Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Did We Decide on a Small Trailer?

Once we made up our minds to buy a small trailer, the question then became, "How small can we go?"

You might wonder why our old Rockwood would not have served our needs. Actually, it probably would have, but a smaller trailer will work better for several reasons.

First of all, I simply don't like towing. I hear some people say, "I don't even know that trailer is back there." Well, I always know when I'm towing something, and that is a good thing. As long as I know it is back there, I'm taking the necessary precautions. Those people who tear down the road as if they aren't towing a trailer weighing several tons on tires probably engineered for a maximum speed of 65 mph are a danger to themselves and those around them. And it's even scarier when you see rigs not properly outfitted with adequate hitches for the trailer they are towing.

When we towed our Rockwood behind our Tundra, the entire length of our outfit was over 55 feet. That's pretty long, almost one-fifth the length of a football field. It makes it difficult to park and to turn, especially in tight areas. Sure, I could manage it. In fact, I never encountered a mishap with our rig. But I didn't like it. And on windy days -- which occur very often in the West -- that rig would be buffeted around the highways like a flag on a pole. It isn't fun to drive under those circumstances. So, if I'm going to tow, I'd rather tow something smaller. That's just me.

Second, we really wanted something more fuel efficient. The bigger the RV the bigger the tow vehicle must be. The bigger the tow vehicle, the more fuel is used. Right now, the price of gasoline is the lowest it has been in years, but none of us believe it will stay that way very long -- at least, I don't. When you are towing, even the smallest improvement in fuel mileage can save lots of money. For example, if you go 300 miles in a day and get 10 mpg with fuel at $2.50, you will spend $75 on fuel. Under the same conditions, but at 12 mpg, you will spend $62.50 on fuel. $12.50 in savings on a single, fairly short trip is significant. On a 2000 mile trip (like we often take to Nevada and back), the savings would approach $84. And when (notice I didn't say "if") the price of gas shoots up to $3 or more per gallon, the savings become even greater. When you consider how much we intend to use our trailer, we will save hundreds each year in fuel costs alone with a small trailer as compared to a larger one.

Finally, we are still pretty adventurous souls. We've traveled enough now to know that there are lots of places in this world where you simply cannot-- or should not -- take larger rigs. These are often the places we want to visit. It might be someplace at the end of a road with twisting hairpin turns that long rigs can't negotiate, or some of the places in the national park service that do not have campsites for longer rigs. And pulling a small, light trailer up some of the mountain roads we've been on will certainly be easier than pulling a longer, heavier rig.

Donna and I are pretty adaptable, and we can get by in a smaller rig. Most of the time, we will be out visiting beautiful places where we want to spend as much time as possible outside. And outside gives us all the room we need. Yes, there will be occasional bad weather days when we get stuck inside. On those days, our little rig should be cozy and easier to warm than a larger rig.

In the next few entries, I'll share with you some of our trailer searches. Some of you may be going through the same process; in that case, the exchange of ideas might be helpful to you.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Looking for a Trailer

We sold our Rockwood Trailer almost 2 years ago. We hated to let that trailer go, and I detailed our reasons in a previous entry (see "Goodbye, Rocky"). I almost immediately followed this entry with another entitled "Never Say Never" which suggested that at some point down the road we might take up RVing again. Well, that time has come.

We knew when we let Rocky go that it just was no longer the right trailer for our needs. Rocky fell somewhat in the middle of two RV lifestyles we were struggling with. Rocky was not large enough to full-time, even though we did live in that trailer for 8 months at one time. Sure, it had a private bedroom, a full bath, and a nice combined living and galley area with a dinette, sofa, and 2 comfortable chairs. But it was not nearly as roomy as the large fifth wheels you see plodding down the highways, and it certainly did not have the storage these bigger rigs have. If we were to full-time, we would want something larger than Rocky, especially with more storage. After all, when you are full-timing, your RV is your home.

But for short trips, say 1 or 2 weeks most of the time, Rocky was really larger than we needed. For short trips, you don't need as much storage or interior room. Sure, they are nice to have, but really not necessary.

We either saw ourselves full-timing or going out sporadically on shorter trips, so Rocky really did not fit in with our future plans. We still feel that way today.

For the past 2 years or so, we have struggled with RVing full time. We like the idea of living full time on the road; we've never experienced the sense of freedom before or since that we felt the 8 months we spent in Rocky. In the end, though, we just don't want to uproot and follow that lifestyle. We enjoy occasional trips in an RV, but we really like coming home again. And the winters in a trailer really bother us. We are pretty cold natured, and we just can't keep a trailer warm enough during the winter months to suit us. And we find that we enjoy being grounded, especially in San Angelo. We like living here, we like our doctors (something which becomes more important the older we get), we like our restaurants, and we like our shopping. And San Angelo is a pretty good "jumping off" location for traveling to areas we enjoy like the Texas Hill Country or the mountains of West Texas.

So, we have decided to go with a smaller trailer and take shorter trips, usually 1 to 2 weeks at a time. Each year, we hope to take one or two longer trips, perhaps a month or so each, and visit some far off place (Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and Yellowstone are at the top of my list). But then we will always have a brick and mortar home to return to, and we'll be able to stay close enough to watch our three little monsters grow into three bigger monsters.

And to hint at something to come, this type of travel fits in very well with one more move we plan to make in the next year or two, a move into a residence which will give us more freedom to travel more frequently.

In entries to follow, I'll take you through our search process as we look at various trailers. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Step 1: Buy a Truck

If you've been following the blog, you know that Donna and I are considering purchasing another travel trailer. Well, we're committed now. A couple of weeks ago, we took the first step by getting a truck.

We loved our Toyota Tundra -- and I really like Toyota as a company. I've always had great customer service from the two dealerships I have dealt with (Tyler and San Angelo). Neither sales department was  high pressure, and the service departments at both were committed to keeping customers satisfied. I'm sure that there are those out there who may not have had a good experience, but as for me and close friends and family who have driven Toyotas, we've all had good experiences.

Our Tundra had a tow capacity of over 10,000 pounds and it was a pleasure to drive. But the gas mileage was nothing to brag about, as highway mpg was about 17. Donna and I are "gentle" drivers, so we can normally do a little better than most estimates -- we have gentle starts, usually drive below the speed limit, etc. And when we towed our moderate sized trailer, we normally averaged 10 mpg.

When we sold our Tundra and trailer nearly 2 years ago, we figured we had one more trailer in us, but we decided at that time that if we ever RVed again, it would probably be in something smaller. We wanted something easier to tow as well as more economical. And that is where we are heading.

This time, we bought a Dodge Ram 1500 with a tow capacity of 8,800 pounds. We anticipate purchasing a trailer at least 1,000 pounds lighter than our previous one, but more about later that in Step 2. The end of year deals on these Rams was just too good to pass by. And fuel efficiency for the Ram is at least 4 mpg better than the Tundra. I won't lie -- the interior is not as nice as the Tundra, but it's not bad. I think we'll enjoy the truck.

Our new Dodge Ram 1500

We had towing mirrors added to the truck. Basically, these mirrors extend just a bit farther out than normal mirrors. Then, when you are ready to tow, the mirrors can be flipped up and out to extend them another 3 or 4 inches. It does sound like much, but when you are towing, it makes a big difference.

Mirrors in standard position

Closeup of a single mirror in standard position

Same mirror flipped up and out for towing
Driver mirror in tow position; passenger mirror in standard position. You can see the difference.

Both mirrors in tow position

When we had our Tundra, Toyota did not have tow mirrors for trucks. I found a third party solution which enabled me to fit on extended mirrors when we were towing. The solution was satisfactory, but I was always just a little uncomfortable with it. I like the towing mirrors on our Ram.

Follow along with us over the next few weeks as we purchase our travel trailer. We've been doing quite a bit of looking the past several months, so we are close to a decision. I hope to be out in the trailer by the end of February or early March.

We'll see you down the road.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Lights in San Angelo, 2014

Since retiring to San Angelo over 3 years ago, Donna and I have made it a practice to view the Christmas Lights in our lovely city each holiday season. They seem to get better each year.

As with most towns, you can find lights all over the city. Some neighborhoods make a concerted effort to light up their areas. Other neighborhoods may have only scattered lights. And each town has a handful of individuals who really go all out to light up the winter nights with their beautiful light displays. One of our favorite places to see the lights in San Angelos is just off downtown along the Concho River.

The light tour begins along the River Drive near Santa Fe Park. It winds through the park along the Concho River, then detours for a couple of blocks along Concho Avenue in downtown before finishing in the pavilion area across from Fort Concho on Oakes Avenue. Information about the "Tour of Lights" is available online. Please note there is a suggested donation. Be sure to click on the "Gallery" button to view the official pictures of the tour. Please note that other pictures of Christmas around Angelo are included in the gallery, not just the Tour of Lights pictures.

Our route, from left to right
The San Angelo Christmas Tour of Lights is pretty unique because of the setting. The first part of the tour winds along the north bank of the North Concho River through Santa Fe Park near downtown San Angelo. The lights are set up across the river, on the south bank. The glow of the lights is often reflected in the slow moving waters of the river. Much of the south bank rises steeply from the river, which provides a pretty solid backdrop for the lights.

Here are some pictures we snapped as we drove along the route. Enjoy.

Although a bit blurred, this picture gives a sense of the light tunnel that begins the tour.

Many of the lights depict scenes from the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Can you guess what this is? Well, there are 4 birds, and there is a phone from which they can make a call. So, you have 4 calling birds.
Not all light scenes depict images from the song. This one has a western theme; after all, we are in West Texas. Note the reflection in the river.
These poinsettias are just outside the Visitor Center, located between the north and south lanes of US 87. It should be your first stop when visiting San Angelo.
This picture gives you an idea of how numerous the displays are as they line the south bank of the river.

Pipers piping. Isn't the reflection lovely?

A gang of drumming drummers.

We also like to drive through the Santa Rita area to view the decorations there. Santa Rita is an older neighborhood flowing away from the river along a creek. Many of the old homes of the area have been lovingly restored over the years, and the community works together to provide some impressive decorations. We most enjoy a little display commemorating the poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas," which most people refer to as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The display contains a set of boxes, or dioramas, each depicting a scene from the beloved poem.

Below are pictures of a few of these dioramas.

This is the beginning of the display. You simply pause your car along the curb and you can read lines from the poem beneath each display.

And there's Santa, coming down the chimney!

After delivering his gifts, Santa rides away in his sleigh.

Merry Christmas from beautiful San Angelo, Texas.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Where We Ate in Fredericksburg

While in Fredericksburg, we ate at 3 different places.

Our first dining stop was Ginger and Spice, a place where we enjoyed a good meal with my brother and his wife just over a year ago (see "Good Eats: Ginger and Spice, Fredericksburg, Texas."). I had the same yellow curry that I had on my last visit, and I was not disappointed. But last time, we had supper there; this time, Donna and I arrived in time for lunch. In addition to your lunch order, there are complimentary condiments, including several types of sushi. I'm not a sushi eater, so I didn't try any, but Donna made 1 or two trips and seemed to enjoy it.

We also ate a snack at Auslander, which has long been a favorite of ours. We've tried just about everything on the menu that we think we'd enjoy, including several of the German dishes, and I've never been disappointed. This time, we were taking advantage of the restaurant's happy hour (4 to 7, I think). During happy hour, pints are $3, which is a pretty good deal for Fredericksburg. After experimenting a bit, we finally decided that a dark Dunkel was our favorite. After consuming some not so mass quantities of Dunkel, we began getting a bit hungry, so we looked at the menu. In the past, there was a dip we had enjoyed numerous times, but I did not see it on the menu. I asked the bartender about the dish, and he said it was still available; though not on the menu, you could request it, so we did. It basically is a nacho dip, with cheese, beens, and beef, along with sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. We shared that treat, and really enjoyed it. It seemed to go well with the dark beer we had been drinking.

We ate two meals this time at a relatively new restaurant: Culture's Grill and Bar. We also ate here a year ago with my brother and his wife, but I really didn't enjoy it that much at that time. Our first meal here this trip was their Culture's Nachos. We opted for the grilled steak in addition to the usual toppings. I was disappointed in the "steak". It almost seemed like it was round steak that had been beaten, then cut into strips. I could detect no grill flavor nor any fajita flavor. The dish was edible, but not what we were hoping for.

Not to be deterred, though, we returned at happy hour (3 to 6 at Culture's), drawn by the vast array of draft beers available. From their beer menu, I count, I believe, 44 beers on tap. Wow! We were going to have a good time. As with Auslander, most beers during happy hour are $3 a pint, but a few are a bit more expensive. I started with a pint of Guinness, and I was not disappointed. Donna decided to sample a Double Chocolate, and I admit I do not know who makes this. Both were very good. Eventually, we both reverted to our standby from the previous day, Dunkel, and we enjoyed ourselves. As happy hour wore on, our hunger grew, so we decided to try another meal at Culture's, and this one turned out to be the best by far (perhaps anything would have been good by this time after sampling all that beer). So, Donna ordered a hamburger while I ordered a Reuben. Once the orders arrived, we then cut our sandwiches in half and shared, so that we each ate half a Reuben and half a burger. The burger was really good, and the Reuben was good as well, but not as enjoyable as the burger. The Reuben was served on pumpernickel bread, and I'm used to Reubens being served on rye. Otherwise, we had a good meal to follow up all that good beer.

In closing, I'll add that we also stopped in at Fredericksburg Brewing Company for a pint. I've always enjoyed their Pioneer Porter, a dark brew made in-house with overtones of coffee and, I think, chocolate. However, at $5.25 a pint, we decided that one pint would be our limit. At such prices, we will probably not visit again. After all, I can get a Guinness just down the street for less, and it's pretty hard to beat a good Guinness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Presidio de San Saba: Menard, Texas

Presidio (Spanish for "fort") de San Saba was established in 1757 on the north bank of the San Saba River just a mile or two west of the present-day town of Menard. The original occupants included soldiers, prospectors, priests, and other civilians and their families. The prospectors were searching for gold and silver while the priests were hoping to convert the Lipan Apaches in the area.

A mission -- Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba -- was located about 4 miles downriver from the presidio, but it was short-lived. On March 16, 1758, it was surrounded by hostile Comanche, Wichita, and Caddo warriors and basically destroyed. Some of the occupants, including Father Terreros, the mission leader, were killed. A small group was able to escape under cover of darkness and make its way to the presidio, which had also suffered a series of attacks that same day. Although some archaeological work has been done on the mission, there is very little today to mark its location.

The presidio was eventually abandoned by February 1768, due largely to continued attacks by hostile Indians. A grant provided by the Texas Legislature in 1936 helped with some restoration, but the quality of materials used was very poor and the walls soon deteriorated. Recent renovations have proven to be much more successful.

This general area is also thought by many to be the location of the "Lost Bowie Mine", sometimes referred to as the "Lost San Saba Mine." Historically, the mine was probably the Los Almagres Mine. However, many archaeologists believe the Los Almagres Mine might have been located farther east, on Packsaddle Mountain near the confluence of the Llano and Colorado Rivers. In short, we actually do not know if Bowie worked a mine or, if he did, where it was. But legends abound about Jim Bowie and his lost mine, and they are interesting to look into.

View of the presidio from the west. The gate is the main entrance. Corrals for cattle and horses would have been located to the right of the entrance.
Main entrance. There are few original stones left at the presidio, but the two large base stones on either side of the entrance on the ground are thought to be in their original locations.
This is the base stone to the right of the entrance. Over the years, many markings, names, and such have been scratched into the surface. If you look closely, you'll see the name "Bowie" in the picture above. Jim Bowie and his men were believed to be in the area in 1831 searching for silver, and many believe either he or his men scratched his name in the stone. But who knows who really scratched this name into the rock.
Donna standing in the entrance to the northwest bastion. It is believed that the bastion was filled with dirt so cannon could be rolled to the top. The jagged design along the top was probably not in place then. Notice the coloring of the stones. The dark stones indicate work done during the 1936 reconstruction. The lighter stones are from more recent work.

The backside of the presidio is literally only steps from the river. The bluff above is on the south bank of the river. That is part of a golf course in the foreground.
You can see part of a collapsed wall on the left. That is the San Saba River looking downriver, in the direction of the mission and the present day town of Menard.

Looking upriver from the same position as the picture above.

If you use Google Earth, you can find the location of the presidio at these coordinates: 30°55'20.67" N  99°48'04.25" W.

Monday, December 8, 2014

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Fredericksburg, TX, and Back

On our recent trip to Fredericksburg and back, we made a number of stops. I'll share some of them in this entry, and then have another entry in a few days for a separate stop.

The entire trip was right at 300 miles. I like short trips you can make on a single tank of fuel.
From San Angelo, we headed east on US 87 through the small community of Wall and an area known as Lipan Flats. This is a rich farming area, and cotton was nearing the end of its harvesting season. There were still a few fields awaiting harvest, though. As we neared Eden, we passed one of the nicer rest areas with restrooms in the state. If you happen to travel this way, keep it in mind; it's a good place to take a break.

We continued on 87 through Eden. About 15 miles or so east of Eden, we turned off the main road onto FM 2028. About a mile south of 87 is the small town of Melvin. San Angelo has been working on a pipeline to the Hickory Aquifer for the past several years. The aquifer is located in the Melvin area, so I was interested in this little town. Sadly, there is not much left here. It once must have been a thriving town, though, as several old, crumbling buildings front what must have been a square or town green area.

Old buildings in Melvin, facing the old town square area.
Another side of the town square in Melvin, with more deserted buildings.
Back in the day when towns were more self-reliant and people traveled less, towns like Melvin were hubs of activity. I've always been partial to these little forgotten places. As boys, my brother and I spent a lot of time in the dwindling town of Kirvin (sometimes spelled Kirven) in East Texas, where my grandmother lived and where my mother grew up. Today, there is very little that remains of that town, but at one time it was a prominent place, even rivaling the larger towns in the county.

But let's get back to US 87 and continue on. As we neared Brady, the town that bills itself as the Heart of Texas (and it is near the geographic center of the state), we detoured again, this time onto FM 3022, which would take us along the north shore and then dam of Brady Lake. As long as we've lived in West Texas, I had never seen the lake and wanted to take a look. After all, there aren't that many lakes in West Texas. Like other lakes in West Texas, this one is way down.

West end of Brady Lake

Dam of Brady Lake
Main body of Brady Lake

Deer near shore of Brady Lake. We must have seen about a dozen, and none ran from us.
We left the lake and continued on into Brady, where we rejoined US 87 and continued south through Mason and on to Fredericksburg.

On our return trip, we detoured past old Fort Mason in Mason. The fort, established in 1851, saw many notable military leaders grace its grounds during its short life, including Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston. It was finally abandoned in 1870. There is only one building that remains today, a reconstruction of officers' quarters. It is located atop a hill on the south edge of town, and it provides a great view in all directions.

The reconstructed officers' quarters at Fort Mason. You can get an idea of the view if you look out to the side of the building.
View of downtown Mason, including the courthouse in right of picture, from the hill at Fort Mason.
Mason is one of those towns I hope to explore more fully one day. There is a museum downtown. Old homes dot the town, many built by skilled German stone masons. RVers should check Fort Mason RV Park for a nice little RV park. It is on the south edge of town and is operated by the city. A golf course lies next to the RV park.

From Mason, we turned west on Texas 29 to go to Menard, where we stopped to tour the Presidio San Saba. I'll write about that in my next entry.

From Menard, we took US 83 north to Eden and then hopped back on US 87 to head home to San Angelo. By the way, US 83 has had numerous improvements since the last time we were on that highway. From Eden to the Concho/Menard County line, the highway has been 4 lane for years, but south of there on to Menard it has been two lane. However, it is now 4 lanes for 2 or 3 miles north of Menard, and then the rest has been upgraded with various passing lanes. It's a good highway, especially if you are in an RV of some sort.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Short Trip To Fredericksburg, Texas

Donna and I just returned from a short 2 night trip to Fredericksburg, Texas. It is one of our favorite "go to" places. We've visited this city numerous times over the years, and we will probably visit it many more times in the future.

For those who don't know, Fredericksburg is a town of about 10,000 folks in the Texas Hill Country, about 80 miles due west of Austin and about 70 miles north/northwest of San Antonio. It was founded in 1846 by Baron Otfried Hans von (John) Meusebach, originally of Dillenburg, Germany. Many towns in Texas were founded by German immigrants at this time, including New Braunfels, Comfort, and Boerne, among others.

Fredericksburg has always maintained its strong German heritage, and a walk down its streets is a constant reminder of this. The Germans in this part of the state were highly regarded for their productive farms and their excellent stone work. All over Fredericksburg, original stone homes and businesses still stand and are in daily use.

We've been to Fredericksburg so many times in the past that we have done just about everything there is to do there, so these days, we just spend our time wandering the streets, visiting the many interesting shops along Main Street, eating at some of the good restaurants in town, and sampling the excellent beer. For the first time visitor, though, there are many interesting places to visit, including:

These are the more popular tourist attractions, but there are countless other activities to keep you busy. A drive east from Fredericksburg, for example, will take you by a number of wineries in an area now being called Wine Road 290. In springtime, some of the best wildflowers can be found in the area, especially along an area known as the Willow City Loop.

But enough of what Fredericksburg has to offer. Below are some pictures I snapped on our trip.

For years, Donna and I have passed by Cross Mountain as we headed north of town to hike at Enchanted Rock. I finally decided to stop and climb the hill (it really isn't a mountain at an elevation of just over 1900 feet).  

Cross Mountain as seen from just south of the hill

There is a good view from the top of the hill.
For most of our trip, we just visited the shops and restaurants along Main Street.

This building is typical of the stone work found throughout the German Hill Country. Notice the elephant engraved at the top center of the building.

This is the National Museum of the Pacific War, with a statue of Admiral Nimitz in the foreground. The admiral was raised in this building when it was a hotel owned by his grandfather. Notice the unusual "steamboat" design just under the flag.

The Auslander has long been our favorite place to sample beer and German food in Fredericksburg. The windows to the left of the door - just beyond the bed of the pickup - collapse open. We like to sit right by the windows so we can watch the busy street.

Trees are common along Main Street, as are balconies. Both provide good shade in summer, and benches offer places to stop and watch the world go by.
Donna in front of some shops. We seldom buy anything, but we like to look.
Another building typical of the quality stonework of the area.

This was originally the Gillespie County Courthouse, but it is now the Pioneer Memorial Library.

I have no idea what this is, but it is found at Marktplatz in front of the Vereins Kirche across from the courthouse.The entire structure spins slowly.
The Vereins Kirche

A couple of art galleries on West Main Street. In this single block, there were probably 4 art galleries, give or take.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Our little monsters will be arriving later today. They will celebrate Thanksgiving earlier today with the son-in-law's family, and we'll have our Thanksgiving tomorrow. It has been a tradition in our family for a number of years now to smoke a turkey. I put the bird on the night before we eat and let it smoke slowly all night. I have to get up periodically throughout the night and add fuel to the fire, but it usually is worth the effort. Our turkeys usually are very moist with that good smoke flavor.

Inside, Donna concentrates on the other dishes. I've encouraged her to downsize the number of dishes she makes, but I don't think she can. We usually have all the standard dishes: dressing, yams, cranberries (both from the can and made fresh), and other fare. In addition, she always makes a broccoli casserole she and our daughter enjoy, and she makes a cream cheese and corn casserole I really like. She also makes a great lime jello salad with cherries, pecans, and other goodies. And to top things off, there are always at least 2 pies: pumpkin for her and chess for daughter and me.

So, it's time to find the stretch pants and settle in for a challenge. Best of all is all the leftovers we eat for the next few days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

We recently ventured out into the cold to watch Interstellar, a science-fiction movie starring Matthew McConoughey and Anne Hathaway. I'm not a big fan of science fiction. As children, my brother preferred science fiction while I tended to lean towards westerns. But in college I had a roommate who watched the original Star Trek series, and I did come to enjoy the ideas expressed in the show.

So Donna dragged me down to see Interstellar. To be honest, I really don't know if I enjoyed the movie or not. I do know I had a great deal of trouble keeping up with the story line and all the ideas of worm holes and gravitational relativity and such. I just don't have an aptitude for science, and I struggled with it in both high school and college. But if you like action, you'll and special effects, you'll probably enjoy this movie.

The premise of the movie is that planet Earth is simply wearing out and is no longer able to sustain its population. Cooper (McConoughey), a former a NASA test pilot, and his daughter Murphy are directed by "supernatural" forces to a secret NASA installation where they meet professor Bran (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Hathaway). The NASA team is planning a mission through a worm hole in an attempt to locate a planet where humanity can continue its existence. Previous teams have already gone out, but none have returned. Leaving his family behind on Earth, Cooper, Amelia, and 2 other team members embark on their journey.

If you've seen the trailers for the movie, then the above summary should not be knew to you. But once through the worm hole, the movie takes on a new life. If you've seen the trailers, for example, you know the movie stars McConoughey, Hathaway, and Caine. But the trailers don't show the pivotal role that Matt Damon plays, a role unlike any he normally plays. Nor do the trailers show Casey Affleck's role in the movie or Ellen Burstyn's role.

There are some interesting ideas and theories in the movie, but they are too complex for me. The movie is long, by the way, almost 3 hours, so be prepared for a long sit. If you are a science fiction fan, you'll probably enjoy the movie. I'm sure the guys from The Big Bang Theory would love sitting around exploring all the concepts used in the movie.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Good Eats: Taste of the Himalayas Indian Cuisine

San Angelo is branching out its culinary arms and embracing new cuisines, it seems. There are a couple of little "hole in the wall" cafes serving some exotic food, and a new Vietnamese restaurant is scheduled to open in about two months or so.

One of the newest restaurants in town is Taste of the Himalayas, which serves up some tasty north Indian cuisine. Admittedly, I was at first a little put off with this place because they kept delaying the opening. They finally did open while we were gone on our recent Nevada trip. When we returned and found them open, we couldn't wait to make our first visit.

The food is good. In fact, we've been twice now, sampling the goods on their noon buffet both times.

The noon buffet offers a generous spread, including favorites of ours such as chicken curry, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala, chicken korma, and tandoori chicken. Naan and papadums are also avaiable, as are numerous fresh fruits and tasty deserts. The rice pudding has varied on the two trips we made; the first time, it was very tasty, with cardamom flavoring evident, while the second time it was a bit soupy with no such strong cardamom flavor. Likewise, the first time I sampled the peach custard, it was smoother and had a truer peach flavor than the second time, when it was thinner and had a sharper, tangier peach taste.

The food is good, as is the service. The restaurant occupies the same space as a former Italian restaurant where we loved eating about 20 years ago. We were saddened when we learned that restaurant had closed prior to our return to Angelo. But we are delighted with the new occupant, though.

On our first visit, there were few diners, and many were obviously trying Indian food for the first time in their lives. In fact, many of them seemed a bit reluctant. On this visit, though, everyone seemed more comfortable and they were really digging in. It looks like the restaurant is developing a loyal following, especially from many of the folks stationed at Goodfellow AFB.

Ah, Angelo just got a little better.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Review: The Judge

Donna and I have watched a couple of movies lately. The first one we watched was The Judge, starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr.

The plot itself is a bit complex. It basically focuses on the character development of Hank Palmer (Downey), a highly successful -- and arguably unethical -- defense attorney in Chicago. He is in the midst of a troubled marriage, probably heading for divorce. The crux of the movie begins when he returns to his home in Indiana to attend his mother's funeral. Obviously, he and his father (Judge Joseph Palmer, played by Duvall) do not see eye to eye. The movie could end there, with Hank returning to Chicago following the funeral, except that in a rather bizarre twist, his father is involved in a hit-and-run incident. Hank stays on to defend his father and, in doing so, must confront his relationship with the elder Palmer. The final courtroom scene is the pivotal point of the movie, and it is rather unique.

Both Downey and Duvall bring their characters to life. I'm a big Robert Duvall fan, and can remember watching his brief appearance years ago as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. Over the years, I've followed his career, and have especially enjoyed him in Tender Mercies, Joe Kidd, Open Range, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Secondhand Lions. His portrayal of Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove is probably my personal favorite.

In addition to watching the characters portrayed by Downey and Duvall spar with each other throughout the movie, I also was touched by those moments when Hank Palmer (Downey) became the caregiver to his father. I saw a little of the relationship I had with my own dad in his final year of life.

I think about this movie a great deal. I think about the need for some people to put their past behind them and to move along and away. But we should never entirely shut the door to our past. After all, we never can be entirely sure why people are motivated to do the things they do until the truth finally emerges. Sometimes we need to stop running and try returning home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nevad Trip, 2014: Where We Ate

We enjoyed some good food on our Nevada trip. I'll give a very brief accounting of some of them.

I was delighted with the breakfast spreads at the hotels where we stayed coming from and going to Nevada (Comfort Inn in Farmington, NM, and Holiday Inn in Alamogordo, NM). Both were generous with their items, which included biscuits, scrambled eggs, waffles, sausage, and other items.

We ate at our first Del Taco in Mesquite, and I liked it. This California-based fast food restaurant has a good menu. We both had their reasonably-priced fire roasted veggie Fresca bowl, and I enjoyed the flavors.

We only ate 1 buffet this time. Normally, I don't enjoy buffets as they are overpriced for what we eat and the food is generally poorly prepared. That proved to be true this time. We had a comped buffet at Sam's Town, and it was a disappointment for the most part, though Donna did seem to enjoy her prime rib. Nothing I had was good. I also find that buffets are simply an excuse to overeat, so I avoid them most of the time.

The fajita dinners we had at Willie and Jose's at Sam's Town were quite good, as were the burgers at TGIF at the same casino. We always make it a point to eat the fajitas at Willie and Jose's. We find the meat to be good quality, though the dishes do lack in fajita flavoring as far as I am concerned.

I had some very tasty tacos at Daniel's on the River at the Regency Casino in Laughlin. Tuesday is taco day there, so it is a chance to try various tacos at a reasonable price. I especially enjoyed the shrimp taco I had. Donna had a good Reuben sandwich.

We also had a good meal at the Outback in the Aquarius. We were able to use our points for that meal, so that made it even better.We each had one of their special lunch combos. Donna had a salad and tortilla soup while I had a Caesar salad and chicken quesadillas.

Most of our other meals in the casinos were at the delis, where we always enjoy deli food such as chile dogs, nachos, and shrimp cocktails. I always enjoy a deli meal at the snack bar in Sam's Town next to the sports book. We enjoy watching the goings on in the sports book while we eat. Sometimes we eat at the deli in the bowling alley. That way, we can watch the bowlers in action. While some of the bowlers are obviously beginners, you do find some very good bowlers at times.

As long as we've been going to Laughlin, we had yet to eat at the In-N-Out on Casino Drive, but we were determined to try it this trip. We loved it, so much so that we ate there twice. It will be a regular stop for us. There is so much I like about this place. First, the food is presented neatly. The burgers are made to order, and they are carefully built. You don't get three 3 dill pickle slices piled on top of one another like you do at some fast food places, for example (Sonic comes to mind); they are spread out. The burgers are also neatly wrapped. Second, the buns are freshly baked, using old-fashioned slow rising sponge dough. Third, I love the grilled onions on the burgers. And finally, the service is outstanding. We were greeted nicely both times we went and our orders were carefully taken. The young folks working there were extremely polite and neat in appearance. While there, we watched as they constantly cleaned tables, swept the floor, and kept the counter clean. And on top of it all, the prices are very reasonable. I'm ready to go back.

At Alamogorodo, I decided I wanted some Mexican food. I knew I should have waited until I got back home, but I really wanted some chips and salsa. We went to a local restaurant called Margo's. A lot of people like the New Mexican red chile sauce, but I've never cared for it. It tastes bitter to me, but that is a personal thing. But every restaurant in the state seems to slather that stuff on everything they prepare, and I just don't care for it. So, I thought I'd try the chile rellenos. After all, New Mexico grows the best chiles around. But, they came slathered with that red sauce, and that kind of ruined things for me. The rellenos themselves were rather tasty -- I just didn't need the sauce. But, when in Rome . . . .

So, we had a good variety of food, from full-serve restaurants to fast food places, and for the most part we enjoyed what we had. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On the road: Alamogordo, NM, to San Angelo, TX

Friday, October 17, 2014

Today is the last day of our trip. We rose early, had a good breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express in  Alamogordo where we were staying, and hit the road.

There are more direct ways to get from Alamogordo to San Angelo than the route we selected, but we were scouting around for a good way to pull a trailer, a route with good overnight stops.

Alamogordo, NM, to San Angelo, TX. 421 miles via Roswell, NM
We headed north for about 10 or so miles along US 54/70 to Tularosa, a quaint little village of cottonwoods and adobe architecture. US 70 then veers east, and we followed it into the Sacremento Mountains onto the Mescalero Reservation. This was a beautiful stretch of highway, all 4-lane. It wound up into the cool, pine covered mountains before arriving in the resort town of Ruidoso. This area is home to at least two of the southern most ski resorts in the country: Ski Apache and Ski Cloudcroft. As we passed through, I couldn't help thinking that it wouldn't be long before these mountains would be covered in snow.

At Ruidoso, we picked up the Rio Ruidoso, and the highway followed it down the valley as we were now descending. Little farms dotted the valley along the river. In the old days, such farms provided hay and produce much needed in this area by the army located at nearby Fort Stanton as well as by other citizens.

As we headed east, the mountains became hills and the hills eventually smoothed off, and we found ourselves once again on the level plains, returning to Roswell, where we had been almost 2 weeks before. We quickly passed through Roswell, continuing east. At the rest area about 20 miles east of town, we stopped for a break and to switch drivers, then hit the road again.

We began calling our daughter, making plans to meet her and the boys for a mid-afternoon lunch (for us) when we passed through Big Spring. It was about 2:15 or so when we pulled into our meeting place. Courtney came along soon after with two of her little monsters in tow, Camden and Jensen. The oldest monster, Xander, was in school terrorizing his teachers, so we missed him. But we had a nice visit with his siblings and mother.

Courtney soon had to leave to pick up Xander from school, so we said our goodbyes and Donna and I hit the road for the final 80 miles.

We had a good trip, but we were, of course, glad to get him.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On the Road: Laughlin, NV, to Alamogorgo, NM

Thursday, October 16, 2014

We checked out of the Aquarius early this morning and began the long journey home. Keeping with our plan of seeing new country, we intended to cover new territory in eastern Arizona. But first we had to get through Phoenix, that sprawling monster.

Our route today is 664 long miles.
The first part of the trip took us to Kingman, Arizona, where we always connect with I-40. We stopped there for coffee and breakfast. We jumped back on the interstate as the sun was beginning to rise in the east. We soon left Kingman behind and found our exit about 20 miles east of town. We began our long journey by retracing the route we took the first time we drove to Laughlin: US 93 southeast towards Phoenix.

I was delighted by the highway for the most part. Most of it is now 4-lane. Stretches are still under construction being converted to 4-lane, but the vast majority of the drive is good. Near Wickenburg, we finally trickled down to 2 lanes. From Kingman to Phoenix, there are only 2 towns, Wikieup and Wickenburg. The highway between these two towns is known as the Joshua Forest Scenic Road for good reason. There are also good stands of saguaro cactus along stretches of the roadway, and some impressive mountain and desert expanses. It's an interesting, though long, drive. Of the two towns, Wickenburg has the most amenities for travelers.

Saguaros cover a slope between Wikieup and Wickenburg

Closer view of several saguaros
This is a beautiful example of a saguaro
Just south of Wickenburg, we turned east on Highway 74 to cut over and hit I-17 on the north side of Phoenix. Prior to today, I was not aware of anything of note on this road, but we were surprised to discover Lake Pleasant on the north side of the highway. The lake is good size and contains Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Always on the lookout for places to stay should we get another RV, I made a mental note of this place with plans to research it upon returning home.

We picked up I-17 and turned south to head into Phoenix. By taking this route, I was hoping to miss some of the large city, but I guess I didn't. Just inside the city limits, we hit 101, the loop around Phoenix, and headed east for what seemed like hours and hours of fairly heavy urban traffic. We finally came to US 60, known locally as the Superstition Freeway, and headed east. At the outskirts of town, we stopped for gas and a break, and switched drivers.

This next section was the new part of the trip for us. We dipped through a southern part of the Tonto National Forest, then came to the little town of Superior, where things got a bit more interesting. I was not aware of the section of the highway from Superior to Globe, but it is indeed quite scenic. It's pretty mountainous terrain with some tricky highway sections, including a small pass through a tunnel. But it's a scenic drive, and I'm glad we took it. It's not a route I would want to pull a trailer through, though.

US 60 just east of Superior, where the road is just getting interesting. Note the bridge in center-left of picture.

Tunnel through a hillside not far beyond the bridge in the picture above. If you look carefully, you'll see numerous saguaros on the slope above the tunnel.
The highway weaves through the mountains.
I'm glad Donna was driving so I could enjoy all this scenery and snap a few pictures.
Approaching the small community of Miami, Arizona. I included this picture because it is typical of the scenery throughout the southwest. There seem to always be expanses such as this. Notice not only the mountain in the direct center of the picture, but also those dim outlines behind them.
One thing I learned about Arizona towns this trip is that they often come in groups. We were expecting to pass through Globe, but instead we passed through first Miami, then Claypool, and then Globe. The towns run together, giving the impression of one continuous town, and it causes for slow travel. Globe is an interesting town and would probably reward the traveler who stopped to visit its museum and other points of interest. But we had a lot of miles to cover, so we continued on.

At Globe, we picked up US 70, an old friend of ours. I was teaching in Olton a lifetime ago when our daughter Courtney was born to us. Olton is on US 70 in the lower Texas Panhandle. We would stay on this old friend for the rest of today and much of tomorrow.

We entered the San Carlos Reservation. If you enjoy the history of the American Southwest, then this is a familiar name and recalls some very famous Apaches of the past, such as Eskiminzin, Victorio, and Geronimo.

After leaving the reservation, we passed through another of those Arizona town groups: Pima, Thatcher,  Safford, and Solomon. It was in this area, I believe, where I was surprised to see a great deal of farming, including cotton. The highway basically follows the Gila River through this area, so perhaps the area is irrigated from this water source.

After leaving this group of towns, we set our sites on Lordsburg, New Mexico. Whenever I hear the name of this town, I think of the 1939 movie Stagecoach, which was John Wayne's breakout role. In the movie, which ironically was shot farther north in Monument Valley, the passengers on a stage are headed from Tonto, AZ, (a fictitious town?) to Lordsburg, NM. The movie began the long collaboration between Wayne and director John Ford.

But back to our journey. We crossed the state line into New Mexico, and soon arrived in Lordsburg where we took a break at the local McDonald's. Our plans had originally called to stop in Deming for the day, about 60 miles farther east. But I was afraid that would leave us another really long day tomorrow, so we journeyed on with plans to make it to Alamogordo. Along the interstate, we made good time.

But then we exited in Las Cruces. I should have taken the interstate around town, even though it added several miles. There was a great deal of construction in town, and it was all poorly planned and managed, and we got held up in traffic for a while. The side of Las Cruces we saw was not at all attractive, either. Of course, it was near the end of the day, so we were essentially there at rush hour, and people were indeed rushing to get home. We finally made it to US 70 east of I-25, heading towards the Organ Mountains. This is another place rich in history. So much to see and do and so little time to do it.

Highway 70 works its way up to and through San Augustin Pass, and the views are impressive in almost all directions. To the east is the White Sands Missile Range. It dominates the land for the final leg of our trip today.

We descended from the pass and the 4 lane highway slowly straightened out, and we made good time as the sun set lower and lower behind the mountains now behind us. As we neared Alamogordo, the White Sands National Monument appeared on our left. They were locking the gate as we passed, so we'll have to wait until another day to visit.

Somewhere around here, all east-bound traffic was routed through a border patrol inspection area. They looked Donna over carefully. Her beady eyes and swarthy appearance aroused their suspicions, but in the end I think they were overwhelmed by their fear of her and they let us pass through. We found our way to the Holiday Inn, secured a room, then had a late meal before getting a good night's rest.