Saturday, November 1, 2014

On To Tennessee

Our stay in the Branson area was enjoyable but definitely not our groove.  It's really a tourist trap  town and most of the shows are not name entertainers.  We did take another very nice 120 mile motorcycle ride through some beautiful country that included a ferry ride across Bull Shoals Lake.

I began to experience some discomfort the day before we left and thought it felt like a recurrence of the pancreatitis I had earlier this year.  The pain was tolerable and I did not seek treatment.  I just did what they did when I was put in the hospital -- I stopped eating and drinking.  The next day we drove to a Corp of Engineers campground near Poplar Bluff, MO.  The campground was beautiful and had full hookups for only $12 per night.

After setting up we went to the Veterans Urgent Care center where they took blood and verified that I had pancreatitis.   They wanted to put me in the hospital but I declined since I was not feeling all that bad and knew how to treat it.  I went back the next day for another blood test to verify that I was improving.  After a couple more days I was feeling fine but just avoiding as much fat as possible to give my pancreas a rest.

After four day at the COE park we drove on to Nashville where we camped at the Tennessee State Fair.  It was perhaps the strangest camp site we have ever been in.  Although the web site says it costs $35 per night, there was no way to pay anyone nor did anyone come around.  There was only one other RV there.  Oh well.  Free is nice.

The next day we continued on to the Chattanooga area where we set up camp in the same campground we spent last summer in.  We've been over to see Darin, Diane and Christine's family since we've been here.  It looks like I will be helping Darin with a room he is building inside their garage.  It will become Diane's Hair Salon.

The temperature was nice when we got here but today it turned very cold.  The high today was only 43 and it is supposed to freeze tonight.  Welcome to winter.

I'm still feeling fine but trying to eat fairly low fat.  If I don't have any more problems I will follow up with my Dr.'s in Prescott when I get back to Arizona.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wandering East

After our visit to Chaco Canyon we relocated to Edgewood, NM where we spent a week visiting old friends and places in the area.  We attended church at Valley View Christian Church which has grown to average attendance of 600.  When we first started going there the average attendance was about 20.  It's now a huge place and we know only a very few people.

I'm not going to list the names of the folks we visited because I will probably forget someone.  Let's just say our calendar was full and we say many old friends.

We drove to Santa Fe and had lunch at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants; Tomasita's near the train station.  It also happened to be Balloon Fiesta week so we went to one of the Mass Ascensions to watch about 500 hot air balloons launch and fill the sky.  That brought back some fond memories, but the Balloon Fiesta is not as large as it once was.  Apparently the growth of Albuquerque and increased costs have reduced the numbers of balloonists.

After a week in Edgewood we continued east as far as Amarillo where we ended up staying three nights.  West Texas is no fun when weather moves in and we had very strong winds for two full days.  We just hunkered down and waited it out.

Our next stop was just an overnight stop at an Indian Casino near Oklahoma City.  The full hookup camping is free and they give you a $10 gift card to play the slots.  You can't cash in the card but you can keep any money you win, so we walked away with $4.50.  Not bad to get paid for camping.

Our next stop was one of those that sometimes don't work out all that well.  We had planned to stay at a Corp of Engineers park on the Arkansas River near Ft. Smith, AR.  I read the reviews and checked it out on satellite maps and it looked fine.  However, when we got there we discovered that it was completely tree covered.  The Google satellite views had been taken in the winter time and did not show the tree cover.  TV is important to us and there were no sites where we could see the satellite, so we found a nearby overpriced RV park for the night.  Oh well.  You've got to be flexible if you plan to live as we do.

The next day we moved to Hollister, MO, a small town just across Turkey Creek from Branson, MO.  This is a real touristy area with many shows (mostly country type) and lots of places to spend money.  We plan to spend a week looking the place over but it's doubtful they will get much of our money.  We'll see.  It is a very pretty area of the Ozark Mountains and the fall colors are starting.  We took a motorcycle ride yesterday and may well do some more of that while we are here.

More later.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chaco Canyon

One of the places we never visited when living in New Mexico was Chaco Canyon.  It is the site of a very well developed society of Native Americans who lived in a remote area near Farmington.  They lived there between about 850 and 1100 AD and probably were the ones who later inhabited Mesa Verde and many of the pueblos that now dot the landscape in New Mexico.

They were major builders and constructed some four story buildings that housed hundreds of people throughout the canyon.  The site is one of significant cultural importance and we found it interesting to see how they lived.

The road to Chaco Canyon is mostly dirt and is maintained by San Juan County except for the last few miles.  It appears that no one maintains that last section.  Once you enter the National Monument the road is paved and very well maintained.  Many times access is completely cut off because of an impassable road.

We stayed for two nights in the parking lot of the San Juan County Fairgrounds between Bloomfield and Farmington.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Rest of the Summer

We spent the rest of the summer in the same location at Blue Ridge Ranger Station.  Our activities were pretty much the same for the entire time we were there.  I worked maintenance three days a week and Dianna worked in the office two half days each week.  I think I covered our duties pretty well in my previous post.

The rest of our activities were noteworthy at the time, but it seems a bit pointless to recount them again in detail.  They included:
  • A couple trips to visit Mom in Mesa that included one to celebrate her 90's birthday and another that included a visit with Karen.
  • Shopping trips to Payson, Flagstaff or Prescott.
  • Dianna's two trips to be with her cousin in California when she had cancer surgery.
  • A visit from Daryl and Gisele.
  • A visit from Donna.
  • A trip to California to see Dianna's sister and spend a few days with Marie and Adam's twins.
  • A four night stay in the hospital in Flagstaff for me while I recovered from pancreatitis.
  • Dianna's month long trip to Texas to help Dayna with her new business.
There were probably some other things that slip my mind just now.  Rather than spend a lot of time trying to remember what we did for the past 6 months I am just going to move on and post about what we have done since in a subsequent post.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Volunteering for the Forest Service

As we were finishing up our winter wanderings in Southern Arizona we got a call from the maintenance supervisor at the Forest Service ranger station where we had made arrangements to volunteer this summer.  He wanted to know if we could come up early because he had a lot of work that needed to be done in preparation for the opening of fire season.  That's how we ended up at the Blue Ridge Ranger Station, halfway between Payson and Winslow, Arizona a week earlier than our anticipated April 1 start date.

The facility serves many purposes and is open year round, however there is only a small staff during the winter months.  The majority of the facility is housing and equipment buildings for fire crews.  There are two engine companies that always stay in the local area, and two hot shot crews that can be deployed anywhere in the Western US.  Because there was so little snow this winter, the fire crews start dates were moved up, and housing needed to be de-winterized and prepared for them.  That's why we were asked to arrive early if possible.  Although I was recruited for a grounds keeper position, the experience I listed on my application convinced the maintenance supervisor that I could help with the other projects until the grass started growing.  As it has turned out, I may never see a lawnmower.

Dianna is volunteering as well.  She spends a couple mornings a week in the office, helping out whereever she can.  It gives her a chance to be with people and get the social contact she needs.  I, on the other hand, work three days a week.  I work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8 to 4.  There are some days that we get off early and a few times that I have had to work much later.  Those are usually days that I am far away in the forest and it takes that long to get back to the ranger station.

Once my supervisor discovered that I am a jack of all trades and master of none, he immediately put me to work on all kinds of projects.  For the first month or so, mostly we worked as a team with him, another volunteer and I working together.  Getting to know where everything is and how things are done is an ongoing process.  The Mogollon Rim District of the Coconino National Forest is a large area with hundreds of miles of forest roads, several campgrounds, three fire lookouts, and a sub-station where two additional engine crews are located.  Lately my supervisor has been sending me off on my own to take care of issues, now that I know my way around and have learned what needs to be done.

I am absolutely amazed at the variety of things that the maintenance crew is responsible for.  It would take a book to cover all of it, so I'm just going to list a few of the things I have worked on thus far.
  • Repaired several permanent housing units and mobile homes used as firefighter quarters.
  • Done carpentry, plumbing and some minor electrical work
  • Installed washers and dryers
  • De-winterized and turned on water systems in campgrounds.  
  • Filled water tanks and sanitized the systems.  
  • Tested water for chlorine and took water samples to the lab in Flagstaff.
  • Installed a new vehicle washing station at the Happy Jack sub-station.
  • Made several trips to Flagstaff to transport equipment for repair and pick up supplies.
  • Installed a sliding glass door in a housing unit.
  • Removed downed trees that were blocking several forest roads using a Bobcat and chainsaw (My supervisor operated them).
  • Hauled water trailers to fire lookouts.
  • Installed a solar system at a fire lookout.
  • Took down and put up signs.
That represents a simplified overview of some of the things I have worked on.  It is far from comprehensive.  To give a sense of what a typical day looks like, here is what I did one day last week when the other volunteer took a broken washing machine to Flagstaff and my supervisor worked on several minor projects and paperwork at the ranger station.

  • Loaded the pickup with a replacement battery, the water test kit, chlorine, and the new control board for the automatic chlorinator.
  • Installed the large pintle hitch on the pickup.
  • Drove about an hour and a half to Knoll Lake Campground (25 miles away over very rough forest service roads)
  • Opened the gate and drove up to the water tank on the hill above the campground.
  • Opened the gate around the tank and the guard on the ladder.
  • Climbed the 14 foot tank, opened the cover and dipped a water sample.
  • Tested the water for chlorine, radioed the results to my supervisor, added the amount of chlorine he calculated was needed, then locked everything up.
  • Drove to the dam, opened the gate and drove across the dam to the well site on the other side.
  • Installed the replacement battery in the generator (The generator had been broken into and the battery stolen)
  • Opened the cover on the structure over the well head and climbed in.
  • Installed the new control board in the automatic chlorinator, started the generator and turned on the pump to test the chlorinator.
  • Turned everything off, locked the well house.
  • Hooked the generator to the pickup (It weighs 8,000 pounds and can run the entire ranger station during a power failure)
  • Returned to the ranger station via a different route than I had taken going out in order to avoid some very steep grades.  The trip took about 2 hours, most of it right along the Mogollon Rim.
  • Filled the generator with diesel and parked it 
  • Filled out my logs for the day and locked everything up.  It was 4 PM.
I had called Dale when I found out where I was going that morning.  He was camping about 20 miles away and met me at the lake.  He worked as my helper, getting me tools etc. when I was in the well head so I didn't have to climb in and out.  We also had lunch together in the campground.

I don't want to give the impression that I am over worked.  There are some days the tasks can be somewhat strenuous, but we usually work together on those and take plenty of breaks.  Other days are mostly driving or working on simple things.  Just going out to remove a sign and lock can take an hour given the distances involved, and a trip to Flagstaff takes most of the day.

So far I am having fun.  I enjoy the variety of work and my supervisor is very accepting and appreciative of my suggestions and expertise.  For example, he has little experience with solar systems so I did the install at the fire lookout by myself.  I was also able to provide him with some information that changed how he planned to approach the system.

I know this is getting long so I will be brief about the rest of our doings.  Dianna made a trip to Texas to help Dayna with her new business.  She was gone a month.  Dale came to visit for a couple weeks during that time before going out into the forest to camp.  We had a good time visiting, hiking and helping the camp host at a nearby campground with the electrical system on his new RV.  Dale will be back in a couple days to spend a few more days with us.

Enough.  Just as a way to end this, here's a photo taken when were were working to clear one of the downed trees.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Blog Has Moved

Many have been clamoring for a new blog post, but first some house keeping is in order.

I have moved my blog from a rented server that we (I and my brother Daryl) must maintain.  While our own server certainly offers more autonomy, I have drunk the Google Kool-ade.  I am deeply entrenched in the Google/Android world and have found that Blogger just works better and easier than having my blog on Wordpress.  It integrates everything nicely and eliminates all the maintenance and upgrading issues encountered when maintaining your own server.

Moving the blog was a multi-step process.  First I exported the blog from Wordpress in XML format.  Then I ran it through a process to convert it the XML code fro Wordpress to Blogger format.  I then imported the XML file into Blogger.  Everything came across fine except for photos.  Most of the early photos were not copied properly due to their setup on Wordpress, and all the later photos were included but Blogger still pointed to the files on the old server.  I FTP'd all the photos to my laptop and am currently in the process of uploading all the photos to Blogger so that everything is in one place.

Photos are another reason for making this change.  All photos taken with my phone are automatically uploaded to Google Plus, and including them in a blog is a simple process.

Setting up the simple URL or to access the new blog took a little work.  GoDaddy is my domain registrar and the entries there point anything addressed to to the AZNB server.  I had to add entries there to redirect to the Blogger server.  Behind the scenes on Google's server there is another redirect taking place.  It hides the fact that the real URL for my blog is "".  Entering that URL directly will get you to my blog as well, but Google will sort of mask it from you.  It took some stumbling around and Daryl's help to figure this part out.

There is a pretty good chance I will eventually move my Gallery from the AZNB servers to Google as well.  That will come later.  For now, our photos are still in the same place as always.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Yesterday we drove to Tombstone for the afternoon. I don't remember being there since sometime in the early 60's with the family. They call themselves "The town too tough to die" which it appears they still are. There were a fair number of tourists wandering the streets and shops.

I seem to remember that they used to stage reenactments of the shootout at the OK Corral right on the main street in town, but it is now held in a separate location where you have to pay to watch it. It's kind of like the Old Tucson set. There are guys dressed in period outfits all over town trying to get you to go see the show. There's also the OK Corral itself, (which you have to pay to visit) and the Birdcage Saloon, (which you have to pay to visit) and some other historic buildings, including one with real "ghosts", (which you have to pay to visit). I think you get the picture. Every building is either a shop selling tourist trinkets or someplace you have to pay to see.

We wandered the streets and read all the signs explaining what each building was, but we didn't visit a single shop. I guess we've just seen too many tourist traps like these in our travels. We did shell out $5 apiece to visit the Tombstone State Historical Park in the old courthouse. It is now a museum and quite well done. It has displays and artifacts explaining the history of the town and Southeastern Arizona.

We also made the obligatory stop at the Boot Heel Cemetery. It is owned by the city and is free, but you can only enter and leave through the gift shop of course. Almost all the headstones have been replaced with standard sized and freshly painted boards that I suspect bear little resemblance to their originals. Still, it is a real cemetery, and the people whose names are on the markers are actually buried there, even if it did feel like Disney built it.

It was a simple and inexpensive outing, only an hour from Tucson, and we learned something about the town and area. Still, I wonder what the future holds for them long term? My generation grew up with cowboys, Indians and outlaws from the old west on TV. There were more westerns on TV than cartoons, and not just on Saturday mornings. Westerns made up a good portion of the prime time shows as well. But that changed with my kids, and the subsequent generations. I venture to say that very few kids today have ever heard of "the shootout at the OK Corral". Although it is spring break this week, and we did see a few families in town, the vast majority of visitors were our age. That can't bode well for "the town too tough to die."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Organ Pipe National Monument

In an attempt to follow up on my recent return to blogging, here's another post already! Will wonders never cease?

After dropping off Dale at Colossal Cave for his continuing journey on the AZT, we moved out to a boondocking location about 2 miles south of Why. One really does need to ask why. There are a few houses, a gas station, a cafe, a couple RV parks and lots of Border Patrol agents. There's not much else.

On Thursday we drove about 15 miles south to the Visitor Center at Organ Pipe. We watched the 15 minute movie, took the very short nature walk, and then took the 21 mile loop dirt road around Ajo Mountain. Some of the road was in pretty good condition but there were places a Jeep would have been a better choice than a Lexus.

We stopped about half way around and took a 2 mile hike up Arch Canyon. There is a double arch, one above the other, that is very interesting to see. On the loop we saw plenty of organ pipe cactus. This is the only place they exist in the US but they do grow further south into Mexico. Although the arms look a lot like a Saguaro, they have a very different internal structure. Instead of the wood ribs that form the trunk of the saguaro, the organ pipe has a single wood like shaft in the center. It's quite large in comparison to the ribs of the saguaro. They appear to be up to 3 or 4 inches in diameter.

Friday we drove about 20 miles up the road to Ajo. It was built as a mining town in the early 1900's and is architecturally interesting. There is a central plaza that reminds me of Santa Fe, and the old school, which is now an apartment building workshop space for artists, is also interesting. The entire Ajo area is dwarfed by the huge piles of tailing from the mine and smelter. We drove up to the open pit lookout but it was closed. Nonetheless, we were able to see almost all the way to the bottom from another vantage point. It is one huge hole. The mine closed down in 1985 but the town seems to be going relatively strong.

Today we moved back to Tucson and are staying at the Pima County Fairgrounds. We plan to be here about a week before returning to Mesa.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What Have We Been Up To?

It appears that some regular readers think we are overdue for an update. Perhaps. It's just that we typically post about new adventures, and most of what we have been doing for the past few months is just living our normal lives. While our lives may seem like an adventure to some, when you have been full time RV'ers for nearly 15 years it's just business as usual.

After our Blue Ridge trip in late September we spent a couple weeks in early October travelling to Elkhart, Indiana where we had some maintenance work done on our trailer. The suspension system was worn out so we had the manufacturer replace most of the main components with new and upgraded parts. It is also the center of the RV industry in the country. We visited the RV Hall of Fame and Museum and generally enjoyed our time there. The weather was nice and we were able to see most everything by motorcycle.

Elkhart is Amish country and we enjoyed visiting the sites and eating good food. We arrived just in time to visit two "floral quilts". They are created from pots of mums which are arranged in quilt designs. They were most impressive and very lovely. We celebrated our 45th anniversary by going out to dinner and seeing a play, "Annie Get Your Gun".

We then returned to Tennessee and stayed until after Thanksgiving. It was the first time we have spent Thanksgiving with Darin and his family in a long time. We really enjoyed our time with them last summer. It was fun (and a lot of hard work) working with Darin and Diane as we whipped their new house into shape. They now have a very nice place to call home for many years.

The day after Thanksgiving we left for Texas to spend Christmas with Dayna's family. It was nice as always, but you can keep North Texas weather in December. Snow and ice storms are not fun.

After spending New Years with the Jennings, we made our way to Arizona to spend the rest of the winter. We spent a few days in Mesa visiting Mom before moving to Quartzsite for a couple weeks. Dale went with us and watched our trailer for a couple days while we went to California to see Greg and Tina who were visiting from India. Greg now works for a company in Chennai, India. We had a chance to see Marie and Adam's twins who were born on April 1, 2013, as well as the rest of Dianna's Southern California family. My brother Don was making a trip to Wisconsin that weekend so we were not able to meet up with him at the time.

We spent several days in Quartzsite before moving down to Yuma for a couple weeks. We did some hiking and also visited the old Territorial Prison. After that it was back to Mesa for another 14 days, and then to Tucson where we are now. We are staying in a boondocking area known as Snyder Hill. It is just off the Ajo Highway near Ryan Field.

Dale rode with us to Tucson but the next day we took him to the beginning of the Arizona Trail near Sierra Vista. He's hiking part of the trail this spring. You can read more details about his adventure on his blog.

While here we have visited the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum which is always interesting. We also made a trip to Kitt Peak. There are many more telescopes up there than the last time we visited. It was a pretty cold ride by the time we got to the top of the mountain, but we were prepared for it.

We made a short, quick trip to Albuquerque last Sunday and Monday to attend the memorial service for Joyce Stepp. She was the wife of our pastor in Edgewood and a dear friend.

Since our return we have made a trip to Saguaro National Park where we hiked to see several petroglyphs and then rode around the Tucson Mountains, coming back down Sliverbell and over Gates Pass. Tucson has changed so much since I grew up here that things are hard to recognize. In addition to good conditions for growing cactus, Tucson obviously also has good conditions for growing houses (you wouldn't believe Marana today) because they have sprung up everywhere. I think the only thing that has not changed in the past, nearly 50 years is the roads. It appears that they have not been repaved or maintained since then because they are some of the worst we have run into anywhere. It is a big contrast with the roads in the Phoenix area.

There you have it. You're all up to date. We plan to see a few more things while we are here this time, and then will probably head out to Ajo and Why for a few days before returning to Mesa. We do have plans to make another trip to California at the end of March for the twins' (Sydney and Noah) first birthday party. After that we have made tentative plans to spend the summer volunteering for the Forest Service in the mountains north of Payson, AZ.