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.


Malone said...

Truly amazing post today from you! Whew! Talk about adventure. I'm glad you weren't actually in any tornadoes, but fires are pretty scary as well. At least you could see it coming.

Nancy and Bill said...

Well, you two sure have had a tough day or so. We are just glad that all has turned out well and you are both safe and sound!!

You did take us on an adventure that we will remember and hopefully never experience. But you made us aware to pay attention when we are in fire prone areas. So thanks for the education!!

Hope this is the end of the not so great stuff and you move on to some fun stuff!!

Safe Travels and Happy Trails....

Sherry said...

Hi Roger and Diane,

We have a mutual friend in Nancy Mills who sent a this link to your blog because we just left Palo Duro about 4 days ago and I am behind in my posting and had just posted about the Lighthouse Trail hike there.

I am SO sorry to hear about the fire in that beautiful place and happy that you were able to get out.

I'm wondering if we met you at RV Dreams 2010 and my terrible memory has reasserted itself AGAIN.

We are in Albuquerque at this point but wish we'd known about Oasis when we were in Amarillo on Sunday after leaving the canyon.

We leave Albuquerque on Sunday. Will you catch up to us? Or are you going up to Santa Fe?

Sherry Boyd

Travelwithwhippets said...

To Sherry... You do look very familiar and we were at the 2010 rally. We had to have seen each other, at least. We communicate with Gin & Syl and Nancy & Bill regularly. We ran into Evin and Steve in NC after the rally, and tried to get together in IN, but it did not work out.

Just read your blog. The Lighthouse Trail was on our to do list. Looks like we missed a great one - except for the snake.

We are leaving Amarillo today and heading north, but not to NM. Heading to the Nebraska panhandle and then the Black HIlls in SD.

Maybe we will run into each other some time.

Roger and Dianne

Travelwithwhippets said...

To Malone... You are absolutely right about the tornadoes. We are hoping to avoid them as we head further north. Hopefully, we are not driving right into them.