Flying with the Falcon

Wacky Weather and Other Traveling Woes

*I already inserted an addendum near the end of my original post, but now that we are stuck in Vernon, Texas for a day to wait out storms I will also add that last night we encountered icy roads too treacherous to continue onward. Though I wanted to post the last two nights, I have been too busy managing the many issues we’ve had while traveling. It’s been wild and wooly, but we are safe and hunkered down for a bit. More to come next week! Photo taken on the way to Amarillo, TX. Spatters from our encounter with snow still on the window.

Sunday Michael and I left the Carson Valley with our beloved Aluminum Falcon in tow. We took Saturday to button up the Airstream and pack away all the loose items sitting on countertops, remove the skirting Michael created to cut the cold wind under the trailer, check the tires on the Falcon, and hitch the truck to the trailer the night before leaving. If you happen to be an RV owner, you probably recognize these common items on a long list of checks one must do before traveling. Once we felt certain all the cupboards and drawers were secured (or so we thought, ehem), the pipes bled, and the loose furniture strapped down inside the Falcon, we checked out of the RV park we called home for eight months. It’s hard to believe we lived in the Carson Valley that long. After that amount of time it creeped into the realm of what feels familiar, and both Michael and I will miss the gorgeous chain of mountains across the road, those snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Of course, we will miss the sunshine—we both were glad to avoid the snow of the north—but we will also miss the wonderful community of people we got to know while in Carson.

Unfortunately, our plans to leave on Sunday morning did not anticipate the high winds we drove through the entire day. From Carson Valley we drove south to Vegas, hammered by wind the whole way south through the state of Nevada, which drove our gas mileage down into the single digits at times. Our truck on its own gets between 20-24 miles to the gallon on the highway when not towing anything, but typically the mileage drops down to between 10-15 miles to the gallon when towing the Falcon. That wind really dug down into the gas tank. I suppose we could have waited to leave for another day, but we had everything packed and ready. Thus, we fought the wind all the way to Vegas, where we stopped at Ikea to pick up some window dressings and a sink for the bathroom. Why, you may ask? Because we have finally determined it is time to renovate!

After living in the Falcon for a year, it’s showing serious signs of wear and tear. I mean, even an Airstream will start falling apart after 30 years, no matter how well it’s been treated over time (see my post on the pros and cons of living in a used Airstream). With some water damage from the leaking AC unit, as well as leakage from a mystery location under the shower, coupled with humidity issues from condensation in the cold weather, we have been worried about rotting and mildew. Since Michael could not secure a contract with any of several positions to which he applied, we have absolutely no plan for where we need to be anytime soon. A job in Bradford, PA looks like it could be promising if Michael can renew his PA license soon (though he had a snafu with it, which he hopes we can remedy if we go back to our current home base of Olean, NY). We shall see what happens when we get back east and secure a spot to park and start ripping the guts out of the Airstream.

In the meantime, we are planning to enjoy our drive across the country, a last fling with warm weather and sunshine which will hopefully sustain us through the last leg of winter in the north. At this very moment we are driving through northern Arizona toward Flagstaff, where the weather says it’s snowing. Sigh. Perhaps we won’t get that sun and warm weather. At least the scenery is beautiful. Honestly, we have seen a sweeping change of landscape since leaving Las Vegas (as a quick aside: if you take your RV to Vegas, we stayed at Arizona Charlie’s for a low price of about $35 with full hook-ups and a pull-through site, which is much better than prices anywhere else, and was nice and clean). Around Vegas, the mountains have a stark sort of beauty in their craggy brown rock, which is occasionally striated with sedimentary coloration, though the scenery is largely brown with some areas studded with shrubs, palm trees, and Joshua trees. At times in Nevada it looks positively Martian, with oasis-like green mostly clustered around areas where people live and plant trees for shade or landscape to make things look more hospitable. And Nevada in general is not all warm like the area around Vegas. In the mountains, one gets plenty of cold weather and snow, even though the climate is dry and mostly sunny.

Going south from Vegas toward Kingsman, AZ is the road to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. We opted not to stop, since we did those sights back when we married five years ago. It was still fun to ogle the marvel of the mountains and canyons there as we drove past, and if you haven’t been to visit, I recommend going. The dam is massive and impressive, and the area is absolutely gorgeous. Lake Mead is a popular tourist spot, as is the dam, so expect crowds anytime of year. Once past the lake, continuing toward Kingsman, the shape of the mountains changes from the canyons to flatter land below the peaks, and then as you gain elevation going toward Flagstaff the air gets colder and the juniper and pinyon pines fill in the undulating skyline. Though we left a cold morning in Vegas behind us, I had hoped the day would warm as the hours crept toward midday, but fortune did not see fit to reward us with nice weather on this leg of the trip. While we lost an hour crossing the state line to Arizona, we lost about 20 degrees, and then gained roadside seats to a dusting of snow on the yellow-hued grass. The rounded peaks stretching away in the distance had been clouded by falling snow and speckled with the stubble of dark evergreen growth that reminds me of a beard started several days ago.

Approaching Flagstaff, I am reminded of our trip to the Grand Canyon years ago. We stayed in Flagstaff to be closer to the South Rim, which is the only access to the park in winter months. Since it was cold and snowy when we visited in January, hardly anyone was there. It was actually rather nice to have the whole park to ourselves as we walked along the trail next to the canyon, snapping photos and being generally awestruck. Again, since we already visited this National Park a few years ago, we do not plan to stop there this trip, though I highly recommend making the effort to drive from Vegas if you have the time for this side trip from Sin City. It only takes a few hours to get there, and it is well worth the time. On the way to the Grand Canyon you can stop and see the Hoover Dam, too.

We had hoped to stop to see the petrified forest while traveling along Route 40, also known as old Route 66, through Arizona. For a short time we dithered over whether or not to make the trip up the road to see the painted desert as well, but when we checked maps it was hard to tell what kind of road would lead us there. Without being certain the road would be in decent shape, we didn’t want to risk the Airstream having to bump along on potholes. So we chose to just stop at the petrified forest, which is a National Park, and right off the highway. Then somehow our day of driving got eaten up with too many stops we needed to make for a variety of reasons I can’t even remember (one of which was a rest stop which turned into sweeping up the glass of a broken dish which had sailed out of a cupboard after a rough patch of road). Snow began to fall in earnest, and then by the time we arrived at the park entrance it was already closed for the day. Sad face.

After the disappointment of missing out on fun, snow became a serious issue. We planned to drive to Albuquerque to spend the night there, but between the park and Gallup, NM the snow started to fall so heavily we could barely see. It built up on the roadway in icy slush, and our pace slowed down to half what it should have been. At that point, we made the decision to stop at Gallup for the night, rather than fight hours of snowfall and dangerous driving conditions with the trailer. Thus we ended up at the USA RV Park in Gallup, right off the highway. The park was convenient and about the same price as the park in Vegas for full hook-ups, so we were happy. One downside with the weather: no water or sewer overnight. When it gets below freezing, anyone who full-times in an RV knows you have to take precautions to prevent things from freezing. When the fresh water hose sits directly in the snow, you have to wrap it in heat tape and insulation. Since we really had no desire to waste time with such measures, we chose to go without the hook-ups for water and just used the jugs of water we purchased at the store earlier in the day. The stove helped heat the Falcon up to a nice toasty temperature before bed, since I baked sweet potatoes to eat with dinner. Hooray for baked potatoes!

Without water, we waltzed out our camp cooking skills to wash dishes and hands and brush teeth, and then in the morning we went to breakfast at Denny’s after a cold splash of water on the face. Leaving Gallup we encountered more snow, though the road stayed clear. We once again revisited our travel plan for the day, as the weather looks to continue for a while. Neither of us wants to drive through snow and go without water again if we stick with our plan to go to Amarillo, TX. Going south for warmer weather sounded like a good plan, but it will add a lot of time to our driving across to North Carolina, where we hope to visit some of Michael’s family on our way back to Olean. In the end, we stuck with Amarillo, but I hope the weather will be better than it looks in the forecast. Out my window right now I see vast stretches of yellow grass stippled with stubby round evergreen bushes, and the occasional flat-topped rise of red rock. I find it odd and amusing to see the abandoned small settlements alongside the roads here in the Southwest. In the Northeast, such structures often get overgrown with plant life or rot from all the snow and rain. Here, they survive much longer, like ghosts from mysterious lives of unrecorded history. No textbooks know the names of the people who lived in these long-abandoned homes, hunting and mining camps, even entire towns. They stand against the harsh winds and blasting sun, echoes of life whose purpose crumbles beneath the cries of hawks and falcons.

{I intended to go ahead and post this yesterday as is, and then two nights ago as we were about an hour outside of Amarillo we stopped for gas and Michael noticed the door of the Airstream was open. He walked back to check it, and discovered several things: the door was bent so badly it wouldn’t shut, the lock feature to hold the door in place when open had snapped off, a dent in the Falcon’s side seemed to have been caused by the lock banging into the Airstream as the door slammed open while we drove down the highway, and probably half the rivets holding the door together had popped off from the force of the collision. Let me tell you, Michael was ANGRY. He swore like a sailor and started to threaten to sell the Falcon due to the door being broken—not unlike my own moments of losing my marbles over things like going without sleep or food for too long—and then he bent the door enough to close it so the latch would catch, followed by attaching a ratchet strap to hold the door shut until we got to Amarillo.

On the way to town, I Googled up a place to stop for the night (Overnite RV Park was kind enough to let us stay extra so we could work on the door, and we thank them very kindly), and found an Airstream dealership in case we could not fix the door ourselves. We rolled into town after dark and pulled into the Home Depot parking lot so Michael could go buy supplies while I walked the dogs around the downright bitter parking lot in the icy cold. Supplies in hand, we stopped at the Big Texan for a lovely dinner. If you are ever in Amarillo, you must have dinner at the Big Texan. It’s famous for being in the movie Guilt Trip and also on the TV show Man vs. Food. This place is rather more of a destination that just a place to eat, as the lobby/bar area has a delightfully fun Old West style shooting gallery, a lovely gift shop, and the most dangerous dessert counter you’ll find for miles. The dining room décor reminds me of Victorian style saloons you see in movies, with flowered chandeliers and wallpaper hung next to the heads of dozens of cloven beasts (ie: deer, elk, antelope, etc.). Minstrels wander through the dining room while people eat, stopping at every table to offer up a song of your choice. If you tip, they will play you another. If you are up for an eating challenge, you can attempt what Barbara Streisand’s character attempted in the movie, Guilt Trip, and try to eat the immense steak dinner in an hour. They have a timer over the table so the whole dining room can watch your progress, and if you eat it all, you get it free.

After dinner we drove to the RV park, and by that time Michael was just too tired and cold to try to mess with the door. We hung a blanket over it to keep out the breeze, and went to bed. Morning did not bring warmer temps, but after coffee Michael got to work on the door. Fortunately, he knows how to install rivets and has a good set of tools for at least small jobs, so he drilled new holes in the door, bent the center of the door frame back into shape, and managed to get the darn thing back in working order. It’s a little less shapely than before the accident, but at least it’s still able to function. We went to a locksmith to get a key made for the deadbolt to keep the door from slamming open again, as we never got a key for the lock when we purchased it, but no dice. For the rest of the ride back home we will have to ratchet the door closed, which is a pain in the neck. In any case, the Aluminum Falcon is living up to its namesake in its aged tendency for needing repairs. We don’t have a hyperdrive, but everything else seems to need work. All is well, however, even if we now are facing yet another round of yucky weather. We plan to go south now so we can at least be warm enough to use water. Camp skills are fine for a few days, but washing with minimal water gets old pretty fast.}

I shall keep writing as we drive, and share the pertinent details in my next post. When we gut out the Falcon, I plan to document the whole affair and describe the most interesting parts. It’s going to be an adventure, but also promises to be positively horrid at times, depending on weather and what we find when we take everything out of the trailer. Every construction job takes longer than you think it will, since rarely does everything go according to plan. It will all be worth it when we get the remodel done. Nothing beats a do-it-yourself project. After all, don’t you most appreciate the things you made yourself? When you earn it, you appreciate it more. To my left I see the beginnings of the rocky canyons we saw when driving out here last year, when this was all new to me. It’s amazing what travel will do for your perspective. If you have yet to get out in the world to enjoy it a little, stop waiting for the perfect time. Do it now. Make your plans. No matter how many chores you need to do, what the kids have on the calendar, or who needs you at work, all that stuff will still be there tomorrow. Take the time to refresh yourself and take a trip, even for a morning or afternoon. The world is a wonder. Go get awestruck, and don’t let the weather get in your way.

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