Sunday, November 29, 2015

White Sands National Monument

A visit to White Sands has been on my radar for quite a while and
today we managed to check it off the list.
Not to say that we won't be back - we sure would like to come back for early \
morning or late afternoon photography.

After taking the Doods for a walk, Kate and I hit the road around noontime
for the 1 hr drive to the White Sands Visitor Center.

The White Sands Dune Field is the largest Gypsum Dune Field in the world.
Gypsum is the material used in Sheetrock and plaster for its light white color.

The gypsum is leached out of the surrounding mountains by rainfall, it flows down
into the valley which is surrounded by mountains and shaped like a bowl.

It is here that the water evaporates, and the crystalized gypsum flakes (called selenite) are picked up
by the prevailing winds and deposited on the west side of the dune field.

As the wind continues to move the dunes - as much as 30' per year,
the gypsum is ground down to an almost talc like consistency.

After watching a film about the park, its flora, and fauna, we then headed up
the Dune Road towards the interior of the park.

The white color of the sands gives the park an "Other-Worldly" appearance at times.

We stopped at numerous locations and climbed the dunes for unique vantage points.

Due to the fine consistency of the grains, and the water soluble nature of the gypsum,
the dunes were somewhat firm and easy to walk upon.

A view of our truck from one point to give some perspective.

One of the intersting facts about the park is about how the plants and animals have evolved
to survive within this unique ecosystem.

The plants need to adapt to the constant movement of the dunes.
The Yucca will grow on the surface and as the dune increases in depth, it must
continue to grow to keep its head above the surface.

Sometimes the dune will stop growing and recede.

Below a Yucca seed pod is extended above the plant.

What often happens, as in the plant below, the Yucca continues to grow taller and taller to remain
above the dune, then the dune moves on, the sand recedes, 
and the plant cannot hold itself upright and falls back upon itself.

Its all a part of life on the dunes.

Soon it was time to head back to Las Cruces for our final night,
and my Sunday Night Broncos Game.

We really enjoyed our visit here and look forward to an encore one day.

Tomorrow we put the bus back in motion westbound towards the setting sun.
Our destination is the Tucson Arizona area where we will basically remain
thru New Years. 

Next stop - Catalina State Park.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving - Las Cruces, NM

On Wednesday we rolled into Las Cruces, NM where we
will stay till Monday.  While here we will visit some of the local
sights, our first being Old Mesilla.

Old Mesilla is a small village just south of Las Cruces.  
It was established when the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,
which ended the Mexican-American war in 1848,
set the boundary between the two countries.

A number of people who now found themselves living in the United States but
preferred to live in Mexico moved south and established Mesilla in what was then still Mexico.

5 years later - boundary disputes between Mexico and the US were resolved
with the Gadsden Purchase - which moved the boundary further south to its 
present location, and Mesilla became part of the US.

The Gadsden Purchase documents were signed in 1853 here in Mesilla on the town square.

A reminder that you can click on photos for a large version.

On Weds night we determined that it would be prudent to perform some
Pre-Thanksgiving warmups, so we went to dinner at The Double Eagle,
a nice restaurant on the square famous for its aged steaks and wine list.

In a historic building loaded with period antiques, it was a memorable evening.

We arrived early for dinner and were promptly seated in the more
casual courtyard section.

I had an aged NY Strip that was out of this world.

By the time we were done with dinner the quiet restaurant was filled.

On Thanksgiving morning a Road Runner made an appearance in front of the Bus.

Beep Beep

Yesterday we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner prepared by Kate.
Turkey, Stuffing, the works.

Where's Waldo......  Notice Gracie on the seat observing...

No sooner than the dishes were done and put away - Kate started to
break out the Christmas Decorations.

We hope that all of you had a great Thanksgiving!

Its been raining on and off here for the past several days,
quite unusual weather for the desert.  
Today its cloudy and we are going to have a couch potato day and watch some movies.

Tomorrow (Sunday) we will go visit White Sands National Monument, which
is about an hours drive from here.

We've never been to White Sands but have heard so much about it.
We are really looking forward to our visit.

See you there.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The LBJ Ranch

No visit to the Texas Hill Country is complete without a visit to the LBJ Ranch.
Known at the time as the Western White House, during our visit there we gained
some key insights into our 36th President and we both left with
a greater understanding - and admiration for the man, and his accomplishments.

Born in 1908, LBJ was raised very close to the ranch where he lived his whole life.
His mother was one of the few woman at the time who was a college graduate and instilled
a love of learning into her son.   By the age of 4 he had learned to read and was
admitted early to the local one room school house were he obtained his early education.

The one room school house where the future president first went to school.

LBJ, whose own path out of poverty was via a public education,
strongly believed that education was a cure for ignorance and the poverty it bred,
and was a critical component of the American Dream.

This belief led to the landmark Education Act of 1965 where for the first time,
significant amounts of federal money went to poor school districts in an attempt
to ensure that all children of all income classes would receive an equal education.

This landmark bill was signed out side of this one room school house and the
president signed it sitting next to his elementary school teacher.

Below is the classroom where LBJ first went to school.

Growing up in a poor area, LBJ saw the positive things that government could do for
the people via FDR's New Deal Programs during the depression.

It was these observations that help shaped his resolve to use the power of government
as a tool to help people as he rose to power.

To obtain his goals, LBJ was the consummate deal maker.
He learned the strengths, weaknesses, wants and needs of foe and allies alike,
and used this information to further his legislation.

During his presidency which lasted about 1,900 days, he signed over 1,000 bills into law.
Almost 1 bill every other day!
This is a record pace of achieving not seen before or since.

Equal rights,  segregation, Medicaid and Medicare, voting rights,
broadcasting reforms, national endowments for the arts and humanities,
his legislative agenda touched all walks and facets of our society.

We stopped for this shot at the entrance to the ranch.

Driving the road into the ranch you are under a canopy of Live Oaks, and
come upon the Johnson Family Cemetery.
LBJ on right and Lady Bird, on the Left.

The ranch and its extensive collections were donated by the President and Mrs Johnson
to the National Park Service.

Across from the family cemetery is the boy hood home that LBJ grew up in.

This is the small jet that LBJ would use for local transportation.
The regular Air Force One - a Boeing 707 - was too heavy to use the LBJ Ranch Runway.

This small house - about 200' from the main house - served at the secret service
command post.

The side of the main house.   LBJ's private office was on the extreme left of this photo.
The large Oak on the right is called "The Cabinet Oak" and is so named due to the
numerous meetings that would take place in the shade of its expansive canopy.
It is currently estimated to be about 350 years old.

This is a photo of the front of the home.
Behind us is the Pedernales River.  
The home was set overlooking the river.

No photos were allowed to be taken inside the home so I do not have any to show.

Some interesting tidbits...  LBJ was an information junkie.   There were 3 TV sets in
every room (only 3 stations were available locally)

There were phones in every room - many rooms had 2 or 3 phones.
Lady Bird had a separate bedroom.   
While she would sleep with the president,
often she would be woken up by staff in the room that LBJ had summoned and was having
a meeting from his bed.  Knowing it would probably go on for hours, 
she would simply get up and retreat to the other room for the rest of the night.

LBJ had a 3 pack a day cigarette habit.   
After several heart attacks he quit smoking for 15 years.  

On the day of Richard Nixons Inauguration, as the door closed on
Air Force One to take him home to Texas for the final time, he lit up a cigarette.
His daughters, yelled about his piking up a cigarette to which he replied that
he had raised his daughters, served his country, and now it was his time.

LBJ only lived about 4 more years.
During those years its been said that we was committing slow motion suicide by
too much smoke, drink and food.   He had several more heart episodes.

Aides said that Johnson had become depressed that after a lifetime of public
service, and thousands of bills intended to uplift and help people,
that the only thing people remembered about him was that he
was the president who deepened our involvement in Viet Nam.

The war in Viet Nam wore on the president, and endless hours of taped
conversations about the war showed how desperately he wanted to end the
war but felt the US was trapped in a no-win situation.

As much as he tried - it seemed that peace eluded him.

Ironically he died on his beloved ranch at almost the same instant that
Richard Nixon was announcing the peace agreement that ended the US involvement in that war.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Kerville, Tx Chasing 100%

On Monday we left Austin, Texas and headed about 2 hrs west
to Kerrville.    Our original plan had us moving on Sunday as I prefer to travel
on non-work days  when possible as its less stressful but a mechanical issue made us wait.

I've been trying to keep the bus at 100% perfect.
No issues on the to-do list.
It seems like it should be easy but these things are very complex machines
and it seems as soon as I have it perfect some little thing pops up that needs my attention.

Last week you might recall - I replaced a malfunctioning solenoid and once again
was at 100%.   That lasted about a day.
On Saturday I was doing some pre departure checks for the following morning
and an error code popped up on my engine display.

The bus has dozens of sensors.
Things like fuel temperature, pressure, ambient air temperature, turbo inlet temp and
turbo outlet pressure,  exhaust gas temp, DEF Tank temp...
Transmission temps, axle temps,  and on and on and on....

Well the error code said there was a problem with my DEF tank temperature.
It was not a major problem - it was an issue with the pollution control system, so the
bus could be driven but discretion told me to get it fixed now rather than have a problem
down the road.  So we delayed departure till Monday so I could get repairs lined up.

The engine is still under warranty so the repairs are free 
which certainly makes it less painful.

After some disagreeable conversations with the Freighliner dealer in Austin,
I contacted Freightliner in San Antonio.  The gentleman there said if I could get down
early enough they would look at it that day and it was probably a quick fix.

So it was south 2 hrs to San Antonio.
We arrived at 1pm.
By 130 the paperwork was complete and a tech had the computer hooked up to the data port.

15 minutes later we were backing into a bay.

The tech had to drop the DEF Tank and replace the whole head sensing unit.

By 430pm we were hooked back up to the Toad and headed 1 hr west on
I-10 to Kerville where we are now situated for the week.

The bus was back at 100%

Thanks to San Antonio Freightliner for running a quality shop and
getting me in and out.

We arrived at the Buckhorn Lake Resort - a very nice RV park in Kerrville, Tx
about 6pm in the dark.   Upon arrival I made a check of all lights (easier in the dark)
and discovered that my roofline clearance lights were out in front and back.

The bus was back at 98%

Our spot at the Buckhorn is very nice.   50amp, Full hookup,
and a beautiful pastoral scene in front of us with pastureland
and a stream.

A big windmill sits smack in the middle of the park. 

And our view out the front window.
A cold front came thru the night we arrived and its been clear,
cool, and beautiful dry air.

The park is all decorated for Christmas already.
Below - the building decorations are reflected in one of the many ponds on the property.

Below - The entrance to the park.
When we arrived, for a moment I thought I was back in my flying days,
 sitting in the pilots seat on short final to Newark.

I had to check and make sure the gear was down...
Fortunately - it was.

One of the barns.

More reflections - a bridge and gazebo.

Well I've fixed my clearance lights for now...

I had find a front and rear inline fuse hidden in the wire bundles in the front and
rear of the coach.   Both 1amp fuses were blown.  I replaced them and the
LED clearance lights work but I think the next rain might knock them out again.

I think water is getting inside them...  
 It must have been a bad caulk day at the factory the day the put them on.

 so I've ordered 10 new ones...
5 amber front lights, and 5 red rear lights.
They will arrive here tomorrow from the Tiffin Factory.
I will make sure they are caulked well when I install them.

So I currently am back at 100% 
but I think 100% is hanging by a hair...      or by a pair of 1 amp fuses

I'll wait till we get to NM or further west before I start to pull the lights off.
Dryer weather there you know.

While in Kerrville we plan to visit the LBJ Ranch - which was known as the
Western White House, and the Pacific War Museum in Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg is also a large German Immigrant town 
so I imagine that there might be a Schnitzel & Kartoffelpuffe in our future.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

And the winner is.....

Well the Great Barbecue Taste-off has come to an end.
In the last couple of weeks we have visited 4 superb smokehouses and
enjoyed some excellent smoked meats, but its time to give my
BBQ Sniffer a rest.

Our BBQ stops were:

12 bones Smokehouse in Asheville, Nc

Big Daddys Roadhouse Barbecue in Lavon, Tx

The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Tx

And Last but certainly not least....

Kerlin BBQ in Austin, Tx

12 Bones uses a unique dry rub with names like Blueberry Chipolte.
It gives the meat a spicy flavor.   Its a bit too spicy for Kates liking.
It is well smoked - again a bit too smoky for Kates liking.
The Brisket was delicious and very lean.  Perhaps too lean as the meat is
drier than our other visits.

All that said - its still delicious and if you find your self in Asheville, and like good
barbecue, then you can't go wrong with 12 Bones.

12 bones has 2 locations and we find the location in town much
better than the South location.  Plenty of seating inside and outside.
They close at 4pm so don't delay.

We give it 7.5 out of 10.

Our next stop was Big Daddys Roadhouse in Lavon, Tx about 30 mi
north of Dallas.  Located near the filming location for the TV show Dallas, it
was frequented by the cast and others and the walls are adorned with autographed
photos of many celebrities.

The Brisket and the Pork ribs were all well smoked, but lighter than 12 Bones and
the barbecue sauce served on the side was more to our liking than the heavy
vinegar served at 12 bones.

The meat was all tender and juicy.   It turned out to be our #2 choice.
We gave it 8 out of 10.

Next on the tour was the Salt Lick in Driftwood.
Rated on Ambiance alone this place would be a 10.
Set in a scenic location there is a lot of indoor and outdoor seating under the Oaks.
A byob establishment - folks bring coolers of their favorite beverages and
make an afternoon out of it.

The meats were lightly smoked, tender and juicy.   Cooked over and open pit
wood fire, it is less smoked than the others.

The Burnt ends Brisket was delicious.   Sweet caramelized bark that burst with flavor.
The ribs were tender and juicy.
There were two sauces - a mild and a spicy.   The spicy was still tame.
The sauces added a nice flavor and I enjoyed them but I've had better.
The sauce however is very personal taste.

We gave it a 9 out of 10.

Last on the stop was Kerlin BBQ in Austin.
Served from a food trailer - like many outlets in Austin.
This is a mom and pop operation.  
The write-ups on it have been stellar and even though I arrived
1 min after opening time, the line had already formed.  
This place has been discovered.

Now the photos below do not do this food justice.
Thank goodness I do not make my living as a food photographer as my clients
would be ghost towns.

The brisket was mouth watering, tender,  juicy,
and sported a light bark with a pronounced smoke ring.

It was so tender that you would pick up a piece and it would fall apart.
It seemed to be just the right mix of smoke flavor.

The pork ribs were juicy and fall off the bone tender.
The sauce was a light tomato vinegar base with some celery seed that gave it a nice twist.

We ordered this food for take out and ate it for dinner.

The are only open  Friday, Sat, Sunday, 11am - 2pm (or until the run out of food)

It is not much on ambiance.  There are picnic tables under tent canopy
with some rock and roll music playing.
Austin is a college town and many of the patrons looked like they were students.

One thing that I particularly liked about Kerlins  
(besides the name) 
was the sides:

A blue cheese Cole Slaw.   Wow.   A great twist on a BBQ favorite.
And Jalepeno Dill Potato Salad.   Wow again.  Twas light on the jalapeño and not spicy,
but the flavor of the jalapeño just added a unique twist.

Well done on both!

Its been said (by moi) that man does not live by BBQ alone and
these sides make that possible.

We'd have to give it a good 9.5 out of 10.
I'm still searching for that 10.

The only way to truly judge these places would be to sit down and eat it side by side.
Doing it weeks and miles apart makes it difficult to fairly compare.

If you are ever near any of these places...  stop in and give them a try.

Its a tough job but someone has to do it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

On the level

While here in Austin I had to make some quick repairs.
The bus has automatic leveling/stabilizing system.

When we arrive somewhere I push a button to start the process.

First the system dumps the air from the air bag suspension
Next, a hydraulic pump pressurizes the system and extends four 16,000lb jacks 
one in each corner of the bus.  Each jack is independently controlled by a solenoid.

The system is computerized and will extend each jack as necessary to level the bus.
You can also operate it manually, and you can also just use it to
put each leg down enough to stabilize the bus (stop the rocking) but not level it.

Recently I noticed that one of the legs kept retracting slowly overnight.
After some troubleshooting I determined that I had a malfunctioning solenoid.
(a solenoid is merely an electronic switch or in this case an electronic valve)

The solenoid was slowly letting the pressurized hydraulic fluid pass thru and back to the hydraulic
fluid reservoir - the springs on the jacks would then pull the jacks back up.

A quick email to Tiffin - the maker of the bus - and that same day a replacement
Solenoid was on its way to the campground via UPS 2 day.

All of the equipment that operates this system is in a tight space in a side

The photo below shows the pump, the 4 lines - one to each jack - and the pump motor.
The solenoids (1 for each jack) are located behind the pump and to remove or install it
you are working by feel in the blind.

There is only about 2" of room on the right side of the pump.

I put my hand behind the pump and took pictures that I used on the computer to
familiarize myself with the layout.

Below is the old solenoid that I removed.   It is quite hefty and weighs about 5 lbs.
It simply screws into the back of the pump and you reconnect the electric.

The threads are on the right side of the photo and the extreme right end on the right is the actual
valve seat that controls the hydraulic fluid.

A cam lever on the left serves as an emergency release should the solenoid not function and
you need to raise the jacks.   (you can't drive till the jacks are raised)

For reference here is a shot of it with my hand.

To unscrew the solenoid, I was able to use a pair of channel locks gripping
the grey hex shaped area by the cam on the left side where the wires are exiting.

It did not require a lot of effort to remove or replace.

After replacing the solenoid, the bus is once again stable, level, and the
leg remained extended all night so it looks like we are back in business.

For my reward today I will make my final Austin Barbecue evaluation
before we pick up jacks and head to Kerville, Tx tomorrow for a week.