Kerekes Travelogue Update for 2006

Table of Contents

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Jan 22: Driving Dead Indian Memorial Road near Ashland

This week Landra’s dad and his wife are in town, visiting Baby (and us too). As luck would have it, the rain paused for a couple of days during their visit. The sun drew us out for some sightseeing in the Medford and Ashland area.

Mt. McLoughlin is visible in the distance, as we drive south in I-5 toward Medford.

Mt. McLoughlin is visible in the distance, as we drive south in I-5 toward Medford.

First, we made a stop at the Harry & David store in Medford at exit 27. Then, we attempted to drive up the dirt road on Roxy Ann Mountain, but the gate was down. The drive was not a complete waste because it was enjoyable seeing the houses at the foot of the mountain.

In the summer I took the scooter on Dead Indian Memorial Road and really enjoyed the scenery. I thought it would be nice to see it in the winter. The roads were clear and dry, but pretty curvy. Several wide areas along the shoulder made for good photo stops. This time of year the hills and mountains within view are snow covered.

Now that Landra’s parents have visited, the only thing keeping us in Oregon is one more doctor’s checkup. My parents will meet Baby in Dallas, later in the spring.

Jan 15: Stroll through a Grants Pass neighborhood

A Grants Pass neighborhood, set high on the hillside

A Grants Pass neighborhood, set high on the hillside

Today was cool and cloudy, but at least the rain took a short pause, long enough to load Baby into the stroller and take a nice walk. We have been watching the hillside neighborhood since arriving at Jack’s Landing RV Resort in late December. Many of the houses still had their Christmas decorations lit which made for a pretty scene from the RV. This was our destination today, about a mile, maybe a little longer.

Landra and I have commented several times that if we were to considered Oregon as a permanent home (which we are not), Grants Pass would be our top choice among the cities in the valley. Something about this city feels most welcoming as a home town. It is built in a valley surrounded by good size mountains. The Rogue River runs through the downtown park, which is a beautiful place to relax in the summer (very muddy at the moment).

As we ascended the hillside neighborhood, the quality and size of the houses increased with the altitude, and the view. On the ridge are several enormous mansions, some of them being built. Mid-way up the hill were houses that we considered comparable to our previous neighborhood in McKinney, Texas. These houses, built new on the outskirts on Dallas, could be had for $150,000 to $200,000. Here, a very nice home with five bedrooms, about 2,100 sq. feet, was selling for $600,000.

Jan 10: Wine tasting on a rare sunny afternoon

Del Rio Vineyards in Rock Point, Oregon

Del Rio Vineyards in Rock Point, Oregon

Landra’s mom is in town visiting the baby (and us too). Today, we had a rare sunny afternoon in an otherwise dreary winter, so we decided to go wine tasting in nearby Rock Point.

Del Rio Vineyards‘ red barn is easy to spot on the north side of the highway. Take exit 43 from I-5 to get there. Behind the red barn is their beautiful vineyard on the south-facing hill slopes.

We were the only customers in the tasting room, which is in a historic building that was once a stagecoach station. None of us are wine connoisseurs, so I can’t comment intelligently on their wine selections, except to say that they were yummy. The gentleman serving us was very friendly and knowledgeable. We especially liked their sweet blush wine. With the wine, they served several fresh cheeses made locally by the Rogue Creamery in Central Point.

Jan 4: Rogue River in Gold Hill

Landra with Baby by the Rogue River in Gold Hill.

Landra with Baby by the Rogue River in Gold Hill. The river has been muddied by winter rains.

Ever since Baby was born, our trips and hikes have been very short. Today, we took him to Gold Hill to introduce him to the swollen Rogue River. The river also runs through Grants Pass, where we are staying now, but that park is pretty muddy at the moment. Besides, we think that the section running through Gold Hill is more scenic. Baby slept through our stroll in the park, so we’ll have to bring him back when he is a little older and a little more awake.

Winter brought a lot of rain to the Rogue Value, causing the Rogue to flood in many places. Our previous KOA campgroun in Gold Hill was partially flooded by the creek running through it. The KOA campground host, whom we got to know pretty well during out stay there, showed us pictures of how the creek took out one of the small foot bridges in the park. He was out on the tractor in pouring rain, pulling the bridge free.

In case you are wondering, we are witholding our baby’s name from this public web site, to maintain a little bit of privacy. Here he is known as Baby.

Feb 27: Rain in the desert

Storm clouds are compressed into dark masses as they pass over the desert mountains.

Storm clouds are compressed into dark masses as they pass over the desert mountains.

Since our arrival in the desert, today was the third rainy day. Each time the storm clouds rolled in, we have heard stories of flash floods. Today’s clouds were expected to produce rain after dusk. Until then, we planned to hike the Palm Canyon trail near the Anza-Borrego State Park campground.

We got a late start today, and by the time we arrived at the visitor center, the clouds were getting dark over the mountains. The trail is mostly in a desert wash (creek) at the foot of mountains—not a good place to be during a flash flood.

To be on the safe side, I stopped in to talk to the rangers about the potential for flash floods along the trail. They thought the rain would hold off until sunset, but suggested we keep to the alternate trail, which is at a slightly higher elevation. We followed the ranger’s advice, even though it added a half mile to the 3 mile round trip.

The ranger’s story of a recent flash flood that produced a sixteen foot wall of water and debree were fresh in our minds. As we hiked, we frequently scanned the clouds over the mountain peaks, looking for any signs of rain. To make sure that we made it back in daylight, we set a turnaround time. We reached this time about two thirds of the way to the palm oasis. From here, the trail followed a straight section of the stream, and we were able to see the palm grove upstream. It was impressive enough that we made a plan to come back another day and hike all the way to the oasis. For now, daylight was running out and we felt the first raindrops on our skin. We turned back.

Hikers have been reporting recent sightings of bighorn sheep in the area. During our hike, we regularly scanned the nerby slopes and ridges for signs sheep, but they remained hidden from us.

Feb 24: Stuck in the sand on the way to the mud caves

Charlie is trying to get the truck unstuck.

Charlie is trying to get the truck unstuck.

Our list of sights to see today had several items, ending with the mud caves near Agua Caliente County Park. As we approached the turn-off from S2 to the caves, we decided to make it our first stop because it would take the longest.

We turned onto the dirt road toward Desert Spring (and the caves). After a couple of hundred yards, we saw a sign warning about soft sand ahead. Not wanting to risk it, we decided to turn around. Unfortunately, during the turn, the front of the truck went off the hard-packed sand and into the soft shoulder. It was stuck! Fortunately, we found two off-roaders willing to pull us out. They refused my offer of beer money and suggested a letter to the Good Sam Club instead.

Here is the letter I sent for publication in the Highways magazine:

Good People Everywhere

We have been [an error occurred while processing this directive]s since July 2004, and it is always a pleasure to find good people everywhere we travel, many of them Good Sam members.

During our recent visit to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, I managed to get our two wheel drive truck stuck in soft sand on the edge of a dirt road. We tried everything we could think of, but the result was the same—the spinning rear wheels sank deeper in sand. We decided to get help before our F-550 sank to the chassis.

A Jeep leaving the area gave us a ride to the Agua Caliente RV park (he was not set up to pull us out). The tow truck company was unwilling to send a large truck out on the sandy road and their smaller units were unavailable for hours.

The rangers allowed us to walk through the RV park to see if we could find someone with a four wheel drive truck who was willing to help us. This is when we met Skip Slavkin (Good Sam member), his wife Barbie, and their travel companions John and Barbara Marnell. They had just come back from off-roading in Mexico with their Jeep and Dodge.

John and Skip went back with me to the truck and pulled it out in no time. Barbara and Barbie graciously invited my wife and our baby to wait with them at their campsite. After the truck was out of the sand, we had an enjoyable conversation and got to know each other a little bit.

I wanted to thank all four of them for being such Good Samaritans, to help out complete strangers so willingly. We now have four new friends in southern California.

Charlie Kerekes
Livingston, TX

Feb 22: San Diego Zoo

A lesser flamingo spreads her wings

A lesser flamingo spreads her wings

One of the reasons we chose to stay in the Anza-Borrego desert was its proximity to San Diego. Today was the day to visit the famous San Diego Zoo.

The drive was about 75 miles through curvy mountain roads, almost all the way. With the baby, it took us about two hours to get there. On the way, we saw some of the San Diego suburbs from the highway—very nice houses on steep hillsides. I can see why so many people like to live here.

It was a little frustrating finding the zoo. Even with a good map, we got in the wrong lane in heavy traffic and were forced to turn down another road. We were amazed that, despite the fame of this zoo, we saw absolutely no signs to lead tourists in the right direction, until we were almost there. In Dallas, you start seeing signs for the zoo on the Interstate from miles away.

The zoo was enjoyable and the weather was perfect. The landscaping was very well done. However, neither one of us were overwhelmed by the displays. Don’t get me wrong—they were very nice and the animal selection was above average, but we were expecting extraordinary. We found this zoo on par with those in other major cities, such as the Fort Worth Zoo. Another thing I found frustrating was how few animals were in open displays. Most were behind dense cages, which made it very difficult to take good pictures.

OK, enough complaining! In the end, I am glad we saw it and I still think the zoo is a top destination when in San Diego. My favorite animal displays: the giraffes, the various hogs (especially the red river hog), the large number of flamingos, and the koalas.

Feb 17: Cool Canyon

Cool Canyon in Shelter Valley, CA

Cool Canyon in Shelter Valley, CA

More photos »

In our back yard are several small mountains, about a mile outside the back fence. Landra found an article describing Cool Canyon between two of these mountains. Apparently this canyon does not have an official name, but the locals found it so interesting that they named it Cool.

Shortly after noon we packed a day pack, put the baby in the front carrier, and passed through the opening in the back fence to check out this canyon for ourselves. On the other side of the fence is the state park. From there, the trail took us directly to the canyon’s mouth.

The canyon is home to the typical desert flora. The canyon walls and interesting rock outcroppings made this a very scenic hike. After about a half mile into the canyon, large boulders had to be climbed to continue. Having the baby with us, we decided that was a bit much and turned back.

In Cool Canyon we saw three agave plants blooming with yellow flowers. The agave, also known as the century plant, lives about 100 years and blooms only once; seeing several blooming in one area is rare.

We took our time looking at interesting rocks and plants. By the time we reached the campground fence line, the long shadows of the mountains overtook us and the warm day turned chilly. This has been a very satisfying day.

Feb 15: Back on the Internet from the RV

As I have mentioned earlier, no cell phone signals reach the Stagecoach Trails RV Resort. We have been diving four miles down the road to make calls and use our T-Mobil internet card. Today, the phone company finally came out to turn on the phone line.

In our previous McKinney home, we have been using as our dial-up ISP, so I checked to see if they had a local number. Sure enough, they had a Julian access number. Their price is still $10 per month without a contract, which fit our temporary need perfectly.

As the technician was hooking up the phone line, he told me that we are so far from the switching station that we’ll be lucky to get a 25 kbps connection. We were’t quite so lucky—most of our connections so far have been at 21.6 kbps! But, a slow Internet connection at home is better that diriving four miles for a slow connection. I now feel complete.

Feb 12: Our first hike in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Landra, Baby and Charlie at the end of the Panoramic Lookout Trail. Below is the desert floor, surrounded on three sides by mountains.

Landra, Baby and Charlie at the end of the Panoramic Lookout Trail. Below is the desert floor, surrounded on three sides by mountains.

Today was our first hike in the state park itself. Baby has considerably shortened our hikes and slowed our pace, but has not kept us from seeing the great outdoors.

Me carrying a backpack and Landra carrying the baby in a harness, we started out on the shortest trail from the visitor center. A paved sidewalk took us from the visitor center to the mid section of the campground 0.6 miles away. The sidewalk ends in the campground by three California fan palms and a drinking fountain. From there we took the 0.5 mile long Panoramic Lookout Trail. It led us through the flat desert landscape for a short distance, then up on the nearby hill.

Switchbacks on the trail were pretty mild and the summit had a very nice view of the desert, RV park, and Borrego Springs. By our standards, this trail is very easy. We were surprised how tired we felt by the time we reached the summit. It has been several months since our previous hike; less sleep and carrying an infant also added to our fatigue. It was a beautiful day in the upper seventies, though it felt hotter with the sun bearing down on us. Landra kept Baby in the shade by draping a large handkerchief over him—a dew rag left over from our scooter days.

Looking down at the RV park from the Panoramic Lookout.

Looking down at the RV park from the Panoramic Lookout.

If you plan to hike in this area and don’t mind the extra 0.6 mile walk, park at the visitor center for free and walk to the trailheads in the campground. If you would rather walk less, drive into the campground and pay the $6 day use fee per vehicle.

After the hike, we walked through the campground to take a quick look around. It has a few advantages over the one we are staying at: it has cell phone coverage, a more scenic backdrop, and shopping available in town. The only RV rate we saw posted was the $29 daily rate. One concern here is the potential for flash floods, coming off the nearby mountains.

Feb 11: The horses have arrived

One of the horses at Stagecoach Trails RV Resort

One of the horses at Stagecoach Trails RV Resort.

Several of the horses enjoyed a sand bath after a long day of riding in the desert.

Several of the horses enjoyed a sand bath after a long day of riding in the desert.

Horse trailers started arriving Thursday evening. By Friday evening Stagecoach Trails RV Resort was buzzing with equestrian activities: trailers being unloaded, horses being fed, and people getting in short rides before dark.

This evening we passed by several corrals while walking the dog. One group of horses recently returned from a ride and were hosed down by their owners. As we watched and chatted with one of the owners, three of them got down on the ground for a sand bath. The owner wasn’t too concerned about her clean horses getting dirty—she said that the desert sand falls off easily, once their hair dries.

These horse owners seem to be a jolly bunch. Most of them arrived in groups and had roaring campfires every night. Many of the trails in the state park allow horses. I have seen at least two openings in the RV park fence, leading to various trails into the desert. We are not horse owners, but this area seems to be an ideal place to ride them. Just across the road from the park, on the North Pinion Mountains, is the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

So far we have been exploring the desert landscape in the RV park and have made one trip to Jualian. This weekend will be our first hike in the state park.

Feb 7: Stagecoach Trails RV Resort in the desert

View of Stagecoach Trails RV Resort and the surrounding mountains

View of Stagecoach Trails RV Resort and the surrounding mountains

More photos »

Some of our family live in northern latitudes where many RV parks don’t open until April. Getting there too early meant having to stay too far or in parks without [an error occurred while processing this directive]. So, we decided to spend an extra month on the West Coast. We chose the Stagecoach Trails RV Resort from where to see sights in the Anza-Borrego desert and San Diego.

Stagecoach Trails has a Julian address, but it is located in the small community of Shelter Valley, about 16 miles from Julian. It is a city of less than 400 population, not marked on any of my maps.

This was our first experience in a desert. I used to imagine a desert as a vast expanse of nothing but golden sand. Surprisingly, this desert has quite a bit of vegetation, primarily composed of the following: ocotillo, several variety of cholla cacti, creosote bushes, agave, and palo verde trees. All of the vegetation is low, growing in soil composed of loose sand and rock. It sounds desolate, but we found it beautiful in its own way.

This RV park caters to horse riders and their horses. As such, several areas of horse pens are located throughout the park. We do not have horses but enjoy watching them. I’m not sure how many RV slots the park has, but it is very large. The spaces vary in size, most of them larger than what you find in typical RV parks. Within the park boundary are sections of wildly growing desert vegetation. The numerous dirt roads on the property provide plenty of space to walk the dog.

Granite Mountain (5,633') has a dusting of snow after an evening of light rain.

Granite Mountain (5,633′) has a dusting of snow after an evening of light rain.

Stagecoach Trails lies in Earthquake Valley. The nearest cell phone signal is at the 78 and S2 intersection, 4 miles away. In the park the only options for phone calls are the pay phones or having your own line installed. Since we are staying a month, we ordered a phone line to our trailer; it will take SBC a week to install it. Until then, we make the 4 mile drive down the road to make calls, usually joined by several others on the shoulder—it looks like a conference call.

The park literally borders the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. A section of the back fence has an opening to a trail which leads into the state park, directly into Cool Canyon 0.8 miles away. If you like hiking, there seems to be no end to the foot and horse trails around here.

Feb 4: Arrived in the Los Angeles area

After a full year in the Rogue Valley, we have finally vacated Oregon on February 3-rd. We caught a mild day to cross the Siskiyou Pass on the Oregon/California border. This turned out to be a very narrow window because on the 4-th snow was expected again in the mountains.

We are staying at the Pomona/Fairlpex KOA for a couple of nights to visit friends and family in Los Angeles suburbs. The Pomona KOA is an old park, built decades ago when RV’s were much smaller. Today’s big rigs will find this park very tight to maneuver. We followed their advice on the best way to enter our slot, but were unable to make the turn because of a tree. We had to loop around to squeeze into the narrow and short slot from the other end. Other than the tightness, we have no complaints about this park. It is well maintained and has the nicest dog walk I have seen in any RV park. Not only one, but two other dog walks near the back.

The problem with any park in or near major cities is the traffic. As soon as we reached the outer limits of the L.A. highway system, traffic slowed to a crawl, and this on a Saturday afternoon. No sooner than we arrived, we received the “welcome to L.A.” wave with the middle finger, by a man whom we delayed a few seconds while merging into solid traffic. Oh, how I missed the big city!

The warm Pomona weather was a welcome change from the rain of Oregon. It felt so good walking among palm trees, wearing shorts and flip-flops.

Mar 30: Trip to Little Rock starts with tire change

Our spacious slot (E6) in Maumelle Park is surrounded by large trees.

Our spacious slot (E6) in Maumelle Park is surrounded by large trees.

Dallas turned out to be a pit stop. First, the water pump went out on the truck. Then, one of the house batteries died in the RV. And this morning, as we were about to hit the road, a flat tire on the truck. Nothing sets the mood for the day like changing a tire.

I’m happy to report that the rest of the trip to Little Rock went flawlessly. We arrived at Maumell Park on the shores of the Arkansas River. This is one of our favorite parks. It has spacious slots, large trees, several paved walking trails, and the river. The only down side is that they don’t have any [an error occurred while processing this directive]s. They partially make up for this by allowing [an error occurred while processing this directive] to be drained through a garden hose. Twice a week I will use the blue boy container to empty our [an error occurred while processing this directive].

We’ll spend the next two weeks visiting family and friends in the Little Rock area.

Mar 29: Dead house battery keeps us in Dallas

Yesterday, as I was getting the [an error occurred while processing this directive] ready for the road, I discovered that both house batteries were very low on water. As I pulled the cap off one of them, a strong smell of acid hit my nose. The water in this battery looked murky and was bubbling.

I topped off both with distilled water, but noticed that the [an error occurred while processing this directive] with the murky water was warm to the touch and bulging. I disconnected the batteries and checked the charge with a hydrometer. As expected, the bulging battery was completely dead. The other battery was still good, but I did not want to take a chance getting on the road with only one RV battery (they are used for the trailer brakes in case of emergency separation).

All of that occurred yesterday. Today, we stayed in town and bought a new deep cycle battery. Got it installed and by the evening they both had a full charge.

By the way, I think I killed that battery by not maintaining it as often as I should have. My electronic organizer beeps every month to remind me that it is time to check the battery water levels. Late last year in Oregon I got busy and neglected to check the level for about three months. By then both battery water levels were below the top of the plates. I filled them up and they looked OK. In January I waited about two months before checking, and the levels dropped below the plates again. In Dallas I did check after a month, but I think it was too late for that one battery. Moral of the story? Be sure to check the water level at least once a month while the batteries are in use. This is especially important in warm weather.

Mar 14: “I ♥ My R.V.” quilt

Hand-made quilt for our traveling baby boy.

Hand-made quilt for our traveling baby boy.

While visiting the assisted living facility that she previously managed, Landra received a very special quilt for our baby. The front of the quilt has the typical multi-colored squares; the back has a pattern of recreational vehicle types and the words “I ♥ My R.V.”

Mar 13: Water pump goes out on the truck

It has been right at two years since we bought our Ford F-550 truck from eBay. We bought it with 62,000 miles and it now has 97,000. During these two years of driving and towing, it has worked flawlessly.

As I picked up my parents this morning at the hotel, I noticed a steady dripping of coolant from the engine. We were only about a mile from the McKinney Ford dealer, so I drove it there. By the time I pulled the truck into the service lane, coolant was gushing out the bottom.

We had sightseeing planned for the day, so I rented a car while the truck was in the shop. By the afternoon the truck had a new water pump at the cost of $860.

Inconvenient as the repair was, we were overjoyed that the problem occurred in town and not while towing.

Mar 9: Seeing friends and family in the Dallas metroplex

This pointed building is one of the most noticeable in the Dallas skyline.

This pointed building is one of the most noticeable in the Dallas skyline.

Now that we are in the Dallas metroplex, we will spend most of our days seeing friends and family. My first visit was to my previous workplace in Plano.

Ever since we approached the city, and as we see familiar people and places, it occurred to us how much this place feels like home. It is also interesting to see how many things have changed in a little over a year—new neighborhoods, new shopping centers, and completed road projects that we had to endure under construction for years.

The challenge is to see as many friends as we can, while not wearing out the baby and ourselves. Day one is over; three more weeks to go.

Mar 8: Squeezing into undersized RV slots

If you have been following my travelogue, you probably noticed the negative tone it has taken since entering Texas. I considered leaving out the negative experiences and report only the pleasant ones, but that would be a disservice to those of you considering RVing. When we were researching the RV lifestyle, we actively looked for the good and bad. So, bare with me as I tell you about another frustrating day as [an error occurred while processing this directive]s.

Having lived in the Dallas metroplex for fifteen years, we know the traffic patterns pretty well. The last leg of our trip has been coordinated so that we do not arrive in Dallas during the morning or afternoon rush hour. This is why we stopped in Abilene the night before, so that we would arrive in Dallas around noon. We even made a special baby feeding stop just outside of Fort Worth, so that he would be content until the fifth wheel has been parked and set up.

Our reservation was with Spring Creek Village RV Park in Plano (a suburb north of Dallas). In the office I noticed several No Refund signs. To be on the safe side, I asked the lady if I could see the slot before paying. She said that was fine. I told her we need something large enough to fit our 37′ fifth wheel. She marked four available slots on the park map and sent me on my way. I am not exaggerating when I say this—three of the four slots she marked were so short, that they would fit no more than two thirds of our trailer!

The fourth slot was long enough to fit the trailer and the truck, but someone backed over the facilities and smashed them. I called the office and told them that the only slot large enough for our rig had smashed facilities and we won’t be staying.

The only other RV park we knew of on this side of town was the Lighthouse RV Resort in Melissa. We called ahead to reserve a slot and they said they had one more available. Landra asked if that slot fits a 37 footer and they said yes. In the Lighthouse office I saw on the map the available slot—it looked kind of small, backed up against bushes. I asked again if it will fit our rig; she said that they put “big rigs” in that slot all the time.

We drove around to the slot and it looked even smaller than on the map. Not only was it short, but it was surrounded by small trees on three sides, with low hanging limbs. I paced out the length of the slot, which was exactly the length of the trailer, measuring all the way to the bushes in the back. Under most circumstances, I would have asked for another slot or left for another park. But, they said this was their last and we knew nothing else nearby. We decided to try it.

By then it was two hours later than our planned stop time and way passed baby’s feeding time. Landra was outside on the radio helping me back up, baby was in the back seat screaming. A retired truck driver who was staying in the park had pity on us. He offered to guide me back into the slot while Landra held the baby. This was a blessing because the gentleman was able to give me some helpful tips on how to squeeze into this tight slot. What made this process more difficult was the narrow drive and the full park—we had very limited space to maneuver.

After about thirty minutes of adjusting, re-adjusting, and doing it again—all while scraping small limbs against the side and roof of our home—we finally got it in the slot, mostly. The nose of the trailer was hanging out about two feet, so I went inside to ask the manager if I could trim the bushes in the back of the slot. She was not thrilled with that idea, so she came out to look. The first thing out of her mouth when she saw the trailer was “How long is that thing?” I could have choked her! “Man, that thing is tall!” she added. “I won’t put you through all that trouble; let me find you another slot.” Landra and I were looking at each other, fighting the urge to hurt this elderly lady.

She went back to the office and returned after a few minutes. She said she was able to switch us with another RV arriving later. We followed her to a large [an error occurred while processing this directive] slot at the beginning of a row. We forced a “thank you” and set up camp.

Because of this and other experiences, I have come to the conclusion that most park staff put zero effort into matching up RV’s with the correct size slot. They either have no idea how long their slots are, or don’t have enough courtesy to tell big rigs that they may not fit. I rather be told that the slots are too small than waste time which I could have used to find another place.

Mar 7: Baby’s got a slight fever

Our two boys love to travel, when they are feeling well.

Our two boys love to travel, when they are feeling well.

Today was a half travel day. Shortly after noon, we stopped for the day on the outskirts of Abilene and plugged in to facilities at Baird Motor Inn. This is one of those motel and RV park combinations on Interstate 20, sorely in need of maintenance. But, we did not care about the dilapidated look of the park, so long as all facilities were working.

Because of the hot night yesterday, we were concerned about our baby. He has been restless most of the day. Once we set up camp, we noticed that he was hotter than normal. We took his temperature and confirmed that he had a light fever. Landra called his pediatrician in Oregon for instructions. Tylenol and plenty of rest brought his fever down by evening.

Our concern for the baby reinforced my desire to settle down, and I mentioned this again to Landra (see my entry on March 2).

Mar 6: Texas welcomes us with a miserable night

Two days after leaving California, we arrived in Texas. We stopped for the night in a rest area on Interstate 10, about an hour east of El Paso. All three of us were tired from two long days of driving. The plan was to stay in a park tomorrow with full hookups, followed by two half days of driving to Dallas.

We should have planned full hookups for this night! It wasn’t all that hot during the day, but we have forgotten how long the Texas humidity retains the heat. Our trailer does not have a generator, so no A/C either. It was pretty hot inside and we could not get it cooled down. A strong breeze was blowing, but the windows and ceiling fan were not enough to get it inside. We tried opening the door, but the idling trucks on that side produced too much diesel fumes. So, it was either headaches from diesel or endure the heat.

At one point we all got so hot that we opened all windows and the door on the trailer, and fed the baby in the air conditioned truck. It was well passed midnight by the time the fifth wheel cooled down to the point that we could go to sleep. Needless to say, this was a very unpleasant night.

Mar 3: Palm Canyon

An oasis of California fan palms

An oasis of California fan palms

More photos »

Our time in the desert is almost up, but we had to go back and complete the Palm Canyon Trail hike, all the way to the oasis. The weather was favorable for hiking, if not the best for pictures. It was in the mid-sixties and mostly cloudy. I had to wait several minutes until an opening in the clouds let the sunshine fall on the palms, so that I could take a descent picture.

The trail starts near the back of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park campground. From that point, the trail is 1.5 miles in one direction. It follows along the foot of the mountains on sandy washes and some rocky terrain. Overall, the hike was easy and scenic. In places the trail follows the stream, and even crosses it three times. There are no bridges—we had to balance on rocks to get across.

At the end of the trail is an oasis of California fan palms. This was our first experience with an oasis and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the shade and watching the palms sway in the breeze. As much as we wanted to see bighorn sheep, they eluded us again.

I highly recommend this hike to anyone camping in the Borrego Springs area.

Mar 2: Talks of settling down

Ever since our baby boy was born in December, living and traveling in the RV became more work for me. I have enjoyed seeing all the sights in the desert and in San Diego, but the fact is that the outings now require more planning, have to be shorter, and must be limited to places we can safely go while carrying a baby.

Having a type A personality, the space and organization in the RV has also become a challenge for me. With only the two of us, everything had its place and the RV was in pretty good order. Now that there are three of us, space is tighter and working full time from home is more difficult. Babies require some equipment, and despite our efforts to keep this to a minimum, our living space has gotten more crowded.

Because of this, traveling is now a chore, my stress has been increasing, and the fun factor has taken a nose dive. So, I have finally brought up the topic of settling down. Both of us wanted to experience the fulltimer lifestyle for at least five years; it is disappointing that we may be reaching the end after only two years.

Landra’s laid-back personality is less affected by the factors I mentioned above. She said she could live like this forever. At the same time, she wants both of us to be happy and was open to the idea.

For now, we are thinking this option over. Soon we are heading back east to see friends and family. Until then, I’ll hang in there and we’ll make a final decision in Texas.

Mar 1: San Diego beaches

Looking north from Pacific Beach in San Diego.

Looking north from Pacific Beach in San Diego.

Our second visit to San Diego was to see the beaches. After reading some reviews, we chose to see the Pacific and Mission beaches. This is a three mile stretch along residential and commercial properties. It features the famous boardwalk, made of concrete, that is often filmed for movies set in San Diego. A good number of roller skaters and others with various wheeled contraptions were exercising along the boardwalk.

The weather was breezy and about sixty degrees, with only a few clouds in the sky. Pushing the stroller on the sand was a serious workout. Soon, we moved over to the boardwalk where it was much easier to push.

We must have walked a couple of miles of the beach. Then, we settled down on the sand for a picnic as we watched a man catch fish in the surf.

On the way back to Shelter Valley, we stopped in a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of San Diego. This was the fanciest Wal-Mart we have ever seen, by far. It was new and spotless. It had two stories, complete with escalator for people and for carts—you pushed the cart into a doorway next to the escalator and it was pulled up next to you. And, this Wal-Mart was an anchor store of a mall.

Apr 30: Arrived to the Knoxville area

Volunteer Park is host to live bluegrass music twice a week.

Volunteer Park is host to live bluegrass music twice a week.

We have arrived to the outskirts of Knoxville, Tennessee, where we hope to settle down.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is on the east side of town, and so are large numbers of tourists. To avoid the crowds, we chose to stay about five miles north of town at the Volunteer Park in the small town of Heiskell.

Our impression of Volunteer Park agreed with other reviews: the manager and the staff are among the nicest people we have met; two sides of the park border small, but very busy roads, where heavy trucks run all day long; the park is a bit tight, but we did not have too much trouble parking our fifth wheel (though we saw another hit a tree and break out a window); a good number of permanent RV’s with permanent additions make the park look junky; they have all the necessary amenities, including WiFi. If you like bluegrass music, you will enjoy this park’s Volunteer Opry, where the Brushy Valley Boys play live bluegrass music twice a week.

Volunteer Park is OK in many respects, but too noisy and junky for our taste. We will be looking for another place to stay in the next few days. Their rates are $320/mo + electric or $150/week. Cable and WiFi are in addition to the site fee.

Our first impression of the Knoxville area has been pleasant. Most of the area is very hilly and covered in lush green trees. From strategic locations in the valley, the Smoky Mountains are visible toward the Southeast and the Cumberland mountains toward the Northeast. The people here are extremely nice—we have not found another place in this country as friendly as Tennessee. So far, we think our choice to make Knoxville our home has been a good one.

Apr 19: Dogwoods and thunderstorms

Dogwoods in Burrell Park bloomed in time for Easter.

Dogwoods in Burrell Park bloomed in time for Easter.

We have seen dogwoods in people’s yards, but never in the wild. Just in time for Easter weekend, numerous dogwoods bloomed in Burrell Park and most of them still have their flowers. The contrast between the fresh green backdrop of leaves and the snow-white petals brought a serene garden feel to the park.

Later in the night, a strong storm moved into the area. The weather radio was forecasting 40 to 50 mph wind gusts. A tornado watch was in effect until early morning. Around 2 AM strong thunder moved into the area; I decided to stay up until the storm died down.

If you have spent time in an RV, you know that it does not provide good shelter from strong winds or tornados. Before the baby, Landra and I would do our best to sleep through a storm like this, knowing that being swept away by a tornado was a very unlikely event. Now that we have a baby, I could not sleep through the storm. I paced the living room by the crib, looking out the windows, hoping to get a head start on an approaching tornado and run for the concrete bathroom building.

Around 2:15 AM, the neighbor must have felt the wind tugging on his [an error occurred while processing this directive]. I happened to be looking out the window on his side and saw him standing in the rain in his underwear, tightening the straps.

Apr 12: From Little Rock to Burrell Park in Carmi, IL

Slot 15 in Burrell Park, with cows grazing on the pasture behind the fence.

Slot 15 in Burrell Park, with cows grazing on the pasture behind the fence.

The baby tour took us to Carmi in southern Illinois, near the Indiana border. Here we will visit Landra’s mom, grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They are spread out in small Illinois towns and the Evansville, Indiana, area.

For our home base we chose Burrell Park (also known as Burrell Woods) in the town of Carmi, population 5,500.

Burrell Park is small, but nice. It is owned and operated by the city. A [an error occurred while processing this directive] site with 50 [an error occurred while processing this directive] electric costs $14 a day, and there is no restriction on the number of days one may stay.

When we arrived, only about a quarter of the 25 RV slots were taken. We pulled into an open slot and waited for the staff to come around to collect the fee.

Most of the slots are nicely wooded. Some slots are close to others, but they all have plenty of space around them. Our slot is in a cluster of four and backs up against a pasture. We enjoy seeing cows, so this is a plus for us. Some of the slots are by themselves and are much more spacious.

Each slot has a tall, steel fire ring. Not only that, but the park provides all of the split firewood you can burn, at no cost—I have not seen such generosity by a park.

By the way, according to the City of Carmi web site, this park is closed in the winter (opens in April). But, according to the staff, they do allow self-contained RV’s all year long; the only thing closed are the bathroom facilities. The gates may also be locked, but they will provide a key to RVers staying in the park. So, if you need a place to stay in the winter, give them a call and make arrangements.

One bummer for us: no T-Mobile signal in the park, which means no Internet from the RV. Our cell phones are on Verizon and that service has full signal strength.

Apr 1: The end of our fulltiming draws near

Landra and I talked more about settling down over the past month and we have finalized our plans to do just that. I have outlined the reasons for this decision in my March 2 entry, but basically it came down to the increased difficulty of traveling and working with an infant as [an error occurred while processing this directive]s.

For now, we are going to finish the baby tour, which will take us to the end of May. After we are finished in Illinois, but before heading to Maryland, we will take a couple of weeks to visit Knoxville, Tennessee. Unless we find something very objectionable, our plan is to settle down in the Knoxville area.

Why Knoxville? Before we ever thought about RVing, we occasionally considered where we would move once we were done in Dallas. Since we like the outdoors and wanted to be closer to our parents, Knoxville has been on our radar for quite a while. Knoxville has mountains and lies roughly equal distance to all parents in Arkansas, Illinois, and Maryland.

Once there, we will move into an apartment or town home. This will give us time to get to know the area before we buy or build a house (preferably a cabin). Our [an error occurred while processing this directive] is too big for vacationing, so we will sell it and the truck. Later, when the baby gets a little older to enjoy it, we’ll get a smaller vacationing RV.

During our RV-less phase, I will be participating from the sidelines and will continue to update this web site. We will visit RV shows occasionally, dreaming of what our next rig will be. I have so many unpublished notes from our travels that it will provide me with material to post on this web site for years to come.

But, we are still fulltimers for now, so I’ll keep adding to this travelogue until our status changes.

May 5: Moved to a nicer RV park a ½ mile down the road

Our site in the Escapees park is a bit tight, but everything fits.

Our site in the Escapees park is a bit tight, but everything fits.

As I mentioned earlier, we were not happy with Volunteer Park. We noticed a sign for the Escapees Raccoon Valley RV Park just down the road and checked it out.

The Escapees park is not fancy either, but we thought it was much nicer than Volunteer Park, so we moved. It is an old KOA park, bought by the Escapees club about 8 years ago. The roads are gravel and in decent shape. Like most older parks, the sites and turns are somewhat tight, but manageable. Less trees in this park make it easier to pull in and gives a more open feel.

None of the sites have meters, so electric is included in all rates. As Escapees members, we are paying $80 per week for a [an error occurred while processing this directive], 50 amp site. Unfortunately, they do not have wireless Internet. A large cell phone tower is visible on top of a nearby hill, so phone reception and cell-based Internet cards have full signal.

Road noise in the Escapees park is significantly less, though an occasional truck does pass by. A train about a half mile away makes its way through fairly regularly, including at night. I am a light sleeper, but the train is not loud enough to wake me up; I can hear the horn inside the RV if I am already awake.

Another nice amenity at the Escapees park is a hiking trail on the wooded hill. It breaks into three trails; a short 0.5 mile hike and the longest one just over one mile.

Jul 27: Back in a stick house

Yesterday we closed on our house and as of today, we are stick house dwellers once more. The RV and truck are up for sale (see the For Sale page), I am back in a regular computer job, and we are settling into the typical life.

Since this travelogue is about RV travel, this is going to be my last entry for now. When our baby gets a little older, we’ll be back in the market for a smaller trailer.

Thanks for following us on our adventure—it was shorter than we originally planned, but well worth the risks we took to make it happen. Over and out.

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Original founder and writer for Changin' Gears. Former full-time RVer!

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