Art in the Desert!

We have driven in and around Alpine, Marfa and Fort Davis, TX, several times and people have told us there was a lot of great art to be seen, but where! No one could give us any clue. So Monday, Jan 26, we drove 26 miles into Marfa to search for ART. Although we have been through in Gee 2 with tow’d attached and maybe once in the tow’d we had never come in late morning with the intent of really searching. As we walked around the central area of Marfa we noted that the name Judd appeared on many building, taking this as a cue we walked into an office under the words “Judd Foundation” and found ourselves talking to a conservator for Donald Judd Foundation. By now the name was poking at very old, long unaccessed memory cells. Rather than my trying to tell you about Donald Judd, the Chinati Foundation or the Marfa area myself I will let their websites and photos of the installation speak for themselves. I cannot show you my pictures as I signed a release that I would not publish them in any form, for the privilege of taking them. Them’s the rules. First “The Block” and Donald Judd next the largest art installation we have ever seen is at . On Wednesday we managed to get to Chinati in time for the the 2 PM tour which includes among other installations a Flavin installation that occupies 12 large barracks (actually six U shaped buildings with separate entrances into each leg of the U).

Although we drove back and forth between Alpine and Marfa several times and did a U turn to visit a winery, we never more than noticed a curious block building at the roadside on US 90 until we were flying by a 62 mph westbound for Las Cruces in the motorhome. As we went by this time we both noticed that it appears to be a very smart shop and the sign says “Prada Marfa”. There is no parking lot! For much more on this and on Donald Judd follow this link (do click on the “Listen Now” button if you haven’t heard this) which by some wild coincidence was broadcast this morning January 31, 2009.

After that drive we pulled Gee 2 into the parking area of The Chinati Foundation to continue with the 10 AM tour which includes much of Judd’s work – the 100 aluminum cubes in two “Artillery Sheds” and much much more. To complete the tour we had to drive into town and park the entire rig! To enter the Chamberlain building with yet another huge intense permanent installation. We had also toured The Block on the previous day and by now we were thoroughly worn out and ready for lunch and a quiet ride to Las Cruces. Lunch was at the Food Shark an old step van with a serving window under a huge permanent shed that is also home to a farmers market and benches that looked like they were designed and built by Donald Judd himself. If you are there it is an interesting lunch stop right in the center of town, next to the railroad tracks.

As I write we are in Las Cruces and have had a delightful Shabbat dinner at the Kelter Zeitlin home with much family present and arriving and leaving. Marianne Zeitlin’s brother Hesh and his wife Bernie were there from north of Truth or Consequences so we finally got to meet them. This morning there was a chorale concert of the NM All State Elementary School and Middle School Chorales on the university Campus. Amalia (Zeitlin, if you are keeping track) was performing in the Middle School chorale and we were delighted to be able to attend and listen to these two wonderful chorales perform. Tonight we are off with Leora and Stewart to El Paso for the El Paso Chamber music concert. Wow! We are finally catching up with our recent drought of fine music and adopted family.

Austin and . . .

First, here is a link to my pictures from December 21, 08 to late January ’09 (it may be too subtle click on the word “link” it is the link).

We returned to Austin for the 8th time to spend a weekend with Leigh and Patrick Rainwater. On Friday we spent some time at their home before heading out to dinner, a special dinner at Eastside Restuarant to celebrate Patrick’s birthday. Saturday Morning we cleaned up and made minor equipment adjustments. We picked up Leigh and Pat for lunch and a round of Austin galleries and then dinner at Chueys a long time Austin favorite. Somehow, a week later, I cannot remember what I had for dinner that night, but I do remember that I was very happy with my choice and cannot wait to go back there. Sunday was to be the day of a long ride. Of the four of us only Patrick, who was raised in San Antonio, had ever done the entire Mission Trail. There are actually five Missions that date to the 1700’s, the Alamo is at one end of the chain and the other four are spread out like beads over a sixteen mile stretch. We had all seen the Alamo so we set out to see the other four and the only 18th century European style aqueduct in North America near Mission Espada. The pictures of the mission and their grounds can be found at the picasa link above. We completed the tour in time for a late lunch and we followed Leigh’s choice to the Liberty Bar in a broken down industrial neighborhood, almost under the interstate in a building that leans so badly that it seems to be a miracle it is standing. The food was up to the recommendation and we would all highly recommend a visit there if you get to San Antonio. It isn’t cheap, but good food seldom is these days. To round out the day we took a decidedly out of the way route back to Gruene and the Gruene Hall, reputed to be the oldest active Texas Dance Hall. The music was free and the drinks were inexpensive, We did not get our money’s worth at that stop. The music was not dance hall music and the crowd had too many small children and too many smokers!!!! (that will end soon). Once again we learned that there is a lot to do and see in the Austin area and plenty we have yet to get to. We’ll be back.

We decided to hang in Austin a couple of days waiting for a replacement bolt for the Tow Defender, failure number three, I’ve about had it. Anyone out there want to try a used Tow Defender designed to keep the rocks off your towed vehicle and the mechanic in business? It is for sale at 75% off new price, after I get it fixed this last time. The part never arrived and we arranged to have it forwarded rather than invest another $40 in staying just one more day. We had waited for the mail so we ended up rolling out at 3 PM on Wednesday. This limited our choices of destination for the day to Fredericksbirg, a place we have stopped at several times. Carol announced that this stop would serve to renew our supply of orange peelers and provide a chance to stock up on some interesting salsas and hot sauces. We did not want to go back to the campground we had stayed at last so we threw darts until we chose Oakridge RV just south of town on 16. It is a delightful park and we decided to stay two nights so we could backtrack in the car to the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch and Johnson City. The ranch house is newly opened since Lady Bird’s death, she had life use of the residence when they made the gift to National Parks. We understand that over the next year or two more and more of the house will be restored to the way it was in the ’60’s when it was the Texas White House. LBJ spent a quarter of his presidency working here. The office has been restored to the way it was minus the red shag rug. Lady Bird had changed it to parquet and asked that it be kept that way (the rug is in storage should someone change his mind).

We stopped in town to do the shopping mentioned above plus a new fry pan and returned to the campground to prepare dinner. I began preparations for departure the next morning and I was in front of the coach taking down the sunscreen while a new neighbor was busy setting up in the adjacent site. He said he and his wife were headed out to Wal Mart and they got in their truck and drove off only to return in less than five minutes. I was still outside and suggested to Max that I had never seen a shorter shopping trip in my life. He said their was a social hour in the Rally hall (generally a large bare room rented out to groups who want to hold a rally) and that was far more important than shopping. He invited us to come along as it was an Escapee Rally (Chapter 11) and all are welcome. Being Escapees we accepted the invitation to social hour. We ended up staying on for the weekend with the Alamo Chapter of Escapees and joined the chapter at the business meeting. Carol became a song leader and together we became known as the dancing couple. I also learned to play the spoons. The theme was Redneck Wedding and we had a ton of fun. They are a bunch of really great people.

We moved on after the “hitch up breakfast” this morning and are settled in Alpine Texas (use your google earth to see where). We are no longer planning to camp in Big Bend this year. Just a change in mind. It seems I thought Carol wanted to go there and she thought it was my idea.

Across Louisiana in a Day or Texas Here we Come

We got up with the bird songs on Monday and after showers and breakfast we took a couple of mile round trip walk up to the abandoned town site of Rocky springs. Finally we left for the final miles of the Trace into Natchez.. Foiled! Route 61 has exits from the Trace marked North and South, but there is no sign to indicate that the Trace itself continues if you follow the sign for North and stay to the right.. As we wandered through Natchez following signs for the Visitor Center we found the southern terminus of the Parkway. What a let down, it just ends. There isn’t even a sign that says, “The End” or “The Beginning” for that matter. We drove north on the Trace to where we had left the Parkway so we could say we have now driven all the length of it and then stopped for lunch.

Next we headed back through Natchez to pick up a bridge to Louisiana to continue our trip west (the Mississippi River was in our way). As we rolled, we decided to see if we could stay the night in the Natchitoches (for those whose memory is short or new to this blog that is pronounced Nakatish) Wal mart. After a bit of a skirmish with Germaine (the GPS) which resulted in my driving the coach right through the old brick paved Historic Main Street which was never meant for as big a vehicle as Gee 2. We determined that we could stay at the Wal Mart, but really didn’t want to since we did not want to be in Natchitoches without enjoying the town, which would have meant leaving the coach unattended for several hours, and the parking lot was really busy and on a very busy main street. (deep breath to recover from the run on sentence) As we thought about it we decided that maybe we could get to Nacogdoches, TX (same tribe, different location) where we were planning on a tour of the ForeTravel Motorhome factory. We rolled on.

As we neared our destination in the dark once again we failed to heed Germaine and then we did pay attention it was to our dismay. According to good old paper maps we were to stay left onto Rt 59 when it split off from Rt 84 which we had been following for many miles. At the junction, Carol could not read the paper map in the dark so we stayed on Rt 84. Almost immediately the GPS began its “Recalculating” routine and we knew we had blown it. I thought to try a U turn to recover, but not being able to see how deep the ditch on the far side was, I hesitated. Germaine came up with an alternative. We followed instruction to a FM route (in Texas that is Farm to Market and could be most anything). Then she called for a turn onto a four digit CO (county) route, I began to get nervous. An approaching pickup truck flashed its headlights repeatedly, this announced the end of pavement and indeed the end of the road. There was a turn and Germaine urged us on. The road was narrow and dirt. Had we not driven the road to Dan and Malena’s many times I would have stopped and broken the tow and backed out, but we are used to dirt farm roads, we kept going convinced that this route must return us to US 59, Germaine said so. The cows did not immediately agree. We encountered three of them wandering the road as if it was theirs, which it was! They did not wish to moove out of our way. Finally they let us pass and we continued for 2 more miles wondering if this road actually would continue as promised. It did, We got out onto US 59 and found our way to the ForeTravel plant where we found one of the 70 hook ups with water and electric, in the parking area and collapsed for the night.

In the morning we saw the construction of a high end motorhome. They build the entire chassis and body as a single unit. They buy many parts, but the chassis, body, cabinetry, upholstery and all the wiring are done right there. We are convinced that our next motorhome will be a ForeTravel. They are amazingly well constructed and all the cabinets are solid wood and they pour their own solid counters and floors. All the plumbing fixtures are high end residential and the attention to detail is very high. We did take a test drive and that really sold me. Of course, having only driven diesel twice for a grand total of 10 miles, I am easily impressed.

Later that day we left for Livingston, TX, Escapee’s Rainbow’s End home base, knowing we would find a warm welcome. We are settled comfortably for three days when we will leave for Austin to spend time with Leigh and Patrick. Today I found that the vent cover on the bathroom vent was disintegrating and I needed some other spare parts, so we stopped at Joel E West RV and picked up the parts I needed. After an extended shopping trip to Wal Mart, we returned and I changed out the vent cover, replaced the porch light cover and had a beer. Enough of this work stuff. I needed a break at 5 PM.

More when we leave Austin for . . . oh we haven’t gotten to that yet.

Changing our Mind and Direction on the Fly

Some people make a plan and follow through with it. Some make no plans and wander aimlessly. We make partial plans and change them as we see fit. Some times that results in changing our plan as the highway intersection approaches (actually we approach the intersection, but the scotch and wine are speaking). In this case we set out for Huntsville, AL to see the Space and Science Museum there. Somehow when we made the plan we assumed that finding a nearby campground would be trivial. As we prepared to roll out from Pigeon Forge we started looking and could only find two in the vicinity and both are state parks. Rather than wait for someone to wake up and return our call we set out assuming we would hear before we got there. Carol called the Space Center Museum and found out there is a campground on the grounds. It is not in any of our extensive collection of resources nor is it mentioned in any of the literature or on the web site. I guess you are supposed to call and listen to a really long phone message and wait to hear item 5 which offers the campground as an option!!! Carol called the campground and while she was talking the state park returned my 3 hours earlier call. I told them thanks, but no thanks.

We planned a driver change and lunch stop at a rest area that turned out to be closed for renovation. I pulled on to the shoulder there and we had a quick lunch and driver change. As Carol set out I started reading an article about the Space Center looking for a real address or highway intersection. While reading I came across a story about Scottsboro, AL and a special shop. It is the Unclaimed Luggage Center. If you want to know where the suitcase you lost and never recovered on a flight finally came to rest, this is where it ended up. When I looked at the map I realized we were passing right by it on the way to the Space Center in Huntsville. We decided right then to stop there and so we are now in their overflow parking lot with the permission of Gary (Loss Prevention)) to spend the night, having spent more than a night camping would have cost. I have a new iPod, we have a camera for (daughter-in-law) Miriam a set of Tefillin we could not leave there and books. All of these goods were found in lost luggage, airplanes after everyone has deplaned and left and airport lounges. Rather than my regaling you with stories of what has been found go to Think of a department store stocked from lost luggage. Prices are set at 30 to 80% off retail. I found an old SciFi hardbound priced a $4. I looked inside the cover and found it have a bookstore notation of $2. At the register I pointed this out and with a call to pricing they dropped the price to $1.

You really do not want to know what they have in the electronics area. There are so many headsets of all kinds, including the Bose headsets that retail for $300 that it is hard to imagine. They claim that their inventory is low at the moment. Enough! In the morning we will set out for Huntsville. For now we are happy to be in the overflow lot next to the cemetery. They open at 8 and I may have to sneak in to see what new has been put on the shelves.

The next morning, Saturday, we took a walk to stretch our legs and walked back through the store. Fortunately we found nothing more to buy so we bid the concierge fair well and hit the road for a hefty 42.5 miles which brought us to One Tranquility Base, the campground associated with the U.S Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Al. We set up quickly and headed for the Museum. It was a cloudy day with forecast of rain and the temperatures were in the high 50’s to low 60’s. I report this weather not to taunt those of you freezing in the north, but the museum is a rocket museum and this entails a fair amount of walking around outdoors to see everything. Economic hard times rear their ugly head, especially here. Our first indication was the big sign that National Parks Golden Age Passports are no longer honored. The price for us jumped from $6 to $21.5 with a coupon and including the Imax film. We paid! I had checked out the museum on Google Maps while at Dan’s and in the satellite view the surviving Saturn V rocket can be seen on its side out in the open air. When we got there we learned that it has been built into a museum building in it entirety. This makes for one very long building. The first two stages are on giant frames and the remainder are suspended from the ceiling. The history of the development of the ability to send men to the moon is highlighted in exhibits of actual artifacts that line the hall. Out in the Rocket Park, there is one of almost every rocket that has been part of NASA or the US Army’s inventory on display, from Jupiter to Juno to Atlas to Nike Ajax and even an antique Nike Zeus (our Boy Scout Explorer Troop went to the Niagara Falls Air Force Base to tour a Nike Zeus launch site shortly before it was decommissioned). We spent close to five hours there, including lunch in the Space Camp Cafeteria (the main food court was closed). We returned to One Tranquility Base so Carol could take a nap and I could putter around. We no sooner got settled in Gee2 than it started to pour and thunder and lightening. Carol slept and I marveled at our good timing. We had dinner on board, got a good night’s sleep and a late start the next morning.

Sunday morning the 11th found us ready to move on. Our route took us through some territory we don’t remember, across I 20 to Jackson MS where we picked up our old friend the Natchez Trace Parkway southbound to Natchez. We stopped for the night at Rocky Springs Campground for our third time. A reminder for those who appreciated good mystery stories, Nevada Barr bases all of her stories on the struggles of Anna Pigeon, Ranger, to catch the bad guys while not becoming one of the victims. Several of her stories are based on the parkway and she (Nevada Barr) has made this area her home. Rocky Springs is the scene of one of these stories and we have walked the ground and she has not used any literary license in her description of the place.

For those interested in camping details, there are maybe 20 sites with no facilities other than what you bring (and what you must take away with you). The price is appropriate for the lack of any facilities, nothing. It is at mile 54.8 on the Parkway. We highly recommend it. There are several nice hikes and we will take one in the morning before leaving. We are not sure where we are headed yet, but we will have a plan of sorts before we turn the key, if Carol has anything to say about it.

Oops and a day on the road

We kissed the boys good bye and said our farewells to Malena and then Dan as they went off to school and to work. With the place to ourselves we got the coach ready for the road and set off with Carol taking the lead down the road to warn of cars and trucks headed the other way and of tree limbs that might have fallen between Dan’s departure and ours. The drive down the 1.8 mile stretch of dirt road was uneventful until the last couple of hundred yards when five deer bounded across the road in front of the coach and behind Carol in the car. She never saw them. My heart rate accelerated like it does when I peak on the treadmill. They had it timed quite nicely and I merely had to slow the coach to somewhat less than my heart rate.

In the driveway of the Church of the Hookup/Disconnect (a small Baptist church which is a tenth of a mile up Heards Mountain Rd from US 29 with a very nice driveway) we aligned the car and had it completely hooked up with the exception of one hold down when I looked up and noticed something was very wrong. There were no bicycles in the bike rack on the roof! “Oh Darn!” I said. We decided that this was a practice hook up and disconnected so I could drive the car back to Dan and Malena’s and put the bikes on the roof rack and return to Carol to complete a “for real” hook up. For a wonder weverything worked, including all the lights AND the breakaway switch. The rest of the day was fortunately boring. 373 miles of uneventful driving that brought us to Walden Creek Campground in Pigeon Forge, TN

I will report on what we found to do here in another post, on another day.

Oh yes there has been some excitement. I have been engaged in an email discussion of possible responses to Israel’s attempts to dislodge Hamas from Gaza. Since I believe that there is no alternative for dealing with people who want all of the Jews removed by any means from the State of Israel and others believe that we must talk while they destroy us, the conversation has not gone entirely well. I would not choose to live in Sderot or Ashdod or anyplace within the reach of Hamas’ rockets knowing that there are no real targets and everything and everybody is a target. It is the Government of Israel’s duty to provide security for it’s citizens living within its borders as defined by the UN and recognized by most of the world.

Stepping down from my soapbox. I will try to keep these matters out of this blog in the future.

More from Charlottesville

In reporting about our activities, I have missed one of the more exciting days here. On December 30th we looked up the mountain behind the house and saw smoke rising below the far ridge. Very shortly there were local firefighters at the foot of the driveway looking for a way to get to the fire. Dan went up as a guide to show them the logging road that reaches an old CCC road that goes up toward the ridge. The firemen, in the mean time, had found an approach from above using a road built to service a radio tower on the high point. Firemen prefer to approach a fire from below so Dan opened the gate so they could use the private road below his property to get to the fire. A bit later in the day the owner of the land, where the fire was, arrived to see what was going on.

The wind switched and began to blow the fire down the ridge for a bit, but the firemen got it under control and left a small watcher force of Forestry Dept employees to keep an eye on the area. By the next morning they had left and the winds began to pick up. Malena left for a supply run only to find the road closed by a couple of fallen trees. While she called some neighbors, Dan grabbed his chainsaw and I joined him to see if we could open the road. It took about 60 minutes with help from Dan’s neighbor David to cut the fallen wood and clear the road. David was busy cutting it into firewood lengths while Dan cut longer pieces with the plan of cutting them to wood stove length later in the day. Having cleared the road, Malena was free to go on her errands while the rest of us left for Richmond to go to the Science Museum.

The museum was a bit of a bust. It is intended for a slightly older audience than our gang and it is a bit used up. I doubt we will undertake that hour long drive again in a hurry. We did have to cope with high winds both ways on the drive.

This seems to have been enough excitement for a 36 hour period and we resumed a semblance of normal life – such as that is with two families plus grandparents living together for ten days.

In Charlottesville

All the flights worked just fine. This must be a miracle for our family at this time of year. What remains is Josh getting back to Rochester and Yechiel and family back to Los Angeles. The in between has been a great family gathering.

Backing up to my departure from Rochester with Yechiel in the navigator seat on December 24 at 1:40 PM. The Perils of Paul set in almost immediately. One of the draw bars on the tow bar was stuck and I could not extend it out to align the car. With Yechiel in the driver seat of the car we maneuvered the car into position to fasten it to the recalcitrant draw bar and used the car to extend it. Since we were not planning to disconnect before reaching Dan and Malena’s and the tow seemed fine, we set off for a two day journey, with the emergency brake still set on the tow’d. It really is teamwork to get this rig on the road and with half the team missing something was bound to be missed. Fortunately I felt the drag and the ugly sounds before we did any damage. Yechiel went back to release the brakes and we started out again.

The drive was uneventful, if you call 5 hours of driving through wind and rain uneventful. We had plenty of fuel and there was no place to stop overnight along the way so between us we made it to the Flying J in Carlisle, PA by about 7, only to find they had no fuel to sell. We went across the street and fueled there (used the Dunkin Donut parking lot to get to the cross street), paying a nickel a gallon surcharge because I refuse to use a debit card (won’t possess one). Crossed the highway again to the Flying J where the lot was almost empty, maybe eight other rigs in there for Christmas Eve. I was able to park along the western edge of the lot and put the living room slide over the curb so I could open it to allow the convertible sofa to open. In the morning we topped off propane and emptied the holding tanks before moving on. The drive to Covesville was even more uneventful as the weather had cleared. Yechiel had his second turn at the wheel and, I suspect enjoyed the opportunity to drive the motorhome.

After setting up in our usual position, I discovered that the door latch was hard to operate. Two issues to deal with. I was not able to retract the extended tow bar arm and had to leave it extended. A call to Jody at Roadmaster tech support yielded instructions for dismantling the bar and freeing it up with a vigorous cleaning to remove rust and road grime from the nose cone. This required dismantling the mechanism on that side and driving the interior bar out. Once it was out I was able to see the cause of the problem, the aforementioned rust and road grime under the split ring collar in the nose cone. Oops, in removing the bar I had lost a spring and pin that are crucial to the function of the tow bar, they are the locking mechanism. Some searching in the gravel and debris yielded the pin, but not the spring. Jody had not mentioned that parts might fly. Another call to him got me the promise of the needed parts. I relaxed and finished cleaning the parts I had and everything went into storage to wait for the the replacement parts. The door got harder and harder to operate.

Being unsure of myself in in fixing the tow bar and not knowing how to deal with the door, I called a local mobile RV mechanic, Ed Stigle, and had a conversation with him. He made himself available if I needed him for the tow bar, but declined to work on the door as he felt he did not have any particular capability with locks. He did suggest lubricating the parts that seemed to be causing a problem. After slapping myself on the forehead several times I applied three sprays of pure silicone lube to the accessible openings in the lock mechanism. Now Carol can open the door herself and I no longer have to climb in through the driver door to open the main door (boy am I happy I have that optional door). When the parts arrived on Friday it was a matter of ten minutes to reassemble the tow bar (with a tarp spread to catch flying parts) which now seems to be ready for service.

All during this time, from December 26th on we have taken several excursions with various groupings of the family. There was an ice skating trip and a trip to Richmond to go to the Science Museum and a trip to Lynchburg to play in the Children’s Museum and several hikes and walks and even days playing around the house. Although this was holiday and vacation time, Dan dealt with calls from work almost every day, Yechiel received a copy of his latest article which needs corrections and a clarification or two before being published and I was in touch with several clients. Miriam’s sister and her two children came for a visit on Sunday and Monday and her father, Les, arrived on Monday. Although they were not sleeping at the house, the added energy sure got things hopping. I think the maximum number we seated for dinner was 15 and the minimum was 11. Oh yes, grandson Josh arrived after Les’ departure and his personality added to the mix made it all even sweeter. We celebrated his 17th birthday a couple of days early and he spent two hours in the kitchen preparing a white chocolate cake from a recipe from his mother. The rest of the meal was steak (for the omnivores) and artichoke and huevos rancheros (for the vegetarians) and salad it was a grand meal.

Malena and Miriam and Carol turned out meal after delicious meal. It is amazing that they were able to keep it all straight between the Kosher Vegetarian, the Vegetarian, the omnivores and a couple of special dietary needs. No one got the wrong food and we all ate very well. Now we are down to merely vegetarian and omnivore. We already miss Yechiel, Miriam, Azriel and Avtalyon who have driven to Arlington to see the Capital and the Mall before flying back to Los Angeles. I am not sure what we will do tomorrow (Monday January 5), Dan is still off work, but the children are back in school and I think the house will be very quiet for an hour or two.