Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Lone Star State

Long before we hit the road as fulltimers, our plan was in place to spend the holidays at my parents’ ranch outside of Abilene at least through the New Year.  My Dad put in utilities in anticipation of our stay, and positioned us to maximize the view while getting some protection from the winds. We arrived at Live Oak Ranch on November 1st and settled in.

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Scoopy sitting pretty at Live Oak Ranch

On our way from Amarillo, Steven kept looking for a place where we could fill up with propane. He called ahead to several truck stops but none of them sold it. When we got closer to our turn-off in Merkel, he called the Flying J in Abilene and was told they had propane. But after hours of driving, I was ready to call it a day and did not want to drive beyond the point where we needed to turn off the highway. We decided we'd be fine. Actually, it was me who decided we'd be fine, in that "we don't need no stinkin' propane" kind of way. That decision came back to seriously bite us (actually, me)  in the butt, but we learned a valuable lesson.

You see, one week after our arrival, Steven left for a two week visit with his family in Ireland. I stayed behind to get started on some extensive dental work that was long overdue. It was during this time, when I was without Steven, that the propane ran out. And it happened during a period of fairly significant winter weather and cold temperatures. Of course it did.

I could have packed up and driven to the Flying J, about 40-miles round trip. Thing is, to move the rig, I would have also had to move the Direct TV thingy. Since I have no idea how to set it up, that meant I would have lost TV, and more specifically, football, Seahawks football. That just wasn't going to happen. I finally found a place in Abilene who would deliver, but they were backed up a couple of days. Still, I put my name on this list as it was my only viable option. For two days I waited, shivering, and watching football in the extreme cold. I had electric heaters, but when it's 9 degrees outside, they can't keep up. I could have slept in the ranch house, but I felt like I needed to stay with Scoopy. Like a captain with her ship. I felt so responsible.

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Thank god for delivery! 

By the time Steven returned from Ireland, the temps were back up into the 60s and all was well with our home. I certainly learned a lot through this experience, and am not likely to pass up an opportunity to take on propane when needed.

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Steven being interviewed for a radio show in Dublin        The extended Irish family

Thanksgiving arrived and along with it a whole host of family members, most of whom I haven't seen in years. It was so great to catch up with everyone. A couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, we celebrated Steven's 50th birthday, and my Dad's 81st. Such a celebration called for a new pair of cowboy boots and Chicken Fried Steak.

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Thanksgiving at the ranch                                       Birthday boots basking in the sun!

Remember Scoopy’s steps that we have basically McGuyver'd our entire trip? Yeah, they finally gave out completely, which meant all our efforts for repair were for naught. We had to cough up the money to pay for complete replacement. I have to admit, though, it's awfully nice to have fully-functioning steps. While we were at the repair facility, we also had them install our spare water pump. That's a real treat, too, a working pump. 

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McGuyver would have been proud (not)

We spent the next few days getting prepared for the Christmas holiday. We shopped, decorated, wrapped and cooked. Zac and Tara arrived for Christmas at the ranch, unfortunately Zoe was unable to make it because she had to work. As sad as I was that I wouldn’t see her, I fully support her being on someone's payroll. :)

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Christmas at Live Oak Ranch and our little Christmas tree on our new steering wheel table!

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Luke gets into the holiday spirit.                            It was great to be with the kids again!

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The Christmas gang at Live Oak Ranch

Among the many activities we got up to during our stay at Live Oak was lots of Phantom flying and even some shooting practice. Shannon’s boyfriend, JP is a former firearms instructor so we all got some sound lessons on safe handling and shooting. Shannon, having been in law enforcement forever, also knew her way around the weapons.

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Aerial views of the ranch at sunset as seen with the Phantom

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Chouter shooters. Linda getting instruction from Shannon and Steven working with JP

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Tara looking the part, and Zac aiming carefully.

Overall, we spent eight weeks and two days at Live Oak Ranch. The best part, for me, was spending time with my family and sharing the holidays. I haven't done that in a very long time. We'll make a couple more stops at the ranch before we head back to Seattle this summer and I have to say, I'm looking forward to it. It's a great "home base" for us.

Still, we were more than ready to hit the road as soon as the kids had gone and I think my parents were happy to see us go. We've planned a southern swing through Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and back to Texas and we were both chomping at the bit to get going!

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Scoopy all lit up for an early departure.                The huge live oak that provided Scoopy’s shelter

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Sunsets were spectacular at the ranch and the wind turbines made a great silhouette

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Making our way to Santa Fe

One thing we appreciated about our stop in Williams, besides the Grand Canyon, was the weather. It was the first place we'd been where it looked and felt like Autumn. There was a crispness in the air, the leaves had turned to beautiful fall colors and we finally turned off our air conditioners for the first time in months. Williams was blessedly quiet.

Next on the travel agenda was an overnight stay at Red Rock Park in Gallup on the way to Santa Fe, NM for a week-long stay. As we headed over the border into New Mexico, changes were immediately apparent. In addition to the colors of the season and landscape, there's also New Mexico's love of billboards. My gosh, mile after mile of billboards. But given that I-40 is relentlessly monotonous, I suppose they provide a modicum of contrast and help keep drivers awake. Barely.

We wheeled in to Red Rock Park easy enough and were pleasantly surprised. The photos on their Website made it look like a big concrete block surrounded by huge boulders but it was actually quite a pretty campsite with lots of Fall colors. Of course, in October, there wasn't much activity. In fact, there were no rigs near ours, just a few off in some of the smaller distant sites. Hookups consisted of water and 30 amps, exactly what we needed for an overnight stay.

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Church Rock was just a hop away                A spectacular sunset on our one and only night at Red Rock

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Sccopy and Toadie all tucked in for the night at Red Rock        Starry night at our campsite

The next day, we made ready for our trip to Santa Fe. We had been there before together, like, a hundred years ago. We stayed at KOA in one of their kamping kabins, which lacked outdoor seating. Our mode of transport at the time was a GMC Suburban, so we pulled out the leather seat from the back row and put it on the deck as a makeshift sofa. We have fond memories of that trip, hanging out on our porch, and we were really looking forward to another visit.

We booked a week at Santa Fe Skies, a nice campground about 12 miles outside Santa Fe. After checking in, Steven went to unhook Toadie Hopper and realized her battery was completely dead! There is a switch that turns off a fuse to some of the electrical components while towing that was left on so the battery was completely drained. Luckily, the owner had jumper cables and a truck to get us back up and running.

Initially, we weren't all that impressed with our site because it was in between a minor cliff (okay I'm exaggerating, it was more like a steep decline) and a thoroughfare that we thought would be busy with cars and trucks and golf carts. That turned out not to be the case, thankfully. And, on the plus side, we had a spectacular view of the countryside and mountains, as well as a huge concrete slab that served as an awesome patio. It didn't take long for our site to grow on us.

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We grew accustomed to our oddly-positioned campsite at Santa Fe Skies

Santa Fe was the last significant stop of our epic fulltiming journey in 2014 before we settled in for a couple of months in Texas. We were happy to take it easy and catch up on some housekeeping and spend just a couple of days sightseeing.

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Colorful characters (okay, black and white) and interesting abodes in Santa Fe

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We love that adobe style of architecture on every street in Santa Fe

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Awesome grafitti art all around the downtown area. Each one telling an elaborate story

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Steven tries our induction burner on some bacon    And another state on our map…

The highlight for us was a day trip to Taos, travelling what's called "The High Road". It's basically a scenic route that winds its way past many pueblos and churches. We got up and out early and decided to make a highway beeline to Taos to see the balloon festival and then meander our way back to Santa Fe via the High Road.

We had a heck of a time trying to find the balloon festival when we got to Taos. We had mapped the address but our GPS was taking us around in circles. We saw no trace of balloons and were beginning to wonder had we gotten the date wrong. We finally stumbled upon a huge field with dust blowing everywhere and a paltry number of balloons being fired up. We soon found out that the event was essentially canceled because of high winds. A few brave balloonists were relocating to a nearby school to launch so we headed over there and enjoyed the few that made it into the sky.

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Dust everywhere as the balloons tried to launch in vain during high winds

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A few brave balloonists found an alternative launching venue

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We couldn’t resist a selfie             Airborne at last! It was worth the wait

At the beginning of the High Road was the Taos Pueblo, described as the only living Native American community designated both as a World Heritage Site and a national historic monument. The people have been living there independent of any modern conveniences (such as electricity) for thousands of years. It was like stepping back in time. Hell, it was like stepping onto another planet. The adobes were beautiful, as was the church. Steven was in his element photographing every square inch of the place.

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Taos Pueblo was such a peaceful and fascinating experience

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Siesta time at Taos Pueblo                                        Graveyard and remains of the original church

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St. Jerome Chapel at Taos Pueblo                            St. Francis of Assisi Church near Taos

For the rest of the day, we stopped at various churches and went in and out of major weather systems. It was quite dramatic and very memorable. In the early afternoon, we stopped by the roadside at a spot with a breathtaking view and busted out our beautiful gourmet picnic. We certainly felt as though we were miles away from civilization, and yet, a fair number of cars came by and turned down the dirt road we had used as a pullout. We finally figured out it was the road to a public dump site and folks were dropping off their trash. We laughed about picnicing at the town dump, but nonetheless we enjoyed the view and the nosh!

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The High Road was a fiest for our eyes. So many Fall colors!

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More gorgeous scenery!                                           We stopped here for lunch…talk about out in the Boonies!

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Our handy dandy picnic cooler and our spread for lunch! 

All in all, this was a fun stay and it was hard to believe that it was time to start thinking about being with family and friends for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Live Oak Ranch, where we would winter over was a long distance from Santa Fe so we planned on staying for one night in Amarillo, Texas. We packed up our stuff, said goodbye to New Mexico, and took the road to the Lone Star State. Destination: Live Oak Ranch in Mulberry Canyon, Merkel, Texas.