Coordinating vacation with the wife-unit is sometimes challenging. We both work, and our slack times at work don't always line up. It had been well over a year since we had been able to take a decent vacation, and the preparations had started at least 3 months prior. Not so much because there was a lot to do, but work had been keeping me so busy for the past several months I was having a hard time finding those magic moments when opportunity and desire intersect. Our vacation plans this year consisted of only a possible destination: Yosemite. Two weeks is about the most my wife can be away from her job at one time, and Yosemite is about 1800 miles from Middle Earth (Little Rock, AR) by the most direct route, so I knew the trip this year was going to involve a lot more driving than normal. We don't usually take "the most direct route" anywhere when we're on vacation. In fact, we tend to meander around aimlessly doing whatever suits us at the time. We don't make reservations anywhere, because we don't know where we'll be on a given day. State/National Parks, Forestry Service campgrounds, disbursed camping in forests, private campgrounds, and rest areas are all potential overnight stops for us.
Fortunately, I like driving my truck, and my endurance is almost equal to the 65 gallons of fuel I can carry (not really ). After mod'ing and tweaking it over the past 13 or so years to make it a better camper-hauler, it's a very comfortable rig to take on a long trip. I don't use my truck as a daily driver any more, so I typically start looking at it from a mechanical reliability point of view well before we head out across country. This year, I had quite a list of things I wanted to get done. Some I could do myself, some I would happily pay someone else to do for me.
The normal chassis lube, checking and replacing of fluids and filters, etc. was on the list and was done by me. The fuel filter only had about 500 miles on it, and had been changed less than 6 months ago, so it was fine. The last time I had the front-end aligned the shop noted that the steering gearbox had too much play in it, and despite the fact that I told them I was OK with replacing it if needed, they chose to try adjusting it instead. This made matters worse, as the steering wheel would now not spin back after making a turn, and an ominous popping noise was occasionally heard. So I took the truck to another shop and had it replaced. One of the exhaust manifolds had developed a leak close to the firewall, and I initially talked to a shop about them repairing it but it sounded a little too open-ended (money wise) for me, so I fixed it myself. I was able to get the manifold off without breaking any bolts, install a gasket (no gasket is used when the engine is built), and reinstall the manifold with new bolts. I had also wanted to replace the starter for some time because the one used in my year model cranks significantly slower than the newer years. I bought a new Super Duty starter and installed it. Cranks and starts much faster now.
Of course, while doing all of this and driving it occasionally to test it out, new problems crop up. The high pressure power steering hose developed a leak and had to be replaced, and the "Brake" check light came on one time when I had to stand on the brakes to avoid one of those "bed-wetting Prius drivers" (who said that???) so I ordered a new vacuum pump and serpentine belt and installed them. Tires were all in good shape, these Michelin XPS Traction tires are really holding up well. I removed the rear seat in the cab so we have a place to store our Dahon folding bikes (great bikes that don't at all look like the typical "clown bike" folders you usually see) and other gear. I give the truck a wash and wax, and clean up the cab after all the maintenance is done.
The camper was considerably easier: clean it up, flush the water system, start the fridge, purge the LP system, start the generator, etc. Anticipating doing a fair amount of camping without hookups on this trip, I find some battery operated LED lights for a very good price and install several of them in strategic places inside the camper. They all take AA batteries, and provide more than enough light to make coffee in the morning, prepare and eat dinner at night, and shower/shave by.
I put one of these over the dinette
And six of these in various other places that seemed right.
Simple/Cheap/effective.......my kind of mod.
We leave Middle Earth on a Saturday morning, heading West on I-40 for two weeks away from our jobs and home. The past 3-4 months at our jobs have been brutal for us both, and we are SO ready for this vacation. We hadn't driven far when we passed a few trucks carrying these huge whale bones. Being from a coastal whaling town and all, we're used to seeing such things around here. These were especially big however, so I thought I'd show some of you land-lubbers what they look like.
OK, so it's not a whale bone. It's a wind turbine blade. They're made here in Middle Earth by LM Wind Power, and we see them on the highways all the time. I think it takes 7-8 separate trucks to haul all the components of one turbine.
This is only the second trip we've made with my new front hitch toolbox on the truck. I really like it. It gives me a good spot to carry a small grill, and my Yamaha 1000 generator. It seems to have improved the way the truck/camper responds to hiway bumps and dips, too.
Our first fun stop was in Oklahoma City, to take a look at the Oklahoma Land Run Memorial that's been under construction since at least 2003. It's in the "Bricktown" area of OKC next to Bass Pro, and of course depicts the April 22, 1889 Land Run when more than 50,000 people vied for either 160 acres out in the sticks, or a town lot, in the former Indian Territory. There are currently about 20 larger-than-life-size bronze sculptures in place, and will eventually have about 45 that will include 38 people, 34 horses, 3 wagons, 1 buggy, 1 sulky, 1 dog, 1 rabbit and 1 cannon. These things are big, and very nicely done. It's a split second of the start of the run, frozen in time and spread out over an area 365 feet long by 36 feet wide. The tallest sculpture is over 15 feet tall.
Our first night was spent at Red Rocks Canyon State Park near Hinton, OK. A nice park in the west-central Oklahoma plains that we took surprisingly few pictures in. It's worth stopping at, though.
Going through Weatherford, OK we see several of these familiar wind turbines. Hmmmm.... those blades don't look as big up there as they did on the hiway.
Shortly after passing through that area, my truck hit a mileage milestone: 190K miles . Stupid flash glared the display, but if you tilt your screen just right, you can see the first three digits.
We roll across the Texas panhandle and enjoy seeing landmarks we've seen many times before: The leaning "Britten USA" water tower and the "Second Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere" in Groom, TX. The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo (just the thought of trying to eat a 72 oz. steak in less than hour almost makes me gag ), the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo, and then a looooooong stretch between Amarillo and Albuquerque where there's not much besides the beautiful rolling landscape to look at. Tucumcari, NM is a cool town if you like Route 66 Americana. We've spent time there, and spent the night there on other trips out west. Today we have another destination in mind, so we keep rolling west.
We make it through Albuquerque, NM and leave I-40 at Grants and head south to El Morro Nat'l. Monument near Ramah, NM. El Morro is a large sandstone bluff that's been used as a trail marker and source of water for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It has over 2000 inscriptions carved on its lower surfaces, some of which date back to the 1600's. There's also a pool of water at it's base that is fed totally by rain and snowmelt running off the rock. We made a long drive today, and arrived after sunset. The last few miles were tough driving, I was so tired . We stayed overnight in the campground at the monument, which has only nine spaces. We were the last ones to arrive that night so we got the handicap spot. Park Service Campgrounds aren't like parking lots, if the last open spot is the handicap spot, it's OK to take it.
We walked from the campground to the visitors center in the morning.
There are a lot of inscriptions on El Morro in Spanish, including the oldest inscription: Paso por aqui el adelantado Don Juan de Onate del descrubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605, or, in English, "Passed by here the Governor Don Juan de Onate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South on the 16th of April, 1605," He actually didn't "discover" anything. He was returning from the Gulf of California.
There are also some beautifully carved inscriptions. The flowing script of E. Pen. Long:
The deeply carved block letters of P. Gilmer Breckinridge:
And ancient petroglyphs and carvings made by the Anasazi centuries before Europeans came to this continent.
One of my favorites is also the longest. It's difficult to read due the the ravages of time. The light was terrible for photographing it as well, so the picture I have of it isn't that good, but it reads in English: "I am the captain General of the Providence of New Mexico for the King our Lord, passed by here on the return from the pueblos of Zuni on the 29th of July the year 1620, and put them at peace at their humble petition, they asking favors as vassals of his Majesty and promising anew their obedience, all of which he did, with clemency, zeal, and prudence, as a most Christian-like gentleman extraordinary and gallant soldier of enduring and praised memory." He thought a lot of himself, didn't he? Apparently, someone who came later thought it was a little over the top, because the word "gentleman" and a few others were scratched over. Must have been somebody who knew him.
There are the ruins of an ancient pueblo on top, and a nice trail to get you there. We hike on up to the top, enjoying the views as we go.
Interesting holes forming in the soft sandstone.
This one looks like it could fall at any moment.
Nice view of another bluff to the North-West from the top. This is essentially what El Morro is.
The top of El Morro is hollowed out, creating a box canyon of sorts, with an interesting spire standing alone in the middle.
The pueblo ruins are on the other side of the canyon, and looking across we spy two figures who are scoping us out with binoculars.
They turn out to be two NPS LEO's, the ones who carry guns. They were trying to figure out what kind of varmint we had walking with us on a leash. It's a cat, of course. Haven't you ever seen a cat on a leash?
We walked over to the ruins and had a nice conversation with the rangers, who gave us some interesting facts about the ruins, which was known as "Atsinna" by the inhabitants. There is only a small corner of the ruins exposed, but from that small excavation it was learned that the native peoples had extensive trade connections with cultures as far away as Central and South America. The rangers told us that amongst other things, mummified parrots and other non-native animals and items were found during the excavation. We were also told that the main walls that made up the various rooms and compartments of the pueblo were meticulously aligned NS and EW.
Coincidence??? I think not!
View from the top down toward the visitor center. The campground is also off in the distance, but they have it hid pretty well in the trees. I even had trouble spotting it in person.
The cat was tired after the long hike, and decided she wanted to ride back to the campground. (She likes me best ).
After we got back to the camper, we had lunch and then pushed on towards Gallup, where we got back on I-40. Gallup is a nice looking town. They have a lot of these giant pots sitting around decorated with Native American designs.
We crossed the state line into Arizona, and were soon greeted with this bizarre place. This is so "Route-66", don't you think?
We were planning to find a Forestry Service campground in Oak Creek Canyon south of Flagstaff for the night, and tomorrow driving through Sedona, Jerome, and then by a yet-to-be-determined route to Lake Havasu City. Just before getting to Flagstaff, I noticed that the "Fuel Filter" light was coming on when the engine was under heavy load. The light is intended to let you know when the fuel filter is dirty (there's a separate light for water in fuel), but as I said the fuel filter shouldn't have needed changing yet. I guess I picked up some dirty fuel at the last place we filled up. The weather was starting to look threatening, and we were close to our intended campground, so I just took it easy and didn't push the truck until we got there.
Once we were in our site I pulled the fuel filter, but as far as I could tell it looked just fine. It was starting to rain and blow a little, so I quickly put my new filter in and closed it up. I was intending to drain the filter canister into a jar so I could look at the fuel, but discovered that I had lost my canister drain hose somehow. The canister has a short drain tube that gets the draining fuel over to the side of the engine, but that's about it. I had added a short piece of hose to get it closer to the ground where I could catch it and examine it if needed. Without the hose it tends to just go everywhere and make a mess, and we were parked on blacktop in the campground as well. I try to not mess up other peoples asphalt if I can help it. Plus, it just didn't look like it was necessary, as the fuel in the canister was crystal clear, and I couldn't see anything on the bottom.
About the time I got back in the camper, all hell broke loose from the weather. Wind, rain, and hail all came on us in a fury. The camping gods were punishing us all for our feeble attempts to stay warm and dry. Take that nylon tent! Flimsy aluminum pole! Thought you could leave your awning out, didn't you? Bwahahahaha! Tents, awnings, EZ-UP canopies, end even a few huge plastic dumpsters were blown all around. No damage to our rig, though. I seldom use the awnings on our camper, but there hadn't been enough time to put one out even if I wanted to. I know several tent campers slept in their cars that night. On our way out the next morning, we found our exit blocked by this downed tree. We backed up and went out the "IN" way.
The weather was still rainy, but we still enjoyed the drive down 89A to Sedona, Jerome, and Prescott Valley. The scenery is always nice here, no matter the weather.
We were a little early for most of the business's in Sedona, though we we did find a few places to browse through. We also admired this bronze horse. This would make a good lawn-ornament.
We continued on to Jerome. I can remember taking this road when I was a boy with my parents. The route was recommended to us because of the impressive scenery. It was impressive as my Dad towed a 30' trailer on the narrow roads, tight switchbacks, and steep grades. I remember my Mother being quite shaken by the sheer drop-offs that always seemed to be on her side of the truck. I think she wanted to kill the person who sent us this way.
I found a parking lot for the truck, and we got out to walk around and take in the town.
The view was nice, even if it was a little overcast.
I remember we bought some fudge at a candy shop, then walked past this backyard filled with glass objects on our way back to the truck. You can't expect much privacy living on the side of a hill.
We rolled through Prescott where I stopped at the Ford dealership and bought a new fuel filter to keep as a spare. A fuel filter, a cam position sensor, and a serpentine belt are about the only spare parts I carry with me in the truck, but I feel "exposed" when I don't have one of them. We then went through Yarnell and Congress while it rained off and on. Hwy-89 has a pretty steep grade around Yarnell. It drops about 2500' in 4 miles. That would be a fun grade to go up, but today we're going down. Time to turn on the exhaust brake.
As we roll across the Sonoran Desert, we start seeing prickly pear cactus as big as bushes, saguaro cactus as big as.................well, just BIG, and Joshua trees. We don't have this stuff in Middle Earth.
Our camping destination tonight is the "Parker Strip" area of the Colorado River. I'd heard that Buckskin Mountain State Park was a nice place, so we headed there.
We got set up in a nice camping spot.
The park and river are just beautiful. The waters of the Colorado bring life to a narrow strip of the desert on each side of the river.
Their lawn looks better than mine does back home.
Lots of watercraft in use. The trailers on the other side are in California.
These cabanas can be rented by tenters, and give them a sheltered spot to prepare and eat meals.
There's an interpretive cactus garden, and some old mining equipment on display.
A view of the park from one of the high vantage points nearby. My truck is about dead center in the picture.
We ride out to the Parker Dam, which holds back Lake Havasu behind it, and helps provide flood control, electricity, and water to the Colorado River basin.
Interesting flood-gate design.
As we ride into Lake Havasu City, we see some unique home designs.
Lake Havasu City is a relatively young, planned community of about 55,000 that was established in 1963 by entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch, best known for McCulloch chainsaws. One of his other notable achievements is buying the London Bridge for 2.4 million dollars, and then spending another 7 million having it dismantled, shipped to Lake Havasu City, and reassembled on a peninsula in it's present location. A channel was then excavated under it, bringing the waters of Lake Havasu under the bridge.
The bridge itself is impressive, and the concept of moving it is even more so.
A replica English Village was built next to the bridge, which includes a nice fountain, but to be honest the rest of the village seems a bit out of place.
The next leg of our trip will take us into California, so I'll make this the end of "Goin' Out Californee-Way Part-1".
Hopefully, I'll get Part-2 posted in a week or so.