Fast Moving Westbound, With a Hitch

The forecast continued nasty and we determined to continue on west, but Sunday seemed like a reasonable day to do some exploring as we moved on. An article in Motorhome Magazine discussed a couple of “living” ghost towns in New Mexico that seemed worth visiting. They are Hillsboro and Kingston along State Route 152 which goes from no place to Silver City (almost no place). We cruised up I 25 after a stop at Stahmann’s Pecan Shop near Las Cruces to pick up necessary supplies, and way to much Blue Belle Ice Cream. Each of us ordered a single in a dish and ended up putting half our portion in the freezer for after dinner. We exited on to 152 and headed west, no choice as there is a large lake to the east.

We visited the Barbershop Café in Hillsboro and bought a couple of items. The proprietor told us that the road was closed at Kingston, but there was plenty of room to swing around. Oh, he also told us that the 12’6” overhead warning was wrong. He was half right. The low clearance bridges, two, were posted on the road as 12’6” but on the bridge they were posted at 12’8” and there was plenty of clearance if we stayed to the center of the road. At the fork for Kingston the continuation of 152 was closed as promised and the fork into town (population 25) was covered with snow and ice. In order to make the turn we had to disconnect the tow’d and do a K turn keeping the drive tires on pavement. We returned to Hillsboro and took 27 south toward Deming, NM. There we found the Starlite Motel, Café and RV Park with plenty of room and we setup just as dusk was falling.

In the morning we discovered something else was falling as well. We woke up to find the road passing the RV Park closed and the grounds covered with white frozen stuff. Further inquiry lead to the information that I 10 westbound was closed to the NM border and from the AZ border through the Dragoon Mountains. We changed plans and Carol did laundry and I went out and made some friends.

Monday morning we were in touch with Norm and Shelley Topf. They were in Quartzite and heading toward Yuma. If you look at your map, Deming to Yuma is an easy (?) 8 hours on I 10 and I 8. With an early start from Deming we rolled steadily west all day. The Topfs and the Ploessers were settled into Pilots Knob RV Resort, a membership resort where, with a coupon which we had picked up at a fuel stop, you could get 4 days 3 nights free along with a free meal. The cost was listening to a 90 minute pitch to own a piece of the desert. We elected to bypass the sort-of-free for really free. Just down a desert road there is a Free STVA (government speak for a Free Short Term Visitor Area). The only requirement is that we obey the signs about where camping and driving are allowed. Thank you to the American Taxpayer. We enjoyed our stay there for 3 nights free with no sales pitch and no other amenities.

We took a day with the other two couples and drove into Algadonas, Mexico to buy glasses, meds (not for us) and lunch. With the new US protections against illegal immigration and other idiocy, the wait for pedestrians to cross has extended from an hour last year to 3 + hours this year. The wait for a car was just about an hour. They are reviewing passports now, although it is really unclear whether they are required, but they do not have scanners! This means that if they chose to review the passport they must key the data in for each one. It will get worse before it gets better. The only people being inconvenienced at this border town are US citizens and the business people in Mexico whose business is dropping like a rock as tourists learn how long the wait is to get back into the US. There is no wait at all getting into Mexico. Once back in the States we took a rest and went into Yuma for dinner at Brownies, claiming to be the place in Yuma where everyone eats. We spent Thursday doing some repairs and maintenance on the coach and going into Yuma for some groceries and some sight seeing.

We received a call from Yechiel at some point during this day that they would like us to join them for Shabbat with Les Duman, Miriam’s dad, who was visiting. A quick map check showed the drive was doable and a call to Malibu Beach RV Park secured a site for a week. Friday morning we got up really early, we were still on Mountain Time so our 6 am wakeup was really 5 am in LA. We drove back into Yuma to buy gasoline (for 30 gallons a $.50/gallon difference is worth going 16 miles out of the way). We spent the day driving across southern California to San Diego and then up through LA to Malibu. It was early enough in the day that the traffic was only dense, but moving. After setting up we got in the car to join them for Shabbat. Traffic was no longer moving on the I 10. It took over an hour to get to their house and we arrived just in time to leave for services.

We will be sitting here spending time with them and watching Azriel and Avtalyon so they can have some time off until Friday morning when we plan to leave for some place to be determined. Our site is grand and the rear end of G2 is hanging out over PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and we see the ocean from all but our windshield.
Gee2 in Malibu
This is the view from the Ocean.

Winter in West Texas

As I write we are in Ft Stockton, TX in the Parkview RV Park. We stayed here in 2003, 4 years ago and it looks as if no maintenance has been done since and it was in desperate need then. We may be here a while. Our plan is to move on to El Paso tomorrow for a front end alignment. I have noticed some unexpected wear on the front tires and have been informed that the alignment needs to be checked.. We may put that off until Monday as there are winter storm warnings with snow and sleet and ice pellets in the forecast for this entire area starting at 3 AM. I am not moving this rig if there is a likelihood of ice on the roads.

I am not sure how we happened to land here. As we left Birmingham it was clear that there was some severe winter weather in Texas. We figured to travel west through it as it moved east. With luck we might have to put up with a couple of days of lousy weather on the road until we got to the other side. The only problem I can see with that thinking is that the “other side” may be in Honolulu. It certainly is not between us and the coast and even if it were we are not moving out of a comfortable, albeit decrepit, campground until I can hope for clear roads.

Next day, Friday the 19th. We slept in, had no idea we would be able to move on and didn’t have far to go anyhow. When we got up it was clear that the predicted storm had not hit, yet. We fussed around about whether to drive on to El Paso or not. Finally as all the other transient units had moved on we decided to roll as well. By 10 we were fueling up and getting underway. As we got going it became clear that if the weather held we could make El Paso in about four hours. Our appointment was for 8 AM on Saturday, but they are a first come, first served shop. It seemed that between the clear road and crossing the line from CST to MST we would arrive about 2 PM with a stop for lunch and more fuel. And so it was that by 2:15 we had G2 under the Firestone canopy in El Paso. Upon close examination and advice of the tire specialists, we decided to swap the right front for the spare. I wanted to buy another new tire, but no Goodyear G670’s were available and I was not about to mix tires on the axle. The worst part of the entire job was getting at the spare tire. It is hidden behind a panel that carries the license plate. All of the bolts have to be reached by sitting under the rear of the coach. Naturally several of the six bolts were corroded. Now they are all rust resistant and have wing nuts instead of hex nuts. The alignment and tire swap were completed and we were under way by 5 PM. These guys were good and they were pleasant and I would recommend to anyone who needs chassis service in the El Paso area to consider them.

We pulled into Roadrunner RV park just a few miles from the Firestone and set up camp. My very expensive Surge Protector paid for itself as I was setting up. I plugged into the podium 30 amp connector and went to the electrical bay to see how the power was coming on and saw for the first time and error message that the wires in the campground box were polarity reversed. It means that any improperly grounded appliance would have its outer shell connected to the hot rather than the ground, NOT GOOD! Besides, the unit won’t turn power on in the rig if there is an error. I got out and extension and connected to the adjacent box which was properly wired. We informed the office what we had done and they took that site out of service until it can be repaired.

When we stuck our heads out on Saturday morning the storm seemed to have missed again. It is cold but no precipitation and the roads are clear. We got dressed and went to Temple Mt Sinai for Torah Study and services. We were greeted warmly and enjoyed the study group a lot. The rabbi, Larry Bach, has a fine voice and lead the service in the chapel with many interesting melodies, a couple of which we had not heard before. His teaching before the service and his words during the service provided some interesting insights into the portion.

After services we went in search of visitor information and lunch. We found a Mexican restaurant with a buffet lunch that was really quite authentic. We were among the few non Mexicans in the place. I ate too much and enjoyed every mouthful. After lunch we chose to take a long ride through the mountains since the sun was shining and it is not a road we want to drive the motor home on. It was a beautiful ride until we came down out of the mountains into the plain which is being developed in front of our eyes. After shopping at an Albertsons were returned to the coach and rested over a late dinner and it is soon to be movie time.

Tomorrow off to New Mexico or?

Pigeon Forge to New Orleans Indirectly

We woke up in Baileyton RV with the idea of going to Pigeon Forge, TN. Can’t say for sure why one would even consider this to be a good idea, but we were vamping. The tour in Whitwell is on Friday and it was Wednesday and the total drive time to Whitwell looked like four hours. I had read about Pigeon Forge and knew it is the home of Dollywood and is supposed to be an outlet shopper’s heaven. It clearly caters to RVers as well, there are seemingly endless choices of RV resorts, campgrounds call them what you will. The good folks at Baileyton had suggested River Plantation RV Resort and not having any reason to disagree, that is where we went. I would go back to that RV park even more readily if it were not in the Pigeon Forge area.

Pigeon Forge and its neighbor Gatlinburg make up an almost continuous strip of accommodations, food, entertainments for all ages and outlet shopping. There are five Tanger outlet malls in the en mile strip and several others as well. It is January and like Branson, MO a couple of years ago we managed to hit the off season. Everything closes down after January 1 until mid February or March 1. There was only one show the night we were there, The Smith Brothers. Let us say we were moderately entertained and would suggest that if any other show were open try it first. We spent much of the afternoon before dinner and the show in the Arts and Crafts area of Gatlinburg and found much to be quite pleased with.

We dined at Ruby Tuesday which was next to the theater. What can one say about this level of cuisine? Had the coach been closer we know what we would have chosen. It wasn’t bad tasting, just bad for us.

Thursday morning found us needing to shop. Carol learned there is a Petite Sophisticate that has been reopened, now owned by Lane Bryant, how’s that for a contradiction. She found clothes to buy. Having shopped Manhattan for a day and and found nothing that even fit, this could be called a miracle. We gather our belongings and boarded our coach headed for Whitwell the hard way. No interstates for us. We had five hours to cover 150 miles by interstate. We chose the alternate route along the edge of the Great Smokies. It was fun for a while, but the towns were fairly ugly and closely spaced. Eventually we found our way to I 75 (for those who might try to follow, we left Seveirville on 411/441 and stayed on 411 S when they split) and on through Chattanooga, TN, right smack dab through the middle and out the other side and up and around Signal mountain into this lovely valley which contains Whitwell. In Whitwell there are no facilities for RVs whatsoever. On the edge of town we found a Texaco filling station and truck stop with a gravel parking area for truckers. They said no one would object if we stayed the night so here we are.

I shall tell the tale of Friday after it has happened.

Well Carol’s “message in a minute” really tells it all. I have been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and to Aushwitz/Birkenau and Terezen. I have friends who are survivors. I think I am experienced in how I am moved by the appropriate retelling of the horrors of the Holocaust. I have never before been told about the horror by 8th graders from a school so far from my experience that I cannot even place it. Whitwell TN is middle America, poor middle America. The coal mines are closed and when we asked the children where people worked they said Hardy’s! There is no apparent industry in Whitwell and Chattanooga is over the mountain. We had the chance to look at the letters they have received from around the world, including hate mail denying the Holocaust and one letter in particular that condemned the project because if the “Johnny can’t read or write, what good is it for Johnny to understand this nonsense”. It is all there and the kids are great and the project has a life of its own.

On into Birmingham, AL on Friday. We set up in the Birmingham South Campground in Pelham (south of the city) and had a quiet Friday night. Saturday morning we went to Torah study and services at Temple Emanu El. The rabbi is Jonathan Miller, son of our late rabbi Judea Miller and Anita. We had a wonderful time at Torah Study and enjoyed the discussion of humility based on Rabbi Telushkin’s book (title not remembered) which they are using as their study guide this year. After service and a light lunch for Kiddush to honor a baby naming, we proceeded out into the neighboring 5 points area where we mailed some stuff at the UPS Store and shopped as usual to no avail.

We returned to the campground in time to prepare dinner and relax with our computers and reading. We still were not sure where we were heading when we left on Monday. Sunday dawned beautiful and warm. I felt the need to do maintenance work, much of which had been deferred for periods of a day to a couple of months. Of course any time there is maintenance to be done something needs to be bought. I needed distilled water for the coach batteries, a backup light bulb, anyhow you get the point. I spent much of the morning and into the afternoon dealing with most of the maintenance items I could do without a shop. I have learned that the caulking on the roof is abominable. So every month or so I get up there when it is warm and dry to see where my next leak is likely to come from. Out comes the caulking gun and I hope I have prevented the next round of leaks. I now have two working backup lights and the batteries have enough liquid to satisfy their needs. Oh yes for about 12 hours the front of the coach was nice and clean.

At 5:15 we met the Tesslers, Franklin, Debbie, Adam and Alyssa at Cheesecake Factory in the Summit Plaza. We had a delightful time with them and remembered why we had enjoyed spending time with them on our trip in Israel last summer. As we returned to the campground it was clear that the weather was going to change and we had to decide where we were going when we pulled out on Monday. The decision was made to head for Houma, LA, sort of. This left open a variety of alternatives and as the hour started to get late and the temperature descended alng with lots of water, we changed our destination to KOA West in New Orleans. The traffic coming across I 10 at 4:45 was dreadful and we finally got in just before 6 PM. This gave us time to setup change clothes and head for the French Quarter. There was a restaurant there that neither of us mentioned to the other, but both had in our mind, Oliviers. We found it easily and only then did we both acknowledge that it was what we had had in mind all along. Dinner was delightful and we walked the length and half the breadth of the Quarter enjoying the cool mild rain and nearly empty streets.
It is hard to believe that we were in the French Quarter last night. We are now camping (?) on the side of State Route 82 just outside of what was Holly Beach, LA. As we drove along the strip of the “Cajun Riviera” it was hard to imagine that a there was a town here. All that is left is some foundation slabs some with trailers parked on them and the roads. There is almost no sign of any of the former structures. I located the Tides Inn Campground by its GPS location. There is no other reminder of its existence. Katrina washed over this gulf shore area and erased much of it. There being no place here we just pulled off the road where the shoulder is three lanes wide and made ourselves at home. I doubt there will be much traffic tonight. Dinner ala Carol was as wonderful as any we have had out.

G2 Journal Winter 07 – The trip begins

We set out on January 2 of 2007 with some additional trepidation. The weather and the other drivers and what have we forgotten were added to by “how will Mom fair at the Jewish Home of Rochester in our absence? Since my last posting to this blog from Israel my mother has managed to “graduate” from her lovely apartment at the Summit Center, an independent living environment to a skilled nursing room at the Home. In most respects she is better cared for and more protected than she was when living alone, but she is also less able to speak up for her own needs. We have provided her additional aids and can with but hope for the best and plan to visit as we can and call as often as seems reasonable.

Some notes on technological changes that are affecting our travels and communications. We now have all our wire line phones forwarded to our cell phones so no more checking the voicemail at home and the office, but it does mean that interesting calls arrive at strange times from people who do not expect to find us driving a 36 foot motorhome in heavy traffic when they call.. We expect to find many more campgrounds offering free or low cost wifi connections. And connections through my phone continue to provide the final backup for connection so long as we are in Verizon territory. With all of this the weakest link will be my taking the time to write and post. Technology provides the tools, but the human must still perform.

Travel to Charlottesville was essentially uneventful. We arrived in daylight in temperatures in the 50’s and had everything set up before any of the C’Ville clan arrived home. As planned, on Friday Dan and Malena left for a wild and crazy weekend in NYC and we became the most blessed people on earth, Grandparents watching over the grandkids while the parents get away. The blessing runs both ways. We had a great time. The birthday party at the Charlottesville Skate Park gave me a chance to show off my ice skating abilities (only 30 years of rust) and teach Ali (as Alexander prefers to be called this month) some skating techniques – falling without hitting the head – turning the corner without falling, you get the idea. No damage done to any of my vulnerable parts.

We then had a visit with Gretchen and Ed Robb and the boys finally got to meet the horses and play in the Robb’s barn and home. Could not believe the weather, who would go ice skating in January with the outdoor temperatures pushing 70 under clear blue skies?

On Tuesday, the 8th we got under way southbound. We have two immediate goals. We plan to stop in Whitville, TN, the home of the Paper Clip Project. If you are not familiar with it, just google “Paper Clip Project”. Then we want to pay a visit to the Tessler family who we met on our trip to Israel last summer. Since we had plenty of time to cover the distance, we set out down the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of our favorite wanders. The forecast was grim, snow, fog etc but the weather as we got on the parkway was clear and sunny. An hour and 40 miles down the road the forecasters appeared to be right and the sky was darkening and the wind was picking up so we descended to route 11, giving our mapping software fits as it thought we ought to be on I 81. After our lunch break in Natural Bridge we agreed with Maggie (used to be HAL, but the new computer sounds better as a woman – go figure) and got up on I 81 as the weather continued to deteriorate. We decided to head for Baileytown RV Park in TN where we have stopped before on this run. We saw a sign that there was an accident 100 miles down the road and the right lane was closed. We thought nothing of it as that was almost two hours away including a stop for gasoline, propane and dumping the holding tanks. WRONG!! As we pulled out on to the road after the fuel stop it started to snow. As the snow let up traffic began to congeal and at mile mark 50 we came to a standstill. The accident had been listed at mile mark 42!. From there we crawled at an average 4 mph (8 miles 2 hours). Carol and I changed drivers twice without pulling off the road, easy to do at 0 mph. We finally saw the accident and it was a horrible tangle of two 18 wheelers, I am sure someone did not survive. As we pulled clear of the scene in the growing dark it began to snow in earnest. For the next 70 miles we had alternating clear and snow. Once we crossed into TN it seemed to be more clear than snow.

We are set up in Baileytown RV Park, just a bit later than planned and have had dinner, we will turn in soon.