Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pecans and Dairy

Driving east to and through El Paso, Texas, the first big impression is that the area grows lots of pecans. Just look at these lush orchards.

But there is even more emphasis on dairy cattle. There are miles of dairy farms along I-10 as you drive from the west side toward El Paso. I thought Wisconsin and California had the corner on the milk and cheese market, but maybe not. I'm not sure these photos will really show you the extent of the diary farms.

We also saw several trucks loaded with feed for the cows.

As we drove into town, we passed a very colorful outlet mall.

We think these houses are in Mexico, just to the south of I-10.

There is obviously a lot of oil refining in the El Paso area.

We continued east to the town of Balmorhea, TX, where we stopped at Saddle Mountain RV, a Passport America park right along I-10. The landscaping is very attractive, the electric hook-up good, and the Verizon internet signal very adequate.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Railroad Days

Saturday, we drove to downtown Las Cruces to check out Railroad Days. The old Santa Fe depot is now the City of Las Cruces Railroad Museum. This neat mural is on the building across the street from the museum.

The benches inside the depot definitely look southwestern.

This old trunk would have carried lots of clothes for a long rail journey.

Most interesting were numerous model train layouts. They ranged from Thomas the Tank for young children to several large electric sets.

One display helped visitors to understand the different gauges of model trains.

Christine Gonzales grew up in nearby El Paso, TX, and became the first female train engineer on the Union Pacific Railroad and in the United States. She worked on the El Paso-Las Cruces line. This display in the museum honors her.

Here are a couple of other neat things we saw in the museum.

The museum is restoring an 100+ year-old caboose. It was open to visitors on Saturday. Years ago, we rode the Heber Creeper, a tourist railroad in Utah, and were able to ride in the caboose part of the time. That was fun, but this caboose is in more of its original condition than that one was.

One display was run by women from the El Paso Harvey Girls Association. They explained the life of Harvey Girls, who worked in restaurants along the railroad lines in the Western United States. The following explanation from Wikipedia will help explain their role for those who aren't rail buffs.

In 1883, Harvey implemented a policy of employing a female white only serving staff. He sought out single, well-mannered, and educated American ladies, and placed ads in newspapers throughout the east coast and midwest for "white, young women, 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent". The girls were paid $17.50 a month (approximately $443 in today's terms)[7] to start, plus room, board, and tips, a generous income by the standards of the time.
The women were subjected to a strict 10:00 p.m. curfew, administered by a senior Harvey Girl who assumed the role and responsibilities of house mother. The official starched black and white uniform (which was designed to diminish the female physique) consisted of a skirt that hung no more than eight inches off the floor, "Elsie" collars, opaque black stockings, and black shoes. The hair was restrained in a net and tied with a regulation white ribbon. Makeup of any sort was absolutely prohibited, as was chewing gum while on duty. Harvey Girls (as they soon came to be known) were required to enter into a one-year employment contract, and forfeited half their base pay should they fail to complete the term of service. Marriage was the most common reason for a girl to terminate her employment.
In a mythology that has grown around the Harvey Houses, these female employees are said to have helped to "civilize the American Southwest".

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wind and Falling Shades

The wind is blowing. And blowing. And blowing. We are in Las Cruces, NM, and the wind has been blowing every afternoon. We planned to stay only two days--Thursday and Friday--but by the time we arrived, winds were predicted for Saturday so we paid for Saturday night, as well. Yesterday, the forecast was for winds on Sunday, so we paid to spend tonight here, also. And now, the wind is supposed to blow Monday, tomorrow, so we will probably go in tomorrow morning and sign up for one more night. In ways, it has been good to sit for this long. John had some stomach bug while we were in Willcox, and it came back after we got here. We have reservations in Junction, TX, Wednesday, but even that can be changed it the wind continues.

Then, last night, when I was pulling down the shades in the RV, the Deluxe Day-Night Roller Shade on the window by our dining room table fell. It didn't just come unrolled. It fell out of the window with a bang. Since there are two shades--one a sun screen and one a black-out shade--on separate rollers, the shade is heavy and made a loud noise. I'm just glad it didn't fall while I was asleep.

When we examined it this morning, John found that the bracket had broken on one end. We drove to the Camping World in Anthony, Texas, about 24 miles from here, today, but they don't have the part. So, tomorrow we will try the Mobile Suites factory.

As I wrote last week, the foot fell off our front landing gear as we drove here from Arizona.  We contacted the factory about that issue, too.  As a temporary measure, they recommended we get a strong 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 board to put under the front leg.  We tried a 2 x 10.  It didn't work all that well. The RV is too heavy for that.

We are really glad we carry weight with us for our semi-regular workouts. We found a 10 pound weight fits right under the front leg and spreads the weight across the orange plastic leveling blocks. Hope it continues to work till be meet up with the part that is being sent to us in Junction, Texas, where we will spend a couple of days later this week.

At least the broken bracket doesn't affect traveling with the RV or parking it. We can live without the shade for a while.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

An Adventure, Maybe?

It's been quite a day. About 2 am today, we woke up to a "chirp"....."chirp"....."chirp". What is that? Not good, it's the LPCO detector. Do we have a propane leak? Where is the booklet on that alarm? After I found it and read the pertinent sections, we learned it was a fault alarm, not a leak alarm, which would be "chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp." After pushing the reset button, it turned off. Until 3:58 am, to be exact. I closed the sliding door between the bedroom and the alarm and we slept till 6.

Thank heavens for cell phones. How many of you were on the road before we had these wonderful devices?  After we woke up and had our coffee, I wanted to call the manufacturer of the detection device.  Years ago, we would have had to stay in one place long enough for me to find a pay phone, call the manufacturer of the device, wait on hold for 5 minutes or so, to learn the name of a business at our destination--Las Cruces, NM--that services Atwood products. Later in the morning, we would have had to pull over at another pay phone and call that business, only to learn they don't deal with COLP alarms. They referred me to an RV supply business in Las Cruces. It would have taken another stop at a pay phone to call the factory where our RV was built to learn how to disable the chirping detector. Since it is only warning of a fault in the device, not a gas leak, we wanted to at least get silence tonight. The service supervisor called back and said there is a fuse that can be pulled to give us silence tonight.

At one point during our drive east in I-10, I heard a clink and looked to see something rolling off to the median from the vicinity of our RV. I didn't think of it again. A little later, a small red car pulled up and I though they were going to pass. Instead, they honked. When I looked (I was driving), they pointed down and toward the RV. I quickly pulled off on the right shoulder. John walked around the RV and truck and finally noticed that the sewer hose, which is stored in a tube attached to the bottom of the trailer, was trailing out on the ground! He put it back in the tube and re-secured the cover.

We pulled in an RV park in Las Cruces. As I prepared to use the automatic level-up system, I looked at the driver side front leveling leg. Something didn't look right.  When lowered, this is what the leg should look like.

Instead, this is what I saw.

Notice this is no foot or landing plate on the bottom of the leg. That must have been what I heard go "clink" as I drove down the road. (Do you suppose that is what opened the cover so the sewer hose could spill out?)

More phone calls ensured--to a local mobile RV repairman, a local RV dealer, and an RV parts and supply business. Oh, yes, and to the factory, to the same service supervisor I had talked to earlier today. He suggested I call someone local, since our level-up system is available on many RVs. Since I already knew no one here had them, he suggested I call his parts department and have one sent under our warranty. Hopefully, that will happen.

To make a long story a little shorter, two people we called suggested we put a 2 X 4 under the leg to support it. We don't have any of those, so we turned the orange leveling blocks upside down so the screw at the bottom fit in one of the holes. We are good for now.

Not the smoothest day for our second day on the road after sitting still for six months. But, everything is good for now. It took nine cell phone conversations and some thinking, but we are set up and happy.  And we are so grateful for our cell phone and advice from the factory.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

We're On Our Way

Here we are at 9:15 this morning, pulling out of the spot where we have been parked for six months. All 53 feet of RV and truck, reaching 13 ft 5 inches at the top.

Since this is the first time we have pulled the trailer with this truck, we had to take a picture. We drove 196 miles to Willcox, AZ. and the truck worked great and the RV pulled smoothly. We are pleased.

We carry our bikes on the front of the truck, so this is our view out the windshield. It helps explain the quality of photos I take while we travel.

We passed Picacho Peak on our way south. This was the scene of the most difficult hike we have ever gone on. We sat the the very top of that peak.

Texas Canyon is always beautiful east of Tucson on I-10.

It is so good to be on the road again, off to new adventures.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A New Experience

Does anyone know what the apparatus is?

We sure didn't. Not until we visited friends from church, Len and Pauline, for lunch Sunday after the Easter services. This couple has spent many years living in Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Switzerland, where they were helping Christians develop children's ministries and doing outreach in their communities. After all those years, their family's favorite meal is raclett from Switzerland.

The machine above is a raclett machine, which melts the tangy Swiss cheese of the same name. You can see part of a wheel of the cheese in the picture. It is melted by the heating element in the black section above the cheese. The melted cheese is then scraped off onto potatoes, pickled onions and pickles and served with bread. You can read more about raclett in this Wikipedia article.

We had Riesling wine with the meal. Dessert was poached pears with a Swiss chocolate sauce and accompanied by a middle-eastern filled cookie.

The meal was followed by coffee, brewed in an espresso machine. We had our choice of several different types of coffee, each in small foil cups much like Keurig coffee but smaller and stronger. 

We have eaten cheese fondue before, but this was a new experience and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. It was matched by the great time we had learning about Len and Pauline's fascinating life. We also were impressed with the marvelous porcelain painting that Pauline does.

The lunch was an interesting and quiet way to spend the afternoon following the Saturday evening Easter Vigil and Sunday Easter worship services. The decorations at Epiphany for this feast were certainly beautiful.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

I want to wish everyone a Happy Easter. Today is when all Christians celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Most years, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Easter on a different Sunday than Western Christians, but this year we all celebrate the holy day today.)

May you know the peace of joy that Easter brings.

Pink and white Easter cactus flowers.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nearly Abandonded

Don't get me wrong. It isn't being alone that bothers us. Really, we enjoy that at times. We spent two months in an Oregon wildlife refuge where the only other people there were the manager and his wife and they lived a mile away. We enjoyed the cattle in our front yard and the silence.

Once, canoeing on a Wisconsin lake, we came on a campground where there were trailers and tent trailers and tents all set up, grills out, chairs and awnings in place, but there were no people and no vehicles. It reminded us of an abandoned city in one of those movies about nuclear bomb attacks. It was eerie. We later learned, the campground was only used on weekends, but the campers rented the spaces for the whole summer.

It is almost that empty at Valle del Oro now. This is a community of more than 3,000 people in February and March. Today, there are less than 300 people here. Most park models are empty, very few RVs remain. It is such a strange feeling. Where are Joe and Isabel, Walt and Eve, Will and Gert, Vern and Jane? It is like we were in a ghost village.

If the temperature would stay out of the 90s, we would enjoy this more. It is easy to walk or ride bikes on the streets now, at least most of the time. Usually, we have the whole road to ourselves. We do have to be careful, though. Just as we don't expect anyone to come around the corner, they don't expect us. It wouldn't be hard to have a collision. The other night, there were 2 bikes (ours), 4 golf carts and 2 cars at one intersection in under one minute. At least we know we aren't here all alone.

Next Tuesday, we will be "On the Road Again."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

City Oasis

In the center of the desert metropolis of Phoenix, Tempe Town Lake provides a wonderful oasis for water sports and walking-running-biking. Yesterday we rode our bikes around the lake and were impressed with all the activities taking place. Construction of the dams for the lake began in 1997. Inflatable rubber dams were placed on the east and west ends of the future lake in the normally dry bed of the Salt River. The Central Arizona Project (CAP) uses water from that River for a system of canals throughout the Phoenix valley, making development and agriculture possible here. In 1999, CAP water was used to fill the lake.

The lake has five miles of 12-foot wide concrete paths along the north and south sides, providing lots of space for our bike ride, as well as for runners and walkers.

On our way back to our truck, we rode across the bridge shown in the previous photo. Here is a view of that bridge.

If you want to learn more about the lake, check out this Wikipedia article.

When we parked the truck to unload our bikes, we were right next to this group of Boy Scouts. We were invited to join their ride, but we learned they had already ridden for 20 miles and had 30 more to go to complete their 50-mile ride. Impressive. We passed on that invitation.

These three sculptures are called Trees of Life. They honor people who donated money to plant trees somewhere. (I didn't stop to completely read the sign.)

There was an outrigger canoe race going on. Each canoe has six people rowing and they can really move through the water. We watched one 200-yard race with rowing teams of 14-year-olds.

I really don't know what these boards are called, but they are ridden by one person, standing up, and using an oar to control the movement. It must take tremendous balance to do that.

Here are the contestants, waiting for their race to be announced.

I really liked this waterfall, dividing the Tempe Performing Arts Center patio from the lake trail.

When we moved a little further along the waterfall, we found a group of attractive young women in bikinis, having their photos taken.

It must have been a beauty contest, because as we returned to our truck, we found a circle of the women wearing crowns and ribbons. We searched online to find out what was going on, but didn't find anything.

There is a playground in shade of one of the bridges over the lake. In addition to the bridge we rode across, there are bridges for Mill Avenue and Rural Road, as well as a railroad bridge that carries the Metro Light Rail tracks.

In the midst of all this activity, we even saw a great white egret on the hillside by the lake. This photo was taken with a cellphone camera from quite a distance. Sorry if it is a little blurry.

We had a great bike ride, going 7 to 8 miles, both ways around most of the lake. What a fun morning.