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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Grand Canyon

When we first outlined our route from Seattle to Texas, we had not anticipated making a stop at the Grand Canyon. It was a little out of our way and there wasn't much wiggle room in our schedule. But the beauty of living on the road is that we can be flexible. With four days to play with while we were in Arizona, we decided to camp out at the quaint little historical town of Williams. It was beyond thrilling for me to anticipate going to see, not to mention shoot, the Canyon.

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The entrance to the town of Williams and our campsite at Grand Canyon Railway RV Park

Usually upon our arrival at a new place, we will spend the day setting up our rig and just chill out but I was determined to make the 50 mile drive to see the sun setting over the Grand Canyon.

When I arrived (Linda stayed back in Williams), I quickly found a parking space and followed the signage to the South Rim Viewing Platform. I passed the visitor's center and I could feel my heart pounding with anticipation. Some people I had spoken with said they were underwhelmed when they first got a glimpse but I didn't think that was going to be the case with me. As I walked toward the metal safety fence, the sheer grandeur of this, one of the planet's natural wonders, revealed itself.

It was literally breathtaking. There were hundreds, no thousands, of tourists gathered at the best viewing points but they faded away in my mind as I focused on the shadows, textures and colors all plummeting almost a mile deep.

My first thoughts were to just take it all in. I resisted the urge to start taking photographs. Once I get into that frame of mind, I tend to only see what's in front of me through the viewfinder. It was absolutely necessary and crucial that I refrain from that behavior and just let time stand still.

When I came out of my hypnotic state, my mind began to fill itself with all the challenges this huge space presented in terms of capturing and truly representing it's massive presence. My first thought was to include something of known scale. Huge clusters of tourists would be good for that. I really wanted to record a few shots with people for my own reference. The rest of the time I would concentrate on finding interesting shapes and textures.

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A large group of tourists helps show the scale of the canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the most photographed places on Earth so it's almost impossible to avoid cliche so I didn't even bother trying. I just wanted to capture this place as I saw it and if it wasn't original, who cares?

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Sunset and sunrise are the two best times to photograph the Grand Canyon Canyon

The next morning, I was on the road again at the crack of dawn to capture the sunrise. This proved to be the most rewarding trip of my visit there. I moved to another location and shared the view with only a handful of brave souls who had ventured out in the sub-freezing weather at that time. As the sun rose over the canyon, fingers of light reached out across the peaks and troughs and colors and shapes and textures changed by the second. It was almost impossible to stop pressing the shutter although I did, again, remind myself that I must also be present to these wonderful moments. Everything else in my life seemed trivial once I filled my eyes with the majesty before me.

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It was a rare privilege to experience the first light of day at the Grand Canyon

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People took some serious risks to get photos…          Meanwhile, we stayed safe shooting selfies :)

On the third day, Linda came along with me and we spent time at the visitor's center learning about the chronology of the many rock structures. Each of my three visits was a completely different experience and I know when I return again, it will be like seeing it anew.

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We had a close encounter with this beautiful elk on the way out of Grand Canyon Park

I'm so glad we were able to make it work to see in real life something I thought would be forever confined to magazines and books. Did the Grand Canyon live up to its hype? Hell yes, and then some.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Usery Mountain Park, AZ

Gila Bend was not a destination, it was a strategic overnight stay behind the Shell station, well-known for its cheap price and full hookups. There is nothing glamorous about the place, and even though it was 103 degrees when we arrived, it was exactly what we needed to prepare for two weeks without sewer hookups.

We had never gone this long without full hookups, so we had no idea if we could conserve enough to go the distance, or if we'd have to pack up and drive to the dump station. That is certainly doable, but it's a pain in the butt. So, before heading out, I made sure every stitch of laundry was done while Steven emptied our tanks.

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Gila Bend was a fun, albeit brief, visit

Our destination was Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, AZ.  To be honest with you, I wasn't all that keen about such a long stay because, lack of hookups aside, two weeks seemed like an eternity for a couple of newbie fulltimers with an urge to dash from place to place. And let's not even mention the fact that the temps were way above my comfort zone. (Don't get me started with that "dry heat" thing, I don't even care.) I agreed to the length of time not because of the location, but because of the people. Our time in Mesa was all about the people, starting with our neighbors at Usery, Fred & Jo Wishnie.

We met Fred & Jo a few years ago through their blog. Then, in 2011 we met in person when they, Laurie and Odel (still traveling in Scoopy at the time!)  and Margaret Wright all came to Seattle for a week to hang out with us. We were still living on Pine Lake at the time, and we all had a blast together. (Read blogs about the experience here - Fred and Jo and here - Laurie and Odel)

We knew somewhere down the road we'd meet up and hang out again and now that Steven and I were on the road, it was time to get the band back together. Since Margaret lives in Phoenix, all we needed were Laurie and Odel. We tried, but they weren't any more excited about Phoenix than I was. I can't really blame them.

In any case, we hung out often with the Wishnies, mostly at their campsite because they have a killer birding set-up. Each morning, Jo would send us a text letting us know they were up and Steven and I would mosey down to their place, coffee in hand to sit on our butts and watch the birds. Jo put together a list of all we saw during our stay, and there were 16 species, 7 of which were new to us. My hands down favorites were the Rosy-faced Lovebirds, or Peachies, as I like to call them.

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The “Peachies” were our favorite of our birdwatching with the Wishnies

In the evenings when we were all in the campground, we would again make our way to the Wishnie compound, this time for happy hour. Fred makes the most divine Manhattans. I'm pretty sure we put a serious dent in their liquor supply.

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Fred and Steven lounging around partaking of Fred’s awesome Manhattans

Margaret joined us for a couple of happy hours, and Jo and I made our way into Phoenix one night for a girl's only sleepover at Margaret's beautiful downtown loft. We wore our special Airstream and Flamingo PJs for the occasion, so we were pretty stylin' if I do say so myself.

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Jo, Margaret and Linda enjoy a girls’ night out        Lunch with Jim and Ellie Meacham!

In addition to our RVing friends, I also met up with my BFF since forever, Cindy Pender Guell. We've know each other since we were kids growing up in Tripoli, Libya. We went to boarding school together in Switzerland, worked in Libya together as young adults until we got evacuated when our government thought we were no longer safe. We made a party out of that situation and traveled around a while before landing in Alaska. We left there after 18 months or so and drove the Al-Can to Texas and went back to school. We both got married and each had our kids around the same time. Then she moved to Phoenix and I moved to Seattle. Sometimes I think back on the experiences we've shared and I feel so lucky. 

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Besties Cindy and Linda out for the day in Sedona

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Cindy took us to Sedona for a day of spectacular views!

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More Sedona views, including the Church of the Holy Cross built right into the side of a hill

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Inside the Church of the Holy Cross

It was wonderful to spend time with Cindy and her family and to see a few other Tripoli and TASIS peeps. (Hi, James! Hi, Carol! Hi, Kate!) I guess my hard and fast rule to never go to Phoenix is cracking, because I'm looking forward to a return visit. I can't even believe I said that.

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Steven got the drone out for some aerial shots of our campsite at Usery Mountain Park

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There was no end to the wonderful sunsets and sunrises at our campsite

Turns out, we managed to go the entire two weeks without having to pack up and dump. When departure day came, we were sad to say goodbye to our friends, but at the same time, ready to hit the road. Destination: Williams, AZ, Gateway to the Grand Canyon.