Saturday, October 20, 2007

Trip of a Lifetime

Over the past three months, we’ve driven nearly 5200 miles through 19 states; 10 of those were new territory for the coach. Our most eastern point was the intersection of I-95 and I-26 in South Carolina. Our most northern point was Spearfish, SD. To the west, we visited the Acoma Pueblo in NM. Our southern-most point was, of course, our own home. We started out a few feet above sea level; we drove the RV over a 9100-foot high mountain pass in NM. We crossed the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Rio Grande and countless other rivers, streams and lakes.

We’ve seen vistas that were nothing but trees; we’ve seen miles and miles with not one tree anywhere. We’ve seen lakes and rivers; we’ve seen the desert and grasslands. We’ve seen cows, goats and sheep; we’ve seen buffalo, antelope and camels (yes, camels – in a pasture near Wichita Falls, TX). We’ve seen fields of corn, tobacco and cotton; we’ve seen vast areas where it seemed that nothing could grow.

We saw the natural beauty of towering lodge pole pines; we saw the man-made beauty of hundreds of colorful hot-air balloons filling the skies. We saw what water can do to rock in waterfalls and underground caves; we saw what man can do to rock in Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments. We saw the slow and simple life of Amish carts; we saw the fast pace of the big cities.

We’ve met new people; we’ve visited dear family and old friends. We’ve stayed at about 20 different RV campgrounds; we enjoyed a junior suite in Cripple Creek, CO. Julian cooked tons of wonderful meals in the coach; we’ve eaten at great restaurants of every kind: Thai, Mexican, Italian, American and more. We knew we were in Colorado and New Mexico when the waiter asked if we wanted that “smothered red or green”. We knew we were in the south when the waiter asked “sweet or unsweet” tea.

We’ve learned that a wrong turn can lead to the right solution. We’ve learned that we can spend three months alone together and not kill each other. We’ve learned that the USA is full of wondrous sights and beautiful people. We’ve learned that home is where you park it!

It's been an unbelievable three months. Thanks for letting us share it with you!

Delightful Grandkids

The last BIG thing on our marvelous trip was a stop in the Dallas area to see our grandchildren. And what a wonderful time that turned out to be.

We arrived at our campground early enough to get set up and cleaned up before heading to Chris’s house after he got off work. The first order of business there was to see what grandpa and grandma brought the kids.

Sha’Micah (almost 2) got a bear, made by her grandmother.

Chrislon (6) got a puzzle from Mount Rushmore. (He’s such a ham!)

And he also got a Zoom-O which he couldn’t wait to take outside to play with.

Chris and Shad got a balloon whirl-a-gig and various food samples from around the country.

Did I mention Chrislon couldn’t wait to play with his new toy? Before it got too dark, we were up the street at the park so that he could try it out. And he loved it!

This was taken on the way back to their house. It was just too cute not to share. Kinda reminiscent of Opie and Andy, isn’t it?

On Saturday, Chrislon came to spend the morning with us while the rest of the family ran some errands. We had our own errand to Camping World – the cover to the hot water heater had fallen off somewhere in west Texas. So the little man rode along with us to get that replaced. You know how kids have toy-radar? Well, Chrislon is no exception. He found a toy pickup and toy-hauler. Well, we couldn’t let him have that when our RV was a Class A. So we found the racks of other toys and found the right RV for him to have.

The top and side came off and it had little furniture and appliances that you can set up any way you like. He really liked it.

We all had lunch at our RV that day – hot dogs and mac and cheese. After lunch, Sha’Micah decided to chase grandpa with an orange noodle.
After some teasing and raspberries on the tummy, I got this picture, which I love.

By mid-afternoon, we all headed back to Chris & Shad’s house. Grandma and Chrislon went to work on the new puzzle.

Meanwhile, grandpa gave Sha’Micah a ride on his shoulders.

Needless to say, grandma and grandpa slept like babies after a full and fun day with the little ones. We were beat, but we had enjoyed every second of it.

On Sunday we got back together at Chris & Shad’s house. We walked around their development and to the clubhouse, which was all really beautiful. This little river near the clubhouse actually has fish in it and the three generations had to check out those fish.
And here’s their new house. We are so happy for them to be in this great home and wonderful neighborhood.

We didn’t need any rocking to get to sleep Sunday night, either. We had enjoyed being with them so much. It was really wonderful to be with their family for the weekend. It just all went by way too fast.

We have beautiful grandkids, don’t we?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Enchanting Skies

OK, think of every adjective and expression you can that relates to something beautiful, wondrous, exciting, awesome, and so on and so on and so on. And even then you probably won’t be close to what we felt and saw during our days at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. It was a phenomenal experience.

We stayed in the RV parking area just south of the launch field. This was a huge dirt field with minimal electricity and water (no sewer) – definitely roughing it by our standards. And there was literally no grass for our poor Miss Heidi. She didn’t quite know what to do at first, but when ya gotta go, ya find a way.

At our Good Sam orientation dinner, they told us that the balloons typically drifted to the south, right over our rigs. So on Saturday we stayed at the park and watched. The launching was taking place about a mile from where we sat. But the winds didn’t cooperate with us. The balloons all sailed off to the west and north. So our first photos are all from a distance.

There were approximately 700 balloons invited to the Fiesta this year. It’s impossible to know if they all took off this day, but there sure were a lot of them. That’s Darth Vadar in the center.

The evening event was canceled because of wind conditions, but they still set off the fireworks. We watched this from the RV park. It was a very good display.

On Sunday we got up and took the shuttle bus over to the launch field. Oh my gosh, that was the most exciting thing to be a part of! We were free to roam around at will. You could walk right up to the balloons as they were inflating.

It was really cold, but we really didn’t care. The thrill of the event far outweighed that little discomfort.

Everywhere we looked they were inflating, launching, or sailing over head. When one went up you just moved on to find another to watch. It seemed there was an infinite number of them, too.

Anyone for football?

As you can see there were people everywhere. It was elbow to elbow with thousands of people. But it wasn’t an issue. You could always find a spot where you could see something of interest.

Do you think these two were having any fun at all?

Here’s that same balloon taking off.

Did I mention Darth Vadar was there? Well, he got inflated that morning, but didn’t get off the ground. I think by then the conditions were changing.

The Wells Fargo Stage Coach tried its best as well, but did not get up either.

There was a massive cheer when these guys lifted off. I heard that sometimes they fly hand in hand.

It was almost sad when the launches came to an end. I tell you, I could bore you to tears with photos. We’ve got over 250 to choose from. But read on…

There was another Balloon Glow scheduled for Sunday evening. The program said 5:45, but I guess we didn’t get the memo. Nothing at all happens until after dark. We had gone to the field to see it, but since we hadn’t eaten, we went back to the coach. Our driver said he’d heard it was cancelled again. We found out later that it had gone as scheduled. I’m sure it was fantastic. This event is where they all set off the burners to music and the balloons light up from the inside. I’m sure it would have been fabulous, but we were hungry and the crock pot had been going all day.

Monday morning brought another massive ascension of the balloons. Again, we opted to stay at the RV park(ing lot). This turned out to be a great decision. They all came directly over us! It was SO beautiful. Some of them even landed in the field right next to where we were staying.

Did I mention they flew right over us?

Finally the sun made it over the mountains so that the pictures got better.

Some of the pilots waved and we all shouted “hellos” to each other. It was awesome!

Did you know that pigs CAN fly?

I thought of mom when this one came by.

This guy is one of my (many) favorites.

There were no events scheduled for the weekday evenings. After this fantastic morning, we went to the Acoma Pueblo with our group.

And then Tuesday morning arrived. This was the best day for flying so far. The “Box” was working. This means that the winds were just right for the balloons to fly south (over us) at one altitude, then rise up higher and catch the winds taking them back to the north (over us again). Most days allowed for about an hour to an hour and a half of flying time. They started at 7am on this day and when we drove away at 9:45 they were still in the air. They must have all been in heaven.

Since the “Box” was working, they came over us at a pretty low altitude.

Ever seen a pink elephant?

Even the big balloons got up on that day. Darth Vadar made another appearance. The Wells Fargo Stage Coach came by.

Here’s how close we were to some of the landings.

This might give you an idea of how many balloons were in the skies all at the same time.

As I said, they were still flying when we left for Santa Fe at 9:45. We did a little shopping around the plaza and then had lunch and returned to the RV via Wal-Mart. We spent the evening in Old Town Albuquerque where we also had dinner.

Wednesday’s theme was Parade of Nations. Balloonists come here, by invitation only, from all over the world. About all that meant was that they had their flags hanging from the balloons. It probably had something to do with the order of ascension, too. I didn’t hear if the “Box” was working, but they were sure flying everywhere.

We pulled out with balloons all over the skies of Albuquerque. It was bitter-sweet to leave, but our next major stop is to see the grandkids. That will be yet another wonderful part of this trip of a lifetime.

The Pueblos

Taos Pueblo

While in Taos, we drove out to explore Taos Pueblo, about two miles north of town. It was very flat, very dusty and very brown. We took the tour and learned a lot about their culture, which has continued in this spot for over a thousand years. They still, to this day, have no running water and no electricity. In fact, they are working very hard to retain all of the old ways as well as their language.

We had to pay a fee to be allowed to use our camera. And there were restrictions against photographing the cemetery and inside the church. We were not allowed to take pictures of any of the residents unless we asked them for permission.

Here we are not far from the church, before our tour began.

This is the church, which was reconstructed some time after the Pueblo revolt against the Spanish. I wish we could have taken pictures inside as it was very pretty, retaining much of the Pueblo’s own religion while mixing it with the Spanish Catholicism.

This is a shot across the plaza showing some of the dwellings. The post in the center is used for ceremonial purposes.

Here’s another shot of the dwellings, across the small river which is their only water source.

In their words, it’s a “simplistic” life. I say it’s way too much like camping for my taste!

Acoma Pueblo

One of our tours out of Albuquerque was to the Acoma Pueblo. This village sits on top of a mesa, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. They built their pueblo there because of its defensive position. This is a shot from a couple miles away. If you click on it to blow it up, you can see the buildings.

The same camera rules applied in this Pueblo. This is of their church. It was the only church in the Pueblo Revolt that was not destroyed. It was much larger than the one in Taos and also very pretty inside.

This gives an idea of the views from the top of this mesa. By the way, that is the only tree on top of the mesa and is only about 30 or 40 years old. Yet the people have lived there for over a thousand years.

This is the entrance to a kiva, where the Pueblo people practice their own religious ceremonies.

The architecture here was very similar to Taos. Here is a picture of some of the dwellings.

At the end of the tour, we were allowed to walk down the “steps” of the mesa. Julian and I chose not to do this, however several of our group did. They told us later that it was pretty steep, as we suspected. We enjoyed our mini-bus ride back down to the Visitor Center.

The Acoma people are also trying to keep their old ways and culture alive. The biggest difference we saw was the large number of port-a-potties on the mesa. I don’t think we saw even one in Taos Pueblo. It would sure be a hard life up there without them, though.