Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Grand(s) Time in SoCal

October 15 - November 15, 2020
Tombstone, Arizona - Frazier Park/Acton, California

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Once back from our New Mexico jaunt we return to our slow and quiet lives at our little desert oasis. The weather continues to be much warmer than we like, and it's a lot dryer than it was last year. 

Still hard to believe we've been here a whole year!! I don't imagine there's anyone who isn't saying "hard to believe" about most of 2020. 

A quick storm cools our temps for a couple days.
The motorhome goes to the shop for it's coolant notification and engine light issues. Not living in it means we can leave it for several days - another new experience for us. They don't find anything major and replace a cap that wasn't holding pressure. Hopefully that will be all it was since that simple fix cost a fortune :-( 

There's already "the list" of things we want to get done before heading out this Spring, none that keep us from traveling now. After two and a half weeks back at the house, we're packing up. Jeff is going with us this time too.

It's a very important trip to SoCal - to welcome our sixth grand child! Ezra's brother is due on November 4 and we head west on November 1. 

The longest drive we've done is the 380 miles to Desert Center, California, and we do it every time to break up the 600+ mile trip to see the kids and their families. All I-10, some of it pretty, some of it city traffic, none of it very exciting.

We moochdock at our friends' new place, and enjoy getting caught up with them over a nice dinner. Of course I fail to get any pics.

Spectacular California sunset.
Leaving Monday morning we hear from Brian that Shalise has been in labor for a couple hours (OMG!), but no rush. Their new house is an hour from the hospital so I can't help but feel a little bit rushed :-) 

The 250 miles to Frazier Park, California, go by quickly despite the added excitement. Except for the brakes coming on in the Jeep going up the Grapevine (I-5 grade out of Valencia). So glad we have that handy light that comes on when the Jeep brakes engage! Bill wiggles the thingy and they go off. Thankfully.

Back in the golden state.
We have a baby coming!

Set up is just plugging in and jumping in the Jeep at Lake of the Woods Mobile Village about six miles up the hill from their house. The "up the hill" becomes relevant later in the week.

Brian was right. There's no rush. Still, labor is happening and after giving us a short tour of the new digs, they're off to the hospital! Glad we didn't wait another day expecting the due date to be too early. 

Elliott Alexander Smith arrives on November 3, 2020. 7 lbs, 6 oz, he is a healthy little boy with a full head of dark hair and gray eyes. Ezra is excited that his little brother is finally here, and does well staying home with his Uncle Jeff for two nights.

Hours old.

Perfect

Ezra sees Elliott for the first time.

And shares him with the family.
I'm grateful to have this lovely experience to keep my mind off the election. Even when it's fairly obvious that Biden has won, it will still be a week before I can finally take a deep breath of relief. 

The newest family member and his parents arrive home to a very happy big brother, grand parents and uncle on Wednesday afternoon. Elliott sleeps most of the time, each day becoming more alert, giving us an occasional smile. He's a sweet and easy baby.

We visit and cook and eat and watch movies and play games each day, arriving about 10, leaving about 8. It's a lovely week of just enjoying family and welcoming little Elliott Alexander to the world. 

A final day of shorts and sunshine.

The big boys play a game.

The Smith boys.

Brothers
On Friday the weather takes a big turn with rain, snow and wind. It definitely feels like we're in the mountains, and with the RV park 500 feet higher than the house we're below freezing all night for our last three nights. It's beautiful and magical.

Now a fan of snow zoomies!

Backyard at the motorhome.

Backyard at the house.
For the first time in many years, my Steelers play Bill's Cowboys on Sunday. It's a fun game although those having-a-horrible-season 'boys nearly beat my undefeated team!!

What a blessing to have this very special time together. I'm so glad we arrived in time to be there for Ezra, and to welcome Elliott home.

Sunday night we drive to the rig in snow and ice, more than I've ever driven in! The next morning there's 3" of soft and crunchy white around and on us. We make a quick drive down the hill (the road is clear) to say our good-byes to the family who are headed out for a doctor's checkup.

While we're getting ready Ezra has brought his "snow bowl" inside to play with.

Such a lucky big boy!
First deep snow prints at the new house.
Back at the motorhome we have a new adventure! Heavy snow built up on the large slide topper keeps it from coming in all the way. Oh dear...... Bill pulls out the ladder and a broom and is able to clear it away. The sun on the other side has melted enough for the other two slides to come in easily.

At least we have bright blue skies!

Once we're slides-in and jacks-up we take Hwy 138 across the high desert to Hwy 14 to our next stop in Acton, California. Our usual park in Valencia is booked for the month of November so we were happy to get the last spot in this nice park about 25 miles from the rest of the family. Bright and sunny, it's still chilly for the next four nights. 

Even with COVID restrictions all of the Valencia kids are working so we manage to squeeze in visits with all but Richie, our youngest, Bill's number four. He's possibly been exposed to the virus and is being responsible. We're bummed to miss him, but appreciate the reality of today's world.

We spend a few hours in Nick and Jillian's backyard. Our second oldest, Bill's number one. Maximus and Mason are lots of fun, keeping us all entertained. They're growing too fast, and we miss being able to spend time with them. Fortunately their parents are great about photos and videos and chats while we're not here. 

Mason talks the whole time while Maximus plays with his very cool toy. 

Emily isn't able to get away from work :-(, so we spend a couple hours with the grand daughter and her daddy Travis, our fourth oldest, Bill's number three. With five grandsons, Reese is the only pink in a sea of blue for us. And of course she is the cutest little girl who ever lived!! What a bundle of happy giggles and wiggles she is. Her first birthday was Tuesday and it's so hard to believe she's already a year old.

Daddy and his beautiful little girl.

A room full of toys but nothing as cool as a pair of sunglasses.

Our last night in town Corey and Christie come to the park for chili bowls. Bill's second oldest, our number three. They celebrated their first anniversary in October and are both doing great. Of course I fail to get a photo although we have a great visit.

With COVID numbers rising again and shut downs imminent, we return east on Saturday morning. Sadly it means we don't see grand child number six - Henry Miles is my "borrowed daughter" Megan's little guy who will already be a year old the end of December. I hate missing a chance to see him again :-(

Henry, our munching Munchkin!
I'm hoping we can come back in February to get some more time with all these kiddos! Our summer plans include spending time here on our way to the coast. Praying the good vaccine news and stronger leadership will make a real difference in all our lives by then.

We again stop for the night in Desert Center. This time we sit around the fire with our friends, and enjoy the beautiful desert views of where we spent so much of our youth.

Desert twilight
Back to Tombstone, the motorhome is unpacked, parked and plugged in. A few projects will keep us busy, some visiting friends will make us smile, and the holidays will be quiet. I'm hoping our 80 degree temps will drop soon and we'll get some much needed rain. 

Elliott two weeks old
I'm missing the babies, wishing they were all closer, and that visiting wasn't such a chore. And I'm grateful they are all safe and healthy and happy.






Thursday, November 19, 2020

Glad We Went, Glad We're Back

October 8-12, 2020
Gallup, New Mexico; Holbrook-Globe, Arizona

Our week in Santa Fe flew by, and too soon we're heading back down the road. Again, it's weird to be "returning home" rather than continuing on to somewhere new. Still, with the pandemic amping up again, we're grateful for that little home to return to.
With the exception of a short slow-down for road construction east of Grants (and a pretty area to enjoy the reduced pace), it's an easy 200 mile drive on I-40.

Deep red on both sides.

There's no sign of what pushed all this rock over the edge in just one spot. 

We're always happy to be traveling in our house during these delays.
We've stayed at the USA RV Park before, easy and level and good for a couple nights. Like all the parks we've seen since San Antonio, NM, it's nearly full. 

I've read several novels set on the great Navajo Nation, including the wonderful series by Tony Hillerman. And yet another Southwest gem we've missed is Window Rock, Arizona - the capitol city of the Navajo. Friday morning we take the 40 minute drive through the reservation on CW-1. 


Melting Mickey Mouse
There's a lot of activity in the little town with sellers along the highway and drive-through eateries doing a brisk business. Back in Arizona, there are less masks, but still the majority of people are wearing them.

The Window Rock Tribal and Veteran Navajo Memorial Park is still closed. What this means is the main parking lot is closed, the flags are not flying, and the restrooms are unavailable. But access is open for walking through the information and getting you up close to the incredible formation that names this place. Only one other person is at the memorial, and another up on top of the "window" (there's a short, steep trail we pass on). 

Situated behind government buildings, this place holds a feeling of sacred quiet all its own. The huge Code Talker memorial is impressive and I'm reminded that the Burger King in Kayenta near Monument Valley has an exhibit everyone says is a must-see :-))

Window Rock

Between the posts are the names of Navajo veterans who gave their lives for our country.


So big!


A giant bear stands watch from across the street.
Saturday's drive is a quick 95 miles to Holbrook, Arizona. Although we take our time getting ready and driving on I-40, we still arrive at OK RV Park sooner than they're ready for us. We're only here one night and the park is 1/2 full, but we are 30 minutes earlier than the official check in. We've been here before and the long pull-throughs are level and everything works well. We always laugh at the half a dozen sewer hookups along many of the sites. 

Always good to have options!

We venture into Romo's for our last restaurant meal. Distancing is attempted, and most everyone is masked, so not feeling as safe as New Mexico, but not bad. Their Navajo Tacos are some of the best we've had.

Like our first night in Deming, New Mexico, I book us a night in Globe, Arizona, just so we can watch football on Sunday before making our way back to Tombstone. Football and the scenic drive turn out to be the only good parts of our Sunday.

We head south on Hwy 77 to Show Low where I was unable to find a vacancy, and continue through the pines on Hwy 60. On one of the short grades the second check engine light comes on again (the one that came on for a few minutes when we first started this trip), as well as the Check Coolant notification. Bill has already checked it but I find a place to pull out and he confirms it's full. Also the engine temp isn't going up. So we continue on. 

The Salt River Gorge is a stunning drive. Long views and beautiful canyon walls, it's on every list for scenic drives in Arizona. But it's steep. On both sides. For long stretches. There is no civilization for miles. And miles.

Not what you want when you are having "coolant" issues. 

Nothing to do but continue on with all fingers and toes crossed and prayers for divine intervention. The big pull out of the bottom is grueling at 30 mph in 3rd gear. The light and notification stay on, but still no over-heating and no "new" bells or lights. The stress is exhausting.

Of course we make it to Globe just fine. Until we have to reroute to avoid a 12' bridge and then make a very tight right turn over a narrow bridge to access the tiny RV park that has seen better days (like most of Globe). Although I've made reservations, the man has no record of us arriving but fortunately he doesn't hesitate to give us the last FHU site. It's snug and unattractive, but our satellite connects and I'm very glad to get backed in, shut it down and take a break!

Football and sandwiches and early to bed. We'll get up early and make the last leg to Tombstone on Monday morning.

The battery on the Jeep is dead.

We're able to push it out enough to pull the rig forward to jump start it. 

The cables fry. AAA will be an hour.

Bill calls a local tow company who sends out the nicest guy in town to get it jumped. Success after a couple tries. While paying the $50 I notice the brake lights are on in the Jeep. Our hero notes that the "same thing" happened in his car. Long story short, we fiddle with the pedal and it turns off the lights (undoubtedly what killed the battery overnight), Bill follows me through the tight turn and over the narrow bridge then hooks us up and we're finally on our way.

But......

Instead of taking us on the easy, flat route through Safford, the GPS routes us through more mountains and Tucson. About the same distance, but the last thing I want is more damn mountains! Nowhere to turn around so we again make the best of a beautiful drive and will the rig to just get back to Tombstone. 

The pathetic begging works and it's an uneventful drive with no second check engine light or notifications.

The first engine light that's been on since we left turns off as we turn onto our street. Can't make this stuff up!

I'm so glad we took the short getaway to New Mexico, it was wonderful to be back on the road and exploring. After the last two days I'm just as glad to be back at the house. It's also good to see Jeff!

Tuesday Jeff takes me to Sierra Vista for a new battery and I make an appointment to have the coolant light issue resolved.

Seems like months since we got back from New Mexico :-)













Friday, October 30, 2020

Checking Out Maybes in Santa Fe

 October 5-7, 2020
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Prior to our departure from Tombstone last week we were given a mission. An important mission to locate a piece of property in a remote area west of Taos.

My BFF inherited this quarter acre years ago but has yet to find her way there. They got close once, but were unsuccessful. Since then she's gotten the GPS coordinates and has now tasked us with tracking it down. Not knowing the state of the roads/access it's believed having the Jeep may be necessary!

So Monday we're off on what will be 100 mile drive to see if maybe we can find it.

We take Hwy 84 through small settlements, mostly one or two buildings along the road with several farms dispersed in the distance. As expected there is plenty to enjoy along the way.


It is very dry yet wildflowers flourish in some areas.

Autumn-colored vines catch my eye on this now closed cafe.

For a couple miles we're surrounded by these unique formations.
We lose Internet and our GPS for awhile, finding both again just before our turn east on Hwy 64. Having checked out the area on Google Earth, I know there are possible dirt roads that lead to our destination. Before long we're directed to make a right. A gate crosses the dirt road. Redirection takes us to another option where Bill opens the gate to let me pass, closing it behind us. 

Initially this road is looking passable for motorhomes (the ultimate goal is to see if the property could be an option for boondocking). When we find a large cleared space we're even more optimistic. 

This would work!

On the other side of the entrance road is this communication building. My mother called them "flying saucer repair stations" and they always give me a big smile when we come across one.
Unfortunately the GPS recalculates and directs us to continue down the road another two miles where we will then turn right. And the "good" road is no more. Deep ruts tell a story of a route that is likely impassable during and after any precipitation. To further confirm this is not a place for a motorhome, the road dead-ends at a shooting range with no right turn.

Not RV friendly :-(
Back to Hwy 64 and a couple more misses before we find what seems to be the "way in". A few rugged structures and trailers that most likely will never exit the area are scattered about, and several dirt roads of different widths and conditions crisscross around us. But alas we find what we're looking for!

Getting a closer look at this place we're glad the gate is locked.

We never really "need" the Jeep but I'm glad we have it.

"You have arrived at your destination."

They are small and there are very few of them, but Bill wants our friends to know they have a tree on their property!

The shrub is so thick that walking on the roads is much easier.

So we successfully complete our mission and while the location is peaceful with huge views all around, the goal of finding a place for boondocking in our motorhomes is a bust. 

We continue into Taos, checking out the interesting Earthship homes along Hwy 64. It's surprisingly busy in town with lots of road construction, and we just continue through without stopping. 

The "dots" are bottles. All seem to have at least a few in their walls.

All solar and wind powered.

Quirky is the norm.

Hwy 68 offers long views of the Rio Grande gorge. We crossed the bridge over it on Hwy 64 but there were a lot of people so we didn't stop to look (it's spectacular from the vehicle!). The highway drops down and we're hoping that maybe there will be water in the Rio Grande. Yes! And the prettiest scenery we've seen so far. All the roadside stops are open - parking lots and pit toilets. A couple people have stopped to fish, but mostly we have the space to ourselves just to enjoy the water.

We try to imagine the travel challenge this deep gorge presented to early tribes and pioneers.

Aspen glow along the hill above the river.

And along the water's edge.

So refreshing after all the dry terrain.



Green sampler.
One of my favorite resources for day trips and unusual points of interest is onlyinyourstate.com. I especially love finding scenic drives. We've done most of those listed in the Santa Fe area with the exception of the nine mile route (NM-475) from downtown to Ski Santa Fe. Tuesday we head out to give it a look. Knowing that we're headed to a ski area it's not surprising that we start climbing quickly after leaving a beautiful residential area of high-dollar properties. 

The smoke continues to dull our skies and I'm not sure if we'll be able to appreciate the "scenic" of this drive. Maybe there will something else to enjoy besides the long views.

Maybe....

You know how when you first see pretty trees or flowers or rocks, and you start taking photos and then start noting places to stop on your way back to be sure you capture those glimpses you missed on the way up? The first few miles are just like that. Clusters of yellow aspen and cottonwood are beautiful along the road.




And then we come around one corner and the whole mountainside explodes with color! It's such a surprise that I can hardly take it all in. What a glorious sight!!




This is a winding mountain road, lots of wow!s around each turn. In the middle of the amazing fall color is a stop called, not surprisingly, Aspen View. Also not surprising is the number of people here. To see the views. Of Aspens. I hear several people say this is the "peak week". We really scored on this "maybe"!







Getting to walk among these golden beauties is a blessing. No need to stop at those "glimpse" spots on the way back, we've immersed ourselves in fall color!

Turns out we didn't miss those long views at all :-)

In addition to all the San Antonio recommendations we loved from (exploRVistas.com), Jim also told me about a tasty and unique eatery in Santa Fe. Neither of us have had it before, but maybe we'll like Venezuelan food at Santarepa Cafe. We love it!! With everyone masked and outdoor seating it's another lovely and safe experience. Thanks Jim and Diana for this perfect recommendation! 

Delicious food and warm, personal service.
I've wanted a ristra every time we've been to New Mexico but except for the tiny one I got in Hatch years ago I haven't had the space for a larger one. There are many places in Santa Fe to buy them and maybe I can find one with the tiny chilis I prefer. I find the last one at a small roadside vendor, and a sweet little metal goat for our cactus garden. I'll have to post pics of them next time. 

I did manage to capture this tray of chilis drying in the sun. Don't they just feel like New Mexico?

Our week in Santa Fe went by too fast and now we prepare for something new - returning to our house. It's admittedly a weird difference in our travels.

We'll make a couple stops, have a bit more vehicular drama, and return to Tombstone. In the next post.