Our Blog is Moving to a New Home

Lots has been happening here in San Diego in the last few weeks.  One of the things we’ve been focused on is preparing to move our blog to a new hosting platform.

hero1We’re not making drastic changes, but we are moving to a self-hosted site (WordPress.org instead of WordPress.com) in order to have more flexibility in the future.  We have a few improvements planned too.

And, no, we didn’t figure this out all by ourselves.  This time we got help.  Dennis and Jeanette were recommended by Nina of Wheeling It fame (thanks Nina!) who mentioned that Dennis and Jeanette were headed to San Diego around the time we would be here.

Modat_logoCsmcomputer lightAnd so we contacted them through their business website, Motorhome Office of Design and Technology and a plan was hatched.  Dennis and Jeanette have been quite generous with their time and their pricing, are great people and have taught us tons about blogs and social media in a short time.

They’re funny too!  After all, they live in a 1978 Wanderlodge named the Cheddar Yeti 🙂


So, in the next few days we’ll be replacing the old blog with our new improved one.  There is nothing you need to do if all goes according to plan.  There may be a brief period where the site will be offline as the transition occurs.

Our http://www.islandgirlwalkabout.com URL will remain the same and we plan to transition all of our followers as well.  So if you get  updates via email you should continue to.

We’re excited about our changes, but if for some reason there is any problem, please bear with us.  Gremlins can be found in the internets …

NewBrainCartoonHector has also been working on a new photography website that will allow us to sell some of his beautiful photographs.  Stay tuned for more news about Hector’s photography website which is coming soon.

Hope you enjoy the improvements we’ve made.  Send your comments!

And the journey continues.15730950-a-cute-happy-cartoon-computer-mascot-character-smiling-and-doing-a-thumbs-up[1]

~ Brenda


RV Care … A Side Trip to Yuma

yuma1 yumaWe’d planned an overnight stop in Yuma, Arizona to have Island Girl washed and waxed for a very cheap rate that we found out about on the Wheeling It blog.

And we were very satisfied with the service provided by Robert’s RV Wash, Wax & Carpet Cleaning.  Not quite like a wax job we’d do ourselves (we are persnickety) but certainly very well worth the price they charge.  There are multiple companies doing the mobile wash and wax that you can find either online or in the “White Sheet”, a little pamphlet listing all manner of local services.10627998-LThe going rate seems to be $1 a foot for a wash and another $2 a foot for a hand wax. This is less than a third of what we’ve seen in other parts of the country.  All 39′ of Island Girl got scrubbed and waxed for a mere $125!  She looks wonderful.yuma  002

But right before we left Quartzsite, we had an unwelcome surprise.  As mentioned in the last post, our most expensive purchase by far was a SeeLevel Gauge, an external tank sensor and monitor to measure our fresh water supply and gray and black water volume in the holding tanks more precisely, specifically when we are boondocking as here in the desert.

quartzsite  048Ok for the “newbies”, boondocking essentially means you are self-reliant, with no electric, water nor sewer connections and likely in a remote location.  So if you plan to boondock for more than a few days, it’s important to manage your electric and water usage.  RVs have tank level monitors that provide information on current tank volume of the fresh water, grey water (sink and shower), and black (toilet) holding tanks.

Unfortunately the original sensors, which live inside the tank, often stop working due to gunk buildup. This is a VERY common problem, even in newer RVs.  Island Girl is a 2004 model we bought in 2011 and her tank level monitors have never worked properly.   Even after multiple cleanings with commercial cleaner and various other products and combinations of products including Borax, Calgon, Dawn, and even a trip with ice cubes in the black tank we were unable to get them to work.

Thus the expensive purchase.  But we apparently didn’t do enough research, a caution to all.  The SeeLevel Gauges claim on their website that “with nothing inside the tank all the usual problems of corrosion and clogging are eliminated”.   And the day they were installed, it seemed that they were.  Not so much.

12065721271543272128johnny_automatic_NPS_map_pictographs_part_69.svg.medA couple of days later, after we dumped, the readings remained at full.  Ugh!  When we called the installer, he said that on older coaches there is sometimes enough buildup inside the tank walls to prevent their externally mounted sensors from reading properly.  Surprise!  So now we were stuck with these non working sensors.   With the advice that we should clean the inside of the tanks.  Nice.

Okay, now that I’ve totally bored those who are not interested in RV holding tanks, here comes the somewhat happy, though expensive ending.

We contacted a company that pressure cleans the insides of RV tanks, Royal Flush in Yuma with a one day advance notice to see if they were available to clean our tanks.  Hector got a good vibe from the lady on the phone who said they were available and that “her boys would stay until the job was done”.quartzsite  123 (1)

And they did.  As it turns out, the three guys who came out are grandfather, father and son.  They had to get creative due to some challenges caused by the design of the plumbing in our coach, but they stayed until those monitors worked.  And they were friendly and nice and courteous.  And funny too.

And we thought that calling them “my boys” was just an expression, but the lady answering the phones was grandma.  It’s wonderful to see a family working so well together.

$200 more dollars later, we finally have working sensors.

A learning for owners of older motorhomes considering external sensors.  They don’t always work and you may wind up having to pay for a professional cleaning if you get them.  And we didn’t appreciate that there was no mention of this possibility at time of purchase.

yuma  001The good news is Island Girl is sparkly and clean, and we can tell by 5% increments how full each of our tanks is.  And thanks to this being Yuma, the winter home of a zillion RVers and lots of companies to service them, our total expense to wash, wax the outside and clean her tanks was still less than the exorbitant prices some folks wind up paying for just washing and waxing their RV’s elsewhere.

~ Brenda

Tips for Quartzsite Newbies

quartzsite  004When we arrived in Quartzsite (the “Q”), we really weren’t sure what to expect and went in search of information about basic services.  And we found the ladies at the Chamber of Commerce at 101 W Main Street, across from the Post Office, very helpful, they answered all of our questions, gave us a business directory and a directory of vendors for the various shows, as well as some other event and tourist information.quartzsite  003

For those that prefer to get their information in advance, I compiled a short list of various services that we used and were satisfied with below:

Grocery Stores – The Roadrunner Market and The Quartzsite General Store both on Main Street offered produce, meats, a limited wine and beer selection and other basic foods but the Roadrunner Market was larger and had by far the best selection.

If you need a full grocery store, there’s an Albertsons at 840 East Hobson Way in Blythe, about 20 miles west, just across the California state line.  There is a border patrol checkpoint on the way there and back, and, although we sailed through, we noticed traffic held up on the opposite side so be prepared for a possible delay.

Mail –There is a Post Office at 80 W Main Street, however, my understanding is that the lines can be quite long.

Ironwood Outpost at 225 N Central Boulevard will receive Fedex and UPS packages.  We left our name and phone and they called to notify us when they received our package. They charge a $5.00 fee, but we thought it was worth it to avoid long lines, especially since we only had one delivery while in Quartzsite.  This company provides other services as well.

Laundry Main Street Laundromat and Showers at 205 East Main Street is a huge laundromat– they have Wi-Fi and a restaurant (didn’t try this one) next door.   They also offer showers, including towel, bath mat, soap and shampoo for $6.00, though we didn’t try those out. 

quartzsite  126quartzsite  124 (1)Bars/Restaurants with TVs – Hector needed a place to watch the Denver Broncos playoff game, and we went to The Quartzsite Yacht Club, 1070 W. Main Street, a place with a very colorful history.  A yacht club many miles from the nearest water.  Funny.

We were not thrilled with our food choices, but it has a large bar, lots of TV’s (some of which are dedicated to off-track betting), and is seemingly very popular with locals.  Another (smaller) place that has TV’s and supposedly good food (per one of the town cops) is The Grubstake on Central Boulevard.

Trash and Recycling –  The Refuse Transfer Station on Central Boulevard on the left hand side headed north of Quartzsite a bit past the Fire Station.  It’s free but open limited hours (7:30 to 2:30) Sunday through Wednesday only so plan accordingly.quartzsite  132quartzsite  128

Holding Tank Dump Station, Potable Water Tank Fill and Propane The RV Pit Stop at 425 North Central Road.  They have a filter attached to their fresh water fill.  They also offer reverse osmosis water for drinking water refills as well as ice though we didn’t use those services.  A very convenient and well organized all in one set up.  You drive from station to station.

quartzsite  123 (2)Campsite selection.  Full hook ups or boondocking?  The “Q” has several commercial campgrounds with hook ups.  Most looked ok if simple, but frankly the desert called to us so we didn’t look into the campgrounds in town.  

mapcBureau of Land Management (BLM) allows dispersed camping on various public land areas nearby.   So, how did we choose which BLM area to stay in?  The BLM web site nicely identifies where all the camping areas are on the map, and we read RV reviews, but the descriptions were pretty basic so we couldn’t really tell which one offered what. Two things stood out on many of the reviews – there’s lots of dust and highway noise can be a problem.

There are several free BLM areas (14 day max stay within any 28 day period).  These have no services, pack it in/ pack it out. And a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) for $40 for 14 nights or $180 for seven months. Cheap! Staying in the LTVA includes access to potable water and a dump site and there are dumpsters and some vault toilets throughout the areas but the places are still basically open desert.

North of town are Hi Jolly BLM (5.5 miles) and Plomosa Road BLM (10 miles).  East is Scaddan Wash (3.5 miles), West is Dome Rock Mountain (3.5 miles), South is RoadRunner (5 miles) and the La Posa LTVA  (2 miles) which is broken up into several areas.  La Posa West and North are right near town and La Posa Tyson Wash and La Posa South (where the dump and potable water are located) are a bit further south.

Choosing a spot depends on your priorities.

Traffic noise carries quite easily across the desert, so if you really want to avoid it plan to drive somewhere as far from I-10 as you can.  Perhaps La Posa South, Hi Jolly or Plomosa Road.quartzsite  007

Dust is mostly created by traffic, so to get away from it you should park away from the access roads towards the back of the area you select.

quartzsite  016If access to the shows in town are a priority La Posa West is right by the show (walking distance), but you are pretty packed in.

Privacy or Party?  If you want some privacy you might try the Dome Rock Mountain area.  This is hillier terrain so the flat places suitable for camping are fewer and more spaced out.

We drove around several dirt roads looking for our specific campsite and ultimately found a cozy one, a little close to the dirt access road so we got a bit of ATV traffic zooming through but not much other traffic.  You could hear I-10 traffic in the distance but not too disturbing.  

quartzsite  011This did mean driving Island Girl SLOWLY down an uneven dirt road.  And several of the roads were clearly not suitable for larger RVs so scouting is a must.

We really liked our spot with vegetation on both sides and our very own Saguaro and we even entertained a couple of times.quartzsite  012

Some other BLM areas seemed flatter and less interesting to us, but campsite access seemed easier and lots of groups were gathered in the flatter areas. So if you want a place to arrange multiple rigs in a giant circle and have a giant fire ring, there is plenty of open flat space to choose from.  Some groups place the rigs in a circle, others prefer a rectangle, many are just sort of scattered across the land.
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quartzsite  049Campsite Services – One nice thing about having such a density of RVs is that they provide business opportunities for service providers. There are several mobile RV repair guys in town, and apparently you can also have water delivered and your tanks pumped out at your site as well (for a fee of course).

So all in all Quartzsite is a great place for boondocking with lots of moral and technical support available for newbies.  We weren’t sure what to expect.  But we sure had a wonderful time and learned a lot about boondocking during our Quartzsite experience.

~ Brendaquartzsite  117

The Merchants in the Desert

quartzsite  075quartzsite  082We have arrived.

Quartzsite is a tiny town of 3,500 year round residents located between Phoenix and Los Angeles, 20 miles from the California border.  quartzsite  093

It was once a gathering place for pioneers traveling to the gold fields of California as well as other travelers and then agates, limonite cubes, gold and quartz were found nearby, so the town itself became a destination for the “rock hounds”.quartzsite  133quartzsite  081

And nowadays, between November and March each year, known as the season, snowbirds, rock hounds and others converge here to escape the harsh winters elsewhere and to shop at various indoor and outdoor swap meets that began 40 years ago.quartzsite  095

The majority of these swap meets take place during January and February when thousands of merchants also come here to sell their wares.quartzsite  103

quartzsite  024We are here in January and during our ten day stay there are eight of these events in town, including “world famous” gem and mineral shows and the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV show.  January is known here as “the largest gathering of RVers in the world”.

The little white dots are RVs

The little white dots are RVs

quartzsite  007Many of the RVers come to stay in the desert, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands as far as the eye can see.  There are five BLM areas here.  With free camping for fourteen days in one 28 day period.  And there is also a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) that charges $40 for two weeks and $180 for seven months.

quartzsite  060quartzsite  026“Boondocking”.   No electric, no water, no sewer.  Just open land, pick your spot and set up camp. Beautiful sunsets almost every day.  And lots of stars at night.

We are joined by RVers of all stripes; the ATV crowd with their desert toys, the hippies and ex-hippies, the young, the old and the oldest – quite a few of those rocking their mobility scooters and walkers down the dirt and gravel. Hector says of this latter group  – “I admire them, they are still after it”.

And all of those merchants.  We are all here.  quartzsite  037

quartzsite  001So people plan massive get-togethers; members of clubs, small groups of friends, people with common interests, you name it.  They lay claim to an area of land and circle their wagons.quartzsite  008quartzsite  005

quartzsite  009quartzsite  010Others, like us, find a cozy little spot somewhere as far from the crowds as possible.  A place to escape from the crowds and enjoy the desert.  “Our” own little spot, with “gardens” on both sides and a great fire ring.quartzsite  011quartzsite  012

quartzsite  070And we have our very own Saguaro, which now has a circle of white rocks around it that Hector “created”.  And we also “enhanced” the fire ring with additional pinkish/brownish rocks. This rock thing is contagious.

The Travelocity Gnome … campsite protector !

The Travelocity Gnome … campsite protector !


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quartzsite  015quartzsite  063And with so many people around it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll make some new friends.  RVers form strong communities, and it’s really evident here.   This is a great place to connect with old friends and to make new friends.  And we did both.  Including meeting some fellow bloggers that we’ve gotten to know over time on the internet.

First, we got together with Amanda and Tim, who write the blog Watsons Wander that we’ve been reading for quite awhile.  We figured out they were staying at the same BLM area, Dome Rock, as we were and invited them over for happy hour.  They have a beautiful Airstream that they’ve renovated and polished (I miss Luna … our first RV, also an Airstream).

It’s great to see younger people like Amanda and Tim make the choice to travel while working, they are smart to do that early in their lives, and we admire them for it.  Oh, and their blog is great as well.quartzsite  108quartzsite  035

quartzsite  025Of course, we head to the shows to shop on various days while we’re here.  There is lots to choose from;, some low quality old stuff, even stuff covered with dust.  But as they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  There’s lots of cheap new stuff made in China. And nice vintage stuff and some fun buys.  Something for everyone.

On the high end, there are beautiful gemstones and jewelry and multi-million dollar RVs.  Like I said something for everyone.  For the RVers, there’s a big white tent which houses most of the RV show.  But there are lots and lots of other vendors at other shows in several locations throughout the town.  Rows and rows of vendor stalls all over town.

In spite of attempts at restraint we made quite a few purchases including:

Best bargain – three kitchen knives professionally sharpened for $8

Most fun buy – a metal roadrunner sculpture for $20

Most impulsive buy – a knife with etched petroglyphs on an elk antler handle and a triple flow obsidian blade – this is our official “rock” memento from the “Q” -$45

Biggest buy – A See Level II tank sensor system to monitor holding tank levels. $385 installed – ouch!  

Hector dreaming of installing our new Oxygenics shower head

Hector dreaming of installing our new Oxygenics shower head

Terry, the guy who fixed the boo boo Hector made installing the shower head

Terry, the guy who fixed the boo boo Hector made installing the shower head

Contrary to what some may think, many RV products are not available here and some items are actually more expensive here than online.  Shoppers beware and do your research before making your purchases.

Aside from the buying, for me it’s always fun to see the amazing product sales pitches, these are a reminder of another time.

The whole thing has an air of “only in America”.  And it’s kind of hypnotizing.

quartzsite  056quartzsite  050

And there are lots of interesting characters here.   A historic character is Hadji Ali, who quickly got nicknamed Hi Jolly, a camel driver from Jordan who became a legend around these parts.

quartzsite  052

He came to Arizona in 1856 as the lead camel driver during testing by the U.S. Army for possible use of camels for transporting of supplies across the desert during the Civil War.  About 80 camels were brought to the area and apparently did very well, but this particular strategy ultimately was abandoned.quartzsite  054quartzsite  057

Mr. Ali served for over 30 years in the army, became a U.S. citizen and married a woman from Tucson.  He moved to Quartzsite where he mined and did some work for the U.S. government.  He died here in 1902.

In 1935, a monument was dedicated to him and the Camel Corps at his gravesite, which is now the most visited location in Quartzsite.  As well as the inspiration for naming many town businesses, who use the “Americanized” version of his name,  Hi Jolly.quartzsite  134

And, speaking of characters, there is also a bookstore in town whose owner Paul wears nothing but a sock on his naughty bits on warm days (almost every day).  Reader’s Oasis Books is actually a fine bookstore and an interesting place to visit.

quartzsite  066quartzsite  040We found a few other characters prospecting just across from our campsite; searching for gold.  I don’t think they were finding much, but they seemed to be having fun looking.  I guess it’s the thrill of the search.

Other local characters showed off their classic cars at a local “auto show” in a Shell gas station in town on Saturday night.   Hanging out talking cars and engines and stuff like that for a few hours.

Okay it was no Barrett-Jackson but good community fun (50 cent hot dogs!).

quartzsite  115

The Wheelin It folks.  Nina is on the left, Paul far right. The tall one is Mike from Bear Tracks Blog

quartzsite  111Later in the week, we met Nina and Paul.  Nina writes the blog Wheeling It, by far the best RV blog we’ve read. We’ve been reading it for years and it is a great resource for us and all RVers.   Nina and Paul have a LOT of followers on their blog and arranged the meet and greet to create an opportunity for all of the people that reached out to them in Quartzsite to meet them and each other.

Tim and Amanda were there

Tim and Amanda were there

We had a great time meeting Nina and Paul and some of their many fans, including Mike and Linda, another adventurous couple who write another fun blog that we’ve been reading for awhile, Bear Tracks Blog.

That's W for Watson

That’s W for Watson

Mike and Linda from Bear Tracks

Mike and Linda from Bear Tracks Blog in the center

One night, we joined George, the owner of RV Driving School and my RV driving instructor from last year, and his wife, Valerie at one of their campfire gatherings.  So nice to connect with them again.

quartzsite  119quartzsite  121We ended the week with a potluck dinner with Amanda, Tim, Nina and Paul (Paul is the OTHER Cuban-American full time RVer, I wonder if there is a third out there somewhere) and their sweet dog Polly.   Good food, great conversation, lots of laughs, another big campfire, oh and yes a little rum.quartzsite  132

quartzsite  116Quartzsite may not be for everyone, it can be dusty, crowded and dizzying.  But it’s one of those “you should do it at least once” kinds of events for RVers.  And who knows, the lure of the desert, the rocks, the shopping and, especially, good friends may bring you back again and again.quartzsite  109

As we publish this blog we’ve left Quartzsite.  We had a blast at the “Q” and were sad to leave, knowing that we might never stay at “our” campsite in Quartzsite again.  Or maybe we will.

~ Brendaquartzsite  110

2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.

June – a quick stop in Boston and then on to beautiful Maine.

Here was our route for the first half of the year.

July – crossed the border into Canada on the 1st, and spent the month in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Discovered absolutely astounding people and places.

August – visited idyllic Prince Edward Island, buggy Kouchibuguac National Park in New Brunswick, then over to Quebec to the gorgeous and oh so French Gaspé Peninsula.

September – visited the St. Lawrence River in Quebec where we saw an amazing number of whales and concluded our fantastic Canadian summer in charming Quebec City, then crossed the border back to the U.S. to enjoy the beautiful Vermont autumn.

October – continued leaf-peeping in Vermont, then began our westward journey with stops at Niagara Falls, then Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky,St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, visiting friends and family along the way.

November – a stop in Denver, where the journey began, to get annual checkups for all and check in with friends and family.  Then south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

December – another busy month.  Traveled around New Mexico, south to Albuquerque, then further south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces, then crossed the border to Arizona and ended our most unforgettable year in Tucson.

And here was our route for the second half

Some things we learned:

We ran a little hot this year, with an average stay of 8 nights at our 45 stops, not complaining, it was fabulous, but we’d like to slow it down a bit this year and try staying longer in each place.

We set a goal of no more than four hours driving time between stops and for the most part kept to it; averaging 185 miles per trip, but a couple of the trips were still way too long.

denver  038We stayed too far north too late into the year, and plan to head south earlier next year to avoid frigid cold and snow (although the falling snow was beautiful).

Crossing from the east coast to the west coast really took a toll on us, we were tired puppies by the time we reached Denver, and plan to stay in the West next year.

Our planning paid off in some fabulous campsites, on the other hand, we discovered that it’s best to have a balance of planned and unplanned stops.

Re-connecting with family and friends, and making new friends along the way has been one of the most important parts of our journey.

NYE2014  002And we learned to be grateful each and every day, we are so fortunate!

We wish you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year in 2014!

~ Brenda, Hector and Angel

Shaking Bad

ABQ  075We continued our journey south, hoping to escape this harsher than normal early winter weather, with Albuquerque as our next destination.

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A quick tour of Albuquerque reveals that Route 66 runs through the heart of the city.  It’s now called Central Avenue, but its history is still evident.

ABQ  041We had snow on our first day here, fortunately just a dusting, but I’m really getting pretty tired of this cold weather.  And we are really testing Island Girl.

ABQ  011ABQ  012One afternoon before sunset, we took the Sandia Peak Aerial Tram to the top of Sandia Peak.  The gentleman in the entry booth told us that this was the perfect time of day to ride up the mountain since we would get to see “the Milky Way” – the lights of Albuquerque – light up.  It’s 2.7 miles to the top of the 10,378 foot mountain, with beautiful views along the way.

And lo and behold we discovered a ski area on the other side of the mountain with lots of snow on the ground at the top.  Fortunately, we bundled up before taking the tram, since we certainly know how weather can change as you gain altitude.

ABQ  014ABQ  015The visitor center provides information on the flora and fauna on the mountain, hiking trails, and conservation efforts.  With canyons, forests, bear, bobcats, mule deer, eagles, hawks, ravens and lots of other wildlife, this mountain is worth exploring.  But that is for another much warmer time.

There’s a restaurant at the top, and appetizers and wine while watching the sparkle of the city lights against the sunset was much more our speed.  The food was good too, although expensive.  But the view is stunning.  It was getting colder so it was time to get off the mountain. And the ride down was just as scenic.

ABQ  016ABQ  017ABQ  018The next day we visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.  Today, the Pueblo people are located primarily in New Mexico, although at one time their homeland extended in to Colorado and Arizona.  There are 19 Pueblos, with three distinct language groups, five separate languages and many discrete dialects.ABQ  034ABQ  020ABQ  021ABQ  023

The museum exhibits contain historical information about each Pueblo, objects of different mediums including jewelry, textiles, baskets, photographs, prints, paintings, murals and archaeological objects, and an extensive collection of pottery, both contemporary and historical.

There’s an exhibition that reflects upon the human experience behind enacted policies and laws on Pueblo communities by other governments and how they have dealt with all of those challenges.

Another exhibit shows the history of the Albuquerque Indian School, a boarding school which gave Native students a place to integrate cultural diversity while learning trades and skills that could be used in their home communities or within surrounding towns.ABQ  022

ABQ  033ABQ  032And yet another exhibit displays retablos – small folk art paintings depicting religious, historical or everyday events.  These were on wood and were created by renowned santero (carver and painter of images of saints) Charles M. Carrillo.  The Franciscan fathers who missionized New Mexico in the late 16th and 17th centuries named each Pueblo for a different Catholic saint.  It’s believed that each of the patron saints was likely chosen for any of several reasons, including proximity to a specific date, the patron or devotion of the founder of the mission or the Franciscan friar, or the usurpation of a Pueblo ceremony.

ABQ  082These retablos depicted the patron saint of each Pueblo and each was bordered by a design from pottery made in that specific Indian Pueblo.  The art is an interesting mix of the Pueblo’s traditions and the imposed Spanish religious traditions.  And they were lovely.

ABQ  025ABQ  027Dances are also important traditions in the various Pueblos and the museum has a different dance every weekend.   We saw three dances: a corn, buffalo and eagle dance all performed by members of the Laguna Pueblo.   The nephew of the drummer/singer/narrator, a tiny dancer, was just beginning to learn these traditions but was out there for every dance.  Cute!ABQ  029ABQ  030ABQ  028ABQ  031

ABQ  010One evening we met our friend Linda who traveled here on business and her friend Marion for dinner.  It’s so nice to meet friends in unexpected places and catch up.  A quick, but fun visit.

ABQ  004ABQ  009ABQ  008More driving around Albuquerque revealed more neon and other interesting signs on Route 66.

The city has become more well known since the show “Breaking Bad” (which we’ve not watched) aired on TV.  But we heard about the show because it has been a big deal in Albuquerque and tours of the city now include where the show was filmed.  Breaking Bad is about a science teacher who’s been diagnosed with cancer, and in desperation and to support his family starts a meth lab.

Definitely the dark side of the city, but Albuquerque has much more to offer, as we discovered.

Our timing, we also discovered, left much to be desired as the temperature dipped to five degrees one night, very unusual for Albuquerque at this time of year.  Fortunately, we were in a park that has full hookups and were able to run the heat at max.  We also have a propane heater that we use while we’re in the coach, with a window cracked open of course.  And we run a small electric heater in our bathroom, since it never seems to get warm enough because it has a skylight and a fan which let in cold air.

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ABQ  045ABQ  044ABQ  042ABQ  001After this extreme cold we had a bit of a scare when we realized that our fresh water tank was frozen, and, according to Hector, “water was sprouting from places where it shouldn’t sprout from”.  Oops.  A heater vent goes to the tank compartment, but apparently did not generate enough heat for this level of cold.  And the fresh water tank was near empty, as we’d been drawing our water from it rather than the hose (not sure if it would have helped if the tank had been full or near full).

In any case, Hector placed our little electric heater in the wet bay that next morning.  The temperature was rose to (just) above freezing, so several hours later the tank thawed out and there was no sprouting water.  We were lucky, things froze but nothing broke.

We checked the RV forums (love the forums) and found out that placing a work light in the wet bay helps keep the area warmer, so we bought one and placed it there the rest of our stay.  And continued to enjoy the city.

ABQ  074I, of course, was not amused by this unexpected extra cold weather, and thus OUR “tour” of the Breaking Bad city will be forever known as “Shaking Bad”.

ABQ  046ABQ  048On to the more fun stuff; we visited the Albuquerque Art Museum.  It’s a small museum, but very enjoyable.  Collections include “Albuquerque along the Rio Grande”, “Common Ground:  Art in New Mexico” and “African American Art”.ABQ  052ABQ  053ABQ  051ABQ  050

One of my favorites was a photographic exhibition “Bob Christensen:  Vernacular Architecture of New Mexico 1973-2013″; about 50 black and white photographs that of a variety of buildings such as garages, barns, gas stations and bars.

There is also a fabulous sculpture garden outside the museum.  At $4 per person ($2 for seniors over 65), the Albuquerque Museum is a real bargain.ABQ  049ABQ  054

ABQ  035ABQ  037In the evening we happened upon the Christmas Parade in Corrales (a village now a suburb of Albuquerque).  Santa arrived in the town fire truck.  I love these small town parades, they are such fun.

ABQ  036ABQ  039ABQ  040ABQ  076ABQ  081ABQ  078Last but not least we met some friends from Taos and Albuquerque, Sharon and Norman, for dinner at a great sushi restaurant in town.  I would not have thought that you could find good sushi in Albuquerque, another nice surprise and a really fun evening.

We just loved Albuquerque and hope to return for the Balloon Fiesta next year.

~ BrendaABQ  056

Island Girl’s One Year Pit Stop

formula-one-redWhile in Denver, we took Island Girl in for her annual service visits after logging over 11,000 miles in our first year.  She had her chassis, engine and generator serviced at the Freightliner dealer and some small repairs/changes at the RV interior shop.   We also reorganized the basement and closets, cleaned up the wiring for our computers and devices, upgraded phone and data services and added a TV antenna and an Apple TV.

Freightliner-logo1. The Freightliner shop – As I mentioned in my previous post, Island Girl did not check out 100%. She had leaking wheel seals on the front wheels.  The seals leaked fluid onto the brake drums so we had to replace both.  Not cheap!   But it’s always best to identify and fix these issues before they cause a real problem on the road.  We also had a tire fixed that had developed a slow leak … caused by a nail in the tire as it turns out.

This was in addition to the standard annual service for both the engine and the generator that includes changing the oil, oil and fuel filters, lubing the chassis, and generally checking all the driving elements “underneath”.

As a side note, below is a summary of maintenance items that were repaired during the year.  The ones we had repaired by professionals:

  • Bedroom slide failed – we were able to push the slide in and drive to our next destination, push it out and then back in to drive to one more destination where an RV mobile repair man replaced the worm gear
  • Toilet valve wore out – replaced at the same time as the bedroom slide repair
  • Refrigerator failed – we took Island Girl in to a repair shop, they replaced the power control board (luckily they had the part)
  • Ballast on two fluorescent lamps failed – replaced at the same time as the refrigerator repair
  • Some appliances stopped operating on the generator – RV mobile repair replaced the 50 amp transfer switch

And some of the items we repaired ourselves:

  • 2012-09-18 at 15-05-59Fresh water inlet fixture snapped off (our first week full timing!) – Hector found out how to repair it on an RV forum, ordered the part by mail and replaced it with some coaching by fellow RVers
  • Rubber piece on our screen door handle broke twice
  • Door handle broke twice
  • Several molding pieces in the coach came loose
  • Pantry drawer slide fell apart on two of the drawers
  • Sink clogged – found the solution on an RV forum, which was to run boiling water with baking soda down the drain
  • Water heater stopped working – found the solution on an RV forum which turned out to be a simple reset

Now back to the one-year pit stop:

2. Interior repairs – After all these months, a few interior items also needed attention.  We had an edge of carpet come undone, a pull down shade that needed restringing, a broken light fixture, and a couple of mystery leaks.  So off she went to the shop where we had some renovations done last year to get those taken care of.

basement  005basement  006basement  007basement  0043. Reassessing our “stuff” – Hector and I went through all of the items in the basement and purged a number of them.

Most of the contents of our basement are in plastic bins.  We took all of the bins out and went through every single one to decide what to keep and what to purge. This is the second time that we reorganized the basement, and we hope it’s the last.

Now that our basement is clean and organized, and contains less stuff, everything in it is easier to access.

We also took all our clothes out of our closets and drawers and sorted them.  Even though every single blog we read said to bring as few clothes as possible with you, we still brought too many.

I had to learn the hard way, but I was able to significantly reduce my items of clothing.  Once again lightening the load.

desk  001desk  0024. The wiring maze – Hector also took this opportunity to redo all of the wiring at our “office”.  We have a lot of devices and the wiring had gotten crazy, so he pulled everything out and started over.  Now all the wires are clearly labeled and neatly run.  Definitely a big improvement.desk  003

old_cell_phone5. Phone and data services – This was also an opportunity to upgrade our smart phones and rethink our data plan.  We were using older iPhone 3’s, the AT&T plan for our iPhones expired, and most importantly, we’d also been regularly maxing out our data usage on our Verizon iPad, which we used as a hotspot in places that had no wi-fi.

iphone5c-selection-blue-2013So based our research – mostly reading blogs written by people much more tech savvy than I, and studying all the various pricing plans, we chose to go to an all Verizon plan on our new iPhone 5c’s and iPad.  We previously had the phones on AT&T and the iPad on Verizon, but after traveling all around we consistently found Verizon to have better coverage.   So we consolidated phones and iPad into one account, which is cheaper, and signed up for the minimum data plan since in the future the data consumption on this account will be on those devices only.novatel

For internet access on our laptops and iMac (when we have no no access to wi-fi), we signed up with Millenicom, a reseller of Verizon cellular data that allows more usage at a much discounted price. WIth their Novatel 4620 Mifi Hotspot device you can use up to 20 gigabytes for $69 month as opposed Verizon’s $80 rate for 10 gigabytes. And the contract is month to month so we can cancel anytime if we identify a better option.  So far it has worked well.  

There are many options for cellular service and data usage.  There are less expensive options and more redundant options.  It’s really important to do your research and find what’s best for your individual needs and budget.  The following blogs offer some excellent explanations of their choices – Wheeling it (cellphone) and Wheeling it (internet),  and Technomadia (internet).  And for a good general explanation of various communication options, see Jack Mayer’s RV communication page.

jack-complete-Antennajack signal meter6. The boob tube – We cancelled our Dish Satellite TV contract a few months ago, so we made two more changes to allow access to (some) television channels.  For local channel access, we had a Jack antenna from King Controls installed.  This over the air signal antenna has received excellent reviews.

So far we’ve been able to access local channels in the Denver, Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas and the picture quality is very sharp.  On the down side, it is a bit quirky about getting all the channels. Certainly not as reliable as cable or satellite, but it is free – we’ll see how it goes as we try it in other cities and in more remote areas.apple tv

We also purchased an Apple TV to stream internet shows from online services like Hulu which we just signed up for.  We can also send content from our computer to the TV using Apple’s Airplay feature.

apple-tv-overview-hero-2013Since we’re not huge TV watchers and plan to be pretty selective as to what we stream, this new combination of internet streaming and free over the air TV should result in a lower overall cost than our previous satellite service.

denver  035So, after having Island Girl checked out, repaired, reorganized, her load lightened, plus upgrading our internet and revamping how we access TV, we’re all set and excited to continue our journey south and west.

~ Brenda

The Gateway to the West

gateway  008Continuing our westward drive, we made an overnight stop in St. Louis, which was about halfway between Louisville and Kansas City,  where we were headed next to visit a friend.

gateway  010gateway  024birthday-balloons-56thgateway  001This was our first casino overnighter, and we chose the Casino Queen because it was centrally located and accessible to a little touring and dining nearby.   I was impressed when a security person immediately drove over to check us out.  He was very courteous and directed us to the specific area where we should park.  It was a gravel lot, level, and fairly large.  There was one other RV and one truck already in the lot in the early afternoon when we arrived.

It was Hector’s birthday and we planned to visit the Gateway Arch and go out to a nice dinner in the evening.  We settled in and walked Angel on a big grassy field behind the gravel parking lot.

Next we headed over to the Arch, which I’d never seen.  It’s an impressive and lovely symbol of the role of the city of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States.

gateway  003The Gateway Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson, who bought the Louisiana Territory in the Louisiana Purchase and made westward expansion possible.

gateway  026gateway  011gateway  012The Memorial encompasses a total of 91 acres, which includes the Old Courthouse, Luther Ely Smith Square and some surrounding streets (managed as easements).  The 62 acres that include the Gateway Arch structure and the surrounding landscape were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

The Arch itself is made of steel and concrete, stands 630 feet high (63 stories) with a span of 630 feet at ground level between the outer sides of the legs, and weighs 17,246 tons.  It’s really quite beautiful.  And the story of its construction is also fascinating.

gateway  013The Museum of Westward Expansion, located inside the Arch, preserves some of the rarest artifacts from the days of Lewis and Clark.  The exhibits explore the world of the American Indians and the 19th century pioneers who helped shape the history of the American West.  The museum was fascinating although it closed before we were able to get through it.  Definitely worth a longer visit.

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photo-2We returned to our temporary “campsite” to change, and gave Angel her second walk on the nice grassy area behind us.   There is an RV campground (owned by the Casino) on the other side of the field, but it  was closed for the season.  But we still enjoyed the field.  So far, I was pretty happy with our free overnight.

The birthday celebration continued at a barbecue restaurant that evening.  The restaurant had the second World Series game on.  It was fun to see a small crowd of St. Louis fans rooting for their team, who won that game (but ultimately not the Series).

gateway  027gateway  028The birthday boy had his fill of barbecue and free dessert and we headed back to Island Girl.  A couple of other RV’s and trucks were camped for the night.  Both the lot and the field were (very) brightly lit, so Angel got an evening walk on the grass.  We’d planned to have a drink at the casino (we don’t really gamble), to patronize the place offering us a free night, which is a “rule” we normally follow.  But, alas, we were too tired and pooped out.  So, I’m hoping this nice review of our overnight at the Casino Queen will slightly make up for that 🙂

The following day, we continued to head west, following the footsteps of many before us.

~ Brenda

Attack of the Fruit Flies!

fruit_flies_like_a_banana_print-re20126760c2a4258b2bee7c886447c75_wvk_8byvr_512Cartoon_Man_Being_Tormented_By_a_Fly_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100204-039383-795042Continuing on the “things that had never happened to us before” trend, we had a fruit fly infestation while in Niagara Falls.  fly

One day after heading out for a morning excursion,  we arrived at the coach only to find a large community of fruit flies around our kitchen area.

We turned to the RV forums for help, since we find these forums extremely helpful.  And we discovered that a few fruit flies from bananas we bought had apparently bred in our plumbing.  We were at a campsite that had no water nor sewer, so we’d been using the faucets sparingly to conserve water from our fresh water tank.  And one day was apparently more than enough time for the fruit flies to multiply into quite the swarm!

Fruit-Fly-Banana-Sketch-Cartooncincy 006According to the forums, the best solution for getting rid of fruit flies is to place apple cider vinegar with a piece of banana and some liquid dishwashing soap in various cups and distribute them throughout the coach to trap the flies.  The people in the forums also recommended that we keep drains closed while not in use.

After a few days of following all of those instructions, the fruit flies were gone!  But after having all of this gooey liquid stuff throughout the coach, Hector and I were into deep cleaning mode.


So when we arrived at our next stop, Louisville, we rented a carpet cleaner.  We’ve discovered that because of all of the dirt that gets into the coach the carpet needs to be cleaned about every six months.  It is amazing just how much dirt the carpet cleaner gets out.

After some other deep cleaning, Island Girl was nice and spiffy and the fruit flies were forgotten!

~ Brenda

Nat, Zach, and Cincy

We camped at beautiful Four Mile Creek State Park while visiting Niagara Falls.  Our campsite faced Lake Ontario, so we’d parked Island Girl with her windshield in and open to a view of the lake.  And on the day of our departure, we were rewarded with a brief glimpse of a tiny Toronto skyline, only visible on clear days.

toronto  001That morning we were supposed to get an early start on our long drive from Buffalo to Cincinnati and were all set to go.  Best laid plans.

Well, it rained pretty hard the night before and the person driving Island Girl, who shall remain nameless, took a “shortcut” out of our campsite.  Said unnamed person thought it would be easy to drive around to the next vacant campground and avoid backing out.

That’s when I heard an unhappy sound while returning from my walk with Angel.  And I looked up to see Island Girl facing out on the campsite next to ours.  And what was the sound?   Tires…stuck…in…mud.  And 29,000 pounds on top.  Oh boy.

Fortunately, a gentleman I’d met while walking Angel came by to let me know that he’d been stuck in mud a few days earlier and the campground staff sent a tractor to pull him out for free.  So I went to the office and asked for help.

cincy 001cincy 002A short time later the tractor came by, and after a few adjustments pulled us right out.  But now we were running an hour and a half late!  Oh well, it could have been much worse.

And the campground gets BIG points for the free tow (we tipped of course).

cincy 004Fortunately, the rest of our trip was far better.   We had an uneventful 500 or so mile drive to Cincinnati.  A longer drive than we usually do in a day.cincy 014

After a late arrival, we headed to town to our niece Natalie’s and her fiancée Zach’s townhouse.  They live in a cool urban setting near downtown Cincy called Over the Rhine.  This neighborhood boasts among the world’s largest collections of Italianate architecture, rivaling similar neighborhoods in New York City, Vienna and Munich in size and scope.   It’s also one of the largest historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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We all went to dinner at a gourmet hot dog (read that not too cheap) restaurant.  I don’t often highlight restaurants on the blog, but I thought the Senate was well worth the prices.  And I actually ordered poutine, which turned out to be the best poutine I ever had (apologies to Canadians, and especially Quebecois).

cincy 017Late the following morning we went to Findlay Market, the state’s oldest continuously running public market. We just love farmers markets.  Hector loves to cook so we decided to eat in the next two nights, and bought lots of fresh ingredients for our dinners.cincy 009

cincy 015That day we’d not brought Angel along so we headed back to the campground to freshen up, take Angel for her walk and feed her.  And returned for a fabulous dinner cooked by the chef extraordinaire, Tio Hector, with assistance from our niece Natalie.  Afterwards we went to a blues club and another nightclub for some music and a little dancing.

cincy 025cincy 020cincy 028cincy 023The next day we brought Angel along for a whirlwind tour of Cincinnati; a brief driving tour of the city and a walk on the riverfront.

cincy 024cincy 026cincy 027cincy 021cincy 018That day we had lunch at another noteworthy place, Terry’s Turf Club, a very cute old-fashioned diner with great food and lots of cool neon signs.

cincy 041Then more touring to a lovely park followed by cooking at home by the chef and his assistants, and the Broncos football game, which Hector was very excited to see.cincy 016

cincy 044Our little “grand-nephew”, Calvin the cat did not take well to Angel’s visit, and hid downstairs most of the time.  He ventured hesitantly up the stairs one time, got to the next to last step, and headed back down.  Such a cutie.

Cincinnati was quite a surprise for us, it is a medium sized city but has big city amenities.  We had a really fun visit with Nat and Zach and as a bonus got to discover a little bit of Cincy.

~ Brendacincy 042

One Year Fulltiming!


Leaving Colorado 1

Leaving Colorado 2It’s true, we’ve now passed the one-year mark since we began our journey.  It has been a rich and full experience and yet time has passed very quickly.

Before I forget, I’ll answer a question that was asked just before we left:  What if we don’t like it?  Well, we love it.  Even though the first time I woke up in Island Girl knowing that I’d be living here for a while, my first thought was – What have I done? – I quickly came to love it and have never looked back.Isl Grl Redo  004

In fact, I was surprised at how easily I adjusted, particularly to the confined quarters. Hector and I decorated our new little 400 square foot home just as we had our other homes, and we really enjoy our interior space.

And we’re also really happy with our upgrades and our custom office space.   Hector is able to work on his Apple computer (the photographer gets the big computer) in our comfy chair by the desk, while I work on our laptop on our comfy couch simultaneously.halifax

Island Girl feels downright roomy with her 39’ length, and we have plenty of storage space.

And the journey has far exceeded our expectations. We’ve spent quality time with friends and family across the country, many of whom we’d not seen in waaay too long.  And other friends have come to visit.