Category Archives: Hiking

One Thing Leads to Another

We made it through the weekend in our temporary quarters at the Hotel Elegante in Albuquerque. The weekend was just a waiting period until we could see what comes next in our engine repair saga. Although the square footage of our hotel room isn’t much different than that of our coach, the layout is very different. The hotel room is made for sleeping and the small desk and storage areas are afterthoughts. The coach is much more comfortable and organized – long hot showers notwithstanding.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed over to Marble Brewing to take the 2pm tour. They were having a fundraiser for the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council and that packed the house. The brewery tour had to be broken up into two groups and the groups were still too large. It was interesting nonetheless. The thing I found most interesting was part of their process – they boil the wort in a 30-barrel brew kettle. This isn’t unusual – what’s different is that the wort is transferred to 150-barrel fermentation vessels. It takes five batches to fill the fermenter! It must be quite a task to keep things consistent when you have to brew five batches before you begin the fermentation.

150-barrel fermenters

We also viewed a temperature-controlled storage room filled with wooden casks where beer was being barrel-aged.

A portion of their barrel-aging storage

The bottling line

We sampled a few ounces of brew, then decided to leave the crowded brew pub and head over to Rio Bravo Brewery. They have a large brew pub and it’s really laid back. They also serve food – Marble and Tractor brewing rely on food trucks.

Donna had a quinoa and arugula salad to go with her porter while I ordered a New Mexico treat. In Michigan, you’ll find cafes that specialize in what they call Coney Dogs. These are hot dogs covered in a type of beef chili (no beans) and various other condiments. In New Mexico, they serve hot dogs with cheese and diced green chilies. It was tasty.

Green chili cheese dog

On Sunday morning, Donna wanted to get out and get some exercise in the fresh air. So she rode the Spyder to the east end of Menaul Boulevard to the Menaul Trailhead to hike. I stayed at the hotel and watched a very entertaining Moto GP race from Aragon, Spain. Valentino Rossi showed his talent as well as his toughness as he held on to second place for much of the race before fading to fifth place near the end – this was just 24 days after he broke his leg! He broke his tibia and fibula in a training accident and could barely walk a few days ago.

On Sunday evening, Donna took an Uber ride to the Old Town area to meet up with her friend Hazel. They walked from Hazel’s house to the Range Cafe restaurant where they met up with more friends. I stayed home and watched the Oakland Raiders struggle against the Washington Redskins.

On Monday morning, it was time to get back to business. I was getting ready to go over to Rocky Mountain Cummins when they phoned and told me they had the turbocharger removed and I should come and look at it. The original estimate called for a turbo replacement due to oil leaking past the seals. I didn’t believe this was the case. The oil in the intake and turbo housing was coming from the auxiliary compressor on the engine. This compressor supplies air for the suspension system and air-operated parking brake.

With the turbo removed, I could see there wasn’t anything wrong with the shaft bearings or seals, however it did have a problem. The blades on the intake compressor wheel were damaged. They had small nicks in the leading edges of the blades. This is usually the result of foreign objects ingested through the intake system. That could be really bad news as any foreign material would pass through the engine and most likely damage pistons and cylinders or at least piston rings. Close inspection revealed the nicks only to be on the leading edges – dirt or other abrasives show themselves across the blade. Also, there was oil in the turbo and no sign of dust or dirt in the oil.

In talking it over with the mechanic doing the work, Josh, we came to the conclusion that the nicks in the leading edges of the blades were likely caused by droplets of oil being struck by the spinning compressor blades. The turbine wheel on the exhaust side, the shaft and the compressor wheel and blades are constructed from lightweight materials. This allows the wheels to quickly spool up to high operating RPM – over 100,000 RPM at times. The compressor is designed to operate in a clean air environment.

The integrity of the blade material is important. Anything that weakens the structure could lead to a failure such as blade separation. That would be bad, very bad. A blade failure would send pieces of the blade through the engine with catastrophic results. I decided to have the turbocharger replaced.

Turbocharger on bench

Close-up of compressor blade damage

I saw the exhaust manifold on a cart. It wasn’t just cracked – it was completely broken into two pieces! This is likely due to the leak in the charge air cooler. A pressure leak in the CAC can lead to excessively high exhaust gas temperature. One thing leads to another.

Broken exhaust manifold

Now we’re back in a waiting pattern. The CAC and engine coolant radiator are at the radiator shop to be re-cored. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they can repair the CAC. If all goes well there, the shop may have everything back together by Thursday – we’ll see. One good thing about being here in Albuquerque is the availability and concentration of qualified shops. There’s a lot of heavy-duty truck traffic due to I-25 and I-40 intersecting here without much else within a few hundred miles. The Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins is one of 32 Cummins Coach Care Centers in the USA. They do a lot of RV work.

Tomorrow morning, Donna flies back to Albany, New York. She’s visiting her parents for a week in Bennington, Vermont. It’s pretty good timing for her – she can get out of this hotel. Meanwhile it presents a logistical dilemma for me. If the coach is ready to roll on Thursday, I need to figure out how to get all of our stuff and Ozark the cat from our hotel to the coach. I’ll come up with something and try to remain optimistic about having the work completed by then.

A Week in Santa Fe

It’s hard to believe our week in Santa Fe is coming to an end already. We pulled into Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park last Wednesday and we’ll head out tomorrow. As usual, we’ve really enjoyed our stay here. Santa Fe has a lot going for it.

When we leave here, we’ll go directly to the Rocky Mountain Cummins shop in Albuquerque to have the exhaust manifold replaced. They e-mailed an estimate for the work – $1,600. I’m guessing it’ll exceed the estimate by $400 to $500 once they get going and things happen – like studs breaking and so on.

On Saturday morning, Donna and I rode the Spyder down to the Farmers’ Market near the Railroad Park and Santa Fe Depot. The Saturday market is the largest of four markets in the area. We came early – we were there by 9am and had breakfast burritos from a vendor inside the building adjacent to the market midway. They were made with locally sourced ingredients and were very good – as was the coffee.

We walked through the market, then returned to the vendor tents that had items we wanted. Donna bought a couple of ears of corn, peaches, apples, green beans that were purple until cooked, cantaloupe, corn pisole stew mix and creamy goat cheese with hatch chile.

There were a number of street musicians performing – we really enjoyed a quartet called Lone Piñon. Donna persuaded me to buy a CD they recorded so we can listen to something different. The music we heard them play was a mix of some Gypsy Jazz sounding stuff to traditional old Mexican folk music. We haven’t listened to the CD yet. Donna is in the process of ripping all of our CDs to a hard drive.

Lone Piñon

We were parked near the train depot. As we walked back to the Spyder, we passed through a section of artisan vendor tents. Donna found a bracelet that she really liked made by a local woman who is a metalsmith. She only accepted cash or check, so I walked back to the ATM for more cash and bought it for Donna.

Bounty from the Farmers’ Market – look closely and you’ll see an ear of corn wearing Donna’s new bracelet

On Sunday morning, Donna took the Spyder to the Atalaya trail head. She looked up hikes online and decided to go for a challenging route up Atalaya Mountain.

Steeper or easier? Guess what route Donna took.

Donna parked at the trailhead and then walked about three-quarters of a mile to the start of the trail. She took the steeper route up and it took an hour and five minutes to reach the summit at 9,121 feet above sea level. The trailhead starts out at about 7,200 feet above sea level and it’s about a two mile climb. The air must have been mighty thin at the top! Another hiker at the summit took a photo of Donna with Santa Fe in the valley below.

Donna at the Atalaya Summit

I stayed home and watched the Formula One race from Singapore and NFL football. Donna came home just ahead of a thundershower. Thundershowers can appear suddenly – mostly in the afternoons or evenings here. This year they seem to happen more frequently than the last couple of years when we were here.

On Monday morning, we were back at the Genoveve Chavez Community Center for pickleball. They’ve raised their visitor fees – it’s now seven dollars a day for Donna to use the facility while I get the old guy rate (60 and over) of four dollars.

I’ll end this post with a discussion of western (cowboy) boots. If you have no interest in boots, now is the time to quit reading.

A little over a year ago Donna bought a pair of cowboy boots for me in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At the time, I knew nothing about cowboy boots. Since then, I’ve studied the subject and bought a few more boots. Cowboy boots and boot making have a fascinating history, but I won’t go into that here. Lots of info is available if you want to search the internet.

I’m most interested in boots that follow more traditional construction techniques and are essentially hand made. That’s not to say there’s no machinery involved – there are always mechanical aids used but these machines are hand operated for the most part opposed to computer-controlled robotic manufacturing used in mass market shoes.

If you’re looking for cowboy boots and find a boot that says “genuine leather lower – balance man-made materials,” you’re looking at a machine-made product that probably comes from China. On the other hand, if it’s constructed of 100% leather, then there is surely some degree of hand work steps in the process. I think it’s important to have hand work in the boots – particularly in certain steps such as lasting. A last is a form either made from wood or plastic in the shape of your foot. Pulling the vamp – the upper leather portion that covers the top of your foot – by hand allows the boot maker to adjust the tension used to match the properties of the particular piece of leather. A machine will pull the material the same way to the same tension time after time with no regard to material variances from piece to piece.

Finding boots that fit your feet is the key element to comfort. Proper fitting boots will break in and conform to your foot. The last is what determines the fit along with the care taken by the boot maker. A custom last designed around the actual measurements of your foot is the ultimate. For off-the-shelf boots, it’s a good idea to try on a few different brands of boot to find the best fit – they have small variations although they may be marked as the same size. For me, Lucchese boots fit well. If I could afford it, I would have a pair of bespoke boots made. There are several boot makers that offer this service. One of the best in my opinion is Lisa Sorrell – she builds the boot from start to finish doing all of the work herself. Her blog has videos that explain many of the steps in custom boot making. Speaking of steps, I’ve read a few different figures on how many steps are involved in the process. Lucchese says there are 120 to 130 individual steps depending on the number of embellishments in the finish. I’m not sure how the steps are defined.

There are many different leathers used. Most of the inner leather pieces – the linings, the insole, heel counter and so on – are generally made from cow hide. There are many variations and grades of cow hide. The outer sole is made from a thick piece of leather that’s been compressed to make it hard and wear resistant. The thickness was traditionally measured in irons – an iron is about half a millimeter or 0.020″. Today most leather thickness is described in ounces. Outer soles are 12 oz or more. The insoles are also thick but not as hard as the outer. It was surprising to me to find that the layers of leather used means that I’m standing on nearly half an inch of leather under the sole of my foot – not the heel but under my forefoot.

The vamp and the shaft (the part that is vertical around the calf) are the visible parts of the boot and set the character. The materials used come from a wide variety of sources. The most common leather is some form of cow hide. By the way, leather is a generic term for a hide that’s been processed or tanned to enhance strength, suppleness and durability for its intended use. In boots, the leather is vegetable tanned. Cow hide is just that – the skin of a cow until it’s tanned and becomes leather.

Likewise, exotic leathers are tanned from the hide of different animals. One of the best leathers in my opinion for the outer boot is ostrich. Ostrich is soft to touch, very supple yet also strong and durable. It also doesn’t scuff easily. Where do ostrich hides come from? They are taken from farm-raised ostriches – mostly in South Africa although there are some ostrich farms in the USA. In some parts of the world, farming ostrich is viewed no differently than farming turkeys here in the USA. The birds are raised, then processed for their meat and the hides are used for leather.

Alligator and crocodile are also fairly common exotic leathers used for boots and fashion accessories such as purses or handbags and belts. American alligator is the most prized. It’s supple and beautifully patterned. It’s also very pricey. Alligators are also farmed but some are sourced from controlled, legal hunting in the southeastern US. Alligator hides are a limited resource and not as common as crocodile. Crocodile can be either Nile crocodile or caiman. Caiman crocodiles are farm raised in Central and South America. Columbia has a large caiman industry and I’ve read that about 600,000 caiman hides are sourced from there annually. Caimans are farmed for meat and hides. Caiman is a food source in many parts of the world including Central and South America and Asia. Caiman hides are stiffer than alligator but can be made into fine boots.

My progression in the world of boots went like this:

August 2016 – Newby with no knowledge of boots, I received these boots as a gift and started my boot obsession.

Ariat machine-made cow hide boots

September 2016 – My first hand crafted boots – Lucchese smooth quill ostrich.

Lucchese hand-crafted smooth quill ostrich lowers, cow hide shafts

October 2016 – Lucchese with taller heels and higher quality leathers – full quill ostrich.

Lucchese full quill ostrich lowers, calfskin shafts

September 2017 – Lucchese caiman crocodile vamp, ostrich heel counter cover, calfskin shafts

I’m sure that’s more than most of you wanted to hear about boots. I love ’em and I’m certain I’ll have my Lucchese boots for the rest of my life.

We have clear skies and pleasant weather today. The high should reach the upper 70s and the forecast says 0% chance of rain today or tomorrow. We’ll pack up tomorrow morning and leave as close to the 11am check out time as possible before heading to the shop in Albuquerque. Albuquerque looks to be much warmer – highs in the upper 80s.

 

Riana and Bandelier

The weekend at Riana Campground at Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico was so quiet and relaxing, we ended up extending a day until Tuesday morning. They don’t allow anyone to enter the campground after 10pm, but it was always quiet by dark anyway. There were a few empty sites through the weekend. The occupied sites had a mix of RVs and even a couple of tent campers. A lot of fisherman come here on the weekend to try their luck on the lake.

These folks look like they have a comfortable set up in their Tab pull-behind trailer

On Saturday, Donna went hiking through the Corps of Engineers Park. They have a few trails and she hiked them all and ended up at the beach for a swim. She was confused to see boats there, but it turned out that Santa Fe Adaptive Sports had reserved the beach to take people with disabilities out on the lake.

View of the Abiquiu Lake beach from Donna’s hike on a trail up on a bluff

While she was out, I investigated the trouble we’ve been having with the Cummins ISL engine in our coach. I have a loss of turbocharger boost intermittently with a great loss of power and when I have boost it doesn’t seem like I have full power. Digging around in the cramped engine compartment, I found an issue that isn’t good. We have a crack in the exhaust manifold. This is allowing exhaust to leak from the manifold and reduces the flow to the turbocharger impeller. This is not an easy repair, especially with an engine shoehorned into a diesel pusher motorhome. I think there’s more than one issue with the turbo boost, but the manifold will have to replaced before any further troubleshooting can take place.

In the afternoon, we rode the Spyder to Bode’s General Store in Abiquiu and split a green chile cheeseburger. It wasn’t as good as were led to believe – we’re looking forward to a Blake’s Lotaburger green chili cheeseburger in Albuquerque. We managed to outrun the daily afternoon thundershower back to the coach.

On Sunday, I watched the Moto GP race from Monza, Italy and NFL Football. Donna was more ambitious and rode the Spyder to Ghost Ranch – about eight miles up highway 84. She wanted to hike the Chimney Rock Trail there. It was a 3-mile roundtrip with stunning vistas at the top. She enjoyed the hike so much that after having a little snack, she decided to hike the 4-mile Box Canyon Trail too. But somehow, she ended up going past the turn-around and put in a total of 10 miles of hiking. Ghost Ranch was true to its name – very few people out and about there.

Heading up the Chimney Rock Trail

Donna found a friend along the way

Top of the Chimney Rock Trail looking back toward Abiquiu Lake

Donna shot a photo of an interesting looking lizard on the trail. I can’t tell if it’s a collared lizard with a lot of yellow coloring for whatever reason or a spotted whiptail.

On Monday, Donna got into cleaning mode and went to town on the coach. She even took out the screens and cleaned them along with the windows. I straightened the trailer out and reorganized a basement compartment. I had the Spyder in the trailer by evening and watched the Monday Night Football double-header.

After a quick breakfast on Tuesday, we got an early start and headed down to White Rock – a small town near Los Alamos. In White Rock, there’s a visitor center conveniently located on the main drag. It has RV parking with 16 pull-through sites and 50amp electrical service in a dedicated RV lot. It also has a shuttle stop on the street for a free ride to Bandelier National Monument.

We arrived around 10:30am and got situated. I paid at the automated kiosk for one night – $20. We caught the 11:30am shuttle for the 25-minute ride up to the Bandelier Information Center. From 9am to 3pm daily, the only way to access Bandelier is by shuttle – this reduces the traffic and the free shuttles run every 30 minutes. Bandelier National Monument encompasses almost 34,000 acres but has only three miles of public road and 70 miles of hiking trails. We were interested in the Frijoles Canyon with the Main Loop Trail and ancient ruins including cliff dwellings.

The Main Loop Trail is mostly paved and a fairly easy hike. It does have a few steep rocky sections and to access the cliff dwellings you must climb rustic ladders. We spent nearly two hours hiking and toured the entire loop and also went up to the Alcove section – a high cliff dwelling that requires a 140-foot vertical climb – including steps and ladders to the caves. The nice thing about this place is you can actually enter many of the old caves, rooms and dwelling sites.

Ruins of ground level dwellings and food storage rooms more than 600 years old

Another view of the ruins – the hole in the ground is the foundation of a kiva – a communal meeting room

The cliffs and terrain are rugged yet beautiful

The people lived in cramped quarters – Donna in a doorway to a cliff dwelling

This dwelling was roomier – adjoining rooms in fact

If you look closely you might pick out Donna 140 feet up in the Alcove

As we made our way up the canyon, a thunder shower moved in. We could hear the thunder rumbling through the canyon and about 30 minutes later we were cooled off by a few rain drops – it was in the mid 80s.

After riding the shuttle back to our coach, we walked across the street to Smith’s Grocery. What a great location – walking distance to grocery shopping – and a short walk at that. We were back in the coach minutes before clouds rolled in for the afternoon thunder shower. We had half an hour of off-and-on rain, then the skies cleared again.

Tomorrow we’ll move on to Santa Fe for a week stay. I have an appointment in Albuquerque a week from Thursday with Rocky Mountain Cummins to get the exhaust manifold replaced. Hopefully I won’t have any surprises there.

 

High Passes and Quiet Night

With the rest of the Hearts A’Fire team heading for home Monday, Donna and I decided to spend one more night at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs. Donna was able to get some laundry done in the hotel while I walked over to the convenience store and bought some drinking water.

On my way to the store, I saw a couple of interesting coaches in the hotel parking lot. They were Prevost custom conversions. I could tell they were entertainer buses – presumably a band traveling through the area had stopped for the night at the hotel. I could tell these were entertainer tour buses by the small lettering on the side indicating they were leased from Roberts Brothers in Springfield, Tennessee – a well-known provider of entertainer buses.

Entertainer tour bus

I wondered who it was, but wasn’t curious enough to find out. At the store, the local newspaper caught my eye. On the front page was a photo from the Labor Day Lift Off balloon event featuring Hearts A’Fire taking off from the park.

Front page of the Gazette

On Tuesday morning, we packed up and headed a few miles north to the Elks Lodge. Our plan was to spend one night dry camping at the lodge so we could use their dump station to flush out our holding tanks and refill the fresh water tank before leaving town. We also used the opportunity to do some grocery shopping and pick up some items Donna had delivered to the Sierra Trading Post store.

While we were at it, we decided to visit Bristol Brewing, a local brewery with an interesting location. They’re in an old schoolhouse. One half of the schoolhouse has boutique shops and a coffee shop/bakery while the other wing houses the brewery and pub.

Shops on the left, Bristol Brewing in the right wing

Red Rocket ale

Donna and I returned to the coach to plan our next move. We enjoyed a stay at Eagle Nest Lake in northern New Mexico last year but decided we wanted to explore new territory this year. Donna wanted to go to Abiquiu (Abbi-cue). We decided to head to Alamosa, Colorado across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then south into New Mexico.

Our trip down I-25 started off with a bang. We were driving along and went through an underpass. Just as we went through, a high-cube rental truck passed us on the left. I heard a loud boom – almost like a gun shot. I checked my mirrors and saw gray smoke on the left side of the trailer. I pulled off on the exit ramp and stopped on the shoulder – I thought we had blown a trailer tire. I went to investigate but didn’t find anything amiss. I guess the sound and smoke came from the truck overtaking us.

The turbocharger on our engine was still giving me problems. The engine control module (ECM) was intermittently losing the signal from the manifold pressure sensor. When this would happen, the turbo no longer provided boost pressure and there was a power loss. Also, the Jake brake would quit working whenever we lost the boost. I knew the problem was in the wiring harness at the ECM. I had taped up the harness for better support while we were at the Elks lodge. I checked the harness and repositioned it while we were stopped. This issue would continue to plague us on the trip to New Mexico.

We left I-25 near Walsenburg and headed west on US160. This took us through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains over La Veta Pass at an elevation of 9,426 feet above sea level. Wouldn’t you know it – I lost boost pressure on the climb up the pass and had to gear down to third to pull the grade. There was a Newmar Dutch Star motorhome traveling the same route that must have had engine trouble too – we overtook him on the climb.

We stopped in Alamosa and had a Subway sandwich for lunch. Donna looked up a couple of boondocking opportunities on the route to Abiquiu. Apparently we hadn’t communicated clearly on the route. I intended to head south on US285 from Alamosa into New Mexico. Donna had us heading west on US17 which curves south into New Mexico.

We punched the first boondocking possibility into the GPS and I happily followed the directions. It was near Manassa, Colorado and I felt like it was a bit early to stop and wanted to continue on. The next place Donna had identified was in New Mexico – about five miles across the border near Chama. We programmed that stop and I didn’t give it another thought. When we came through Antonito, I followed SR17 instead of US285 without thinking about it.

This took us over the San Juan Mountains into New Mexico. We had to climb up to La Manga Pass – this was the steepest grade we have ever encountered. Luckily our turbocharger was cooperating and I had the power needed for the climb. La Manga Pass tops out at 10,230 feet above sea level. We wouldn’t have made it without turbo boost. After a short descent we climbed Cumbres Pass at an elevation of 10,022 feet above sea level.

From there, it was downhill into New Mexico and we found a paved pull-out that was level and stopped there. It’s a mile and half from the small town of Chama across from a paved landing strip. It’s in beautiful surroundings and there’s very little traffic on SR17. We’re at an elevation of 7,966 feet above sea level.

Donna went out for a walk. She didn’t to go far, but she heard a train whistle and saw a sign for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad indicating it was one mile away so she kept walking. She took a few photos along the way – they’re at the bottom of this post. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad runs on narrow gauge tracks between Chama and Antonito. This historic railroad still uses coal-fired steam-powered engines. The track runs just to the west of our boondocking spot. We heard the train pass by, but it doesn’t run at night. This place is so peaceful and quiet – a welcome respite from the time recently spent in cities. I took a couple of photos before sunset – I stood on our door steps for these shots.

Door step view

I watched the US Open Tennis tournament on TV – I’ve been following it – while Donna prepared cod in parchment paper with asparagus, butter, tarragon and fresh squeezed orange juice. Just because were boondocking doesn’t mean we can’t eat well!

Cod cooked in parchment paper with asparagus, tarragon, butter and fresh squeezed orange juice

Today we’ll move on down to Abiquiu. The weather forecast looks good with highs in the 80s and cool nights in the upper 50s. We may have a stray thunder shower or two, but no big storms expected.

Here are photos from Donna’s walk…

Rio Chama River

Check out the sign!

Chama train station

Narrow gauge railroad track

Winthrop Discoveries

We did some sight seeing on Thursday afternoon. We rode the Spyder out East Chewuch Road past the Pearrygin Lake turn-off, then crossed over the river to West Chewuch Road. We continued north past Boulder Creek and Eightmile Creek until we found the aptly named Falls Creek.

Falls Creek flows from the west and empties into the Chewuch River. There’s a trailhead on the west side of the road north of the bridge over the creek. About a quarter mile up the trail there’s a waterfall. It’s an easy hike with the trail partially paved.

View of the falls from the trail

Here’s a closer view with spray hanging in the air

It was warm out – the temperature was in the upper 80s. Near the falls it was much cooler as spray from falls evaporated and cooled the air.

Falls Creek downstream of the waterfall

There’s another waterfall higher up trail, but you need to be prepared to scramble up a steep climb. We didn’t wear appropriate shoes for such a climb. We started up the trail but it was too steep and slippery, so we gave it up figuring it wasn’t worth risking a fall.

Later Donna prepared wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. She simply salted and peppered the filet, added sliced lemon and I grilled it on a cedar plank. The plank had been soaked in water for a couple of hours.

Cedar planked salmon

I grilled the salmon at about 350 degrees for 17 minutes or so – it reached an internal temperature of 130 degrees before I removed the fish from the plank.

Donna served it with grilled fresh garlic scapes and sauteed kale and garlic. It was a tasty dish.

Dinner is served

The evenings cool quickly and our picnic table in site 11 is shaded by a large tree – so we dined outdoors.

Friday was another warm day – upper 80s again. Once again we headed out on the Spyder leaving Pine Near RV Park around 11am. We headed southeast from town out Twin Lakes Road then west on Patterson Lake Road. Our destination was Sun Mountain Lodge – a resort overlooking the Methow Valley. The views are spectacular.

Lower Methow Valley from Sun Mountain Lodge

Upper Methow Valley from Sun Mountain Lodge – snow on the peak on the left

North end of Patterson Lake from Sun Mountain Lodge

We had lunch on the outdoor deck at the Wolf Creek Bar and Grill in the lodge. It was shaded and pleasant outside. The lodge has a great taxidermy display that came from the estate of a local resident after he passed away.

On the way back into the valley from the lodge we stopped at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.

We met a docent that gave us a tour and told us about the history of the place. He and his wife are full-time RVers and workcamp at the fishery. They work 20 hours a week – five four-hour days and live in their motorhome with full hookups at the hatchery for four months during the summer.

Click on the photos to enlarge and read the placards

This hatchery doesn’t allow as much access to the fish runs as the hatchery we visited in Branson, Missouri. It does have a viewing area where we saw large Chinook salmon that had returned to their birth place after a few years at sea. It’s amazing that they can make the 600-mile fresh water journey upstream to reach the hatchery from the Pacific Ocean. Over 1100 salmon returned in June. After the fish spawn, they are allocated to two Native American tribes in the area.

The tour included a cup of fish food for each of us to take to a holding pond where we fed the trout in the pond. There were some large trout along with hundreds of smaller fish.

After we returned, Donna braved the heat and went out on her bicycle – she put in 16 miles out Wolf Creek Road.

For dinner, Donna had marinated a pork tenderloin with her mojo marinade sauce. I grilled it along with two ears of corn on the cob still in the husks. I soaked the corn for about 20 minutes and removed the cornsilk before I put it on the grill. I grilled the pork tenderloin and corn for about 22 minutes at about 350 degrees – turning the tenderloin.

The grill thermometer is an upgrade from our old Weber Q – we love the Q2200

Donna fixed an Asian chopped salad for a side with the pork and corn.

Once again we dined outdoors in the shade.

Donna found pickleball in Winthrop! She found a schedule for open play at the skating rink where they play on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Too bad we didn’t know earlier, we would’ve played. We had to settle for Saturday only.

The skating rink is an outdoor affair with a large, smooth and level concrete pad next to a large clubhouse. It has pickleball courts lined out for up to six courts. We assumed it was an indoor rink and didn’t know until we arrived and saw the nets being set up outside. We climbed back on the Spyder and made a quick run home for hats and sunglasses.

They had three courts set up when we returned a few minutes after 9am. The fee for drop-in play was $3/person. We met some really nice people and played until noon. Now we know – next time we’re here I’ll play as much as possible.

The Pine Near RV Park is filled to capacity with people enjoying a four-day holiday weekend. There are more families with kids than I’ve ever seen here. It’s a little rambunctious in the evenings. It gets dark so late that the kids are still running around after 10pm. By 11pm the park is quiet though.

Today I’ll start prepping for the road. We’ll pull out of here tomorrow and head east to Coeur d’Alene where we’re hoping to find a spot at the Elks Lodge. They don’t take reservations so we have a back-up plan as well.

 

Yosemite

Donna and I were up early on Thursday morning. We wanted to head up to Yosemite National Park and beat the crowd. We left Park of the Sierras at 6:40am and rode the Spyder up CA41 to the park’s south entrance – about 30 miles. From there it was another 35 miles to the Yosemite Valley. Even with the early start, we hit some traffic and there are no opportunities for passing slow vehicles most of the way. Yosemite National Park covers a huge area of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range – around 1,168 square miles – roughly three quarters of a million acres.

Map of the park lifted from Wikipedia

Our route took us up Wawona Road past Chinquapin. We went through a long tunnel through the granite mountainside on the south side of the Merced River. We made a quick stop in a parking area and got our first view of Yosemite Falls. Although we were all the way across the Merced River from the waterfall we could hear it roaring like a jet engine in the background.

Donna catching the upper falls

From there we continued to the Yosemite Valley Village on the north side of the Merced River where we had breakfast. We each has a banana and hard boiled eggs and coffee before we left, but we were ready to eat again. Donna had a breakfast sandwich – eggs, bacon and cheese on an English muffin. I had biscuits and gravy and somehow ended up with a double order – I managed to eat it all.

While I was in line to order our food, a European couple with a child of five or six years old was ahead of me. The guy asked for two breakfast sandwiches. The cashier taking the order asked, “Bacon, sausage or soy?” The guy looked puzzled and said he would also like a breakfast burrito. The cashier responded with another quick “bacon, sausage or soy?” Again, the guy was puzzled and said “two breakfast sandwiches.” This went back and forth a few times before the guy’s wife stepped in and said bacon. I’m sure the soy was creating the confusion – the poor guy didn’t understand the cashier’s question and the cashier wasn’t offering much in the way of help.

After breakfast, we parked the Spyder in the day use lot west of the Yosemite Valley Lodge. I had camped in Yosemite National Park a few times in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a much different place today. Of course most of the views aren’t different. But the crowds and the parking situation and campgrounds have changed greatly. Also, many of the trails are paved and wide today – back in the day the trails were – well, they were trails, you know, dirt paths. The lot was filling quickly even though it was only a little after 9am.

We got on a free shuttle bus which makes a loop west then crosses the Merced River and continues east up to Half Dome Village before circling back to Yosemite Valley Lodge. There are a number of free shuttle buses and they pick up at the bus stops every 10 or 15 minutes. The buses are crowded – we had standing room only on the shuttles we rode.

We got off at the second Half Dome stop.

Placard at Half Dome Village

I shot some photos, but it’s hard to capture the scale of the granite mountainsides all around.

If you look closely, you can see a waterfall cascading down the mountain.

Towering granite mountains

The elevation within the park varies from around 2,100 feet above sea level to over 13,100 feet above sea level. There are a number of waterfalls.  The most well known are Bridalveil Fall, Vernal Fall and Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls has the longest drop of any waterfall in the USA – it falls 2,425 feet through the upper fall, the middle cascade and the lower fall. The waterfalls are fed from snow melt at the top of the mountains – some of them are dry in the late summer/early fall.

From Half Dome, we took a shuttle to the Lower Falls trail and hiked up to the bottom of Yosemite Falls. It’s an easy hike on a paved surface.

Placard on the Lower Falls Trail

Yosemite Falls from the Lower Falls Trail

Yosemite Falls drains into the Yosemite Creek. The creek was running strong as much water was passing over the fall. With the large snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains this year, I expect the falls to be running strong well into the summer.

We hiked to the bridge over Yosemite Creek. Spray from the waterfall hung in the air and everything was wet. I took our selfie photo and you can see that there was a lot of water in the air around us.

Selfie where Yosemite Falls creates Yosemite Creek

Head of Yosemite Creek

Yosemite Creek running strong to the Merced River

We hiked back to our starting point at the day use parking lot west of the lodge. There were several cars driving the lot in search of a parking place. On average, four million people visit Yosemite every year. A record was set in 2016 when more than five million people visited the park. Like I said earlier, it’s no longer like the old days. Now there are crowds of people. The campground areas are filled with tents wall-to-wall. We headed out before noon.

When we came in to the park, I was surprised to find the kiosks at the entrance unmanned – there was no one there to collect the entrance fee. On our way out, the gate was manned and they were checking vehicles leaving the park for entry receipts. I had a National Parks Pass that Donna bought when she went to the Grand Canyon so we were good to go.

Mid-day traffic leaving the park was light and we made it back to Oakhurst in just over an hour. We stopped there at a fruit and vegetable stand Donna had noticed on the way out, then went over to Southgate Brewing Company for lunch. We enjoyed a couple of their brews and Donna ordered a beet and arugula salad with blood oranges, and fried goat cheese topped with chunks of chicken breast. She loved it.

Donna’s salad – that’s fried goat cheese in the upper right

I had their BLT with sriracha mayo – it was okay, but not too impressive.

Today we have much cooler weather – we expect a high in the upper 60s. We started the morning with pickleball. I don’t have much on my agenda. I’ll need to pay our electric bill for the week and then pay the daily rate – which includes electricity –  until next Tuesday or Wednesday. We haven’t decided yet when to leave here or where we are going for that matter!

 

Hot Spell Broken

The unseasonably warm weather has cut down my activities. We’ve had high temperatures in the mid-90s since Thursday of last week through Tuesday of this week. We’ve had the air conditioners running and I’ve spent a lot of time indoors reading books.

Yesterday the warm spell broke. Overnight the temperature dropped to 58 degrees. Donna was up early to join a group from ViewPoint RV and Golf Resort on a hike. They drove up the Beeline Highway (AZ87) toward Payson to the Little Saddle Trail near Mazatzal Mountain. They hiked all the way to the end of trail and continued another quarter mile further up the mountain where they stopped for a snack. The total distance out and back was 8.75 miles with an elevation gain of 1,900 feet.

The Little Saddle Trail follows a creek bed and crosses it a few times. I think Sycamore Creek is a dry creek bed at times, but it has running water right now and a few pools. Donna took several pictures on her hike.

Part of the Little Saddle Trail follows the Arizona Trail which runs from Mexico to Utah

Hiking up an open section

Green foliage at this time of year

Sycamore Creek

Sycamore Creek crossing

Colorful rocky section above Sycamore Creek

Sign at the end of Little Saddle Trail

Mazatzal Mountain view

One of many cairns on the trail

Checking out the creek

While Donna was out on her hike, I hit the pickleball courts for the Wednesday 3.0-3.5 level round robin games. I played seven games and had a great time. We had good match-ups and played at a high level – the best I’ve played.

The high temperature for the day was in the low 80s. Later in the afternoon, when Donna returned from her hike, I covered the Spyder, Traeger and Weber Q grill. The forecast called for a chance of rain overnight and they called it right. Rain moved in around 11pm. It rained off and on until this morning.

Today we expect partly cloudy skies and the temperature will top out in the low 70s. We’ll be back up to 80 by the weekend. Temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s is fine with me – I just don’t want any more 90+ degree days.

Desert Biking and Hiking

We’ve settled in to a weekday routine here at ViewPoint RV and Golf Resort. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, I play pickleball in the 3.0-3.5 round robin matches. After about two and half hours on the courts, I come home hungry and tired. This usually means I spend the afternoon lazing around and reading a book.

Of course I have a few small chores to attend to, but haven’t had any really big projects lately. My focus is on getting back into better physical condition. Donna plays pickleball a couple of times per week, and then walks, runs, hikes, or cycles on other days.

Friday went according to plan. I played pickleball in windy conditions Friday morning. Donna went out for a run. There were a few clouds, but the temperature reached 80 degrees. After reading in the afternoon, I went to happy hour at Lucky Lou’s and met up with the crew.

Donna prepared a chipotle chili crusted pork tenderloin for dinner and I grilled it on the Weber Q. I’m really liking our new Weber grill. She served it with sweet potato and spinach hash.

Chipotle-chili crusted pork tenderloin with sweet potato and spinach hash

I got ambitious Saturday morning and got my mountain bike out of the trailer. I haven’t ridden my Specialized Crave 29er in months. I had a notion to ride up Spook Hill. Spook Hill is a popular local hiking spot. It’s a few miles from ViewPoint and less than a mile from our old neighborhood. The last time I hiked up it was eight or nine years ago. I’d never ridden a bike up the steep climb.

The trail up is steep and much more rocky and rutted than I remembered. There were a number of people hiking up the hill – most of them looked at me on my bike like I was nuts. The trail gains over 300 feet of elevation in less than half a mile. Donna said she can hike up it in about ten minutes.

Several sections were too rutted, rocky or full of deep decomposed granite (DG). The DG caused loss of traction on my bike and I stalled in a few places. I ended up walking about 60% of the time going up. It took me 15 minutes to get up the hill – I lost time dismounting and mounting the bike and also pushing the bike up the rutted or rocky areas.

Once you reach the top, you have a commanding 360-degree view of the area.

Looking southwest – that’s the north end of ViewPoint RV and Golf Resort in the center – where we’re currently located

Looking south you can see the rest of ViewPoint, the Loop 202 freeway and the San Tan Mountains in the distance

Looking east – our old neighborhood is toward the small mountain on the left – Superstition Mountains in the background

Looking northeast toward Pass Mountain – most of the homes in the foreground didn’t exist when we lived here in 2009

Looking northwest – Red Mountain in the center – McDowell Mountain and Fountain Hills in the background

Going back down the trail, I reversed the walk/ride ratio. I rode more than 60% of the way and only walked the most treacherous sections.

This was fun but a little slippery

I went very slowly through here

I walked this rocky section to avoid hitting any hikers

While I was mountain biking, Donna was out on her road bike. I came home about five minutes ahead of her. I was whipped and done for the day.

As you can see in the photos, we had some high, thin cloud cover but the thermometer hit 81 degrees. For dinner I spatchcocked a whole chicken. Donna marinated it in lemon, olive oil and garlic. I cooked it on the Traeger smoker/grill while Donna cooked chopped bok choy on the Weber Q.

Traeger smoking away

Bok choy on the Weber Q

Spatchcocked chicken hot off the Traeger

It was an enjoyable end another day well-lived.

On Sunday morning, Donna met up with our friends, Hans Kohls and Lisa McGuire and they hiked near Lost Dutchman. Meanwhile, my friend Mike Hall picked me up and we drove his truck out to the desert near Sycamore Creek (dry) to shoot. We had a good time setting up targets against a hillside backstop and trying out a few firearms. I nearly knocked myself out trying Mike’s Thompson/Center 45-70 Government hand cannon!

Thompson/Center 45-70 – what a cannon!

That pretty much sums up the weekend. The forecast calls for cooler temperatures over the next two days, then we’ll warm up to mid-to-upper-80s.

 

Meet Me at Fat Willy’s

I was up early Saturday morning. I walked down to the park entrance on Hawes Street by Fat Willy’s restaurant. Mike Hall and Ray Laehu picked me up there a little past 7am. We were heading out for a day at the races. It was time for round two of the NHRA National Championship series at Wild Horse Pass Raceway.

Over the past four years, I’ve joined my friends at the races here – we get a deal from another guy named Ray. He pays for a space to park a motorhome and puts up a scaffolding to view from. He has a number of passes to get people into the event. We pay him and he provides the pass, food and beer. It’s a great deal – food and beer from the vendors at the track is incredibly expensive.

We took an early walk through the pits to see the teams preparing for the day’s qualifying runs.

Jack Beckman’s car packed in tight in one of his trailers

Jack’s crew pulling tires from a trailer – it takes a lot of tire to put 10,000 horsepower to the track

Tim Wilkerson inspecting parts while one of his crew members builds the bottom end of the engine

The Kalitta team putting the body for J R Todd’s funny car on a rack

Bill Miller Engineering showing his political viewpoint

When we got back to Ray’s space, they had breakfast fixings ready. We made breakfast burritos with scrambled eggs, sausage and hash browns. We watched the Sportsman events until the pros started running after lunch.

Redneck grandstand built from scaffolding

As always, it was good time. There’s nothing like a nitro burning Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car thundering down the drag strip at 300 mph.

Meanwhile, Donna spent the morning playing in her first pickleball tournament. She enjoyed it and hopes to play in another tournament. Afterwards, she met her friend, Stevie Ann, for a long lunch at Baja Joe’s. Stevie Ann was one of the first friends Donna met when she moved to Arizona back in 2002.

On Sunday morning, Sara Graff picked up Donna at 9am. They planned to spend the morning hiking up the Wind Cave Trail in Usery Park. Sara’s husband Howard picked me up. Howard is a member of the Rio Salado Gun Club and their gun range is also located in Usery Park.

We spent the morning shooting. I had a great time. I used to shoot regularly at a gun range in Michigan. I also shot frequently when I was with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in Washington. Since we’ve been on the road, I hadn’t visited a range.

My rifle skills are still up to par, but my handgun skills have deteriorated. Like most things, it takes practice to maintain proficiency. I plan to get out and shoot more often in the future.

Rio Salado Gun Club below the Usery summit with the Phoenix sign

Shooting benches

Afterwards we met Donna and Sara at Fat Willy’s for a late lunch. It’s nice being in an RV Resort that has a restaurant and bar. And it’s always nice to spend time with the Graffs.

The weather here in Mesa, Arizona was pleasant over the weekend. We had daily highs in the upper-60s. Today is cooler with high clouds. We spent the morning on the pickleball courts where gusty winds made things interesting. The forecast calls for rain to move into the area this afternoon and linger for 24 hours. It’s been unusually wet in the desert – the February rain total has exceeded the monthly average just as it did in January. Donna figures that today will be a good day for her to make a pot of pea soup. I need to make a run to the grocery store before it rains, then I’ll probably relax and read a book.

 

2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Final Flight

I ended my last post by saying the final day of the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta may be a bust. It was raining when I went to bed Saturday night and looking at the forecast, I fully expected to hear raindrops on the roof when my 4:30am alarm sounded. I was surprised to find it wasn’t raining and dragged myself out of bed.

Brad picked me up at the Fiesta Park entrance. I had a nice chat with Johnny, the security guy there, while I was waiting. Hanging out with Johnny for 15-20 minutes every morning for nine days straight gave us a chance to get to know each other.

Breakfast burritos and excellent locally roasted coffee from Piñon coffee was served to pilots and crew at the pavilion. A great start to the day. They do a great job of feeding about 1700 pilots and crew on weekdays and up to 2200 on the weekends.

The pilot’s briefing had weather info that caught me by surprise. It seemed like a nice morning with favorable winds, however there was some ground fog to the east and the possibility of more fog in the river bottom as the dew point and temperature were close.

After sunrise, Brad gave the go-ahead to unload and assemble the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon. We had it cold inflated and I expected Brad to fire the burners at any moment when we were given the command to stand down. I didn’t know what was up but soon found out that the field had been closed due to the fog bank to the east. Ground fog can be very dangerous for flight as it makes it impossible to see and identify obstacles for landing.

We were soon back at it, inflating the balloon. I really like manning the throat of the balloon and watching it inflate. It can be taxing at times as wind or the weight of the sponsor banner makes the balloon want to roll on the ground. It’s important to keep the envelope properly oriented with the basket so the lines don’t twist and tangle. The lines connecting the basket to the envelope are numbered and we strive to keep number 10 and 11 centered on top as the basket lies on its side. I had some muscle soreness every day for the first week of the Fiesta but now I’ve worked myself into shape – just as we’re finishing up.

Brad’s passengers for the day were a special pair of siblings – brother and sister. They are the children of a good friend of Brad’s that’s an avid extreme hiker – more of a rock/mountain climber than hiker from what I understand. About three weeks ago, he disappeared while hiking 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. Search and rescue operations searched for eight days before they were suspended. The kids haven’t been out of the house since his disappearance. Brad thought it would be good for them to get out, have a flight in the balloon and enjoy a day. He contacted their mother and invited them to go up.

We were given the thumbs up by the launch director and they were off!

Final launch of the 2016 Fiesta

Final launch of the 2016 Fiesta

We chased the balloon over to 2nd Street, west of the field. Brad had it working as he flew high and went north over the Sandia Pueblo Reservation, then dropped altitude and came back south down low. In fact he went low enough to dip the basket in the Rio Grande River – what they call a splash and dash! He did this a couple of times.

After more than an hour of flight time, he landed near the water diversion channel – about 150 yards from his landing the day before. This time he was on the west side of the channel and the access road had a locked gate. Lucky for us, a Sandia Tribal Police Officer had a key and unlocked the gate for us. Last year I heard horror stories of how the tribe treated balloonists and crews that landed on the reservation. This year there seems to be much more understanding and cooperation – I haven’t heard any bad stories, only good news.

After packing up the balloon, we had our usual tailgate party. Donna and our friend, Kris Downey, joined us. One of the crew members, Darren, thoughtfully lent us his Ford F150 truck so I could transport the Traeger grill, table, chairs and a few odds and ends from our site in the RV park to our trailer. Thanks, Darren! It would have been a real hassle to walk the stuff all the way to where we dropped the trailer.

I napped and watched football for the remainder of the day. At 4pm, Donna took a Lyft ride to an after-Fiesta party. She had a good time and was glad she opted for Lyft instead of riding the Spyder. We had another thunderstorm pass through. Besides, she could enjoy a couple of glasses of wine without worry. Brad and Jessica drove her back to the coach.

This morning I woke up a little before 6am. It felt luxurious to lie in bed for 15 minutes, then get up. I felt like I’d slept in. After a regular breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast with raspberry-ginger jam, I started packing up for the road. I had a few things I needed to take to the trailer. On my way walking back after the first trip, I saw Jim McManus with his head inside the battery compartment of a motorhome belonging to a solo woman RVer. I stopped to see what was going on. She had a problem with her house batteries not charging. The generator had tripped the breaker. When I checked it, the breaker didn’t feel right, the switch didn’t snap into place like it should. I worked it a few times and snapped it vigorously and it closed like it should. We checked it with a meter and it was charging.

On my next trip to the trailer, I saw Jim messing with a compartment door on the same coach. The door wouldn’t latch and they were trying to come up with a temporary solution. I checked the latch and it worked. The problem was that the squared-off U-bolt that it latches to wasn’t adjusted properly. The woman who owns the coach said she just had that compartment door replaced. It appears as though the shop didn’t lock down the adjustment nuts and they worked loose. Easy fix.

I like to help people out when I can, especially if I know what the answer to the problem is. Helping out here put me about 15 minutes behind schedule – but hey, what schedule? So I thought we could leave by 9am. What’s the big deal? I didn’t have to be anywhere at any special time. By the time I hooked up the trailer and loaded the Spyder, we pulled out at 9:30am.

We didn’t have any special destination in mind. I was thinking if we could make it to Holbrook, Arizona we could find a place to boondock for the night.

We're not in New Mexico anymore

We’re not in New Mexico anymore

On the road, we thought about what we needed to do in the next three days. Tomorrow I want to stop in Mesa, Arizona at the RV Renovators to go over the work we need to have done to repair the damage caused by the suicidal deer in Idaho. Then I’d like to continue on to Casa Grande where I’ll have service work done at Speedco and a wash job at the Blue Beacon there. This had me thinking I should try to get closer to Mesa than Holbrook.

We ended up driving about 340 miles – a lot longer than we usually do – and are dry camped at a casino in Payson, Arizona. We started the day at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level in Albuquerque. Our route across I-40 took us to the Mogollon Rim in Northern Arizona – there’s some disagreement on how to pronounce Mogollon. This is probably due to various tribal dialects, Spanish speakers and settlers in the area. Most seem to agree it’s muggy-on. The Mogollon Rim brought us to an elevation of more than 7,700 feet. Now we’re right back where we started sitting at 5,000 feet above sea level.

Tomorrow night we can find another boondock spot – maybe the Elks Lodge in Casa Grande. Then we’ll move on to our little piece of desert in California west of Yuma/Winterhaven for the night.

It will be nice to have a quiet, secluded night before we move on to city life for the next three months in San Diego. I don’t think I’ll be posting for a couple of days as we take care of business.