Tuesday, April 2, 2024

New Mexico and our arrival in Waco.

Quite a lot to relate this time as the last couple weeks have been quite busy so grab a beverage and sit back!

After arriving at our camping location just outside Alamogordo, we spent a day at the White Sands National Park. This is the largest white (gypsum) sand dune field in the world. A very special set of circumstances came together to make this area possible. Rather than me trying to retell how this area came to be, here are a couple of links that describe it much better than I could.

Geology of the region:



Park History:


We actually spent parts of 3 days at the park. The first day, Chris and I explored it on our own. We wandered through some of the dunes and explored a short boardwalk.

The second day we were joined by friends George and Connie who we know from the Escapees Boomers as well as the Grand Design Rallies we have attended. This time we took a longer hike in the dunes (I chose to go barefoot! It felt really nice.), walked the boardwalk a second time and browsed the gift shop.

Chris and I went back one more time a few days later for a guided walk over the dunes.

All in all, it was a very interesting and relaxing week. I would recommend it if you are ever passing this way.

Raptor Lake near Holloman Air Force Base

Raptor Lake when it was quiet

One thing we did experience while we were here is a very strong dust storm! My weather station recorded wind gusts around 80 Kph and steady winds around 60. Of course the wind was out of the west so it picked up a lot of the gypsum dust from the dunes. It was also fairly warm so we needed to keep a few windows open for ventilation and of course collected a fair bit of the dust in the trailer! Fortunately it was also almost directly behind us so it didn’t rock the trailer too much but there were a few good blasts that we sure felt.

That is all dust in the background!

One of our day trips was up to McGinn’s PistachioLand with George and Connie again. They claim title to the world’s largest Pistachio. This area has quite a few Pistachio farms.


Chris and I also spent an afternoon at the New Mexico Museum of Space History. https://www.nmspacemuseum.org

They have a nice 4 story museum covering the early history of spaceflight up to recent times with an emphasis on local participation. They even have a section focusing on Science Fiction with exhibits on Star Trek, Star Wars and some of the more significant classic SF movies.

I would have had more photos, but my phone died shortly after we arrived so only got a few of the outside displays.

Piece of a V2 rocket

Tracking antenna

Missile of some sort

Business end of an F1 that powered the Saturn V moon rocket

The complex also houses a planetarium and iMax theatre. The day we were there we really only had time for two of the 3 and chose the planetarium over the iMax. That was a mistake unfortunately. I found the planetarium show pretty mundane and the technology they used wasn’t all that good. Personally I found the planetarium show at the Vancouver planetarium 30 years ago far superior.

Another day trip we took was up to Carrizozo and the Valley of Fires Recreation Area. Some claim that this is the most recent lava flow in the continental USA occurring 2 to 5000 years ago. They have a nice little campground here but only a couple of sites that would work for us. There is a nice hiking trail through the lava field that takes about an hour or so. Lots of interpretive signs so you learn about what you are seeing. All in all and nice afternoon trip and worthwhile.


White Sands is also host to the Army’s White Sands Missile Range. This range has had a long history including hosting the first atomic bomb test at the Trinity site north of the National Park, testing captured German V2 rockets at the end of the Second World War and testing various components of the US Manned Space Program. They still close the highway between Las Cruces and Alamogordo as well as the National Park periodically while they test rockets which overfly the highway and the park.


One other military aspect of this area is the proximity to Holloman Air Force Base. There were many flyovers of various fighters (mostly F16's and F35's) and other aircraft. One I hadn't seen before is the
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
drone. I guess they do their training out of Holloman.

After spending a week in the Alamogordo area it was time to move on. There are 4 major routes between Alamogordo and our next stop which was on the other side of the last of the mountains, in the neighbourhood of Artesia, NM. The shortest, via Cloudcroft was also the highest pass, almost 8700 ft and quite a steep climb! The others, while not as high, were a fair bit longer. We were watching the weather and winds and when it came time to go, elected the Cloudcroft route. Sure enough it was an almost continuous 6-8% grade for almost 16 miles to the pass, but we just took it easy and kept an eye on the engine gauges as we climbed. Turned out to be a non issue. The truck and trailer climbed over the pass like a champ.

That evening we pulled into the Escapees Co-op park at Lakeland where we were staying for a week.

We chose this park for a couple of reasons but the main one is that it is about half way between Roswell, NM and the Carlsbad Caverns.

Roswell of course is famous as the site of the supposed UFO crash and coverup in 1947. A good portion of the downtown section of town is set up with many tourist attractions. The main one being the Roswell International UFO Museum and Research Centre. https://www.roswellufomuseum.com/about-us

We spent an hour or so going through the museum which was interesting and covered a number of subjects beside just the UFO side. They also have a full research library with almost every book ever published on UFO’s as well as most of the declassified case reports of UFO sightings and reports from the Air Forces Project Blue Book.

Still a couple of aliens around that they haven't captured yet!

The other attraction in the area is the famous Carlsbad Caverns in Carlsbad National Park. https://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm

This is one of the most extensive cave networks in the USA. Carlsbad Cavern itself is still being explored and new branches are being found. Also in Carlsbad National Park is Lechuguilla Cave which is not open to the public.

Carlsbad has been open to the pubic since the beginning of the last century and has an extensive network of paved paths through a large part of the cave system. There are several different ways one can tour the caves. Unfortunately when we booked our time slot, all the ranger led tours were sold out so we elected to go on our own. Also, rather than taking the easy way and the elevator down, we elected to take the natural entrance trail which is a steep 1.25 mile hike down around 750’ to the main cave section called Big Room. Again, if you are interested in the details, I will let you read the information from the link above. I do have lots of pictures so I will add the best ones here. As always, you can just click on any picture to open a full size version.

After leaving New Mexico, we had a few days to kill before we could arrive at our rally location in Waco. We found a nice little campground about a half hour outside Waco called Winkler Park. It is on Belton Lake which, being a controlled lake, the level can fluctuate a lot. I guess it has been dry here because the lake here wasn’t much more than a swamp with a river running through it. Despite that, it was still a worthwhile stop. It was quiet, clean and fairly inexpensive, although it was a bit tight getting in. It is an Army Corp Of Engineers park built many years ago when trailers were fewer and a lot smaller.

On the afternoon of the first day we were there we suddenly heard a loud roar off in the distance. It sounded like thunder but continued for a couple of minutes. It happened later in the evening after dark and on the northern horizon I could see an orange glow. Turns out that SpaceX has a rocket test facility about 10 miles north near McGregor, TX. From what I have read, every new rocket engine they produce is tested at this facility before being certified for flight. With all the flights they have been doing, that is a lot of testing.

This morning, Monday, we packed up and headed for our rally site in downtown Waco. We got here about 11 AM and are now set up. This week about 200 other rigs or around 400 people will show up and the fun and games will commence culminating in the Total Solar Eclipse happening a week from today. Fingers crossed for some decent weather!


Thursday, March 14, 2024

Quartzsite, Phoenix, A Jet Rally and Tombstone

After our week at KOFA following New Years, we headed to Quartzsite for the annual Escapees Boomerville gathering. I have written about this event in the past so won’t say too much about it this time. Suffice to say it was another good year. The weather was much better than last year with only a few days of rain and much warmer temperatures. We did make a couple of trips to Bouse which is a small town about 15 miles east. The attraction here is a restaurant that on Fridays serves all you can eat fish and chips. And they are gooood fish and chips!  We made 2 trips with Boomerville friends during our time here.

A few days before the start of Boomerville. Early arrivals.

One of several stunning sunsets.

Chris serving up her 'famous' Cinnamon Buns for CARE. Always a favorite.

Fish and Chips at Bouse with the Boomers

After Boomerville we stayed in Quartzsite for an extra couple of weeks as we had a visit from Chris’s folks (Marshall and Marilyn or M&M) who had come down at the beginning of February for a couple of weeks. They spent the first part of their stay visiting friends in Yuma before coming up to Quartzsite.

While with us, we took them up to Lake Havasu City as neither one had been there before and wanted to see the London Bridge.

On the 13th, we packed up and headed for Phoenix staying at the Desertscape RV Park for a couple of days. This is an older but nice park just East of Interstate 17. Easy to get to although the sites were a bit on the small side. Also came with the usual city issues such as lots of traffic noise and sirens.

That evening, we met up with our friend Paul, who lives here, and his daughter, Kelly for a nice dinner at an Olive Garden. The next day we took M&M to the Phoenix airport and said our good byes.

The day after that we packed up at Desertscape and moved a short distance up I17 and across to Glendale. We moved over here to the Arizona Model Pilots Society club field for their annual Winter Jet Jam.  This event caters to pilots who fly either Electric Ducted Fan (EDF) jets or true turbine powered aircraft. In my case, I fly both. The event is a Friday, Saturday, Sunday event so we elected to arrive on the Thursday so we had lots of time to get set up and for me to get my aircraft assembled, charged and tested.

Just a few of the many impressive aircraft present.

They had a number of prizes throughout the weekend and a raffle, which, as usual, I had zero luck on. The final prize drawn on Saturday however was the nicest one and guess who won it? No, not me but Chris! Lucky gal.  She has already graciously said that she will let me put it together and fly it for her. 

After packing up Sunday, we headed back to Quartzsite to a different spot just South of town. This area is where we will be attending our 4th Grand Design Quartzsite Rally in the Desert.

Sunrise at the rally. Note the front slide that is not out!

Evening entertainment by The Border Hookups. Also Grand Design full timers.

Recall our last blog where we described a problem we had with one of our front slides in the trailer. We had had it repaired in Quesnel on our way back to Kamloops in September. Well, it seemed to be working OK for most of our trip south but by the time we got to Yuma we were noticing it was starting to show some signs of having more issues. It got a bit worse our first trip to Quartzsite and then when packing up at Desertscape, it really was not happy. We had to rock it back and forth a bit to get it back in. When we packed up after the Jet Jam, it was a real bear to get it in. We practically had to force it.

When we got back to Quartzsite, we decided to not even try and put the slide out and see if we could get a mobile tech to have a look at it.  We did find one, but after checking it out he determined it was beyond his capability and felt the entire slide would have to be removed! Not something to attempt out in the desert. He did recommend a shop in Mesa who could do the work, so we made an appointment for after the rally.

As a result we were stuck with a slide we couldn’t use and a much reduced amount of space in our front room.

A week or so later, lots of rally goers started arriving and a day or so before the rally, the Grand Design mobile techs arrived as well. The primary function of these techs at rallies is to take care of manufacturer recalls, TSB’s and emergency repairs. I wasn’t sure if our slide issue could be classed as an emergency repair but we mentioned it anyway and were told that they would take a look if they had some time.  Chris usually plies them with goodies while we are here and they have done stuff for us in the past so I felt we had a pretty good chance.

Other things going on at the rally included seminars, a pot luck, games, we came 3rd in the Cornhole tourney again, more food, a camp crawl (kinda like a pub crawl but between campers who set up tables with drinks and snacks) and lots of socializing.

On Sunday a couple of the techs showed up at our trailer and proceeded to investigate our slide issue. After fighting with it for a bit, they did manage to get it out but had to go to another call but promised to be back in a couple of hours to finish it off. True to their word they were back just after lunch and spent the next 2 hours working on it. They finally had to remove the entire front mechanism and completely rebuild it which they were able to do without removing the slide itself. The only parts they were able to reuse were the 2 tracks. Everything else was replaced. At the end of all this, we had a working slide again. This time these guys seem to have fixed it properly. They even gave me an extra motor to have as a spare. All of this is done at no charge! One of the benefits of belonging to the Grand Design family and attending a rally.

Jack and Lee. 2 of the GDRV SRT techs at the rally. These are the guys who fixed our slide.

Oh and one other thing, A coupe of months ago, the organizers put out a call for submissions for a design for the official rally t-shirts.  Chris had sketched out a design and submitted it, and wouldn’t you know it? Her design was selected as the winner. What a talented gal!

Monday, after cancelling our appointment in Mesa, we packed up and headed to Benson. Our destination here was an Escapees Co-Op park. We arrived in the early afternoon but were not able to get a full hook up site that day but were able to stay in their dry camping area. We did get a full hook up site the next day though. We basically just chilled for the next day or 2 but did make a trip into Tucson for some shopping.

On Saturday, March 9 we drove to Tombstone which is about 30 minutes SouthEast of Benson. In hindsight, Saturday was probably not the best day to go as it was quite busy. After finding a place to park, we wandered around for a bit. It is nice that they have tried to maintain the Old West look and feel of the town but we both felt that things were way to commercialized. Of course the “Gunfight at the OK Corral” was a feature but it and virtually every attraction in the town came at a price. If we had paid for all the attractions, shows, gunfight re-enactments, museums, etc. it would have easily cost us over $100. Also, so many of the shops were just glorified souvenir shops with little if any attempt to make them period authentic. We did find a place that served a decent BBQ for a reasonable price but honestly, Tombstone wasn’t what we thought it would be. We were much more impressed with the old mining town of Oatman in Arizona. They have really preserved the old west charm without over commercializing it. 

March 12 we left Benson and headed to our next stop which is White Sands in New Mexico. This marks the furthest East we have travelled so far in our travels. The main attraction here, is of course, the White Sands National Park. We arrived and after a very tight access to a public use camping area, we are set up for a few days just outside Holloman Air Force Base.

Set up at Holloman Lake. Note the white caps on the lake and the blowing dust in the background.
It was windy!

More info on White Sands NP, Alamogordo and maybe even the White Sands Missile Range in the next post.