On the Road Again and an Upgrade Update

On The Road Again

We retrieved our trailer from Happy Daze RV on June 6 and on June 8 we were back on the road pointing the GMC Denali toward the South Dakota Black Hills. We had a few stops to make before we arrived at our destination point.

With the fifth wheel and truck sporting washed and shiny exteriors, the weather and road conditions decided to pour rain and kick up muddy water as we drove across the Sierra Nevada’s on Interstate 80. Both the Truckee and the American Rivers filled their riverbanks at levels we have not seen for a number of years and we glimpsed a few waterfalls gushing from the hills. A great sight to see after more than five years of drought.

When we stopped a few miles outside of Truckee, I enjoyed breathing in the fresh clean evergreen fragrance. Besides water gushing in the rivers, we took note of the snow that capped the mountaintops and nestled under the trees like dirty white blankets. A fierce wind buffeted us when we arrived at Sparks Marina RV Park but by 11:00 p.m., it had subsided and a gentle rain pitter-pattered on the roof lulling us to sleep.

This was the view from our kitchen at the back of the fifth wheel.

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View from Fifth Wheel at Sparks Marina

Apartments will soon block the lovely view. A housing shortage, caused by the influx of workers to Google, Amazon, and Tesla, has spurred construction of apartments and new homes in the Sparks, Reno and surrounding areas.

The next morning we woke to no wind but a few drops of rain. As we headed to the Sparks Marina for a walk around the lake, Jon found a slice of mountain scenery in the city.

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A Slice of Wilderness in the City

Sidestepping the duck and goose droppings, we stopped to watch the squirrels scurry across the sidewalk from their homes in the rock retaining walls to the grassy area next to the lake and the yellow-headed black birds flitting in and out of the shrubs and trees.

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Geese Make the Lake Their Home
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Yellow-Headed Black Bird

After our walk, we relaxed on the patio of Lighthouse Coffee with a cup and a scone while enjoying the view of the lake, mountains, and skyline.

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Sparks Marina
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View of Mountains From Lighthouse Coffee
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View From Lighthouse Coffee

Then it was time to plan our route to South Dakota and book our reservations for the next few days. We rarely make advance reservations, which sometimes doesn’t work out so well for us. Other times it works to our advantage.

The next morning we started out for Iron Horse RV Resort in Elko, Nevada, where we spent two weeks last year waiting on GMC to fix the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) system under warranty (see our posts Elko, Nevada Parts 1 – 3). We had seen enough of Elko to last us for years if not decades, but we couldn’t miss out having an early dinner at the Coffee Mug Family Restaurant, our favorite café in town.

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Our Favorite Restaurant in Elko, Nevada

On our way to Elko, we stopped at the Cosgrove Rest Area and encountered a cluster of unidentified insects. I tried to find them on the internet, but couldn’t locate any images that resembled these guys that did not fly. Does anyone have a guess as to what they are?

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What Kind of Bug is This?

Update on MORryde Heavy Duty Shackle Kit – By Jon

As soon as we picked up the trailer, after having the “Wet-Bolt kit” installed by Happy Daze RV in Livermore, I thought it felt more stable. However, the drive from Livermore to home is only about 15 miles so it wasn’t conclusive. Now that we loaded it for the road trip and are on our way, the trailer is indeed quite a bit more stable. The amount of chucking (sort of like bucking) has also decreased considerably. Once we got to our first destination, we realized an extra bonus after setting up in a camp space. The trailer now has much less movement when we are walking around inside. So overall, it was well worth the money to ensure our safety on the road.  Especially when I saw how much wear had occurred on the O.E.M. bushings and shackles.

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Worn Bushings and Shackles After 13,000 Miles
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New MORryde Heavy Duty Shackle Kit

Time to move on to our next waypoint, Salt Lake City.

Safe Travels.

Home Again – Home Again

Jon here, taking over blogging duties this week for an episode on RV maintenance and upgrades.

All about Tires

Having researched the RV forums for months, I found that the frequency of separation of the original Trailer King ST225/75R-15 8 Ply tires was so great that they had earned the nickname “China Bombs.” I had planned to replace our trailer tires after our winter 2017 trip. We came up short of home by 500 miles when, as noted in the last post, one of the tires separated and damaged the trailer.

After two weeks, we picked up the trailer from Sky River RV where they repaired the damage and drove immediately to the closest Discount Tire store in Paso Robles to replace the five tires, including the spare. We didn’t want to chance another tire blowing out before we got the rig home.

I found the Carlisle brand received great reviews on the forums. So we went with the Carlisle Radial Trail HD ST225/75R15 10 Ply (instead of the 8 ply) for an increased load rating and peace of mind.

General Cleaning and Maintenance

After putting about 4500 miles on the trailer, it was time for some much-needed cleaning and maintenance. The first thing we do is tag-team the cleaning of the trailer interior. I clean the toilet, sinks, and the refrigerator. Linda vacuums, dusts, and wipes down the cabinetry. Then I come in and scrub the floors with the Swiffer wet jet. Next is the exterior. Linda climbs the ladder to scrub the roof and inspect all the seals. When she finds subpar seals, I fetch the Dicor self-leveling sealing caulk made especially for RV rubber roofs to make the necessary repairs. Once done, I wash the back, sides, and of course the bug encrusted front of the fifth-wheel as well as the awning.

Running Lights

The next thing on the list is to repair anything that had become inoperable. One item had driven me crazy. Whenever we hook up the trailer to the truck, we always operate the lights so that the running lights illuminate. For no apparent reason, the running lights quit. I found that a 15-amp fuse on the truck’s fuse panel had blown. I replaced the fuse and the lights worked…for about a minute. Realizing there must be a short somewhere in the running lights circuit, I left the blown fuse in and didn’t worry about the running lights. Whatever the cause, it did not affect any other lights on the trailer and I could figure it out once we got home.

I got lucky. Another round of research revealed the blown fuse was a common problem on many Cougar fifth wheels. The wire that connects the right front side marker light with the left front side marker light runs under the fiberglass skin and on top of a metal cross brace. Apparently, the wire over time smashes against the metal cross brace when the trailer is hooked to the truck, causing a short when the wire’s insulation wears through. The wire was so smashed I couldn’t pull it out. The fix was to run a new wire through the front storage and abandon the old wire. That fixed it! Ray Burr of www.loveyourrv.com figured this out. Ray has a Cougar 5th Wheel trailer too and he experienced the exact same problem. Thanks Ray!

Solar Power

With the coming camping season nearly upon us, I decided to research solar panels for the trailer with the goal to provide enough juice to charge the batteries when camping without electrical hookups. I found a complete solar panel kit that looked like it would be a good fit for the Cougar.

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Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Last year I had upgraded our single 12-volt deep cycle battery that was good for about 80 amp hours to two 6 volt deep-cycle golf cart batteries. The two 6-volt batteries wired in series gives 12 volts but supplies 230 amp hours.

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230 Amp Hours Battery Bank

With the bigger battery bank already installed, I was setup to install the solar panels. I ordered through Amazon the Renogy kit that included two 100-watt monocrystalline solar panels, one charge controller, all the wires for connecting everything together, plus all the mounting hardware.

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Renogy Wanderer Solar Charge Controller With Fuses and Panels Shut Off Switch
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Close Up of Charger Controller

I was concerned about drilling holes for the mounting brackets in the roof of the trailer but after consulting various forums and videos, I felt confident I could do the work without causing any leaks. I created a short video of my install of the system here: YouTube Video.

I also replaced the sewer plumbing vent while completing the installation. We’ve not had problems with smells but thought I’d give the Camco Cyclone vent a try.

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Camco Cyclone Sewer Plumbing Vent Rotates 360 Degrees With the Wind

Suspension Upgrade

The final chore before our next trip was a suspension upgrade. When I learned the trailer suspensions supplied to the trailer manufacturers do not allow for greasing the shackles on the leaf springs, I was appalled. Even worse, the thicknesses of the shackles are subpar and the bushings used are made of some type of plastic. Bottom line is these items wear out in as little as 10,000 miles and we were near that range. The fix is to install a heavy-duty shackle upgrade kit by MorRyde. For more information, go here: MorRyde Shackle Upgrade Kit.

This job requires lifting the trailer and removing the wheels (one side at a time) so the suspension can be disassembled and reassembled. I just don’t have enough space beside our house to safely attempt this job. So we made an appointment six weeks ago at Happy Daze RV in Livermore, California and the work is being done as I write this.

With new tires, a clean trailer, working running lights, a new solar system, and a safer suspension, it looks like we are ready to pack up and hit the road for our summer 2017 adventure. As soon as Happy Daze calls to say the work is completed, of course.

Pechanga, Yucaipa CA Then Home

After nine weeks on the road, you would think our routine for leaving a campsite would be ingrained. Rarely do we forget anything. I wash dishes, breakdown the table, secure the contents of the refrigerator and cabinets, stow the laptop, latch the bathroom and shower doors, close any open vents or windows, and then double and triple check to make sure I didn’t miss something. JT dumps the holding tanks, cleans the toilet, stows the camp stove and table, folds up the outdoor mat, raises the stabilizer jacks, and coils up the electrical cord and water hoses.

Usually, Jon fills the black tank full of clean water and flushes three or four times to clean it out. He runs in and out of the trailer twenty times or more checking to see if the tank filled enough to flush out the yuck in the black tank. This was not the case when we prepared to leave San Diego. He hadn’t been around for what seemed like fifteen minutes. Then I heard water running, a whole lot of water, spilling over the toilet edge, in a waterfall, onto the floor, into the heater vent, under the sink cabinet, and seeping into the bedroom carpet. “Flood, flood. Where are you?”

JT rushed to turn off the water and open the dump valve while I flung towels on the floor. Instead of leaving by our noon checkout time, I sat in the laundromat watching towels go round and round in the dryer. It was bad enough cleaning up a flood because the trailer had a leak, but to cause a flood. Grrrr! Good thing our faux pas occurred on the fourth flush of the tank and not the first.

We hit the road about 1:30 p.m., just enough time to make it to Yucaipa before they closed. Barely thirty miles out of San Diego on Interstate 15, we heard a noise that sounded like we ran over something, except the trailer didn’t buck the truck like it does when hitting a pothole or going over speed bumps. Did the spare tire fall off the back of the trailer? Jon put on the flashers and pulled the rig over. The spare was in place. Everything seemed okay and then we noticed the treadless tire on the rear passenger-side of the trailer and the section behind the wheel to the bumper that had curled up on itself. Five tire failures in one year. What were the odds?

We limped into the nearest town, Escondido, and found a parking lot at a Mexican restaurant where Jon could change the tire. After lunch at the restaurant, we drove to the nearest Discount Tire Co. store to ensure the spare and the rest of the tires had sufficient air.

Too late to make it to Yucaipa, we stopped at Pechanga Casino and RV Resort for the night. I had heard casino RV spots were reasonably priced so I didn’t expect the $50 rate for a pull-through deluxe site. Then again, the sites were nice. They offered plenty of amenities such as a pool, clean bathrooms, and a shuttle to the casino, if one was inclined to flip their pockets inside out and donate their cash to the reservation.

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Pechanga RV Resort

Journey’s Inn was a perfect place for breakfast the next morning, a reward for our troubles of the day before. The rock covered walls, large windows overlooking the golf course, and the hills in the background, along with a tasty breakfast, soothed our worries away.

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Journey’s Inn
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Journey’s Inn Lobby View
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Journey’s Inn Outdoor Seating
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Pechanga Resort Golf Course

Pechanga is in the middle of a $285 million expansion which will include an additional 568 rooms, a 70,000 square foot spa, convention space, pool complex, and two new food and beverage outlets. The completion of the expansion is expected by the end of 2017.

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Pechanga Expansion Construction

We continued on to Yucaipa Regional Park, arriving by 11:00 a.m., which allowed us time to have our pick of spots. A friend Jon has known since grade school came for dinner and they enjoyed sitting at the picnic table and catching up on their lives.

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Jon with Ed Simpson. The bearded ones look like they coordinated outfits.

The next day, my friend and her husband picked us up for lunch, and a drive to the Oak Glen Preserve and Southern California Montane Botanic Garden, a Wildlands Conservancy. We followed the trail around the garden grounds and rested at the Discovery Center. The following photos were taken during a previous visit to the preserve during the fall.

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Entrance to The Wildlands Conservancy Southern California Montane Botanic Garden
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Historic Farming Equipment is Displayed Along the Loop Trail
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Farming Equipment
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Aquatic Feature Includes This Creek and a Pond
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View From Botanic Trail

Wouldn’t it be nice if every picture taken turned out perfect? This is definitely not the case for me. Where the heck did that water bottle come from and why do Jon and I look like we’re sitting on kindergarten chairs? One of these days, I’ll remember to check the foreground and background for distracting objects, and the placement of people.

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Dan and Susie Bloomer with Jon and I

On Friday, March 17, 2017, we headed for Sky River RV in Paso Robles so they could repair the damage from the tire failure. Loaded up with what trailer contents would fit in the truck, we drove home with memories of all we had seen swirling in our heads and sadness in our hearts that our Winter 2017 trip had ended.

The Statistics:

  • Number of Nights – 65
  • Total Miles Driven – 7,285
  • Miles Pulling Fifth Wheel – 4,596
  • Diesel Fuel – 583 Gallons
  • RV Parks/Campgrounds – 22
  • States – 4

Until next time, safe travels.

San Diego CA

Tuesday, March 6, 2017, and time to head toward home. But first, San Diego beckoned us to stay a few days. We try to make it to San Diego a couple times a year to visit with our son Kevin, breath in the sea air, and soak up the rays. Campland by the Bay is our favorite place to park the rig.

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Campland by the Bay Marina

I must have been exhausted because I was content to hang around the campsite for three days. Kayaks, bicycles, and paddleboards available to rent at the marina and even my camera could not entice me to stray too far.

We finally ventured beyond the confines of the resort to walk along the Mission Bay path on Friday. Sadness overcame me when we walked past the abandoned mobile home park across Rose Creek from the Campland RV park. The city kicked out the residents and is planning the future of the property and surrounding area.

We’re glad to know the city has spared Campland by the Bay from the same fate for at least three years. The city extended the campground’s lease, due to expire during 2017, for at least three years and possibly up to five, while the city receives feedback on options and contemplates its final decision.

Known for its gastropubs and breweries, it made sense for San Diego to host the Best Coast Brew Fest, which benefits Cancer for College. Our son invited us to the event on Saturday, March 11. With our little plastic mug in hand, we lined up at Mission Brewery’s tap truck for a taste of the dark lager.

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Mission Brewery’s Tap Truck

After samplings from a few more of the 50 breweries represented at the fest, we moseyed on over to the food trucks. Two for the Road served up tasty lobster rolls and salmon burgers. We considered ourselves lucky to find a park bench to serve as our dining table and chowed down while Saved by the 90s played in the background.

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Food Trucks at Best Coast Beer Fest
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Saved by the 90s Band San Diego

Kevin’s sunglasses reflects the festival scene.

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Kevin Todd at West Coast Beer Fest

Kevin’s girlfriend, Bailey Bishop, models the latest fashion trend in jewelry for the beer fest crowd. Munch on a pretzel while standing in line for the next taste.

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Bailey Bishop at Best Coast Beer Fest

As the day progressed, the lines grew longer. With blue skies and warm weather, no one really cared. They visited with their friends and sipped their tasties.

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Embarcadero Park, Venue for Best Coast Beer Coast

A couple takes time out to enjoy the view and watch the low tide.

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Takin’ A Break

San Diego is a casual city, and on warm days residents and visitors alike don shorts and T-shirts, with sandals or tennis shoes. A red polka dot dress and pair of stilettos screaming, “Take my picture,” caught my eye and the lady in red agreed.

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“Take My Picture, Please.”

Uber and Lyft drivers picked up some extra coin by driving inebriated beer fest attendees to their next destination. I was so glad to exit our Uber driver’s car after a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

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Beer Fest Attendees Catching an Uber or Lyft Ride

The Cherry Blossom Festival at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park sounded like fun. We stood in line to pay our fee then crowded in with everyone else to view the pink blooms. Dodging running children, strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs on the narrow dirt paths became a challenge. The Festival was not the time to expect a serene stroll among the flowers and trees. Discouraged by the long lines at the food counters, we left to eat lunch in the courtyard of Panama 66, the restaurant next to the San Diego Museum of Art.

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Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park
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Cherry Blossoms
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Koi

Later we walked along the street between the buildings toward the Fleet Science Center watching street buskers on the way. The performers are usually legit: musicians, jugglers, caricature artists, mimes, and magicians. This is the first time I found a group suspect.

Somehow I had never before managed to take a picture of this statue in front of the House of Charm.

 

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El Cid Statue and House of Charm

 

A large crowd had already gathered when we arrived. Three of the young men collected money from the circle of people while another promised an exciting stunt involving the five people selected from the crowd and standing in the open circle. Ten minutes later, the action began. The five people bent their backs, and the announcer took a spot several yards away. He ran toward the five people and performed a flip over their backs, and that was it. End of the show.

Although the trick was cool, the man who dropped twenty bucks in the hat expressed his displeasure of seeing only one stunt after the leader of the gang goaded him for fifteen minutes. Many people walked away shaking their heads and possibly feeling duped. Fortunately, we were not among them.

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One Stunt Performer

The magician at the other end of the street who passed a hat at the end of his show, however, was worthy of our money.

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Magician Performer

We ended the day at The Headquarters at Seaport Village. While waiting for our table at Puesto (great place for tacos) we wandered in and out of the stores, took pictures with the balloon art, and visited the San Diego Police Headquarters museum.

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#WhatLiftsYou @ KelseyMontagueArt
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Jon’s Long Lost Aunt? Alas, No Jackie Todds in the Family Tree.
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The Fog Rolled in at Sundown Turning the Sky Gray.

It was now Monday, moving day again. We wanted to spend a few days in the Anza Borrego Desert. With no reservations, we were out of luck. It didn’t make sense to go for only one night, so we headed up Interstate 15 toward Yucaipa Regional Park to visit with a couple of friends.

Safe Travels!

Casa Grande, Colorado River and Lake Havasu City

Casa Grande

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017, we enjoyed a short 1-1/2 hour drive to Casa Grande RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona. When we backed into our assigned site, I was glad to relinquish my backup guide duties to the two men who came out to help Jon situate our fifth wheel. After about a half hour of polite arguments on the best approach to take, I wanted to tell them, “I’ve got this. It’s not that difficult.” But I couldn’t offend the retired truck driver instructor. A few more, “Pull-ups over there, and turn your wheels that way,” and the trailer slid into place.

I think we must have worn ourselves out over the past seven weeks because we took the rest of the day off to wash our clothes, replenish the fridge and pantry, and enjoy a steak and salad dinner prepared by Chef Jon. It felt good to put our feet up and sip our Dark & Stormy’s while the steaks sizzled on the grill.

We had selected Casa Grande Ruins National Monument for our day trip on Wednesday.

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Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The monument preserves an ancient Sonoran Desert People’s farming community and “Great House” that dates back to 1350 C.E. On the website, an artist’s drawing depicts what the compound might have looked like around 1350 C.E. It has the appearance of a mission or fort. The complex was surrounded by walls, adobe buildings lining the inside of walls, and other buildings surrounded the great house. Journal entries of Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino who visited in 1694 is the first written account of Casa Grande. Col. Juan Batista de Anza’s expedition in 1775 and Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny’s military detachment in 1846 also mention the ruins.

 

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Remains of Adobe Building Near Casa Grande

 

The arrival of the railroad, twenty miles away, and a stagecoach route that ran near Casa Grande brought many visitors to the area. As a result, the historic structure suffered damage from souvenir hunting, graffiti, and vandalism. In 1889, Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar presented a petition before the  U. S. Senate to repair and protect the ruins. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison established the first prehistoric and cultural reserve in the United States by setting aside one square mile surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Casa Grande Ruins a National Monument on August 3, 1918. A steel shelter roof built in 1932 protects the Great House from the elements and visitors are not permitted inside the structure to protect it from further damage.

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Casa Grande Protected by Steel Roof

Walking the grounds, I could almost hear children laughing as they chased each other around the complex, see women weaving blankets or creating pottery jugs and bowls, smell smoke from the fires used to cook meat and vegetables, while men yelled and cheered at the ball court outside the compound’s walls.

 

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Depression Below the Horizon is the Ball Court

No one knows why the people abandoned the complex, but archaeological records document their presence at Casa Grande for at least a thousand years.

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Store Room? Home?
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Wire Mesh Protects Holes From Further Erosion. Note Graffiti on the Smooth Surface Above the Eyes
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Beams Stabilize the Structure
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View Through the Building to the Other Side

The monument is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For an in-depth understanding of the history and people who occupied the compound, catch a guided tour, which is offered from late November to mid-April. Shaded picnic tables are also available for use across from the visitor’s center. As of the date of this post, the entrance fee is $5.00 for each adult (16 years or older) and children 15 and younger are free. All National Park passes are accepted.

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Purple Cactus (Opuntia Macrocentra) Planted in Picnic Area

Colorado River and Lake Havasu City

Lake Havasu City was our next destination to visit with family and friends before turning the truck toward home. Unable to secure a spot for March 2, we stopped at La Paz County Park for the night. We were glad the rain that had drenched the area a few days before had moved on to other locations because our spot looked like it would have been a lake during the downpour.

Jon and I both spent a lot of time along the river in our younger years so we took time out to reminisce and tour old haunts. Our first stop was Fox’s RV Park Resort for dinner. I didn’t remember dollar bills hanging from every available surface of the ceiling, but I did remember boating to the floating bar and restaurant with my friend, drinking our sodas, and playing “Hey Jude” on the jukebox. Jon remembered partying at the bar at night during spring break.

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Fox’s RV Resort
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Fox’s Floating Bar and Restaurant
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Inside the Floating Bar and Restaurant
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Dollar Bills Plastered on the Ceiling

Next time we are driving along the river road to or from Lake Havasu, we’ll be sure to stop and grab a bite at Fox’s. The pulled pork sandwich was as good if not better than any I ever ate in North Carolina.

We drove up to Parker Dam, which reminded me of our float trips down the river for two miles to Tom’s Landing where we stayed. I’d jump out of my dad’s boat with an inner tube around my waist along with other kids who stayed at Tom’s. We’d kick back and enjoy the peaceful ride through the red rock canyon. River Lodge Resort took over Tom’s Landing property several years ago.

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Parker Dam is Owned and Operated by the Bureau of Reclamation

The City of Lake Havasu offers residents and visitors alike plenty of activities to keep a family busy. Sara Park is an 1100-acre regional park that offers hiking and bike trails, BMX and Motocross, Rodeo grounds, baseball and softball fields, to name a few. The park is also home to Havasu 95 Speedway, which runs a race schedule from October through April. We had fun one night watching the races and cheering on our friend Chris Blackwell in his Orange 99 Car. Congratulations on your win, Chris.

 

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March 4, 2017, Factory Stock Main Event
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March 4, 2017, Factory Stock Main Event
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Chris Blackwell in the Winners Circle

Next up in our GPS? San Diego.

Safe Travels

Tucson AZ – Part Two

After our trip to the Titan Missile Museum, we stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. Architect Ignacio Gaona designed the mission under the direction of Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain. Franciscans continue to run the church to serve the O’odham native community, whose ancestors built the mission between 1783 and 1797.

 

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Mission San Xavier del Bac

 

We joined a tour group in progress when we arrived at the courtyard outside the doors. The docent pointed out specific art pieces and explained their symbolism, but I had trouble hearing at the back of the crowd, so I stuck with taking pictures. I could have stood there for hours finding all the little details in my camera’s viewfinder.

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Balcony over the front doors. Note the shell over the window, a symbol of baptism, pilgrimage, St. James the Apostle, St. Augustine, and the Blessed Mary.
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One of the many carvings in the facade.
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I wondered what was behind the door.
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Jesus Christ Monogram
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Aesop’s Fable The Lion and The Mouse?

Walk through the carved mesquite doors and enter a church rich with bright colors, paintings, carvings, frescoes, and statues.

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From Ceiling to the Floor, Art is All Around.
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Ceiling Paintings
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One of the Numerous Angels in the Church.
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I like the way this resembles fabric and trim to give the appearance of a valance or drape.
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Handwriting on the Wall from Daniel 5?
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The depiction of the Last Supper. Note the dark figure at the edge of the drape on the right side of the painting.
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The Devil in the Details
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Flying Angel
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One of the Saints?
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Prayer Candles are Purchased at the Gift Shop
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Red, Orange, Blue, Green, and Shades of Brown.
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The Docent Said the Dots Are Thumbprints

Back outside are different views of the exterior, bell tower, hill, and plaza.

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Exterior Walkway
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Side of Church
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Bell Tower
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Archway to Hill Trail
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Hill Trail with Lions Standing Guard
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San Xavier Plaza

We’ll have to visit San Xavier again some day to enjoy more of the art and symbolism, meet the local vendors, browse their wares, and grab a bite to eat.

We thought we had allotted enough time to see everything on our list, but we needed at least a couple more days. Fortunately, Rincon Country East accommodated our request for two more nights.

Off we drove to Biosphere 2, the research facility owned by University of Arizona (UA) since July 2011. UA scientists conduct several large-scale projects at the facility originally built to “research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology.” One such project is the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a large-scale laboratory used to explore how the evolution of physical and biological processes of the landscape affects “water, carbon, and energy cycling within the landscape, and between the landscape and the atmosphere.” In other words, research on global warming.

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Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona

The visitor center alone has plenty to keep a person busy for up to an hour, including a film presentation, exhibits, and multimedia displays. A bookstore and café are also on site. The best part is taking the under-the-glass tour. Led by a docent, the one hour and the 15-minute tour includes the tropical rainforest, desert, and ocean environments; the LEO; as well as the basement “technosphere” and the “amazing lungs.” The tour also includes the scientist’s living quarters, or human habitat.

Tropical Rainforest Environment

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Tropical Rainforest in Biosphere 2
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Tropical Rainforest in Biosphere 2

Aquaponics project explores how fish, bacteria, and recirculating water is used to grow plants at a faster rate using less water. It looks like something we could have in our backyards.

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Aquaponics Project

Desert Environment

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Desert Environment at Biosphere 2
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Desert Environment at Biosphere 2

Basement technology

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The Basement Includes Pipes and Equipment of All Sort that Serve as the Organs and Circulating System of Biosphere 2.

The Amazing Lungs. There are two on site, this one is included in the tour. Air expanded as the heat of the day rose causing the lung to rise. At night, the air contracted which lowered the roof—made of galvanized rubber—to the floor on its metal legs. Although the Biosphere is no longer self-contained, fans are used to simulate the expansion and contraction.

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Inside One of the Lungs of Biosphere 2

The LEO Project is enclosed within the three arched glass buildings. Each section contains a bed 30 meters long and 11 meters wide at a 10-degree slope. The beds are filled with 1 meter, or 500 metric tons, of basalt rock. Approximately 1800 sensors and sampling devices are installed to collect data which the scientists analyze.

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Exterior Glass Enclosure of the LEO Project. The Domed Shaped Building to the Left is One of the Lungs.
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It’s Difficult to See From This Angle, but the Dark Area Above the Green Frame is the bed of basalt rock.

Human Habitat

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Human Habitat Contains a Kitchen, Living Area, and Apartments that the Scientists Used During their Stay.

For our last day in Tucson, we packed a lunch, and headed to Tucson Mountain County Park and found a great place to have a picnic in the Ironwood Picnic area. After a quiet meal among the mesquite, palo verde, and teddy bear cholla we drove to Old Tucson Studios. Expecting a cheesy sort of place that would extract money from our pockets, we were surprised to find the old movie and television sets realistic and the entertainment professional and amusing.

 

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Teddy Bear Cholla

 

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Old Tucson Studio Souvenir Shop

The music, singing, and clapping attracted us toward the Grand Palace Saloon. Jon was glad we were standing at the back of the bar when the dancers came out and selected men to come up on stage, dressed in can-can outfits, of course. Don’t look too long at the out of focus print, you’ll get dizzy.

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Grand Palace Saloon

We wandered over to the Mission next and laughed at the actors who insulted the audience members as they walked into the arena and took their seats. Then we enjoyed a slapstick routine involving a gun fight, explosions, and falls from high places.

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Watch Stunt Shows at the Mission Arena
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Stunt Show Actors
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Uh Oh. Now, What Do I Do?
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I’m Having a Really Bad Day.

Next, we strolled through the town to see the sets where filming of over 400 movies and television productions took place since the Audie Murphy days.

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Peek Inside the Hotel Del Toro
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The Marshal’s Office
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The School House Exterior
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Bilingual School Room
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Phoebe’s Has Good Fudge For Sale
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Chinese Alley
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Saloon and Card Room

We felt we got our money’s worth at $18.95 a head. We took Gates Pass Road back to town and stopped at the overlook. As I stood on the hill the Tucson Valley and Rincon Mountains came into view through the V of the rock formations. It was then that I realized why I felt at home in Tucson. It’s the mountains.

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Gates Pass Overlook. Through the V on the Left is Tucson Valley and the Rincon Mountains in the Distance.

The San Bernardino Mountains towered over the valley where Jon and I grew up, and hills surround the valley where we live now. There’s something comforting about hills and mountains standing tall and strong ready to protect the inhabitants that live in the shadows.

Next stop, Casa Grande.

Safe Travels.

Tucson AZ – Part I

Continuing westward, we selected Tucson AZ for one of our longer stays to allow time for truck maintenance. We settled in at Rincon Country East RV Park on February 22, 2017. Rincon East was the sixth park we called before procuring a reservation. Although many of the parks advertise numerous sites, park models or long-term visitors fill the majority of the spots leaving only a small percentage available for travelers. Rincon East has 460 sites but only 55 available for short-term stays. We learned later that our trouble getting reservations was also complicated by Rodeo week. Rodeo week is such a big deal that the schools are closed Thursday and Friday to allow the students to participate in the non-motorized parade and other rodeo-related activities.

There is so much to see in and around Tucson we had trouble deciding where to go and what to see. We chose Saguaro National Park East, or Rincon Mountain District, to explore first since it was close to our home base. This old guy looks like he has had a long hard life.

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I Need a Hug.

On March 1, 1933, President Hoover established Saguaro National Monument, but congress did not designate the property as a national park until 1994. During the sixty years as a monument the cactus dwindled in numbers due to poachers who stole the stately giants, cattle that trampled the young saguaros, and unusual freezing temperatures caused the plants to die. In the meantime, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive, a visitor center opened in 1950, and scientific research of the saguaro life cycle began.

The 8-mile paved Loop Drive leads visitors to several trailheads, scenic vistas, pullouts, and picnic areas. At the pullouts, kiosks provide information about the park, the cactus, and the non-human creatures that live or visit each year. One sign said Tucson was known as the lightning capital of the world. A quick fact check revealed that Texas took the prize for the number of flashes (2.8 million) during 2014 and Florida ranked number one for the average number of flashes per square mile (21.0) from 2005 through 2014 according to Vaisala Inc. on the NOAA.Gov website. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum attributes Tucson’s unique combination of elevation and dry atmosphere as the reason lightning in Tucson is more visible. To experience Tucson’s lightning requires a visit during monsoon season between July and September.

Rooftops sparsely placed among the saguaros, Palo Verde, and mesquite, are barely visible looking west from Loop Drive.

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View from Loop Drive Looking West

The saguaros are returning, protected by mesquite and Palo Verde nurse trees. Consider that the saguaros do not generate arms until they are 95 – 100 years old.

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A Family of Saguaros Nursed by Mesquite and Palo Verde Trees

Other sightings along the loop drive.

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Barrell Cactus
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Phainopepla Sitting in A Tree. How Nice of Him to Pose for Me.
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Chain Fruit Cholla
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Staghorn Cholla
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Javelina Rocks
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Javelina Rocks

We headed downtown one afternoon to tour the Tucson Museum of Art and J. Knox Corbett House. Unfortunately, the museum closed early for an event so we only had about ten minutes to walk through the Corbett house, so no time to take photos or enjoy the art in the museum.

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J. Knox Corbett House
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Historic Neoclassic/Classical Revival Architecture

Old Town Artisans, housed on the site of El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson, a fort built by the Spanish in 1775, was only a few blocks from the museum. There we wandered through the galleries and shops gawking at the unique gifts, jewelry, paintings, pottery, and other items for sale.

We had received a recommendation to try El Charro for a meal. Four o’clock was a little early to eat dinner, but when the hostess said, “Now would be a good time to grab a seat,” we heeded her advice. Good thing we did. By the time we finished our meal, diners stood outside wrapped in their jackets waiting for a table. We both enjoyed the salmon taquitos with guacamole and the chicken mole enchiladas were some of the best I had ever eaten.

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Mural in El Charro Restaurant

The Titan Missile Museum was next on our list. As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I crouched under my desk at school along with my classmates just as the teacher instructed us. At the time, I thought the exercise would keep me safe. Little did I know we all would have been burnt to a crisp had there really been a nuclear war. The song, “Russians” by Sting gave me hope that the Russians would not engage their nuclear weapons because they really did love their children.

The museum includes historical photos and tells the story of the 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States, each operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The missiles could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 6300 miles away in less than thirty minutes. The one-hour guided tour includes the underground missile complex, the launch control center, and the missile silo. I’m so glad the little girl hiding under the desk never had to endure the tragedies of a nuclear war and pray no one will ever experience the destructive power of these types of missiles.

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Titan Missile Visitor Center
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Fencing and Gate for Titan Missile Complex
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The Elevator to the Underground Facility is on the Left. The Stair Hatch is on the Right.
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Looking Up through Stairs That Lead Underground
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Giant Shock Absorber for Underground Facility
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Launch Control Center
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Missile and Silo From Underground
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Missile and Silo from Above Ground
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View of Silo and Surrounding Area
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Listening Devices for Alerting Launch Control of Intruders
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Various Antennas
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Liquid Fuel Tank Used Prior to Solid Rocket Fuel

 

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Rocket Engine Used During Launch

 

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Military Police Jeep Used on Site

Next up is Tucson Part Two, which will include Biosphere 2, Mission San Xavier del Bac and Old Tucson Studio.

Safe Travels.