Monday, March 30, 2015

March 7-30: Rally Ho!

As always, feel free to click on any image to enlarge it...

Contrary to our habits over the past few years, we made a short trip with the motorhome during our “winter hibernation” in Arizona. In fact, the last time we ventured out was December 2009/January 2010.

We decided to take advantage of a couple of rallies being put on by two related RV groups. Our travels first took us to Pahrump, Nevada, for two weeks, then to Pomona, California, for a third week before we headed back to Arizona.

We intentionally built an extra week into our stay in Pahrump so that we could explore the area. We passed through the area last October on our way from the California Coast to the Grand Canyon. While there isn’t a huge amount to see and do in Pahrump proper, it’s a reasonable base camp from which to explore Death Valley National Park. I tried to make campground reservations inside the Park, but didn’t come up with anything satisfactory, so Pahrump, about an hour to the east, was a good choice.

In keeping with our more relaxed travel approach these days, we broke the route from Peoria to Pahrump into two driving days. We could have done it in one, but it’s fun to explore a bit along the way. In this case, we chose to make an overnight stop in Lake Havasu City on the way.

Our departure route was pretty familiar territory. From our winter base, we headed south on AZ Loop 101 to I-10. We’ve traveled on I-10 westbound many times over the years but this time we jumped off about 45 miles from the California border and cut northward to Vicksburg where we picked up AZ-72 to AZ-95 into Parker. Continuing on AZ-95, we followed the path of the Colorado River north to Lake Havasu City.

Lake Havasu is actually formed by the Parker Dam, built in the 1930s as one of a series of hydroelectric power generation sites along the Colorado River. Lake Havasu City was created in the early-1960 when Robert McCullough, the chainsaw guy, bought an insane amount of land, 16,000+ acres, on the cheap to create a “destination resort”. He’s the one who had London Bridge transported and rebuilt in the 1980s. 

We stayed overnight at one of the RV parks in town because we couldn't get a reservation at the State Park on the water. Apparently, in addition to a lot of the snowbirds not yet having flown north, there is a bluegrass festival in March that fills things up. Like a lot of places in Arizona at lower elevations, this place is a magnet for RVers from “up north” trying to escape the cold weather. BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are popular places to be from here.

Since we were all parked and set up before 2:00 PM, we took the opportunity to explore a bit. We found the local Elks Lodge (largest in Arizona by membership) and looked around on and under London Bridge. It’s not clear if the area is in a slow decline or a slow rebound from the Great Recession. Let’s just say things weren’t “hopping”.

"London Bridge" in all its glory...

Up early the next day, we were able to get on the road right on schedule. We continued north on AZ-95 to I-40, then west into California before turning north again on US-95 (AZ-95 and US-95 run parallel to each other on opposite sides of the Colorado River). 

Once on US-95, we soon came to the somewhat infamous railroad crossing where we bent a tow bar back in 2009. Suffice it to say that we ignored the “20 MPH” warning and crawled across the tracks at about 5 MPH.

"Vegas, Baby"!

Our route took us through Searchlight, Nevada, (Harry Reid’s hometown) and up to Boulder City where we merged with US-93 and then I-515 down into Las Vegas. Having stayed in the area before, we took a shortcut to Blue Diamond Road (NV-160) on the south side of town. We stopped for lunch in a shopping plaza (“tar-jay”) then continued on NV-160 up and over into the next valley and our destination in Pahrump.

When we visited Pahrump last fall, we stayed at an Escapees park to get the lay of the land. This time, we booked a week at the Wine Ridge RV Resort, on the property of Pahrump Valley Winery. The sites were well spaced out and we had a nice view of Mount Charleston from the park.

All settled in at Wine Ridge in Pahrump.

I guess this would be the "back side" of Mount Charleston. Las Vegas is on the other side.

For the Albertville fans, right in the Pahrump Valley Winery vineyards...

It wouldn't be the Southwest without a nice sunset...

We made two day trips into Death Valley National Park, which I’ll write up separately in another Blog post or two. We also made a day trip to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is back toward Las Vegas. We had “saved” that one from our last stay in the area and it was worth the drive. I’ll write that up separately as well.

We also had a surprise waiting for us when we got to the park: our friends Wayne and Eva were up from their winter place in Indio, California, for a few days in Las Vegas, so they drove in a few days early and stayed in one of the park’s “cottages” for a few days. Similar to us, they did day trips into Death Valley. It was nice to catch up as we haven’t seen them since last fall.

This RV Park is located right on the edge of a designated wilderness area, so it’s a favorite of the “off road” crown. Customized Jeeps, ATVs, and Dirt Bikes were parked at most of the sites. They had organized rides leaving from the park most mornings. We even had a “fly by” from some sort of motorized parasail contraption. Apparently, strapping an engine and large fan to the back of a lawn chair hanging from half of a parachute is somebody’s idea of a good time. It takes all kinds…

After enjoying Wine Ridge for a week, we moved about 2 miles up the road to the Preferred RV Resort, which was one of the parking locations for the first RV rally we were attending on this trip. As is often the case, the definition of “resort” can mean a lot of things. But, it was another decent park. The facilities for this rally were mostly in the Nugget Casino next door, so we used the Rover to get back and forth for the most part. We were fortunate to see several sights in and around the park, as well.

We have this kind of cactus in AZ, too. Very short-lived blooms.

It's always fun to look for "faces" in weathered wood...

Apparently, there was a balloon festival in Pahrump. Neat!

We had a good time, caught up with folks we hadn't seen in a while, met some new people who enjoy the same travel lifestyle, had some good meals and enjoyed some fun entertainment. We ended up staying an extra couple of days to get the timing right for arrival at the next rally!

Our next destination was in Pomona, California. We left Pahrump on NV-372 which soon changed to CA-178 at the state line. At the wide spot in the road called Shosone, we turned south on CA-127 which took us to I-15 in Baker. Heading south, we crossed several passes before exiting onto I-210 west toward Pasadena. We took CA-57 south for one exit to Arrow Highway and were soon pulling into the LA County Fairplex. 

We could see our friend Wayne waving in the distance, as he had volunteered for the parking crew. We were soon parked and relaxing. We were "boondocking" for the first night since electric service wasn't turned on until Wednesday morning. At large gatherings like this, most of the electric service is provided by contracted temporary generators spread throughout the grounds. With over 1,100 motorhomes involved and probably 65% opting to pay a little extra for electrical service, that's quite a few generators.

Wayne and Eva had their coach parked with the volunteers, but we weren't too far away from them. Overall, we had a good time, didn't spend too much money with the vendors,  and had some nice dinners. 

On Wednesday, we joined a group called the "Eastern Gourmands" at a local banquet facility. The other nights, we ate at local places with Wayne and Eva, and their friend, Scott (also an RV owner). We actually made it a “Pomona Reunion Tour”, eating a all the places we did the last time we rallied in Pomona, Spring of 2008. We had Mexican at La Paloma (“Home of the Kitchen Sink Burrito”), Sushi at Fukuya (“All You Can Eat”), and Pastrami at The Hat. And it was all good.

Once the rally wrapped up, it was time to head back to Arizona. We got a nice, early start around 8:40 AM and were quickly heading east on I-10. We managed to make the 331 miles in reasonably good time, arriving back at our winter place about 3:15 PM. We knew that the weather had turned warmer, but weren’t quite ready for the temperatures when we got back to the Phoenix area. Even recognizing that the sensor in the RV might be off by a few degrees, it was still pretty warm.

We unloaded a few things and headed for our traditional pizza at the local Grimaldi’s, saving the rest for tomorrow. Overall, another great trip!

Friday, March 6, 2015

January 19-March 6: Springtime in the Valley of the Sun

Yes, the weather has been beautiful. Yes, we’ve watched news reports about winter from most of the rest of the country. Yes, we’ve gloated, privately and using Facebook, FaceTime, and even email (Al, you know who you are). But it’s all in fun, of course.

[Reminder: click on any picture to enlarge]

We’ve also had some rain showers, and even a couple of rare days when residual moisture in the atmosphere leads to a foggy morning. Yeah, we take pictures of fog. Go figure…

Since our last report, January was most low-70s with some odd 60s, and February into March has been mostly mid-to-upper-70s with a few 80-degree days. Every year, we’re reminded why we chose to spend most of our winters here. Of course, it was also time to start taking morning coffee and “paper” on the patio.

Mid-February brings that “special week” for us. Valentine’s Day, our anniversary (35th, for those counting), and Geri’s birthday (39th, of course) — all within the space of four days. We didn’t plan much and met our objectives, although Geri did ask for a night out at Outback Steakhouse on her birthday. Steak? Who am I to argue? And that decadent brownie/ice cream thing? Well, we should have shared it with people at nearby tables!

Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t eat well at home as well. What would our Blog be without some food porn, right? This is just a sampling (Geri’s Famous Chicken Piccata over Risotto, Shrimp Alfredo with Homemade Fettuccine, Cheese SoufflĂ©, and Homemade Pizza with Butternut Squash, Bacon and Sage). And, let’s just say that we did an excellent job of clearing the Wine Box of all those pesky “drink me this year” wines that said “2014/2015”!

We recently had dinner with our neighbors, Clisby (right) and Tanis (center). Geri made her famous Alfredo Sauce with Shrimp and I made some fresh fettuccine, pictured above. We also were invited to dine with our friends Ana and Larry. Merlin and Maya really enjoy hanging out with their dogs, Molly and Nami (“Tsunami”), especially when “people food” is involved.

As the winter season gets further along, our thoughts (and to-do lists) start filling up with travel-related items. This year’s major expense was new front tires for the coach. RV people don’t wear out tires; they tend to “age out” and weaken well before the tread is gone. At least I’ve got them spaced out a few years apart by axle to spread out the expense!

The pups continue to do well, or as well as we all do with age. Maya Lynn had her 11th birthday in January. She still has a small growth on her bum but we’ve decided not to subject her to more surgery as she’s had enough, and it hasn’t reached the point of bothering her in any way we can see. Merlin will be 17 this summer and he’s still going strong, although he’s starting to have “control issues” that we’re keeping an eye on.

It wouldn’t be winter without me trying to sell a few things on eBay to make some pocket change. Every year I swear “never again” when it starts to feel too much like a full time job. It seems like it should be as simple as posting a few things and waiting for money to arrive in my PayPal account, but it never is. Unlike past years where I’ve had to deal with a series of questions from people with no intention of buying or who tried to scam me outside the eBay boundaries, this year’s issues were shipping-related. First, I mixed up two shipments, so I had to scramble to get them returned to me and shipped to the right buyers without getting dinged on my seller rating. Then, one of my shipments arrived missing its contents, but with a lot more packing tape. It wasn’t extremely expensive so I didn’t buy the insurance. Lesson learned, as I had to eat the cost and USPS gave me a “too bad” speech. Now, not only do I insure, I take pictures of the packages when USPS gets them so I can compare later if there is an issue.

And, finally, I’ll mention that we had some sports here in the Valley this winter. From a major golf thing to College Football Bowls and the Super Bowl, there was a lot of activity. Fortunately, we didn’t get caught up in any traffic issues, even though the Super Bowl was played about 3 miles from us as the crow flies. At times we had three “competing” blimps flying around (Goodyear, of course; DirecTV; MetLife). It was enough to make you think you were in an alternate universe on “Fringe”. Apparently, there wasn’t much going on in the rest of the world afterward, because the blimps were still flying around when Cactus League Spring Training games started in late-February.

The last “spring news” I’ll mention is that, for the first time in years, we’re actually making a short trip. We’re done packing the motorhome and we’ll be leaving tomorrow for about a 3-week “vacation”. We’ll be hitting two RV rallies. The first is in Pahrump, Nevada (I know, "Where the heck is Pahrump"? It's about an hour west of Las Vegas.) and the second is in Pomona, California, part of the Los Angeles metro area. We’ll be back in AZ near the end of March, as we have numerous things to take care of before we head out for the summer. One of those things, of course, will be figuring out where we’ll actually go during the summer!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

December 20-January 18: Chilling out for the holidays

We made it through the holidays! Yea!!

Just before Christmas, we had a nice dinner with our friends Ana & Larry celebrating shared birthdays around mid-December (Ana and me). We had a nice selection of wines from the Wine Box, and some good eats: I made a fresh pasta appetizer and then Chateaubriand. 

I had recently posted a graphic on Facebook that I’d seen floating around the Internet, and don’t you know Larry tracked down the real thing!

We finished off with some excellent desserts from AJ’s, a local upscale grocery.

Who knew we'd need heated seats in AZ?
Starting around the 13th of December and lasting well past New Year’s Day, we had “winter”. It was pretty chilly, although by Phoenix standards. We had a week or so where we covered outside pipes to prevent freezing. We don’t have any plants to cover up, but were wondering how some of the neighbors were sleeping at night since it seemed that all their sheets were out covering vegetation. I put the furnace on low in the motorhome to prevent anything bad from happening there. But, it all passed by January 5th and temperatures have been at or above normal since then.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve were quiet for us as usual. I made a “traditional” Christmas Eve like I remember as a kid, with Swedish Meatballs, Ham, and Scalloped Potatoes (no pickled herring!). Christmas Day, we made a Beef Roast with Butternut Squash (my new favorite winter vegetable), plus an appetizer of King Crab Legs that was divine.

We tried something different on New Year’s Eve. We had our Shrimp Cocktail, but rather than the traditional Steamed Lobsters, I made a Rack of Pork. I think Geri was a little disappointed that I didn’t form it into a Crown Roast, but the recipe called for roasting the pork on a bed of red cabbage and other veggies, soaked in half a bottle of sparkling wine. That was a keeper!

On New Year’s Day, we did a simple dinner of more Shrimp and more King Crab. Oh, and Bloodies in the morning…

After the holidays, we tended to relax for a week or so, with the most strenuous activity being taking down the Christmas decorations. We had a few nice sunrises and sunsets (i’m not usually up at sunrise but it’s easier at this time of year). I tried out a few new recipes, including English Muffins a la Model Bakery in Napa Valley. We got to our cell phone two-year contract anniversary, so we upgraded, in a big way, our iPhones (get it, “big” phones?).

We have continued to try out new recipes. Geri made a good Sourdough Boule and we collaborated on Cannelloni stuffed with Sausage, Ricotta, and Spinach (I made the pasta and Geri made the filling). Another keeper!

I spent several days working on the coach, fixing the drain line for the kitchen sink permanently (I made temporary repairs while we were on the road last fall) and adjusting the kitchen slide so it rolls more easily. I also put in a “chip” that’s supposed to help the engine run better by “fooling” some of the circuits. We’ll test that out when we hit the road for a few weeks in March.

With the return of nicer weather, Geri has started using her bike again to get some exercise around the neighborhood. She packs the pups in their little trailer and off they go. And, we’ve been enjoying the patio more in the afternoon and evening!


Friday, December 19, 2014

November 27-December 19: Very Productive

Yes, it’s been a productive few weeks! We had a nice Thanksgiving, wrapped up this season’s medical appointments, and even managed to get another room “done” in record time.

We continued a time-honored tradition of enjoying the Pell family hospitality on Thanksgiving. This is a big celebration for them, with multiple anniversaries in addition to the traditional holiday, and we’ve been honored to be a part of it ever since we started wintering here circa 2006. We enjoyed a great feast, excellent wines, and spending time with the whole crew!

On the medical front, Geri had her last follow-up MRI on her kidney. five-and-a-half years after surgery, there is no evidence of any issues, so she’s no longer in need of annual glow-in-the-dark procedures. Awesome!

I buckled down this year and got right to this season’s home improvement project: renovation in the “study”. Last year, I procrastinated and ended up doing the master suite and spare bedroom in February. Actually, it took me from late-January to early-March if I recall correctly. But, that involved laminate in the bedrooms, tile in the bathroom, and lots of complicated surfaces and angles on the painting.

Our house was designed to have three bedrooms or two bedrooms and a “study”. I’m never sure what to call it, since “office” makes it sound like we’re working in there (Ha!) and we definitely don’t use it to “study”. But, it’s a nice place to have a couple of desks where we can set up all our computer gear and it’s the only room that the Wine Box fits into! The room technically can’t be called a “bedroom” because it has an archway instead of a door, and the indent for the closet was never finished off. This makes for a much simpler room to paint.

When we bought the laminate flooring last year, we got enough to do all three “bedrooms”, so it would match. The flooring has been patiently waiting for me ever since. 

All that's left of our wine collection,
waiting for the Wine Box to be moved.
With Geri’s awesome help, we emptied the Wine Box and moved it to a temporary spot in the Living Room. It has “feet” instead of wheels, so we laid down cardboard and slid it all the way. Once the wine was back in it, and all the other “stuff” was moved out, it was time to tackle the room.

"Before": Furniture and carpet out,
painter's tape in place.
I ripped out the old, nasty carpet and padding first. The only one sad to see it go is Maya Lynn, since she liked to roll around on her back in there. Then I removed the baseboard, being careful to number (and not break!) each piece for easy replacement.

Painting took three days: One to do two coats on the ceiling and a primer (the room had never been painted since the house was built in 2001) on the walls, the second to do two coats on the walls, and the third to clean, sand and do two coats on the baseboard. Yeah, I know; all the paint people advertise one-coat coverage these days. Bunk.

"After": ready to move everything back.
Installing the laminate floor took another day. I was able to get the flooring down, reinstall the baseboard, remove all the blue painter’s tape, and put back all the switch/outlet covers and the like.

The next day of the project involved moving back and re-assembling the desks (for cheap “Walmart furniture” items, they certainly are heavy!), moving back the other furniture and setting up the computer stuff.

The final step of the plan was to empty, move, and re-fill the Wine Box. I took the opportunity to go back through my inventory spreadsheet and do some reorganizing to move the bottles we plan to consume soon (through 2015) to the front.

So, it took me a week. If we’d hired the work out, it would have been done in probably three days. Considering the cost savings, the extra time was well worth the investment.

"Not going back": 2003 vintage tower
computer. Parts will go on eBay!
We still have a few things to put back, but we need to go through the rest of the “stuff” and see what needs to go to eBay vs Goodwill vs back in the “study”. That can happen over the holidays.

Once the dust settled, so to speak, I was able to turn my attention to other things. I made up our annual “holiday card” and Christmas missive that we send out. Generally speaking, that’s all done electronically these days; we’ve got a handful of actual physical cards that go out to people who aren’t “connected”. We’re doing our part to put the USPS out of business. I’ll do a version suitable for posting here as well. Plus, I’ve got some emails and bills to catch up on after being distracted with paint and flooring for a week.

I took some time to make sure that our various devices are working on the “latest and greatest” releases and converted myself back to Safari from Firefox to take advantage of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite cross-platform sharing options (yes, except for a couple of speciality applications like media serving and vehicle monitoring/diagnostics applications, we’re fully converted to Apple products at this point).

Meanwhile, we continue to eat well and enjoy our fine wines. Geri’s on her second batch of Snickerdoodle Cookies as I type, I’ve continued to practice my pasta making, and several new recipes are in the process of being perfected.

It wouldn’t be Arizona if I didn’t need to mention the weather. After a nice sunny and warm (not “hot”) stretch, things finally turned “normal”. We’ve had temperatures in the 60s, lows in the 40s, and even some rain. Nothing like they have been getting in parts of California, but enough to wet the streets, dirty up the cars, and even form the odd puddle here and there. Of course, passing storms can also lead to nice sunsets and rainbows, so in the final analysis, it’s all good.

I hope you are, too…