Summer Travel Map

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Getting ready for New Year's Eve

December 31, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Our best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2009!

We've spent the last few days enjoying the new-found nice weather. It almost feels like we've been able to break out of winter hibernation. Temperatures have rebounded to the low-70s, and we're loving it. After the Holiday break, we've started back on the project list. I was able to finish up the outstanding plumbing jobs, and spent an afternoon reorganizing the garage to make it easier to get at some of the power tools. I've got a couple of projects lined up for the next week or so that'll require the table saw, so it was good to dig in out. We'd been using the garage as a "staging area" for things we were donating to charity and, now that those things are gone, we can get back to normal.

Since the weather was nice, we were able to open up the house and air things out. We also gave the inside a "spring cleaning" yesterday. Today, it's all about preparing for tonight's dinner. Our friends Ana and Larry are coming over, we'll do the horseradish-garlic crusted prime rib with "creamy and crispy potato pie" (a new recipe we'll be trying for the first time). Then, we'll watch the ball drop and have some Champagne, and maybe even stay up until midnight (for us, the ball drops at 10:00!). Of course, here in Arizona, there's a New Year's Eve tradition of people shooting guns off into the air at midnight and every year there are one or more incidents of things (people, houses, cars) getting hit by the stray bullets. We'll just stay inside.

We have some new "neighbors" that we'll keep an eye on: a group of hawks (white-tailed, I think) has moved in nearby. We've seen them perched in a tree in the distance a couple of times and one of the (human) neighbors says that they've seen a hatchling being cared for. When we walked the dogs last night, a couple of them were having dinner on one of the street light poles, and they were definitely eyeing the pups as a possible meal. I grabbed the camera and shot a few pictures, but the sun was just setting and the light wasn't too good. It did give me a chance to test out the new 2x lens extender that I'd just gotten, and it makes quite a difference on my 70-200mm lens. Click here for a couple of shots of the hawks and a couple of test pictures with the lens extender.

My primary reason for adding to the camera equipment is our planned summer trip to Alaska next year. Since there should be more than a couple of opportunities to see wildlife, and the wildlife is actually "wild", getting good shots while staying safe is important. I've priced out a few telephoto lens options but they're several thousand dollars that I can't justify (once again, I've forgotten to buy those lottery tickets), and the extender is a cheap and practical alternative. It's the new me: cheap and practical!

That's it for now; gotta walk the pups and do the sous chef work...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Follow-up

December 26, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Just to follow up, we had a great Christmas dinner with our friends Ana and Larry and their family. We ate well, we had great wines, gifts were exchanged, and we all had a wonderful time. Our thanks for the invitation! I'll download the photos from Geri's new camera and post those later.

"All I Want For Christmas"...

December 26, 2008
Peoria, AZ

No, not two front teeth, as the song goes. How about a new kitchen faucet? Meet "George the Plumber" (no relation to that "Joe" guy in Ohio).

Just as we were getting ready to leave the house yesterday, the handle on the kitchen faucet broke off in Geri's hand. As it turns out, the part that broke was where the set-screw holds the handle to the valve mechanism. I could probably get replacement parts from Moen, but not at the local Home Depot. Rather than try to order parts online and wait for delivery, I decided to just pick up a cheap (OK, I've learned that there's no such thing as a "cheap" kitchen faucet) replacement. So, my "Boxing Day" is all planned out for me: take care of the plumbing job. Since I've got a toilet kit to install and a slow-draining sink in the bathroom, I'll make a day of it and knock off all these things from the to-do list.

More later; Geri's serving up home-made burritos!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all!

December 25, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Geri and I wish everyone a very good holiday and all the best for a happy, healthy, and safe 2009.

Things continue to be calm on this end, as we've been taking it easy in the days ]leading up to Christmas. Geri made some awesome cookies that we shared with neighbors (although she's no longer allowed to play with red food coloring). We've made a couple of special meals with very favorable results. On Sunday, I made a grilled leg of lamb (well, not the whole leg, but a butterflied and marinated piece just right for two people), and it paired nicely with a 1999 Gevrey-Chambertin (red Burgundy) from the wine box.

Last night, we made Swedish Meatballs and an interesting new potato recipe. The meatballs were good but definitely not my Grandmother's; hers were authentic, since she came from "the old country". She used to make them, along with other Swedish dishes, as part of the traditional family meal on Christmas Eve, so last night was a good time to try. Good but I'll have to practice to get the cream-based gravy right. We saw Charlie Palmer make the potato recipe on TV and decided to give it a shot. It involves "Home Fry" style potato wedges, oven roasted with mushrooms and onions, topped with aged cheddar and sunny-side-up eggs. Yes, baked eggs. Well, the whole thing came out great, and it was a great batch to the meatballs (mashers are traditional, but I'm not exactly a mashed kind of guy).

We also got a 3-case shipment of wine from one of our California favorites (DiBruno-Curran Wines), so I had to rearrange a few things in the wine box to fit the new arrivals into the fold. I saved out a few bottles to sample, of course. We had a nice Gewurztraminer (this will go well with our homemade Lo Mein recipe) and liked both the DiBruno and Curran (it's a husband-wife team ad they each make their own wines) Sangiovese (Tuscan grape, but these are from the Santa Barbara area). Their "Badge" Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are top-of-the-line wines from the Santa Rita Hills appellation.

Today, we're headed to visit our friends Ana and Larry for Christmas dinner, and we'll have a great time there. We'll bring the last of Geri's cookies, a couple of bottles of wine, and a special treat: Geri's "Philly Cheesesteak Eggrolls". Yum!

The weather's supposed to clear tomorrow, and the 15-day forecast calls for sunshine and low-70s for the duration, so we'll be back into the project list (coach and house) before we know it. Next stop: New Years!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Still kickin'

December 22, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Things have been generally quiet here, with a few nice days before we headed back into the rainy weather today. We've been taking care of year-end related activities like bundling up another Salvation Army donation and getting our heads examined. Well, at least the "eye" portion of our heads. My prescription changed slightly but enough to get new lenses, and Geri got new contacts, although they recommended that she see a specialist for a more detailed exam (everything's OK with her).

We're basically taking it easy this week, getting ready for Christmas (we'll once again dine with our friends Ana and Larry at their place in Phoenix), baking (Geri's doing cookies and I've done some bread), and doing more reading about next year's adventure to Alaska. I've updated our set of travel books and maps, and started actually mapping out the route and timing. On the coach front, I've ordered some urethane to seal up the small crack in the kitchen drain pipe (impossible to remove) and started on the upgrade to the cabinet slide-out under the stove. I'll probably try to finish those projects off between Christmas and New Years, as well as get back to the project list for things around the house (it never seems to go away).

The other project queued up for the next few days is a major reorganization of the contents of the Wine Box. We just got shipments from a couple of our favorite California wineries and I need to move things around to make space. I'll update the inventory at the same time, so we'll actually know what we have and where it is in the box. Woo-hoo!

That's it for now...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter has arrived in the desert

December 17, 2008
Peoria, AZ

No, we didn't fall off the face of the earth. It's just been mostly boring day-to-day activities lately, so updates just haven't been rolling off the tongue, er, fingertips. We've gone through the house again and have another batch of stuff queued up for donation (they'll pick up on Friday), we got our eyes examined and updated our prescriptions for contacts (Geri) and eyeglasses (George), although Geri has a follow-up appointment scheduled for Friday, and I still need to get my prescription sunglasses upgraded. See, just boring stuff - except that we did get the Christmas decorations all set. Merry Christmas!

We have had a bit of a change in the weather, though, as has much of the country from what we see on the weather. While it's been nowhere near the extremes seen in the Upper Plains (cold) and the Northeast (ice), we've had several days in a row of clouds, showers, and temperatures in the 50s. We're actually above average for rainfall for the year, and the temperatures have been roughly 10 degrees below normal, but we're surviving just fine. The blood thins out quickly and we're more sensitized to the cooler weather even though we're both from New England originally, but we still have plenty of foul weather gear left from our years in NYC and Philly. We're still glad we're here, and the sun will shine tomorrow (or Friday at least, according to the latest forecast).

Actually, the rainy days and some prompting from one of our motorhoming friends have led me to dig into the planning for next summer's big adventure to Alaska. From what I've read, this weather's right on target for what we'll experience! Rod Bahnson has forwarded several links to the blogs and trip journals from people who made the trek last summer, and I've been going through them and taking notes on routes, stops, things to see and avoid, and what to expect. I'm at the point where I'm starting to map out a general route and think about timing.

Many people, including the various caravans, seem to head North in June and start back in mid-to-late-August (most "touristy" things start closing after Labor Day). Since we are planning to participate in a short caravan in California Wine Country in the second half of September, we'll probably head north and start back a few weeks earlier. Current thinking is that we'll leave Arizona in mid-April, cross into Canada before mid-May, head for Fairbanks (as far north as we'll go with the coach) by the solstice (they have a big "midnight sun" festival), do Anchorage and the Kenai in July, and travel south through British Columbia in August. With a couple of stops (Vancouver, Seattle, Washington wine country), we should be able to get to Lake Tahoe (starting point for the caravan) before the September 10th kick-off date. Sounds like a plan - now all I have to do is put a lot of detail into it. This will be an interesting test for me, who likes to plan everything out in great detail, since we'll probably work with a general schedule and make reservations a week or so in advance. We'll see...

In other news, we had saw a good movie from NetFlix ("Hancock") and have had several nice meals. I made a new pair of recipes for one meal, chicken thighs matched with corn salsa with pancetta, leeks and mushrooms (because I can't stop being a funghi). We also had a nice sage-rubbed pork loin roast and a rack of lamb. Tonight, we're making red snapper with couscous; Geri found an asian market with a large seafood department, so we'll give that a shot. Good stuff!

Well, that's it for today - lots of prep to do for tonight's dinner!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Luminaria Time

December 7, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We stumbled across a fun local event this week: Luminaria at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens. It's an annual event held from roughly Thanksgiving to New Years, where they close the gardens mid-afternoon to set up candles along all the pathways, and open again at dusk for several hours so people can wander around. I'm not sure what they've done in past years, but this year they inserted an installation of hundreds of pieces of Chihuly glass sculptures all over the place.

Some of the pieces were quite abstract, while others seemed like they were custom made for the setting. Since it was dark, photos were a challenge. Trying to get good pictures by lugging around a lot of stuff (like multiple flash units) and setting up the tripod just wasn't an option - unfortunately. We took a few cell phone pics but they really don't do a very good job. We may make a return trip during the day when making photos would be quite a bit easier, although obviously not as dramatic. I'll include a couple of the low-quality shots here, just in case we don't actually get back.

In other news, well, there's not much new. We started putting up Christmas (we're not PC) decorations outside and in, and we'll finish that up over the next few days. We're still trying to decide what goes where even after being here a few years. This year, we've vowed to add anything that doesn't fit here to our next Salvation Army donation. We're looking to put things in places where it's easy to deploy and easy to put things away in January, preferably without the need for a ladder. We're definitely in the mood to simplify life. If it can't go up with zip-ties, back in the box it goes.

We finally got a "dud" from NetFlix. After a string of reasonably good selections, I really goofed by adding "3:10 to Yuma" to the queue. Geri gave up after about 30 minutes and I wasn't far behind. Oh well, they can't all be winners.

On the food front, we tried a new slow-cooker recipe for braised short ribs (not a keeper, although we may try it again with a different cut of meat) and had better luck with a "Mexican Lasagna" that Geri found online. In fact, since the recipe was for 4 servings, we'll finish that off tonight. Last night, we had another winner, a simple pasta dish with radicchio and garlic, paired with a nice 1997 Barolo from the Wine Box.

Well, that's it for now...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Great Thanksgiving

December 3, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We had a great Thanksgiving, and are starting to gear up for the Christmas season.

We accepted an invitation from our friends Ana and Larry to join them for Thanksgiving, and had a great time, as always. They were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1978, and always celebrate their anniversary on Thanksgiving. We were at their wedding down in Melbourne, Florida. I remember it being at a place on a bluff overlooking the beach. Geri and I had just gotten together at that point (we were married about 15 months later, in February of 1980). We were happy to be with them 30 years later!

Otherwise, it's been more of the same for us - pretty quiet. On Monday, Geri had another dental appointment, this time for the impressions on the crowns for her implants on the upper right side. All went well with this process, as usual, and the crowns will be completed in January. It's usually about a six week thing, but the holiday break will push this to 8+ weeks. Of course, the prostodontist indicated that they'll call her in early if the first cut of the crowns are delivered early and if they have an opening in their schedule before Christmas week. Too many "ifs" for me. I'm not holding my breath, but it'd be great to get this whole thing "in the done column". Especially since we've paid for the whole thing already (actually that was my idea, pushing the expense into 2008 when we can itemize on our taxes).

Speaking of itemizing, we've also been working on maximizing our charitable deductions by going through the whole house for items to donate. We filled half of the garage with boxes and bags and other items, and scheduled a local charity for pick-up. What an easy process! sign up online and a couple of days later, 2 guys and a truck show up at 8:00 AM and take everything away. We moved out several things that weren't practical to sell on eBay, like a 36" analog TV and all the wine racks we moved from the cellar in NJ (the buyer of our place there in 2005 didn't want them and I was too ticked off with him to just leave them behind). We even got rid of the snow shovel that got onto the moving truck in error (we were probably the only people in Phoenix with a snow shovel). We still have another load of stuff to organize and donate, I suspect.

And finally, we're in day 5 of "Santa Watch". One of our neighbors has attached a Santa display to their house, and we count the days it's still there whenever we walk the pups. Normally, we wouldn't pay much attention, but these neighbors have had awful luck with vandals and theives with their "yard art" in the past. They have a series of faux "tombstones" in their side yard to memorialize the decorations that are "no longer with us". We'll keep an eye on this one, and fingers crossed.

One final note: we've had some high level clouds over the last week, and this has made for some wonderful sunsets. Sorry for the low picture quality; it's the best the cell phone will do. (Maybe my vintage 2005 cell phone needs updating? Only when I can have an iPhone on Verizon.) Anyone ready for a winter visit to the desert?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Big weather changes

November 26, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We awoke this morning to the sound of raindrops. After almost 100 days without measurable rain (nowhere near a record for this area but still a pretty long time), we may be in for a record rainfall over the next few days.

It's interesting to gauge the level of excitement around the weather, no matter where we go. It's more pervasive than predicting the outcome of sports events and more universal than prognosticating about the financial markets (well, maybe not lately). Where we're from originally (the Northeast), an inch or so of rain over a few days would be no big deal. A couple of flakes of snow - that's a whole different ballgame. Here in the desert, the prospect of even some clouds brings out the "we're tracking the storm for you; details on the evening news" messages. Given the probability of significant rain, all the news outlets are in a positive tizzy. Fascinating.

In any event, we've been productive over the last few days, tackling projects from the various to-do lists and some that weren't forseen. I took a shot at fine-tuning the alignment of the DirecTV dish to make sure that we get all the HD channels as they transition to the new "birds" (these new dishes require more accurate aiming). I found that the fine adjustment screw on the dish arm has come loose, but I think I managed to get it pretty close anyway. Having a quality hand-held meter is a big plus.

While I was fussing with the setup, I ran another cable to the DVR, replacing one that wasn't showing a signal (the DVR has two tuners, allowing recording of one channel while watching another). I think it's OK, even though I wasn't able to completely figure out where it was going wrong. It seemed like the signal wasn't passing through the outside grounding block (needed in case the dish gets hit with lightning), so I replaced the whole cable and shifted it to another block and was able to get a signal through to the receiver. It still doesn't seem to want to record from the second tuner, but I think a reset of the box may fix that. Of course, I had to remove the wooden trim strips I used to cover up the three cables (2 dish and 1 over-the-air antenna) running along the side of the house, and I need to upgrade the wall outlet box in the living room where the cables come in from outside. I'll reinstall and repaint the trim when the weather clears, and replace the box next time I'm in Home Depot.

We went for a bike ride the other day, now that the temperatures have eased. Now, our rides are nothing like our friend Dave's; he does 70 miles in 5 hours while we do 5-10 in one hour, but at least we get out there periodically. Unfortunately for me, my recumbent turned up lame as we were getting ready to leave - the rear tire was flat and wouldn't hold air. I was surprised, since I'd aired up the tires after the summer storage period and all seemed OK. I had the mountain bike as a backup, so our ride wasn't impacted.

We tried out the new riding/walking trail that was installed last spring/summer along the wash that runs behind our development. The parks department has installed several miles of paved pathway, complete with "rest areas" (benches and water fountains). Apparently, there are plans to interconnect several of these existing and planned pathways over time, so we'll have miles of trails to ride without dodging vehicular traffic.

When we bought the recumbent bikes several years ago, I bought spare tubes, so I had a replacement on hand and made the swap. I have no idea how you're supposed to remount a bike tire by hand; I cheated and carefully used a pry lever to get the tire back over the rim edge. I don't think I damaged the tube in the process. This is the second flat this year; I got a thorn in one of the mountain bike tires in Santa Fe, but cheated and made a temporary fix with a sealant. I'll replace that tube over the winter; it's not critical as I don't use the mountain bike much while we're here. It was nice to have a backup, though.

There's not much new to report on the food front. Sunday, we tried another new recipe, Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken, which was a tentative "keeper" (we'll try it again with better quality maple syrup), and yesterday we had a nice crusted tilapia with curried couscous.

Well, that's it for now - we're off to Geri's periodoontist for a checkup...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In a groove

November 23, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We've wrapped up the "holiday letter" (way too much work) and gotten the cards done, even though we won't mail them out until after Thanksgiving. I spent a good chunk of time working on the photo side of this project, first selecting about 15 pictures to include, then using Photoshop to make a collage. Once I had my work flow and processes figured out, it actually went pretty smoothly - until I realized I was about 5 pictures "heavy". I'll play around with this technique over the course of the next year, and probably automate some of the tasks. Of course, anyone who follows the Blog has already seen everything that fits in the summary, so I shouldn't waste more time on it here...

In other news, well, there really isn't anything new. We dropped off Merlin's "thank you" cookies, did some shopping, and made some bread (ciabatta - or is it ciabetta? - from scratch and "regular loaves in the bread machine). I had taken the two portable gas stoves from the coach bay because I wanted to fashion some wind screens for them, so I finished that off and we dropped them back at the coach on the way back from the vet since it's on the way. At some point, I have to take the coach out to top off the diesel and propane tanks, but falling prices kind of reduce the urgency of that. We'll probably start pulling out the holiday decorations next week with an eye toward putting them up/out on the weekend after Thanksgiving. It's nice to be able to do that without gloves and parkas!

On the weather front, things have been quite nice, although the TV weather people keep blathering on about above-average temperatures. I'll take low-80s for as long as they're available, thank you very much. They're now predicting a "winter storm" for next week, with temperatures dropping (!) to 67-68° and even the possibility of measurable rain (1/4 inch!!) by Thanksgiving. Wow!

We found another "keeper" recipe last night: Sage-crusted Pork with Mashed Root Vegetables. The pork recipe included an apple-shallot compote that was great, and we had a very good 2003 Barossa Shiraz from the Wine Box. I've been scanning in the "keeper" recipes and creating PDF files for future reference. Now I just have to organize these files along with all the hardcopy ones we've collected. Another "over the winter" project...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More of the same...

November 20, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Well, I told you that we'd be getting back to our winter - and somewhat less interesting - routine. We're there! With Merlin's health scare over (as I type, he's barking at the front door because the UPS guy drove by), things have settled down very quickly.

Monday, it was time to give the pups a bath, which is always an interesting exercise when you do it in the kitchen sink. They emerged none the worse for wear, and Geri soon dried out. For dinner, we tried a new recipe, Mediterranean Chicken with Curried Rice Pilaf. This was a nice match with a young California Zin.

It was Geri's turn on Tuesday, with a planned trip to the hair salon taking up the morning and weekly grocery shopping in the afternoon. We took advantage of the fresh fish at one of the local markets to try another new recipe, this time Parmesean-crusted Cod (OK, the recipe called for Halibut but they didn't have any in the store) in "Crazy Water", which was excellent with (or because of?) a fine 1997 Brunello from the Wine Box. What the heck is "Crazy Water"? Acqua pazzo in Italian, it refers to a broth of vegetables and herbs, in our case zucchini, roasted red peppers, halved grape tomatoes, and kalamata olives. With some onion and garlic, and a dose of orzo, it made a nice resting place for the fish, which was roasted with a panko crust over a layer of pesto as a binder. Woo-hoo!

Yesterday and today involved a bunch of puttering around. I got out the tap and die set for the first time in a while to help out one of the neighbors who needed to fabricate parts for a new sink. Geri made a big batch of cookies, most of which are destined to be "thank you" gifts for the staff at the vet and emergency clinic who took care of Merlin early in the month. And, in one of those "why am I doing this again?" moments, I've been working on a "holiday letter" to include in with our cards this year. While it's difficult to boil down a year's worth of travel and experience in one page (at least without using the very small fonts), it's even harder to select a few pictures from the albums to include. Work on this continues, and eventually I'll wrap it up.

Dinner tonight was another winner: bowtie pasta with mozzarella-stuffed chicken sausage meatballs. The "everyday chianti" we had was slightly corked but drinkable, otherwise it was all good...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back to our routine

November 16, 2008
Peoria, AZ

I can't believe it's been a week since we were at the NASCAR races. What the heck did we do this week?

Monday was easy: we unloaded the coach and got it back in storage. Other than finding the beginnings of a leak in the drain pipe from the kitchen sink, this was pretty uneventful. I'll have more to report on the drain issue, which is located where the drain from the sink in the slide-out connects to the fixed pipe in the coach, in the future as I work out a fix.

The rest of the week has been pretty routine. Tuesday, we shopped. Thursday, Geri had a medical appointment and started the Christmas shopping for the grand kids. I cleaned out the shed in the back yard and reallocated stuff between the shed and garage. Yesterday, we did the Home Depot - Post Office - Bank - Farmer's Market - drop stuff at the coach loop. Well, Geri only did part of the loop as she was feeling poorly and I dropped her back at home mid-loop.

We're going to try a slightly different approach this fall to see if we can reduce the grocery bill (one of our top 3 expenses - who'd have thunk it?). We'll shop weekly on Tuesday or Wednesday, and aim to get some fresh fish (as fresh as it gets living in a desert hundreds of miles from the water). This week, we "reverse-engineered" three different recipes to come up with a dish that Geri saw a picture of in a magazine: prosciutto-wrapped halibut with risotto cakes and pea puree. Talk about the long way around! We could have made any one of the three recipes and been OK, I suppose, but where's the challenge in that? We found the fish from one recipe, which also called for a potato wrapper outside the prosciutto which we bypassed. The risotto cakes were from another recipe, starting with saffron risotto, which is cooled, molded, and then sauteed for color. The pea puree came from a third recipe, which also gave us the pea-olive-tomato salsa that was a topper. With a nice 1999 Volnay red Burgundy from the Wine Box, it made for a very nice meal.

We've read that Tuesday may be the best day to find fresh fish, as deliveries may have replenished stock that sat around over the prior weekend. Who knows if this is true, but at least it gives us a routine that's the first step to fiscal discipline. The budget took quite a hit in the last few weeks with Merlin's "mystery illness", and we're working hard to offset the impact with a few months of dedicated saving.

Speaking of Merlin, he's almost back to normal. He's much stronger and still trying to replace the 10% of his body weight he lost by wanting to be fed every couple of hours. He's moving better on his walks and back to playing at night, so we're hopeful that the worst is over for him.

Last night, we caught up on some recorded shows from the DVR. Today, we might catch the NASCAR race on TV, and then it'll be NetFlix movie night. The next week or so will be (hopefully) routine, leading up to a quiet Thanksgiving (for which the menu planning has already begun - more on that later). That's it for now...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wrapping up NASCAR at PIR

November 10, 2008
Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, AZ

We wrapped up our race weekend and made the long trip (15 miles - ha!) back home on Monday morning.

The NASCAR races over the weekend are broken up into three separate series, or classes. Friday night was a 150 mile race for the "Craftsman Truck Series" (basically the same type of race chassis, just with a body that looks like a pickup truck), Saturday was a 200 mile race for the "Nationwide Series" (the "developmental" circuit for NASCAR), and Sunday was the 312 mile (500 kilometers - so they can call it the "Checker Auto Parts 500") "Sprint Cup Series" (the "big time"). At one mile around, PIR is one of the shorter tracks on the NASCAR tour.

Friday night's Truck race was fun, and educational. We learned that ear protection is important (probably should have bought those $2/pair earplugs on the way in). We learned that our $6 seat cushions worked just fine and that we didn't need the more expensive ones after all. And, we learned that closer (lower) seating is not necessarily better, since the fence that surrounds the track also restricts your line of sight for the first 20 or so rows. Lastly, we found out that, while the free tram to/from the track from the RV parking areas is convenient, it's queue is worse than an E-ticket Disney ride when the race is over and everyone wants to head back at the same time. These lessons will help us immensely if we do this again.

Click here for a few pictures from Friday night.

Friday night, we had more of our pre-prepared dinner menu, still wondering how we'd (I'd?) managed to not realize how much pasta was involved in planning two pasta nights, two lo mein nights, chicken carbonara, and meatball stroganoff. We were lucky, though, that Geri had made and brought a "harvest pie" (apples and pears, oh my). After havibg it for the second night, we ended up sharing the remainder with the two couples next door, who had rented an RV locally after traveling down from Grand Junction, Colorado.

Saturday's race was in the late afternoon, and our seats were higher up (row 42). With everything I was carrying, and knowing where the seats were located, I decided to not bring the heavy camera gear because I wouldn't get many pictures beyond the snapshots I'd taken the prior days. These seats gave us the height advantage to see the whole track without too much interference, and we were pleased to see that the three top rows in the grandstand (42-44) all had built-in back rests that the lower rows didn't. With the seat cushions and the backrests, we were much better off.

On the other hand, we got to our seats too early (about 2 hours, to watch the final practice for Sunday's bunch) to sit in the desert sun for so long. We'd applied sunscreen liberally, so we didn't burn, but we definitely baked. New lesson: light-colored clothing is a must. Even with three bottles of water, I was parched by the end. Geri needed a break from the sun early on in the race, and didn't want to tackle the climb back to row 42, so she caught the majority of the race from the concourse and from an empty seat in a low row. We learned a new lesson: seats in the grandstand section on the western end of the track were in the shade for the whole race. To avoid the tram jam (clever, eh?), Geri positioned herself there just as the race was ending. I avoided the queue after the race was over by just walking back to the coach. It took me about 25 minutes; no big deal for me by myself but not an option for Geri.

Somehow, Geri found the time to make a new appetizer recipe: brucetta with white beans and sun-dried tomatoes. We had plenty to share with the neighbors before digging into the night's carb-heavy meal.

Sunday's "big event" started earlier, but the weather was different. As opposed to Saturday's blazing sunshine, we awoke to mostly cloudy skies and breezy conditions. Even though the clouds started to break up just before race time, it was much cooler on Sunday. I decided to do some exploring on the mountain bike in the morning, and ended up riding all the way through the RV parking areas, checking for possible future locations and seeing "the sights". In the areas where the earliest arrivals probably parked, some of the most decreipt and ramshackle "rigs" (and I use that term loosely) could be found. One crowd actually had a 35' houseboat on a trailer parked in amongst the RVs, lawn chairs and gas grill on the roof, "anchored" to a pair on Honda generators. I wish I'd brought a camera.

We decided that I'd wear a white T-shirt, take 3 liters of water, and ride the mountain bike over to the track (I'd seen hundreds of them locked along the fence the day before) and that Geri would take the tram when the race was about 1/3 over, giving the sun time to shift to the west a bit. This was a halfway decent plan, up to a point. That point came as Geri was just leaving the coach.

A series of clouds formed overhead, the wind picked up to about 50 MPH, and it started to rain and hail. In Phoenix. Go figure. Anyway, they actually stopped the race for about 30 minutes, just about the time that Geri was chasing our 9x15' patio mat around the RV parking area and trying to make sure that our chairs didn't blow away. At this point, her plan changed ("Why don't I just stay here and watch on TV?") and I started making the trek down 42 rows to the loo (not so parched after twice as much water). In true Phoenix fashion, the "weather event" was soon over and the only lingering evidence was thedust in the air from the winds. The race finished later than expected (Geri sasid the final few laps were cut off from the TV coverage; something about "America's' Funniest Videos" being a more important commitment) with another exciting ending.

I was glad I had the bike for the trip back to the coach, and glad I'd remembered to bring my regular glasses (it was well after sunset and the sunglasses needed all day would have been a hindrance). When we got back settled and chatted with the neighbors, the offered up a couple of grilled rib-eys for dinner - how could we refuse? They were great with some left over mashers we had from earlier in the week and a side of corn, along with a nice Aussie Shiraz/Cab blend ("Pillar Box Red", a Costco special).

Monday dawned sunny and bright, even if a lot of the inhabitants of our little temporary city were "slow moving". If I wasn't for the fact that most of the RVs and camping equipment deployed near us was relatively new and in reasonably good shape, you'd have thought we were in the midst of a refugee camp, or something out of the "Mad Max" movies. With the smoke from dying campfires and people milling about or packing up, it was in interesting sight.

Since we didn't have much stuff deployed, breaking camp was pretty easy. I packed up the patio mat and chairs, took down the generator exhaust stack, and put up the window awnings while Geri secured the inside and brought in the slides. Since we were so close to home, we decided that we wouldn't bother to hook up the car for towing. Geri headed off with the pups for home, and I took the coach over to the local Flying J truck stop on the premise that I'd top off the fuel and propane tanks, both of which were about 1/4 full. What a great idea. Too bad everyone else had the same idea first; the access road to the truck stop was jammed 1/2 mile all the way back to I-10. I ended up doing a drive-by, not getting stuck in the jam up, and just headed for home. I'll make a run over there some time over the next few weeks, as it's always a good idea to store the coach with a full tank of fuel to prevent condensation, but it's not critical here this time of year.

Overall, we had a pretty good time at the races, learned a bit about what to do next time, and met some niice folks in the process. I'm pretty sure that tickets go on sale in March, so I may send an email to a few folks in January/February to see if anyone wants to join us next year.

Friday, November 7, 2008


November 7, 2008
Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, AZ

We have an excellent spot in the "unreserved" section of the RV parking areas at Phoenix International Raceway ("PIR"). We're glad we arrived relatively early, on Tuesday afternoon. I say "relatively" because they opened up the RV parking on October 18th! From the looks of some groups, they had plenty of takers.

There are three different type of RV parking here. Actually, I should say "camping", since there are about 15% tents, plus a few 18-wheeler tractors mixed in. The first is "reserved", in which each space is striped off at about 20' wide by 40' deep and numbered. Many groups reserve a block of sites and then park in a square or "U" pattern, with a common area in the middle. These spaces are pretty tight together and we wouldn't fit well (too long).

The second area is what they call "campgrounds", but they aren't in the traditional sense since there are no services present. These are just dirt sections carved out of the brush, also striped off into small "spaces". This area is too tight for us to maveuver.

The final section is comprised of three "lots", large hard-packed dirt areas with "roads" laid in using some kind of oil to make for a contrasting color. The roads are about 80' apart, but no spaces are striped out, so we were able to "claim" a space about 30' wide by 80' deep, just by showing up early. Since the whole area is situated in rolling desert, we were also able to claim a relatively level spot as well - nothing to sneeze at after we saw some of the rigs parked at steep angles or jacked well off the ground. (Dave will recall how we had to leverage the coach into position at his place up North.) We're close to the tram stop (we're about a miles from the track and trams run every few minutes) and not too close to the porta-potties, so we're in excellent shape.

Of course, we're not exactly die-hard, rabid NASCAR fans, either, so we're keeping a low profile in some ways. We have no "stuff" with numbers. No t-shirts and hats, no banners, no chairs and seat cushions, no decals and bling on the Range Rover, no flags attached to 30' poles hanging on the coach. Most of the people we've met are very into certain drivers and/or teams. Of course, this also means that they're also not into "competing" drivers and/or teams. We certainly don't know all the "rules" and "tribes", so we just nod a lot. It's more complicated than the WWF.

Anyway, racing actually started yesterday, Thursday, with two USAC events in the evening after various practice sessions were completed during the day. I rode my mountain bike around during the afternoon, checking out the various parts of the layout and getting a handle on the "shopping" area (every driver/team has at least one huge trailer selling "stuff" - generally all the same "stuff"). We had an early dinner and headed over to the track around 5:30 PM, where we caught the end of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series practice session, followed by two USAC (the other major track racing organization beside NASCAR) sanctioned races. The first was a 25-lap Midget race which took forever (caution laps don't count in races under 100 laps) and the second was what they call the "Silver Crown" series, which reminded me of the "Modified" races we used to see as kids. These are open-wheeled, small-block powered cars that are basically roll cages with tires. They were running lap speeds over 130 MPH on the 1-mile track, so they're pretty quick. The pole-sitter won the race, leading all but 4 of the 100 laps. The same guy won the earlier Midget race, so he had a pretty good night.

Other than a few idiots shooting off fireworks between midnight and 1 AM, we had a pretty good night as well. This morning, we did a little shopping (the obligatory seat cushions, new sunglasses for Geri) and I took a few more pictures (film this time, to give the F6 some working time). Click here for a link to what I've posted so far. This afternoon, it's been a bit of relaxation (OK, I fell asleep in the chair while we were "relaxing" outside), and we'll have another early dinner before heading over to the track for tonight's Truck race.

So far, so good!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back to normal - and off to the races

November 5, 2008
Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, AZ

Life is getting back to normal after Merlin's health scare, and we've completed a couple of projects prior to heading for PIR ("Phoenix International Raceway") for this coming weekend's NASCAR races.

Merlin is much better, and getting stronger each day. He's still a little unsteady on his feet at times, and has taken to "slow walking", but he's cleared a stronger, slimmer (he lost about 2 pounds, we think) dog than he was 10 days ago. He's having a bit of trouble with the 5 steps up into the motorhome, but we can help him with that if needed.

Over the weekend, I finished up the installation of the water softener and whole house filter. First, I put in a true bypass, which allows the water to the house to be on, even if the filter/softener loop is being serviced. This should have been done when the prior installation was completed, but they clearly didn't care about future maintenance. I had to re-solder a couple of connections (note to self: don't sweat water pipes when you're distracted by a sick dog), but everything worked out fine. When I put in the filter/softener (putting a whole house water filter in line before the softener helps extend the life of the charge by reducing sediment and other impurities), I had a couple of additional points of seepage where the copper tubing connected to the nylon fittings of the softener (you just don't want to over-tighten these things), but they were easily resolved. I could notice the difference in the water right away; you actually get suds in the shower now. Our next step will be to take a cleaner (like "CLR") to the shower heads and the inside of the dishwasher.

We'd originally planned to head for the race track on Sunday, but realized it would make a bit more sense to wait until Tuesday since that's when Geri had an early morning dentist appointment. This was to remove the stitches (well, the ones that hadn't already fallen out on their own) from the "uncovering" (removing little flaps of gum that had healed over the metal implants over the summer). As always, she was a model patient, and the healing process is going extremely well. She has one more appointment with this dentist (the periodontist) before the other one (the prostodontist) does the impressions and has the crowns made. With the holidays coming up, that whole process will take 8 weeks instead of the normal 6, starting December 1st and wrapping up in late-January. In the meantime, though, she's back to soft, non-spicy foods for a few weeks.

Before we left with the coach, I wanted to work on one last small project. Over time, we've learned that being in close quarters with other RVs can lead to problems with generator exhaust. Our generator is in the front of the coach, and the exhaust is right under the driver's seat. Depending on location and wind, it can definitely make being outside a challenge. When we're "dry camping" (aka "boondocking" - staying in the coach without benefits of electrical service), we usually run the generator about 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening. This supports the coffeemaker and microwave, and charges up the battery bank. for the rest of the time, we a) conserve and b) use the 3,000 watt inverter to supply AC power. Well, when we were at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, my friend Wayne and I started to fabricate vertical exhaust extensions for our generators. We had each invested about $25 but didn't have workable units - yet. We both had ideas, though, and neither of us was interested in paying the $150 that Camping World wants for their exhaust stack. So, I made up a bunch of "s" brackets and extended the pipe I'd bought in New Mexico. We'll test it out this week!

After Geri's dental appointment, we headed over to the storage yard and brought the coach home. We were done loading it by Noon (we don't need a lot of stuff since we're only "out" a few days and we're only 15 miles from home). We found a spot and parked relatively easily. I'll pick up the tale, and hopefully have some pictures in my next post.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Merlin on the mend

October 31, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Happy Halloween!

We brought Merlin home on Wednesday afternoon, and he's doing much better. Not completely well, but much better. The first thing he did when he got home was eat (he hadn't eaten for a week) and poop (about the same). He's still slightly weak and unsteady, but getting better each day. We're very pleased with his progress, even though we still don't know what was wrong with him in the first place.

Hopefully, life can start getting back to normal for all of us at this point. I've started installing the water softener, although several of the copper sweat joints I did while Merlin was in the hospital had minor leaks and needed to be re-soldered. It just goes to show that distractions are always trouble. I got the bypass in this afternoon, so I could remove the old non-functioning softener. I hope to get the new softener in place tomorrow, so that'll be done.

Next week is "race week", so we'll have a complete change of pace. We have tickets for the four different NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway, about 15 miles from here just south of the I-10. We're planning to use the motorhome as temporary living quarters, and we can move it into the grounds starting Monday, with "staging" (getting in line?) any time now. We're thinking we'll load some stuff in the coach on Sunday and get in line, then find a spot on Monday. There's not much going on at the race track on Monday through Wednesday, so I'm not sure how much time we'll spend there. There are races Thursday through Sunday, so we'll probably sleep there those nights, and then move the coach back to storage on Monday morning. I'll hit the local truck stop on the way in to top off the fuel tank, and get propane (first time in a year) while I'm there. We'll then be all set until spring!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some good news, and some non-news

October 29, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Well, one of the vets (the mobile ultrasound guy) called around 9:30 PM last night to let us know that Merlin's liver biopsy results were back and that there was no sign of liver cancer. Great news! Of course, the tests don't shed any more light on what's been wrong with him for the last week and a half. The report from the animal hospital yesterday afternoon was that he was "doing better but we still think we should keep him for another night for monitoring". We have another call scheduled (sounds like my days at work!) for 9:00 AM, and if he's truly stable and showing some improvement, our plan is to try to bring him home today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It’s all about Merlin

October 28, 2008
Peoria, AZ

The “Dog Whisperer” corrects people when they say “Dogs are people, too”, but we can’t argue that they’re not “family”. We’ve had a week of emotional ups and downs with Merlin, and we’re not out of the woods yet, by a long shot.

We had him back at the vet on Wednesday for another cortical steroid shot, and he was better (not well, just better) on Thursday. Unfortunately, on Friday he was weaker and his fever continued to go up and down, so it was back to the vet in the afternoon. They felt that he needed special care (IV, antibiotics), so he went back to the emergency animal clinic, which is open 24 hours a day.

By Saturday, he was much worse, with some swelling on his eye and hind leg, and x-rays that showed (poorly, since they’re very murky and two dimensional) all sorts of potential issues (enlarged aorta, liver and kidney shadows, possible abdominal mass, yikes!). The clinic arranged for a mobile internal specialist to come in for an ultrasound, which showed his heart and aorta to be OK, no abdominal mass (just funny-shaped stomach, pancreas and spleen), small kidney stones (not likely to be causing his symptoms) and some “nodules” (what the heck is a “nodule anyway?) in the liver. They wanted to do more blood tests and maybe a liver biopsy on Monday or Tuesday. We directed them to proceed with the biopsy while the internist was already there, rather than wait for more tests. We’re hoping to get the blood and biopsy test results back today, but nobody’s guaranteeing anything.

After spending the weekend at the clinic, vet-to-vet consultation recommended that we take him to yet another specialist about 30 miles away in Scottsdale, so we brought him over there in the morning. The new specialist recommended that they keep him overnight – again – for IV and monitoring pending the test results. They just called with the morning update, which is that he’s somewhere between stable and better (walking – still wobbling – more, in-office blood tests better, showing signs of wanting to drink, but suffering a little nausea), and that they’ll continue to monitor him until the afternoon. We’ll have a check-in call around 2:00 PM. That’s where we stand right now; we hope the test results show up.

Sorry for the “blow by blow” on Merlin, but not much else has been going on. We don’t want to start anything complicated because we don’t know when we’ll need to do something or go somewhere with Merlin, and the whole process can be distracting. I need to install the water filter/softener and bypass, but I’m worried about interruptions or mistakes once I turn off the water and start cutting pipes.

The only other thing going on is that Geri’s dental implant work is proceeding well. As previously reported, the first two teeth were completed a couple of weeks ago and she’s adjusting well with no problems. We’re at the periodontist this morning to start the process of getting the second set installed. This dentist is the one that installed the implant screws in the jaw, and he’s got to verify proper healing and make sure that the gum tissue hasn’t grown over the implant base. Since they want the gum to cover the implant for ones in the upper jaw, he’ll be cutting that back today. It needs a month to heal, and then the prostodontist can take impressions and have the teeth fabricated and fitted, a process that’ll take from early-December to late-January. It’s usually a 6-week schedule, but we have some delays built in due to the holidays.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Returning to normal -- and a scare for Merlin

October 21, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We finally had a chance to get the pups groomed (Friday), and we had a great "catching up" dinner with our friends Ana and Larry. Starting yesterday, Merlin's been under the weather.

Friday's grooming was a non-event, we thought. We're not sure if it was the source of Merlin's being ill, of course. You always suspect anything when a pet gets sick, especially when (like right now) you can't really tell what's wrong with them! He was fine all weekend, but started out lethargic on Monday morning. By later in the day, he had labored breathing and was starting to get some swelling under his chin. By evening, he was running a fever and the swelling had increased, so off to the emergency animal clinic (cleverly named "Emergency Animal Clinic") we went. They shot him full of fluids, steroids, and antibiotics, and he was OK overnight (other than snoring louder than me).

Today, he wasn't much better, and the swelling increased more, so we moved up his appointment with the vet from Wednesday to this afternoon. The vet wasn't much more definitive about the diagnosis (I suppose it's tough when the "patient" can't talk), so off we went with additional meds. He did say that some pain was indicated under the jaw, but that he couldn't find any evidence of a bite (we've never seen a scorpion, but the woman next door swore one killed her cat in the spring). So, a pain medication (1/2 dose of Geri's) got added to the mix. The poor little guy's got more meds than most humans at this point. We've made an hour-by-hour schedule (OK, I made it, being the planner in the family), and will be monitoring closely for the next few days.

In other news, we had a great dinner on Saturday night with our friends (and Phoenix residents) Ana and Larry. We made our take on "steak frittes", with filet mignon au poivre and truffle-parmegean new-potato fries. With several nice wines (Coppolla Zinfandel, Zaca Mesa Syrah, two hands Shiraz), it was a meal to remember. Capped off with Geri's Harvest Pie (apple and pear) with vanilla gelato and a 375 ml 1996 Chateau d'Yquem - oh yeah!

On Sunday, we shopped for a water softener. We really need something to address the hard water we have here, and ended up with a nice Whirlpool unit from Lowe's. I ordered a whole-house sediment filter online, and we should have everything here by Thursday, so my Friday is booked! First, I'll install a bypass so I can work on anything without having to turn the water off. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the idiots who installed the "H2O Magic" thing we have (worthless) didn't include one. We won't make that mistake...

Well, that's it for now. Gotta go give Merlin more meds!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Settling in, mostly

October 16, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We're baaaack! After the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, capping a great summer "vacation", we've landed at our winter place. It's been a pretty busy week, but we're settling in nicely.

We had a great time at the Balloon Fiesta, spending some time with our friends Wayne and Eva. Unfortunately, the weather turned lousy at the end, and Saturday and Sunday events were cancelled. Of course, this means we got an early start on our drive home, which worked out fine. We hit the road around 8:30 in the morning and were parked in front of the house a little after 5:00 PM, having picked up an hour when we crossed into Arizona. It was a fair day for driving, with quite a bit of crosswind, but the gray skies cleared up magically as we got closer to Arizona. We arrived home to an unusual "cool spell", with temperatures all the way down into the 70s! It was short-lived, though, as we were quickly back to "normal" in the low-90s.

Since we arrived home late in the day, we did most of our unpacking on Monday morning. Everything went smoothly, and we had the coach back in storage (using the same storage lot as last year) by mid-afternoon.

It was a good thing that we were able to get back a day early, since this is shaping up to be a busy week with appointments at the dentist, doctor, hair salon, and pet groomer all on the calendar. It's all going well, though, and we should be settled in by next week. Of course, I've already got a list of things to do going, and won't run out of things to do for quite a while!

The big news on the home front, though, is that Geri's first round of dental implants were completed yesterday. She's been a model patient, and the permanent crowns were attached to the implants with no problems. Two down; two to go! I never realized how drawn out this procedure can be. We started this last fall, and it won't be completed until January! But, at least one side is done, and she can start getting used to eating normally again. We'll celebrate with a Steak Frittes on Saturday!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Balloon Fiesta 2008

October 11, 2008
Albuquerque, NM

We've had a great time at the Balloon Fiesta this year. We have much better parking than when we attended two years ago, and the weather on Thursday and Friday was perfect.

We made the short drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque as planned on Wednesday morning, arriving just after the designated 10:30 entry time. Several of the Monaco club members were already in place, so the arrival time wasn't too strictly enforced, but we're in a great spot about 100 yards from the launch field. We were about a mile away the last time we attended.

There were no scheduled events for Wednesday, so we just relaxed and got set up. Wayne and Eva are next door, and we set up our tables and chairs and Wayne's grill outside.

Thursday's schedule started at 5:30 AM, way before dawn. They launch several balloons as a "dawn patrol" before the activities formally start, allowing for a gauge of the flying conditions. We wandered over to the launch field and watched while everything got under way. It was a "gotta do" thing, so we put the check mark next to it. As the sun rose from behind the Sandia Mountains, the first balloon (sponsored by Wells Fargo, primary benefactor of the Fiesta) took off carrying an American Flag while The Star Spangled Banner was played over the field's speaker system. Over the next 90 minutes, several hundred balloons inflated and ascended. Although cool, it was a beautiful, cloudless morning, and the balloons drifted slowly overhead. No matter how many times you see it, it's always a magnificent sight.

Activites are broken into morning and evening schedules, so we had free time during the day. The group we were with sponsored a lunch at a local country club, so we carpooled over there. In the afternoon, Wayne and I started playing around with tailpipe extensions for our generators, since we're parked relatively close and exhaust fumes are a concern. We've both developed "prototypes" but we have more work to do when we get home. We're bound and determined to do better than the $150 version sold by Camping World. So far, we're each into it for about $30, so we're off to an OK start.

Thursday night's schedule called for a "balloon glow" (they inflate just after dark but don't fly, just run the burners to light up the balloons from the inside - didn't do much for me) followed by a fireworks show. Since we're parked so close, we were able to watch the latter from the coach, which was quite nice.

Friday was another beautiful day, with roughly the same schedule of events. We bypassed the Dawn Partol and watched the "special shapes" launch. After the special balloons launched and drifted away, they had a "rodeo" for the "normal" balloons. There were two separate contests set up on the launch field: "golf" and "key grab". For the golf course, they set up several "holes" around the field, and the balloonists were able to throw coded tokens as they passed overhead, with "closest to the pin" winning a prize.

The "key grab" was harder, with five 25' poles set up around the field, each holding a token that the balloonists tried to grab on the way by. One prize was a set of keys for a new Honda, so they were somewhat motivated. We saw a "hole in one" in the golf contest (they threw a ringer) and watched one pilot actually get the keys but drop them (sorry, apparently droppsies don't count).

We were treated to another lunch, did some more prototype exhaust work, and made a Costco run before Friday's fireworks. Unfortunately, Friday's events were marred by a fatal accident when one of the special shapes balloons hit a power line and burst into flames before crashing. Ballooning isn't for the faint of heart.

Today, the weather turned for the worse, with lots of clouds, strong and gusty winds, and (just a few minutes ago) some heavy rain. We were prepared, though, since we'd packed up all of our outside stuff yesterday afternoon. There wasn't much on the schedule for today anyway; Geri and Eva went shopping and Wayne and I are relaxing at this point.

Tomorrow is "departure day", after the final "farewell" mass ascension just after dawn (weather permitting. Depending on when we hit the road, we may make it all the way home, or we may stop for the night between Winslow and Flagstaff, along I-40. Either way, we'll have completed our "summer adventure" by Monday, when we'll be back in Peoria for the winter.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

First Snow Of The Season

October 7, 2008
Santa Fe, NM

No, it didn't snow on us, but we had some rainy weather over the weekend and ended up with snow on the mountains to the east of Santa Fe. The locals seem happy, since winter recreation is a big draw in this area. For us, not so much. We'll be heading south tomorrow (OK, only to Albuquerque, about 55 miles away, but we head for Phoenix on the 12th).

We're looking forward to the Balloon Fiesta, as the forecast (for what that's worth!) for the next few days is nice and mild. Most of the events we'll see are scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The longer-range forecast (way out on a limb here) calls for windy conditions on Saturday, which can curtail the activities. The stormy weather we had over the weekend did cause cancellation of some scheduled launches.

We'll be parked in a different, closer location than we were two years ago, so we hope to have a better vantage point. As long as the weather cooperates, we'll have a good time, no matter what.

There's not too much new to report, as we've been taking it easy. Geri's caught up on the last of the laundry until we get home, and I've been getting back into my self-study Photoshop lessons. Other than that, it's just been a matter of watching the financial markets tank, and thinking through money-saving techniques we can apply to both the coach and the house...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sandia Crest, plus catching up

October 3, 2008
Santa Fe, NM

Can you believe it's October already? In just a couple of weeks we'll be back in our winter digs outside Phoenix, putzing with projects around the house and planning next summer's adventures.

We've been following our normal plan over the last few days, getting in both relaxation and sightseeing. Monday, Geri did some laundry and I cleaned several hundred miles worth of bugs off the front of the coach. I've got to give the coach another treatment, though, since there's still a spattering of road tar all over the front from a section of resurfacing we went through near Socorro. I'm sure I have a spray for that in the basement.

Tuesday, we took a drive south on the "Turquoise Trail", aka NM-14. We didn't find much turquoise but did go through the little artist enclave of Madrid (touristy shops interspersed with buildings you'd expect to see in a ghost town), and then made the trek up to Sandia Crest. At 10,400' in elevation, the drive up the mountain (about 3,500' in elevation gain) is about 13.5 miles long. Of course, we stopped a few times to get some photos. The aspens are just beginning to change color, and they provide quite a contrast to the primary greens of the pine forests.

At Sandia Crest, I took some time to get some additional photos before we headed back down. We've determined that 8,000-9,000' is about Geri's limit. Similar to Pikes Peak, she opted to stay in the car while I poked around. There's not much at the peak, other than a gift shop, a snack bar (don't feed the bears), and a large complex of radio antennas. Signs around the site tell you that the radio signals may interfere with car alarms and keyless remotes; we can confirm that the latter is definitely true.

The interesting thing about the crest is that, while the drive up the eastern flank of the mountain is typical steep grades and switchbacks, the western face is almost a vertical 4,000' drop that directly overlooks the city of Albuquerque. It was a bit hazy, but I could see all of the city and pick out various landmarks (downtown, Sandia Casino, Balloon Fiesta Park, the Rio Grande, I-25 and I-40, the airport south of downtown). I walked for a bit along the Crest Trail, south toward the top of the tramway that brings tourists up, but it was a 2 miles walk and I wasn't water-equipped, so I limited myself to about 3/4 of a mile round-trip. OK, it was also a bit strenuous, with several sections of steep terrain, or stairways cut into the rock. In one area (probably too close to the edge), there were different kinds of rocks, with some just embedded in the main surface of the cliff.

On the way back north to Santa Fe, we saw an interesting house that was built into the shape of a pyramid under a faux sandstone arch. Of course, our budget is more in line with the other interesting place we passed by...

Our friends, Wayne and Eva, rolled into town Wednesday afternoon. They are staying at a different park (reserations are hard to come by this time of year, as a lot of RVers stay here, or stage here, during the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, about 50 miles away), but came over to our place for dinner (Geri's kicked-up meatloaf with shallot mashed potatoes and sauteed haricots verts). We went over to their coach for dinner last night (Hatch chiles stuffed with crab meat that Wayne caught over the summer in Oregon, Eva's Chili Verde with Spanish Rice and baked pinto beans). We've been focusing on "value wines", so several bottles of Mattie's Perch and Little Penguin are no longer with us.

We'll be hanging out here for the next few days before moving to Albuquerque. The Balloon Fiesta starts tomorrow, and it's essentially broken up into two "sessions". Most groups have reservations for either the first (arrive today and depart 10/7) or second (arrive 10/8 and depart 10/12) waves. We're in the second group, although a large number of the coaches parked near us left this morning (there was a group rally of 30+ Prevost bus conversions - the $1-million-and-up land yachts - here; we're not sad to see them go). We'll have an opportunity to get in the last grocery shopping, do some laundry, fill the water tank, etc. before we leave on Wednesday.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Enjoying Santa Fe

September 28, 2008
Santa Fe, NM

We've been enjoying our stay in Santa Fe so far, alternating "busy" days with "easy" days. The weather's been pretty good, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. Rain has been sporadic and mostly after bedtime, and we're acclimating well to the 7,000'+ altitude.

Similar to our stop in Page at Lake Powell, when we pulled into the park we noticed quite a few Monaco motorhomes. As it turned out and unbeknown to us, the Monacos In Motion caravan that left Lake Powell had just ended here! Even more Monacos were on the scene and pulling in; another caravan was forming up to leave. It was great to catch up with some prior acquaintenances and meet some new people at their evening "happy hour".

On Tuesday, we did some grocery shopping. We didn't particularly have a list of items or a meal plan, which made things a little difficult, but we explored the local Farmer's Market for vegetables, and the nearby Whole Foods for cheese and other specialty items. We saw a nice piece of halibut and some fresh mushrooms, so dinner was identified. The rest of the week, we decided to work with things we already had on hand, like linguine with chorizo and shrimp.

Wednesday was a rest day, although we did some cleaning and laundry.

On Thursday, we took the afternoon to drive into Santa Fe proper and poked around in some shops. It was a nice, sunny day, so I got some photos (click here) here at the park and in town.

Friday was a day that was planned in advance. We had tickets for two events at the Satna Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta (how could we not?), and then a dinner reservation for the evening. We decided to board the pups, since we wouldn't be able to walk and feed them on schedule, and we dropped them off mid-morning before we headed into town.

Our first seminar was at La Fonda Hotel,a dn it involved a panel discussion focusing on Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. We really enjoyed the discussion, and especially the 8 different wines that were poured. We'd met two of the panel members before, about a year-and-a-half ago when we were in southern California, and we've had wines from all four participating wineries, so this was a chance to get "inside perspective" on some of our favorites.

Since we had some time between sessions, we decided to have lunch, and chose a local place by the name (Coyote Cafe, which was one of our old haunts when we lived in NYC). Geri had "mucho nachos" (huge plate) and I had a duck quesidilla. Make a note, if anyone tells you a mango caipirinha is a good idea, forget it.

Our next session was the "reserve tasting and silent auction", and it was set up at the El Dorado Hotel ballroom. About 100 different booths were set up and a huge crowd shuffled around tasting whatever their hearts desired. There were wines from all around the world, although California dominated due to the proximity. We tasted several nice wines, although Geri petered out about halfway through due to the crowd and the heat. I toughed it out until I finished the room, and we actually won a lot in the auction (6 bottles of 2005 Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah).

We then had a nice dinner at Pranza, purportedly the best Italian restaurant in town. It was quite nice, with a wonderful decor and atmosphere and good food. Geri had a nice lasagna and I had a steak, and neither of us finished everything on our plates.

Yesterday, we rested. OK, maybe I nursed a bit of a hangover. We picked up the dogs in the morning, and weren't completely satisfied with their care, since their bedding (and parts of them) had been wet (if you know what I mean). Geri gave them a "tubbie" and washed their beds, and they were all settled down by evening. I did some post-processing on the recent photos in preparation for posting today.

Today was also a relatively quiet day. We did some shopping (a bacon press for the outside griddle, food for the next few days), walked the pups, met a 4 1/2 month old Yorkie down the way, and watched a little football. All in all, a very nice week!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On the road to Santa Fe

September 22, 2008
Santa Fe, NM

On Monday, we left Show Low and headed for Santa Fe. I made a slight change in the route in order to stick with our strategy of avoiding Interstates where practical. Rather than head 30 miles north from Show Low to pick up I-40 in Holbrook, we decided to head east on US-60. This route took us all the way to Socorro, NM, where we took I-25 north, through Albuquerque, to Santa Fe. OK, so we didn't avoid the Interstate altogether, but it was a good choice all the same.

This route took us past the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array radio telescope. There was a convenient rest area right at the site, and it was an opportune time for a rest, so the location was perfect for us. This installation was featured in the movie Contact, one of Geri's favorite sci-fi films.

After our break, it was a smooth ride to Socorro and then north to Santa Fe. We ran into some traffic as we passed through Albuquerque (there's no bypass loop for some reason) but we were early enough to avoid "rush hour". By 4:00, we were parked at our latest "home base", Santa Fe Skies RV Park. This park is about a mile off I-25 (no real highway noise - yea!) and on a small hill about 10 miles south of downtown Santa Fe. That makes it a little breezy but convenient and quiet. We have a nice view of New Mexico's famous sunsets and Santa Fe's nighttime lights from the park. Santa Fe is the state capitol, but there are no tall buildings in the city, so it looks quite different than other medium-sized cities. Our plans call for more exploration during the week.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Nice Trailer"

September 20, 2008
Show Low, AZ

I can't believe I'm posting to the blog again so soon, but just had to capture this while it's fresh...

We made a nice cod with a pine nut brown butter sauce paired with orzo with parmigiano and peas, and had just retired to the couch with our wine after eating when the dogs started barking at the door. Since this is normal behavior if someone walks by with a dog, I simply went over to distract and correct (thanks, Cesar). I found a strange little woman, reeking of cigarette smoke and half (and I'm being generous here) in the bag, looking in the door and talking to Maya. She wandered up with a wine glass in her hand, and was in the mood to talk. She invited herself in (Merlin was pretty good, so this was good practice for him), sat down, and just went on and on about life in Wisconsin, what a jerk her hubby is (can you say trailer-park redneck?), and what a nice "trailer" we have.

I immediately started thinking of exit strategies. News flash: it's a lot easier to exit when you're not already in your own house. I thought that if I started doing the dishes, she'd get the hint, but she was way beyond that. Since she was talking about walking her dog (or dogs, or the dogs she used to have but died, or whatever), once I was done with the dishes, I announced that we needed to walk the dogs. This had the desired effect, as we were able to get her outside and on her way (eventually on her way, since she started off in the wrong direction in the dark).

I'm thinking she'll be wondering tomorrow where that nice "trailer" went (assuming she remembers her evening in the first place). You meet the most interesting people while traveling... :-)

Antelope Slot Canyon

Note: this is the last (!) of a series of posts that deal with topics covered before in the Blog, but now we have the pictures processed to prove it!

September 9, 2008
Antelope Slot Canyon, Navajo Reservation near Page, AZ

Also covered in a prior post, we had an excellent time visiting the Antelope Slot Canyon. Starting from the tour company office in "beautiful downtown Page", we (Geri and I plus 10 others) piled into the back of an old Ford 4WD pickup outfitted with bench seats and rattled and bumped our way to the Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Reservation, just outside town. Antelope Canyon has been formed, of course, by Antelope Creek, which only runs when it rains. Heavily. Within +/- 8 miles.

Fortunately for us, the threatening showers that day held off and found a different area to rain on. The last 3 miles or so of the truck ride take you right up the dry creek bed, through quite a bit of loose sand. Our guide (driver) spent some time "playing" in the sand, power-sliding around curves and weaving across ruts. The passengers concluded that he needed to try riding in the back, just once.

The primary focus on the tour was photography; there are cheaper and shorter tours earlier and later in the day for people who just want to see the sight/site. When I return (I definitely would like to go back), I'll try to find a time of year when it's less crowded, and maybe find a private (as opposed to truckload) tour. No matter what, this was probably the highlight of the stay in Page/Lake Powell, photographically speaking. For the pure experience, it was right up there with the river rafting.

Click here for selected photos. I'll probably post some more pictures in the future, since I want to play around with cropping, retouching, and color management with some of the better photos from this set.

River Rafting on the Colorado

Note: this is one of a series of posts that deal with topics covered before in the Blog, but now we have the pictures processed to prove it!

September 8, 2008
Colorado River, between Glen Canyon Dam and Lee's Ferry

As reported in a prior post, we spent an afternoon on a "smooth water" rafting trip on the Colorado River, starting at the Glen Canyon Dam (well, actually, we started at the tour company's offices in Page and they bussed us to the Dam) and Lee's Ferry, where Glen Canyon ends and the Grand Canyon begins. It was a wonderful trip and we learned quite a bit.

For example, we found out that much of the vegetation along the riverbanks (and similar areas all over the Southwest) is Tamarisk trees that were introduced from the Mediterranean in the late-1800s to help stabilize the river banks. They've done an exceptional job at this. Unfortunately, the Salt Cedar, as it's also known, is extremely invasive and has spread to over a million acres of habitat. The worst part is that these trees have a huge appetite for water; each one transpires the weight of its foliage every hour during the day. That's a huge amount of water being lost, and water issues are a large and growing issue in this area. Well-knkown rivers like the Colorado and Rio Grande are barely a trickle by the time they reach the sea; all the water is siphoned off for human consumption. I hope they figure out a way to manage this in the future!

In addition to the educational side of the tour, we also enjoyed the quiet parts of the river. Since this was a "smooth water" trip, we didn't have rapids to contend with. At several points, our guide cut the outboard motor and let the raft drift for extended periods. Everyone on board sat quietly and took in the experience. Needless to say, we really enjoyed this tour.

Click here for some photos...

Boat trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Note: this is one of a series of posts that deal with topics covered before in the Blog, but now we have the pictures processed to prove it!

September 6, 2008
Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah

Here are another set of photos from one of our excursions while we were at Lake Powell. We booked ourselves on the 1/2 day boat tour "up river" to Rainbow Bridge National Monument. The Monument is contained within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the only practical way to get there is by boat. The "overland route" is a hike of about 17 miles each way across the Navajo Reservation (guide required). The boat trip is about 50 miles each way but takes two hours as opposed to two days. Needless to say, we never even considered the hike.

The boat trip was nice and the hike about 3/4 of a mile from the boat to the namesake arch was easy. It was interesting to see how the NPS has constructed a flexible floating dock to accommodate visitors to the Monument. Since the arch is in what's called a "side canyon" off the Lake, the distance from the water's edge to the arch can vary considerably depending on the Lake's water level. When the Lake is full, the water is almost up to the bottom of the arch. With the lake level down, the dock extends over 1/4 of a mile, allowing for safe navigation and easy access. It was quite interesting to see the 65' tour boat navigate through the side canyon that was probably 100' or less wide at points. Fortunately, the high cliffs keep the winds relatively calm at the water level, so we weren't really in any danger of a crash.

I hiked most of the way to the arch ("bridge" is really a misnomer, since there isn't really a way to cross anything on it), and stayed back of the other tourists to try to get a photo or two without people in the foreground. I was a little disappointed at the behavior of some people on the trip; since this is a sacred site to the Navajo, Ute, and several other tribes, you're encouraged to "look but not touch" and to avoid the area immediately under the arch. Unfortunately, a few people seem to have taken this as a challenge. It would have been nice to leave them behind...

In any event, click here for some photos from this excursion. In the overall scheme of things we were happy that we did this trip but enjoyed the river rafting and Antelope Canyon (pictures still to come!) tours better, so our recommendation to anyone with limited time in the area would focus on being selective.

Photo Trip to Utah: Cedar Breaks, Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon

Note: this is one of a series of posts that deal with topics covered before in the Blog, but now we have the pictures processed to prove it!

August 30, 2008
Southern Utah

One of the nice things about where our "home base" was at Lake Powell is that we were able to make day trips to various landmarks and parks in the "Grand Circle" area. There are many parks and special areas within relatively close proximity to each other in this part of the country. Of course, the emphasis is on "relatively", in this case a full day of driving.

We started out heading northwest along US-89 into Utah, through Kanab and past the access road to Zion National Park. We bypassed Zion this time because they use a shuttle bus serevice inside the Park to reduce traffic congestion. Since we had the dogs with us, that would have been impractical. A little further on, we found the road that would take us to Cedar Breaks National Monument. This little-known National Park Service area is a natural ampitheater carved from the rocks and cliffs, and bears a striking resemblance to Bryce Canyon, its neighbor to the northeast. We had our picnic lunch by one of the overlooks, and I hiked up one of the trails to see an ancient stand of bristlecone pines.

Next, we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. The access road tothe Park passes right through Red Canyon, which made for a good stop for a few photos and a "rest". It's amazing how spoiled we are to travel in the motorhome, where a "rest stop" can be just about anywhere we want. In the Range Rover, not so much.

We drove the full length of Bryce, making note of photo opportunities along the way. Bryce is basically a linear park, running north to south with several side roads and numerous overlooks along the main road; you get out by backtracking the way you came in. As we made our way back to the main gate, we stopped at quite a few spots for photos, until the clouds started gathering and we felt a few drops. Fortunately, any real rain held off until after we were already heading back to Lake Powell.

Click here for some pictures from this day trip.

I'd identified a shortcut back to Lake Powell that would have cut over a hundred miles off the trip. Unfortunately, it would have entailed driving about 20 miles on an "unimproved" road. Discretion being the better part of valor, I knew that rain and dirt roads aren't a good combination in this part of the country. We made it home in fine shape by sticking to the same route we'd taken, along US-89. We'll save the back-road adventure for another visit...

Grand Canyon North Rim Pictures

Note: this is one of a series of posts that deal with topics covered before in the Blog, but now we have the pictures processed to prove it!

August 27, 2008
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

As previously reported, we made a day trip to the North Rim from our spot along Lake Powell. It was more or less a full day trip, since we had to travel several hundred miles and didn't get home until well after dark. If we'd gotten an earlier start, and had been closer to the park, I probably would have spent more time making photographs, using various filters and different lighting conditions. On the other hand, some of the pictures came out OK; click here to see them.

Nice stay at Show Low

September 20, 2008
Show Low, AZ

We're winding down our stay at Show Low, since we head for Santa Fe on Monday. There's not a whole lot to do here, and we were looking for a place to relax for a bit after all the activities around Lake Powell, so this has worked out well. We've puttered with a few things around the coach and got in some reading (nothing new for Geri, but a nice change for me) and maybe even an afternoon nap. Of course, there's been an unusual amount of monitoring of financial news and analysis this past week as well, but that's for a different blog. And, the lack of substantial rain means that the coach hasn't sunk into the ground any further. :-)

We've had generally nice weather, but most days there have been "pop-up" thunderstorms in the general vicinity. I suspect that this phenomenon is related to the topography of the land and the prevailing air currents at this time of year. Any moisture pulled into southern Arizona at elevations ranging up to 3,000-4,000 feet collides with the 7,000-8,000 foot Mongollan Rim and White Mountains (no, they're not just in New Hampshire), clouds build up, and rain falls. My niece Alyson (studying meteorology) could probably provide a more technical explanation.

Fortunately, we've had little of the rain actually fall on us. The relatively flat terrain where we are means that we can see pretty well into the distance in all directions, and you can see rain falling somewhere most every afternoon. We were fortunate to see a rainbow the other evening as we were getting ready for dinner. It was quite bright, and for a while there was a faint shadow of a second bow. We haven't seen a double rainbow since we were in Oregon last fall. This one lasted quite a while, since conditions were just about perfect: a slow-moving shower to the east and a setting sun to the west. And we didn't even get wet!

Yesterday (Friday), we took a ride east and then south, just to explore the White Mountains. We've never been in this part of the state before, and it was interesting to reflect on the notion that Arizona is way more diverse than most people think - it's not just about the deserts. Many of the areas through Springerville and Alpine down to Hannagan Meadow reminded us of Yellowstone in Wyoming, just without the geothermal features.

The road (US-191) to Hannagan Meadow runs along a picturesque little creek, so we stopped at a couple of spots for some photos. I got a couple of interesting shots, although the local wildlife (a chipmunk and a duck) were less than pleased with my presence.