Monday, May 30, 2011

Driving North

Hi all, Dianne here.  The pretty photo above was taken in far western Nebraska.  Who knew Nebraska could be so pretty?    There are advantages to getting off the beaten track and discovering new places.  More on Nebraska later....

Since we'd been evacuated from Palo Duro State Park in Texas, we ended up in Amarillo for a few days and took care of some mundane chores there.  Once that was accomplished, we found ourselves with three extra days before our next reservation.  With the forecast for Amarillo being in the 100s and high winds, we decided to pack it in and head on north.

Taking Route 287 through the Texas Panhandle and through eastern Colorado, we made a leisurely trip by stopping twice.  Our second night we stopped in Brush, Colorado at a city-run RV park.  What a bargain!  Roger discovered it by checking out  If you've never taken advantage of that web site, I urge you to check it out.  There's a link on the left-hand side of our blog.  

We were a little nervous, with it being Memorial Day Weekend and all, but we arrived early enough to snag one of the last spots.  Free overnight parking with 30-amp electricity, no less!  The parking area is adjacent to a pretty city park, with a huge swimming pool, playground, fishing pond, and picnic shelters.

There is also a small museum in the park, and the lush-est green grass we've ever seen.  (Chaplin especially enjoyed his walks there).

One display especially caught my eye.  I photographed these vintage Red Cross uniforms in honor of my grandmother, Clara Robison, who served as a nurse to soldiers from World War I who had returned home stricken with the pandemic flu virus.  She, herself, caught the flu and almost died from it from working in the hospital with the returning soldiers. (Lucky for me she made it!)  But the main reason I photographed these uniforms is that she received a pin for volunteering with the Red Cross for 50 years.  She died in 2002 at 105 years old, but lived long enough to hold my grandaughter, Kaia.  Five generations....

Our next stop was in Sidney, Nebraska at the Cabela's campground.  Cabela's outfitters' world headquarters is in Sidney, Nebraska, and they have a very nice RV park adjacent to their retail store there (no, it's not free).

We got parked and set up, then walked over to the store.  Roger was really in his element!  We spent some quality time shopping.  We both purchased some new wicking-type duds to wear hiking in the heat.  We've discovered that we really enjoy traveling this way, driving a couple of hours and stopping.  What a change from traveling in vacation mode, hour after hour and arriving exhausted.

We lounged around a few hours the next morning, then headed north into Nebraska.  After crossing the Nebraska plains on I-80 in the past, we were not expecting the beautiful hills and buttes that we saw when driving north on Nebraska Route 71.

Here's just a sample:

We are now in Gering, Nebraska for two nights.

We found a gem of a campground, Gering's Robidoux RV Park, named after an historic trading post that was located nearby.  The campground is run by the city of Gering, and for $23 a night is a real bargain!  Here's the view from our front windshield:

Here's another view of the RV park:

  As soon as we got set up, I asked Roger to drop me off at the nearby North Platte Valley Museum in Gering, which I'd learned about from Nick Russell's book, Meandering Down the Highway.  

My husband and children will tell you that I'm no fun to accompany to museums, especially those that involve the western emigration and pioneer history.  Roger readily agreed to drop me off at the nearby museum, then head home to be with the dogs to ride out the rain and storms that were predicted.  (Our luck held out, and once again we were west of the tornado activity.)

I knew I was in a good place when I spotted the sod house display outside:

What a great little museum!  Lots of old photographs and displays of the area history.  One display I found unique and very interesting was a wall of photos of local residents of the early years of the area. 

Each photo gave a brief synopsis of the person's life; whether they emigrated to the area (if so, when and where from), their occupation and interests.  
Now that's what I call an arrowhead collection!

Here's an old stage coach:

Turns out, the Pony Express also traveled through this area.  There were displays about it, as well as my favorite, a painstakingly reconstructed chuck wagon:

This particularly interested me, because I'm currently reading the "Log of a Cowboy" book that I mentioned back in my Fort Davis blog.  The book is excellent, by the way, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.  The authentic detail in the book is fascinating (to me, at least).

 This chuckwagon display really brought the book I'm reading to life.  Here's a close-up of one of the placards at the chuckwagon display:

The pet photo of the day shows a tender moment with Chaplin.  Check back soon as we plan some good hiking here and a visit to Chimney Rock National Historic Site before we move on north.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Caprock Winery... Lubbock TX

Roger here....  This is a flashback post.  The day before our tense times at Palo Duro State Park near Amarillo, we enjoyed a relaxing, peaceful time at the Caprock Winery, just south of Lubbock.  

We are members of a winery/travel club,  Harvest Hosts.  For $25 a year we have access to hundreds of wineries across the country that allow RVers to dry camp (no hookups) in their parking lots overnight for free.  It is a great deal for the travelers and the wineries.  The travelers get a free night to stay (until they buy wine).  The wineries get to entertain new customers and offer purchases of their wines and gift shop items.

When I checked our route, I discovered that one of the wineries on the extensive list was within a mile of the road we would be on.  So.....  Welcome to the Caprock Winery!

The short drive from Odessa to Lubbock was filled with more oil derricks than one could ever imagine.  If not scenic, a very interesting drive.

Is that another oil rig?  Another cotton field?  Ah, no!  That is the winery.  What a peaceful place past the oil rigs and in the middle of the cotton fields.

Upon arrival, I parked at the end of the drive and walked inside to see where we should park.  Charles greeted me and told me we could park anywhere behind the building.  We found a flat spot in the grass.  Not as attractive as the landscaped entry or the comfortable tasting room, but home, nonetheless -- and free -- and just a few steps from the tranquil setting.

We walked the dogs and then headed for the tasting room.  We were the only ones there!  As many of you know, wine tasting can be enjoyable, but frenetic when there is a crowd.  If there are too many people, the pourers, talented as they are, move at a rapid pace.  We had Charles all to ourselves!  So pleasant!

We sampled a couple whites, a blush, and several reds.  They were all good.  (Sorry for the flashes in the mirror -- too dark for a photo without a flash).

Dianne checked out the gift shop.  We bought a cool cheese tray made from a melted wine bottle.  

And.... Dianne found a great t-shirt with the logo of one of the Caprock wines on the back.  She really liked the logo.  Me, too.

While we were finishing the tasting experience, a young couple came in to talk with Charles about renting the facility for their wedding.  We told Charles to take his time.  Charles then poured each of us a complimentary glass of our choice to enjoy while he met with the couple.  (Nice guy, good salesman.)

We adjourned to the shady, outdoor patio to lounge around and enjoy the wine.  As you can see, I was probably a little too comfortable.  (A blessing that I didn't know what the next day would bring.)

Eventually, we moseyed back to the tasting room to pay for the t-shirt and the cheese tray....   OH, and a case of the delicious and reasonably priced wines -- nine merlots (Dianne's favorite), and three Sauvignon Blancs (for me -  I usually prefer reds, but this chilled white wine was great as you can tell from the picture, above).

It was a wonderful afternoon and evening, AND it was free.  It was free until the credit card bill arrives.

We are slowly headed north, determined not to drive more than 200 miles a day, and preferring less.  Right now we are at the Lamar Sportsman's RV Park and Horse Motel in the plains of southeastern Colorado.  It is a well-run and comfortable place.  The doggies are enjoying a return to real grass as a place to lounge at the end of the travel day.  It is a special plus for Chaplin, because he is loathe to pee in anything except lush grass.  AND.... it must have rained here in the recent past because the landscape is green.  Refreshing.   (Temps in the 70s and low 80s instead of the high 90s for a change -- D.)

The pet picture of the day shows Bandido and Charlie in travel mode.  We always put Charlie in a carrier because we fear him getting behind the slide mechanism in the bedroom -- he has done this before.  If we deployed it without knowing he was back there --"Good-bye Charlie."  

When free to roam the motor home, Bandido and Charlie offer spirited play (or fighting, depending on one's perspective).  When traveling, however, Bandido offers empathy (or indifference; probably indifference) for Charlie's imprisonment.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Texas Burning

Roger here....  Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger....

We spent a very relaxing evening at the Caprock Winery lot outside of Lubbock, and we will write about that in our next blog, BUT today's entry is about our experiences -- frustrations, anxiety, escape -- since then.

Our check-in time at Palo Duro State Park was 2:00 p.m.  It should have been a short drive, so we lingered in the winery lot until about noon.  It was very windy when we pulled in the slide, and I registered concern about the slide topper (the awning that covers the slide) moving in a wind gust.  However, everything seemed to be fine.  I was wrong.  When we were within 25 miles of our destination, driving in the wind, I heard a bump.  "What was that?  Dianne, did you hear that?  What was that?"  I soon found out.  The next sound we heard was flapping.  I looked out the rear-view mirror and saw that a small section of the slide topper awning (about six inches) was flapping in the wind.  (This was the start of a very, very long afternoon and evening).  I slowed down, put on the emergency lights, and got off at the next exit (Happy, TX -- very misnamed from my perspective).  We pulled over in a vacant lot to inspect the damage.  The good news was that there did not seem to be any damage.  The bad news was that the two sides of the rolling mechanism seem to have rolled in unevenly.  One side was bunched tightly.  The other side was not as tight, creating a loose flap on the rear side.  

Our choice at that point was to open and then close the slide, hoping that it would correct itself with the rewind, or travel the last 25 miles to the campground and deal with it there.  I was afraid that if we tried the first option, and it did not work, that we would not be able to bring in the slide, stranding us in the vacant lot in Happy, TX.  When we went back inside the motor home, the steps only deployed half-way.  Crap.  What else could go wrong?  (A lot).  Silcone spray took care of the steps.  So we moved on at a very slow pace.  

Guess what?  Happy, TX has an exit from I-27, but not an entry ramp.  We looked at a map and listened to Sacajawea (our GPS - also misnamed).  After about eight flapping miles and several attempts by Sacajawea to take us down gravel roads, we made our way back to Interstate 27.  Dianne here:  the blowing dust that we saw as we drove was something I'd never seen before.  Huge clouds of dust made the entire lower layer of the horizon beige, with tumbleweeds blowing across the road and dirt devils visible along the way.  I snapped this photo out the front window.  You can kind of tell what it was like, although the photo doesn't show the magnitude of the blowing dust:

We were limping along, half-way on the berm, at 40 mph when another gust of wind caused another loud bump.  Crap.  However, when I looked at the side of the motor home through the mirror, it appeared that the entire mechanism had shifted and rewound itself -- IN A GOOD WAY.  The flapping stopped.  After ignoring Sacajawea, again (she was directing us to a crummy road instead of directly to the road to the state park), we arrived at Palo Duro Canyon State Park for a six-night stay.  Wrong.  At that point, my only worry was that the slide topper had actually fixed itself.  I would deal with that later.  (Oh, and that we needed fuel and would have to wait for our departure before finding a gas station big enough to accomodate us).  

We slowly negotiated the 2-mile, curvy, 10% grade road into the canyon (the only way in or out), and set up camp.  We passed longhorn cattle along the way.  This was a beautiful place.  Things were getting better. Yeah, Right!

Dianne fought with our satellite (we had TV, but not internet for some reason) while I set things up outside.  We were going to be here for a while, so I got out the grill, the mat, and the chairs -- finding some shade under a small tree.  Bandido and Chaplin were happy.  A wild turkey invaded our site, piquing Chaplin's interest and causing Bandido to do his low growl warning of trespassers.

I was beginning to calm down and enjoy the view.  I got out the state park map and started figuring out the best hikes for Dianne and me and the dogs.  We had six days, so we could do one a day.  Not.

Dianne gave up (temporarily) on the internet feed.  (We also discovered that our cell phones did not work in the canyon.)  We had dinner and settled in to watch the pretty view out our front windshield, and to watch the final performances on American Idol.  

Twenty minutes into the show, the view out the front windshield canceled any thoughts of watching TV.  I knew what it was, and I knew that there was only one road out of the canyon.

I went outside and talked with some fellow campers who were going to drive up the canyon road to check things out.  Anticipating a possible evacuation, Dianne started putting things away inside while I threw the outside stuff in the car and the storage bays in a helter-skelter way (not normally what I do).  The campers came back and told us that there was a mandatory evacuation.  I ran to the RV next door to pass along the information, and met resistance from the occupants.  The impending danger was evident.  I had no time to argue with them.  (I am always amazed that some people are so stupid.)  The park ranger who arrived five minutes later changed their mind.  

Dianne followed the motor home in the car (we did not take the time to hook it up) as we crawled out of the canyon.  At the entry gate, a sheriff's deputy told us to move away from the park.  No problem.  A few miles down the road we stopped to connect the car.  Here is the shot of the fire at that point:

We still needed fuel and knew that there was a Love's about twenty miles away.  Dianne took a picture of the sunset (pollution often makes   sunsets interesting).  Dianne here:  I learned that when we were working in Coffeyville, Kansas at Amazon in the fall of 2009.  There was an oil refinery there (hence air pollution), but Coffeyville had the most beautiful sunsets that I enjoyed every evening on my way home from work.

We passed the following sign on the interstate.  Duh!

At the gas station, we talked to a very friendly couple who had also been evacuated.  They told us about a good RV park on the west side of Amarillo.  Since we did not have a definite plan, that is where we went.  We arrived well after the office closed, but there were plenty of spaces and a sign saying we could register in the morning.  Whew.  The adventures of the day were over.

The Oasis RV Resort is really nice -- concrete pads and patios, restaurant, pool, hot tubs -- and only $24 a night.  It is right next to the famous buried Cadillacs of Amarillo, and has its own buried motor home.

Since Amarillo will be our last touch of civilization for a while, we decided to spend a few nights here instead of returning to the park (it's still closed, anyway).  We had a few nuts-and-bolts things to take care of (fix the slide topper, find a bike shop to repair two flat tires on our bikes, laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, etc.)  The satellite internet coverage was restored.  Our cell phones were working.  No reason not to use this time wisely.

The winds did not subside over night, and in fact, they increased.  Some of the gusts reached 70 mph!  We used those winds to our advantage.  With me on a ladder, I was able to rewind the slide topper as the gusts caused the mechanism to unroll for short periods of time.  As soon as the repair was done, we closed the slide for the rest of the day, and night.  Dianne again:  We also put down the roof-top satellite for the next six hours.

During the afternoon, after grocery shopping and dropping off the bikes at a repair shop, we were watching a local TV channel, hoping to pick up some coverage of the fire from the previous day.  Guess what!  The local news broke into their normal coverage to report that there was a new wildfire -- this time in Amarillo.  Crap.  

We went outside and readily found the smoke.

We could watch the smoke from our camp site, but this time the fire was moving away from us  (heading into the city).  (Headed toward the bike shop and our bicycles.)  Schools and neighborhoods were evacuated.  The locals were clearly and rightfully concerned.  Fortunately, it was contained after a few hours.  

The fire in the canyon area is still burning and not under control.  At one point it was twelve miles long.  Thousands of acres have been destroyed.  We are very thankful to have escaped and have sympathy for the residents of that area and the challenges they have ahead.  We lost a few days of hiking.  Some of them lost a lot more.  Fortunately, there has been no loss of life.

The winds stopped this morning.  We pulled out the slide.  It is OK.  Laundry day.  Life is good.

The pet picture of the day depicts the boys resting on the couch.  There was really nothing else for them to do in the extreme winds.

Monday, May 23, 2011

WATER & SAND - Balmorhea and Monahan Sandhills State Parks

Roger here.... Ahhhhh!   Four days at the beach! Water, Sun, Sand... What else could you ask for?
Actually, we are still in West Texas, and nowhere near the ocean. As we continue to meander in a northern direction (ultimately to North Dakota before heading east), we discovered two very different Texas State Parks within a hundred miles of each other.  We spent two nights in each one.

Balmorhea State Park... Sun and Water.... Why is there a swamp in the middle of the oil fields in such a dry area? An active artesian spring!

Years ago, the water from the spring was captured (by concrete) into a gigantic swimming area. The floor of the pool remains natural, in some places 25 feet deep. A local business actively conducts scuba diving lessons at the pool.  Look closely, and you can see one of the divers.  

It seems to be a local attraction.  The campground filled when the weekend arrived, and so did the pool.

The overflow from the pool is channeled throughout the park in a series of streams and waterfalls that eventually reach Balmorhea Lake, several miles away.

Look at the clarity of the water.

The camping area was very private and under constant shade.

Monahans Sandhills State Park...  Sun and Sand....  After a drive past innumerable oil derricks, we arrived at the other half of the beach -- the sand dunes.

At the visitor center, we learned that the sand dunes here are composed of tiny particles of quartz.

Driving to the campsite, we knew this place would be special.

What a great site, and what a great place to play...

We rented a sand saucer for the day and soon found a steep dune for some fun.

The walk back up the dune was not the fun part, but it was great exercise :-)  Two retirees playing in the sand.

It was never difficult to figure out where we had been.  

The pet picture of the day shows Bandido in his daily, helpful attempts to assist me as I put on my socks.

Stay tuned as we discover other new things as we travel north.  Next up... a winery and a canyon in the panhandle of Texas.