February 28th through March 22nd 2015 Texas Independence Day Celebration at Washington on the Brazos State Historical Park, Return to The Woodlands and another “It’s Always Something”

Texas Independence Day Celebration preparation had begun months ago and the final touches were being put in place by our Trustees and all of the staff. The trustees had worked hard and long hours setting up all the fire rings, roping off parking areas, setting out signs, chopping fire wood and delivering it to the proper area. Wrapped up against the wind and cold, they painted the education hall and event hall to house a local Mason’s meeting, windows were covered over to retain the mystic inside from escaping and meeting furniture set to specifics as required. All tasks were completed just days before the celebration.

John was to work at the farm and I was to help in our stocked-full-of-Texas gift shop as extra help.

The gift shop

As it were, the cold drove visitors into the center so I primarily sold hot beverages, keeping things flowing by bagging and refilling the shelves.  It suited me, keeping me happily moving all around greeting the celebration visitors. I was completely spent by the end of the day from all the activity but awoke ready to face the crowds the next day, even with the Texas weather being as uncooperative as possible for such an important celebration.

John helped in several areas on the farm, giving visitors the low down on what life was like in the 1850’s, what part pigs played for survival, the living conditions of Anson Jones’ slaves and his favorite (besides eating the farm cooked meals) was working with the Oxen under the guidance of Bruce, an employee.  Bruce stopped for a drink, 1850’s style, from a farm grown hollowed out gourd.

Bruce taking a water break

The second day was slow so I was able to visit the farm and get a shot of John walking  Slim, a Pineywoods Oxen, out of the farm pasture to the pasture next to LilyPad.

John and Slim down on the farm  Barrington Oxen Team

No rain the first day allowed local musicians to play inside and out.  The Lone Star String Band, a group of professionals, played in the visitors center and down on the farm.

More live music  Lone Star String Band

A giant team of Longhorn Oxen stood by the visitor center entrance and allowed celebrators a photo op.  They stood patiently for hours while people milled around them.

Team of Oxen

Several noted local authors came to sign their books; Sharon with The Burning of Brenham,

The Burning of Brenham, by Sharon

Garlyn with The Donkey Boy, Father Forgive Them and The Rachel Plummer Story

The Donkey Boy, Father Forgive Them, The Rachel Plummer Story, by Garlyn

and Laurie with Magnificent Sam.

Magnificent Sam, by Laurie

Our local bee keeper, Lorelei, brought displays,

Beekeeper, Lorelei

Paula the laundress and Happi the soap maker gave demonstrations,

Laundress demonstration, by Paula Soapmaking, by Happi

our neighbor and fellow volunteer Richard was a period interpreter and was showing off his mug made from real horn,

Richard, our volunteer neighbor

and a whole group of Interpreters shared stories of 1850’s adventures while throwing back a cold one (soda) at the Inn.

Reenactors Relaxing in the tavern

The second day had fewer visitors so John and I were able to take a break and walk the area, visiting some of the farm demonstrators.  Dave the blacksmith was an entertaining fellow with impressive forging skills.  Using period style tools, he fashioned dozens of cooking and hardware items, then used a copper rod to demonstrate the making of a tiny masterpiece.

Dave the Blacksmith  Dave heating the metal Dave with copper rod

The resulting awesomely beautiful copper leaf was presented to me to hang in LilyPad.

My Copper Leaf

In the Barrington Farmhouse, Betty was demonstrating tatting.

Tatting demonstration, by Betty

We wandered to the side field where the Texas Army was headquartered, complete with period tents, furnishings and all participants in period dress.

TX Army Camp Reenactors  TX Army Camp

The camp even had its own blacksmith for repairing wagons and making tools.

Cooking dinner at the camp

Along with their two canon’s which were fired off during the celebration, the group was living as they had back in the late 1800’s. Although they were scheduled to stay the weekend, the chilly soggy weather chased them all back to their “real world” homes.

Texas Army Artillery

An enjoyable celebration even with the never ending dampness that stayed both days.

The event marked the highlight of the preceding three months volunteering. Best part of the experience was the absolutely amazing staff…friendly and helpful…loved being in their company.

Packed up and ready to move on to our “home base”, we said our good-byes and departed, the drive being a few easy hours on smooth roads all the way to Rayford Crossing RV Resort. Home again, home again jiggety-jig.

Rayford Crossing RV Resort

Time to enjoy family and friends, revisit doctors, stock up on supplies and plan our next roadway direction. Our objective, to visit as many family and friends along our route as possible before reaching Massachusetts.

This time our “It’s Always Something” wasn’t even our fault but we are still stuck with part of the cost. Unless we find the exact mower that hit us and they admit to the accident, we will end up paying the $500.00 deductible for which we hadn’t planned. I argued that it would be covered for a car hit-and-run, but they came back with “a motorhome isn’t considered a car”. It would be covered if a vehicle hit a “sticks and bricks” house but they stated “because it is mobile, it is not considered a house”. Tried every conceivable scenario but all my arguments were lost causes. Ah, the joys of paying all that money to insurance companies just in case something happens, then having something happen and finding out you are not totally covered.

46 and one half inches high

Soon we leave the comfort of our familiar surroundings for the first leg of our trip. The music in my head starts softly a few days before our departure, picking up Willie’s smooth crooning words, On The Road Again.  When we leave Friday morning, the song will be pumped up so loud, the windows will vibrate as our wheels creep away from our site.  New England, here we come!

February 20th through February 27th, 2015 Johns Birthday, St. Francis Wolf Sanctuary

The beginning of our third year has brought many insightful realizations to our current way of life. Not surprisingly, I found that 30 days of minimal human contact other than John is my maximum. Spending countless evening hours alone on 300 acres is an overkill of solitude and the fantasy of living among wild things creeping around at night is not as attractive as I had once believed.

As our volunteer stretch draws to an end here at Washington on the Brazos, we begin the arduous task of planning the trip details for our next season of life in our rolling box. Thankfully we are already past the difficult undertaking of applying for, and entering into a contract with, the Federal Government, the Army Corps of Engineers. Our job will be working for Buffumville Dam in Massachusetts and has been finally granted us, paperwork signed, sealed and delivered. We are excited about meeting Ranger Jamie, our new head honcho. If our entertaining conversations with her on the phone are any indication of her personality, we are going to get along wonderfully and a good time will be had by all. Three other couples will be working and living near us for our five month job beginning the 15th of May and ending the 15th of September. We will be allowed to spend an extra week before our tour of duty and an extra week after for no cost. Nice perk!

John’s 68th birthday was celebrated with our daughter driving out to visit us “down on the farm” and a first for John, a trip to Brenham’s awesome creamery, Blue Bell Ice Cream. Decades ago I had taken both kids when on a Girl Scout outing and then again when I was home schooling. John never was able to tag along.

John's birthday at Blue Bell

The tour is now six dollars per person, up from “free” a few decades ago but at the end, instead of a small sample, you get an enormous scoop of one of their 13 flavors. If you can’t decide, ask for a taste of several and you’ll get nice rounded sample spoonful. If you have room for a second scoop it’s only one dollar.

We were very impressed with this little creamery, starting out with one small delivery truck and now standing alongside the big boys, Dryers and Breyers and keeping up with them nicely in sales. Many of the employees that began decades ago have generations of family members that continue to work for Blue Bell.  The day was so dreary and overcast that I took a few pictures from the internet to post.  Below is their first delivery truck.

Blue Bell ice cream factory visitor center

Nikki, our tour guide, was fun and full of interesting facts. She also inserted just enough cheesy dairy jokes to keep us moaning once her words were understood by us all.  Picture of the cow and milkmaid are from the internet.  My pictures had dozens of little kids posing for their parents with not much of the cow or maid showing.

Blue Bell statue

The company is still run by the decedents of those responsible for its rise, beginning in 1907 and continuing on today. Closed on weekends so families can be together, all shifts are home by 8pm. Each of the line positions are rotated every 40 minutes to keep spirits high and the break room is stocked with a freezer full of their awesome blue bell ice cream, as much as wanted for free! No pictures of the employees area are allowed but we received smiles, waves, dances and were shown the contents of what was being poured into vats at each viewing through the tour windows.

Next morning we met up at Cozy Grape Wine Bar and Bistro in Montgomery, Texas for what we hoped was an upscale dining experience before visiting Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. This small eatery did not disappoint. Local art décor, comfortable seating and wonderfully eclectic offerings like a combo eggs benedict of green eggs and ham, the green being pesto, alongside a crab cake benedict.

Cozy Grape Wine Bar and Bistro

On our way to the Wolf sanctuary, the weather cooled and misted over. We passed a Trail Ride gathering of wagons, horses and cowboys ready to continue their journey through to the Houston Rodeo in spite of the dampness.

Trail Riders

Once we arrived at the Wolf Sanctuary, two barking part Shepard dogs dashed to the fence, taking turns assessing our every move as we opened the gate. Our entrance was adjacent to their guarded territory or we would have been shown their sharp canine protective characteristics along with a few wolf fangs.

The warning

The whole area was covered with warning signs, most advising visitors that poking fingers through the fence would be considered a meat treat offering by the four legged guards.

Wolf Sanctuary

Inside we were met by our tour guide, a young man who had a past working with wild animals in zoos and private facilities across the United States. The wolf side quietly observed our movements but as we looked down the row progressing to the pure dog side, the restless pacing and activity turned hyper. Feeding time began with a wagon rolling out a feast of raw meat to fill stainless steel bowls, all secured to metal wire so the wolves would not grab them and run off.

Wolf feeding time

The wolf pack activity reached a frenzied state with yips and aggressive nipping at those on the bottom of the pecking order. Dinner was carefully slid through the narrow opening in the fence keeping fingers clear of the sharp fangs and took mere minutes to devour.  Next came the clean-up of waste, another carefully choreographed plan using two caregivers, one keeping a watchful eye on the moves of each of the caged occupants while the other picked up.

Partial Wolf side of kennel

After wolfing down dinner, our guide told the tale of how these wild animals came to the sanctuary, some from various now defunct refuges, some from private homes and others by accident. The “by accident” happened when animal control incorrectly labeled dogs that looked like wolves. In Texas it is illegal to own a wolf unless one has the proper sanctions and licenses. Those said to be part wolf by owners are sent to the sanctuary, their fate sealed, spending the rest of their life in a sanctuary as the cost to decipher their lineage is not affordable for the sanctuary.

Tala and Remus  Liam, Wolf

We were able to meet two of the full timers, Tala and Tracker, Tala being the ambassador for the sanctuary, Tracker being “in training”. Tala sniffed us on the first go round, then we were allowed to pet her gently. Note her wolf attribute, paws placed one directly in front of the other when walking.

Tala half wolf  John and Tala

Tracker was much friendlier, stopping to lick several of the visitors and paused for several moments to groom John’s beard and verbalize how much he was enjoying the task.  Sadly the camera refused to focus on John as he was seated next to me and we were told not to rise from our seats during the experience.  A picture of the look on John’s face during the cleaning would have been priceless.  Astonishment is an understatement.  Tracker

After the tour, a walk back to the car in the damp air and soggy grass, a quick stop at WalMart for groceries and to watch the giant masses of birds swarm all over the cars,

The Birds at Walmart

warming up with the heater turned up full blast and arriving at the farm in time to view our backyard sunset. All was quiet except for Chrissie growling at our back window and the sound of our pack of yipping coyotes roaming around the park.  Howling would begin as soon as the sun set and continue on after darkness took over the park.

Sunset in our backyard

January 26th through February 19th 2015 Washington on the Brazos and Burton Cotton Gin

This past month our adventures have been seriously curtailed. Volunteering twice a week, hastily up and back for visits to family in Conroe in-between performing necessary daily chores and fixing the inevitable “It’s Always Something” that breaks around LilyPad on our days off. It is amazing how many things pop up to keep one from venturing outside the immediate Navasota area. We squeezed in just enough detours in the “same old, same old” mix to keep ourselves, what some might consider, sane.

Weather, warm or cold, rain or shine, has not kept groups and families from coming out to visit Washington on the Brazos State Historical Park and all this beautiful 300 acres has to offer. Living in the parking lot avails us the view of visitors going to and fro across the front of LilyPads nose. The influx of people cause Chrissie to growl more often at our back window and this morning she broke out into a donkey braying hee-haw sound after growling didn’t produce the anticipated results. Not one to give up, she is still as determined to get to the other field as the rangers are to keep her out.

Dinner out tonight at our favorite hole in the wall Mexican eatery, Eric’s in Navasota. Returning to Washington on the Brazos and exiting the car to close the gate behind us, realized that it had been badly damaged on one side and was unable to shut properly. Looking as though someone had snagged it and pulled the main bar of the gate out, bowing it substantially. I was concerned as that was not its condition when we closed up the previous night. This is a steel gate and would be difficult to damage by accident.

Our front gate

We slowly and carefully drove through the park with high beams and our 300 lumen flashlight, checking each and every corner of the park. We are alone again, one volunteer couple gone, unable to complete their season due to a family emergency and the other gone for the week to take care of personal business. Uncomfortable feeling, especially when there has been a rash of robberies in our neighborhood, surprising considering the town of Washington is a one blink town. As sunset passed into night, I slept uneasily with one eye open.

Sunset Disappearing

Next night, after escorting a family out of the park after dark, I stayed awake catching up on Facebook family happenings and emails. John was snoring. Sound on the computer was off. 7 knocks, spaced a few seconds apart, on the outside of the rig, starting from the back and working their way to the front. I walked to the front and listened, hearing muffled sounds. Hairs on the back of my neck prickled and I made a dash to the back to wake John. Explained the situation, he said “call 911 and get the bear spray”. We turned on the outside lights and moved our spot light around in front. Not a soul in sight at the front of the rig. All noises stopped as we stood still in our PJ’s waiting for the sheriff to arrive. To our relief, two pulled up with bright headlights and spot lights surveying the area. They checked around the outside and, for the very first time in our years of travel, told us we would be wise to get a gun. Another uncomfortable feeling. Never found out what made the noise although they found three neighboring escaped horses wandering around the farm. Not unless those horses sprouted knuckles did I believe they were the cause of the knocks on the outside of our rig.

Next morning I considered what other protection might make an agreeable alternative. Looking up bear spray, I realized that if I shot it off inside LilyPad I would not only shock the aggressor, but it would completely shut down my lungs! The spray is absolutely not to be used indoors and I imagine spraying inside our box on wheels would compound the negative effects. Hmmm, don’t want a gun, can’t use bear spray…maybe I’ll look into Tasers.

After several consecutive days of rain and cold weather and the possibility of a sunny day in the near future, we planned a road trip to Burton TX, home of the oldest working cotton gin in the country, very much hoping to coincide our visit with a warm sunny day.

Arriving in Burton, another tiny “don’t blink” town just past Brenham, we arrived at the Gin just in time to see a Burton antique car collector pulling into the parking lot to avail her car to a local political hopeful for a photo op.

TX Cotton Gin Museum

Starting with a wander through the museum, the tour is approximately 1-1/2 hours long and very entertaining.

Cotton Gin Museum  Family of cotton pickers

The tour was led by a volunteer who’s family owned cotton fields that used the gin so his experiences with the gin and growing cotton were first hand. In 1914 this two story corrugated metal-clad building was constructed without blueprints by German descendent farmers.

The Cotton Gin  Cotton wagon

Wagons were pulled up to the “sucker” and the cotton was sucked up into the gin.  Tractors were used by the gin after the team was unhooked.

The Sucker  The gin's tractor

This cotton gin is the earliest known survivor of an integrated cotton ginning system that was used to process cotton, from wagon to bail, in continuous operation. The capacity was 7 bales per hour. The bails, by law, had to be a certain size but no certain weight. The goal was to have the bails weigh in at 500 pounds or more or the buyers paid less per bail.

The gin’s machinery was steam powered until 1925 when an oil engine was installed. This 125 HP Bessemer Oil Engine, which ran continuously from 1925 until 1974, still runs once a year to bail local cotton for the Burton Cotton Festival. The gin became a Texas historical landmark in 1988.

Bessemer Oil Engine

Over 60 years of operations, the Burton Farmers Gin maintained an excellent safety record, never having a serious accident with much credit for this fact given to the excellent group of managers.

The battery stands for the gin are known as the “Five-Eighty” meaning there are five Lummus Gin Stands with eighty blades each. The blades are responsible for pulling the cotton lint from the seeds and blowing it on down the line to be bailed.

Battery Stands   Battery Stand and Blade

The bailing turntable had two presses mounted on it allowing one bail to be strapped and pushed out while another was being pressed, tagged and sent out of the gin.  Cotton Bale Press   Rotation Wheel on the press   Cotton bale

Pressed, tagged, banded, weighed and pushed down the ramp, the cotton was either taken away by the owner, stored at the gin warehouse for sale or purchased by a buyer direct from the gin.

The metal tags were an important and necessary part of the ginning process.  From this tag, a buyer could tell where the cotton was grown, which farmer grew the cotton and what crop he was buying.  If he liked the cotton, he looked for this tag at sales.  If he wanted to stay clear, the tag would give him all the information he needed.

Bale tags

The remaining “trash” was blown into a holding container.  If the owner wanted it back, he could pull his wagon up under, dump the contents into the wagon and be on his way, all within a few minutes from the time he pulled up to the cotton sucker.

When the gin first operated, the trash was given back to the farmer to plow into their fields or to use as feed for his cattle. Later, when seed pressing became available, the seeds were sold for oil and the farmers took in a few extra cents for their wagon load.

Cotton trash collector  Cotton Trash

After the tour we saw a movie showing the Burton gin in action and the tour guide gave us a mini gin demonstration, complete with offering ginned seeds for planting and instructions on how to grow cotton.

On our way out, John tried on a cotton picking bag.  The bags held 200-250 pounds of cotton and were dragged through the fields until they were full before dumping them into the wagons.  Another way of life I would not have enjoyed.

John with a cotton picking sack

Our trip back was uneventful save for the awesome sun setting in the distance as we drove the rolling ribbons of asphalt back to the Farm.

Rolling hills road to the farm

January 15th through January 25th 2015, Life at Washington on the Brazos

Started the week off with the  sound of squishy four-legged mucking just shy of the back of our rig, waking our household. It signaled the movement of our Pineywoods cattle crossing from the left pasture to the far right pasture encouraged by our resident town of Washington “Trustees”, aka prisoners who work outside the prison. They had arrived early to do some fixin’ down on the farm.

I am surprised that the state and federal parks where we have volunteered previously have not taken advantage of local soon-to-be-released prisoners to help with the workload. It is a shame, as from what I have seen, they are polite, hard workers, friendly, willing to do whatever is asked of them and they have a guard supervising them at all times.

It is Saturday, our volunteer day and John’s favorite day.  Kelly is in the farm kitchen preparing a yummy chicken stew for the volunteers and staff at Barrington just as Anson Jones wife would have done using the farms poultry and fresh picked veggies and herbs back in the 1850’s.

Kelly cooking lunch

I completely missed our big event this week, photographing the butchering/grinding/salting of the meat of Barrington’s hog.  John was down-on-the-farm in period dress helping while I volunteered in the Visitor Center during the event. No present day items are allowed while volunteering at Barrington so John was unable to get photos but Ginger, one of our rangers, took pictures.

BEFORE YOU VIEW THESE PICTURES, PLEASE NOTE…YOU WILL SEE PICTURES OF A SLAUGHTERED HOG.  BACON, PORK LOIN AND PORK CHOPS COME FROM A DEAD BUTCHERED HOG, JUST AS IT DID BACK IN THE 1850’S.

In keeping with the spirit of authenticity of an 1850’s farm, the hog was killed and brought to the butchering table at the farm.  The public is invited to watch the entire two day procedure.  The process begins with a dip in the boiling pot to scald and help remove the hair.

Scalding pig

The skin is then scraped to remove as much hair as possible.

Removing the hair

Next the hog is hung by the back hock tendons,

Ready for hanging

gutted and beheaded.  The beheading is somewhat gross so I left out the picture of the bloody hog head and entrails in the wheel barrel.

Removing entrails

After being cut up and brined in salt for several weeks, the pieces are put in the smokehouse and smoked for a month.

smokehouse at Barrington

And that, my friends, is how this little piggy goes from a farm animal, to that salty crispy flavorful breakfast food known as bacon.

After two years of living in a box on wheels, loud odd noises become the norm and you attempt to ignore all but the strangest. Early this morning erupted a sound so obviously something gone amiss, not quite the sound of struggling mechanical workings of LilyPad’s many systems, that I grabbed my camera and rushed outside in my PJ’s and slippers. Chrissie, a Texas Longhorn and the only bovine with which I have become familiar, was loudly proclaiming her displeasure two feet from our bedroom window. Deep throated boisterous growling, the closest description of the sound, was stubbornly being displayed. Apparently annoyed that the adjoining pasture was blocked just shy of the back of our rig, she became an opinionated heifer, not willing to overlook infractions of her wishes without comment .

Chrissy expressing her opinion

Special treat this morning.  Ruth, an archeologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, gave a presentation to all the park employees, volunteers and trustees.  The informational program and subsequent dig was to document any mixed matrix that might be found in the holes to be dug for the sign marking the demonstration kitchen building. The demonstration kitchen was built in the 1950’s to exhibit 1850’s wood fire cooking and Ruth had already determined that the site was most likely compromised.

WOB Demonstration kitchen Excavation site

With the help of our trustees, Ruth carefully dug down 4 inches, deposited the dirt onto the screen, trustees gave each shovelful sturdy shakes until only hard objects remained. The resulting objects were inspected, noted on paper, then deposited into plastic bags for microscopic inspection at a later date.

30 centimeter square Ruth describing the process

Each four inch deep, thirty centimeters square shovel test of screened excavated dirt revealed several pieces of Native American Indian pottery, brick chunks and “flakes” a.k.a. chips from arrowhead construction.

Trustee helping screen Trustee showing finds Pottery piece and brick

Although the dig was halted due to an obstruction, a 1950’s water pipe buried when the kitchen was built, several interesting pieces of history were presented to the group for inspection including a flake of obsidian.

Lots of finds

Our trustees crew work here at the farm on a regular schedule.  We had breakfast with them a while back and because they aren’t given sweets often, I watched them pile their plates with sweets after the meal.  Seeing how much they enjoyed the sweets, I sent two good sized bags filled with goodies over to the shed from which they work, happy to see them enjoying the goodies after all their hard work here at Washington on the Brazos.   For a full two weeks afterwards, I have gotten heartfelt thanks each time I pass them by. Yes, the incarcerations include murder but John and I are with them frequently, talk with them several times a week and have not once felt threatened in their midst. I’ve had lengthy employment positions subjecting me to circumstances far more frightening than volunteering near guarded, soon-to-be-released, criminals.

Another day, another addition to “it’s always something”. A rip and fray of our largest slide out cover will be replaced at Red Bay Alabama later this year, our five solar panels have been increasingly problematic and several nights of wicked winter wind here in Washington snapped and splintered our US and Texas flag pole attached to the back of our rig.  Our dark and deserted-after-six-pm farm is the perfect venue to perform scream therapy and release pent up frustrations into the night air.

Tonight we will escape the solitude of the farm and visit one of our favorite groups, Yelba Latin Fire Band.  Conveniently playing at Bernhardt Winery, John bought tickets for dinner and we bought a bottle of their reserve red wine for the two hours of shimmy shaking Latin music with songs from around the globe.  The band played samba, merengue, cha-cha-cha, tango and a hand clapping, foot tapping assortment of other Latin songs which were enjoyed by the movers and shakers on the dance floor as well as the audience.  This corporate ladder climber turned Latino songbird has showmanship down to a science and encouraged dancing in the isles, an offer taken up by several couples, growing into the majority after dinner.  Amazing music, relaxing fun night.

Yelba Latin Fire Band

I am not sure why this state park is so well staffed during the day and is availed to so many perks not seen in other state parks but John and I are completely enjoying the friendly staff and workers here at Washington on the Brazos. This is by far the most welcoming group of staff with which we have worked since the beginning of our rolling travels.

Traveled to Livingston, TX today and became a Texan once again. Thanks to the new health care laws, I must be a Texan or give up my mindfully fashioned association with the doctors I have enjoyed and trusted for over three decades. I have no intention of driving to South Dakota every time I need medical advice or procedures. Until I am 65, I will put up with the involuntary outrageous monthly charge for major medical. In this instance only, it sucks to be young.

We ended this week by returning to Chapel Hill to stroll through the town and check out the shops.  What appealed to me most was the amazingly ornate 1880’s iron gates attached to two of the buildings.  The eclectic gift shops were fun to explore and the day ended with a relaxing drive back to the farm.

Iron gate in Chappel Hill  Iron gate

December 16th through January 15th, 2015 Fanthrop Inn, Anderson TX, Exploring the Towns of Washington and Navasota

This being the launch of our third year of rolling down the road, weighing this life against “what was”, most days, “what was” wins. That also has a direct correlation to the frequency of my posts. Not in any way wanting to give the impression that this life is one big happy trek through the US, most days are spent just as before, taking care of whatever it is that needs to be addressed on our never ending list.

It has been unseasonably cold here in Washington, Texas. Having only 30 amp increases inconveniences and they have become the proverbial pebble in my shoe. Each 20 degree night is aggravatingly harder with which to deal. We have set up another heating system, one from a you-tube video. Primitive, but it does help.

flower pot radiant heater

Snarkyness has regularly slipped into my vocabulary, so much so that I have purchased a t-shirt that proclaims my ever increasing sentiments.

Sarcasm

Our “it’s always something” is multiplying to the point of financial inconvenience and far above reasonable with each incident. The reprieve of exciting new adventures has slowed to a snail’s pace now that we are volunteering in one place and I am ready to pack up and move into the first thing I see without wheels. Some days this life grows gigantic razor sharp fangs and I can feel them fast approaching my behind.  A sense of humor is mandatory for full-timing existence and often difficult to grasp.

Searching for a hole-in-the-wall diner led us to Filling Station Diner for breakfast. Flies greeted us at the door and stayed to join us for breakfast. Ignoring the lumpy seats we greeted the waitress with smiles and asked for coffee and a pot of hot water. My hot water pot came in the form of a large old plastic water glass, no coffee cup, no coffee for John. The young lady asked for our order, hubby said eggs over easy, pork chop medium and a biscuit. She repeated it back and then asked how he wanted his eggs, if he wanted toast or biscuit and if he wanted grits or potatoes. We smiled and John repeated his order again requesting coffee. When the coffee finally came, it stayed empty more than full. Our waitress came back asking if we needed anything, each time without bringing the pot! Food was just OK and prices were way high for what was served. Nothing here screamed “Y’all come back, ya hear?” Weeks later, we are still in search of a yummy local diner.

Diner

Fanthrop Inn was our exploration destination for today. The Inn is in Anderson TX, 17 miles away from Washington on the Brazos but still a part of Washington on the Brazos State Park. It is a relaxing drive through the fields of cattle country.

Downtown Anderson is one street long and familiar to John and I as we had both volunteered for a Woodlands Bike Club race in the area decades ago, me as corner marshal and John as a sweep car.

Anderson was once the fourth largest city in Texas with cotton and lumber being the draw. The court house stands mid road, streets running along each side for nearly a city block.

Anderson County Building

A few of the buildings are a century old with horse rein iron rings embedded into the cement walks out front. Only a few businesses remain, the Sunshine Seniors Center, a few Antique/Junque shops, a hardware store, the old hotel turned antique shop and unknown transitional businesses with newspaper covering up the windows.

Anderson Hotel turned Antique shop

The Inn is on a quiet dead end street at the other end of town. In its hay-day, the well-traveled La Bahia road abutted its frontal property.

Fanthrop Inn

The house was built in 1834 as part of a marriage condition set by Rachel, his prospective wife, to be completed before their marriage. It grew into an Inn when the couple were constantly having stage coaches stop to ask for shelter after the long jarring ride over the La Bahia road that fronted their home. It didn’t take long for Henry to realize that an Inn would bring in a nice profit.

Tom, the volunteer interpreter at the Inn, is a fascinating story teller who captures your attention with his Texas drawl and his ability to design each of his talks to interest both adults and children, availing a few hands-on tasks for the younger visitors.

As you step up to the breezeway, you disappear into the 1840’s and each area appears as if the patrons had momentarily stepped from the room. The house was built in dog-trot style as was popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries with the men’s card room, dining room and Henry and Rachel’s room on the first floor. Second floor contained the men’s multiple bed quarters, private rooms and private rooms for women with children.

Tom begins the tour with the Men’s Card Room. Poker playing cards are fanned out beside whiskey glasses and hunks of twisted tobacco lay out on table tops. Carpet bags propped haphazardly against walls waiting for their owners to trudge them up stairs for the night.

The Gentlemen's room

Henry and Rachel’s spacious bedroom is across the breezeway with Henry’s office attached to one end.

Henry and Rachel's room  Henry's office

Upstairs is the men’s sleeping room with the capacity of sleeping a half dozen men.  Often several slept together in one bed,

Mens multi sleeping room  Men's sleeping room

and down the hall, private rooms and women with children rooms.

Private room  Female Family Room

Only the cistern occupied the back area as the kitchen had caught fire and had not been rebuilt.

Water Cistern

Kitchens were built away from the house to keep heat out and those built with mud and timber chimneys often repeatedly burnt to the ground.

A long wide dining hall, the largest first floor room in the house, ran the length of the rooms above. Punkah fans attached to ropes were pulled by slaves to keep the flies off the food and cool the room. A huge pantry was at the back of the dining room.

Dining Hall Dining hall pantry

The original corn crib, which Henry had used to make his fortune, still stands out back. Henry was a business man and originally made his money buying the extra corn from local farmers, storing it in his corn crib until winter and selling it back at a profit after they ran short.

Corn Crib

Out front is the carriage house complete with a reproduction of a period stage coach. Pecan and Black Walnut trees shade the picnic tables just outside the carriage house.

Black Walnut and pecan

Tom gives us a demonstration of the period whip used to move the team that pull the coach. He invites us into the carriage and calls out to his team, rocking the coach as if we are on the move.

Fanthrop Inn Coach House Stage Coach

Available on Saturdays and Sundays, the tour made our top 10 “best” list.

After our tour, we walked the town streets and stopped at a log house built by slaves of an Immigrant. The Steinhagen Log House, built before 1860 was hand-hewed by slaves from local timber. The stone, doors and window shutters were all hand-hewed by slaves, the log walls are un-spliced. It became a Texas Historic Landmark in 1965 but little else is known about its inhabitants or its history.

Steinhagen Log House

Back at LilyPad the cold has seeped inside causing us to pull out more blankets and readjust use of anything electrical. Our generator is getting a work-out due to the less than adequate 30 amp connection. We will never, ever again, stay in a place where our site does not have 50 amp.

As the sun goes down, we pass the corner diner, R Place, to check it out for a possible future hang-out.  It is just outside the park gate and the owner is a friendly guy, our age bracket, offering beer, wine, ice cream, lunch and Prix Fixe dinners on the weekends.  We are welcomed in, chat for two beers and a handful of self cracked pecans, joining in on the conversation about turning the back acreage, that abuts the park, into a motorhome park.  As the night sneaks up and envelopes the setting sun, we head home, locking the gate and roping off Barrington’s entrance.  Both of us prepare for another night down on the farm.

R Place

November 1st through December 15th, Washington on the Brazos Hosts, Visitor Center and 1850’s Barrington Living History Farm Interpreter

Once again, settled in at Rayford Crossing RV Resort, doctor/dentist/eye doctor appointments are scheduled, friends are contacted to arrange visits and our kids put in their requests for family time.  Not exactly “home” but at least paused in one place for the next month.

We spent a pleasant family Thanksgiving visiting our son in Seabrook for a few days before packing up and pulling out in a gully washer downpour of Texas rain to arrive at our next volunteer experience in Washington, Texas.

Thanksgiving 2014

Passing through Navasota, the closest town to Washington, I am trying my best to refrain from judging this tired little town. It has a Walmart, of this I am thankful and I am hopeful that there will be some excellent prospects for yummy hole-in-the-wall diners. Cotton and the railroad created the wealthy that built and resided in the marvelous mansions tucked into the landscape along Main Street.

Navasota Home (2)  Navasota Home (3) Navasota Home  Navasota Home (4)

Washington is a one blink town with the biggest draw being a small unadorned post office…

Washington, TX Post Office

unless you consider the only Forbes five-star dining experience in the state, Inn At Dos Brisas, an attraction.  The 313 acre Relais & Chateaux luxury inn, priced for the enjoyment of those richer-than-God Texas tycoons, distances it’s self monetarily by eons from the rest of the town’s dining choices.

Inn at Dos Brisas

As we pull into the park, tree branches scrape LilyPad’s solar panels. After backing into the back of the parking lot, our home for the next three months at Barrington Living History Farm, we soon learn that 30 amp is all the elderly wiring will muster. For the next three months we must live in singulars, turning only one electrical appliance on at a time.  We have the ability to use only one of our three a/c units, hot water is available only if our floor heaters are turned off and we will expect brown and black outs, as experienced last time we tried to live on 30 amp, on a regular basis.  From roughing it smoothly, as our Tiffin mantra denotes, to just plain roughing it.  Because of our 13.6 clearance, no other site is accessible to us. I’m a little frustrated that we must “make do” once again and somewhat exasperated having to live so restricted electrically as we begin our next venture, volunteering at Washington on the Brazos, the birthplace of Texas.

Washington on the Brazos Entrance Our Washington on the Brazos site

John will be dressed in period clothing and will volunteer at Barrington Living History Farm, just a few steps out our front door, and I will volunteer at the Visitor and Information Center.

John at Barrington Living Farm Visitor Center

The park closes at dusk and no other human is present on the multi hundred acres until next morning. No police, sheriff or rangers cruise the park after dusk. We lock the front gate and string the rope across the farm entrance road after sunset.  Our nighttime neighbors are  coyotes, a herd of deer and assorted unknown shadowy four legged night creepers.  Tonight, under the full moon, John answered the mournful howls of the coyotes.  As their chorus grew in volume, I was sure John had unintentionally invited them to our house for dinner so we climbed into LilyPad and closed our door tight against the dark and fast approaching sorrowful wailing.

Our herd of deer Our first sunset

Normally, total solitude is embraced and not in the least stressful.  The exception came when John read me the history of Navasota from early 1800’s up to present day when it included murders and drive by shootings, drugs/money/illegal gambling machines being found at the local tattoo and nail salon 100 yards from the police station, armed drug dealing gangs operating in the area, ATF agents converging on the town and seizing crack cocaine, 21 area residents being arrested for drug trafficking and weapons/stolen property being recovered as recently as 2012. We’ve been told that the ATF and Texas Rangers have brought law and order back to this minimally populated vintage western town and this information has somewhat eased my concerns.

We have settled in, both of us enjoying the experience of working with the staff here at Washington on the Brazos.  Cold weaves through the park. The blankets of fallen leaves reveal the shift that is brought into multicolored focus every autumn. Each falling leaf brings the landscape closer to dormancy. The nuts of the La Bahia Pecan trees have fallen and are picked up by scavenging holiday bakers and the local furies.  Nighttime temperatures drop, and in the morning, frost covers the ground as the earth begins its rest for winter once again.

Texas La Bahia Pecan

Barrington Living History Farm was the home of the last president of the Republic of Texas, Dr. Anson Jones. Built in 1884 and moved several times, the house is original but the remaining buildings on the farm are only representative of that era.  The farm was built to the specifications of the descriptions in Anson’s journals.

Farm Office

The main house, a dog trot style clapboard primitive Greek Revival, fitted with typical period furnishings, is the centerpiece of the farm.  Two enclosed rooms on either side of the open “dog trot” area makes the house seem expansive.

Anson Jones Farmhouse

The farm is set up with the garden and chicken coop out back, the oxen field is to the side, the kitchen is directly in back of the dining room, the pig sty is across the larger garden next to the barn and all surrounding the house within easy access.  No bathroom…they used the trees surrounding the house as was typical of even the wealthier families.

The open area between the bedrooms and living space was cooler than the enclosed rooms and on hot humid Texas summer days, the furniture was pulled into that open area to take advantage of the cool breezes.

The masters room is in front of the house with an extra room in back for adult family members.  One corner was reserved for the learning center.

Anson Jones bedroom  Spare bedroom  Children's games and toys

The dining room is in back near the kitchen with the living room in front.  All were heated by wood burning fireplaces.

Dining room  Living room spinning wheel

Surrounding the house is the smoke house,

Smoke House

both slave quarters, one built in an inexpensive fashion with a wood chimney lined with mud and a dirt floor

Older Slave Quarters and garden Inside older slave quarters Older slave quarters beds

and one built resembling how Anson would have had it built after he had became more affluent, with a stone chimney and wood floors.

Newer Slave Quarters  Inside newer slave quarters

The kitchen was built away from the main house to keep heat away.  Kitchens also had the habitual habit of catching fire and burning to the ground.  Kelly, one of the interpreters, stands in the doorway keeping warm by the fire.

The Kitchen The main house kitchen

Both the main house and the slaves had gardens.

The main house garden

Anson’s slaves worked the fields raising corn and cotton.  John demonstrates how a pound of cotton, about the size of a basketball, was measured.

Cotton Bin  A pound of cotton

The barn was used for storage much like our present day garage.  Animals were not kept in the barn.

The Barn

Ben, another interpreter, is demonstrating the use of period tools and a wooden vice to make dowels.  The tools hang on the barn wall behind him.

Ben shaving wood  Woodworking tools

The Farm takes on a desolate guise in the Texas winter. Gopher mounds and fire ants spread quickly across the farms landscape without the freezing weather to force down their population.  Each area of the farm is sectioned off by fences made in 1850’s style.

1850's fencing

The farm functions just as it had in the 1850’s complete with butchering a hog in January, salting it in wood barrels, smoking it in the smoke house for 30 days and making sausage.  Most of the process is open to the public.  The farms sausage, cornmeal and greens are cooked over fires in cast iron pans and consumed by Barrington’s volunteers each Saturday.  Because of the yummy homemade meal, Saturday quickly became John’s favorite volunteer day.

The animals are the same Spanish breeds that existed while Anson lived on the farm.  Pineywoods cattle,

Pineywoods   Pineywoods Oxen

Ossabaw Island hogs,

The Pig Pen  Ossabaw Hog

Cochins and Araucanas chickens,

Chicken coop

and our favorite, a rooster named Cramer, who crows each time a visitor passes his male chicken declared kingdom,

Cramer the chicken

and one lone Spanish Black turkey.

Our Lone Turkey

We learned that the working cattle on the farm are called Oxen and differ from regular cattle only by the fact that they have been trained for four years to wear a yoke, respond to commands and plow fields.  The farm also has longhorns.

Pineywoods Cattle  Pineywoods

Texas history is as stubborn and proud as its first settlers, reverently called the Old 300. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexican authorities organized Anglo immigration from the US asking only that these settlers convert to Roman Catholics, live by Mexican laws, pledge allegiance to Mexico and be responsible for their own safety.

In 1824 the state of Coahuila y Tejas was formed by the new Mexican constitution. The Mexican Government closed the boarders to immigrants that were flowing into the state of Coahuila y Tejas in 1830. When Santa Ana became dictator, he repealed the Mexican constitution of 1824 removing all remnants of states rights and left the settlers frustrated and eager to declare their independence. Santa Ana quickly gathered armies to crush the revolt. By 1834 there were over 30,000 Anglos living in Coahuila y Tejas.

The town of Washington was chosen as the site for the 1836 Convention. Although Washington was a small town catering to farmers, it was centrally located, on the well-traveled La Bahia road and convenient to the Brazos River.  Because the convention was offered a new building with free use, the town was capable of feeding the Texas Delegates and had ample boarding houses in the area, they gathered to write the declaration of independence from Mexico and to form the Republic of Texas.

Birthplace of Texas  Inside the hall

The declaration was written by George Childress patterned after the United States of America declaration and his statue stands at the entrance to the education Center by the Visitors Center.

Childress

Although the delegates were aware that Santa Ana was leading his armies to fight the uprising at the Alamo, they continued their deliberations. While the delegates hashed out their declaration of independence from Mexico, the Alamo fell to Santa Ana’s soldiers and by the time word reached Washington that the Alamo was under siege, American hero’s James Bowie, David Crockett and William Travis had already fallen along with hundreds of Texian patriots that fought by their sides.

In 1899 Brenham schoolchildren under the leadership of Superintendent E. W. Tarrant erected a monument to mark the site of Independence Hall, where the Texas declaration of independence was signed.

Children’s Monument to Independence Hall

Tonight is Barrington Living History Farm’s Christmas program. John is dressed appropriately in 1850’s attire and is in charge of keeping the hundreds of period candle lanterns lit. I was to work as a greeter keeping the Wassail and cookies refilled for the over 300 visitors that will pass over the bridge into an 1850’s Texas Christmas Celebration. Unluckily the smoky fires that surrounded the farm complex sent me back to LilyPad and John volunteered without me.

The celebration was complete with period musicians, a Yule Log burning near the slave quarters, the farms fireplace was glowing and rooms were beautifully adorned with live holly, volunteers dressed in period clothing and performed skits of 1850’s celebrators, storytellers told tales of Christmases past, the preacher gave short sermons blessing everyone and farm workers fired bullet-less period firearms. The gaiety lasted until well after 9pm with a pot luck dinner ending the program.

In the days that followed the celebration, visitors to the park were scarce as Christmas drew near.  Our days off were spent cleaning, doing laundry and driving into the “big city” of College Station, nearly an hour away, for supplies.

Tonight at dusk, after our nightly rounds, the tree next to LilyPad became heavily populated by a parliament of owls having serious and lengthy conversations with their peers in nearby trees.  Even our presence directly under the tree did not interrupt them.  As we readied for bed, the conversation continued and we fell asleep listening to faint hoots bouncing between the trees that surround LilyPad.

October 20th through 30th 2014 Bryce Canyon, travels from Kanab Utah to Arizona, New Mexico and Back Home to Texas.

Friday, a day of relaxation and another shot at the Bucket List, hiking up Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon National Park for a second time,then reversing to a downward path for a walk among the hoodoo’s.

Bryce Canyon, UT

Bryce Canyon was named for Ebenezer Bryce, an immigrant from Scotland who moved with his family to the Paria River Valley in 1875. His skill as a carpenter was prized enough by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to send him to settle the area. Local’s called the strange rock formations near Ebenezer’s home “Bryce’s Canyon” and to this day, people continue to call this area Bryce Canyon.

With KatieBug snug in her crate, we drove around the rim to each of the Points, all of us hiking up to admire the views.

Sunrise Point

Sunrise Point

Sunset point

Sunset Point

Bryce Point

Bryce Point Bryce Point far right

Bryce Point rim and close up of the hikers on the rim

Bryce Point distance view Bryce Point Closeup

Praia View

Paria View

Rainbow Point

Rainbow Point Rainbow Point (2)

Agua Canyon

Agua Canyon

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge (2)

Hoodoos are pinnacles, spires or odd-shaped rock left standing by the forces of erosion. I find them the most fascinating of mother nature’s structures. Multicolored sandstone, rising hundreds of feet above their bases, they are wonders that will indefinitely leave me amazed.

Among the hoodoos

Hoodoos and close up of people walking the paths

Hoodoo viewers Hoodoo viewers close up

Mossy Cave, walking among the hoodoo’s

Mossy cave walk amoung the HooDoos

It was a struggle being on meds and short of breath to scale the mount leading to Inspiration Point but determination forced me up to the 8,100 foot top to peer out at the never ending view of colorful hoodoo’s.  John hiked ahead cheering me on.

Inspiration Point trail

Considered sacred lands by Mormon and American Indian cultures, it becomes eminently clear as to the reason the moment you draw in your first breath from the Point and gaze out into eternity.

Inspiration Point1 Inspiration Point 2

Exiting the park, an open field was home to dozens of prairie dogs that popped their heads up out of their holes and made mad dashes across the fields.

UT Prairie Dog

Homeward bound, we passed an RV park with a wonderful old truck turned RV at its gate.

Mountain Ridge RV Park

Decades old homesteads left standing, sprung up from wagons traveling west, pioneers living off the land in hand hewn log cabins, gathering together for safety.

Old Homesteads

The late afternoon sun lighting up Mt. Carmel mountains.

Mt Carmel, UT

Mt. Carmel Junction’s infamous Thunderbird Diner and their Ho-Made pies

Ho Made Pies, Mt Carmel, UT

Deciding to leave Best Friends Animal Sanctuary a day early, we offered our site to our Sanctuary neighbor from last year who was parked up at Dog Town. Volunteering each year for several months, he comes in his cab over truck camper and happily fills in holes dug by the dogs, clears brush and clips back overgrowth.

Come morning, we begin our journey back to Texas,drawing near the end of our second year of travels in our rolling box, both of us remain alive, some days happily married and relatively sane.

Awoke to Fila Brazil, “Get A Move On”. Everything that must go on the bed is made ready…pictures off the wall, towels from the racks, extra blankets from the counter, shoes must go in trays, small appliances not able to fit in cupboards.  Shake out rugs and roll them up, clear everything off counters, rubber band cabinets, lock down, store and put away anything that moves. Pull in slides, open shades, raise jacks, start engine, hook-up Ribbit. Almost, not quite, done completed while we are on auto pilot. Check and double check as carelessness can be very costly. Next pause, a day away, Holbrook Arizona. Ribbit’s pump was still malfunctioning so again with the continuation of loud non-stop buzzzzzzzing.

Holbrook, our overnight in AZ, was an unassuming little town just outside of the Petrified Forest off Rt. 66. The train near our RV site was determined to let everyone within miles know that it was coming down the tracks so the whistle blew every 15 minutes until way past my bedtime.

Sunset in Holbrook, AZ

Up early, another day of continual noise from Ribbit’s pump for the eight hour drive. Can’t be fixed so it must be endured until we reach the REMCO dealer in Albuquerque. Another “It’s always something” was the loud rattle of the sideboard cabinets installed last year that had broken free from the wall and were bouncing with every road dip we encountered. This was going to be a noisy headachy day.

Travel along I-40 through Arizona and New Mexico takes you past numerous American Indian Reservations, the largest being the Navajo Reservation.Navajo Reservation, AZ Arizona

A long stretch of miles, few scenic views, irregular sightings of old disheveled billboards, paint distressed beyond recognition, announcing the coming of a long ago deserted Indian gift shop occasionally attached to a gas station lacking the ability to sell gas.

Indian Markets, AZ  Indian Gift Shop, AZ

With each small patch of mobile home communities we passed, traditional hogans, spiritual Navajo dwellings constructed with exact specifications, sit in reverence among the homes. Requirements include doors facing east and floors to be dirt. At least two specifications not difficult to fulfill considering the available landscape.
Hogan  Hogan (2)

Hogan (3) Hogan (4)

It is hard for me to imagine living in the desert among the dry withered scrub brush, constant wind blown dust and rock scape as far as the eye can see.  Harder still to imagine living in a Teepee.

TeePee, AZ

After pulling into Albuquerque and settling in at the KOA we searched out our previously contacted REMCO service provider and made plans for the repair.

Next morning we dropped off our rolling duo, the owner loaned us his Camry to drive for the day and we moseyed off to Old Town for a little country breakfast and sightseeing.

Albuquerque’s Old Town has been the focal point of community life since it was founded in 1706 by Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdez. It is the Historical Zone of the City of Albuquerque and home for many families whose ancestors founded the town.  One of the first homes, Casa De Armijo built in 1706, graciously lends its covered frontage to entrepreneurs of handmade silver jewelry displayed on colorful Mexican blankets offered to tourists strolling around the square.

1706 Casa De Armijo

Quaint and architecturally fascinating, the square is the center of approximately ten blocks of historic adobe buildings turned art, antique and dining establishments.

Shops on the square   Hand forged antique iron shop

Centuries old hand hammered wrought iron and hand hewn wooden doors and window frames adorned many of the buildings.

Hand forged iron guard  Hand carved door of an art gallery

Brick lined side streets wind into courtyards bursting with floral color and local cacti.

Side street courtyards

Spicy scents drift into the main footpaths from slivers of alleyways while bright banners announce the promise of a festival atmosphere shopping experience.

Chili Alley  Side street shopping

The north side of the plaza is home to the oldest building, continuously serving as a house of prayer for nearly 200 years.  San Felipe de Neri church built in 1793 is beautifully simplistic and a cool peaceful respite on a warm day.

San Felipe de Neri Church  1793 church interior

KatieBug enjoyed visiting with the children in the square and posing for Kodak Moments.

KatieBug in Old Town Square, Albuquerque

Our explorations of the area resulted in stumbling across the entrance to a tiny vibrantly Spanish chapel being exited by several scarfed devotees.   The entrance held just enough room to kneel and pray to the Virgin Mary.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel-entrance

Further inside, reverent monotone colors and a quiet spot to be at peace with God.   Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel alter

Returned the Camry, picked up LilyPad and Ribbit, next morning we departed Albuquerque with the surrounding Sandia Mountains draped in clouds, fog and a low buzz harmonizing with our satellite radio music. Bumps seemed to give it strength.  Better after the repair but still ongoing, we paused to call REMCO again, pick up suggested parts, attempted to install them, drive another hour, call the repair shop for suggestions, stop for more parts, install them and finally halt our travels at a rest stop, cranking up Ribbit’s engine to let it run while we drive the balance of our trip. Not the recommended towing procedure and far from the perfect solution but stopping hourly along our travels to let Ribbit cool down should soften any damage.

I-40 and Rt. 66 took us past The El Rancho Hotel in Gallup New Mexico opened in 1937 as a base for movie productions. Its motto: The Charm of Yesterday with the Convenience of Tomorrow. Falling into decline after the opening of I-40, it was bought and restored by Armand Ortega. Originally built by the brother of film director D.W. Griffith, it is located on historic old U.S. Route 66 and became the temporary home for many Hollywood movie stars including Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman, Spencer Tracy, Kirk Douglas, Katharine Hepburn, Jackie Cooper and John Wayne. Movies made in the area spanned from 1940’s to 1950’s and included Streets of Laredo 1948, Fort Defiance 1950, The Hallelujah Trail 1964.

Gallop, NM

Blue Collar Radio, enjoying the funnies as we roll across yet another desert with occasional kitschy petrified rock and fake looking dinosaur statue adorned gift shops.

The Yin and Yang of eight hours of motorhome travel through the barren desert, having a toilet on board so you don’t have to pee behind cactus on the side of the road.

New Mexico

At first, looking off to the side, it seems the Department Of Transportation had abandoned miles of an old unused asphalt road, leaving it to the whims of desert downpours and shifting earth. A closer look revealed split open cracks with plants struggling to squeeze themselves through the parched dirt and black volcanic rock, not asphalt, that makes up the majority of the land.

Lava Flow, NM  Lava Flow, NM (2)

Due at Rayford Crossing RV Resort in two days, we drove the whole day, stopping at our favorite no cost RV Park, Childress Wal-Mart Parking Lot, for an overnight.

Walmart RV Park

Continuing on the next morning until nightfall to arrive in time for the Chili Cook-off and a meet-up with Tiffin friends from past years gatherings. Family, friends, doctor appointments and planted in one spot for the next month.  Life is Good.

October 10th through 19th, 2014 Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Kanab Utah, Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, Utah

Leaving the deserts of Las Vegas, after never stepping foot in even one casino for the first time in 30 years, we began working our way up to the most splendid scenic views in the country.  Leading my list of most awesome are Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Along the way, signs warning us of falling rock.  Gigantic boulders perched precariously at the edge of plateaus on the brink of tumbling down mountains with the slightest encouragement from melting snows or a good old gulley washer.

Falling Rocks (2) Falling Rocks

Kanab, known as the Greatest Earth on Show has a majestic 360 degree view like no other. Our home for the next 10 days is one of two sites available on Best Friends Animal Sanctuary grounds. Their sites include level cement RV pads, each with full hook-ups, incredible views of the sandstone canyon, picnic table on brick patio and are located just up the road from where we volunteer.  If you look real close, you can see the square back of LilyPad’s hinny in the narrow dark green strip of spruce trees.

Best Friends RV site Our site full view

We passed on the tour this year but all newbie’s should invest in the hour van ride around the Sanctuary. You will be amazed at the reach this Sanctuary has on our country’s rescue organizations and homeless animals. The tour is a great first step in learning what is being done to “save them all”. An enticing benefit for volunteers is Angel Canyon café with its $5.00 all-you-care-to-eat vegan lunch and an awe inspiring view to enjoy while chatting with staff and other volunteers.

View from Angels Cafe

On our first evening, we drove up to the plateau to catch the sunset.

Sunset on the plateau

This year we planned to be with the piggy’s in the morning and dogs in the afternoon. Volunteering between Old Friends, senior dogs and their quirky personalities and Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, full up with recently rescued piglets from a closed down local breeder and Dog Town where John walks dogs and scoops poop.

John and I love volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. They provide homes to approximately 1,700 animals including puppies, dogs, elder dogs, kitties, cats, piggy’s, goats, sheep, horses, parrots and other birds, rabbits and small rodents, and small specialty animals. No matter what you love to hug, you will find it waiting here just for you to love on!

The Sanctuary also has a memorial grounds where you can bring your pets remains to be buried in Angel Canyon. It’s a beautiful peaceful spot with dozens of benches to stop and reflect while gazing out over the sandstone canyon. Wind chimes are scattered throughout the grounds and with the sound and the view, they create a comforting atmosphere.

First day we registered, watched the required movie then drove to the piggy’s. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to interact with them all! We prepared the food and fed the elder pigs first. Very grumpy until they got their food, becoming distant afterwards and wanting to plop down and rest immediately after pigging down breakfast.  Prepared food for the general population next. Sizes ranging from 300 pound PJ, who required a guard so the other piggy’s didn’t take his food, down to the 100 pound recently rescued piglets.

Guarding PJ's food DSC_8423

We stood outside and dropped the food into dozens of trays while they all stampeded from one tray to the next.

Breakfast The pig compound

Last came breakfast for Nick and Holly, two wild boar mixes. They were fed by the horse caregiver, also named Holly, and she stands about 5’6” tall which gives you an idea of their size.

Holly and Holly

They had just broken their care giver’s leg, getting in an unexpected bite after being frightened, so no one was allowed into their feed and play area. Both seemed friendly enough while we were on opposite sides of the enclosure. After chow down, they wandered to the fence and grunted at us but they were not domesticated and wild boars are normally not approachable so we kept clear of both the piggy’s and their electrified fence.

Nick Holly

After washing dishes it was piggy loving time. Pigtoid: Petting piggy bristle massages your palms and is calming to humans and pigs. Sat on the ground, snouts checking us out between playing tug-o-war games with the heavy duty feed bags and head butting each other.

Bag tug o war Piggy petting

The mini-piglets weren’t interested in socializing with us humans but did pause long enough for a quick pat. The older pigs walked cautiously up, snout running along the pant legs of our jeans then immediately plopped over on their side as soon as you began belly rubbing.

Belly rubs

The prize pig of the group was a handsome boy named Rupert. Favorite of the head honcho, he was allowed to roam around greeting volunteers as was his buddy Jack.  Rupert’s talented nose is the hit of fund raisers, offering his “face paintings” for sale each year.

Rupert Face Painting  Jack, the Welcoming Committee

A smarty pants as well, he was taught to sit, which is not a natural stance for pigs.

Sit Rupert

Our afternoon was spent at Old Friends walking dogs but the constant dust clouds from cars zooming down the dirt road next to the kennels wiped out my lungs and I had to withdraw from the next two days of volunteering. Stayed indoors, on meds, gazing out at the canyon and relaxing.

Grocery shopping in Kanab is slim pickens with only two choices but we love Honey’s with their funny talking truck outside the front door and the interesting people we run into in the store.  This year we parked next to a parrot waiting patiently on a steering wheel for it’s person.

Honey's Mader Pick em up How much is that birdy in the window

Kanab is an old Western movie making town and most of the sightseeing happened for us last year.  The former history of filming Westerns is kept alive by the citizens with several great museums, diners like the Rocking V that serves authentic Southwestern foods  with exciting twists, the Parry Hotel standing in much the same condition as it did in the 30’s with dozens of Western stars and their autographs covering the walls and a renovated 30’s structure that houses the Herb Basket, a health products store, Jake’s Chaparral Restaurant and an event hall.  Jake’s makes the first fried avocado strips with Ranch dipping sauce that we had ever tasted.  Excellent appetizer.

Downtown and Rocking V Fried Avocado

Some of Kanab’s citizens lived in fabulous Victorian homes that eventually began to deteriorate. In 1974 Dr. George R. Aiken was instrumental in gathered townspeople together to restore the Heritage House. Build in 1894 for Henry Eyring Bowman by master builder John Rider, this property was returned to its original splendor and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The carved wooden details on this Victorian home are amazing.

Heritage House

Wednesday, John joined me for a day off from volunteering. Being less than a two hour drive to both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, we chose Zion as our first day trip and begun our journey on a magnificent clear cool morning.

Best Friends Canyon

The drive into Zion takes you through the plateaus up the mountain, into a tunnel that runs through the mountain and down to the valley below. That cutout in the mountain above the tree line is one of the air inlets for the tunnel.

Zion tunnel window

Along the winding road that hair pinned down into the valley were the sandstone mountains with burnt umber and chocolate dripping down their sides.

Leaking Chocolate

One of the popular stops before reaching the entrance to the park is the Checkerboard Rocks.

Checkerboard Rock

After reaching the Visitor Center, the gratis shuttle takes hikers back into the park along the road that is not open to public cars and drops them off at which ever trail they chose.  There are dozens of varying lengths and difficulties but we chose The Narrows which is the furthest into the park. Along the way, we passed the mountains known as the Three Profits.

Leaving the visitors center   The Prophets

When we reached the Narrows, most of the visitors departed and meandered around the Virgin River before beginning the hike.

The Narrows entrance    The Narrows Trail People by the river Virgin River

Our hike was paved with easy rises and people of all ages were our hiking partners.  Deer milled around on the other side of the river, KatieBug backed away from an aggressive squirrel and when the trail led across the water, we declined to follow.

Deer across the river   Squirrel

Narrows path crosses over the river

On our way back to the visitor center, our shuttle guide pointed out a few rock climbers.  I zoomed in on them so you can see how gigantic these mountain faces are in relation to the miniscule climbers  One of the bus riders jokingly named them, “dope on a rope”.

Climber on the mountain  Climber

Early morning and early evening brings out the wildlife.  As we drove through the valley on our way back up the mountain, a herd of Big Horned Sheep paused to dine.

Big Horn Sheep

Sunset closed out the day on our way back to LilyPad after a relaxing day of sightseeing and hiking.

Sunset over Kanab

Thursday morning I gave volunteering another try with the piggy’s and goats but the dust prevailed once again so we cancelled Friday and added another day of recuperation.

DSC_8429 DSC_8430

October 1st through 10th 2014, Travels to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Utah

Late awakening, flush out our tanks and onward to Canoga Park Elks Lodge near Los Angeles to visit family and find out what’s ailing Ribbit.

Poor Ribbit. First a new transmission in The Woodlands, tires wore out miles ahead of schedule in Roseburg, license plate incident in Portland, radiator sprung a leak in Pismo Beach that had to be replaced in Canoga Park and when we thought it was going to be smooth sailing through to Texas, the Remco pump that is keeping the transmission fluid circulating wouldn’t fully connect to LilyPad so we listen to an un-appreciated buzz for the five hour drive to Las Vegas. Ribbit’s first seven years was without incident until we forcibly yanked it from its spacious garage and drug it bouncing along behind LilyPad. The roads chronically pounding punishment is becoming noticeable on Ribbit and my body totally relates.

A pause at Peggy Sue’s, the 50’s burger joint in the middle of the desert. Great burgers, great fun to check out each room stuffed with old movie memorabilia for décor and wander through the 50’s souvenir gift shop after eating.

Peggy Sue's Diner

Of all the lands through which we have traveled, the desert is the hardest for me to find descriptives for its beauty. During the day, one would be hard pressed to find its redeeming qualities. It takes a concentrated effort to make something sandy, rocky, monotone, desiccated and scorched into appealing. And if it weren’t for the occasional rolling terrain and sporadic sprigs of sun dried green, even its shape would be non-descript. Guessing that the spring rains bring a spark of color to the dismal view.

The Desert

Our route traversed us through Utah, Arizona and Utah again, Arizona looking as monotone but mountainous.

Arizona

Death Valley, aptly named when you spend hours driving through rock, sand and dead stuff, has a spark of interest when the stream of glittering white salt flats flow across the sand.

Salt Flats

Entering The Mohave National Preserve, ornamented primarily with Joshua Trees and their eerily stretched black furry arms reaching towards the sun, their only sign of life being the dark green spiked pompoms at the end of each arm.

Joshua Trees

Arrived in Las Vegas and settled, with trepidation, into the North Las Vegas Elks Lodge RV graveled parking lot. An eight foot high cement wall surrounds our site, multi-colored tagging adorned the outside of the wall and snuck onto the back of an RV closest to the entrance. The Lodge is located in the highest crime area of Las Vegas. Not sure if these surroundings, reminiscent of an exercise yard for the incarcerated felons in old movies, were to keep us in, or them, whoever “them” is, out. In comparison to our stay of the last two years, the appropriate description for this stay is “scary prison”.

North Las Vegas Elks Lodge   Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort site

The area came complete with a palm tree out front tagged on two sides and our corner stop sign adorned with bullet holes.

Bullet holes

First of four Las Vegas days were spent chasing down parts for Ribbit and finding grocery stores. Our not-to-miss tourist stop, Las Vegas Distillery, began with Jason giving us a tour of the warehouse and explaining the in’s and out’s of refining moonshine. His humorous anecdotes about yeast eating the barley mash and pooping out alcohol, then dying on the farts, were greatly appreciated comic relief. After tasting their nine offerings, two being new, we were very relaxed and ready to squirrel away our box of Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine jars into Ribbit before returning to LilyPad.

Jason at Las Vegas Distillery

Next morning I made a point of suggesting we visit Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area as the Government had closed it down our last trip.  Complete with a marvelous welcome center, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was well worth our returning to explore.

Red Rock Canyon Leave nothing but footprints

The Keystone Thrust Fault, a fracture in the earth’s crust where one rock plate is thrust horizontally over another, is noticeable even before leaving town. The plates slating upwards being the most significant geologic feature, the colors were what drew me to the Canyon. Grey limestone and red sandstone, millions of years old, shaped by ice and water, frozen in time with miles of hiking paths wandering beside, between and over their tops.

Hiking paths

The drive, 13 miles long, availed pull outs throughout the conservation area for parking. Hikers of all skills, paths of varied lengths and a children’s trail, doable for me, dotted with interesting Indian relics over the mile hike.  A small water flow resulted in the only touch of color blooming along the trail.

flowering desert

Heat hid the burro’s, fox, tortoise and rodents. The drive presented many wonderful vantage points for Kodak Moments of the fascinating crossed-bedded Aztec sandstone.

13 mile drive Morning view of the red sandstone

As evening approached, Vegas began to appear in the distance and the red, white and brown sandstone was framed with the glow of the sun’s rays.

Las Vegas valley Sunset in the Canyon

Morning arrived and we are finally set free from time served at North Las Vegas Elks Lodge RV. Now to continue our adventures traveling along red, white and brown canyon sandstones. Tonight we arrive at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab Utah.

September 24th through September 30th, 2014 Our Final Days at Lone Pine Group Campground and Journey Home

Perfectly relaxing, wine drinking cheese and salami munching sendoff for our neighbor hosts, Will and Ken at Rock Creek. Next begins the arduous task of stuffing our whole nine yards back into LilyPad and the commencement of our journey back to Texas.

The wedding party campers stayed one overnight, leaving early and skirting the rain that was due on their departing morning. With three campsites used out of eleven, our final tasks, on our last working morning of the Lone Pine Group Campground host volunteer position experience, were few. Rake fire pits, empty trash, sanitize vaults, mow both lawns, strip our golf cart bare, store tools, lock wood shed, swing shut and lock our huge heavy metal gate. Lone Pine is immaculately clean and tucked in for the winter.

A heavy misted fog crept along the tree tops as we pulled out of Lone Pine for the last time. The brilliant yellow leaves of our Big Leaf Maple had dropped from their branches even before turning full color but the tantalizing fragrance of the Pine and Sequoyah that dominate the peaceful Umpqua National Forest more than made up for the loss.

Hundreds of times we have traversed this winding road, passing less than two vehicles coming or going. This morning, three semi’s, six pick-em-ups and seven cars whizzed by, causing an avoidance of vehicles around nearly every turn. John and I had our travels over curvy Rock Creek’s one-plus-a-smidge logging road down to a science. The 20 minutes it takes to get from Lone Pine to its tee into Rt. 38 is driven with me at the lead, walkie-talkie in hand, far enough ahead to let John know something’s on its way. On my notice, he pulls over until it passes and I stop until I see him in my rear view mirror again. For our departure, we stopped nearly three times per mile so it took double the time.

A return visit to an overnight at Seven Feathers Resort RV Park in Canyonville, Oregon. One of the few true Resort RV Parks and a very enjoyable stay. In the morning we leave for Redding CA to visit an old friend from our youthfully wild days in Chico, CA.

Long road trips require exploring ways to keep us both entertained and new boredom killers are the job requirements of the one sitting in the passenger seat. Along with keeping an eye on the GPS directions, I take this task seriously. It is always a relief to find something of interest to discuss while rolling along. Passing “Jump Off Joe Creek” led to exploring how it got its name. Entering the town of Weed with its entrance sign stating “Weed like to welcome you!” produced a few chuckles.

The scenery was rocky and straw colored with puffs of dark green stuck into the ground with dark brown sticks. They speckled the barren pasture lands as we made our way to Redding and what I believe to be the hottest part of California. In the distance, Mount Shasta.

Mount Shasta

California has been in the news for several years affirming the drought that befell the land over the last few years. I was unprepared for the shocking loss of water in one of California’s largest reservoirs, Shasta Lake. The blue has receded from the Lakes fingers, replaced by barely moist mud. There are more absent water lines than there is water.

Fingers of Lake Shasta Shasta Lake

Our overnight was the Redding Elks Lodge RV Park and the friendliest Lodge in California. After settling, we threw back a few at the bar. Next to us sat a gentleman that graduated in 1953 from John’s alma mater, Chico State University. Meeting up with our friends in the Elks Lodge bar, the five of us chatted up old times before our dinner reservation.

Redding Elks Lodge

Jack’s Grill was our destination for dinner. Housed in the Morrison Building, its décor offers a peak into the off colored era that has long disappeared.

Built by Bill Morrison in 1935, the building was used as a mercantile with living quarters above until 1938. Leased to John “Jack” Young, a WWII fighter pilot that flew for the Lafayette Escadrille in France, he opened Jack’s Grill and a brothel upstairs. In 1941, Fat Woolf purchased Jack’s and maintained the “soiled doves”. Morrison, furious over the use of the 2nd floor, padlocked the upstairs in 1943. The Stanley’s, Morrison’s daughter and son-in-law, bought Jack’s and ran it until her death in 1991. Her husband, an accomplished pianist, played for the customers until his death in 1962. Bill Morrison Jr. managed Jack’s from 1960-1977. Don Conley became manager, purchasing the business and property in 1992.

Jack’s continues to be a link to the wild days of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and an historic site offering a window into the “heydays” of Redding, CA.

Void of flamboyance but still retaining original bathroom fixtures and lighting fixtures, foodie wise, steaks are their specialty. You enter into a dark, cramped, overflowing with humanity room, one side bordered by a vintage bar and friendly bar patrons politely crowding in with dinner guests. Without much stretch of the imagination, you could envision ladies-of-the-night strolling up to the bar.

To our surprise, our Waitress Extraordinaire was Denise, mother of Megan Rapinoe, US women’s national soccer team. She posed with Lew providing me with an excellent Kodak Moment.

Lew and Denise Rapinoe

While we slept, Charlotte had constructed a colossal web and hung around all night waiting for dinner.  In the morning, John moved her to the chain link fence where she stayed until we left Redding.

Overnight web

Next day’s adventure with friends Lew and Sue took us to Whiskeyville Lake with a lunch stop at Millhouse Deli, a delightfully eclectic diner serving a variety of home-made noon meal delights. Sun tea sat brewing in a jar on the rail as John and Lew waited for me to do my picture taking thing. We sat on the back enclosed porch and chatted long after our comfort food was consumed.

Millhouse Deli

Toured Whiskeyville Lake area and stopped to check out the host site for future reference. Winter might be a nice time for us to consider hosting at this peaceful lake RV park when we return in a few years but only if the water stays.

Whiskeytown Lake The birds on Whiskeyville Lake

On the way back to the Lodge we stopped to watch vintage cars with couples dressed in vintage clothing wander the area.

Whiskeyville Vintage in Whiskeyville

Leaving this a.m. for San Jose. Travels today were hot, hot, hot. How hot was it, you ask? It was so hot, the birds had to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground.

Arrived at San Jose Elks Lodge RV park, second drink free in the lounge, In-and-Out Burger for dinner, fussy 50 amp fuse box that thought 102 degree heat was to exhausting for it to oblige. After popping fuses and trying numerous ideas, the 2 a.m. solution was to plug into the outlet of the empty site behind us. Success!

Memory fades and negative over-the-road driving conditions are forgotten until you pass that way again. California highways are ill marked, notices of closed entrances are not reported to GPS programs resulting in our GPS claiming “off route!” repeatedly. Broiling sun, numerous dips in the roads, constant cracks and continual unleveled breaks in the road, a spine hammering ride that would make even the multi-million dollar Prevost yelp with frustration and exclaim OMG, what are California road taxes going towards? We couldn’t have jostled, bounced, rattled and shook more had we been in a covered wagon on dirt roads. Sorry home state of California but your roads SUCK!

Next morning, On the Road Again, Willies melodic Southern croon awakens us to greet another day of extensively high heat travel. A slight reprieve from the heat while passing through forests of Eucalyptus trees, uphill and down, with MPG oscillating between 3 uphill and 52 downhill for the next 100 miles.

Diesel stop, stuck behind a trucker with a Christian remark posted on his back door, blocking pump 22 at Pilot for over a half hour.

Christian Truck Driver

This guy is nowhere to be found and his rudeness at parking at the pump was an understatement. Still boiling outside, uncomfortable sitting and not feeling forgiving for the outrageously lengthy wait, I dialed the number on the back of the truck and let loose! Inconsiderate, un-Christian, explained that we were unable to back up without detaching our car, unhappy about the extremely long wait, I got my pain induced, heat exhausted frustration out of my system as I politely pounced on the young man that answered. He promised he would pass on the info to the Christian owner. Still waiting, the driver came out, opened up his truck hood and began pouring in additives! Grrrr! A giant Russian, 6 foot plus, I approached him and told him it was time for him to move as we had waited long enough. John reiterated. Grumbling, he moved. Kept our fingers crossed that he wasn’t part of the Russian Mafia and kept a watchful eye on our rear as we drove on down the road.

Salinas Valley and Gonzales, the area that borders the long stretch of El Camino Real Hwy 101, is in constant motion with tractors busting up dirt clods and causing dusty dirt devils to spin-out across open fields.  Intermittent fields are green and ready for harvest,  crews bent over crops behind machines that move their pickings into boxes, carrying fresh produce to be delivered to local stores so we can make a selection, pay, drive home and enjoy the fruits of their hard labor.

Machine harvest workers

When I was young, workers weren’t given water breaks, they lived in tents or cars and no facilities were provided. Conditions only slightly improved as the owners now provide shacks for their workers, give water breaks and have port-a-potties in the fields. The job of migrant farm worker is far down my list of employment druthers, miles further down than the distasteful task of cleaning vault toilets.

Field harvest workers

Pismo Beach Elks Lodge, one block from the beach, a re-visit from last year and our overnight. After checking in, Ribbit decided to pitch a fit about the heat and sprung a leak in the radiator. Water dripping, we drove with a full gallon of radiator fluid to our dinner destination.

Clouds behind the sun provided us with a spectacular good night Sunset on Oceano Beach. Cane and camera in hand, I marched over the sand to the water’s edge, took pictures and marched back. Long treks across sand are never a good decision with my ankle but an hour in my cryo-cuff and getting awesome pictures make it totally worthwhile.

Pismo Beach Sunset

Next morning Ribbit’s radiator level was only slightly down so we topped off the fluid, drove to a Laundromat to do the wash and paused at the monarch Butterfly Park on the way back. The expansive flocks of Monarch’s are not due back until November but a few sat lazily on the gigantic Eucalyptus trees.  Leaves and branches twitched with orange color while we relaxed on a bench inhaling the soothing vapors from the trees and watching butterflies float through the air.

Small bunch of Monarchs Monarchs on a twig

We awoke to the sound of small aircraft overhead and strolled outside for a breath of fresh sea air.  Parked at the Elks Lodge back entrance was the Sheriff Department’s Viper Cop Car.  Ceasing the Kodak Moment, I asked him to pose for my blog and he politely agreed.  Now I know where all that California road repair money is going!  Actually, it was a drug bust seizure and he was lucky enough to regularly have access to the car.

Sheriff's Viper Pismo Beach Elks Lodge

Football, Dinner, more football and the day was gone. Sunset picture of LilyPad in the Oceano Elks Lodge RV Park,

Elks RV Park, Oceano Beach

sunset picture of Oceano Beach,

Oceano Beach sunset

sundown picture of Pismo Beach from the docks and another day slipped into night.

Sundown Pismo Beach Dock