating issues was the Goodwin wildfire which burned to within about ten miles of the house. While it was exciting to see the DC-10 tankers flying low right over us, it was a bit nerve wracking until they got control of the fire before it jumped the highway between it and us. One day the wind was blowing the smoke our way, setting off the smoke detectors in the bus and the house. We left the day after the worst smoke, but we had this scheduled in advance. We had an appointment at the Freightliner dealer in Phoenix for our annual service. We spent two nights there at their nice RV facility before heading back north. After our service, instead of returning to my sonís house near the fire, we went about twenty miles further north on I-17 to the Distant Drums RV Park in Camp Verde and spent the week there. It was still close enough to my sonís to go over and help them get ready to move, but out of danger and smoke from the fire. We were at Distant Drums over the 4th of July and enjoyed a nice fireworks show from the neighboring casino. By the end of the week, my son was in Minnesota and we began our summer adventures north.