Saturday, October 15, 2011

What's a "Ute"? Part 1

Yep, we're bloggin' again. Back on the road and if you haven't seen the movie "My Cousin Vinny" we won't even try to explain the term "what's a Ute?"  Oh, this is a picture of a disheveled Daisy. She was going crazy hanging around the Sedona digs so we knew we had to get some road time in because that's when Daisy is happiest. And after all, it's all about the dog.
What the hell is a "Ute"?  There are legends, casinos, tours, villages, and RV parks in Ute country. I suppose even Utah was named after the Ute tribe.  Why they didn't call it "Brigham" is beyond us because as the old saying goes, "I don't care how you brig 'em, just brig 'em young." Do you get it? And imagine. We might actually elect one of these chaps to the highest office in the land.  Whatever happened to Ron Paul? Or to
Ru Paul for that matter?

And what the hell is a Ute?
 And since you can never get enough of the Lance 2285 with side slider (seen here), we thought we would show you the Lance at the starting gate where we started one week ago today, Saturday, October 8.
 Yep, it's at the Prescott, Arizona Elks Lodge where we are members and where we store the trailer. These folks are great people. They run a good facility with RV park and storage. The prices all around are exceedingly low to hook-up the rig for a night or two. The Elks is an organization that needs more young members like myself. Paul, on the other hand, fits the aging Elks demographic.
 Elks Lodge, Prescott, Arizona.  That's a live elk on top.
 Here's where the grand poobah gets to park.
 Speaking of grand, our first stop was 120 miles to the north, el canon grande.  What the hell is a Ute?
 And you really haven't seen Daisy until she takes a juicy dump (Paul's words) and then does the butt scoot along a freshly tarred road.  Here's one shot of her rear end and since you can never get enough of Daisy, here's another one....
 She likes to do this at least once a week which unfortunately for her results in a trip to the tub.
 And since you can never get enough of Daisy, here she is again.
 Like we said...but damn, she's a good road dog.  Better than any we have encountered on our 25,000 miles of trailer travel. But of course, we're not partial.  Try taking a cat on the road. Good luck.
 Paul insisted on this shot because he says the older I get the larger my chest gets. Some might say "longer". So yep, it's me, thrusting out my chest in the Lance 2285 travel trailer with side slider. Boobolicious.

What the hell is a "Ute"?
Oh, and then we went through Monument Valley, where John Ford and John Wayne made all them movies. By the way, best western ever produced, "The Searchers", was shot not far from here.

No Utes here. This is Navajo country.  Uh're probably getting the idea that a Ute might just be one of our "First Nationers" as the Canucks call 'em. 

Next stop, Mobe, Utah with our friends Debby and Don.  And a trip along Route 666, the Devil's Highway. Saints protect us.

***Is it "My Cousin Vinny" or "Vinnie"? Need to look that up.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's the End of the World...and this trip

After six weeks on the road we are horses headed for the barn. From Sedona to Tampa, Florida and a few zig zags along the way, we've racked up close to 6,000 miles. And we're writing this from our last stop in Deming, New Mexico, still on the lookout for the damned Deming dwarf.

Daisy's had enough of it. She slips onto Paul's lap, turns her butt up to the camera, hides her head and just wants it to be over. Frickin' computer software just malfunctioned and erased the picture of Daisy.

 By the way, we filled up at the only gas station on a long stretch of I-10 in Texas and paid $4.20 a gallon. Thank you very damn much. But we can go almost 200 miles on a nearly 100-dollar tank of gas.
Stayed the night before last at a spot just off I-10 in west Texas at Balmorhea State Park. It's a nice, clean, quiet place to spend a night or two. It reopened on April 28th after having been closed due to wildfires licking at its gates.
If you can read, teabaggers, you'll pick up some history about this place. It was formed by natural springs and cienegas (hispo speak for "wetlands"). Wildlife is naturally drawn to the water. However, most of the animals are birds and they draw birdwatchers, who are a pretty weird lot in our opinion. Oh man. They wear safari gear, have skinny legs and carry oversized binoculars, bird books and give you the evil eye if you make any noise. Even a peep, so to speak. They never smile.
 I wonder how birdwatchers and teabaggers would get along. Heck, they're both weird as hell and teabaggers like to scream and shout. That would piss off the birdwatchers and maybe that could be the end of both.
A cienega (above).
Balmorhea's claim to fame is this huge freshwater pool. Most of the water is exchanged naturally every day--more than a million gallons is forced to the surface from an underground aquifer and then flows to the nearby wetlands. You can swim in here but you'll be nipped by tiny fish. It's a weird activity but at least it's not bird-watching.

We spent our last night here in Deming on I-10 with a railroad line right across the highway. Every half hour a freight train would roll through and every thirty seconds an 18-wheeler would fill in the noise gap. In short, we had little sleep but it doesn't matter. We are headed to the quiet comfort of the barn this evening.
April and early May have been important news months. Killer tornadoes, Texas wildfires, an overexposed royal wedding, the Donald nonsense, the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. But all of that pales if the sign above proves true. Throughout our trip we saw lots of these billboards. Even a fleet of RVs has been plastered with this message. Of course, down along the Bible belt people believe this crap. That the rapture begins on May 21st and later, on October 21, God plans to blow up the world and even the universe killing everyone and everything. Not real clear what God is so angry about but suppose the teabaggers will blame it all on Obama and Clinton and Madeline Albright.

We are not joking about these signs. Google "May 21 the rapture" and you'll see that these nut cases are damn serious about this. Of course, they're also saying that if you send cash, check or money order you will be one of the select few to escape the rapture. Good Lord, whoever is behind these signs ain't ever gonna make it through them pearly gates. However, on the other hand if they're right, see ya in hell!!!  But we're undaunted and pulling up stakes in Deming and headed for home. See ya here or in the hereafter.
Daisy, Corita and Paul


 We continued our trek back to Arizona from Florida. Got the hell out of Natchez, Mississippi and hightailed it to Louisiana as fast as we could. Fellow RVers had told us about a top-notch RV park at this casino near the town of Kinder, LA.  We've stayed at casino RV parks but this one called "Coushatta" was far and away up there with the best. Only 19 bucks a night for full hook-ups, cable, wifi, the works.
Like Fatima and Lourdes, Coushatta draws the faithful (and hopeful) from all over the region. They come by car, RV, bus, on foot, dragging one foot. They can stay in cabins on a lake, stay in an RV, sleep in their car or sleep out on the ground. The casino doesn't care. What it's after with these low-price offerings is to fleece you out of every last dime you have playing one of the ridiculous slot machines inside. So our advice: spend the night in your RV. It's cheap, clean, off the highway (quiet). Stay out of the casino and move on the next day.

 The other great RV offering that we've told you about is at Elks lodges along the way. Even here at this lodge just outside Beaumont, Texas you'll find a little gambling. The kind our parents and grandparents are drawn to. For some reason, Elks lodges continue to tout the fun (and excitement) of bingo. It might make the lodge a little money but I personally believe potential younger members are turned off by it. Our challenge to Elks leadership (the national annual meeting takes place in July in Phoenix) is to come up with new ideas to attract younger members, i.e., those in their forties and fifties.
 Another issue that the Elks and many other private organizations must deal with has to do with smoking. Since the Elks is a private club it can bypass local non-smoking ordinances and allow smoking in the bar and food service areas.  The people we met at the Beaumont Elks lodge could not have been friendlier or more accommodating but every person in the lounge was puffing on a damn cigarette. It was as smoke-filled as a casino. And the fact that you can smoke in these places where you can't smoke in the public bar down the street is what attracts a lot of people to become members. They don't seem to care much for community involvement. It's merely all about the cigarette.  
And while we're at it, can someone please tell smokers that pitching their butts is litter. Ugly littering. They seem to think it's their God-given right to snuff the cigarette out on the ground or just pitch the cigarette. Every state has laws against littering such as Texas with its big, bold "Don't mess with Texas" campaign. The fines for littering are up to $2000. The remnants of your smoking addiction will be around for we non-smokers for years to come. That is, if Daisy doesn't chow down on a few like she did in Beaumont.  Do we throw our wine bottles and boxes on the ground? No! Of course not. So smokers, please, dispose of your butts properly.

So there. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Natchez, where nothing happened

Last year we saw Vicksburg with its impressive Civil War battlefield and tons of history so this year we went downriver to Natchez, Mississippi where absolutely nothing happened.
Largely it's a town built on the banks of the Mississippi across the river from Louisiana. A town that has restored its in-town mansions and lavish country plantation homes that were built and maintained by thousands of slaves in the antebellum days of King Cotton. "Antebellum", by the way, means "before the war". Teabaggers,  look it up in something called a "dictionary".
That's the mighty Mississipp with a historic riverboat. Whoa. Hold that. Not a riverboat at all, but a... Of course.  The riverboat casinos seem to be the centerpiece of Natchez and you'll see as many signs pointing you in their direction as you will any other attractions in this town. And in the casinos you will largely find people who can barely pay their rent if they even have a place to live.  They are spending much if not all of their income sitting at the slots and smoking cigarettes.

When the economy in the U.S. was better, casinos were a fun place to go for a couple of hours of entertainment and people-watching. Now they seem like place of desperation. Lord knows we've dropped more than small change in a few of them from Atlantic City to Vegas so we're not putting down people's need for diversion and in our state, Arizona, there are as many smoke-filled casinos as there are WalMarts. Actually, there are probably more casinos. People aren't in there for a good time. They're in there hoping to win big. And they rarely, if ever, do.

That reminds me. I have to check my Powerball tickets.

Here's one of them in-town mansions, built by slaves and now part of the city's driving tour as you slowly make your way down to the casino.
Natchez, however, was the western terminus of the Natchez Trace, a well-defined and well-traveled trail that was used by migratory animals, Indians, and by pioneers heading west. Settlers would hit the river then be taken over to Louisiana by flatboat. After they hit the casino.
At the edge of the so-called historic district is what else? The historic city cemetery. Supposedly several people of note are buried here but we couldn't find a damn piece of information that would show us where.
The most interesting part of the cemetery is where the Civil War confederate unknowns are buried. A simple headstone and Confederate flag mark each of the graves. In short, while we are glad we visited Natchez (wasn't exactly on our bucket list), if you have a choice between Vicksburg and Natchez, go to Vicksburg where a hell of lot did happen during the Civil War. Its historic sites far exceed the lure of the casinos.
Paul indulged my need, however, to visit one of the local plantation homes called "Longwood". He had seen it before on one of his TV assignments and thought it the best of the bunch in Natchez. He and Daisy stayed in the truck with the air-conditioner on and out of reach of the mosquitoes while I went on a guided tour of Longwood. Cost me twelve big ones but I thought it was worth it.

Longwood was designed to be the largest octagonal house in the United States, if not the world. It was the property of a physician/cotton baron named Hallor (sp) Nutt and his wife Julia. The doctor gave his wife the house as a gift.  A thirty-thousand square foot gift.

Something like eight stories with the top dome acting as an observatory.
The only story completed was the basement. The war came. Money ran out. President Lincoln emancipated them damn slaves and there went the construction crew.
You think you have problems with contractors who don't show up. Think about these folks. 
Longwood looks just like it did when all the work stopped in the 1860s. All sorts of wood and implements have been left where they were abandoned, like this metal thing seen above. Actually, it's a lady's wash basin/bathtub.
After emancipation, this box arrived, addressed to the lady of the house. It's never been opened and is simply referred to as "the mystery box". Do I smell a TV story here? Where's Geraldo? Unlike Al Capone's vaults, we know there's something in this box.
The tour rules stated that visitors could not take photos of the finished portion of the house, the basement, where the family once lived, so we clicked away at all the unfinished portions.
This is our tour guide, the skinnier one. What? A skinny person in Mississippi? This state, by the way, has the nation's highest rate of obesity. Does this woman know she is bucking the trend? (She was actually a great, funny guide. Well-informed, animated, an articulate speaker.)
And if you've been faithfully following our blog, you read about us riding out the storm that ravaged upper Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. Well, here's where we rode it out at an RV park in Natchez. The park came recommended in an RV forum but was one of the most misrepresented places we have stayed.
It was more a broken-down trailer park than a welcoming RV park. It was right on a noisy highway.
The sign had fallen down so you couldn't even see where the hell the park was. We finally found it. Got set up. Turned on the water and the pipe burst. Then the electric sparked. Blew a fuse in the trailer. Moved to a different site. Survived the night. Toured Natchez the next day and then moved on. 
Empty pool next to rundown bathhouse.

Here's our advice for RVers headed for Natchez. Take the bridge just across the river and on the Louisiana side you'll find River View RV Park. In great shape with large, clean pull-through spaces. So that's enough of that. Don't suppose the Natchez Chamber of Commerce will invite us back for the annual thank you luncheon.

From Natchez, we move on to another of America's garden spots, Beaumont, Texas. 

"Members Only" and more members...

 Once again, if you are a serious RVer, consider joining the Elks or the Moose. Hundreds of lodges across the nation, in Canada, possibly down in Mess-ico, provide exclusive and inexpensive RV parking. Such is the case with this lodge we found in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Don't try to sneak in. You'll be shot.
 But the Elks, as well as the Moose, the Lions, the Rotary, etc., provide many other reasons other than RV parking for you to join. Community involvement, support of our troops and so on. To say nothing of $5 all-you-can-eat taco night.
 We arrived at the Hattiesburg lodge around Easter Sunday. The members were having a crawfish boil--all you could eat with all the trimmings for $15. Them little buggers cost more than tacos. The money went to charitable causes.

 But I regard crawfish as cat food, as I do most fish, so we passed on the boil and moved onto our campsite on a large and quite serene lake. This could well be the largest Elks lodge in the country, encompassing some 1200 acres, most in it in pine forest and hiking trails.
 There's fishing on the lake, playgrounds for kids, and a well-stocked bar for a couple of traveling inebriates such as we 'uns.
 Hattiesburg lodge members pay $5 for RV sites. Visiting Elks pay the princely sum of 10. RVers, believe me, you can't beat these deals.
 There's them trees. Pines, to be exact. The lodge leases around half its acreage to the forest service which harvests the lumber.
 All around Hattiesburg (including the lodge) are decorated statues of swans. It's all part of a local Chamber of Commerce effort to support arts locally.  What? Arts in Mississippi? Still don't know why swans were picked.
 Took a tour of Hattiesburg. Didn't have a clue what there was to see. The Visitors Center was closed on this day, Easter Sunday, so we had to wing it. First thing we saw was the gutted shell of the old high school that an organization is attempting to turn into condominiums or offices or something.
 And Paul's radar went off and dragged me kicking and screaming to the nearby airport where we found this static display of old military aircraft. The big one, called a "Voodoo", was flown by a Hattiesburg born and bred pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and held as a POW for seven-and-a-half years.
Saw lots of other things but this one picture was the most interesting and a bit hard to explain. We thought we had discovered a corpse but it was a dummy in fire-fighting gear outside a fire-fighting training facility. If you look closely, it explains the bumpersticker, "Fireman do it with bigger hoses" and orange pointed ones at that.  (I only noticed the strategically-placed orange cone after I loaded the photos onto my computer--that's the truth.)

So much for Hattiesburg but let me tell you, this is why you travel. To see things like this and meet interesting, nice people. For the most part.

Next, off to Natchez, dodging those killer tornadoes that swept through upper Mississippi into Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama.