What to do when a refrigerator door falls off in the wilderness
The weather turned cold–48 degrees when we woke up in Teslin, Yukon, Canada and headed the RV to Dease Lake. It was late July and feels like winter back home in north Florida. And, of course, its sprinkling (more like spitting) and skies are overcast, heavy with moisture and feels like it could snow. We wore sweaters and a coat. It was so cold in the RV this morning that I turned on the gas heater before making coffee. I could see my breath. It was cold in the RV because we slept with the windows open. Thank goodness for Martha’s homemade quilts.
It was another sunless day in the North Country as we got back on the highway and drove south to Dease Lake–300 miles down the road.
Would have paid extra for someone to improve this weather.
It didn’t get any better at Dease Lake. Temps were a bit cooler at 46 degrees. It rained all night and was still raining when we got back on the road, driving 240 miles to Stewart, British Columbia, Canada.
About 10 a.m. and after a couple hours on the road, we stopped for nature’s call and made hot coffee. Martha opened the refrigerator door and it fell off. The refrigerator just fell off out there in the middle of nowhere. No refrigerator door repairman within 100 maybe 500 miles. No phone service, either. Remember, this is Yukon Territory, Canada. We probably didn’t meet five cars on the highway all morning.
And the refrigerator freezer was jammed full of fresh caught frozen fish–Kenai sockeye and halibut. It is a small freezer, after all, this is an RV.
A plastic piece attached to another plastic piece just broke off. It’s a Norcold model, for those wondering.
Fortunately, our traveling companion from Canada, Don, aka “Mr. Goodwrench” brought five tool boxes, every electric hand tool sold at Harbor Freight, a half dozen hammers of varying sizes, crow bars, fittings to fit everything, fuses galore, half mile of extension cords and of course, more fix-it knowledge than anyone I know. I suspect he could fix a broken tooth. He would at least try. No doubt, he taught Rube Goldberg everything he knew.
Out of one toolbox comes Gorilla Glue. The broken piece gets a dab while he hunts through another toolbox for a piece of thin metal which he couldn’t find but found a piece of heavy plastic instead. Out comes a pocketknife (do you have a pocketknife? Do I have my pants on?) And he proceeds to cut a piece to fit the bottom of the door for reinforcement. He drills holes in the bottom of the refrigerator door, attaches the plastic piece with screws and fits the Gorilla glued pivot post back in place. He made it look easy.
I know all of this sounds ridiculous and a little hokey, but the contraption worked. Two months later we arrived back in Florida and the homemade fix-it job was still solid when a mobile RV doctor came to the house and installed a new door. The RV doc looked at Mr. Goodwrench’s handiwork and just shook his head and said “Wow. That beats all.”
Back on the highway: Milepost 200, a bear cub was spotted lying on the side of the road. It had been hit by a motorist. The sight of the dead cub left us speechless for several miles as we both absorbed what we had just seen.
At Milepost 155 we stopped for lunch at Bell II Lodge, a rustic, really upscale place catering to winter helicopter skiing enthusiasts from throughout the world. They had two helicopter pads just outside the lodge. It was a treat to dine at a table with white linen napkins and tablecloth and silverware that matched. The scene made the soup taste better, too.
We were headed to Stewart, British Columbia, Canada, a distance of 240 miles—an average day’s work on the road. With a little luck, there will be bears feeding on spawning salmon at a little creek just across the Canada-U.S. border in really tiny Hyder, AK., population less than 100.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 78
GALLONS OF FUEL: 911
COST OF FUEL: $3091
A lunch stop at a roadside restaurant had a collection of several thousand caps tacked to the ceiling.
MILES ON THE ROAD: 8,134
Zero-Zero visibility blankets scenic mountain ride from Skagway
Buildings in Carcross duplicated colorful native art work on these new structures, housing sandwich and ice cream shops.
It happens occasionally when least expected: driving the RV and tow car into a parking lot crowded with cars and big tourist buses and not enough room to turn around.
We had stopped for lunch in Carcross, Yukon, Canada, partially because we were attracted to the colorful buildings located adjacent the White Pass and Yukon Railroad track which runs through the middle of town, when the RV parking snafu occurred. We also stopped because it’s lunch time and both driver and passenger were hungry and for the first time since leaving Florida six weeks ago and almost 7,000 road miles, we let our stomachs overrule common sense and drove head-on into parking lot too small to accommodate RV and tow car.
Carcross, like most small Alaska and northern Canadian town consists of only a few blocks of commercial businesses, but more than enough to take care of its 300 year-round residents. The railroad and the Klondike Highway, however, bring thousands of parading tourists through here most every day bringing smiles to business owners and a bit of aggravation to the locals. Several hundred tourists bailed out of the train as we bailed out of the RV to unhook the tow car. Even more had bailed out of the buses.
We managed lunch in a busy new sandwich place, enjoyed a black walnut ice cream cone for desert then paired the tow car to the RV again and headed back on the highway to Teslin, where we will camp for the evening.
The weather was bright and sunny, the road flat and smooth (remarkable for a change); quite an improvement since this morning when we left Skagway, AK, and headed up the mountain for Canada during a heavy misting, drizzling rain and strong north winds. It worsened about 10 miles out of town, turning into ground clouds and thick fog. Visibility was zero-zero as we puttered slowly up the mountain and then crossed the William Moore suspension bridge which spans a 110-foot-wide over a gorge at Moore Creek, 180 feet below. We failed to notice the truck emergency runout ramp or vehicle turnouts approaching White Pass probably because of the fog and the steep incline which required an all-hands-on-deck effort.
The weather improved somewhat when we passed through Canadian customs a few miles down the road than finally gave way to sunshine, showing off the “beware of avalanches” signs.
The road passed through a rocky valley referred to as a Moonscape” where the landscape of stunted trees and lakes represents a transition zone between the treed lower elevations and the tree line, as described by Milepost Magazine. It was like waking up in a different world.
The weather was clear and dry for a change however, the landscape offered nothing to brag about. And, there was no wildlife to see.
We drove the Tagish-Carcross Scenic Loop and arrived in Teslin about 4 p.m. and enjoyed a dinner of fresh Kenai sockeye salmon, salad and potatoes with our traveling friends Don and Sue.
Today’s trip from Skagway covered 165 miles, which is less than an average day’s drive of about 250, but tomorrow’s trip to Dease Lake will cover 300 miles, making up
Dove Island and Windy Arm, a tributary off Tagish Lake, was a nice rest stop on the road from Skagway, AK to Carcross and Teslin.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 76
GALLONS OF FUEL: 844
COST OF FUEL; $2,836
MILES ON THE ROAD: 7,599
Taking the Marine Highway to Skagway
Backing the RV onto the Alaska Ferry for a ride from Haines to Skagway.
Cruise ships dock within walking distance of downtown Skagway, AK.
After three wet and dreary days in Haines, AK we loaded the RV onto an Alaska Marine Ferry named LeConte with connections to Skagway. We got in line with other RV’s and vehicles at the ferry loading area at 9:30, unhooked the tow car, fired up the generator, made fresh coffee and waited until about 11:30 to begin boarding. Since there is not enough room below deck of the ship for RV’s to turn around and park, it was necessary to back the RV’s onto the ship. With lots of help from the ferry crew, I backed the 32’ RV slowly down a long narrow ramp to the lower parking deck of the ferry. After several front and back adjustments and tight turns, I parked it very close to an interior wall, took a deep breath then exited upstairs to the upper deck of the ship.
Martha said for those parking RV’s,” it was like fitting sardines into a can.”
A real tight fit!
She drove the tow car down the same ramp and backed into a tight corner of an area referred to as the tunnel with a dozen other cars. Both vehicles were now parked in the bottom of the ship.
The LeConte Ferry, referred to as a day boat, at 235 feet long is the smallest in the Alaska Marine Ferry system and is used mostly on short trips within the Inland Passageway and the Lynn Canal where we are traveling today. It is interesting to note that Skagway is only 15 miles by water from Haines but 359 miles by road. Welcome to Alaska. Taking the ferry was a no brainer.
The brief ferry ride followed the canal with huge mountains on both sides of the waterway, some still showing spots of white snow from last winter at higher elevations. We were surprised when we sailed into Skagway and found four huge cruise ships in port. The dockage at the end of Skagway’s main street, brings ship passengers within walking distance of downtown.
Cruising the Lynn Canal from Haines to Skagway, AK aboard the Leconte Ferry.
After checking into a campground, we walked a half mile to downtown Skagway and found the streets, restaurants and bars filled with probably 8,000 passengers from the cruise ships. It’s not difficult to see the economic impact cruise ships have on Skagway, population about 1,000 and other small Alaska communities. Skagway gets about a million tourists annually, most arriving by ships.
Someone told us to wait until about 6 p.m. and the crowd would return to the cruise ships for dinner, leaving room in the restaurants. They were correct. An hour later we found a nice place serving seafood chowder that was excellent and few customers.
About Skagway: The White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad is one of the town’s busiest tourist attractions. It takes visitors on daily trips through the mountains during summer’s months.Hopefully you can pick a day when the weather is sunny and clear, otherwise, views are obstructed on rainy and foggy days. Skagway also has prominent mention in Jack London’s book “The Call of the Wild.”
The town became a popular jumping off place for prospectors heading to the Klondike gold field across the mountains to Dawson City in the late 1800’s and briefly swelled Skagway’s population to over 30,000 people. The Chilcoot Trail, made famous during the gold rush is located just outside Skagway. It is the historic mountain route gold seekers took to the Klondike. Today, the trail is open for hikers wanting to duplicate (in summer, I hope) the route taken by the gold seekers.
We left Skagway on July 28 by RV, followed by the tow car, two days later for Canada, continuing our long drive home to Florida and still more than 4500 miles away.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 75
GALLONS OF FUEL: 808.9
COST OF FUEL: $2,660
MILES ON THE ROAD: 7,289
Sound advice: Behave when crossing the border
For the third time in four days, we are crossing the border again at Niagara Falls.
We are sightseeing Niagara Falls and in the process of a 6,000 mile trip around the Great Lakes, we tell the Canadian agents.
There have been no problems coming or going.
Questions will vary between border control agents on either side. The Canadians want to know if we have a gun on board. The gun question was asked during each entry. They wanted to know where we lived, why we were coming to Canada and how long were we staying; purpose, are we bringing anything to leave behind, firearms, tobacco or alcohol.
A felon might want to stay home. If traveling with children, it is wise to bring their birth certificates.
The U. S. agents in the past have sent an agricultural specialist into our RV to check the refrigerator. Once they found and confiscated a half lime. Fruit flies, they say, can harm the U. S. citrus crops.
Returning from Canada into the U. S. an agent asked for our vehicle registrations for both RV and tow car. The registration papers were within arm’s reach.
Not that we are professional border crossers, we have learned to make a list and have it readily available. On that list will be alcohol—specifically the number of bottles of liquor, wine and beer. If entering either country, avoid carrying more than $10,000 cash and make a list of any purchases and the cost of each. For some reason, we have never been asked if we were carrying that much cash. Ha.
Crossing the border is serious business. Remove your sunglasses. The agent wants to see your face. This is not the time to joke with the agents. Look them in the eye and behave yourself. Have everything readily available: passport, driver’s license, vehicle registration papers, shot records for the dog and proof of vehicle insurance. Canada also requires braking systems on RV tow vehicles to prevent breakaway.
Agents will randomly board and inspect every nook and cranny of an RV. This is not the time to be sneaking a gun into Canada.
More border crossing information is available online.
Youpers bring their own dialect to Michigan’s popular Upper Peninsula; You betcha!
Tahquamenon Falls is located near Paradise, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the land above the bridge, referring to Mackinac Bridge that connects the peninsula, is where Michiganders go on vacation.
That helps explain why license plates from throughout the country are visible in most Upper Peninsula parking lots. The rest of us have found it, too.
We left behind the memory of passing through U. S. Customs at Sault St. Marie, MI., and headed west on Highway 28 and north on MI 123 en route to Paradise, MI., and immediately noticed the well-maintained roads, the lack of traffic and miles and miles of lush green forest. It’s late September and leaves are already starting to color.
There is not much serious farming here because of the harsh winter weather, although we did notice plenty of backyard vegetable gardens along the highway. Cranberries and blueberries are grown successfully.
Most of the tourists have gone home. RV’s, travel trailers and fifth wheels comprise most of the vehicles on the road. Campgrounds are less than half full, except on weekends.
They come here for the weather—cool nights and mild daytime temperatures– the pristine waters of big Lake Superior, the lush forested landscape, beautiful waterfalls and for some, the lack of people.
The Upper Peninsula or U. P., contains about a third of the land area of Michigan but only three percent of its population.
The towns are small. The largest is Marquette with less than 22,000 residents. Most of the U. P. is remindful of the United States in the 50’s when mom and pop restaurants and motels were plentiful along major roadways. Most highways here are two lane with frequent passing lanes.
And then there’s the roadside rest stops. Unlike most other states, Michigan’s roadside rest stops on the U. P. are not after thoughts but clearly selected for their scenic value whether it’s along the shores of Lake Superior or stops overlooking rivers, creeks or waterfalls.
Add to the dozens of state and national parks that dot the U.P. , the Michigan State Forest system protects over 3.8 million acres.
It is a wilderness place where about 90 percent of the state’s 15,000 to 18,000 bears reside in the U. P. We did not see one on this trip.
Lunch at one of tiny Paradise’s two small restaurants found us looking through a rack of tee shirts sporting the Yooper logo which refers to the people who live on the U. P. Their dialect is a mixture between the Finnish, French Canadian, Scandinavian, German, Italian and Irish who settled this area in the late 1800’s to work the copper and iron ore mines. “You betcha” finds its way in most conversations, including the waitress after she took our lunch order.
The mines in this state once produced more wealth than the California gold rush. Most have closed long after the heydays of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
In addition to the two small restaurants, Paradise has a gas station liquor store and-general store combination, a grocery store, post office, quilt shop and a couple other hard to identify merchants. It is the only commercial place for tourists who are here primarily to see the waterfalls in Tahquamenon State Park and Whitefish Point. Along with Newberry to the south, Paradise is the Gateway to the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan was originally home to many different Native American tribes which are honored in the names of many of its towns. Paradise, for example, is located in Chippewa County.
NEXT: Waterfalls and the ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald .
A bell pepper sends us to the Group W bench at the border
The train to Agawa Canyon entertained passengers with a live camera showing the landscape where the train had passed. We took this trip a day before crossing the border at Sault St. Marie, Canada into the United States.
The train to Agawa Canyon entertained passengers with a live camera showing the landscape where the train had passed. We took this trip a day before crossing the border at Sault St. Marie, Canada into the United States.
Today we lost our bell peppers and paid an unexpected visit to the security area of the U. S. Border Patrol at Sault St. Marie, Michigan.
It started out like any other border crossing: removed my sunglasses and cap before getting to the booth, had my list of purchases, amount of alcohol (one partial bottle of cheap wine and a couple cans of beer in the refrigerator), had my “down to business” face-on, answered the questions without hesitation and forthright, read off the list of fresh vegetables and that’s when everything started downhill.
Followers of this blog might recall several years ago when a border patrol agricultural specialist came into the RV and removed half a lime. We remained on board and the female agent was friendly and asked about our trip. She brought her own zip lock bag and left with the half lime.
Heidi, our 80-pound overly friendly golden retriever, has her front paws in my lap and is trying to get her head out the window in hopes of a friendly pat on the head from this uniformed man in the booth. She is drooling on my shirt. I keep pushing her away and she keeps coming back. She thinks the border patrol agent stopped the RV to say hello to her.
I did not forget this time and had tossed two perfectly plump limes in the trash the night before arriving at the border.
Confident we were compliant the border patrol agent in the booth asked which fresh vegetables we had in the refrigerator.
Potatoes, squash, lettuce, mushrooms, apples, onions, carrots, cherry tomatoes and a bell pepper, I said proud that I had remembered.
Pull your RV over to the right, he said. There were no smiles on his face as he talked on a radio to another agent announcing he was pulling us over.
Okay. Oh my. It’s happening to us.
Immediately, four Border Patrol agents walked front, back and alongside the RV as we slowly pulled aside and out of the traffic.
I’ve seen this happen to other RV’s and wonder what kind of contraband those people were carrying. Glad it wasn’t us.
Get out of the RV and follow me, said the agent standing just outside the driver’s side window. Do not leave any money in the RV. Put the dog on a leash.
It was happening to us.
Martha grabbed a zip-lock bag full of washing machine quarters and we hooked a leash on Heidi and the three of us followed the lead agent upstairs to the second floor of the Border Patrol secured office building. The stairs were grated steel, the kind you might find in a prison stairwell. Heidi’s claws were hanging up on the steel. She would take a step or two, hang a toe-nail then stop and reluctantly continue after a tug on the leash.
Electric doors clicked open and I suspect but did not see the cameras that surely were recording our arrival. A half dozen border patrol office heads turned as we walked inside and were escorted to a row of chairs along the wall. No one said a word.
It reminded me of Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant” where he is caught littering, arrested and told to sit on the Group W Bench with the other criminals.
I asked Martha if this might be the Group W bench but she had no idea what I was talking about.
The agent in charge was polite but all business.
He handed us a sheet of paper printed front and back with current regulations regarding fresh vegetables that were allowed and those prohibited from entering the United States.
Read these directions Mr. Hughes and maybe you won’t have to come visit us the next time you cross the border, he said.
About 30 minutes later he returned and said they had removed a green bell pepper and a small container of cherry tomatoes from the refrigerator and escorted us back downstairs to the RV. He had to stop traffic for us to cross the road to the RV which was still surrounded by agents.
Passengers in passing vehicles were looking at us. I know what they were thinking.
I thought we were in compliance, I told the agent.
Read that paper I gave you.
About a mile down the road, I broke the silence and asked Martha if everything looked in order. She didn’t have time to look as we boarded and left immediately.
Obviously, they did not inspect the entire RV, just the refrigerator. They are within their rights to turn everything upside down.
It was a strange feeling.
Elk, condor and the sights of Grand Canyon
With only four days left on this 33 day RV tour, the caravan arrived today at Trailer Village, Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. It wasn’t an accident that tour organizers saved the best for last. Although nearly three weeks ago we spent three days at the north rim, this is the part of the Canyon where five million people visit annually and considered among the most spectacular scenery in the national park service inventory. The North Rim, however, is just as dramatic but without the huge crowds which makes it just as inviting.
The tour caravan is staying at Trailer Village, a huge campground that holds a bunch of rv’s, trailers and tent campers and dozens of “urban” elk. These were once wild animals who have taken up residence in the woods surrounding the campground and found safety and probably food from unwary campers. They have established a permanent residence. They stroll from campsite to campsite, stopping in the shade of trees and munching fallen acorns. There are cows, calves and bulls—bulls with trophy sized racks.
Elk roamed the Trailer Village campground like stray dogs. They were present every day. Once there were seven elk lounging in the shade of a tree alongside our RV.
It is rutting season which means bulls are selecting and rounding up mates. Rangers told us to give them a wide berth which most did. I shot most of my elk pictures from the safety of the RV but other brave souls followed them around at closer than comfortable range.
Tour organizers treated caravan members to an ice cream social (nothing like desert before dinner) and later we joined our Canadian friends for dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge.
After dinner and a long day driving from Bluff to the Canyon, we stopped in the Bright Angel Lodge lounge to unwind with a few adult beverages. While reliving some of the day’s highlights, six people ranging in age from about 40 to 60, walked into the lounge carrying heavy-duty backpacks, water bottles and walking sticks and sat down at a table next to us.
While chatting among ourselves about the various scenic places that impressed us today, someone across the room asked the hikers about their rim-to-rim trip.
Rim-to-rim is exactly what the name implies: walking from the top of the North Rim, down a mile to the canyon floor, across the Colorado River, across the canyon and up another mile to the South Rim. While most hikers would hire a guide and take three to four days to make this 23-mile trip, these people walked the entire distance in one day. Leaving an hour or so before daylight and walking all day and into the night, they arrived at the Bright Angel Lodge lounge about 9 p.m., looking a little worse for wear but surprisingly in good shape. They certainly earned bragging rights along with seeing some spectacular scenery along the way.
The Caravan bunch boarded buses today for a guided tour of Desert View Drive, a scenic route that runs east of the Grand Canyon Village along the south rim for 25 miles. It includes a half dozen stops at some of the more scenic overlooks and the Desert View Watchtower. The view from the four-story tower, which was built in 1932, is impressive while the interior contains murals.
Visitors gather at an overlook rock cropping that provides a wide view of the canyon’s south rim.
In the afternoon a crowd gathered at one of the scenic overlooks where a ranger was tracking California Condors, some of which live in the area. He pointed to a place across the canyon where his radio receiver was picking up a transmitter mounted on one of the condors, although it was too far away to see. The condor population now stands at around 360 birds with 70 soaring the skies of northern Arizona and southern Utah. The ranger talks that we enjoyed were always informative and free.
Today we watched a National Geographic IMAX film about the Grand Canyon, rode very crowded public shuttle buses to the west end of the Canyon to see more sights then gathered for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
The Caravan tour officially ended on the morning of the fourth day with a farewell continental breakfast.
The trip home will cover 2,100 miles and take eight days. We will drive south to Flagstaff, AZ., then head east across New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and joining Interstate 10 west of Tallahassee for the drive to St. Augustine.
Albuquerque’s very popular Balloon Fiesta lives up to billing
Mass glow of balloons.
With only the occasional “whoosh” sound of a propane burner, we stood amid hundreds of colorful balloons in a near 100-acre field and watched with amazement as they quietly and very slowly lifted off in mass as the morning sun is about to make its presence over the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Special Shape “Glowdeo” features uniquely shaped balloons that are illuminated at night by their propane burners.
One would think it difficult to keep them separated on land and launch as crowded as they are. During inflation they seem to gently muscle their way through any little opening from surrounding balloons and once filled with hot air and sitting upright, they’re off.
What an amazing sight it is for first timers who could probably count on one hand the total number of balloons they have encountered in a lifetime. Today there has to be 300 to 400 of them on the ground in various stages of inflation and preparing for flight.
Started as a gathering in 1972 of 13 hot air balloonists who showed up at a shopping center parking lot to celebrate the anniversary of a local radio station, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has grown to the world’s largest hot-air balloon event attracting up to 750 international participants and millions of tourists over the years. Twenty thousand people attended the inaugural event. Today they expect 100,000 daily to attend the nine day event. That doesn’t include the thousands watching from unpaid venues around the city.
When over 1,000 balloon pilots registered for the 2000 event, festival organizers decided to set a maximum of 750 balloons and changed it again a few years later to 600.
We are dry camped (no electricity, water or sewer hookups) in a gravel parking lot among hundreds of RVs, pull behind trailers and fifth wheels bearing license plates from throughout the country. By luck, we are within walking distance to the balloon launch field. Dry camping is not a problem for today’s modern RV’s. The Green Knight is self-contained with 100 gallons of fresh water, a large holding tank and a generator to recharge the house batteries. We have reservations here for four days.
The overall size of this dairy themed balloon makes it difficult to find the pilot’s basket underneath.
Although it was dark when we opened the front windshield shades on our first morning here, several glowing balloons were already air-born. It’s called Dawn Patrol when balloons equipped with special lighting equipment take off before sun up, providing wind speed and direction information to pilots still on the ground.
We hustled to the launch field where at least 100 balloon crews, maybe more, were in the process of unloading baskets, balloons and other equipment, some of which were compacted and hauled in the back of pickup trucks. To our surprise, spectators are allowed in the midst of the field to watch at close range the inflation and take off. We could feel the heat from the propane burners as balloons were filled and held down by crew members to keep from them going airborne. After launch, this group of volunteers will follow the balloon as it flies miles away for unknown landing sites and help retrieve the balloon and basket.
The balloons lifted off in waves and drifted north in the “box,” a term used to describe wind patterns that are exploited to help navigate the balloons. At low elevations, box winds are northerly and at higher elevations they are more southerly. Pilots can use this effect on calm days to navigate away and back to the launch site. On other days when winds are stronger, balloonists may land on a road, shopping center parking lot, pasture or any convenient location away from power lines. On this near windless day, the pilots kept the balloons clustered over Fiesta Park, giving visitors a long time to view the spectacle.
A stage coach takes to the sky during Special Shape Rodeo.
One morning we watched liftoff and returned to the RV, only to be surprised to see a balloon coming down and drifting very close to the ground over the parked RVs. It appeared the balloon, piloted by a lady, might land on top of the RV’s a row or two away from us. Although low on propane, she managed to keep it adrift for another hundred yards and landed on the lawn of the nearby International Balloon Museum.
The special shape Glowdeo, which showcases balloons of all shapes including a stage coach, milk cow, Elvis, Noah’s Ark and many others, are illuminated at night and held on the ground. We walked among them as they fired the propane burners and lit up the balloons. On a countdown, dozens of pilots would light up their balloons against the night sky in unison. It was very entertaining. The night concluded with a half hour long fireworks show.
There is also a special shape rodeo when only balloons of special shape are permitted to fly. It was particularly crowded on this day because local schools are on holiday. We met some good friends here from Colorado who said it took them more than an hour to drive a mile to reach the Fiesta Park.
Inclement weather interrupted the twice daily launching only once during our four days here.
On that morning we drove into downtown Albuquerque and visited Old Town and found it surprisingly similar to St. Augustine. Both were founded by the Spanish. Had brunch in an old Mexican restaurant and bought a few souvenirs from street vendors.
NEXT: EVERY SMALL TOWN HAS A STORY TO TELL
Heading west across Texas
With Willie Nelson’s 1968 hit “Waltz Across Texas” playing on the RV’s radio, we left Austin and headed west on Highway 183 to I-40 and on to Abilene for the night. The long, flat roads and sparse Texas landscape might be boring to some, but it’s all new to the Hughes’s who continue marking off bucket list items on this trip to the southwest. Next up is the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. We have three days to travel 850 miles, with overnight stops in Abilene and Amarillo.
The trip from Austin to Abilene was uneventful, traveling on mostly two lane roads with wide shoulders which is convenient in the event we have mechanical issues with the RV. Since we were staying only one night in Abilene, we booked a pull-through site and hooked up to water and shore power only and left the car attached to the RV for a quick check-out the following morning.
Large mesas break the flat Texas landscape on the highway between Austin and Abilene, TX.
The weather had thankfully cooled. In fact, it was 44 degrees when we left the campground for Amarillo.
Lots of flat farming land along I-20, with cotton and grain sorghum appearing near harvest time. At Sweetwater, we switched to I-40 and Hwy 84 and although the landscape changed to more of a flat prairie, mesas were seen in the distance, topped with dozens, maybe hundreds, of wind turbines. The soil, Martha notes in her journal, is red in color and reminds us of Utah. Sweetwater is obviously prospering from the recent oil boom. Their are oil pumping units everywhere along the highway.
The scenery changes little on HIghway 84, lots of wind turbines and oil pumpers and several drilling rigs visible on the horizons. Big tanker trucks hauling fracking liquids to the oil fields are numerous on the highway.
Wind power is big business in Texas. It produces more wind power than any U. S. state and continues to grow. The majority of the turbines are located in 40 different projects around the state including the area around Sweetwater and Snyder.
We arrived in Amarillo, tired and hungry just before dark and camped at the Amarillo RV Park. Since we were staying only one night, we again kept the tow car hooked to the RV and took advantage of a free limo ride to the popular Big Texan Steak Ranch, home of the also free 72 ounce steak. However, it’s only free to those who can eat it within a specified time limit. A couple from Oklahoma, also staying at the campground, joined us for the limo ride to the steak house. The four of us ordered steaks which together might have weighed 30 ounces, a far cry from the necessary challenge of 72 ounces. There were pictures on the walls of those who had met the challenge.
The steak house had a fleet of limos that offered free transportation for steak customers at 11 different Amarillo RV parks. That’s a real convenience to over-nighters who don’t want to unhook the tow car.
NEXT: Heading to Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta
Austin’s Music Festival brings out a crowd
The Hughes’ reminder of their trip to the Austin Music Festival.
From our campground about 10 miles south of downtown Austin, we drive the interstate into town and take a shuttle bus to Zilker Park, site of the Austin Music Festival. Unfortunately, the closest public parking is more than a mile away. That’s not a deal breaker for us because we walk about 20 miles a week. But, walking back to the car after spending about 12 hours in the Texas heat, is a deal breaker. The shuttle is our only option, even if it means driving out of our way to get downtown.
An average 80,000 people attend the Austin Music Festival daily.
The Texas State Capitol is located in downtown Austin and within walking distance to downtown and the University of Texas Campus. Constructed of sunset red granite from nearby Marble Falls, Tx., the Capitol underwent a $75 million underground extension in 1993. It is taller, Texans brag, than the U. S. Capitol in Washington.
We got to the shuttle early and arrived at the festival site about a half hour before the gates opened and joined a group of about 50 people who call themselves “tree people.” Crowds upwards of 80,000 daily fill the huge open field quickly, sort of like game day at a football field and since there are no reserved seats, savy fans know the importance of arriving early.
Those lucky to be among the first through the ticket gates, race across the field to one of a few trees and like the Oklahoma land rush, open blankets and tarps to stake out their territory in the shade. A geologist from Alaska has been among the first in line for eight consecutive years and always runs to the largest tree which is in the center of Zilker Park. That tree is considered the choice shade spot of the festival. He outran several others and claimed his spot.
With over 130 bands performing on 8 stages during the three day weekend, there was plenty of music to hear. Although it seemed the majority of the bands were playing music more geared to the younger crowd, there was still plenty of music for the older crowd.
The Rotunda in the Texas State Capitol Building, Austin. The rotunda also features a large portrait of David Crockett, a painting depicting the surrender of General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, and sculptures of Sam Houston–all Texas heroes.
We repeated this schedule for three consecutive days and naturally compared this festival with Montreal’s Jazz Festival(we were there in July) and agreed that both are mega music events, much larger than we anticipated. Although the crowds at both were very well behaved and music was outstanding, we are more comfortable with smaller festivals like Magfest and Springfest at nearby Live Oak; festivals that draw about 5,000 each. Consider Montreal: 3,000 artists from 30-odd countries, more than 650 concerts (including 450 free outdoor performances), and welcomes close to 2.5 million visitors (34% of whom are tourists) as well as 400 accredited journalists. The festival takes place at 10 free outdoor stages and 10 indoor concert halls in downtown Montreal.
A popular place for photos, the reflecting pool at the University of Texas with the Tower in the background.
A Luis Jimenez-Andy Warhol collaboration on display at the Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas campus.
Both Montreal and Austin are listed among the top festivals in North America and both are now marked off the Hughes’s proverbial bucket list.
Austin’s festival has become so successful that it expanded this year to weekends–from three to six days. Thankfully we attended the first weekend. The second week was a washout. On the third and final festival day, Austin received a foot of rain in 24 hours. One person was quoted as saying he saw a car floating down the creek near the festival grounds.
WE HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE
When we visited Austin 46 years ago, we attended a Houston Astros baseball game in the newly constructed Astrodome, at that time known as the eighth wonder of the world. It was the nation’s first domed stadium. Residents of Houston recently rejected a proposal to renovate the facility, which is now slated for demolition.
On the same trip, we visited the University of Texas campus and took pictures of the Tower. The previous year, Charles Joseph Whitman, a student at the university, barricaded himself in the observation deck of the tower with a scoped rifle and various other weapons. In a 96-minute stand-off, Whitman killed 16 Austin residents and wounded many more. Police and armed citizens climbed up the tower to the observation deck and shot Whitman to death.
NEXT: “Waltzing” across Texas