Sunday, May 22, 2016

Las Vegas

Destination: Las Vegas/Lake Mead, Nevada
After a week in Vegas and two buffets that took the skills of a hedonistic olympian to conquer, my abdomen is now distended to abominable proportions. The last time I did this sort of damage to myself was years ago when Hana and I went to an asian buffet and I thought it would be fun to eat all the crab rangoon in the house. A city in the desert known for inspiring a setting aside of all inhibitions, gluttony was the sin that got the best of us. Even worst yet was a waste of food that I am not proud of at all. I can at least find some peace in the fact that there are pigs on a farm who are getting a good meal out of all the food I put on a plate and could not finish. 

 While another trip to Vegas was not on my bucket list, I had to humor my wife. With temperatures in the 90's without a tree to hide under, I found myself counting the days until we could head back out to the hills with plenty of shade, clear streams, and cool nights. Hana had never been out here, so she had to at least see it once. We only spent a few hours on the strip, did not gamble a dime, and worked our way through the crowds of party people to see the big visual display of various hotels and casinos that lure people in to play russian roulette with their morality as well as their bank accounts. 
The Vegas Strip
One thing I noticed about Vegas is that the indoors and outdoors smells like someone dropped a large bottle of cologne on the entire city. Underneath the scents of synthetic vanilla and fruit, one will catch a whiff of sewage. I am also pretty sure that the rumor of oxygen being pumped into the hotels to keep one from sleeping is true, alone with the subliminal messages underneath every bad top 40 song that has been played over the radio millions of times. "I know I shouldn't, but I will" was the message of one glamorous blond woman in heavy lipstick on one of the many video advertisements. While I'm at it, can someone tell me why David Copperfield, Lionol Ritchie, and Donnie & Marie have not aged? It leads me to think that in the back dressing rooms of the stars there may be a few hidden Dorian Grey paintings. 

The "Old Strip"
  Overwhelmed by the traffic and drunk drivers, Hana was ready to turn around and skip the strip entirely. I would not have minded, but after making the argument that I did not sit baking in the sun for a week to skip the opportunity for her to see what vanity fair was all about, she gave in. She was especially happy that I found a free parking spot. I mainly just wanted to walk off a fraction of the buffet I had earlier, and since the temperature was in the low 80's the weather was tolerable. It's a dry heat they all say, but I am one that could easily make a home inside a refrigerator and still catch a tan. 

  There were not many outdoor adventures this week. The dogs had a hard time with the heat, and the howling coyotes at night clued me in not to take a chance walking them too far in the evening. There was one night I heard a pack of them raise a ruckus outside our rv briefly. While Frankie would show no fear, I don't think he and I alone could do much damage to a pack of wild and hungry coyotes. We camped out on Lake Mead, which despite the heat did offer a nice view. A view that people pay a quarter million to see out the windows of their homes, while the trailer and rv people pay much less and abide closer. 

The view of Lake Mead from our window
   Hana and I surprisingly did not fight this week at all, and underneath the blinding haze of the blistering sun, it was more or less a romantic week for us. What has come over us I don't know, but we did consider even a second marriage from an Elvis Impersonator. Being opposites in almost every way imaginable it is not always easy for us, but then again I doubt it is much different for anyone else. People may wonder if living in a small space causes a couple to fight more. That has not been the case for us, but often being on the move with long drives can be nerve wrecking, and while both of us may intend to yell at the situation, our frustration unfortunately gets taken out on one another. One challenge we have had in our marriage no matter where we have lived is having completely different beliefs and views of the world, which i will add I am not in the mainstream as ways of thinking, and doubt I will ever be, unless I should somehow be turned over to a reprobate mind. If one looks beneath the details and ticks that causes them to fight, the love that brought you together can be found. Marriages in all situations take effort, and the good things in life do not come easy.

  Frankie and I have also been extra special buddies this week. While we always have been, he has not left my side in the evenings until it is time to be fed in the morning. It has been hard for me to practice my guitar as much as I wanted to when that little guy so full of emotions looks at me with a sort of wide eyed droopy look on his face. I am thinking he likes the warmer weather just like his mommy, and like her during the cooler weather, he will hide under a pile of blankets. During the warmer weather he will usually hang out with me all night, and sleep under my chin. I cannot thank God enough for these dogs we have, for both him and maya have blessed both of our lives in immeasurable ways.

 One thing I can appreciate being nearer to larger cities is the access to a variety of grocery stores. But the traffic and crowds dull my sense of peace. Next week we will be headed for California, and will work our way up to Eugene, Oregon where we will take a rest for a few weeks. I stocked up on organic apples and such, and am ready for the mountains again. If the options are to deal with a crowd of people, or a few bears and other wild animals, I will take the animals. I am also hoping to burn off some of this extra baggage while I am at it, expecting the next few hikes to feel like someone dropped a ten pound dumbell in my backpack. Off to the Yosemite National forest we go where my soul and digestive system will get a much needed break. 


Container Park art

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Destination: The Grand Canyon and Prescott, Arizona
Rolling into the Grand Canyon after another long 7 hour drive left us both exhausted. Like mini-mental-break-down-I-can't-do-this-anymore exhausted. Frankie even walked out of the RV to sit in the grass with his back to us just before we left Colorado, as if to say "nooo, not again".

This was a great time for a much needed 'vacation' and my first week off in a longer than I can remember. Thank you to Bob, Edit, and Gabe for meeting us in Prescott and showing us a great time! Now refreshed, we are ready to hit the road again for Vegas.


Picturesque scenery along our drive from Durango to the Grand Canyon
"King of the World!"
From that point we headed down to Prescott, AZ to visit Hana's Uncle Bob and Aunt Edit. Bob did his best to plan out as many activities as he could for us so we could get the most out of our visit. They were also hospitable enough to let us stay with them, and it was a hard to refuse offer since we were in one of our least favorite RV parks that we had thus far rolled the coach into. The speed bumps were large enough to slow down a pack of wild horses, and the 5mph speed limit signs were laughable since the roads were narrow, winding, and full of pot holes.

What made it unpleasant for us wasn't that it is mostly filled with permanent residents, but that we were packed pretty tight, with our neighbor's door directly adjacent to and facing ours. We felt weird about it, our neighbors felt weird about it, and probably everyone else that parks their rv in those spots feels weird about it. You would not think this makes much of a difference until you get in the situation. When they all face the same way, people don't notice each other as much, even if they are packed closer. As for this one, we were packed tight and a little too close for comfort. The people that were next to us for the first couple of nights were friendly, and they longed for their own space just as much as we did. 

   Our campground was next to Willow Lake, which looked very small to us at first when we went to hike around it. Half of the lake was dried up, and we thought it would be a short hike. I was thinking it was too short of a walk for me to even burn off some of the fried catfish and french fries from the southeast that I still seem to be carrying around. At first the lake looked so small that we thought we would hear a pair of ladies who were having on of those walks where they like to "vent" loudly the entire time. After we completeted the first couple of miles and saw our location on a map, we realized we still had miles to go which would not have been a problem if it wasn't going to get dark soon. Once we got into the rocky area we had to follow a line of white dots that were painted on the sandy colored rocks, a line that was easily getting obscured as it got dark. We pressed forward as the air got thicker with bugs until we came upon a trail that led right to the back of our rv park, which ended up being much bigger than we thought. As we found our way back to our rv a drunk man had slurred a pot of words together that we didn't understand, followed by a strange laugh to a joke that only he was able to understand.

  Being one that is not a fan of hot weather, Arizona was never really on my bucket list, although I have heard about Sedona and was always curious to see what the hype was about. With it being less than two hours away, Uncle Bob had treated us to a helicopter ride where we could get a good glimpse of the part of Sedona we would not have seen on foot. While I thought I didn't care much for hieghts, especially in a tiny helicopter, I decided I could easily work my way past all of that and keep calm while enjoying the view.

  We ate at a variety of restaurants including western, japanese, and indian. Bob had mentioned an excellent guitar player who played at the indian restaurant. When we got there the guitar player was packing it up early since it was a slow evening. We were able to convince him to play a few more songs. He was able to execute a variety of styles with ease, including ragtime and country. I never thought I would hear an old indian gentleman play and sing the highwaymen or Johnny Cash so well. As he saw our appreciation he continued to play longer than planned and took requests. I was also able to have some guitar talk with him, as I have taken up the guitar again the past few months after setting it down for twenty something years. After giving me a few tips  he handed me his guitar, along with the custom pick he made and urged me to play it, which is something professional guitar players never do. 

    It was an action packed week, but we also had time to relax. Aunt Edit and cousin Gabe arrived on Friday, and I was happy to get to know the both of them better as I have not seen a whole lot of them since Hana and I have been married, and when I did it was always at family events where there were a lot of people. It was good to be able to spend time with them on a smaller scale. On Saturday we went to a Scottish festival at Watson Lake park where men an women heaved and hoed heavy objects and several bagpipe players marched around playing Amazing Grace, along with other traditional tunes. At night we grilled some chicken and fish and had a wonderful meal. After dinner, since the evening wasn't as windy as expected we were able to have a bon voyage bonfire and tell some stories, which was an excellent way to say goodbye.

Bagpipe parade, and massages at the Highland Games
 Now we are off to Vegas for possibly a week, but since it will be hot and we will be camped in a place that does not offer a single tree for shade, we may be heading to Utah in the middle of the week.


Weird RV of the Week:

"RVs of Walmart". Spotted in a Walmart parking lot, this Trans Van from the 1970s appears to still be running! James said his grandparents had the same model back in the day. We found ourselves wondering how you would survive the Arizona heat in parking lot with no electricity!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

New Mexico

Destination: Taos, New Mexico

I have to say folks that Taos, New Mexico has captured my heart. As they say, first impressions are always the most important, when we drove into the Carson National Forest that surrounds the town I fell in love. Being from Michigan I always loved the snow, but have to admit that I did miss being outdoors when the temperatures got so low that it was unpleasant to even walk to your car. We have not seen snow since last winter, until we drove in to Taos. As we were getting closer to the town we could see that the mountains were snow capped, and as we gradually got deeper into the mountains what we came across was nothing less than a winter fairy tale land. Words nor pictures could do no justice to the sights we saw overlooking the deep caverns. It felt like we were in one big snow globe with mountains. That next morning we woke up to snow, which was a pleasant surprise. Our campground was in a huge mesa surrounded by mountains on every side.

 Taos is a small town that is almost 100 percent adobe. Even the Mcdonalds is adobe. It is small, but not too small, full of tucked away shops. It's a laid back sort of place where you can walk around without feeling judged. There is plenty of organic produce, and a lot of good small restaurants. 

  We stayed here for two weeks, more by my request. While I found the weather to be pleasant with warm days and cold nights (great sleeping weather for me), Hana will say it was too cold. I spent the first week exploring different fishing options in the area, but since the fish ran thin in the streams I found, most of the trout were in stocked areas. i was grateful to at least stock up the freezer a bit with some more trout since it is a good eating fish. I am starting to lose the heart to keep any large catfish or bass anymore, and mainly want to just catch bass for fun. However, should I catch a large lake trout or salmon, I will thank the Lord for the catch and the fish for his life before I put him on the grill.

 I did make one friend while fishing that was in pretty rough shape. He had lung cancer, and by the looks of his skin he wasn't doing well at all. He wasn't going for chemo, which was a plus, but he continued to smoke quite a bit and drink. I am not saying this to condemn him, but stating it only because while I believe we have a purpose in a lot of interactions with people, mine with him was not to tell him how to get well as much as it was to just be a friend to him. He was visiting from Texas, but he had spent many years in the area, and was visiting because the area brought him a lot of peace in his soul. For three days we had a good time fishing together before he went back.

Tired pups after a long mountain hike
The second week I didn't feel like chasing the fish around anymore, so I spent more time with the dogs hiking through the forest. The trails were mostly uphill, and on some there were a lot of streams to cross. Frankie and I hiked pretty deep into one, and as we got pretty high up I heard a mountain lion from behind the trees. It wasn't a very friendly growl either. We had less than a quarter mile to where we would get to see some falls, but I really did not feel like relying on the kindness of that lion's heart. Instinctively I knew not to move to fast as to put him in predator mode, nor did I want to send any fear signals. Frankie and I just turned around and moved back down at a steady pace. Frankie who usually tugs and stops you every few feet did not waste anymore time. I never saw the lion, but as we worked our way down the hill I did hear some movement and another growl, so I know we were stalked for a while. The only other wildlife I ran into with the dogs was a huge coyote who was 100 yards ahead of us on the mesa over looking the Rio Grande. At first I mistook him for a large wolf, but
my friend Buck informed me that it was just a fat
coyote who had been having his fill of rabbits. 

Maya loves the snow!
 I don't know what it was about Taos, but I will be leaving it with a bit of sadness in my heart. I can see why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment. 

Rio Grande
Taos Earthship community, something we'd been looking forward to seeing for a while!
Six months into the trip and we have found that we are comfortable in the rv, but there are things we would modify. The kitchen sink is small, and it is hard not to splash water around since we installed a taller faucet. The counter space is also pretty tight, but we manage. The only other place that feels small to me is the bathroom sink. It is hard to brush your teeth without splashing water because you almost have to put your head right up against the mirror which is hovering over the sink. Hana probably has an easier time because she is not as big, nor as sloppy as me.  The hot water tank is only five gallons, and on a cold night when you want to warm up the shower, it can go by pretty fast. On warmer days it doesn't seem that bad. You just learn little tricks to get the tasks done that you need to. 

   The bed is small, but we seem to manage pretty good, even with the dogs in the bed.  We like to sleep close with the dogs anyway, but sometimes when Maya wants to stretch out I have to get creative with my sleeping position.

  The rv handles pretty good, but gets blown around easily on windy days. Also when we are going uphill, even if it is a steady incline, it is hard to get above 60 without pushing it too hard while towing the car. I usually don't want to push it too hard, and take it a bit slower anyway. 

  We have learned that you don't eat less on the road like we thought we would. I imagined the pounds would just melt off, but after all the uphill climbing we do I find that I went from having the appetite of two people to three or four. The pounds have not melted off as I expected. We also have to try new restaurants when we get into a town that looks promising. And then let's not talk about the bakeries. 

We learned that retirees make great neighbors. They are quiet, in early, and often like to help. 

  We have also been around a lot more wild animals than I imagined. Hiking in Michigan I never had to think about lions or bears. The only lions anybody talks about in Metro Detroit are the ones that consistently lose. I never thought I would see a pack of wild boar, come face to face with a copperhead, or be stalked by a mountain lion. I could not even get used to walking past an eight foot alligator in South Carolina.

   While state parks can be pretty, they are usually in small towns that have few options for groceries, especially if you like to get some things organic. A lot of the parks can also be small, so there aren't as many hiking options as when you are near a bigger forest. The seclusion during the week is nice, but state parks can also get busy on the weekends with families taking a two-day getaway.  It is always a trade off whatever you do. While rv parks have the full hookups, they can be expensive, and sometimes a bit hoaky with their Wally World type themes. They also don't have the seclusion that you can get at a state park, nor are you able to start many fires. This past one at Taos was small, and nice. We had a view from every angle you turn, the owners were nice, and  the grounds were kept up well without someone spraying chemicals all over the place all the time. I was even able to give a man from Texas a haircut. 

  We are learning as we go, and for now just enjoying the ride. There are a few bumps in the road, but overall it has been a great way to live. We have ideas, but we still have a lot of room for discovery.