Category Archives: Architecture

2016/03/03 (R) Edison Ford Estates

Our plan for today was to visit two places in southwest Florida that we had not gotten to yet; the Edison Ford Estates in Fort Myers, and Sanibel/Captiva Islands.  As usual when we plan to leave early and be away from the coach for the day we did not make coffee or eat breakfast.  Linda walked down to Mara’s motorhome to tend to her cats while I took care of ours.  I then loaded the camera gear and a few other things in the car and drove down to Mara’s rig to pick up Linda.  We stopped at the local Bank of America ATM and then at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a bagel for Linda.  (I had my vegan apricot bearclaw pastries from Publix.)  Suitably provisioned we headed down FL-31 to Fort Myers.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates.  Fort Myers, FL.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates. Fort Myers, FL.

The southern terminus of FL-31 is at FL-80.  From there it was about five miles (west) to the city limit of Ft. Myers.  We continued on FL-80 through downtown, which is an attractive and very upscale part of the city, to where it ends and turns into McGregor Boulevard.  Shortly after turning onto McGregor we pulled into the parking lot for the Edison Ford Estates complex at 9:30 AM.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights. Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison Ford Estates is a historical complex that preserves the winter estates of Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford on the east bank of the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida.  The Edison estate was named Seminole and the adjacent Ford Estate was named The Mangoes.  There are two identical houses on the Edison Estate and a more modest house on the Ford Estate.  Other buildings and structures include caretaker quarters, garages, a small office for Edison, a swimming pool, a cistern and water system, gardens, and lots of exotic trees.  When it was originally developed the Edison Estate included a pier that extended 1,500 feet out into the Caloosahatchee River.  It had trains and transport cars and was initially used to bring in all of the materials to build and landscape the Estate as these had to get to the site by ship.

Both men were workaholics and although they only used these estates for a few weeks in the winter they worked as well as socialized while here.  Indeed, Edison had a lab on the property where extensive work was done on trying to find a plant source of latex, the key material needed to make rubber, which could be quickly and easily grown in the U.S.  Edison and Ford, along with Harvey Firestone, formed a biological research company to finance this research, and presumably profit from any positive outcome.  Some 17,000 plants were tested and the one that emerged as most viable was Goldenrod.  Ford and Edison had almost 1,300 patents between them, and Edison is still the only person to have been awarded at least one U.S. patent every year for 65 contiguous years.  His greatest invention, however, could not be patented; the modern research and development laboratory.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates.  Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline.  Fort Myers, FL.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates. Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline. Fort Myers, FL.

We wrapped up our visit to the Edison and Ford winter estates at 2 PM and headed on down McGregor Boulevard, the boulevard of Royal Palms, towards Sanibel Island.  Our initial destination on the island was an organic vegan cafe named Sanibel Sprouts.  We did not have any trouble getting onto the island or getting to the restaurant but the traffic backed up to exit the island reminded us of our recent experience in the Florida Keys and was more than a bit concerning.

For lunch we split the Mexican salad.  The salad used a base of arugula, a dark leafy green with its own unique, slightly peppery taste that was very well suited to the dish.  A vegan “taco meat” mixed with ground walnuts added depth and texture, and a dressing with cumin tied it all together.  We then split an order of waffles which consisted of two waffles topped with strawberries and bananas and served with real maple syrup.  Both dishes were excellent and I asked the cook how the waffles were made.  She indicated that they used the King Arthur brand gluten-free general purpose baking flour (rice flour based), Earth Balance soy-based vegan butter substitute (5 scoops), almond milk, and vanilla flavored Stevia sweetener.  They were fluffy, light, crispy on the outside, and very tasty.  Yum.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway.  Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway. Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

After lunch we continued deeper into Sanibel Island.  We saw a sign for the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and pulled in.  There was a one-way road through a section of the Refuge but it was a “U. S. Fee Area” ($6 per car).  We checked to see if Linda’s Golden Access Pass was valid for entry.  It was, so we went in.  Although the skies had become overcast the drive through the Refuge was an unplanned event and an unanticipated treat.  We got see a variety of birds but the highlight included two different opportunities to see White Pelicans, one of which also included Roseate Spoonbills and other birds.  White Pelicans are the second largest bird in the continental U. S. (Behind the California Condor) with a wingspan of nine (9) feet.  We also saw a couple of alligators which surprised us as the water here is connected to the Gulf of Mexico.  Indeed, the tide was coming in while we were there.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff.  Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff. Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here. Fort Myers, FL.

From the end of the drive through the NWR we continued on to the north end of Sanibel Island and drove over the short bridge to Captiva Island.  We drove to the end of the road, turned around, and drove back.  There is a lot of “island commerce” on Sanibel Island.  Captiva Island, by comparison, is mostly residential, vacation rental, and resort properties.  Many of the homes were massive, elaborately landscaped costal properties.  I estimated that houses of 3,000 to 4,000 square feet were common, 5,000 to 6,000 square feet were numerous, and some of them had to be 10,000 to 15,000 square feet.  We tend to think of the really expensive real estate in Florida being in places like Naples, Marco Island, Miami Beach, and West Palm Beach, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them are more expensive than the island mansions we saw on Captiva Island.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida.  The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family.  This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan.  The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida. The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family. This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan. The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

The drive back down Captiva and Sanibel was smooth and flowed right along as far as the restaurant.  At that point we encountered the traffic backup we had seen coming in.  Traffic was not moving at all and people were pulling out of line and turning around.  Our map showed that there was an alternate way to get back to the causeway.  We suspected that the turn-arounds were locals who were headed that way so we decided to do that as well.  The traffic could not be worse and we would get to see a different part of the island.

That proved to be the case and we were only in a stop-and-go back up for about 10 minutes instead of the one-to-two hours I figured it would take if we stayed on Periwinkle Way.  We were off the island by 6:45 PM and headed back to the mainland on FL-867.  Fairly quickly we were on FL-865 headed more easterly but on a faster road.  We eventually got to US-41 (the Tamiami Trail) and headed north.  Not too far along I spotted a Panera and we stopped to get coffee.  We continued north as far as Colonial where we headed east to I-75.  From there it was five miles north to FL-80, three miles east to FL-31, and 36 miles north to our RV resort in Arcadia.

An alligator just shows its head (left center).  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

An alligator just shows its head (left center). J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

We got back to our coach at 8:10 PM.  Linda grabbed a flashlight and the keys for Mara’s rig and walked down to take care of her cats.  I unloaded the car and then took care of our cats.  I planned to check my e-mail and then settle in to watch our usual Thursday evening TV programs, but my computer and the scheduled programs altered my plan.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much.  Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one.  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much. Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one. J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

Our e-mail servers were not responding so I shut down my computer and all of our network/comm equipment and restarted everything in a specific order.  Disaster!  My computer would not log in and claimed to have missing authentication components.  This is the second time my ASUS laptop has crapped out since I upgraded it to Windows 10, and I was pretty unhappy about it.  At this point I do not have any confidence its stability, especially its update process, and think it was clearly not ready for release.  Unfortunately not upgrading really wasn’t an option.

I watched Charlie Rose on PBS followed by Tavis Smiley and a program on Black artists.  That was followed by This Old House and Ask TOH.  I think I restarted my computer several times before it finally “healed” itself and allowed me to log in.  With all of those TV programs as background I finished most of this post, off-loaded photos, and backed them up to the NAS.  I tried my e-mail again and was finally able to access it.  It was 2 AM when I finally went to bed, which had not been my plan when I got up this morning.

 

2016/02/01 (M) – 2016/02/04 (R) Southwest Florida

2016/02/01 (M) Tabbed

We had coffee and then granola with blueberries and bananas for breakfast.  After breakfast we gave Jasper his nose drops.  Linda then went for a walk that took her to Walmart where she picked up a few grocery items.  I continued working on photos for Dave Aungier’s BCM article.

When Linda got back I decided to put the new tabs on the license plates (car and bus).  We were able to renew the registration/tabs online and have them mailed directly to the RV resort.  Putting the new tabs on was a bit more work than just peel and stick as I keep protective plastic covers over the license plates and secure them with “tamper proof” bolts and Nylok nuts.  That required special tools which I had to get out.

Once I got the plates off the vehicles and separated from the covers I washed them and stood them up to dry.  While they were drying I washed off the areas of the vehicles where the plates mount.  I peeled four layers of old tabs off of each plate so I could put the new tabs directly on the plates.  I reassembled the protective covers on the plates, mounted them back on the vehicles, and put the tools away.  The final step was to remove the expired registrations from our wallets and replace them with the new ones.  The whole process took about an hour but it felt good to have it done.

While I was outside I drained the auxiliary air system water separator (which I do every few days).  I also opened the drain on the auxiliary air tank but it was dry.  That was good, and meant the water separator is doing its job.

Linda made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  She read for a half hour and I continued working on photos while we digested our lunch before changing into our swim suits and walking over to the pool.  There were quite a few people in the pool so we stayed in the shallow end, walking and swimming from side to side.  When we were done exercising we spent a few minutes in the spa (hot tub / whirlpool) and then showered and changed into dry clothes that we brought with us.

We stopped at the mail room and found our electric bill for January in our mailbox.  Linda walked back later and paid the bill and also our rental fee for February but realized later that they did not charge us enough.  She thought they might have charged us for someone else’s campsite.  When I checked my e-mail I had one from Gary at BCM.  He forwarded one from Jorge with a Dropbox link to a draft of the March 2016 issue and a request to proofread both of my articles and provide any needed corrections ASAP.  I finished the task before dinner, uploaded the PDF file, and e-mailed them back.

For dinner Linda made Farro with dried cranberries, onions, garlic, greens, and hot pepper flakes.  We finally finished the Franzia Crisp White boxed wine, which went well enough with the dish.  After dinner I washed some of the grapes that Linda bought today and we settled in to watch the PBS Newshour, the X-Files, Lucifer, and NCIS Los Angeles.  We went to bed and tuned in PBS for coverage of the Iowa Caucuses before going to sleep.  I don’t recommend political coverage as a way to fall asleep peacefully.

A small piece of the enormous Tibbels miniatures circus model at the Ringling Museum complex, Sarasota, FL.

A small piece of the enormous Tibbels miniatures circus model at the Ringling Museum complex, Sarasota, FL.

2016/02/02 (T) Mara Arrives

The humidity rose sharply as the temperature dropped last night.  That made for cool, but sticky, conditions at bedtime; the one combination that we do not have a way to counteract.  We woke around 7:30 AM to dense fog and were less than fully rested, but a nice pot of coffee at least cleared away the cobwebs.  The fog disappeared soon enough to reveal partly cloudy skies.  The sun was bright and hot but there was a mild breeze, making the morning feel somewhat tropical.  We had toast and jam for breakfast with our usual orange-grapefruit juice.

Linda went for a walk after breakfast and stopped at the office to correct our rental payment for February.  While she was walking I resumed my work on Dave Aungier’s article for Bus Conversion Magazine.  I finished selecting, processing, and inserting photos for the print version of the article and then set it aside.  It had been nine days since I dumped the waste tanks and filled the fresh water tank and we were down to 1/6th of a tank of fresh water.  That’s about 20 gallons so we could have gone one more day, but we are not boondocking and do not have any reason to run the tank all the way to empty.  Besides, the water pump works a lot better when the tank is full.

Linda stopped at Walmart on her walk and returned carrying four small bags of groceries while I was servicing the tanks.  She also got a text from Mara indicating that she was about to pull out and head our way.  Once the fresh water tank was full I left the water hose turned on and added the tank treatment to the toilet and sinks while Linda did the dishes.  Once we were done I shut off the shore water and we returned to operating off of the fresh water tank using the onboard pump.

As long as I was doing chores I cut the power to the coach, waited 30 seconds, and turned it back on to reset the Progressive Industries EMS Previous Error (PE) Code 2 (open ground).  This error occurred during the last storm while we’re away from the coach.

With our chores done Linda thought we should go for a swim so we changed into our suits and walked over to the pool.  Some of the Quebec residents were playing Petanque (pronounced “p’tunk”) and there was a shuffleboard tournament about to commence.  I gathered from the instructions being given to the teams that Big Tree Carefree RV Resort was hosting teams from another RV park.  There was no one else at the pool when we arrived and we had it to ourselves for about 10 minutes.  A woman showed up and asked if it was OK with us if she put on her water aerobics music and did her exercises.  Sure!  Why not.  Linda joined in and eventually a third woman joined them.  I went to the deeper end of the pool and swam back and forth from side to side.

I got out of the pool while the ladies were still exercising, took a quick dip in the hot tub, and then showered.  I changed into my other pair of swim trunks (XXL) and cinched them tight.  They make a very comfortable pair of shorts for warm days and it doesn’t matter if they get wet

Massive Banyan Trees at Ca’ D’Zan, John and Mabel Ringling’s former winter estate on Sarasota Bay, now part of the Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

Massive Banyan Trees at Ca’ D’Zan, John and Mabel Ringling’s former winter estate on Sarasota Bay, now part of the Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

We were back at our coach by 2:30 PM and Barb, across the street, invited us to hang our suits and towels on their clothesline, which we did.  Linda made roll up sandwiches with garlic hummus, onion, and lots of dark, leafy greens for a later-than-usual lunch.  After lunch she sat outside and read while I updated my water usage spreadsheet.  Linda got another text from Mara that she had arrived so we moseyed over to her site behind the swimming pool.  Mara passed us in her motorhome going the other way as she was being led away from the office to her site.  We stopped at the office on the way to make sure they had cleared up our February billing correctly and to check our mailbox.  They had; no mail.  The Québécois were done playing Petanque for the day but the shuffleboard tournament was in full swing.  The parking volunteer was just getting Mara backed in as we arrived at her site.  We left her alone while she blocked and leveled her motorhome, extended the slides, shut down the engine, plugged in the shorepower cord, and deployed the awnings and windshield sunshades.  Good RV etiquette is to not bother people while they make/break camp.

We visited briefly but did not stay.  Mara had stopped at the Walmart for groceries before entering the resort and needed to put them away and then have something to eat.  Linda invited her to come down for dinner and she accepted.

When we got back to our coach the inside thermometer read 89 degrees F.  That was just a bit too hot for my comfort, and for the cats too.  I turned off the electric heating element for the domestic hot water.  We closed up the coach and turned on the front and center air-conditioners, but not the one in the bedroom.  The front and center units are on separate legs of the 240/120 VAC system.  Even before I turned the units on the voltage was 115 VAC on L1 and 112 VAC on L2 with very little current draw.  With A-C units on these voltages dropped to 112 and 109 respectively.  That is very marginal for our PI EMS, especially the L2 voltage.  This was the first situation we have been in where I wished I had a Hughes Autoformer boosting transformer.

I opened the bottle of Beringer Red Moscato that we have had in the refrigerator for a while and Linda and I had a glass while we waited for Mara.  Linda called Mara at 7 PM and she was not sure how to find our coach in the dark so I walked over to the activity building at 7 PM to meet her and we walked back together.  We gave Mara the grand tour of our remodeling efforts and then poured some more wine.  Both cats allowed Mara to interact with them, which was unusual and perhaps a sign that Jasper’s health was finally improving.

For dinner Linda made a salad, seitan stroganoff, and fresh strawberries for dessert.  We chatted before, during, and after dinner about where we had each been and what we had been doing since we last crossed paths in July and what our plans were for 2016 and beyond.  By 8:45 PM we had covered a lot of ground but had not been for our after dinner walk.

It had been a long day for Mara and she was ready to get back to her cats so we walked back to her rig with her and extended our walk through the Resort before returning to our coach.  We watched a fascinating program on the assassination of President James Garfield and then turned off the air-conditioners, opened a couple of bedroom windows, opened the roof vent-fan in the bathroom, and turned the fan on in exhaust mode.  We went to bed and watched Charlie Rose before finally turning out the lights and going to sleep.

2016/02/03 (W) Laundry Swimming

 

Jasper woke me up early with his sniffles and sneezing and I had trouble falling back asleep.  Our little guy is obviously uncomfortable with whatever it is that he has and I stroked his back and scratched his chin for quite a while.  I finally got up a little after 7 AM and walked over to the Wednesday morning coffee, as much out of curiosity and to have something to do as anything else.  I noticed as I was leaving that the gasket in the rear vertical edge of the entry door window was coming out at the top again and made a mental note to fix it later today.

The living room at Ca’ D’Zan, Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

The living room at Ca’ D’Zan, Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

While I was gone Linda got up, got dressed, stripped the bed, and decided to go for an early morning walk.  I know, because I met her about half way back to our coach.  I ground the coffee beans and prepped the coffee pot.  When I saw her walking down Front Street towards our site I started brewing the coffee so it would be ready shortly after she arrived.  We had granola with blueberries for breakfast but did not have fruit juice or take our pills.  Later.

It was already 72 degrees F outside and anywhere from 75 to 79 degrees F inside, depending on which thermometer or thermostat I looked at.  I don’t believe any of them anymore but I figured collectively it was somewhere between 74 and 80 degrees F in the coach.  The forecasted high for today was 86 degrees F and based on the low level clouds streaming in from the south looked to be a humid day as well.  It’s always better to keep a space cool and dry than it is to try to cool it off and dehumidify it after the fact.  I turned off the bathroom ceiling exhaust fan and closed the roof vent and closed the two open windows in the bedroom.  I noticed that the bottom horizontal gaskets on these windows are not staying in their mounting grooves.  Ugh.  I love our old bus, but there are some aspects of it that I seem to have to keep fixing, which is not my most favorite thing to do.  Oh well, at this point we are definitely “in for a dime, in for a dollar.”

We doodled on our iPads until it was time for Linda to walk to the swimming pool for the 10 AM water aerobics class.  While she was exercising I selected and processed a couple of photos for her to use with her weekly postcard to Madeline.  She normally takes care of this on Tuesday.

We will be away from the coach and Resort the next two days so I needed to do laundry today.  While I was gathering up the soiled clothes and linens I got a call from Dave Aungier.  He was following up to see that I got the draft of his article from Bonnie.  I brought him up to date on the status of the work, which I hope to have finished before I go to bed this evening.

I also had an e-mail from Jorge with the correct Dropbox link for the final version of the March 2016 issue of BCM.  I needed to do a final proofread on my two articles and get back to him by the end of the day.

Linda got back from exercising and swimming just as I was getting ready to leave for the laundry room.  The washers and dryers were all in use and I had to wait a while for washing machines to open up.  Linda texted to see if I needed help and walked over to assist.  I brought my computer and continued working on Dave Aungier’s BCM article while our clothes were being washed and dried.  I got all of the digital edition bonus photos selected and processed, so I should be able to wrap the article up tonight and make it available for Dave to proofread.  I also got two small Windows 8.1 updates downloaded and installed, but the Internet connection was not fast so that’s all I was able to do.

 Exterior detail of Ca’ D’Zan, Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

Exterior detail of Ca’ D’Zan, Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

We folded and hung all the dry clothes and loaded them in the car, which I drove back while Linda walked (no room to ride).  We were back at our coach by 2:45 PM, three hours and 15 minutes after I left to take care of this chore.  After putting the clean clothes away Linda walked back to the pool to look for her Tilley hat.  While she was gone I checked the level of the kitchen counter.  It was level, so starting the engine and re-leveling the coach was not something I had to do today.  Linda returned, hat on head, so we avoided the inevitable sadness of a lost Tilley hat.

The two front air conditioners were not able to keep up with the heat, in large part because the middle unit is not working very well.  Presumably it needs to be charged, but Butch has done that before so the root cause has to be something that needs to be repaired, such as a refrigerant leak and/or a bad seal that is reducing the pumping effectiveness of the compressor.  A secondary problem is that we cannot run the bedroom A-C unit at the same time as the front one since they are on the same leg (L1) and the voltage at our coach is already too low with just the one unit running.

At 4 PM we walked to the pool for an afternoon swim.  When we returned to our coach I retrieved the latest, and hopefully final, draft of the March 2016 issue of BCM and proofread my two articles.  I had one minor correction for each article and e-mailed them back to the publisher and layout person.  While I was working on this I got an e-mail from Kristine Gullen with a question for Linda which resulted in a group text message conversation.  We received a “hold the date” notice at our house, which our daughter let us know about, for the October 22 wedding of Kristine’s son Nickolas.  We will make a point of being back by October 15 from our trip to the Canadian Maritimes and New England.

For dinner we had a salad and the left over Farro with cranberries and seitan stroganoff.  After dinner we retracted the large patio awning as a precaution in advance of rain and possible thunderstorms forecast for tomorrow in association with a cold front approaching from the northwest.  We then emptied out the back of the car and removed the passenger side rear seat and the wooden storage structure to allow the driver side rear seat to be lowered into position and secured.  We rearranged the things stored in the front bay of the bus to make room for the car seat, and several other things that were stored in the car, moving a few things to the passenger side engine bay.  We should have done this earlier in the day when it was light but doing it in the morning would have been a disaster.  We should have done this as soon as we got settled at Big Tree RV Resort but it wasn’t pressing then and we got busy with other things.

We went for a stroll around the resort and dropped off the trash along the way.  Back at our coach we had a glass of Beringer Red Moscato wine and watched Nova on PBS.  Mara sent Linda a text indicating that Sabra (one of her cats) was still having issues and she had decided not to go with us tomorrow to the Ringling Brothers museum in Sarasota.

After Nova we put the linens back on the bed.  I then converted Dave Aungier’s article from Word to PDF, uploaded it to a folder in our Dropbox, and sent him an e-mail with the link.  I caught some news, weather, and Charlie Rose and then went to sleep.

2016/02/04 (R) A Ringling Birthday

We were up by 7:15 AM this morning but I did not make coffee and we did not have breakfast.  We got dressed for a day away from our coach and I repacked the camera bag.  We left at 8:30 AM and stopped at the local Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a bite to eat.  We were on our way to Sarasota a little before 9 AM.  We took FL-70 west to I-75 and headed south to the University Blvd. exit.  We headed west to the end of the road at Bayshore Drive, and arrived at the John and Mabel Ringling Estate at 10 AM.  Steve and Karen arrived just ahead of us and we parked right next to them.NOko

Linda and Karen rest on the patio of Ca’ D’Zan and study the map of the Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

Linda and Karen rest on the patio of Ca’ D’Zan and study the map of the Ringling Museums complex, Sarasota, FL.

The 66 acre estate was the location of John and Mabel Ringlings’ winter home, Ca’ D’Zan, starting in 1926 when it was finished.  Mabel died three years later and John continued to use the house until 1936 when he passed away.  John was one of the seven Ringling brothers of circus fame.  In addition to their 36,000 square foot home the estate includes an amazing art museum to house their extensive collection.  There is also a circus museum and a building that houses the Tibbels scale model circus that Howard Tibbels spent 60 years creating.  John and Mabel did not have any children and the entire estate was left to the people (State) of Florida when John died.  The entire estate is now part of The Florida State University and the Ringling Art Museum is the official art museum of the State of Florida.

Ca’ D’Zan sits on Sarasota Bay and is a wonderful home in the Venetian Gothic style.  We went on one of the longer, guided tours, so we got to see more of the house than we would have on a self-guided tour but not as much as the even longer (and more expensive) “behind-the-scenes” tour.

The Tibbels circus model is 1/16th scale, i.e., 3/4″ to the foot.  The model covers a large area and illustrates every facet of an early 20th century major circus of the type that traveled from town to town by rail.  Not only is the model an amazing thing to see, and an amazing thing for one man to have created, but it gave us an understanding of how a major circus of this period functioned.  The logistics involved were impressive to say the least.

We finished our day at the Ringling Museums complex around 4:30 PM with a visit to the gift shop where Linda bought a book for Madeline for Valentine’s Day.  Back at our cars we drove north on US-41 (Tamiami Trail) about three miles to Vertoris’ Pizzeria for my birthday dinner.  Vertoris’ turned out to be a small, unassuming place with seating for maybe 24 people.  They offered quite a variety of pizzas, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free, but had lots of other Italian dishes.  I had vegan butternut squash ravioli, Linda had a vegan pizza, Karen had baked ziti, and Steve had the largest piece of lasagna I have ever seen.  Karen and I had a glass of Chianti, and Linda had a different Italian red (but did not recall the name when we got home).  The restaurant had vegan cupcakes so Linda, Karen, and I each had one while Steve had a cannoli.

 Detail view of one exterior wall of the modern addition to the Ringling Art Museum, Sarasota, FL.

Detail view of one exterior wall of the modern addition to the Ringling Art Museum, Sarasota, FL.

Our son called last night to wish me happy birthday and our daughter texted me at 3:40 PM today to do the same.  I saw the text at 5 PM after we were at the restaurant and texted her back.  My phone battery was depleted, which is unusual for my phone, so I turned it off.

We were done with our meal by 6:30 PM, made arrangements for our next get-together, and went our separate ways.  Steve and Karen headed south on Tamiami Trail 28 miles back to Nokomis and we headed north three miles to FL-70.  Three tenths of a mile shy of FL-70 we encountered a serious traffic backup and I could see a large assemblage of emergency vehicles up ahead.  We were already in the right hand lane and eventually got to FL-70 (53rd St.) and made the turn.  US-41 beyond the intersection was blocked by the police.  We did not slow down to gawk, which I find really annoying, and all we saw were emergency vehicles; lots of emergency vehicles.

It was raining when we left Vertoris’ and it got a lot heavier as we traveled east on FL-70.  Somewhere east of Myakka City we drove out of the rain and did not encounter any more the rest of the way home.  We arrived around 7:45 PM to find the grass at our RV site was wet, so we knew it had rained at some point.  After bringing our stuff in from the car we started our Verizon Mi-Fi, started up our various technology devices, and I plugged in my phone to charge.  Linda texted Mara to see if she wanted to go with us to Ed and Betty’s tomorrow morning.  Mara replied that she did so Linda communicated the plans and timing for the morning.

Linda checked the weather and the rain was moving our way from whence we had just come.  It was forecast to arrive around 9 PM, which it did, and be done by 11, which it was.  In between in oscillated between heavy and light.

 

2015/08/12 (W) Back to Indiana (Again)

Today was early arrival day for the annual Back-to-the-Bricks converted bus rally in Clio, Michigan.  This joint rally of the Converted Coach Owners (CCO) and the FMCA Great Lakes Converted Coaches (GLCC) chapter has become an annual event that typically draws 20 to 30 rigs.  Most of them are converted highway buses and many of those were converted or re-modeled by the owners.  Many of them are works in progress but such is the nature of the bus conversion hobby and the true bus nut.  But that is not where we were headed today.  Our bus is unusable at the moment as the toilet is disconnected, the bed platform has been removed, and all of the cabinet drawers have been taken out.  But the main reason was that we had multiple commitments in Indiana today.

Our first appointment was with Josh Leach of Coach Supply Direct.  Although CSD is located in Edwardsburg, Michigan we had arranged to meet him in the parking lot of the Martin’s Supermarket at SR-19 (IN) and CR-4 on the north side of Elkhart, Indiana at 9:30 AM to take delivery of 15 yards of upholstery fabric.  We picked that location, rather than his shop in Edwardsburg, for several reasons.  He had to be at the Forest River Owners Group (FROG) rally at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds at 10 AM so that location got him half way to his destination at a good time of day.  For us, Elkhart is a 3-1/2 hour drive.  That meant we had to be up at 5:00 AM and on the road not later than 5:45 AM to be there on time, allowing for coffee, fuel, and bathroom stops.  Had we met him at his shop we would have had to be there by 9 AM requiring us to get up even earlier.  You have to draw a line somewhere.

I took the wheel for the start of the trip.  It was still dark but the faint glow of the impending sunrise was visible as we pulled out onto Hacker Road facing a rising crescent moon.  At M-59 we headed west to I-96.  I reset one of the trip odometers before we left and verified that it was 13 miles from our driveway to the end of the entrance ramp from M-59 onto I-96W.  We skirted the southern edge of Lansing on I-96 and took Lansing Road to I-69 south.

Nineteen miles south of Lansing, and about an hour into our trip, we stopped at the Biggby’s Coffee in Charlotte for coffee and bagels.  Biggby’s is not my favorite coffee but this particular store is in just the right location.  Linda checked the M-DOT website and it appeared that the bridge work on M-60 in Mendon was completed, so we exited I-69S and headed west on M-60.  Unfortunately the bridge was still closed so we had to follow the detour to the south toward Sturgis.  Unlike our previous trip in early July, when we continued on to Sturgis, we followed the complete detour through Nottawa and Centreville and back to M-60 in Three Rivers.  We had never driven through Nottawa or Centreville before so that provided some new scenery for the trip.

As we have done many times before we continued our trip on M-60 as far as Jones where we stopped at the Shell station for fuel.  We then took M-40 south to US-12.  This seven mile stretch of M-40 traverses steeply rolling hills and is both beautiful and fun to drive.  We took US-12, running west just north of the Michigan-Indiana border, and eventually exited onto Old 205 (M-205?) which turns 90 degrees to the left a mile later and drops straight south into Indiana where it becomes SR-19.  A few miles later we arrived at the Martin’s Supermarket at CR-4 just after 9 AM.

Josh was not there yet so we went inside to use the restrooms and get some coffee.  This particular Martin’s has a nice salad bar with a beverage station, a Starbucks Coffee outlet, and a seating area with Wi-Fi.  Josh showed up right on time and parked next to us.  I met him outside and we transferred the roll of upholstery fabric from his car to ours and then went inside to visit for a few minutes before he had to leave for Goshen.

When we left Linda took over the driving.  Our next planned stop was A1-Upholstery in Elkhart to order the cushions for our built-in sofa.  Continuing south on SR-19 we stopped at Factory RV Surplus to look for battery cable end covers but the ones they had were too expensive.  I think they now sell more retail-packaged merchandise than they do true surplus material, and even less salvaged parts.

Lou (mom) and Terry (daughter) own and operate A-1 Upholstery and were recommended to us by Josh.  We discussed the project with Terry, who I had previously spoken to on the phone.  We reviewed my dimensioned scale drawings, which were on one sheet of 11″x17″ 1/4″ grid-square paper, and agreed on how the cushions would be made.  Terry thought she would have them done by the end of the month but noted on the order form that we needed them by September 14th.  We noticed that she had a lot of sample books from which we could have selected a fabric but we like the Lambright Notion Linen, and Terry thought it was a very good fabric that should look good and wear well in our application.  We left the fabric and drawing with her and wrote a check for the deposit.

All of our stops were important today, but our primary reason for the trip was to pick up the pieces of the custom desk and built-in sofa for our bus from Jarel Beatty Cabinetry in Logansport, Indiana.  We continued our trip south on SR-19 to US-20, took that west to US-31, and went south, exiting at Rochester onto IN-25 for the final 22 miles to Logansport.  This is a route I have driven many times but Linda had the wheel this time so I provided some occasional guidance.  I called Jarel to let him know we were making better time than we had anticipated and would be there between noon and 12:25 PM.  I then called Butch to give him a status update.

This was the first time Linda and Jarel had met and so it was also the first time Linda had met Mya, Jarel and Georgette’s sweet little dog.  Mya came up to me, sat, stared up at me like we were long lost friends, and waited patiently for me to give her the attention she was seeking.  I was happy to oblige.

Jarel Beatty Cabinetry, Logansport, IN

Jarel Beatty Cabinetry, Logansport, IN.  Panorama taken from the entrance door.

Jarel Beatty Cabinetry, Logansport, IN.

Jarel Beatty Cabinetry, Logansport, IN.  Panorama from the center of the shop.  Entrance door is far left.

As I have previously described in this blog, the desk consists of nine pieces (if you count the four drawers as separate parts):  two pedestals with separate bases, a cover that goes between them, and four drawers.  The left pedestal has a fold up work surface with two support wings, and a fold down fake drawer front, so technically those are four more pieces, but they are attached to the pedestal with hinges so I am not counting them as separate parts.  The bottoms of each pedestal have been cut out to provide access to the fan-coil heat exchangers that will be installed in the bases, so those are really two separate pieces now, put I am not counting them as such.  I am also ignoring screws, drawer slides, blocking, and other assembly items in my parts count as they are all “installed components.”  With the drawers installed we only had five major pieces to load plus the two access plates.  Jarel also had the pieces ready for the built-in sofa so we loaded those as well.  I took pictures of his shop and the pull-out pantry, which was mostly assembled but not quite finished.

The installed desk will have more pieces than just described but these are the pieces that Jarel made.  The finished desk will have five grills that we have to cut and install, at least four drawer pulls that we have to install, a plywood top that will span the two pedestals and leg space, and a Sandstone Corian countertop that will go on top of the plywood.  While not actually part of the desk there will also be a large cover for the passenger-side living room HVAC duct and wiring chase and a small hose cover at the desk end both of which align with the left end of the desk and will look like they are part of it.  Jarel will make the chase cover later after the desk is installed and we can get a final, accurate measurement for its length.

As long as we were in the neighborhood we naturally stopped to visit with our friends, Butch and Fonda, in Twelve Mile, Indiana.  While we were at their house we loaded a dozen 4-foot army surplus fiberglass mast sections in the car.  Butch had bought these at a swap for me some time ago.  We will use them for ham radio antenna projects.  Butch gave me his old, non-functioning, Vanner battery equalizer to see if I can figure out how it does what it does.  He also lent me his air-powered brad nailer which can also drive 1/4″ crown staples and gave me a box of 5,000 staples to go with it.  Fonda found a scrap piece of resilient underlayment designed for free-floating wood floors.  Butch though it might work well under the 1/4″ plywood underlayment to fill in the gaps and irregularities so we took it with us.

When we were done loading stuff into our car we went to see their new property on SR-25.  They have already had a new roof put on the barn and new doors put in the house.  They have bought themselves a BIG project, but it will be a much more appropriate and manageable place for them going forward than the building complex in Twelve Mile that has housed their business operations for the last 20 years.  It’s an old GM dealership from the 1940s and they have approximately 11,000 feet under roof including a 2-bay service garage with a functioning in-ground lift.

We drove to Rochester and had dinner at Pizza Hut.  Linda and I split a medium specialty veggie pizza and had the salad bar with it.  We might have had a few more restaurant choices in Logansport, but Rochester was 22 miles closer to home.  With the 19 hours we were gone today, and over 525 miles we had to travel, 22 miles and 30 minutes was significant for us.

We got back on the road at 6:30 PM with Linda at the wheel and headed back up US-31N to US-20 and headed east.  We decided to stay on US-20 all the way to I-69, stopping in Lagrange to use the restroom at the Marathon complex.  We stopped again at the Shell station on M-60 in Michigan for fuel.  It was getting dark and I had been able to rest while Linda drove, so I took over the driving duties.  From this point on we were just reversing our route from this morning.  We got home at 10:30 PM, unloaded everything from the car, and then went straight to bed.

 

2015/04/10 (F) Bandolier Natl Mon and Santa Fe NM

[Note: Photos from today are in an image gallery at the end of the post.]

Our sleep last night was interrupted by the receipt of e-mails on our phones (and iPads) informing us that our house had lost utility power and our whole house generator had started and was running.  As we learned later from studying the event log (using our Kohler OnCue software) the power had flickered several times, causing the genset to start and then stop, until the power finally failed (or was disconnected by the utility company) and stayed off, causing the genset to start (and stay on) and the transfer switch to shift the house from the utility lines to the genset until the utility power was eventually/finally restored.  This, of course, is exactly what the generator and transfer switch are designed to do and the reason we have them installed.

We got up around 7 AM, left around 7:45 AM, and were kept abreast of the generator’s status as we drove.  We headed east on I-40 as far as Moriarty and then headed north on NM-41 towards Santa Fe.  Just before reaching the southern edge of the greater Santa Fe area NM-41 merged into US-285 north.  We continued on US-285 well north of Santa Fe and then headed west on NM-502 towards Los Alamos, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), before turning south on NM-4 towards Bandolier National Monument (BNM).

I visited BNM 26 years ago with our son but this was Linda’s first visit.  BNM is remote but my recollection was that it was worth the drive and that proved to be the case.  We had a couple of “conversations” with a female ranger (?) at the visitor center who had a rather annoying superior attitude, the first time in my 63 years that I have had a less that wonderful encounter with someone from the NPS, but we were there to see ruins and managed to get the information we were seeking.

LANL, the home of the atomic bomb and still the center for nuclear research in the U.S.A., is actually spread out over a vast, remote region northwest of Santa Fe.  We saw a sign for a museum which we presume was in the town of Los Alamos, but did not check it out.  Museums take a lot of time to see and usually involve an admission fee, which is all the more reason to spend the necessary time to tour them properly.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe have a least a dozen fabulous museums between them, maybe each, and we would need to spend 3 – 4 weeks camped somewhere between the two cities, or two weeks in one and two weeks in the other, to visit most of them and not be exhausted by the time we were done.  We are actually making our way towards home and only spending a few days in the area to get a sense of the place and visit a few places.  Full- and extended-time RVing are NOT full- or extended-time vacationing.  If we approached what we are doing with the attitude that we had to see everything everywhere we went, and do so in the limited amount of time available, we would quickly be broke and exhausted.  We plan to be back this way in the future and will have a better idea of what we want to see and do when we return.

We left BNM and returned to Santa Fe by reversing our route.  We navigated to Old Town and found ourselves in heavy traffic on narrow streets looking for a place to park.  Our tour guide map of the area showed public parking but we drove past those locations without seeing the referenced space.  We did see several parking garages, but I had the ham radio antenna on the roof of the car and could not pull in.  We finally spotted a parking space along a small park area at the northeast corner of Old Town and parked there at no charge.  Almost all of the parking in Santa Fe involves parking meters or pay lots but we did not have any change with us, so if we had not spotted this parking space we would not have stopped to see Old Town.

We were glad, however, to find this parking spot as it was a short walk to Old Town which is a fairly compact/dense area.  Our first stop was the Loretto Chapel with its famous spiral staircase.  The staircase is a 23 foot high double helix that makes two 360 degree twists from the floor to the choir loft.  It does not have a center column and was originally supported only at the top and bottom, although several “supports” have been added to stabilize it against the vibrations of modern vehicular traffic.  The choir loft was originally accessed by ladders but when the church became the chapel for a girls’ school run by the Sisters of Loretto the ladders were not considered appropriate.

The story behind this staircase is that the Sister’s prayed a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, for a staircase to the choir loft.  The chapel is small and any conventional staircase would have taken up too much space.  A carpenter appeared not long after the novena and built the staircase using only simple hand tools.  He did not give the sisters his name or ask for any compensation.  He left without any indication of where he came from or where he was headed and was never seen or heard from again.

Given the mystery of this event, some came to believe that the carpenter was St. Joseph himself.  Of more interest to architectural scholars is the engineering “mystery” of how the staircase was constructed.  It was unclear from our visit whether the carpenter worked in secrecy, but whether he did or not the Sisters apparently did not make/keep any record of the details of the work.  As originally constructed the staircase had an inside railing but no outside railing, which would certainly have lightened its visual and actual weight and made for a rather interesting climb.  (The outside railing was added many years later but does not add anything structural to the staircase.)  The treads and risers are all connected on the inside and outside edges so the staircase is a continuous spiral which is an inherently strong shape.  Indeed the double helix shape of the staircase is the same shape as strands of DNA, discovered over 100 years after its construction.  The more practical problem for me turned out to be the difficulty of photographing it as the chapel is small and dim but has very bright stained glass windows.  BTW: the chapel is now privately owned and admission is $3 per person.

From the chapel we walked back to the central plaza.  The north side of the plaza is the Palace of the Governors.  Originally built in 1610-1612 it was the seat of Spanish government in this area.  It was then the seat of Mexican government here and finally the government of the United States of America.  It has the distinction of being the oldest, and longest continuously occupied, government/public building in the U.S.A., although it now houses a history museum.  Also of interest is the covered sidewalk that runs the entire length of the building.  It was packed from one end to the other with Native Americans selling their jewelry and other craft items.  We read later that this has been going on for a very long time.  In spite of all of the art galleries, jewelry stores, and boutiques in Old Town Santa Fe I would probably buy something from one of the Native sellers if I was in the market for these kinds of items.

We were not here to shop, however, and had not had lunch so having had a look at the place we put the address for the Thai Vegan restaurant in the GPS and headed south on Cerrillos Road (NM-14) in search of dinner.  Thai Vegan was the top rated vegan restaurant in the Santa Fe area on Happy Cow.  We arrived at 4:25 PM and discovered that they were closed from 3 – 5 PM.  No problem; we just sat in the parking lot and waited.  Vegan restaurants are not (yet) common and after two fairly long, active days of sightseeing Linda was looking forward to not cooking dinner tonight.  The service was friendly and the food was OK; not the best vegan restaurant food we’ve ever had, but good enough.  They make their own vegan “ice cream” and it was very good.  I had coconut and Linda had green tea.

We were done with dinner by 6:15 PM and sunset was not until 7:30 PM so we drove home on NM-14, the Turquoise Trail, through Madrid and other small towns on the eastern foothills of the Sandia Mountains.  It was a beautiful and fun drive and we got back to our coach almost exactly 12 hours from when we left this morning.

Most of the shops in Madrid were closed but the bars and restaurants were open.  It is an old mining town that became a ghost town, got re-discovered in the 1970s, and became an artists’ colony.  Many of the old mining shacks have been reclaimed and turned into homes.  The town has a rough, funky appearance and we would like to return sometime during the day to check out the shops and galleries.  But not on this trip.  We have some long driving days ahead of us and would like to have a day to clean the coach, recharge the water softener, and relax.  For Linda that means online word games and looking at her new Vegetarian Southwest cookbook.  For me that means working on our website/blog.

.

2015/04/04-06 (S-M) Ancient Modern

2015/04/04 (S) Gila Cliff Dwellings

We decided to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (GCDNM) today.  It is only 94 miles from Deming but it is a 2.5 – 3.0 hour drive.  From Deming we took US-180 to Silver City where we picked up NM-15.  NM-15 is placarded as a “mountain road” and crosses the Continental Divide as it runs through the Gila Wilderness to the little town of Gila Hot Springs and then on to the GCDNM where it ends.  It is marked in our road atlas as a scenic road and it was all that and more.  The road itself was an adventure and afforded a range of experiences from dense forest to switchbacks and hairpin turns to distant views as it ran along mountain ridges.  We took our time and enjoyed the ride, stopping to take a few pictures along the way

We crossed the Continental Divide twice today.  This was the crossing on NM-15.

We crossed the Continental Divide twice today. This was the crossing on NM-15.

We eventually reached the GCDNM Visitor Center where we obtain more information about the Gila Wilderness area, the Monument, and the ancient cliff dwellings.  The cliff dwellings are in a canyon about two miles from the Visitor Center.  A road leads from the Visitor Center to a parking lot at the mouth of the canyon.  A ranger gave us an interpretive trail guide and quick overview of what we would see and what would be required to see it.  It turned that we were not in the Monument yet.  We started up the trail by crossing over a small stream on a foot bridge and on the other side actually entered the Monument, which is only about 600 acres.  The Monument, however, is surrounded by the vast and remote Gila Wilderness, so the Monument is there specifically to protect and manage access to the cliff dwellings.

The trail wound up the south side of the creek that runs through the canyon to a point beyond the cliff dwellings, which are all built into natural openings in the south-facing north wall of the canyon, before crossing to the north side of the creek.  The trail was good, but fairly rugged; definitely not a place for wheelchairs or flip-flops.  It also afforded some views of the cliff dwellings.  Once on the other side of the creek the trail climbed steeply and was narrow with steep drop-offs at a few points.  By the time we got to the first of eight compounds we felt like we had earned the right to see them.

There are three aspects to the Gila area with cooperative management.

There are three aspects to the Gila area with cooperative management.

The Gila cliff dwellings are very accessible once you get up to them allowing a close up look at these fascinating remnants of an ancient way of life.  One of the things we learned is that the term Anasazi, which translates roughly as “ancient enemy” is no longer being used to describe the people and culture that inhabited this area until sometime around 1300 AD and built these dwellings.  The accepted name is now Ancient Puebloans, which more clearly establishes the nature of how these people lived and maintains a connection to the Native Americans who still inhabit the southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico, many of whom claim direct descendancy from these ancient people.  We enjoyed our visit to GCDNM and felt it was more than worth the drive.

Native American leader Geronimo and his people lived in this area.

Native American leader Geronimo and his people lived in this area.

NM-15 to GCDNM is a dead end road so some backtracking is necessary on the return trip.  We like to see new things so south of Gila Hot Springs we took NM-35 through Mimbres, back across the Continental Divide, and down to San Lorenzo on NM-152 which we took back west towards Silver City.  Much to our surprise we came upon one the Chino Copper Mine and pulled into a fenced public viewing area on the highway.  Chino is still an active open pit (strip) mine and is an almost incomprehensively large whole in the ground.  After trying to take a few photographs we continued on and took a small side road to Bayard and US-180 and returned to Deming.

We did not get back to the SKP Dreamcatcher RV Park in time for the start of happy hour at 4 PM but we did make it back in time to socialize a bit with folks before everyone went back to their rigs for dinner.  We struck up a conversation with Rick and Mary who had just arrived today.

2015/04/05 (N) Deming to Alamogordo

An HDR image of some lovely green plants on the hike up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

An HDR image of some lovely green plants on the hike up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

We were up at 7 AM, and a light breakfast, straightened up the bus and took showers.  I ran into Chris Baby in the men’s room (that’s his name).  I met Chris at the recent Escapade at a couple of the Xscapers social events.  He is one of the new generation of 20-somethings that is giving full-time RVing a serious try.  I find it fascinating and refreshing to meet this new generation of RVers.  We hooked up the car and used the restroom by the office one last time.  Linda then called the Desert Paradise MH & RV Park in Alamogordo and they said there was plenty of space and we did not need a reservation.  We visited briefly with fellow RVillage, Rick and Mary, whom we met at happy hour last night.  They had checked our RVillage profile and discovered that we were also fellow Freethinkers.  That would not have happened without RVillage.

I had been indicating in the last few posts that we were headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico from here, and we were actually planning on finding an RV Park closer to Santa Fe.  We changed our minds and decided to visit a friend in Alamogordo, New Mexico and see the sights around there before heading to an RV Park about 20 miles east of Albuquerque.  We had targeted an 11 AM departure but we were ready to go before that and pulled out around 10:45 AM.

The drive over I-10 east to I-25 north to US-70 was smooth and uneventful.  US-70 going east from I-25, however, climbs steadily heading out of Las Cruces and then very steeply for several miles before topping out.  It then drops steeply for many miles into the Tularosa Basin and through the White Sands Missile Test Range.  Once down to the valley floor the road is level across the range running past White Sands National Monument, Holloman Air Force Base, and into Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The westernmost of the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

The westernmost of the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

We did not have any difficulty finding the Desert Paradise MH & RV Park or getting in and parked. The park uses a self-registration process (Iron Ranger) for short-term guests and there was only one rig in the short-term area so we had our pick of sites.  Linda took care of registering us while I connected the shore power and took care of the rest of our exterior/systems arrival routine.

The park has a conveniently located building with two bath/shower rooms, a laundry, and a central club house room with a kitchen in one corner, TV viewing area in another corner, and a library with sitting area in another corner.  I happened to meet the park manager, Wes, while I was in the building and Linda obtained the Wi-Fi password from a women in the laundry.  We connected our WiFiRanger to the Park’s “N” signal and it was solid and fast; as good, or better, than what we normally see with our Verizon Mi-Fi.

A panoramic photo of the open pit Chino Copper Mine near Silver City, New Mexico.

A panoramic photo of the open pit Chino Copper Mine near Silver City, New Mexico.

Although the drive from Deming to Alamogordo was short, both in terms of miles and time, it was hard on the bus and on us so we decided to stick around the coach and rest.  That also gave me a chance to continue working on blog posts and related tasks.  Before settling in to my work I called Butch and got Bell’s phone number and gave her a call.  She was very excited that we were in town and we arranged to meet up with her tomorrow morning.

2015/04/06 (M) White Sands Natl Mon

Bell arrived at our campsite at 8 AM.  We cleaned out the back seat of our Element and found space for a small cooler and three disc sleds.  We gathered up our stuff, loaded it wherever it would fit, and headed to White Sands National Monument (WSNM) about 13 miles southwest of Alamogordo.  The white sands are a unique natural phenomenon.  The WSNM shares management responsibilities with the White Sands Missile Test Range.  The Tularosa Basin is the birthplace of U.S. efforts and the first atomic bomb every exploded was detonated at the Trinity site on the north end of the test range.  This part of New Mexico, with its Puebloan ruins and nuclear facilities is a place where ancient and modern meet and somehow coexist.

We drove the loop road through the dunes twice, stopping at different places to climb, photograph, and slide down on the disc sleds.  The loop road is not paved but, rather, is plowed to keep it open.  WSNM is interesting and different from most National Monuments in that visitors are encouraged to “play” on the dunes.  There are many very large parking areas, picnic areas with sun shelters, a horse staging area, and places where the park rangers hold programs and lead walks.  You can hike out into the dunes and you can even backpack/camp in them (after registering and getting a permit).  This use is permitted because the sands are still being formed and constantly restoring their natural appearance as the move across the floor of the Tularosa Basin.  They are a slow but powerful and persistent force of nature; unique and wonderful to experience.

Almost as amazing as the white sands are the things that manage to grow in them.  The sands eventually obliterate everything in their path.

Almost as amazing as the white sands are the things that manage to grow in them. The sands eventually obliterate everything in their path.

The Visitor Center was not open when we arrived so we stopped on our way out.  We watched the film that was running, stamped our NPS Passport, and then wandered around the gift shop but did not buy anything.  We then drove back towards town and pulled into the Visitor Processing Station for Holloman Air Force Base.

Bell retired from the U. S. Air Force after 20 years of service, so she has access privileges to Base and its facilities.  There is a food court in the Base Exchange building and we ate lunch there.  The commissary and other community facilities were also located in that area but we did not go in any of them.  We went instead to the see the static display of aircraft that have been based at Holloman AFB over the years.  Holloman is a Tactical Air Command (TAC) base, and the 49th fighter wing has flown many different jets over the years, including the McDonnell Aircraft F-4 ‘Phantom’ and F-15 ‘Eagle’, both of which my father helped design (structural engineer).  More recently the YF-117 Stealth fighter was based here and the wing currently flies the F-22.

A panoramic photo of part of the White Sands National Monument.  The loop road only goes through a small portion of the dunes.

A panoramic photo of part of the White Sands National Monument. The loop road only goes through a small portion of the dunes.

Bell, and her husband Jim, were stationed at Holloman 17 years ago when they retired.  The liked Alamogordo and decided to stay.  They own/operate the local cab company (Dollar Cab) which provides transportation services locally and also travels as far as Albuquerque to get people to/from medical facilities and care providers.  They also own Moore’s Auto, a used car sales and automotive service business that is now run mostly by their son.

We were back at our bus by 2 PM and arranged to pick Bell up tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM for another day of sight-seeing in and around Alamogordo.  Being back mid-afternoon I had some notion that I would get a lot of work done on our blog but it was very warm in our coach as we had to leave the roof vents closed due to the strong winds.  We were also both feeling a bit ‘off’ due to the heat and the larger-than-usual lunch we ate, so we turned on the air-conditioners and took naps.

Bell and Linda in front of an F-15 in the static display area at Holloman AFB.

Bell and Linda in front of an F-15 in the static display area at Holloman AFB.

When we got up an hour later we felt better and Linda started researching the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers park at Cochiti Lake north of Albuquerque.  She downloaded and activated Google Earth Pro (GEP) and started looking at routes.  One of the nice features in GEP, which is now free, is the ability to plot a route and get its elevation profile.  We both got involved in looking at possible routes out of the Tularosa Basin (I already had GEP installed on my laptop) and discovered that the only way out that did not involve significant up and down grades was south to El Paso, Texas.  We did not enjoy the drive through El Paso in December and it was the opposite direction from where we want to go.  We had planned to take US-54 north to US-380 west to I-25 north to Albuquerque /Santa Fe but changed our mind when we saw that US-380 is not a designated truck route and has one section with a 10.8% grade (climbing) going west.  Santa Fe is also above 7,000 feet so we started looking for RV park options near I-40 east of Albuquerque.

We had the leftover seitan mock stroganoff for dinner.  Linda found a PBS station and we watched Antiques Roadshow.  She went off to bed to read and I compiled another blog post and uploaded it before turning in.

 

2015/04/01-03 (W-F) The Land of Enchantment

2015/04/01 (W) Hello New Mexico

We were awake at 6 AM, which is not unusual for a travel day, and were up by 6:30.  I went in the house to use the bathroom and instead of beeping once the alarm started beeping continuously.  I found the touch pad and was able to silence it but it left me wondering if I had disturbed Curtis or when the police were going to show up.  Curtis was outside working by 7:00 AM and told me later that he did not hear the alarm and that it “just does that sometimes.”  We did not have breakfast or coffee, which is typical for us on a travel day, and targeted an 8:30 AM departure.  By the time we took showers, finished preparing the coach for travel, and visited with Curtis a little more we missed that target, but not by much.

We wanted to be out the gate before Curtis’s standing 9 AM RVillage team meeting.  By 8:45 we had the bus turned around and lined up with gate and Linda pulled the car up behind it.  At 8:50 we were hooking up the car when Curtis came over to open the gate, exchange final hugs, and go start his meeting.  We were hooked up and finished our light check by 9:05 and pulled out.  As soon as we were clear of the gate Linda texted Curtis while I lowered the tag axle tires and we were on our way.  We made the slow trip through Arizona City on Sunland Gin Road up to I-10 and were headed east at 9:17 AM.

Desert flowers in bloom in Hatch, New Mexico.

Desert flowers in bloom in Hatch, New Mexico.

I set the cruise control at 63 MPH and let the bus roll towards Tucson.  Tucson is not a difficult metropolitan area to transit and soon enough we were on the other side.  The speed limit on most of I-10 in Arizona is 75 MPH except through metropolitan areas and major interchanges.  The bus was running well and as traffic thinned out I bumped the speed up to 65 MPH and then to 68 MPH, and occasionally ran at the speed limit when passing slower vehicles.  At 63 MPH the engine turns ~1,800 RPM and I have long felt that the powertrain and chassis, not to mention the driver (me), are very comfortable at that set point.  The fact that 65 MPH is often the maximum speed limit in much of the eastern half of the country probably contributed to that impression.  What I discovered today was that traveling 68 MPH at 2,000 RPMs also suits the bus, and the driver, very well.

At 12:15 PM MST we crossed the border into New Mexico and entered Mountain Daylight Time, changing the time on my phone to 1:15 PM MDT.  Twenty four miles into New Mexico we stopped for the first time at a Pilot Truck Stop and topped up our fuel tank, taking on 110 gallons of diesel fuel.  It took less than an hour to complete the last 61 miles to exit 85 on the east side of Deming, New Mexico.  From there we had 1,000 feet to the entrance of the Escapees Dreamcatcher RV Park and pulled in.  Linda got us registered and navigated us to our site at 2:45 PM.  The park was only about 15% occupied so parking was easy.

Linda checked us in to the Park on RVillage and I called Butch Williams to let him (and Fonda) know we were finally on the move.  Curtis monitors his RVillage home feed closely, so we knew he would know we arrived safely.  Looking ahead to tomorrow the weather forecast for this area was for sustained winds of 25 – 30 MPH with gusts of 40 – 50 MPH.  Given that forecast we decided to stay tomorrow and head on to Albuquerque on Friday.

Sparky's restaurant in Hatch, New Mexico.  Funky facade and great food.

Sparky’s restaurant in Hatch, New Mexico. Funky facade and great food.

Escapees RV Parks and co-ops have a long standing tradition of 4 PM happy hour so we walked over to the club house/office at 4:15 and found seven folks sitting around a table with their beverages plus the couple that manages the office.  We stayed for a half hour and then went back to our coach to have an early dinner having only had pretzel snacks while we were driving.  Linda prepared a whole wheat linguine with a garlic, onion, and sun-dried tomato sauté and added vegan Italian sausage.  It was excellent, as usual.

Our son had texted us while we were driving and said he would call us later.  He received an e-mail a couple of days ago asking him to get in touch with the chair of the art history department at Eastern Michigan University.  That call took place today and he was offered the assistant professorship for which he has been interviewing these last many weeks.  We were obviously very excited, very pleased, and very proud.

2015/04/02 (R) A Day in Deming

Like many (most) places in the southwest there are lots of things to see/do in and around Deming, more around than in in this case.  The main thing I knew about Deming is that the company that makes the Steer-Safe aftermarket steering stabilizer is located here.  We had their product on our Itasca Sunrise motorhome and it made an enormous difference in the stability and tracking of the Chevy P-30 chassis.  This chassis was notorious for poor ride quality and handling, no doubt exacerbated by the stupid way in which manufacturers used it to create much longer motorhomes than it was designed for with long overhangs behind the drive axle.  Steer-Safe, Henderson’s Lineup, and Banks have, in particular, all made very good businesses out of correcting the deficiencies inherent in this chassis and powertrain (454 cu. in. Chevy big block V-8).  We were obviously excited to find and buy our Prevost H3-40 Royale Coach bus conversion, but I was sorry to see the Itasca go as it handled well and had lots of power by the time we were done spending money on it.

Linda needed to do some grocery shopping and at happy hour yesterday was steered towards Peppers as having better/fresher produce than the Wal-Mart.  She went to Peppers this morning but they did not have many of the things she was looking for so she went to Wal-Mart and said she liked it better.  I guess we got spoiled having access to Albertson’s supermarkets for most of the winter.  Linda called from the store to have me check quantities of ingredients on hand.  She then decided to make her chickpea salad and use it as a filling for small roll ups to take to the potluck dinner this evening.

Another flower in bloom in Hatch, New Mexico.

Another flower in bloom in Hatch, New Mexico.

After lunch we decided to visit the Luna Mimbres Museum in downtown Deming.  You never know what you are going to find in small town museums but we were impressed with the breadth of the collection and the quality of the space and exhibits.  Admission was by voluntary donation so we contributed something.  Once we finished at the museum we drove around town just enough to get a feeling for the place which was nicer in some places and not so nice in others.  In other words, pretty much what we see most places we go with the exception of places like Scottsdale or Lake Havasu City, Arizona where everything appears to be new and very upscale.

As we headed back towards the Escapees Dreamcatcher RV Park in the east end of town we decided to drive the extra 3.6 miles farther east to the St. Clair Winery’s Deming tasting room.  We learned that the Lescombe family has been making wine for six generations starting in France and, for the last 30 + years, here in the Mimbres Valley Appellation of New Mexico.  Their wines are made only from grapes from their own vineyards, with the main one being approximately 46 miles west of Deming.

The free tasting is normally two wines but we were the only customers there initial and Elly let us try small samples of several more, including their sweet and dry “tap” wine.  For under $4 a bottle they will fill your empty bottles with their red and/or white tap wines; sweet, dry, or blended any way you want.  The most unusual wines we tried were infused with red or white chili.  Linda did not care for the white chili but we both liked the red chili.  We are always looking for something that is unique to an area we visit and the red chili wine was what we have been waiting for so we got one for each of our kids and one for us.  Since we got 10% off of six (6) or more bottles we also bought the Mimbres Red, the Nebiola, and the D. H. Lescombe Port.

We had intended to go to the 4 PM happy hour at the RV Park but Linda got busy researching where we might go tomorrow and what we might do there while I worked on another consolidated blog post.  We did, however, remember to go to the potluck dinner where we met other park guests including three people who belonged to RVillage.

We went for a walk after dinner and then settled in for the evening.  I worked on my consolidated blog post for Jan 27-31, 2015.  While I was doing that we both started getting messages from our whole house generator.  Linda checked the utility company map and we were in a small outage area do to “local equipment failure.”  Before I went to bed I received several more messages indicating that the utility power had been restored, the transfer switch had switched power back onto the grid, and finally that the Genset had stopped.  It was good to know that it was performing as intended; that’s why we had it installed.

Hatch Chile Sales in Hatch, New Mexico.

Hatch Chile Sales in Hatch, New Mexico.

Temperatures back home have been warm enough that we are no longer concerned about water pipes freezing if we lose power.  The concern now is the sump pump.  As winter gives way to spring the sump pump runs every few minutes and a failure would be a disaster for our basement.  In addition to the whole house generator we have a secondary sump pump piggybacked on the primary one and set up to run off of a 12VDC automotive battery.

Before going to bed we decided to stick around Deming for a few extra days and use it as a base to visit some sites in the area.

2015/04/03 (F) The Chile Capital of the World

After taking care of some morning chores we drove to Hatch, New Mexico.  Several folks in town (museum, winery) and the RV Park told us that Hatch was THE chile capital of the world and was worth a visit.

We went north out of Deming on US-180 and then NE on NM-26 to Hatch.  Our Rand McNally Road Atlas indicated that this entire trip was a scenic route.  It was a relatively flat drive up a valley with low mountains on either side, and was certainly scenic enough although not in a dramatic, jaw-dropping sort of way.

The front (outdoor) area of Hatch Chile Sales in Hatch, New Mexico.

The front (outdoor) area of Hatch Chile Sales in Hatch, New Mexico.

Hatch was a small, quaint place but busy with people and traffic.  We had checked around and been advised that Hatch Chile Sales was the best place in town to shop for chiles, so we found it and purchased three different kinds.  We go a bag of Ancho chiles, which are dried/smoked poblano peppers, and a bag of dried red Hatch chiles.  We also bought bouquets of small hot pequin chiles, one for us and some as gifts.  Again, this is one of those unique things that we are always looking for as gift items.

We were in Hatch at lunch time and there are several restaurants in town, but we decided to eat at Sparky’s based on the recommendation of several locals and some online reviews.  Sparky’s is famous for their green chile cheeseburger although we obviously did not have that for lunch.  There was a long line to order, but we waited patiently and studied the menu.  We ordered a corn dish, spicy French fries, and chili infused lemonade.  All of them were very good.  There was also a singer / guitar player performing and we enjoyed his music while we ate.

We drove back to Deming by way of I-25 south, taking a short-cut through Las Cruces and back to the Dreamcatcher RV Park by way of I-10.  It was a much longer drive than if we had gone back the way we came, but it allowed us to see that the cut-off through Las Cruces was NOT a good choice for the bus due to lots of road construction with lane closures and shifts.  Even so, we made it back to the RV Park in time for some of the happy hour.  We also decided to stick around for at least another day and do some more sight-seeing in the area.