Friday, May 23, 2008

Mesa Verde CO - 3/18/08 - 444 miles

Mesa Verde National Park is a must see locale. We parked the RV in a parking lot just outside the front gate in a parking lot meant for trailers. The RV could have made it, but it would have taken 6 gallons of diesel to keep it with us. With diesel at $4.37 we didn't need it. Be sure to allow plenty of time to enjoy this special place. An entire day. We took about 6 hours to tour it and we did not see some things that were on my list. Far View and the Sun Palace for example.

Your first stop should be at the Visitor's Center. That is where you get tickets to tour the Cliff Palace and the Balcony House with a ranger. They cost $3 for each tour. Well worth it. Allow some time between each tour. We had about an hour which gave us time to grab some lunch and visit the museum. We didn't have time to go see the Spruce House. It is a pretty decent hike down (and back) to it. Heat wasn't an issue for us when we visited, but if the temperatures were pretty high, this one would be one to look at in the morning. Park at the end of each parking lot and walk back to the trail heads to the Cliff Palace and Balcony House. If you have severe problems with heights do not go to the Cliff Palace or Balcony House, particularly Balcony House. I have moderate fear of heights problems and was able to negotiate the ladders without to many problems.

The rangers on the tours do a masterful job of storytelling. The former residents of the dwellings left mysteriously and although we know a lot about their lives in this area, there is lot that is not known. The dwellings are spectacular to me. I could almost picture people living here.

There is a snack bar near the museum that is connected to a well-stocked gift shop. We ate in the snack bar and it wasn't too bad.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cortez CO - 3/16/08 - 407 miles

Cortez is a nice little town. We are staying at a nice little camp ground, La Mesa RV Park, near the center of town. Not too many other people here in the camp ground. The camp ground's WiFi equipment is terrible and I had to come up and park right next to their router in order to use it. Good thing Karen is not here with me because there is at least 100 mosquitoes flying around the car. They are looking for her. She left me to do the RV hookups when we got here because she spotted a quilt shop on the main street and it would probably close at 5pm. The main street here appears to be thriving and they have a Wal-Mart.

We plan to tour Mesa Verde National Park tomorrow then go up to Silverton, CO after visiting Durango. Durango is where our kids and I took one of our best pictures ever. We were all dressed up in cowboy gear carrying or holding every weapon they had in the picture studio. It was a hoot.

Four Corners NM-AZ-UT-CO 3/16/08 - 366 miles

Happiness is having a working refrigerator. At least to us RVers.

We woke up at 3:30 am and Seven said she was ready to hit the road. LOL Mad, who is in his right mind, rolled back over and went to sleep. We did get up at 7:00am and were on the road at 7:30. We were heading up AZ 89 then US 160 towards Cortez, CO. Beside Kayenta, the Four Corners is the place to see along this beautiful stretch of highway.

We did stop at the Burger King in Kayenta for a milk shake (we shared one) and to see the Indian exhibits next to the restaurant. There were 3 examples of Indian buildings set up with clear and interesting explanations of how they were used. There was also a nice little museum filled with information about the Navajo code talkers and the Navajo culture. I did see a postcard with some Hopi crafts featured on it but was afraid to ask the clerk at the desk about it. How did it get there? Hopis and Navajos do not get along. Look at the hape of the Arizona congressional districts to see what I mean.

We pulled into the Four Corners area and were surprised to learn that we had to pay an entrance fee to get in to the monument area. The land is on the Navajo reservation. Just $3 per person. We had been here before and were amazed at the improvements not only to the monument but to all the booths (43) selling jewelry and the like.

I get really excited about things like this for some reason. I think that is called 'going nuts'. Being excited, I called my brother, sister and sister-in-law while walking from state to state to share the experience with them. Now I am in New Mexico, now in Colorado, etc. Unfortunately I was doing this while some other tourists were trying to snap unobstructed pictures of the monument. They got their pictures. They just had to wait until I scratched my itch.For this I apologize to these unknown people. I just go wild and forget to be respectful of others. I did lie down on the monument so I could get a body part in every state and Seven memorialized that. Seven just stood there on the marker for her picture. She wasn't as excited as I was apparently.

Three guys were there from North Carolina and were talking to us. They were biking across the US on their Harleys and seemed like they were having a great time. I took their pictures on the monument for them using their own cameras. I also apologized to them for what KU to them did in the Final Four.

Four Corners is a worthwhile thing to see.

We had lunch and moved on to Cortez where we will spend the night. We will go over to see Mesa Verde National Park in the morning.

Seven spent about 30 minutes of cell phone time talking to Orangewood RV managers about the shoddy repair job they did on our refrigerator. Their response to the fact that they obviously did not do the work that they billed us for was, in so many words, tough, sue us.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Flagstaff AZ 144 miles - 3/14/08

144 miles is not what I would call a good start to our 2008 Big Adventure. We made it to Flag as they affectionally call it in Arizona. Flag is where everyone in Phoenix wants to be in August. A nice little college town in the shadow of the massive Mt Humphrey, a classic cinder cone volcano.

We were suppose to start out yesterday and stop at the Camp Wally here in Flag but after we unplugged the house power we noticed that the propane for the refrigerator did not kick in. That is bad. No refrigeration no heading for Flagstaff. It was too late to get it looked into so I did what I could to repair it. Nothing. We looked up the repair shop number and called them first thing in the morning.

We got into the shop, Orangewood RV on Bell Road in Surprise, at 8:00 am and got the repair done and were on the road at 11:45am. Total cost $94 for cleaning out the flue in the refrigeration unit. Evidently it rusts and the rust falls down onto the burners, blocking them. They said that they cleaned the system and everything was working.

It is all uphill, just about, from Phoenix at 800 feet above sea level to Flag which is about 7,000 feet above sea level. We had a lot of wind blowing the RV around which really took a lot out of me physically. We took a break at Camp Verde, Arizona and checked out the Cliff Castle Casino which was just off of I-17. The casino is somewhat RV unfriendly. Their RV and truck parking lot was taken over by a car dealer's tent sale and we had to wait 20 minutes for a shuttle which stops and waits at the Discount Cigarette store where smokers could run in and replenish their supply. The casino was pretty nice but I think its customers were predominately smokers because it had that golden brown patina that casinos with poor air handling systems get after 4-5 years. Just about every other slot player had a cigartette hanging out of his/her mouth. The place reeked. Seven got a chip for her casino chip collection and we left. The shuttle was not to be seen, probably parked, waiting in front of the cigarette shop again, so we hoofed it down the hill to the RV.

Not too much later we heard the tell-tale beeping coming from the refrigerator. It stopped working again because it could not get any propane. We looked up RV refrigerator dealers in Flag and tried calling them but our list was 8 years old. Seven finally called one in Cottonwood and he recommended a friend's shop in Flag for us. We called them and got directions.

We got to the Flagstaff RV Service Center on 4316 N Highway 89 and got in line and hoped that they could get to our RV before their 5pm quitting time. Lucky us. The technician, Robert, took one quick look and told us what the problem was in about 2 minutes - dirty burners and a dirty flue. We said "how can that be, we just had them cleaned 4 hours ago?" They shrugged and said that they were dirty so we said clean them. About an hour later the shop manager, Jason, came back and said we were set to go. He said it looked like to him that the burners had not been cleaned and the propane pressure had not been adjusted. Both of those things could have caused the problem. We paid $103 and then saw Robert, who worked on our RV. We asked him if it looked like the burners had been cleaned and he said absolutely not. He said that to clean them compressed air is forced into the pipe and that shakes any debrie loose. We are going to stop payment to Orangewood RV tomorrow if they do not remove the charge.

We had a quick supper at Pizza Hut. Two personal pan pizzas with salad. Good stuff. After that we went over to Flag's big time mall for some mall walking. Walking the Flag mall didn't take more than 3 minutes at most so I did it 3 times. Seven met me in Sears where she bought some shirts. I wanted some ice cream but didn't see any stores that might have had some.

We are dry camping in an auto supply store parking lot for the night. The store closed at 6pm. Not too bad. Train tracks are near by but I won't hear them in about 15 minutes. We didn't fire up the generator and watch our soap, the Young and the Restless. They rerun all the week's episodes on Saturday and Sunday on Soapnet so we will catch up to the stories then when we will have electricity. On to Cortez or Mancos and Mesa Verde tomorrow.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sun City West, Arizona - 5/10/08 - 0 Miles

The new awning was finally installed on the RV. Our awning spring evidently failed somewhere in Kansas last summer and the awning was nearly ripped from the RV. The awning had about a 2 foot rip in it so we had it replaced.

Our rear tires had only 43,000 miles on them but were 7 years old so we replaced those as well. We had replaced the front ones last fall after Mad hit one too many curbs. So before we put a gallon of that precious stuff called diesel fuel in our tank we were already out about $1,900.

Thursday, May 15th, we take off for Gunnison, Colorado. We are going to work as camp ground hosts for Lakeside RV Resort. Lakeside is a private campground and the owners sound like they might be sane, unlike last year's bosses. I have enjoyed chatting with them several times about what we can expect this summer and things in general like internet access. They sound like good people that we will enjoy working with. We will be doing the usual hosting activities as well as work in their little general store in exchange for minimum wage and a camp site. I was thinking about getting paid in Euros but that would probably not be possible.

So the RV is parked in front of the house. I spent a couple of sweaty hours cleaning out all the bins and fixing some drawers. After a couple of years we finally know what we need and don't need. When you first start RVing you tend to take everything under the sun 'just in case' then spend the next 6 months regretting ever doing that. Space in an RV is precious. I will do some basic wiring checks tomorrow or tonight then take it back to the storage lot tomorrow after we load some thing up.

Whale Watching - Maui, HI - 4/12/08

We all have seen the video on TV. Small boats full of people with our friends the whales everywhere. That's why I went on line and signed up for a whale watching excursion with Trilogy in Ma'aleaea. I was looking for just that experience. LOL

There are literally millions of whale watching excursions to choose from in Hawaii. Watching whales is a big business. Everyone has seen those videos. I didn't talk to people who went on other excursions with difference companies so I have nothing to compare our experience with. I picked Trilogy because it got consistently high ratings from people who used them to get to the elusive whales.

Whales are wild creatures and live in a big ocean so you never know where they are and if they are going to show up. They might have something better to do that day than show up and put on a show of some sorts for you. In other words when you go whale watching, you are taking a chance they might be somewhere else that day hanging with another group of antsy tourists.

Trilogy runs a class excursion. The boats are spacious and the number of people they take out is small enough where you aren't elbowing one another out of the way to get a look a breeching whale, if you are so lucky. The boats do not have many amenities but you really don't need them. A potty, a cooler full of cold beverages, some snacks, nice weather, a great crew, and a few cooperative whales is all you need.

The Trilogy people on our excursion (sorry, I am bad with names) were friendly, talkative, and helpful. They understood what the words customer service mean and did everything they could to make our trip fun and informational.

The sloop rigged catamaran that Trilogy uses is pretty good to whale watch from. It has a large trampoline in the front of the boat and places to sit along each side of it and in front of the cabin. There are also seats on the back of the boat I think. There was plenty of room for everyone to move around and find other seats. The only bad part is that the boat is relatively low in the water so that the viewing angle is pretty low. When you are far away from the whales that is not so much an issue but if the whales are near you then it would be better to be up in the air somewhat on a bigger boat.

We pulled out of the harbor and started looking for whale activity - spouts. No problem. Lots. Our skipper guided the boat towards what looked like a pod. As we approached the whales started raising their tails and periodically slapping the water with them. This was a pod of 3 males and they were doing some male posturing. Very exciting.

These whale watching excursions have a major problem. They want to get close to the whales but are legally prohibited from doing so. There is a protective area of 100 yards around the whales that they cannot enter. Our skipper was very mindful of the 100 yard limit although we would have loved to be in amongst them like in the videos. He told me that if the whales came to him then that is fine. He'd shut everything down and wait until they moved on. The whales didn't come our way but we really enjoyed their antics. One thing about seeing a whale, even a male whale which is smaller than the females, that hits you immediately - they are big.

It was a great day. Beautiful weather, nice people, and lots of whales. What more could you ask for?

We caught the bus back to Lahaina and got on the tender back to the ship after a long, happy day. We had wanted to go up the coast a little from Lahaina and go to the beaches there, but ran out of time. Next time we'd get off the ship earlier and rent a car. Or we could go back.........

Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii - 3/12/08 - 2,491 miles

Anchors aweigh! Now does aweigh mean putting down the anchor or pulling it up? We dropped anchor off of Lahaina at 7:09 am after a short trip from Honolulu. A beautiful day! 79 degrees and sunny. We could see Lahaina and the nearby islands of Lania and Molokai.

We were really excited. Our excitement was tempered somewhat by the the arrangements that the Zaandam makes for tendering (putting people on lifeboats and taking them ashore when there are not ports deep enough for the cruise ship to use). It was not first-come first-serve. It was whoever paid big bucks for shore excursions goes first and everyone goes whenever they get around to it. For two people who pride themselves at being Team #1 off the ship in every port, we were not happy. If we knew what we learned at the next tendering we really would have been steaming. The tendering honchos do not fill up the tenders!! They load up one tour group then another, etc. until all the tour groups have been sent ashore. It was 10 am before we were tendered in Lahaina. The thing is that there are plenty of seats on the tenders taking the tour groups in. In the next port when they called for the first tour group we went on down and got on without telling the tendering honchos.

Lahaina is essentially a tourist trap. Souvenir shops, restaurants, and various tour operators line the main streets. It is nice in the downtown area and it is easy to walk to everything in the town. Most of the commercial activity is located on Front Street which is one block from the dock where the tender drops its passengers. Just a short walk up Hotel Street by Banyan Park will get you to Front Street. That will take you in the front entrance of a nice little shopping area. I bought what I first thought was a simple original watercolor of some flowers in one of the shops there. A guy was sitting at a table working on these. I watched while he painted in the colors on one. What he was actually doing was painting a drawing that had been reproduced on a copier. On the back of the ones he had for sale (3 for $5) he did a full disclosure about how they were produced. It was pretty so I bought it irregardless of the mass-production aspect of it.

Wharf Street is lined with tour operators selling fishing, snorkeling, and whale watching tours. It looked like a busy place. Most of the ship's tours originated from this area I think.

The little shopping area houses the bus terminal. The bus system on Maui is very good. We were going to catch a bus 15 miles down Highway 30 to Ma'alaea (Pronounced MA-A-LIE-A) where we were going to go on a whale watching excursion on a sloop-rigged catamaran. Ma'alaea is a oceanside village that is centered around Ma'alaea Harbor Shops shopping center. This shopping center is was next to the Maui Ocean Center. We didn't tour the Maui Ocean Center because it seemed kinda of pricey ($21-$24) without that much to offer veteran aquarium goes like ourselves and we didn't have much time. We took a quick look around the shopping center and decided to hop the bus again to go over to Kahului to look around. Only about 8 miles away, on the other side of Maui.

We didn't have much time to really explore Kahului thanks to the incompetent tendering operation on the ship, so all we did was look around a shopping center where the bus station was. It was interesting to see the differences in product selection in Hawaii versus Arizona. We checked out a few of the local stores including one nice fabric shop called Sew Special where Seven got some more quilting fabric and I bought her a neat pineapple quilt pattern.

We got on the bus back to Ma'alaea to get to our whale watch adventure.