Carlsbad, New Mexico

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By: Kevin

While on assignment in western Texas, we opted to take a few days and travel to Carlsbad, NM. With RV in tow we headed across the oil fields of TX and across the border. The next day we went to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The hike down into the caverns was steep, but well worth what awaited us underground. I remember that the kids, who were told where we were going ahead of time, exclaiming that they thought we would walk down, look around, and come out. They did not expect the expanse of the caverns that took us about 5 hours to fully explore. If you are in the area, I would definitely recommend stopping and exploring the caverns. My favorite picture is of the entrance to the bathroom within the cave. Not because it is a stellar photo, but because if one thinks about it, we were about 1,600 ft below ground. So, when you flush, does the water go up or down? And no matter which answer is correct, how did they engineer it to do so?

The walk back out was a challenge. In 1.5 miles we came back up 1,600 ft of elevation. Add to this that Heather was 22 weeks pregnant, so she tired more easily than normal. I led our tribe back out of the caverns, and at one point I looked back to find Heather holding on to my backpack, and Bug hanging on to Heather’s pack creating a train of people that I was now ‘towing’ up the path. Pie was up ahead wondering what was taking us so long.

Once above ground we found a scenic trail that started along the paved road to the caverns. It warned that the trail was only for use by those with high-clearance vehicle and that trailers of any length were specifically prohibited. We felt daring in our F-350 dually, so we accepted the challenge and took the scenic trail. It was very beautiful as we traversed through the national park on what was basically a dirt/gravel path. An hour later we emerged back onto the paved road. I do agree with the warning signage, and would not try the trail with a low-sitting car.

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San Angelo, TX

Feb-May, 2016

By: Kevin

We started out at another campground, but after 2 weeks and a muddy sewage mess we decided to move to the San Angelo KOA. While not as green as the last campground, the lack of sewage at our site was a pleasant change. The kids enjoyed the camp playground, pool, mini-golf, and little pedal vehicles. We all made use of the nearby 2-mile loop of road that the locals regularly used for walking/running/biking/exercising.

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We also discovered a nice metro park along the river in downtown San Angelo complete with walking trails and a visitor center. The kids learned that San Angelo has sheep sculptures all around the city that are painted in all different ways. We picked up a listing of where each sheep was located, and the kids loved to go “sheep hunting” around the city.

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While in Daytona Beach over the winter season we had re-coated the RV roof with liquid EPDM rubber. Now that we again had some free time we wanted to remove the air conditioner from the roof, clean and coat the roof under it that was previously inaccessible, and re-secure the unit on the roof. Our plan was flawless. We had a new roof seal for the A/C, we had the liquid rubber, and we had a dry Texas day with a 0% chance of rain according to the NOAA weather center which was 1/2 mile down the road from the campground. Perfect!

We removed the unit, cleaned, coated, and allowed the rubber to start to dry. Since it had been a beautiful day with clear blue skies we opted to leave the unit off for the night to allow the coating to cure a little longer. We were eating dinner (with a 2-foot square hole in our roof) when Pie commented that she thought she saw lightening outside. I looked outside, but saw nothing, so we continued eating. Again she commented that she saw lightening, and I heard a very low rumble that one may POSSIBLY contribute to thunder in the distance. I made a check of the local radar map, and much to my dismay saw a large thunderstorm quickly approaching our RV.

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It was now All Hands On Deck. I went to the new RV next door and knocked on the door, introduced myself, and asked our newly-acquainted neighbor for assistance getting the A/C re-seated before our RV became an expensive rain gauge. Heather and I were on the roof and our neighbor was inside our RV helping to guide it into the proper location. We got the bolts tightened down and were just walking into the RV when the hail and then rain came down. And man did it pour! It pounded the roof, and we could see the waves of water blowing across the campground in the haze of the security light by the office. We literally got the unit secured just in time. As for the weather forecast center….we never really trusted them again while in TX, even if they were only 1/2 mile down the road from us.

For any of you that were wondering, once the EPDM rubber is applied to a dry roof, it is instantly waterproof, so we did not need to re-reseal the roof after the storm.

San Angelo is also home to a railroad museum along an active railroad track. We, and our friends from Houston, visited the museum and climbed through a locomotive and caboose that were on display along the side of the museum.

In Texas, for those of you who don’t know, the state police wear Stetson cowboy hats as part of their official uniform. While in TX, we figured we needed to see what all the hype was about with these hats, so we gave them a try. We look pretty good if you ask me.

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Another absolutely amazing place is the Santa Fe Western and Rustic Furniture store in San Angelo. They have a stuffed horse right inside the door that starts talking when you walk by and made my wife just about jump out of her socks. We all love this place as it is filled with so many amazing and interesting things. It also had a free margarita machine that dispensed alcoholic and non alcoholic margarita mix. If we every have a normal sized house again, Heather has her heart set on getting a dining room table from here.

I really did enjoy our time in Texas, and plan to return this coming year. We are declaring Texas as our legal home, if nothing but on paper, as we like their home school laws and nursing licensing system.

Heather gets to drive

By: Kevin

Typically when we travel with the RV I am driving the truck with the RV and Heather is following along behind me with van. Or, if we are taking a side trip, I drive while Heather conducts home school along the way. On our way back to San Angelo from our trip to San Antonio Heather got up the courage to drive the dually with the RV in tow. She did a good job. Although I must say it was strange to be seated in the passenger seat of my truck. I do like that, while she may not be 100% comfortable doing so, if needed Heather can in fact drive the truck and RV somewhere.

San Antonio & The Alamo

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By: Kevin

While on contract in San Angelo we decided to make a side trip down to San Antonio, about 3 hours south of San Angelo. We took the RV with us and stayed at the San Antonio KOA, which was pretty nice. We were supposed to have a site along the river, but the office told us the river was in flood stage and they were unsure how much higher it may get before cresting and instead put us on a different site away from the river. We did look at the river when we arrived and the river was up about 8 feet from normal with quite a current to it. Before leaving the KOA we looked at it again and were shocked to find a bike trail which had been underwater on our arrival. To see the difference in river height in just 2 days was rather impressive.

We had planned to take the truck into town and find a lot to park in for the day, but as we were checking in at the KOA they informed us that the city bus line stopped right outside the gate of the campground and that they suggested we leave the truck at the camp and take the bus into town. They gave us the bus schedule and told us what bus to take into town, and when ready, what bus number to take back to the campground. This proved to be very beneficial to us!

We rode the city bus into downtown and explored the area on foot. The kids both had a day pack with water and a packed lunch to carry around as well as any other little items they elected to bring with them.

I would like to take a moment to venture on a bit of a tangent and tell you that riding the bus was a new experience for the kids. They had never been on a city bus before. We were among the first passengers to board the bus and elected to sit toward the front of the bus. A few stops later a young male African American boarded the bus and elected to sit toward the rear of the bus. Upon seeing this Bug, our son, leaned over to Heather and I and asked if the black man had to sit in the back of the bus like on the movies he watched. Apparently Bug and Pie had recently been watching Sounder, Pollyanna, and any number of older movies with some of them based in historical eras where segregation was still the norm. Needless to say we had a learning moment and explained that while that used to be the case, nowadays people of any color can sit anywhere they want. Now that we look back at the situation I find it slightly humorous, but at the time I was mortified.

So, we made our first stop at the Alamo, a very important Texas landmark and toured the buildings and grounds. Pie loved the fountain on the grounds and wanted to throw some change into it like she saw on the bottom of the fountain.

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We also lucked out at the Alamo because it was Army Day at the Alamo and an Army band was playing music in front of the wall, there were reenactors in period costumes present, and they even fired off a cannon. To cap off the day’s celebration the Army Golden Knights, a parachute team, jumped out of a plane a few thousand feet above us and glided in, landing on a large orange and black X laid out on the ground in front of the Alamo. We really enjoyed it.

alamoarmyknightsAnother attraction in San Antonio is the River Walk, a man-made river that winds through downtown complete with walkways, bridges, and shops that border the river. Riverboats offer floating tours of the area and people are free to walk and explore the many shops and restaurants along the banks. We started with a boat tour, then explored on foot. There is a 3-story mall with large glass windows on one cul-de-sac of the river that we roamed as well. The kids also enjoyed dipping their hands in the water along the way. The weather was warm that day, but the trees and buildings created enough shade that our walk was quite pleasant.

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After exploring the River Walk we boarded the city bus and rode back to the KOA. We decided to have dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Heather and the kids seemed to enjoy their meals, but I was sadly disappointed at the quality, quantity, price, and temperature of my food. It is safe to say I will not be returning to that restaurant in the future.

The next day we pulled out of the KOA and headed north. We stopped at REI, which over time has received more of our money than they probably should and we stopped at Bass Pro Shop on the way out of town. We stopped at Rudy’s Barbeque for lunch on the recommendation of a friend, and it lived up to the recommendation. The meats were flavorful and juicy. The sauce is their own and is a nice mix of spice and sweet. We ordered creamed corn, barbecue beans, coleslaw, and bread as our sides and shared them around the table. All of them were very good and there were no leftovers at the end of the meal. While the outside of the building doesn’t look like much, the food more than makes up for their humble appearance, and is worth a stop if you are in the area.

Dallas, TX and National Boy Scout Museum

Once an Eagle Scout, Always an Eagle Scout

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By: Kevin

While on assignment in Texas we made a trip to Dallas to officially transfer our vehicle titles, license plates, driver licenses, and other official paperwork to become Texans. We also needed vehicle inspections for all three vehicles, and the RV. I was not thrilled about spending the majority of the day in government offices, but it actually went faster and easier than expected, and we had some extra time on our hands by mid-afternoon. We opted to visit the Boy Scouts of America national office and Boy Scout museum. Located within the museum is a wonderful collection of original Norman Rockwell paintings, which are impressive on their own, let alone the rest of the museum.

As a Boy Scout starting at the rank of Tiger and progressing all the way to Eagle Scout, I especially enjoyed the museum, and telling Heather and the kids about the many opportunities that I was able to partake in through the Scouting program. The kids liked crawling through and artificial cave while wearing Petzl helmets and paddling a canoe down a “river”. Heather and I enjoyed the laser shooting range. As Bug approaches the age of Tiger Cubs, I am excited to guide him through the scouting program.

Water and Waste Water Woes

San Angelo TX

By: Heather

 

San Angelo Texas in February is nice. Our first morning (after arriving late in the night and backing the RV into our spot in the dark) I emerged into a beautiful sunny morning where we were perplexed by the campground employees who were all wearing coats when we were walking around in t-shirts. That should have been my first clue as to how terribly hot it would be in just a couple of months.

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Our campground was next to a lake that sparkled in the sun but I was just wondering which child would be first to fall in. As we went on a walk later that day our dog was scared to go out on the docks, so I was working with her, enticing her out onto the dock so she could see that there was nothing to be scared of. That is when I walked backwards right off the end of one of the docks and straight into the lake. I was only in the water for a couple of seconds before I pulled myself back up onto the dock to an excited chorus from my children of “mommy, can we go swimming too?!?!” Haha! As it turns out, I was the first child to fall into the lake.

 

This was a nice campground that I really liked. I mean, nothing is perfect. The laundry room wasn’t the cleanest and there was not a pool, but the lake was pretty and it had just the right amount of trees and plenty of grass and was mostly empty and peaceful. It was also within a city park with lots of green space and a few small playgrounds. Then I noticed a puddle in the grass right in front of our RV, and as the day went on the puddle grew, and then another puddle appeared right next to our neighbor’s septic pipe. Right about then Kevin was getting home so I pointed the puddle out to him and he pointed it out to the campground manager who immediately went and flushed the pipes to remove a clog and it was all fixed. Whew. But a couple of days later that tiny little puddle appeared right next to our RV again, right on the front side, close to where we had the kids’ outside toys stashed. Again by afternoon there was a bigger puddle near our neighbor’s septic pipe and again the management had the lines flushed.

On a side tangent, We usually leave our grey water tank valve open and our black tank valve closed. When our campground’s managers flushed the underground sewer lines they also went around and closed people’s tank valves. That was thoughtful so we don’t get something nasty coming back up where it should not be. Very nice, but, they did not tell us that they closed the valves and they also did not open them back up once they were done. So the next morning I woke up to my children loudly saying “Ew, what is this big puddle? Why are my feet all wet? Did Dixie pee on the floor?”  This was very much NOT how I wanted to wake up. As it turned out the dog had not peed on the floor. Both sides of the kitchen sink were absolutely full of water and it was over flowing onto the counter top and running down under the cabinets and out onto the floor where my children were stepping in it!!! Where was all of this water coming from you may ask. I had not been running any water into the sink from the faucet but I knew where the water was coming from. This had actually happened just a week before in Daytona Beach when we had been almost ready to pull out and had disconnected from the sewer system but not yet disconnected from fresh water. Under our sink we have a reverse osmosis water filter to filter water for drinking. It filters pretty slowly and has a one gallon tank of already filtered water that is ready for use, but as it filters water it takes several gallons of tap water to make a gallon of filtered water. This is due to back-flushing of the membrane in the RO system, which is normal. Those several gallons of water are put directly into the drain under the sink which then filled up the galley tank, and the sink, and the counter, and the floor… you get the picture. At least it wasn’t gross water. Not fun to clean up though.

Back to the septic problems. A few days later, I remember it was a Saturday because it was busier than normal. I was baking cookies. That tiny little puddle appeared again next to our RV. Not again! Not long after I went out and there was a full blown explosion. Next to our neighbor’s septic pipe was a lake of, well, I refused to look too closely but it smelled bad. The manager blamed the neighbor for flushing shop towels down his toilet and the neighbor blamed the manager for failing to fix an allegedly broken pipe and they and the maintenance crew all stood around the lake arguing while I hid inside, thankful that I had baked cookies that day because they smelled heavenly. Soon I saw them digging and they dug up the pipe. The kids were super excited. They wanted to dig too! and play in the septic-infused mud! and climb in and out of the hole! “no.” They determined that a tree root caused the underground pipe to have an uphill slant to it between the neighbor’s site and ours. This problem was made worse by the fact that our neighbor lived in a left over FEMA trailer from Katrina. This is a problem because the FEMA trailers were made as cheap as possible…meaning no black tank underneath them. When the neighbor flushed his toilet everything went straight out the pipe, no time to break down paper or waste to a more, uh, liquid form. You also lose the force of a 30 gallon tank emptying to push things on down the line, like what occurs when we dump our black tank. Then, for the next week it poured every day and we had a huge smelly mess in front of our camper. img_2019That was our breaking point. That is when we asked to leave and received a refund for the other half of our first month. We appreciated them handling it so well and letting us out so easily. So, we hitched up the fifth wheel and moved to the San Angelo KOA a few miles up the road. The ironic thing about the whole situation is that the KOA was closer to the hospital, cheaper, and had a nice outdoor pool. We did lose the lake and grassy areas, but I will take pea gravel over sewage any day of the week.

Go West Young Man

From FL to TX

By: Kevin

Our second assignment had come to an end, despite the pleas of Florida Hospital staff for me to stay longer or become a permanent employee. Our next stop would be Houston, TX to visit some friends before arriving at my next assignment in San Angelo, TX. We started out from Flagler Beach, and after a quick stop at a scale house to recheck the weight of our rig, we were headed west. We were making good progress across I-10 with the F-350 and fifth wheel in the lead and Heather in the van behind me. We were approaching the Florida-Alabama line around sun-down. The F-350 was earning its keep by pulling our heavy trailer without any noticeable hardship. This trip it was the trailer that had the issue. Due to the mechanics of a fifth wheel one does not feel as much sway or vibration from the trailer as other types of towed trailers, so I did not notice that one of the wheels had become loose and was wobbling around on the axle hub. It was only after Heather was showered with glowing broken wheel studs and lug nuts and watched the wheel spin off across the freeway median that I became aware that there was a problem. I do have to say that I was glad she was in the van behind me or who knows how far I would have driven without any idea that I was one wheel short. I am also glad that our trailer is a tandem-axle model, which kept the wheel-less axle from dragging on the pavement. We took the nearest exit and pulled into a truck stop for what turned out to be the night. We made a call to our roadside assistance company and a mobile repair truck was dispatched. The tech advised that he could fix it and get us back on the road, but he required parts from NAPA, so it would be the next morning before he could get it done.

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So, we were stopped for the night a little earlier than we had planned, but everyone was safe. We started to get ready for bed and Heather walked into the kids’ bedroom and looked down at my motorcycle, which gets parked next to the kids’ bunk beds while traveling. She watched as a black widow spider scurried back under the fuel tank of the motorcycle. Well, needless to say the kids did not get to sleep in their own beds that night. Instead, they both slept on the dinette that converts to a bed. I am sure it was not as comfortable as their own beds, but given the circumstance, it was better than the floor.

In the morning the repair tech showed up, removed the axle hub, removed all 6 sheared wheel studs, put new studs and lug nuts on, and reinstalled the hub and wheel. We were rolling yet again! We arrived around nightfall that evening in Houston at our friends’ house without any additional issues. We visited with them late into the night and part of the next day before pulling out again for San Angelo, TX. The rest of the trip from Houston to San Angelo was uneventful, and we arrived with all wheels attached. Needless to say we now check all lug nuts and wheels at least every morning, if not more frequently.