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Published: June 25th 2017
The Tower at Gruene
Home of the oldest dancehall in Texas
Hi There everyone.
Due to our route previous blogs often have an unintentional theme, e.g. Colonial cities, Ruins or music. Well this ones theme, if anything, could be, “Places we didn’t intend to visit”, as almost everywhere we set off for, was not where we ended up.
Usually this is a good thing, as we end up in some spectacular places we didn’t even know existed. Although on the down side, it doesn’t help our “must see” list get any shorter....in fact it just adds places on.
So, back to where we left off last time.... crossing the border.
We had many discussions with our fellow RVers about what was the best border to cross to enter into the States. Some were discarded for potential hassle factors such as: no parking for larger vehicles, which would mean, stopping to hand in our paperwork would be difficult, some were just in the wrong direction, oh! and then there were the ones with the alleged ever present Bandidos. We still hadn’t seen any, so maybe this would be our last chance! Having ruled out all of the above and having been
Last minute shopping opportunity.
USA / Mexico border, could be difficult to build that wall.
told it was a really easy border for large vehicles we settled on Columbia near Nuevo Laredo, which crosses into Laredo, Texas,
With an empty fridge & freezer (I have got over the cheese issue....this time my regret was leaving the tasty Mexican chicken behind) and the alcohol bottles in a bag in case we had to hand them over, we felt well prepared for inspection. We arrived on the Mexican border side and as promised there was plenty of room to stop and hand in our vehicle hologram. You purchase this on entry and hand it back when leaving the country to prove the vehicle was not sold in Mexico. Although I would have thought pulling up in a 40 ft Rig could also be a clue. So far, so good, with the first step completed easily enough, it was now time for the US bit.
We drove onto the bridge leading to the USA border and joined the queue. I love Mexican ingenuity, about 2cm left of the USA / Mexican borderline was a final “retail” opportunity. So whilst queuing I used my time wisely and lent out of the window and
bought a broom. We peered ahead and wondered if we should be in the truck lane? As we got a bit nearer, a Border Guard came along to confirm that we wouldn’t fit through the car lanes. He explained that I would need to get off and go through “pedestrian immigration”. “Just take your passport” he said, and then told Graeme he was to take the Rig to the truck lane, where someone would meet him and show him where to go. This could be a long story, so I will just stick to the salient points.
I wandered into immigration & joined the queue. There were eight windows but only one working. The guy was going from one window to another. It appeared the computer wasn’t working! While I was waiting I read the signs with instructions, mostly written in Spanish, about paying for your immigration card. I pondered over this instruction for a while, whilst thinking “hope I don’t have to pay I don’t have any money on me”. I had taken the instruction of, “just bring your passport” literally. Not much I could do anyway, so I continued queuing. Then we all watched as
the single working booth shut, while the Guard, along with the family he was dealing with, disappeared off ......... we waited.
Eventually the man who asked me to leave the rig came in and saw me standing in the queue, he waved me across. He checked my passport then said I needed to pay for an I94,( immigration card) As I didn’t have the money ( surprise?) he said to go out, wait for Graeme , who would also need to go through this process, we could then return and queue again. Question.... why did I have to get off then? Having no idea where Graeme would be, I asked how I would find him. “Oh he will just appear” he replied.
Meanwhile Graeme had driven into the truck area, not knowing where to go as no one had materialised to explain. Eventually he nudged into one of the truck lanes (fortunately the Mexican truck drivers were quite accommodating!) and ended up at a booth with a US Customs official. He asked the usual questions, & presumably happy with the responses said he needed to take the Motorhome through the X-Ray scanner. “Where is
that?” he said, to which the reply came “follow that truck over there”. Which he did, only to find himself at the Border exit. “You can’t come through here” the Guard said....”well what do you want me to do?”....”you’ll have to make a U-turn & go back & find the scanner, but you will have to give me your passport while you do it”...Having done that he approached the exit again. This time the Guard told him he could go. Graeme explained he couldn’t go as a) he required a Visa and b) he needed to find me. So after giving a warning to be careful, because “people around here can’t drive”, he was directed to do another U turn back into the car park by the immigration office, where I was waiting.
Meanwhile, as I had stood gazing through a wire fence for a couple of hours I was beginning to suffer from separation anxiety. No wonder people walk across the desert, it’s probably quicker. So, I was pleased when, some way off in the distance I saw the Rig. I watched with great interest as it headed off in the wrong direction but then it
turned and came towards me. Ahhh.... Home.
Back to the queue we went. Now, there were two windows working, and eventually a man waved us over. We presented our passports. The conversation went something like this:
Guard, “Do you live in Mexico?”
Us, “No, England”,
Guard, “But you have a house in Mexico?”
US, “No England.”
Bemused Guard, “But you are coming from Mexico?”
Us, “Yes, and we would like a six month visa please.”
Now a more confused Guard, “but you ARE from England.”
“Yes” we confirmed.
“Well,” he said, perplexed, “I am not sure how this works, hold on I will ask a colleague......”
We waited..... A few minutes later he reappeared. OK that’s OK ... stamp, stamp, six month visa obtained and off we went. Well almost, several miles up the road we were stopped for a second immigration check. Whilst waiting we were talking to the Guard. “Where have you been?” she asked. We were a bit puzzled, there was only one border when we last checked, was this a trick question? Six month in Mexico, we replied. “Really?” she said,
looking at us with some amazement, “I would be far too scared to go over there!” Somewhat bemused, partly because she certainly looked a little Hispanic, we drove on. In fact up to this point almost everyone we had dealt with looked Hispanic but we could tell we had crossed the border because immediately all the roadside signs were for fast food venues.
Later we discovered that Lydia & Jaume were less successful. They were only given a month long Visa, after which they were told they could return to Mexico, re-enter the States the same day, and maybe they would get another Visa? To think only 169 years ago we wouldn’t have had to bother with all this nonsense!
Unfortunately, on crossing the border we had abandoned our Tope radar and ceased looking out for topes, holes, bumps & animals. With our guard down we bowled along on the nice big smooth wide road, then took a side road and ironically, with a resounding crash, hit the biggest hole of our journey so far. We got out to inspect the Rig, we couldn’t believe our luck no obvious damage was seen, but we
were pleased to be on the way to the service station where we could get it checked out. Feeling a bit fed up we stopped for the night at the Motorway/Freeway Welcome Centre, then we felt even more upset when we remembered that having emptied out the fridge we didn’t have any beer!
We had already made a reservation at Iron Horse RV for some service work. They let you stay at the service centre whilst the work is being done, so we booked in, found a site, introduced ourselves to our neighbours, Nedra & Jeff, asked them how long they had been there, “two weeks”, really? That long (that should have been a clue), and settled in.
We expected our stay to be a couple of days, during which we would do our tourist bit. San Antonio is a pretty town on the river and there were the Missions and the Alamo to visit, so a few days here suited us fine. However our stay lengthened, as did our neighbours. It became quite a social gathering; cakes baked and handed out, beers together in the evening & visits to local towns and restaurants,
including Gruene an old German town which boasts of having the oldest dance hall in Texas.
We also enjoyed a new musical experience. With Sandie & Joel we went to a piano recital of Scott Joplin’s Ragtime music played by Richard Dowling in a Unitarian Universalist Church hall. You may be thinking, I have never heard about this religion. I certainly hadn’t, but then I don’t know much about religion at all. I soon discovered we all know of someone who was one...... Beatrix Potter. As was Louisa May Alcott, Neville Chamberlain, and Charles Darwin and........ Four American Presidents (quite a while back)
I rather liked it; the movement has been described as a refuge for rebels, a haven for heretics and a shelter for sceptics. Basically you can believe in who or what you want, or nothing at all. It is known as a creedless religion. They join together as a group with the fundamental principle for each to have individual freedom of religious belief and have respect for them all. Seems good to me.
It was a really good evening. The previous week Richard Dowling had been playing in
They are looking for you Stuart.
the Carnegie Hall & and here he was, the following week in a small Church Hall. That’s fame for you. Good for us though.
Nearly two weeks later, we were done, and off we went. With no particular route other than gradually northwards, we decided to head towards New Mexico. We stopped overnight in a truck stop. (So, first night in a car park. 13 nights in a service centre, next in a truck stop. It’s all glamour here.)
Then Graeme received an email from Buddy Whittington with a selection of his upcoming gigs. Graeme worked with Buddy when he was with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, The last time we were here we met up with him & he took us around some of the local Texan Blues Clubs where he was playing, a great experience. Then we saw that that Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 40th
anniversary Tour were playing that night in Austin, a new plan began to form. We could go to Austin first after all it was just a couple of hours away..... back the way we had just come! and then head up to Dallas to
see Buddy, & visit the Dallas Guitar Show.
We had met a Canadian couple who highly recommended an RV park in Austin within easy access of town. The only problem is that you have to book a space months in advance as it is so popular. Not really expecting to be successful Graeme gave them a call......they had just had a cancellation for 2 nights. It’s great when plan comes together, all we needed now were tickets!
We prepared to leave, pulled in the slide only to hear a crunching sound.......a quick inspection revealed the plastic runner for the slide had been ground into many, many, tiny fragments. ........
We had a quick summit meeting and decided that, having just left the service centre we didn’t really want to go back so would continue with the current plan; we could live without using that slide for a while.
We took the scenic road to Austin. Driving around always offers up surprises. In this case having just left the vast, dry Sonora desert on this route we enjoyed the unexpected contrast of the Texas hill country
scenery. The roads were lined by fruit trees, vineyards and houses that would not look out of place in Bavaria. I looked at the map, perhaps the town name Fredericksburg should have been a clue.
The Germans settled here in 1846, they certainly made it feel & look like home. They also were the only people in Texas to make a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians which was never broken by either side. A fact still celebrated to this day.
Austin is one of those places that most people we meet say “Oh have you been to Austin, you must go. It is the state capital of Texas, and known for its eclectic live-music scene. It has many parks and lakes which are popular for hiking, biking, and swimming and boating and has the University of Texas flagship campus, making it a vibrant, arty, student, more west coast type city. It also has the Circuit of the Americas raceway which hosts the USA Formula One race. We were a few months too early for that treat.
Having made the diversion, we managed to drive to Austin, check in to the
Canyon de Chelly
Wide open spaces.
RV Park, get the bus up to the gig, roll up to the Box Office @ 5 o’clock & purchase 2 tickets for Tom Petty, it was a great show, playing a 2 hours compilation 40 years of his best. The support act..Gary Clarke Jr was superb too. Most of the other gigs had Joe Walsh as support, so you really couldn’t go wrong!
As people had suggested we really did like Austin, & could have spent longer there but we could only had two nights in the RV park, Graeme had a Guitar Festival to get to and a friend to meet up with. So we strolled around the town, wandered along the river path and park where we paid tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn, visiting his statue by the river and ate at a great local restaurant. Austin went onto to the ever growing “must-go-back-to” list.
Next, off to Arlington to see Buddy play at a street festival & for Graeme to visit a toy shop aka the “Dallas Guitar Show”. He couldn’t go wrong, there were lots of lovely guitars vintage & new, & much fine live music, to enjoy, notably
Buddy & his band, & The Eric Gales Band. We try to catch Buddys gigs whenever he’s in the UK & we’re around, but there is little time to chat, so it was really nice to meet up with Buddy & Cathy for a Lebanese meal before setting off.
For those of you who like great Blues, Buddy will be on Tour supporting John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers around the UK from 17 Oct to 26 Nov: http://www.johnmayall.com/tour.html
Diversion no 1 completed our next stop was to visit caverns and Canyons. Along the way we passed through Roswell and stopped to look at the UFO Museum. If you did believe in Aliens prior to this visit you probably wouldn’t by the time you left, but it was good fun. We did meet some people in a funny shaped vehicle and stop for a quick chat. It only seemed to take a moment of our time?...... ...
We continued through the Chihuahuan desert of the Guadalupe Mountains, (sounds still Mexican to me) to visit the Carlsbad Caverns. These caverns are said to be some of the most beautiful you can see and
Pueblo cliff dwellings
It was originally a high rise as the two sections joined up.
they were amazing. 260 million years ago this area was once an ocean and sea creatures formed a 400 mile U shaped limestone reef around a crescent shaped bay. Over the following millennium the ocean receded, tectonic forces lifted the landscape to create the Guadalupe Mountains, under which the caverns now lie.
As you stand, high up, gazing out at the uninterrupted horizon, you really can imagine it as an ocean. Underneath this area of 46,766 acres, and at a depth of 830 feet lie the 119 known caves, but only the main area is open to the public.
Although history shows the Caverns were known to the American Indians for over 1000 years it was officially “discovered” in 1800 by settlers. They were drawn to it by the sight of thousands of bats rising up from the natural entrance. The settlers went on to make fortunes by mining the Guano there. However both these groups only entered as far as the mouth of the Caverns. In the 1890s a cowboy named Jim White became fascinated with the area and explored it in detail. For more than 20 years using only ropes and buckets
to climb down into the Caverns, and candles and lamps to show the way he explored further & further in, to discover how vast and complex a system it was. He tried to get the Government to protect this area and make it a National Park but for years they remained sceptical about his descriptions of its beauty.
Eventually in 1923 they sent the US Department of the Interior Inspector Robert Holley to see for himself. He was overwhelmed by the sight and wrote (abridged version) “ I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to express in words the deep conflicting emotions and the feeling of fear and awe of such a complex aggregate of natural wonders”. By the end of the year it was made a National Monument.
We entered via the natural entrance and walked about 3 miles underground to reach the main caverns and “rooms”. If Mr Holley could not find the words to describe it I certainly am unable to do it justice either. I really have never seen any cave with such elaborate or delicate formations. There are the usual Stalactites & mites, but also draperies,
flowstone, popcorn, cave pearls, helicites and aragonite crystals. They are truly stunning. It is so hard to imagine that, drop by drop and over 500,000 years these thousands of cave formations were created. Nature does not have Attention Deficit Syndrome.
They suggest that an average visit time is three hours, but we spent much longer, just looking. It is also the only cavern where you are self guided, so can really stay as long as you like.
The cavern is still home to hundreds of thousands of Brazilian Free Tailed bats. The information said to watch them fly out at night was a spectacle not to be missed. This we had to see, so we stayed for the evening. We sat there patiently, full of anticipation of seeing this marvellous sight. We sat a bit longer, and longer, (a bit like being back at the border). Prior to the “event” we were all told no phones and no cameras were permitted and to sit in silence. After some while the silent audience became a bit restless and with no phones to check or play with, in hushed whispers started to get a bit chatty.
We waited longer, there was great excitement as a solitary swallow flew around the cave entrance, but still no bats emerged. Those bats were just not going to show. Out of a few hundred thousand you think the odd hundred or so could put in an appearance, but no. It was now almost dark, we gave up. Spotting a black bat on a black night sky was not going to be that satisfying. Oh well, that’s nature for you. We walked back to the Rig to see the most enormous red moon rising over the horizon. No bats perhaps, but the moon was a sight worth waiting for.
Next stop was to visit Canyon de Chelly. As it is in a remote area the Canyon does not have as many visitors as many of the other National parks. To get there we drove through miles and miles of not so interesting, (well, not after the first few hours) Sonora Desert, then, suddenly the scenery began to change and look more appealing.
We arrived at the campsite, couldn’t find anyone around to pay or book in with but were greeted by a lovely dog. The
reviews we read had mentioned the dog would accompany you to your campsite but we didn’t really expect that to happen. We strolled around, chose a spot and parked up. Sure enough the dog stayed with us throughout this process and later accompanied us on a walk to view the Canyon. The review didn’t mention that the same lovely dog would, the next morning, happily tuck into the breakfast I had left unattended, on the table for just one minute. Perhaps said dog was a bit veggie and preferred our fruit & yoghurt as a change to her usual diet. She certainly looked happy as she tucked into the strawberries.
The first thing I learned about Chelly was how to pronounce the name, which is “d’shay”. (I always thought it rhymed with jelly, should I be embarrassed to admit that?) The name is an English / Spanish corruption of the Navajo word Tseyi which means Canyon or “in the rock”
We also learned there are actually two canyons the second being Canyon del Muerto named so after an archaeological expedition in the 1880s found remains of Mummies in a cave. All the National Parks
are beautiful but I love the Canyons, because of the element of surprise they hold. Magnificent mountains or cliffs, you see from a distance as you approach but Canyons, they hide themselves and you have to get right to the edge before they reveal their beauty.
This area is home of the Navajo Nation. It is one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America. Between 1060 – 1275 the native people here built dwellings into the cliff face. Not just a few humble huts, in one case they built an eighty roomed multi story pueblo. Parts of this engineering feat remain and you can walk down to inspect them.
By night this was one of the most silent places I have been. The night sky, unpolluted by any artificial light, throws up a wonderful canvas of stars. It is a really peaceful, restful place.
Chelly is quite a small park, with just two roads through it. You drive along and stop at outlooks along the way. At one view point we chatted to a Navajo lady who had lived here all her life. She explained to us her connection
At the top of one of the three previously unknown (to us) mountain ranges in Death Valley.
with the footsteps of her ancestors. There are ancient footholds worn into the canyon walls by years of use when the Navajo climbed from the canyon base to the top. She explained to us what it meant to her to use these same steps, and to be travelling on their path.
Most of this land remains private Navajo land and they continue to move in and out of the Canyon according to the seasons. It is perhaps one of the few areas where the Native Indians still maintain the rhythm of their old lives.
From Chelly our plan was to head north, visit the Arches NP and then up through Utah.
Then Graeme saw that Santana were starting a residency at “The House of Blues” Las Vegas, & thought it would be a great place to see them play. Too good an opportunity to miss. We looked at the map to see what route we could take. If we went west towards Las Vegas, we wouldn’t get to visit Arches NP, but we could visit Death Valley and Yosemite instead. Both were places we wanted to see so with the Sat
That's what happens when you start off the day in a desert with the temperature of 104F
Nav (GPS) swiftly re programmed, off we went.
It was a long days drive to get to Las Vegas, which we (for that read Graeme) did in one hit. Along the way I checked for tickets and found there were some still available. We stopped for lunch at Flagstaff (where we later discovered Lydia and Jaume were staying with the family of the Native American mechanic who was fixing their VW Combi, but that’s another story) and checked again....the tickets had gone. We were so far on route the only way was forward.
Once in Las Vegas we booked in to the KOA campground, and went to town to try and get tickets. Again, miracles do happen and the ticket fairy was good to us. Suddenly two tickets were available, in the centre row, on the first level. Without a moment’s hesitation and a wave of the Master card they went from computer screen to being in our hands. As it was Graeme’s 60th
on the 29th
and we might well be in the middle of nowhere (and we were) we decided to bring his birthday forward and complete the celebration with supper at
Nobu (Thank you Marion). Then, considering that until the day before we were not going to be here at all, it was a bit of a coincidence when an email arrived from Adrian and Lorraine who we met in Teotihuacan, to ask where we were.... they were in Las Vegas!. Over a couple of days we meet up for a few beers and to catch up on our travel news. It was great to see them, but just one thing that may be a useful fact for you all at some time is, don’t say “We will meet you at the main entrance of the Excalibur” because really there isn’t one! There’s lots.
Santana was a brilliant show. They played nonstop for 2hrs 40 minutes, not even pausing for breath between the songs, and our view was great. I still managed to get “The Tall Man” but at least he was sitting down in front of me. The, at least 8 courses of the Nobu Tasting Menu, was great too. So the 290 mile dash was well worth it. Diversion no 2 completed, we would now head off to Death Valley.
My preconceived idea
off Death Valley was of a huge, flat, very hot Desert area. Well, huge yes, hot, definitely yes, flat........... Not so much. There are three mountain ranges and a heap of snow involved. I didn’t expect that.
But it was another amazing landscape. I know I use adjective “amazing” a lot but I don’t know how else to describe some of this scenery, and I refuse to use the word, awesome.
It is the largest National Park in the lower states and at 134F / 57C has recorded the world’s hottest temperature. It has some of the top geological features you can see in one place, including the aforementioned surprise mountains, plus salt flats, sand dunes, the multi coloured areas geologists call the “Armargosa Chaos and an area 282 feet below sea level. Being 117F / 47C, we experienced all of these briefly.
The scenery was fascinating. We also enjoyed freewheeling down 4000 feet, but as the saying sort of goes “what goes down must go up” only in this case three times.
As we traversed the third climb I recalled the informational film we had just seen
in the educational centre, explaining the formations of these mountains, now it was coming to life before us. As often happens in this life the journey took much longer than anticipated, particularly as in this case we hadn’t factored in three mountain climbs. Perhaps it might have helped if the Information centre had been at the entrance of the Park, and not several miles in.
Eventually we exited the park, and prior to heading off to Yosemite, stopped for fuel. It should have been a clue that whilst it was now a mere 90F / 32C outside, all the stuff the shop was selling was items associated with snow, like ski hats and pass holders etc.
It’s a bit of an odd juxtaposition to be standing in the queue in the fuel station, sweating like mad whilst wondering if you need to buy a woolly hat!
Our plan had been to drive through Death Valley and then enter Yosemite from the east. It was nearly June, and normally this entrance opens mid May, we hadn’t checked. Oops. We soon discovered that due to the 20 ft snow drifts that were refusing
Beautiful June Lake
We may not have got to visit Yosemite, but we would have missed this.
to melt the entrance was still closed. It is a cruel fact of life that no matter how long you stare at a map, a 10,000ft mountain range and 20 ft of snow won’t just disappear, the only solution was a 6 hour diversion to enter through the west entrance.
There was one other choice.....to carry on up the scenic 395 route. Know anyone who ever said “we are going to drive the 395” as a holiday trip, No? Neither did we. What was there to see we wondered? Well............ Loads. The road runs alongside the eastern sierra of California and has beautiful scenery. Along the way you can visit an eclectic selection of museums, including: Aerospace, Borax, western film making, mining and the 20 mules teams. Sadly we just missed the “20 mule team festival. Perhaps you might want to visit Bodie, the largest western gold mining ghost town in the USA, preserved in a state of “active decay” as it looked in 1962. Or maybe visit the Bristlecone pine forest, where the (allegedly) oldest living trees on earth grow, sometimes only 1/100th
inch per year . Some are over 4000 yrs old. Strange coincidence, but
soon after, we caught a BBC world radio program that confirmed this fact. There are mountains, lakes & rivers, including the unique Mono Lake, more of which later. It turns out there was plenty to do and see on scenic route 395. It seemed to be a much better option than a six hour detour, so we decided you could spend days on this route, we would go this way.
Ah, but we didn’t have days. Remember the broken slide? We had booked into Oregon for the 29th May. At the time we thought that would give us loads of time to get there.... So we had to choose our stops.
Our first was at June Lake. From 107F the previous day, our overnight view was looking at snow capped mountains and waterfalls. We loved it. A coyote wandered around the camp and the deer took no notice. We fell asleep to the gentle rumbling sound of the waterfall, which sort of sounded like the distance hum of a motorway, but knowing the source made it much more tranquil. This was one of my favourite places we have stayed so far. To think, we
would have missed it if we had stuck to plan A.
When checking what there was in the area, we noticed a picture of this fascinating lake which I had never heard of, I really wanted to visit it. So Mono Lake was the next stop.
It is one of the oldest lakes in the western hemisphere, an ancient, saline inland sea at least 760,000 years old and supports a unique & productive ecosystem.
Currently it covers an area of over 70 sq miles, but historically has been much larger. Its distinctive and most photographed feature, the one which caught my eye, was the Tufa towers. These features are created by fresh water springs that bubble up through the lakes alkaline waters. These mineral structures have been there for thousands of years, but we get to see them now because of mans (mis)use of the lakes tributary waters.
In 1941, to serve the growing water demand of Los Angeles, they began to divert water from the tributaries that ran into this lake. Within 20 years the lake level had dropped almost 25 feet, which caused the salinity to
double. In turn this caused the fragile ecosystem to begin to collapse. If this continued it would soon become a lifeless chemical dump, and the effect on the ecosystem would be devastating. In 1978 a committee was formed to try and save the lake, and although some progress has been made they are still fighting today.
Although you might think that, not much could survive in the alkaline waters of this lake, as usual nature finds a way. In fact the lake supports a unique life cycle, starting with millions and millions of brine shrimp and alkali flies. The larva of the flies looks like grains of brown rice and was a staple diet of the Kuzedika native people. It also provides food for the Californian Gulls, on their only migratory rest stop.
It’s like the old song “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly” only backwards because as the salinity increases there are fewer flies and therefore fewer larva and fewer shrimp which result in fewer birds and fewer predators, which disturbs the vegetation and so on........................So, all you people in LA who run their taps, & water their lawns and
play on those green, green golf courses (in a desert?) Stop..... Think........ You are killing the lake and its unique and beautiful eco system. Ultimately the end of the world could be your fault! (Butterfly effect). For us, this was another bonus place to see.
Next stop was a planned one. Graeme had booked the Rig in to have its steering and suspension assessed in a place called Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s always interesting to stop in these places, which often we would just drive through on the way to somewhere else. We wandered into town to have a look around. It was quite an arty, hippy type place, full of organic coffee shops, gift shops, and a smart new legal cannabis shop type of town. (Marijuana is now legal down the west coast: California, Oregon & Washington) There were some strange anomalies like a Trump & Pence shop next to a mystic crystal shop, Oh and a bead & craft shop where you could also buy your ammunition, yeah, really.
Along the streets were large bear sculptures. On the way into town we passed a young woman who was in deep conversation with
one of these bears, which was holding a book. On the way back she was still there, seemingly trying to read the book over the bears shoulder, but at least she was communicating to something! And just for the record it was not the one outside the cannabis shop. The town appeared to have a split personality because by night it was like a zombie apocalypse type town and we saw quite a few people in an interesting date of (un)dress who were just talking to themselves or their invisible friends.
By now we only had a few days to get to Harrisburg, where our slide was to be mended and we would get our bigger home back, but on the way we did call into De Martinis in Grass Valley, California where we bought our previous Rig, 12 years ago. Since then he has built a large new facility with solar panels covering the roof of the office building & service bays. It took 2 years for the panels to pay for themselves, & now he has an over abundance of free electricity. He offered us a site for the night with full hook-ups and encouraged
us to use as much electricity as we could. We spent the day window shopping.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that travelling is not just a holiday and there are times when day-to-day real-life things need to be attended to, getting the slide repaired being one of them.
We arrived for our appointment at Elite in Harrisburg City. The Initial repair was swiftly dealt with but another slide required attention, which if we wanted done we would have to wait a week. You can stay here they said. As this was the place to get things done we agreed to the appointment but wondered what would we do if we stayed?
Harrisburg is mainly a rural community, but is also an area that had a lot of RV industry businesses. When the recession hit many RV manufactures closed down, but individuals had the skills and started their own businesses. This is the place to be if you want RV things done particularly on our make of RV, as they were made here.
Harrisburg may be a “City” but not as we know it. Is a tiny place
consisting of 1.5 square miles, of which 0.05 is water. At last count it had a population of approx 3500.
We decided we would wander off for a few days, but before we moved on would check out the “City”. There was a very pretty river side walk, which was closed at night. We couldn’t work that one out... a nice coffee shop, a Mexican, & Thai restaurant and a few essential shops. We were gazing in a woodworking shop window, when a guy (Noah) came out and asked if we wanted a tour. I love woodworking places so in we went. Whilst showing us around he explained that they made the cabinetry for Marathon coaches, whose factory was just up the road in Coburg. They give tours, Noah said, you should go.
Now, the thing is in the USA it’s very easy to go shopping and sightseeing in the Rig, so we do. We made a quick phone call to the factory to establish tour times, every day at 11.30 am, so we decided we could do the factory visit and then go onto Eugene to pick up an item we had ordered
Spider Rock,Canyon de Chelly
The Navajo believe Spider Woman lives on top of these rock. If Face Rock tells her of naughty children she carries them up to the top.
for the engine from the CAT service centre.
Marathon is a luxury custom built coach conversion company. When on a campsite, if one drives in you just stop to look, they are beautiful vehicles, each coach has a unique paint job. Building a non commissioned coach is a 16-week process that requires 5,000-10,000 hours of labor depending on the complexity. A coach built to the customers own taste and requirements whatever that may be, takes on average, approximately six to nine months to complete. Currently they build about 20 a year, it was as high as 60 in the boom years. As expert as Marathon are, some interior design requests have them a bit bemused. The sofa with cow horns for Zac Brown, a C&W singer, being a prime example. We really enjoyed our personal and informative tour of the factory. We checked out every department and production area and finished with a look at two completed coaches.
Now, here is a dilemma. You can’t quite afford a new 2 -3 million dollar bespoke Marathon coach but do have a spare $500.000 to spend on a pre-loved 10 year old one? You might think
you would be spoiled for choice? Well, check out the pictures. Should you go for the gold blingy one, or perhaps the alligator detailed one, hummm not sure try, the scarlet red one instead......... see what I mean. We decided if we ever got to custom build one (not likely, although Graeme is considering starting a Go fund me page) most people would think it unfinished due to lack of colour, bling and / or dead animal detailing. I am not so sure there is an IKEA version.
Never mind, clutching our complimentary magazines & calendar but sadly not a coach we left to get more stuff for our humble Rig. We headed to Eugene to the CAT store where we could pick up & get fitted our order of a new dipstick cover. Everyday life remember! Once there they realised they had the wrong part. They could get the new one, by tomorrow @ 8am, it was now 4. Stay here they said, and you can plug in over there, so we did. That’s another first, a night surrounded by shiny yellow road plant. Strangely though they did provide a picnic table, which was thoughtful but
It was just like an episode of "Changing rooms".
it would be like picnicking in the middle of road works.
Next day bright and early and as promised the part was fitted and off we went. Now, for ages we had wanted to change the desk area in the Rig for a sofa but things on the road are not always logistically easy. We move all the time, ordering and delivery for RV furniture takes 6-8 weeks, then you have to book it in for fitting and they are always busy, we are restricted by our visa time and so on. Anyway we are living the life we want, so although the idea may be good the execution hadn’t happened.
But as mentioned earlier, there were a lot of RV shops in the area. On the way back we called into one, looked around, chatted to the man who said that everything on the shop floor was for sale. Well, that’s good we said but “IF” we bought that sofa, over there, when could you fit it? Oh, this afternoon he replied....... About 3 hours later we drove off.
Later that evening sitting on our nice new sofa we decided
A Blue Peter moment......
Now, what can I make with this........
going shopping in the Rig certainly had its advantages.
By now we had managed to spend most of the week in Harrisburg, so decided to stay, as there were still things we wanted to do.
So...... how do you pass a week in a 1.5sq mile city? Well, you can do all the things I have mentioned above as well as...... do a bit of changing rooms & revamp the rig , build a table, recover chairs, come across a classic car show, test drive a new Rig, experience eating at two Drive by Dive Diners in one day (not sure what Jamie Oliver would think about that), get a haircut, this time in a conventional shop, cycle to the next City, Junction City Pop 5,392 land mass of 2.36 sq miles, it was huge ! .. in fact we almost ran out of time rather than things to do.
Actually Junction City was quite an interesting place. It took me a while to realise why it was called Junction City. True, train lines criss cross & run through the main streets, there are no gates or anything you just wander
across them, and it is quite unnerving to turn your car down a small suburban road with pretty houses either side and see a train heading directly towards you. There are trains and carriages made into restaurants and shops and as a final clue a large locomotive parked in the centre of town. They have a Scandinavian heritage here and to celebrate, it hosts a yearly festival that brings in more than 100,000 visitors to this sleepy town, sorry City.
Next stop, we should have been heading swiftly up towards Canada when Graeme realised that Jakko and Mel, who he worked with when he was Tour Manager for The Schizoid Band were rehearsing and playing in Seattle with King Crimson, so we turned west to see them. But first, as everyone tells us that Canada and Alaska are expensive we stopped along the way in tax free Oregon to shop and stock up.
We hadn’t planned on visiting Seattle, as we had spent a bit of time there on the last trip, but meeting up with old friends & see some fine live music was too much of a draw. I declined my free
ticket but Graeme couldn’t wait to see the show, he wasn’t disappointed, it was brilliant. King Crimson have been around since the end of the 60,s having gone through many lineup changes, but this latest is the most original. They have 3 drummers, which could end up a complete mess, but with Gavin Harrison orchestrating the drum parts it is a stroke of genius. The rest of the band comprises the only original member, Robert Fripp guitar, Tony Levin Bass, Jakko Guitar & Vocals & Mel Collins playing superb Sax & Flute. They played a great set of music from the 60’s to the present day, including a wonderful version of “Heroes” on which Jakko did a great job of the vocals, especially considering he isn’t David Bowie, & Fripp recreated brilliantly the guitar part he played on the original record. ( details supplied by Graeme) He could have watched them again the next night. If you get a chance, go see them.
So, bit of a weird part of the trip this bit. We went between sitting in splendid isolation in some lovely remote parks and mountains to sitting in a selection of workshop car parks.
The Junkyard, has featured on Diners, Drive ins and Dives
The Louisiana Spicy Dog was really good, but we missed out on the fried cheese.
Still, variety is the spice of life and all of it an experience. In Junction City I noted with interest we were parked between the golden triangle of takeaways, as we had McDonalds, Subway and Dairy Queen all within about 30 yards....... Mexico seems so long ago.....
But we managed to get a lot of maintenance and everyday stuff done, and now, in our very smart rig, bulging with supplies, we are looking forward to some wilderness time. That’s what it is all about really. Hopefully we will get to see some Elk, moose and bears and maybe some of the Canadian friends we met in Mexico.
Oh and there is another border coming up, let’s see how that goes.
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