29 April 2014

Surely it couldn't get any colder

Laramie, Wyoming

We are on our way to Utah to have a few warranty issues fixed on our trailer. We must be quite high as it’s snowing. The nighttime forecast was for -5C, so we got our sleeping bags out as they are rated to -4C. The wind howled around us all night – it’s a horrible place. Lindsay asked the girl in Walmart if it’s always this warm, to which she replied yes – and she was wearing a t-shirt! There were warning signs all along the highway to alert drivers with light trailers not to proceed because of 50+ wind gusts – too late if you didn’t take any notice of the first one. We are pretty heavy, even more so with a full tank of water as we knew we would be dry camping the night. Even so, we were pushed sideways more than a few times. 

The wind was mainly head on, so our fuel economy was crap. One of the reasons Lindsay decided to stop is that he didn’t want to fill up twice in one day! We left our new heater on low for most of the night until I got too warm as it kept the trailer at 9C, now that it’s been off for a few hours it got down to 1C. The daytime temperature in Draper is forecast for around 20C for the next few days, so that is something to look forward to. Today isn’t any better, the wind is still howling and snow is flying around. Who’s idea is this? Lindsay has read that the bears are out and about in the Grand Tetons, it’s a pretty strong drawcard.

Today we got caught in a traffic jam and the detour route was too far, so we kept going. A semi-trailer had driven up the back of a tanker on a 6% decline and there was oil all over the road. There was nothing left of the driver cab of the second semi - hope he survived (we saw them transferring the load at the bottom of the hill).

25 April 2014

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

480 acres of land was given to the City by the children of Mr Perkins who had wanted his land to be a free park for the people. 

There are many unusual rock formations that you can either walk around or rock climb if you obtain a permit.

Siamese Twins with Pikes Peak in the window

23 April 2014

Taos, New Mexico

We booked the Taos Valley RV park which Tom Tom found extremely hard to find. We gave up and looked it up on Google Maps. The RV park is very nice and the staff are helpful in giving you suggestions of what to see in the area.

The first afternoon we just spent walking around the shops in the city centre. 

The second day we went to the Taos Peublo – the oldest living Peublo in the country. We took the walking tour with one of the local students and learnt a little about everything around us. They don’t like to give away much about their culture as it has been used against them, so they don’t even write anything down and never will. Their traditional values are guarded as sacred. The town doesn’t use electricity or running water, lights are propane.  

Some houses use wood stoves while others still use the fireplaces to cook. The adobe buildings are made from earth, straw and water, and sometimes stones or rocks. Bricks are made and baked in the sun to make them waterproof, they are then used like normal bricks to build the walls and then rendered in mud on the outside. Each September before the big ceremonies, the buildings are repaired if necessary. Inside one of the shops I was able to see the ceiling was made of small logs, which I think are covered with mud on the roof. We met at the newest building which was built in 1850, the San Geronimo Church. The original church stands in ruins further away, built in 1619. The land around it is used as a cemetery for a select few, but she wasn’t allowed to tell us how these people were selected. 

During the Spanish rule, people were buried in caskets whereas now they have reverted back to traditional method of wrapping them in a cloth and putting them in the ground. The town used to be surrounded by a ten-foot wall for security against invasion. Originally the houses did not have doors and entry was via the roof. During times of invasion the ladders were pulled in to make entry impossible. Outside the houses are drying racks for processing game and vegetables for storage. Many of the houses have mud ovens outside.
San Geronimo Church Circa 1850
outside the church
Close up of one dwelling in Taos Pueblo

Taos Peublo
The Blue Lake wilderness area was returned to them after they sued the Government at the time of Nixon. Two other lands were given back to the traditional owners during that time, but when the next Government was elected, the legislation was changed to that no more land could be claimed.

The town of Taos tried to claim their water source, so they engaged an archeologist to prove that it was theirs and won.

We also had a look at the Rio Grande Gorge  from the bridge and Taos Mountain where there was still snow. Last stop for the day was the St Francisco de Asis Church which makes a great photo op. It’s been blowing a gale all day and the clouds have taken the sun away. The rain manages a few drops, but it’s not going to end their 14 year drought.
St Francisco de Asis Church (rear)

21 April 2014

Bandelier, New Mexico

An hour and a half north west of Santa Fe is the Bandelier National Monument. There are walking trails that take you to the Ancestral Pueblo villages dating back to the 13th Century. Most of the dwellings are now in ruin but you still see the outline of many of them and see that the small rooms were for storing food, other rooms were bedrooms and the Kiva’s for meeting places. 

The visitor centre hosts a talk and movie about the park to give people a better understanding of how they lived their lives. A class from one of the local schools was there and the kids really knew their history and we able to answer all the ranger’s questions. There are a number of cliff dwellings along the main trail, then another trail leads to the Alcove house which is reached by climbing four wooden ladders that span 140 feet to the top.

Alcove House (inside)
Looking down from Alcove house

17 April 2014

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The oldest house in America
A leisurely one hour drive brought us to the lovely city of Santa Fe. There are a lot of adobe style buildings and trees and gardens! They had a light sprinkling of snow a few days before we got here and it has rained every night, but the days are clear and a bit chilly. 

We stayed at the Trailer Ranch RV Resort where they have nice large, clean sites, with trees!

We took the bus into the city so that we didn’t have to worry about parking, walked around the shops, saw a museum and a few churches including the one with the famous spiral staircase. 

The Upper Crust pizza restaurant had been recommended to us and when we saw it near the oldest house in America we decided to have one for lunch. It would have to be the best pizza we have both ever eaten. The crust is left to rise three times over a couple of days so that it is like Italian Ciabatta bread, so it’s firm on the bottom, but soft and sponge like above the base. 

It’s Easter here and we saw a group of children on a sports field getting ready for their easter egg hunt which made it fell like a close knit community.

Building in Santa Fe
San Miguel Mission Church, Santa Fe
Staircase in Loretto Chapel
Our RV park is really nice, large sites with trees and chirping birds

Albuqueque, New Mexico

We are on a time limit as we need to have some warranty work on our trailer before the 12 months is up, so have booked it in at Draper, UT for the 1st May. We have devised a quick trip into New Mexico just to see what it’s like – mainly Santa Fe and Taos, with Colorado Springs tacked on the end. We will only stay in Albuquerque for a short time. We arrived at the High Desert RV Park without a reservation and someone was leaving early, so we just got a spot.  It's a fairly nice park and we would stay here again.

We transferred our AT&T contract phone over to a Verizon prepaid, having already got a Verizon jetpack (wifi) for our data when we were in CA. Even though using a smartphone as a personal hotspot was easier, it locked us into a $40 mobile plan that we just didn’t use. Lindsay found a guy who makes up rubber hoses and sends them all around the country. 

We will now be able to use our smaller gas heater in places like Yellowstone without guzzling through LPG (propane) at a rate of knots. He also replaced the hose to our Weber Q as the one from camping world had a leak in it and the new one he bought the other day was stiff and hard, so he returned it and got the guy to make up a soft hose. 

We love the way you can return something without the docket and they can look up your previous transactions from anywhere in the country. We did our usual shop at Costco, stocking up on chicken filets that are individually cryovaced for about $5kg - they are about $15kg at home!

15 April 2014

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

The Petrified Forest is in Arizona just off the i40 on a side road leading off from Holbrook. The first fossil/petrified rock shop/gallery is huge and has some amazing fossils on show as well as lots of polished petrified wood made into whatever their imagination could come up with. The wind from the previous day had reduced a lot and if you found a protected spot in the sun, it was quite warm. My Allstays app showed that the campground was in the southern section of the park. Just before the entrance there are two shops selling polished petrified rocks and other nick knacks. One of them told us that camping was $10.75 a night on both sides of the road, while the other one said it was free but there were no facilities. The actual sites were on the “free” side and it was probably once a thriving business with shelters and tables on concrete pads. The electrical outlets were now non functional but we don’t need power all the time.

Unfortunately, the park is only open from 7am to 7pm, outside the hours of sunrise and sunset, and the rangers enforce it. Once in the park, the Giant Logs surround the visitor centre where you can also see a documentary on the park. The area dates back to before the dinosaurs and the area has many fossils. The water is undrinkable because it contains sodium and iron, just some of the right ingredients to preserve fossils and petrify the wood. Before the area became a national park people took thousands of the petrified trees by the wagon load. 

The first afternoon we explored the area around the visitor centre, the Crystal Forest where we saw a green lizard sunning itself on a piece of petrified wood. There is a good walking trail that takes you around many examples of the petrified trees which are all laying on the ground and look like someone has come in with a chainsaw and cut them all up. 

Incidentally, I’m yet to see a real tree in the park. Next stop is the Jasper Forest which apparently had a huge collection of the petrified wood but it has been mostly removed. The Agate Bridge is a petrified log with the soil underneath having been washing away. They reinforced it in the 1920’s with concrete underneath to stop it from breaking; these days they would just let it fall. Our last stop was the Blue Mesa, and area of badlands which is silted soil that they likened to an elephants skin. We had been warned that the walk into this area had a steep entrance and he wasn’t kidding, a few people didn’t even try walking down but I’m glad we did.

Close up of the petrified tree
green lizard on a petrified tree
The woman at the shop had reminded us that there was a moon eclipse, the blood moon that night at 10:30pm. After checking the time on Google, Lindsay set the alarm for 12:30am as it was due at 12:45am, she was only a few hours out. I had no intention of getting up as I knew it would be freezing! He got some good shots, they aren’t sharp, but you get the idea of what it looks like.
The Blood moon (moon eclipse)
Pueblo village
On our second day, we ventured further into the park, visiting The Tepes (cone shaped formations with layers of iron, carbon and manganese), Newspaper Rock (petroglyphs) and an ancient village of the Pueblo at Puerco Pueblo, then up to the Painted Desert section of the park and the Painted Desert Inn. Well worth coming to.
Newspaper Rock
Painted Desert

9 April 2014

It's time to take the plunge

Our new Beginning

There’s a new NAB ad on TV where a little boy is asking his grandfather what the people in the exhibition are doing – he says, “they are in retirement”. What does that mean? he asks again. “It means they can do whatever they want to do”
While we have been doing some pre retirement toe dipping over the last few years, it felt real when we got on the plane on the end of March; we really are now “in retirement”. Over the last few months when we’ve told people what we were planning to do, they would say: “you are living my dream!” Yes, we are living ours too.

This retirement took a lot of work, but as with everything, it will be worth it. I’ve been packing since January which has allowed me to go through a lot of clutter and fill up our bins to the brim every week. Ebay has been an easy way to get rid of items that we didn’t feel were worth putting in storage. The renovation on the house had to be finished so that we could rent it out and the garden had to be as disaster proof as I could make it. I don’t want to think what it will look like when we get back. We had to find somewhere to store all our furniture and Lindsay’s car as he didn’t want to sell it. We decided to inform the ATO of our plans as the rules for managing a self managed super fund and staying an Australian resident for tax purposes are strict and we want to make sure we stay within the rules! They took nearly three months to make a decision as no-one had presented these circumstances to them before. All their requirements were reasonable and doable, so we are happy to comply.

The last week was incredibly stressful and I’m so happy it’s all over.

So glad we came with Qantas as they allow two suitcases each plus carry-on and luckily they didn’t weigh our carry-on. To say our carry on was on the heavy side is an understatement but we couldn’t put any of the items underneath or we wouldn’t have ever seen them again.

So we are back in the USA for an extended stay. We still have to leave every six months and have planned the next two exits, but that is all.

The first week back here in the States we stayed with our friends Dale and Shelly who have been kindly looking after our trailer and truck while we have been at home. It’s always a pleasure to see them again and we all get on extremely well.  Lindsay’s first job was to wire up the truck and trailer so that the truck would charge the three batteries in the trailer while we are driving. It took a little while to get used to where everything was and how we do things and getting into the general rhythm of life living in a 5th Wheel, de-stressing and getting over our jet lag.

Colorado River, California side

Our first trip was to the Colorado River. We camped at the river two years ago when the temperature was about 110F. This time it wasn’t much cooler but we now have air conditioning which made it a lot more pleasant. We went to an RV park which is only open to members and their guests. As Dale and Shelly are members we were able to stay as their guests for $10 per night with full hook up. They were lucky that a beach position had just become available (reserved for members but they cannot be booked) and we were one row back. Sitting next to the beach with the cool breeze coming off the water was very hard to take and if we were still too hot we could use one of the two pools. You can swim in the river but it is icy cold. The town of Parker, AZ isn’t far away, so we were able to duck into town for a few things when we needed to. Happy hour at the pool starts at 3pm and a pint (pitcher) of beer is $2.75! Lindsay got food poisoning somehow and wasn’t at all well. One night he woke up saying he was frozen to the bone but it wasn’t cold at all. I thought I would have to take him up to the hospital at Lake Havasu but he pulled through.

 The view from Dale and Shelly's site across the Colorado River
 Lindsay and Dale relax on the Colorado River
Our campsite at Emerald Cove, Colorado River, CA