Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Busy Being Vagabrauns Vagabonds

We've been wandering.  That's what we do.  Nothing special, but we've been moving around.

Denny and I made our way to Las Vegas from Tonopah because I had promised my mother that I'd scatter some of her ashes there.  She loved the beach and she loved playing the slots.  Blazing 7s was her machine of choice.  So we hit a casino and played the Blazing 7s in her memory but due to the nature of our visit I  didn't feel like doing much in the triple digit heat.  We did find out that the heat was indeed quite different from the humid heat of Ohio and it was much more bearable being outside than we thought it would be.  Of course, RV air conditioners are only capable of cooling the interior air to 20 degrees less than the outside air, so we weren't "chilling" by any means during our stay.

We were greeted by the sight of this young woman riding her Arabian horse up Boulder Highway in the middle of Las Vegas.  You just never know what you'll see here.
Leaving Las Vegas we headed into the cooler elevations, landing in Williams for what was to be one night.  Our site overlooked the town of Williams.
Before we left Las Vegas I had gotten an email from a Phoenix based realtor who has been sending us notifications of homes for sale.  There was a yet unbuilt home that looked interesting so Denny and I decided to rent a car and drive to Apache Junction to look at the model with the idea of perhaps buying the model home itself and renting it back to the builder for a year or so until we were ready to settle down.  So we drove to Flagstaff to rent a car for the 220 mile drive (cheaper than buying diesel for the trip with the truck) and this is what we ended up with instead of the Malibu I originally rented.  Fun, huh?  It's been twelve years since we gave up our convertible when we traded in the motorhome for a fifth wheel and it felt good to be behind the wheel with the top down.
This is the style of home we would like to purchase if we bought something in the southwest; a Santa Fe style home.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the Santa Fe styling was mostly a false front and the rest of the house was basic stucco with a sloped tile roof.  Attractive inside, but not set up very conveniently for easy access to the kitchen from the garage plus the master bedroom and patio backed right up to Broadway Ave which is a six lane very busy thoroughfare.  This particular development has already gone under once and has been taken over by another builder so Denny and I decided that it might be better just to keep looking.

But it did have the view of the Superstition Mountains that I wanted.
Our stay in Williams was extended yet another day when the weather forecast along I-40 in Arizona and New Mexico was for winds at 45-50 mph gusting to 60 mph.  Plus when we woke up that morning it started sleeting so an extra day's stay sounded better and better.  Sunday morning's winds had changed to breezes and the sun was shining brightly so we packed up, pulled the slides in and headed east once more, landing in Red Rock State Park just east of Gallup, New Mexico.  When we step out of the door and look left we see this:

Turning our heads to the right we see this:
And this is what we see as we look straight out the door; Church Rock itself.
The view from our living room window.  The rocks looked like they've been scoured with steel wool and the ground is soft red sand.  There are some ground squirrels and a few small birds but for the most part it's very, very quiet here.  Next week however, people will come with 800 horses for an annual rodeo event.  A good time to be leaving, I think.
Next up, Albuquerque.  Home to Denny's sister and Linda from New Mexico and Trader Joe's.  Yay, yay, and yay.

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Unexpected Bit of Treasure

The road from Reno, Nevada to Las Vegas, Nevada is long, mostly straight and occasionally hilly.  For Denny and I, it's way too far to drive in one trip so I chose the small town of Tonopah as our kinda halfway stopping off point.  The local chain hotel provides a few slot machines and about 20 full hook up RV sites in the rear at a reasonable cost, although the cost was mostly to our sleep thanks to a cadre of construction folks who fired up their trucks at 4:45 AM every morning.  

Denny had done something to his ankle (swearing I had kicked him during the night) so my planned day of exploring had to be put off for a day.  The next day was much warmer but since, as they say, it was a dry heat it was a nice day for wandering the grounds of the Tonopah Mining Park.  Imagine if you will land populated mainly by Native Americans who called the area Tonopah which roughly translates to "greasewood water", greasewood being a type of bush native to the area.  Local lore says silver ore was discovered when farmer Jim Butler was trying to round up a burro that had run off and grabbed a rock to throw at the critter.  Curious due to the weight of the rock, Jim had it assayed and discovered it was silver ore.  His wife Belle convinced Jim to stake out some claims which he later rented out and thus the area of Tonopah ended up being the "Queen of the Silver Claims" in the early 1900s. That, of course, is the extremely abbreviated version of the story.

A view of the town of Tonopah with the Mizpah Hotel dominating the center of the photograph.  Built in 1907 it is currently undergoing renovation by the new owners.

The Tonopah Mining Park is a huge complex of parts of four of the original mines owned by the Butlers.  Much of the equipment used during the 1900s still remains where it was left and you can go into many of the buildings on the grounds.

An ore crusher and other equipment.
The Grizzly is the building where silver ore was taken to be hand sorted into high and low grade ore; the good ore went into bins and the bad ore was tossed outside onto piles.
The remains of an ore wagon.  Before a special railway spur was built in Tonopah the ore was carried out on wagons pulled by teams of horses.

The visitor center houses a small museum, a gift shop and a small theater where you are shown a 15 minute video of the history of the mines and the original discovery of silver ore by Jim Butler.  There is a very nice display of the various minerals found in the area and in the state of Nevada and the volunteers at the visitor center are most helpful in explaining the various areas of the museum and will try to answer any questions you have.  The entry fee is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, free to veterans.  If you are staying overnight and have your room/campground receipt the staff will knock a dollar off the fee.

You will find the grounds much as they were left when the silver boom was over and the miners all left.  While you can't crawl down into the mine shafts, you can see down into the stopes (hand dug trenches.)  This particular stope is at the end of the reconstructed burro tunnel and is 500 feet long.

The view from the area of the Mizpah mine.
The Silver Top mine hoist,used to lift buckets of ore from the mine.
One of the original miners' cabins near the Silver Top mine with the Silver Top hoist in the background.
Looking down at the Mizpah Mine Hoist and Hoisthouse.
Apparently with the dry conditions here one didn't worry about careful storage of explosives; this is the powder magazine where the dynamite and blasting caps were kept.
The park has several well marked trails leading to the Desert Queen mine, the Silver Top mine, the Mizpah mine, the North Star mine and the Montana-Tonopah mine as well as other areas of interest such as mill ruins.  The staff will warn you, however, that the park sits at 6200 feet elevation and many of the paths lead uphill.  You not only need to carry water with you, but you need to be aware of your physical limitations or of how the elevation might affect you.
There are picnic tables at the visitor center as well as some near the Mizpah hoist house.  You have a great 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding area while you sit and ponder the amazing tenacity of the miners who worked so hard to bring millions of dollars of silver and gold out of these hills.
And another unexpected gem for our travels.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Few Weeks of Firsts

This part of our travels has garnered several firsts for us; the first time we've been three weeks in a row without cell phone service, the first time we've gone two weeks without Internet service, the first time we've been this far north into the heart of California.  I have to admit we found the no cell phone/no Internet tough since at times we were far from towns and medical services--something we've become more aware of since we're much older now than when we started our travels.

We've had some interesting firsts:  while sitting outside enjoying the sunshine one day I was tossing bits of crackers to this scrub jay and that's when we discovered that scrub jays eat their fill and then take the extra food and "bury" it in shallow holes in the ground or thick tufts of grass and then the birds find a small rock or pebble and cover over the area where they've place the food, much like a squirrel buries a nut.
Our campground in the Napa Valley area ended at the base of the dam at the southern end of Lake Berryessa, which was ultimately why we left early.  Denny had visions of an earthquake occurring and the dam letting go which would have washed the entire campground away.  Our first time of running from a campground.  But it was a beautiful setting on Putah Creek.
That same campground provided another first; a handicap accessible swimming pool.  This seat apparently swivels and lowers into the pool.  Hey Penny--ya see this?

This was our first visit to the St. Helena/Napa Valley area.  A stop at the Sutter Home tasting area was mandatory as trying Sutter Home wines was my first venture into something more sophisticated than Annie Greensprings.  We also discovered the palacial wineries of the area were as much art form and garden displays as makers of fine wines.
We saw our first tiny grapes on the vine and talked to our first self-taught vintner, enjoying a very educational wine tasting at the Van der Heyden Winery.
We discovered that like so many states, California is a land of contrasts and beauty.  And that lakes come in all colors including this gorgeous teal blue of Lake Berryessa.

For the first time we watched remote controlled boats race on a lake on the grounds of our campground in Nicolaus, California.  Men and their toys! RC boats sound a lot like lawnmowers.  A lot of lawnmowers.
While in the area Denny and I stopped to visit one of his cousins who moved to Calfornia from St. Louis several years ago.  We discovered he had trained (no pun intended) to become an engineer and now had a route that passed through Sparks, Nevada. New(s) to us!

Denny and I drove on Interstate 80 for the first time, going up and up and down and then up and up again as we headed east towards Nevada.  The closer we got to the Donner Pass area the higher the snowbanks were that lined the roadway but fortunately the day was sunny and the roads were clear.  Because we do not carry chains since it is not our intent to be where there is snow on the roads while towing The Beast.  Ever.
Our first time in the area of Donner Pass--when your ears are popping and the speed of the truck drops down to 45 mph going up the steep inclines of the well paved interstate highway it's amazing to think of the hearty breed of people who traveled thousands of miles from the east with their covered wagons and oxen or horses in the extreme temperatures and rugged terrain.  Denny and I agreed that we wouldn't have one tenth the fortitude of those folks.
Our first time in Reno, Nevada.  It's not Las Vegas but it's an interesting little town. There's another one of the Diner's, Drive Ins and Dives restaurants here that Denny and I will sample after playing some golf this week.
And our final "first" for this segment of our journey is that this is our first campground where the primary mode of transportation is that of electric scooters.  It seems that one of the residents (most everyone in this campground/trailer park seems to be permanently ensconced here) who was injured in an automobile accident received a large insurance settlement which he promptly used to buy himself and eleven other people in the park who have disabilities electric scooters. The place is pretty ticky-tacky but the people who live here are friendly and have big hearts.  Plus they have a great view from the western edge of the property where the owners have created a little BBQ pit and seating area for watching the Truckee River.

From here we'll head to Vegas and then on to visit friends and family in a more familiar route but towards the end of summer we'll venture into northern Minnesota and Wisconsin for some new scenery before turning the nose of the truck towards New York and Ohio to see our kids.  I'm hoping there are still a lot of "firsts" out there for us.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Rain and Sunshine in Yosemite

Today's post is simply a pictorial blog of Yosemite.

First, a tribute to Ansel Adams.
The Big Meadow.
Bridal Veil Creek.
On a good day you'll get soaked by the mist at Bridal Veil Falls but on a rainy day it's truly difficult to get a good photograph because you can't keep your lens dry for more than a fraction of a second.
And so you return on a sunny day and stand farther away.  Actually, after a couple of days of rain the sloped footpath to the falls was awash with running water.

This is where Denny and I chose to eat our picnic lunch; Cathedral Beach with a side view of El Capitan.
Distant Half Dome.
Approaching El Capitan.
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.
Denny and I spent a lot of time taking photographs of couples and groups (especially for the foreign tourists) using their cameras and in return had our photo taken a couple of times.  After once or twice Denny says "enough!"  This is Cascade Creek.
Glacier Point Road was opened about five weeks earlier than it was last year so we had the opportunity to drive it.  I must admit, there are times I wish we had a small vehicle and driving this road as we neared the Glacier Point overlook was one of them as the road narrowed to the point that we were straddling the lane lines.  Certainly the view is worth it, agreed?
El Capitan in the clouds.
Half Dome from the Tunnel View overlook.
The Nevada and Vernal Falls with Half Dome.
A group of teens was having a snowball fight in this patch of snow along Glacier Point road.
According to our GPS the highest elevation we reached on our drive on Glacier Point Road was 7,755 feet.  This is definitely "ooooo--ahhhhh!" country.
Just some highlights of a couple of wonderful days in Yosemite.  This is why we travel and why we're not quite ready to settle down; there's so much more out there to see.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Getting a Lift in Life

 Last summer I blogged about our friends Penny and Tim driving up to Maine from Alabama so they could join us in eating lobster.  Denny and I met Tim and Penny when we workamped together back in 2004 but they had to give up the lifestyle when Penny developed a problem with balance and had to start using an electric scooter to get around.

Traveling in their van kind of got the travel bug activated in their systems so I started looking online for some sort of wheelchair lift or modification that would allow Penny to enter a travel trailer easily while on her scooter.  I located a video on YouTube that a gentleman had posted of a lift he and a friend had created and got in touch with him to see if he could make a lift for my friends' travel trailer.  He said yes, I gave his information to Penny and as a result our friends are now working for the summer at a campground in North Carolina and loving being RVers once again.

The bad news is that they immediately got a job after having the lift installed instead of meeting us out on the road somewhere for some serious celebrating but hey...it'll happen. ;)

Without further ado--Penny's "lift to freedom".

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