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.