May 7th was our scheduled start date for our annual northern migration. This year we altered our route significantly in order to visit a part of the country we had not yet spent a great deal of time in the past. Our route would take us west through Texas and New Mexico and into Arizona as far as Phoenix. From there we would head north into Nevada before a turn to the northeast for what would be what we are now calling the geology tour of the national parks, national monuments and state parks of Utah. Finally, the plan has us heading north through Wyoming to our summer volunteer job in Yellowstone National Park.
To prevent death by too much reading, I will confine this post to the period between pre-underway and our Phoenix stopover. Hopefully, I will be able to get further posts out soon in order to share some pretty neat sights in Utah.
We did a lot of smart things this past winter and this spring to make sure we would not have to scramble to get ready to leave. For the most part this strategy worked pretty well. Over the winter I did a lot of maintenance in the motorhome correcting little things we have lived with for too long and a few major items.
Among the necessary or major items was determining where the ground was in our electrical system. Rather than bore you with each of the painstaking troubleshooting steps I took (some of which were necessary, others of which I added because I didn’t pay close enough attention to the breaker order in the panel) I skip to the finish which was a broken wire on the water heater which had made contact with the tank where the ground wire was also attached. Corrosion was the cause of failure. The source of the moisture causing the corrosion was not determined. It is now fixed and all is well. The other required electrical maintenance item was replacing the inverter. The inverter suffered some sort of internal fault just as we were leaving Yellowstone last fall and quite nearly resulted in a fire. On our first stop after leaving the park I by-passed the inverter in order to restore 115 volt AC to the motorhome. The replacement model I installed being nearly 10 years further along on the technological evolution line is a much smaller and lighter device with much simpler controls. Other than the expense, this was a no brainer of a decision. With the new more reliable inverter we have been able to leave the refrigerator running while traveling. In the past I was always suspect of the inverter and I will not operate the motorhome over the road with the gas turned on. Therefore, we always relied on the insulation within the refrigerator to keep our stuff cold while traveling. I now feel as though we may have entered the 20th century just a bit over a hundred years late.
Among the not so necessary, but much desired improvements was changing out of the front television, which was an old tube model that extended into the walkway from the entry door to the living area. Anyone taller than me bumped their head on the corner of the frame around the television as they entered. With the help of our wonderful neighbor, Mary Hesalroad, I was able to safely remove the old unit. Then it was a matter of determining how to mount the new flat screen television and make sure there were no holes. In order to install the tube television the builder of the motorhome had to cut out the ceiling material around the television. That presented a challenge as the new television would not cover the cutout. I used the board that had been the bottom cover to the old television to cover the hole in the ceiling. That worked quite well. I will tell anyone who asks that I put it there to reduce the glare. Using a small wall mount and a few scraps of lumber I was able mount the new television in such a manner as it overlapped the existing hole left to right and on the top. The mount has a minimal tilt feature that will allow us to tilt the top down while in use to eliminate reflection of the ceiling lights. However, while traveling it is in the vertical position and held in place by industrial strength hook and loop strips applied to the cabinet front and the rim of the television. To fill the two inch gap at the bottom and to allow an opening for the sound to come from the back of the television I stained a piece of maple lumber to match the surrounding cabinet front. I am really happy with the way this project turned out. The really great part is we were able to find a High Definition Television which is not a smart television. The price was at least $100 less than the same size smart television. Since high speed internet is pretty much a joke to anyone on the road as we are, there is no need to have a smart television in the motorhome.
I plan to replace the bedroom television later. My hope is that I will not only lose another head knocker, but gain some storage as the cavity behind that television is not only huge, it is finished making it ideal for storing seasonal clothing.
Over several weeks we systematically moved things to the motorhome that we wanted with us for the summer, but no longer needed at home. This was a great plan as we avoided a last day crisis of getting things loaded and properly stowed. We even took the cold storage items to the motorhome the night before underway as I had been running the refrigerator for two days on the 20 amp electrical service available at the storage location. All we took to the motorhome on May 7th were our pillows and toiletries. We were pretty darned proud of ourselves.
Before I get too much further in this story I have to share what we found one afternoon on our way back from the motorhome to our house. As we were passing the Hays Performing Arts Center Connie noticed a Yellow-crowned Night Heron standing near a pond on the property. We continued home and then I went back to the center with camera and tripod on hand. Here are a few of the images I made on a pretty windy afternoon just three days prior to our leaving.
If you have a minute, there are other images of this bird in my portfolio.
Back to May 7. We got out of the house in good time. We were out of the storage place in really good time. Our plan had us driving separately the short distance from the storage facility to the back lot behind our local Subway restaurant as the lot is large, flat and vacant. Most importantly, it is walking distance to Starbucks where we intended to have breakfast and a final cappuccino with our favorite baristas.
As it turned out, all our advance planning and the hours spent in making sure the motorhome was all ready to go were not quite enough to ensure a fast break from town. After connecting the car to the motorhome we did our normal light checks to make sure that the car tail lights mimic the motorhome signals. Sure enough there was a problem. By now there was a light rain falling making the troubleshooting a bit tougher. As usual, I started at the connector between the motorhome and the car verifying that we were getting a proper signal from the motorhome. That being good we worked our way back checking all physical connections and fuses and even the integrity of the wiring. Finally, as I was manually tracing wires I produced a spark at the ground connection to the car. At the same time Connie said the flashers were now flashing. I thought the connection was a through bolt into the undercarriage of the car, so we unloaded the back of the car (in the rain) and took out the false floor that hides the spare tire and jack. What I learned was that the ground was held in place by a sheet metal screw that had come loose. However, the hole was a bit over-sized, so even though I was able to tighten it slightly, I knew it wouldn’t last very long. When we got to Phoenix I was able to take the time to put a proper bolt through the undercarriage and double nutted it on the outside so the wires can be held in place independently of the actual ground post.
All the troubleshooting including unloading and loading all the stuff in the back of the car as well as tarps to lie on while working under the car cost us well over an hour. We now knew a Starbucks stop was out of the question and in fact we were looking at a second year with a short first driving day. Oh well. We did finally get safely out of town and although the weather was not great we made pretty good distance that first day.
The first several days of our journey were pretty routine. We didn’t do any stopping for sightseeing until we got to the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge outside San Antonio, New Mexico. We arrived early enough in the afternoon in the tiny town of San Antonio to afford us the opportunity to drive out to the refuge for an early evening drive around. We saw some 27 or so species of birds from great distances. Not too far from the end of the driving tour I spotted a Gambel’s Quail at the edge of the road in front of us. I stopped the car and debated getting out to try to get a photo or two. I knew I would have to move toward the bird in order to get the sun from being directly behind it. I felt that in doing so I would flush the creature. I don’t like to unnecessarily disturb any wildlife, especially for a photograph. The bird just stood there…. Finally, I decided to give it a try. I got out of the car as quietly as possible, changed lenses on the camera, and started to creep toward the bird. I was able to get off the road and into the ditch on the opposite side of the road as the bird. I made my forward motion below grade level thereby not causing any alarm. At several intervals I moved up the slope far enough to get off a couple of shots and assess the bird’s behavior. I eventually got this shot just before the bird walked off the road to rejoin its mate which had been just out of sight below the grade of the road on the opposite side of the road. What a wonderful bird and experience for me.
By the way, San Antonio, New Mexico has exactly three restaurants. Two of them were closed by the time we returned to town from the refuge. The third one which is probably the oldest and quite frankly should be an historic site, was about the oddest place we have been in awhile. We ordered nachos as an appetizer to go along with burgers as main dishes. When the nachos arrived we learned why the menu prices were as low as they were. There were likely no more than fifteen chips under the Cheez Whiz, but it was at least hot. The burgers were just that, burgers. No fries, no chips, and no “would like something else to go with that?” Oh well, we were, nor are we, in any danger of starving. The food tasted good and the interior of the restaurant was entertaining if not educational.
We spent the next night in Show Low, Arizona. This community seems to be the summer homeland for many desert beings. It is close enough to the greater Phoenix area to offer a quick get away from the summer heat without a lot of driving. There are a number of RV Resorts in the vicinity of varying quality and age. We had a nonbinding agreement with one place that I don’t believe I could recommend to anyone looking for just an overnight resting place. It was really a close, I mean close community of park models on winding narrow roadways that snake around trees, shrubs and buildings. We drove around more or less aimlessly looking for a vacant spot that looked like a place for one nighters with no luck. Since we had arrived on a weekend there was no one manning the office to give us a hand or instructions. So, we headed for the exit while Connie was getting on the phone to another resort a few miles away. This place was really quite nice. It was not a new property by any stretch of the imagination, but the owners seem to be putting some of their profits back into the park to keep it modern and accommodating to all. The name of this place is Venture – In. It is an Encore property. The duty camphosts were on their very first day on the job by themselves. While we were making our way to the park the husband of the couple was on the phone to some unknown person in authority to get instructions on how to process a credit card. Truly learning by doing.
This park was just what we wanted. An easy back-in site with good services arrangement making life very easy for the weary traveler. As we would learn the next morning getting out was as easy as getting in.
I was even able to get my first road run of the trip in from this location. I made the mistake of not paying attention to the elevation as we entered town. After a block of running at my normal clip I was willing to pay for a deep breath. I slowed my pace and eventually ran a little over four miles. When I got back to the motorhome I looked to see that we were at some 7000 feet and change. No wonder I had to slow down. It was good conditioning for Yellowstone.
Our next day’s drive took us through some of the most beautiful scenery we had seen since leaving home. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop anywhere with the motorhome pulling the car. All the big pullouts were on the other side of the highway and all seemed to be coming out of turns and heading downhill. That meant that for me to exit the pullout I would be crossing oncoming traffic lanes with minimal visibility while trying accelerate up reasonably steep grades from fully stopped. Not a wise thing to do with our weight. So, no pictures. However, there is a promise to return to this pass in the car some day heading the other way in order to get plenty of great images.
Our destination this day was to our fellow camphosts and great friends’ home in Glendale, Arizona. Rick and Donna Dumar have been our partners in crime at Indian Creek Campground in the summers and Mammoth Campground in the fall for the last four years. We have shared many an experience and told many a tale over copious quantities of beer and/or wine. We had talked often about visiting one another during the months we are not all in Yellowstone. This was our chance. Rick had offered to let us park in their driveway and even provide 50 AMP electrical service as well as water. We were all set.
We spent the first afternoon touring their wonderfully designed and decorated home and catching up on what we had all been up to over the winter. We spent four nights in the Dumar’s driveway, but the days were all over the place.
That first evening Donna wanted us to experience a long standing tourist attraction in the area that is about to be swallowed up by the urban sprawl known as Phoenix. The place was Pinnacle Peak Patio. It is one of those places that just does not allow ties. In fact the rafters are covered in the cutoff ends of ties that were worn into the building over its very long existence. On the walls are hundreds of license plates from all around the country along with photos of various visitors who had something to say. Many law enforcement personnel had left behind their badges or uniform patches, some with tributes to the owner. It is certainly a place full of history and I am certain it will be missed by many a local as well as many a return traveler who would like to go back for another steak. Did I mention that the long time chef and I think current owner reckons that by 2003, I think it was, he had flipped over 2.3 million steaks. That number may be off a bit, but if it is it is on the low side. I was truly amazed and tried to do the math to bring the number current given how long he had been working when he made the claim and how many years had passed since then. The new number, which I don’t remember, was truly amazing. The man has to have Popeye arms. Or at least one. The patio will close in June. How sad. There will be condos on the site within a year or so.
Food and drink were not the only thing on the agenda while visiting the Dumars. We took a road trip to Carefree, Arizona, just outside the ever growing Phoenix metro area. Carefree is known for its giant sundial among other things. The sundial is located in the center of town. According to Donna you used to be able to see it from far away, but the great buildup in the community has hidden it making it a bit of a challenge to drive to. We made sure that the sundial was telling us the correct time. We think it was, but there was a lot of math involved in adjusting the actual position of the shadow to real time taking into consideration time of year and a few other factors. It seemed close enough to me. I wasn’t going to miss lunch.
All around the sundial is a cactus garden featuring most of the cacti native to the area. I made a bunch of photographs of this beautifully laid out garden in fear I would not get other chances. So, although the photographs that follow are of native cacti of Arizona, they are not truly wild cacti. Worse than that, I cannot name most of them with great confidence because there were not that many signs to help me, I ignored the signs that were there, I didn’t get a local cacti guide, and finally, I left the best book I have on this subject at home. So having set myself up for failure I now present some wonderful cacti which will be named at some point in the future because many of these images will end up in my portfolio and available to the public via Fine Art America. For now enjoy a rest from the words with the brilliant colors and shapes of the desert.
Many of the cacti were in early stages of blooming.
I have always found the Saguaro to be a fascinating work of nature. This was the first time I have ever seen them in bloom. The Dumar’s have a really tall one in their front yard. I had noticed that it, too, was starting to bloom, but I would have needed a very tall and stable ladder to get the quality of shot that I got of the one shown above. As it turns out this would not be the best shot I would get either. As our stay in Glendale continued, so did our exploration. On a ride along Apache Trail a few days later I was able to get eye level of a truly wild Saguaro right in the middle of nowhere. Here are a few more images from around the giant sundial.
I would have loved to have seen this last one in the wild. As you can see from this image and the one that follows, there are lights wrapped around the entire plant. Not exactly what you would see in the desert.
We had lunch at another rather famous tourist eateries called Harold’s. Our waitress called our attention to the lunch special which was blackened prime rib sandwich with fries. She told us we had to try it as it was the best deal in town for $9.95 which was the same price as a burger. Well, Rick and I both had to have one. He ate all of his. I took half home and was still stuffed all afternoon. It was great. My cousin, Dan Madia, and his wife Karen live within about five miles of the Dumars in Peoria. We made sure to let them know we would be in town so we could get together for dinner. They took us to a wonderful Italian restaurant with real Italian waiters called Travola. While the dinner was absolutely delightful, the conversation was so much better. Dan is the eldest of the remaining Madias from my grandfather Frank’s branch of the family. He is a retired large animal veterinarian and a great guy. We shared a few stories about family over dinner and afterwards Karen showed us several photographs she took while on a photography tour. This was a treat for a variety of reasons. First the subject matter was wonderful. Second, Karen gives me credit for getting her interested in photography, a point Dan reminds me of every time we see one another as her enthusiasm has come with a pretty hefty price, but what the heck. Third and most important, her photographs are absolutely marvelous. She has a real eye for composition and uses natural light very well. We were truly impressed and not just a little jealous of her journey. All in all it was a wonderful evening.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that we were also able to take in a performance by the fourth, fifth and sixth graders in both band and string orchestra at the school where one of the Dumars’ grandchildren attends. It was a fun event and the music was surprisingly good for such young and hopeful musicians.
Our stay in Glendale was at least everything we could have hoped it would be. But as it is with all good things we soon found ourselves pulling in the slides and pulling up the levelers so we could continue our adventure.
Utah, here we come.