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Blog Entries posted by tbutler

  1. tbutler
    We spent Sunday and Monday nights, May 22 and 23, at Mareblu Camping in Fano.  Tuesday morning we woke, tidied up the camper and headed out the gate about 10:00 a.m.  Our intended destination was Isernia in south central Italy.  The trip was mostly south before turning west into central Italy.  We were driving on the A14.  A is for Autostrada, the Italian version of the Interstate highways in the US except that they are toll roads.  They are the only high-speed highways in Italy though you wouldn't know it the way some Italians drive.  We stopped to fill up with diesel fuel so we wouldn't have to worry about finding a station along the way.  The total distance was about 250 miles, 200 on the Autostrada and 50 a smaller mostly 2 lane road into the mountains.  We never drove into the mountains, they made great scenery but the route we took kept us in the valleys. 

    One of the most interesting things about Italian roads is the extraordinary number of tunnels.  They have tunnels on the Autostrada, on major highways and even on small roads.  There are just so many extreme hills and valleys that it makes tunneling the only option.  We didn't count but I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't fifty tunnels in the last two days driving.  On the Autostrada they had three lanes for the first 100 miles as we got further south the number of lanes dropped back to 2.  There was frequent road work including some tunnels that were under repair so all of three lanes of traffic would squeeze into one lane.  The roads are generally in good shape though we have encountered small patches on rural roads where the speed is reduced to 20 km/hr (12 MPH) for rough roads.

    Our goal for Wednesday was to get to Isernia and contact members of the Lombardi family.  Louise’s younger sister married Louis Lombardi.  He was born in Italy and brought to the US by his mother, Ida.  Louie's father had been in the US for a while and had established a home for the rest of the family.  The family home in Italy was near a small village just north of Isernia.  Unfortunately, the phone and internet access failed us and we were unable to make contact with relatives in Isernia.  We attempted to find a campground and there were none to be found anywhere near Isernia.  We ended up spending the night in a parking area near an old, abandoned building.  There were some local groups hanging out there, loud music, noisy motorcycles, etc.  That quieted down about 11:00 but I wouldn't know.  I fell asleep noise and all.  The next morning we spotted a dump station on one end of the lot.

    Our camper is very much like our motor home.  Both are happiest if they are plugged into a power source.  Our motor home has enough battery power to get us by and of course we have a generator.  The camper has one battery to start the engine and one battery to run everything else.  In addition, there are some things that will not operate without an electrical hookup.  Not plugged in, we have  no way to charge our computers.  We can charge our phones and i-pads from a USB outlet when the engine is running.  There are other USB outlets that won't work unless we are plugged in.  By Thursday morning, everything needed charging. 

    With no family contact to guide us we set out with directions that Louise’s sister had provided.  We left Isernia headed for Caravilli.  We have seen any number of small communities draped across the tops of hills.  They make quite a picturesque sight.  Caravilli is one of them.  Up the hill, around the curve and up the next hill.  The view from the village is spectacular.  We missed the turn and had to turn around and go back down a way before we took the next road on our quest to the town of Villa San Michelle.  Another spectacular drive and we came to Villa San Michelle.  People were parked along-side the road on what looked like sidewalks. We made like the natives and parked the van on the sidewalk.  We explored the town from bottom to top.  Along the way Louise struck up conversations with people who spoke no English.  No matter she got her point across to most.  One touching encounter happened when we talked with three women.  One was able to work with Louise and develop an understanding.  There was one very old woman who seemed to make a connection talking about Louie's parents.  We had Ida's picture on the memorial card from her funeral.  When we mentioned her name and Nickolo, Louie's father, she lit up.  Then mentioning Ida's sons, Luigi (aka Louie) and Dominic seemed to really make a connection for her.  We had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the experience of a small Italian village.

    Then it was off to the West Coast, Naples and Salerno.  That was about a two-hour trip from Caravilli.  We wandered along small roads for a while and then got on the A1 Autostrada.  A look at the possible locations of campgrounds set us on our way to Camping Salerno which is where I write from now.  Coming through the gate, the asked if we wanted a shaded site or seaside.  We jumped at the seaside location.  We were guided to our spot at the southeast end of a long line of RV's along the wall overlooking the beach and surf.  I'm certain I'll sleep well tonight with the sound of the sea. 

    From this base, we will stay here a week, we plan to explore Naples, Pompeii, Vesuvius, and Capri Island and probably more...  It took two tries to get our electric hooked up.  The power box is located too far away for our cord, so the park brought an extension.  Nothing worked so they brought another, plugged it in and viola! It worked and we once again are powered up.

    Louise has had her first swim in the Mediterranean and a shower.  I need to do the same and then we are planning to have dinner in the restaurant here at Camping Salerno.

    We left Texas and the US on Wednesday and arrived here on Thursday so this marks day number 8 of our great Italian adventure.

  2. tbutler
    It is Saturday afternoon, May 21, 2022.  We are in Chioggia, Italy.  It is a beach town south of Venice.  How we got here is a long story.  I'll begin with our flight from the US.

    Our flight from McAllen was an early one, we left Sandpipiers Resort at 5:30 a.m. for a 30 minute drive to the airport.  Check in was a mess.  There was a line until things got stopped up, only two agents and both had customers with problems.  Skipping details, they held the plane for Louise and I and one other customer.  We got to Houston in time to get to our gate for our next flight to Newark, NJ.  The airport at Newark is bizarre.  We hadn't had breakfast or much more than a snack and were looking forward to food.  Apparently they have an airport wide system for food service.  Every restaurant or bar had an electronic menu. You scanned a square code for the menu but it wouldn't work well with our phones.  They advised us to switch to Google for our browser.  We didn't and managed finally to get help so we could get a couple slices of pizza.  We boarded our plane, a Boeing 767-400 wide body at 7:00 p.m. EDT.  Once in the air, sunset progressed very quickly and after an inflight "meal" everyone settled down for the night.

    They woke us at about 2:00 a.m., fed us breakfast and landed in Venice at 9:00 a.m. Venice time (all of Italy is the same time). We were processed through Italian customs in a mass of several hundred passengers from our flight and another tour group.  They hustled us through as fast as they could.  The Venice airport is a really small airport, one  runway and one taxiway.  There were two planes at gates.  We had reserved a room at the Antony Palace Hotel just west of the airport.  A short taxi ride and we were at our hotel about10:00 a.m.  The room wasn't ready so we waited in the lobby until about 11.  Once in our room, we showered and hit the sack.  After about 6 hours of sleep, we got up, went to the lobby bar and had a light meal, a plate of assorted prescutto meats with mozzarella cheese balls and a glass of wine (or two). Now it was about 9:00 p.m. Venice time.  We went back to the room and back to sleep.  Up the next morning about 9:00, showered again and checked out of the hotel.

    From the hotel we took a taxi to the Indie Camper rental agency, a completely industrial facility.  There was no waiting room, they stacked our gear and took us to nearby mall.  We explored the mall, got food and drink and found a large well stocked grocery store.  We filled a basket with food and supplies and exited the mall just in time to be picked up, our camper was ready.  They helped us get our gear into the camper, a quick orientation and they were closed.

    We spent about a half hour getting things organized before we hit the road.  I had the Italy chip for our Garmin GPS we use in the car so the GPS is familiar.  We had identified a campground south of Venice but not too far away as our first stop.  The camper had a 1/4 tank of diesel and 1/4 tank of DEF which is the added to the exhaust of diesel engines to clean up the exhaust.  First stop was a gas station to fill up.  Surprise number one, their gas pumps, completely self service, take credit cards but require a four digit PIN.  I haven't seen a PIN needed for a credit card in I don't know how many years and had to look up the PIN in my computer.  It was three digits and was not accepted.  I figured we would find another station and try again.  As we pulled out of the station, the engine which had been running normally now was speed restricted to 35 kilometers per hour.  Pretty slow for a major thoroughfare.  I was driving on the shoulder with flashers and finally when I couldn't get better performance from the engine decided to call for road service.  There was a call box and I pulled up and stopped.  Talking to someone on the other end who is struggling with his English as I am with Italian, we finally decided to call for a tow truck.  It arrived shortly and the camper was loaded onto the back of a slant bed tow truck.

    It turns out that the 1/4 tank of DEF and Diesel were much less than that.  We had gone about 10 kilometers when the tow truck picked us up.  He added DEF at their service center, it didn't help.  It wasn't until we left and found another fuel station that the problem was solved.  So the Fiat diesel engine derates itself for DEF and/or diesel.  We stayed on the slower roads and pulled aside for following traffic when possible.  Using cash, I put in enough diesel to get it to 3/4 full.  Now things were running fine.

    It was getting late, the sun was setting so we set out for the campground.  An hour and a half later we were there.  I missed two or three turns which the GPS corrected each time.  I'm not sure how much that added to our travels.  In  at least one case it simply turned us around and put us back on the same road and I got the correct exit that time.  We arrived in Chioggia about 10:00 p.m.  The town is on the coast, marinas and beaches everywhere. The bars and restaurants were going full swing.  There were people walking everywhere.  We also had to contend with 100's of bicycles and heavy traffic on narrow roads.  Louise was not happy.  No matter how many times we tried we could not find the campground. Tom was not happy.  We finally drove by a campground, not the intended one, and pulled in, it was now after 11:00 p.m.  They had one space.  We took it and are staying 2 nights.

    We explored the campground, found the restrooms and showers. Facilities at this campground were unisex, everything except sinks were in enclosed spaces.  Showers are pay showers and require Euro coins.  We had none.  No showers.  The toilets didn't have toilet paper so it was back to the camper.  Fortunately we had purchased toilet paper at the above mentioned mall stop.  All was good.  It took us a while to get the bed made and enough of our gear stowed that we could get to sleep.  We opened all the vents, covered the windshield and climbed into bed.  After a good night's sleep, the day looked better.  We got more groceries, stopped for a snack and drinks on the way back from the Aldi food store and are now relaxing for the afternoon.  The beaches are all controlled entry and have huge full parking lots.  We haven't been to the beach yet but may try that a little later as some of the beach goers head off to the restaurants and bars mentioned above.  Louise is sleeping soundly as I write this.  It takes some time to adjust to the overnight flight and a seven hour change in time.  We are adjusting.  I am pleased that the driving isn't as bad as I had feared.  Despite difficulties we were able to get around without accident or incident.  We went through some pretty hairy stuff dealing with crowds, narrow roads and oh yes, did I mention that I'm relearning the standard shift of my childhood.  There have been a few missed gears but, hey, it's a rental!

    So that is installment number one of the great Italian adventure.  Four days and counting...

  3. tbutler
    I’m watching golf today.  I recognize more of the players on the Senior Tour than in the Rocket Loans Championship.  On the news recently they featured the New York Mets celebrating 50 years since their 1969 World Series Championship with a parade.  The players who are still alive rode in vintage Ford Mustang convertibles.  Fifty years ago the Apollo 11 Crew were in their final days of preparation for the first Moon landing.  There are more anniversaries that are happening than I want to admit remembering. 

    Bear with me, those of you who are younger.  Your year will come.  This year is exceptionally significant for me.  I graduated in 1969 from the University of Missouri, Distinguished Military Graduate, on the way to Fort Sam Houston, TX.  Fifty years ago, I was in Fayettville, North Carolina, a newly minted Second Lieutenant in the US Army.  As the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the First Aid Range for the Basic Training Course at Fort Bragg, I was on my first assignment.  My first wife was pregnant, we were expecting our first child. 

    A month later, Apollo 11 would achieve the first Moon landing.  The astronauts would emerge from isolation (to protect us from any Moon germs), on the birthday of my daughter.  The recent TV review of the Moon landing was interesting to watch. 

    Later that year I would receive my orders for Viet Nam.  About that time my parents would adopt a young girl of American/Korean parentage as their fourth and final child.  She was an aunt to my daughter but only a few years older.  She helped raise my daughter and I think my daughter helped her learn English.  The two are inseparable today.

    Louise had just completed her first year of teaching and was a newlywed living with her first husband.  Richard Nixon was in the White-House, Spiro Agnew was Vice-President of the United States. 

     Looking back, fifty years seems to have passed so quickly. 

  4. tbutler
    A common cartoon has a child with a knapsack on a stick running away from home.  It may be that cartoon that inspired my wanderlust.  I love to travel and for ten years we lived in our motor home full time.  In 2010 we put a mobile home on a lot in Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas.  That transitioned us from full timers to part time RV'ers.  It also created a challenge in classifying our status, we are no longer snowbirds or Winter Texans as they called us in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  Now we are Texans who flee the heat of summer.  I like the term summer chickens to explain our status. 
    When we were full time, there were several occasions when we responded to family illness.  The first occurred just a week after we purchased our second motor home.  We were in Louisiana enjoying the bayou's and learning how to operate our new home.  Louise's sister called.  Their mother had experienced a sudden change in her health.  Louise's sister was staying with mom but she needed to return home.  Two days later we were in Lake Havasu, Arizona parked next to mom's house.  Breaking camp was a simple matter of disconnecting utilities and stowing any loose objects in the coach.  We were on our way almost immediately. 
    Another time we performed this drill, we were located at Sandpipers Resort, on our RV lot.  We had taken an annual lease on the lot and were settled in with a storage shed, some patio furniture and other supplies for enjoying the winter in Texas.  We were just a few days from being ready to pack up for summer travel when we got word that Louise's mother was taken to the hospital with a heart attack.  She was in Denver by this time, staying with Louise's youngest sister.  Packing everything away and getting the coach ready to travel took us about 24 hours, we were on our way the next afternoon. 
    Now we have a home, packing up for summer is an extended process.  There is more stuff to be stowed, the coach has to be made travel ready, a few items have to be relocated from the house to the motor home.  Now we start the real process about a week before our intended departure.  There is a list of things that have to be done before leaving the house, a visit from the exterminator, the semi-annual check of the air conditioning system, arranging for mail and lawn care, renewal of the annual contract and taking care of any maintenance items, last minute doctor's visits.  The list goes on and on.  When we do finally pull out of the driveway and roll down the road, things get simpler, we are once again living our RV lifestyle.  For the next six months we will travel, visit family and friends, wander around the country, ready to pick up and go anywhere, anytime.  Once more we are like the child with the knapsack, a really big, comfortable knapsack!

  5. tbutler
    Let me introduce our motor home, VGER.  VGER is named for the villainous character in the first of the Star Trek movies.  VGER has been in our family going on 15 years this summer.  It (VGER was an it) was purchased at a Monaco Come Home Rally in Raine, LA.  We traded in a 10 year old Monaco we had purchased as a used coach in the spring of 2001.  We sold our home and moved into that used coach full time on July 7, 2001.  VGER was purchased new, 1235.4 miles on the odometer when we took possession on November 14, 2003.  Today it has 177,326.1 miles on the odometer. 
    From November 2003 until October 2010, we lived in VGER full time.  Starting in the fall of 2010, we move into a mobile home each fall and move back into VGER each spring.  When in VGER, we travel.  A long stay is on the order of 3 to 4 weeks.  Those stays are when we are visiting our children and grandchildren.  Once a year we move into our children's neighborhoods and become neighbors for a period of time.  In between time we follow our noses.  We've visited 49 states and 12 provinces in Canada. 
    We have begun slowly remodeling VGER.  Carpeting, lights, some furniture, plumbing and more.  Some of the remodeling has been out of necessity some just to keep the coach looking modern.  Our work continued this summer, right up to the time we found our next motor home.  While at Gillette, first at the Monaco International pre-rally and finally at the FMCA Convention, we purchased a 2015 Monaco Dynasty.  The Windsor is up for sale, look for the ad in the Family RV'ing Magazine (FMCA) January issue.
    We transferred the license from the Windsor to the Dynasty, VGER lives on.  Since the purchase we have put 4500 miles on the Dynasty and are enjoying many of it's features.  There is a trade-off when moving from a 40' coach to a 45' coach.  The two are not directly comparable as they are of a different age. 
    Right away we realized that the relative frugality of the Windsor was dramatically different from the Dynasty.  Fuel mileage dropped from 8.3 with the Windsor to 6.5 with the Dynasty.  That was no surprise, I figured it might even be lower.  The Dynasty has an Aqua-Hot for hot water and heat.  Both run off the fuel tank as does the generator.  With the Windsor only the generator shared the fuel tank.  With all these uses for the diesel fuel, I have lost the ability to get a true mileage performance figure. 
    Due to the demand for electric, we have an induction cooktop, the Dynasty really needs to be plugged in regularly.  The generator will run things but using the generator extensively is an expensive proposition.  The water and waste tanks are roughly the same size as the Windsor but the water usage in the Dynasty is going to be greater.  The toilets use significantly more water with each flush.  The shower has a rain shower head which is a big water user.  That means we will have to be hooked up every two or three days.  With the Windsor we were able to go close to a week without hook-ups and longer if we really needed to stretch it.
    When we pulled up to our home at Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas we faced another challenge.  Our parking space is adjacent to our mobile home.  The driveway barely accommodated the length of the Windsor with our toad parked behind.  I knew that and planned to park the toad cross-way in the driveway, that worked fine.  We also had to maneuver a longer coach onto the driveway.  The park road is fairly narrow and there is no way to run off on the opposite side.  We always had to make three or four passes to jockey the Windsor into the driveway.  I didn't even know if we could get the Dynasty  into the driveway.  As it turned out, we made it, a few more passes than the Windsor.  With all the slides open we have about 6 inches between the Dynasty and the roof of the mobile home.  Whew! That is close. 
    Surprisingly, the space in the storage bays is less in the Dynasty than the Windsor.  Some of our gear made the trip home in the toad rather than in the storage bays.  We'll go through some winnowing of our gear before departing next spring.  All in all we are quite happy with our new VGER and as we get to know it better I'm certain we'll continue to look back to the Windsor with many happy memories while enjoying the luxury of the Dynasty.
  6. tbutler
    In the 2001 movie, Rat Race, Kathy Bates tries to sell a squirrel to Whoopi Goldberg and her daughter.  They defer but ask Kathy Bates for directions.  Being a race, they are traveling at breakneck speed down one road after another following the directions.  Finally at one point, hurtling down a gravel road with dust billowing behind they pass a sign:  "You Should Have Bought a Squirrel."  That is followed by a scene of them going over a cliff, landing on a pile of rusted and wrecked cars.  It is one of our favorite moments in a favorite movie.  It is also a quote we use frequently as we travel, not only on the road but through life.  One or the other of us will turn to the other and say, "We should have bought a squirrel." 
    Our travels this spring have brought back that saying frequently.  It starts with a problem that I've been trying to get fixed all winter.  Repeated visits to repair shops still yields no solution.  We have no taillights.  The turn signals and brake lights work.  The emergency flashers work.  We still have no taillights.  So we are restricting our travel to daylight only.  For the most part, that isn't a problem since I have avoided night travel for the last several years. 
    Given that condition, we departed early on the morning of April 18 to attend the Lone Star Chapter of FMCA rally in Johnson City, TX.  Arriving there just after noon, we parked.  I went to step out of the coach and found that the electric step hadn't opened fully.  After stepping out of the coach carefully, I examined the step to find that a link from the motor to the step was missing.  Not broken, it was gone!  I carry a separate step for those days when the front of the coach is raised well above the ground.  So we used that step for the rally.  I used zip ties to fasten the disabled step in the retracted position for travel to our next destination, Austin. 
    Monday I had an appointment to get two new Michelin tires mounted on the coach.  I have adopted the practice of replacing the front tires every two years and then moving the used front tires to the rear, both tires replace the oldest pair of rear dual tires.  In this case, the coach wasn't in a shop, the work was done outside the shop so I had complete access to the coach and could talk with the workers. An aside, I have yet to find a tire tech who knows how to properly torque a lug nut.
    As they were mounting the tires on the rims, I inspected the brake rotors and gave the underside of the front of the coach a good looking-over.  Peering into the area behind the drivers-side tire I noticed something strange.  There was a large object dangling there in the center of the coach.  I recognized this as the supplementary air compressor which is part of the HWH air leveling system.  It maintains our  level position when we are parked and it was still working.
    The pump and it's mounting plate weighed at least 30 pounds and they were hanging by the air hoses (2) and the electrical supply and control wires.  Had this dropped off en-route, who knows what would have been destroyed in the process.  After bouncing along under the coach, it would have encountered our GMC Acadia!  I considered myself very lucky, fortunate to have found this dangerous  condition.  I found a large C-clamp in my tools and was able to clamp the remaining mounting plate to the frame.  I've added a second clamp to help secure the assembly just to be sure. 
    I have an appointment at the factory service center to get this properly remounted but we will travel at least 1500 miles before that happens.  I'm not going to turn over welding on the frame to just anyone.  What had happened to the original mounting plate?  It had cracked, all the way across a 3/8" steel plate that was about 10" wide.  Apparently 170,000 miles of highway travel had vibrated it to the point that it broke!  The piece that was welded to the frame is still there and it matches the piece that broke off.  Metal fatigue had nearly done us in.
    I ordered a rebuild kit for the Kwikee Step, new motor, linkage, control center, it was all different since our step was new.  I was able to successfully install that at home before we left for the summer on May 5.  Our second day out we stopped at an RV park in eastern Louisiana.  The next morning, Louise cranked the engine to air up in preparation for bringing our slides in before departure.  She turned the key, the engine answered, "Uggg."  I stopped my disconnecting process to go inside and jump the engine battery with the house batteries.  Successful, I went back outside to finish getting us road ready.  Before leaving we decided to run the generator but the house batteries didn't have the umph to crank the generator!  So with the engine now running I jumped the house batteries with the engine battery.  The generator started.
    Now with everything running, I got on the computer and then the phone to call a RV shop along our route.  With luck, I called Billy Thibodeauxs Premier RV Inc. near Lafayette, Louisiana.  Finding the shop was an adventure, if you decide to follow in our footsteps, check their website for the best route to get there.  Ashley was very friendly and efficient.  By the time we arrived just before noon I was informed that the batteries would be delivered to the shop by 1:30 p.m. and they would install them as soon as they arrived.  Believe it or not, we were back on the road by 3:00 p.m., $1900 lighter but with good batteries.
    Leaving I-10 for I-59, we left the heavy traffic behind and pulled into a truck parking area just before sunset (remember our coach turns to a pumpkin after sunset).  Our final adventure for the initial trip occurred in Chattanooga, TN.  Passing through town on I-59/I-24 to get to I-75, we were in the center lane of rush hour traffic.  Coming down a hill I applied the brakes as traffic came to a stop.  The fuel in the fuel tank sloshed to the front and the engine stopped!  Yes, I knew we were low on fuel, a station was just up the road on I-75 and we planned to make that stop our night stay at Walmart.  I tried to restart the engine, no luck.  Whoever was behind us on the right side must have realized our situation because they stopped to allow us to coast down the hill through the right hand lane to the shoulder.  I came to a stop just before an overpass but on level ground.  Now on the level, the engine started.  I wondered how long that would last but pulled back onto the highway and we continued on.  Now I stayed in the right lane.
    Looking for the Walmart and the accompanying Murphy station, we came up empty.  It wasn't where the GPS led us.  I had established several years before that Murphy isn't a subsidiary of Walmart and there are stations that are located at separate locations.  It turned out the station was there but Walmart wasn't.  As we passed it later, I looked and it would have been a difficult in and out for us.
    Passing the location, we noticed a small station on the opposite side of the street.  They had  diesel and at the same price as Murphy.  We frequently patronize small stations but I do approach them with extreme caution.  The canopy has high enough, the in and out route was do-able so we looped through a large parking lot and returned to that station. 
    Louise got out to scout for the diesel pump as I idled on the road in position to pull up to the diesel pump wherever it was.  She signaled a location and I pulled in.  I put 109 gallons of diesel in a 127 gallon tank.  I had to laugh when I retrieved my credit card and got the fuel receipt from the clerk in the Citgo station.  We had refueled at the "Save a Ton #2" in Chattanooga!  I thought,  "That little station saved us a lot more than a ton!"  By the way, I think I made the foreign clerk's (owner?) day when he handed me my card and receipt for $291.34.  What a big smile.  And no, he didn't furnish his house with my credit card.  Good people are everywhere!  I love it when trust is rewarded.
    During the winter we had the coach in the shop several times.  The Aladdin system monitors our fuel very accurately but this time it was off by more than normally expected.  We had run the generator quite a bit, that might account for some of the difference.  So maybe I should have bought a squirrel. 
  7. tbutler
    For sixteen years we have returned to the Rio Grande Valley, in the southern tip of Texas, each fall.  We enjoy the mild winters and the abundance of recreation, natural resources and wildlife in the area.  The December issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine is dedicated entirely to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV).  This publication from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is an excellent resource for those looking for a spot to visit in the winter, perhaps like us, you'll find it to be just what you are looking for in a winter residence.

    In commemoration of their 75th year in publication they decided to focus on a single area of Texas and the staff decided that focus had to be on the RGV.  They sent the entire staff to the RGV, housing them at Estero Llano Grande State Park south of Weslaco.  Every article in this issue of the magazine is about the RGV; its people, nature, history and recreation.  A one year subscription (10 issues) costs just $18.00.  There are regular offers in the magazine for $12 per year and 2 years for $20.  You should be able to purchase this issue at any Texas State Park.  You can read any or all articles in this issue at:  https://tpwmagazine.com/
  8. tbutler
    I had to check my last blog entry to see when it was posted.  It was September 6, not quite three months ago.  Since then we have been on the go...
    We spent a month with our daughter and her family in California.  Our granddaughters are growing up fast but a few golden moments still to go.  We took them to a working farm.  A 1940's version of a poor working farm.  We slept in the rehabbed chicken coup.  The girls fed the cows, gathered the eggs, bottle fed some really large calves, made friends with an aging bull that was as big as a house, well, maybe a chicken coup.  The girls loved the tire swing and the adopted kittens.  Thankfully they didn't ask to take them home. 
    During our stay in California I spent several days communicating with everyone in government I could to convince them to get on top of the situation in Puerto Rico following hurricane Maria.  My comments were the same that I heard from numerous others, this was an extreme circumstance.  The nature of the island and the near total destruction was going to make recovery here much more difficult than any other area.  Today as I write this, most of the island remains without electrical power and hundreds of thousands of island residents have left the island and come to the mainland US, mostly to Florida.  There are many in and near Houston and throughout Florida who are dealing with the aftermath of Harvey and Irma yet today.  They are so much better off than those in Puerto Rico.  Roads and bridges remain out of service.  Food and water are difficult to get in many locations.  Huge numbers of people are living in what remains of their homes with no hope of secure shelter in the near future.  Give what you can to agencies involved in hurricane relief. 
    Our return trip from California has lately involved a trip north to Elkton, Oregon to the Oh-Ho (the Oregon House) for a week with the above family.  This year they were off to Mexico and we got relieved of grandparent duty a week early so we made plans to attend an event we haven't been able to see in 16 years on the road.  We were able to get last minute reservations with the Monaco International Chapter of FMCA to attend the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.  I can spell it without looking it up or playing word check lotto - now.  We invited our friends, former FMCA members, now without the big wheels, to join us at the Fiesta.  Five days dry camping with four adults on board - and we loved it!  The event is spectacular.  We were parked four rows back from the launch field.  Our gathering point for meals and socializing was right on the front line.  I attended most launches and recoveries.  I was hooked.  If you attend, and if you love balloons for the flying or the beauty or the excitement of the launch and recovery, you will love it also.  There were 550 balloons this year and most launched in the morning and returned by noon.  The evening glow is fun, no flying but great chance to visit with pilots and crews.
    We left Albuquerque buoyed by the events of the five days at the Fiesta.  We paced ourselves across west Texas and headed for Corpus Christi.  Since 2012 I have been active in a group called Texas Master Naturalist.  Formed from a splinter group from the Master Gardner group in San Antonio in 1998, the Texas Master Naturalist program has expanded to more than 40 chapters state-wide.  Each year there is a statewide meeting of participants.  In years past the meeting has been at remote resorts near interesting nature sites.  As the size of the organization increased, the character of these meeting has changed.  This year almost 600 Texas Master Naturalists gathered at the Corpus Christi Omni Hotel.  I have attended several of these events and enjoy the chance to meet and talk with Texas Master Naturalists from other areas and learn about what they are doing.  We spent the weekend of October 20 - 22 in Corpus Christi before making the trip to our winter retreat in Edinburg, Texas.
    So now we're home.  Unpacking, cleaning up our mobile home residence, settling in to our winter routine.  We have excellent lawn care during the summer but now that's my job.  Lots of little things like having the air conditioner serviced, loading the refrigerator, turning on the DirecTV receivers, getting caught up with six months mail that has been stored.  We have the letter stuff delivered but the rest sits in a container waiting for our return.  I have created our bicycle ride schedule for the park, Louise has conducted her first book club meeting.  Louise spend a weekend in Austin for her retirement occupation, the Texas Silver Haired Legislature, a senior citizen group organized to promote and look out for the interests of senior citizens.  She is very good at this. 
    So the holidays are upon us.  We will bicycle South Padre Island Tuesday this week.  We play golf on Monday, I bowl in a league (as a substitute for a friend) on Wednesday, Thursday is a day of leisure for me, my chance to mow the lawn.  Louise plays cards with groups of ladies whenever she has a chance.  Friday our park bowling league begins it's season with an organizational meeting.  The weekend?  This weekend we are painting the deck and porch.  With luck, we'll have that finished tomorrow.
    I spent last Sunday helping band birds, a citizen science activity.  We capture birds in mist nets, the birds are measured and weighed and tagged with a leg band and released.  If or when they are recaptured, we learn about their travels, habits, age, and many other possible bits of information.  It is basic avian research.  The kind of thing that professional scientists are too busy to do.  The professionals are delighted to have the data.  They, their graduate students, and others use the data to increase our understanding of the life of birds.  This is one of my volunteer activities for the Texas Master Naturalist program.  I will attend a chapter meeting Monday night and will receive my re-certification pin for 2017.  Re-certification requires eight hours of advanced training and 40 hours of volunteer work each year. 
    Retired?  Yes.  How else would I be able to do all this?
  9. tbutler
    As the news of Harvey begins to fade from the news, the next major disaster looms just off the southeast coast of the US.  A hurricane that looks like a buzz saw in the satellite movie clips is making its way toward Florida.  There are other states that may be the location of landfall, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi are all in the cone of uncertainty.  So as I write I'm using Florida but this applies to many other states as well.  The damage this hurricane causes could easily surpass Harvey, Andrew, Katrina and all previous hurricanes in recorded history.  Each storm was different, none was good.
    If you own an RV, you are ideally prepared to evacuate.  I can't imagine not doing so.  There is nothing you can do to save your sticks and bricks house.  If you are in it when it floods or is destroyed by wind, you are risking your life for no good reason.  You are risking not only your life, those who may have to come rescue you are at risk as well.  If you live in Florida, you likely have a good understanding of hurricanes.  If you don't live there, you should be gone by now.
    For those not familiar with hurricanes, Irma is a monster.  Wind speeds of over 180 MPH have been registered by the Hurricane Hunters.  Wind gusts over 200 MPH have also been measured.  Those are unencumbered wind speeds, taken over the open ocean, there is nothing to slow the wind.  As Irma approaches land, wind speeds at the surface will be less, but not much less.  But the wind speed isn't just wind.  The wind carries debris.  We're not talking about lawn chairs, we're talking about pieces of houses, 2x4's, roof shingles, broken glass, street signs, entire roofs of buildings, sheets of metal stripped off metal buildings and so much more.  The faster the wind speeds, the more debris and the larger the pieces.  When any of these objects impact your home at 100 MPH, it will cause damage.  Buildings that are sturdy buildings sustain horrible damage during hurricanes.  You don't want to be in the building when that happens.
    Flooding due to rain, storm surge and runoff in ditches and streams will be severe over a wide area.  This storm covers a huge area, states other than Florida will almost certainly experience heavy rain and flooding.  If your home is flooded and you stayed in it, now you are living in misery.  The water is not pristine, it carries bacteria, chemicals, mud, insects, and more.  There is no normal once water enters you home.  The rainfall almost certainly will not be what Harvey brought.  Unlike Harvey, Irma is in a hurry.  It will be hit and run.  Like any hit and run, you won't believe how much damage can happen in a short period of time. 
    Following the storm, even if your home sustains no damage, life will be very difficult.  There will be no electric service for many days, weeks or perhaps even months.  There will be no air conditioning or fans.  Supplies like water, groceries, fuel, batteries, toilet paper will all be in limited supply.  Mosquitoes and other insects will swarm over the debris.  An alligator was removed from one of the homes in Houston, Florida will likely see the same.  If you are able to leave, do so.  Do so now.  You can return following the storm and be a helpful volunteer resource instead of being a victim.  Don't wait for officials to order evacuation.  Get ahead of the game, hit the road.  Public officials have to balance many factors before ordering evacuation.  You as an individual have only your own personal safety and your life to consider.
    Maybe Irma won't hit where you live.  Why take a chance?  Waiting will only make evacuation slower and more difficult.  If the storm misses, you will have had a trip to remember.  We are all rooting for a miss but everyone is planning on being hit.  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.  Good luck to those in Florida and along the East Coast.
  10. tbutler
    The Junior Play when I was in high school was Harvey.  My best friend played the lead role, Elwood P. Dowd.  Elwood, a grown man, had an imaginary friend, Harvey.  Harvey was a rabbit, a six foot tall rabbit, according to Elwood.  I had a minor part, acting was never my thing.  Anyway, these days there is another Harvey and it isn't a rabbit.  Harvey is dumping a huge quantity of rain on the upper Gulf Coast of Texas and now Louisiana.  A stalled storm can unload a huge amount of water on any given spot.  Think of it as a conveyor belt, picking up water from the warm water in the Gulf of Mexico and carrying it to the coast of Texas where it deposits it, continuously, in huge quantities. 
    Several years ago we had a single thunderstorm that sat right on top of our RV Park in Texas, Sandpipers Resort.  I can say that the thunderstorm sat there for one hour because I looked at the radar record as and after the storm was over.  In one hour this thunderstorm dropped 5+ inches of rain on our park.  The low spot in the park became a lake, we dubbed it Lake Sandpiper.  Our mobile home was on the northern edge of Lake Sandpiper.  Fortunately for us, 5 inches wasn't enough to do any damage but a few other homes sustained some minor damage.  Lake Sandpiper, having no drainage outlet other than a 2" pump, persisted for a week.  That was but a single thunderstorm. 
    I used to live in a rural area in Missouri.  We had a thunderstorm that dropped 11 inches of rain in one hour.  It was an amazing to watch the water come down in such a torrent.  Immediately, the local river became a rolling current, filling it's banks and then spilling over into adjacent agricultural fields.  Tiny creeks became impassible, low areas flooded and became stagnant for weeks.  Crops died from excess water, people were delayed on their way home but no one died and the area recovered almost without any concern or help being necessary.
    Harvey is a different matter.  Harvey is a succession of such storms.  And the storms aren't falling on an agricultural area, not even a hilly area, Houston and many of the other towns along the Gulf Coast are on the coastal plain, a wide flat area along the coast of Texas that extends from Louisiana all the way to Mexico.  Drainage is slow in flat areas particularly when they are only a few feet above sea level.  Add to that the fact that much of the Houston area is covered with pavement which doesn't absorb water but sheds it into nearby ditches.  Pavement isn't the only impermeable area, homes themselves have roofs which are by design impermeable.  Who would buy a leaky roof?  So lawns and parks are the primary areas that absorb water when it rains.  Urban areas are particularly prone to flooding.  I can recall a visit to Houston many years ago, on our way from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to Fort Bragg, NC.  We were visiting some relatives that lived there.  During our visit a short thunderstorm passed over the area.  Upon leaving, we saw significant street flooding.  Nothing that prevented our travel but we drove through six inches of water in places. 
    So Houston and it's surroundings are prone to flooding and Harvey is the perfect storm for the area.  I'm not ignoring other towns, many towns further south along the shore took the brunt of the winds of Harvey.  There have been many clips on the news showing the destroyed buildings.  Some towns are nearly completely leveled.  Fortunately the death toll in those towns is amazing low.  Within Houston, the disaster is multiplied by millions of lives.  A city has problems that no other area has.  The density of population multiplies the inconvenience, loss of life, financial loss by millions.  Ability to move the population, evacuate the area, is highly limited by the sheer numbers that are involved.  The after-effects of this storm are going to be sobering.  Katrina and now Harvey have inflicted huge losses and pain on populations in large cities.
    Anyone involved in disaster planning for large population areas should be alarmed and should be working to re-evaluate their disaster plans.  Metropolitan planning needs to account for population density and evacuation routes and plans need to be studied and improved.  We can do better if we will learn from the past and present. 
    Our home in Edinburg, Texas was spared.  Harvey hit land far enough north that people staying in our park sent messages via Facebook and other communication letting us know through pictures of sunrises and sunsets and words advising us of no wind, no rain, that all was well in Sandpipers.  In fact, announcements about RV Parks recently have focused on a very few that are taking storm refugees.  I can't imagine a park that wouldn't take refugees from Harvey if space were available.  In the RGV there are about 80 parks that will accommodate thousands of RV's during the winter.  Those parks are largely empty right now and could provide a place for RV refugees to stay.  If you are looking for a place to go with your RV to get out of the way of the clean-up, call any of the parks in the RGV.  With luck you may even get a site that might last through the winter.  There is no doubt that complete recovery will take years. 
    Tonight I sit in a safe and secure place but I can imagine the intense concern and dread of those in the Houston area.  It's called empathy, a normal human emotion.  Don't fight it, consider your life and what you would feel if you lived in the Houston or central coastal area of Texas or Louisiana tonight.  Our thoughts are with those in the grip of the storm tonight and into the future. 
    "Lake Sandpiper" April 10, 2015
  11. tbutler
    August 21 was a happy day for eclipse viewers in Riverton, Wyoming.  We stayed in the Riverton RV Park, a Good Sam park right in the town of Riverton.  Riverton was not exactly on the center line of the eclipse but was well within the band of totality.  We were giving up about 8 seconds of totality staying at that location as opposed to setting up at a remote location somewhere.  It was nice to be able to get up, walk out the door and set up to observe the eclipse just outside the door of our motor home.  At sunrise, there was a veil of thin cirrus clouds moving in from the northwest.  The forecast called for occasional smoke from fires in Oregon but we never saw evidence of that on Monday. 
    We were sharing the campground with many other eclipse observers.  Telescopes were set up at many sites.  It was fun to watch individuals scurrying to set up equipment.  I also was scurrying.  I carry a small telescope, a Meade 5" scope and a large tripod to support it.  I had various camera gear, my still camera is my main tool.  I've been experimenting with video and had a GoPro set up and also a regular video camera.  Neither of the video efforts were useful.  It's a learning process.  An event like the total solar eclipse is not a good time to be experimenting.  With just 2 minutes and 20 seconds for the show, there is no time to make adjustments or change things in mid stream.  So I set those things up and just let them run, hoping for some level of success. 
    There was a film crew in the campground and they had a compliment of complex, high end cameras to document the corona, the outer layer, of the Sun.  Similar crews were stationed across the US in a coordinated effort to get something like 90 minutes of continuous video of the corona.  There were also observers who had only the solar glasses to view the eclipse.  They were relaxed, lawn chairs set up was the extent of their preparation.  One couple we met was in a rental RV.  They were from Belgium and had made reservations at this RV park in early 2016 as soon as they began taking reservations. 
    As mentioned previously, we paid a premium fee to stay in the park and we were lucky to get a site following a cancellation by someone who had made reservations long ago.  As part of our fee, we got a number of perks that aren't part of a normal RV park stay.  A pair of solar glasses, a Moon Pie, root beer floats Sunday afternoon and a catered dinner on Monday evening helped give us more for our money and helped build a campground community.  The camp owners were out and about visiting with all their guests and we enjoyed many a conversation with them and other guests. 
    The partial phase of the eclipse began at 10:40 a.m. with a shout of "first contact" from someone in the campground.  People continued to visit, wandering from location to location, discussing the eclipse, visiting as friends.  Every so often, people put on the solar glasses and looked up to check the progress toward the big show.  A herd of about 30 cows and calves were bedded down in the shade of some trees just across the fence from the campground.  As the eclipse proceeded to about 75% the entire group got up and headed off toward the barn.  We all had a good laugh.
    As the Sun became a thin crescent, my eye was glued to the telescope.  It gave me the most precise view of the final moments before totality.  As the eclipse became total, I backed away from the telescope and looked up at the eclipsed sun.  The view through the telescope might seem to be a better choice but its field of view would contain only the entire Moon or Sun when at lowest power.  It works fine for the partial phases but for totality, nothing beats the naked eye or a pair of binoculars.  My preference is just the naked eye.  Nothing is like just standing in the shadow of the Moon and looking at the amazing corona.  After a minute or so, I began snapping pictures with the still camera.  I wasn't making adjustments, just taking a number of photos.  Looking around I was able to see Venus high overhead.  I never was able to see Jupiter or any other stars.  I did seem to catch a star or planet in my still photos, I haven't been able to identify it yet.  As totality ended a cheer went up across the campground.  The thin veil of clouds had moved off as totality began and we were able to see a beautiful total eclipse of the Sun. 
    There followed a period of conversation among all the observers, sharing impressions and feelings about this event.  I had a host of equipment to pack away but that could wait.  There was a tremendous emotional charge that needed to be savored and shared.  Slowly we began packing away our equipment and returning to more normal activities.  Before the following partial eclipse some people began leaving the campground.  Throughout the afternoon, more RV's made their way out of the campground.  In mid-afternoon we left the park in the toad to go in search of eclipse T-shirts.  We were amazed to see traffic backed up in Riverton.  Cars would move from one traffic light across an intersection into line for the next traffic light. We took back streets to the campground in order to avoid the traffic jam.  Later in the afternoon we had a conversation with a fellow camper who had left the campground for home.  They got through town and then encountered a traffic back-up several miles out of town and were down to a crawl, 2 mph or so.  They decided to turn around and stay overnight to leave on Tuesday.
    We also left on Tuesday morning.  There was no traffic jam in town or on down the road.  Traffic was almost certainly a little heavier than normal but on a 80 mile stretch of two lane highway we seldom had more than two or three vehicles behind us.  We were never slowed down by slower traffic, plenty of opportunities to pass when we needed to do so.
    The next total solar eclipse will occur in 2024.  That eclipse path crosses from Mexico into the US near Del Rio, Texas and cuts across the country to the northeast, exiting into Canada from Maine.  Once again there will be millions of people who will gather to observe the total eclipse of the Sun.  We found the remote area of Wyoming to be an easy place to get to the path of the total eclipse.  We were far from large cities, the nearest were Salt Lake City and Denver.  We were at least a two hour drive from the nearest interstate highway.  This made for an area where crowds were manageable.  We were pleased with the readiness of the small communities to serve the influx of eclipse watchers.  The local merchants were promoting and accommodating eclipse crowds.  There were activities in the park, a shuttle was set up to transport people from one location in town to another. 
    Thinking of the next solar eclipse I don't think there will be a place this remote.  The population of central Texas, San Antonio, Austin, Temple and Waco are all just off the line of totality so there will be huge crowds headed for west Texas to observe.  To the north and east there are no good remote locations, huge population centers will be nearby along the entire eclipse path.  Let's hope that some good lessons were learned from this event.  Start planning for the next if you didn't get to see this one.  Make reservations early and hope for good weather.
  12. tbutler
    This will be a short note to let all know where we are located and what conditions are in Riverton, WY.  On Saturday we set out from Fort Morgan, CO for Idaho.  We spent Saturday night at Little America, a fuel and food stop on I-80 in SW Wyoming.  Sunday morning I checked weather conditions along the line of totality and found the forecast for Riverton, WY to be about the same as Boise or Pocatello, Idaho.  Since Riverton was closer to Colorado where we would return, we decided to head for Riverton, WY.
    This morning I am up because the internet here was not accessible.  As I explained to a fellow camper, the local system was probably designed to handle 1000 connections and now it is getting hit with 10,000 connections.  Nothing works when the system is overloaded.  Anyway, back to Sunday morning.  As we left I-80 in Green River, Louise called a campground in Riverton.  They had a cancellation and we got a full hookup site.  We arrived about 2:30 p.m. and were welcomed to our eclipse home.  There are several astronomers in camp.  One couple we've met is from Belgium.  Our rate for two nights stay was well over double the rate posted on the office board.  The fee includes a pair of eclipse glasses, a mini moon pie (label says since 1917 how appropriate, 100 years old this year), tickets for a root beer float here in camp and also a Sunday night dinner.  So we get more than just a site. 
    The forecast here calls for clear skies but there will be patchy smoke from the fires in Oregon.  I saw some of that last evening.  Boise has clear skies - sunshine, no mention of smoke.  Pocatello has patchy smoke.  Casper, WY which was also on our option list has patchy smoke.  Our other option for viewing was to stay in Colorado at Fort Morgan and then drive to Scottsbluff, NE.  There the skies are forecast to be sunny.  When we made the decision to leave Colorado on Saturday the forecast called for storms in Scottsbluff. 
    We should see the eclipse, perhaps not under the best skies but it will be visible here.  There are a whole set of activities going on in the city park and the town is positively humming with activity.  There is even an eclipse shuttle.  They were well prepared for the crowds, everyone here seems to be well informed.  The casino in town has lots of dry campers and they have a program for those saying with them.  There is a county-wide newspaper with a schedule of all the activities going on and information about viewing the eclipse including times for a number of locations within the county.  It's going to be a memorable day.
  13. tbutler
    It is now three days until the eclipse.  In fact as I write this, in 72 hours it will be over.  You either get to see it or you don't.  The partial eclipse will be visible in all 50 United States and Canada.  All of Mexico and Greenland will see the eclipse as a partial eclipse.  Even the countries in Central America and the northern half of South America will see a partial eclipse.  Western Africa, Spain, Great Britain and Iceland will see a partial eclipse.  Even eastern Russia will see a partial eclipse.  The only people who will see a total eclipse of the Sun are in that narrow ribbon that stretches across the US from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, a teeny tiny corner of Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, a tiny corner of Georgia, the western tip of North Carolina, and South Carolina.  For the rest of the world it is a partial eclipse or no eclipse at all.
    As the eclipse begins, everyone will see a partial eclipse as the Moon takes the first tiny bite out of the Sun.  It will take about an hour for the Moon to move to a position where it can cover the entire Sun.  That will be the total eclipse, the Moon completely hiding the Sun.  People on the west coast of the US will see that happen at about 11:17 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.  Twenty minutes later, people in western Wyoming will see this happen at about 11:37 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time.  Twenty three minutes later totality occurs at about 1:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time as the shadow of the Moon sweeps past Grand Island in central Nebraska.  Twenty minutes after that, the shadow sweeps over western Kentucky at 1:20 p.m. Central Daylight Time.  Twenty seven minutes later the shadow sweeps off the Atlantic coast of South Carolina at 2:47 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.  Just ninety minutes from from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.  After the total eclipse exits the east coast of the US, there will be another hour or so of partial eclipse as the Moon slowly uncovers the Sun. 
    The pattern for those in the ribbon of totality is eclipse starts - partial eclipse - total eclipse - partial eclipse - eclipse ends.  The whole process will take about two hours, depending on where you are it can be a little shorter or a little longer.  How long will totality last?  Just two minutes for those on the west coast of Oregon.  By the time the shadow reaches Wyoming the Moon will cover the Moon for almost two minutes and 30 seconds.  On the coast of South Carolina the Moon will cover the Sun for two minutes and 34 seconds.  In western Kentucky totality will last just over 2 minutes and 41 seconds. 
    Do you have your eclipse glasses?  Are they safe?  There are certifications on your glasses.  Mine don't have the ones publicized on the Weather Channel but they were recommended by NASA so they are good.  Don't know?  There are other alternatives.  A #14 welding glass will work for viewing the Sun.  If you can see anything through your glasses, they are not good solar glasses.  You can use your solar glasses to view the Sun right now.  Simply go outside, put the glasses on and look up at the Sun.  What will you see?  You should see a slightly bluish disk that is the Sun.  You may be expecting something really big but it won't be giant in size.  We think of the Sun as being very large and it is, 109 times the diameter of Earth. Think of a necklace.  Now imagine a necklace with beads made of Earth size beads.  There would be 109 Earths on that necklace and it would stretch not around the Sun but straight through the center.   If the Sun was a fishbowl one million three hundred thousand Earth's could fit into that fishbowl.  When you use your eclipse glasses you will be looking at a disk that appears to be about as large as our Moon.  In fact it will appear exactly as large as our Moon which is why our Moon can just cover up the Sun. 
    If you don't have solar glasses you can still watch the eclipse using a small mirror like a compact mirror.  A mirror two or three inches in diameter works just fine.  The mirror can be square or rectangular and will work very well, just as good as a circular mirror.  Hold the mirror in direct sunlight and reflect the sunlight onto the side of a building or an RV.  A white or light colored vehicle or building will work best.  If you stand close to the building the image will be bright but small.  If you stand further back, the image will be larger but not as bright.  The geometry of t, his is that the light should be shining on the mirror and the reflection should be falling on the shaded side of a building or RV.  At a distance of 100 feet you should have an image about 4 feet in diameter.  If you get tired of holding the mirror, tape it to a tripod, a fence post or other support.  Don't look into the mirror, that is just like looking directly at the Sun.  Using this technique, you may even be able to see sunspots if there are large ones on the Sun's visible light surface. 
    The method everyone knows is to use a pinhole to project an image of the Sun.  In the example above, the mirror is doing the same thing as a pinhole but on a larger scale.  Big pinhole, big image.  A big pinhole will yield a blurry image.  The mirror method will yield a slightly blurry image but this is not noticeable when viewed from twenty feet away.  With a true pinhole viewer, you will get a tiny image of the Sun.  You can make it longer by making the box you are using longer.  The typical diagram shows something like a shoebox.  The image will be about 1/8 inch in diameter.  Lengthen this to a longer cardboard box and you get a larger image.  A sheet of white paper where the image falls will make the image appear brighter.  If you can find a refrigerator box, you can carry this to an extreme.  Cut a small hole in the box so people can insert their head into the box.  This will keep the box dark.  Put paper on the opposite end from the pinhole where the image will fall.  Cut a one inch hole where the pinhole will go.  Cover that hole with a piece of aluminum foil.  Use a pin to puncture the aluminum foil to get a nice pinhole.  If the box is really dark inside, you will have a nice size image that be seen.  If not bright enough, make the hole slightly larger using a pencil point or other similar size object.  The pinhole is toward the Sun.  Turn the box so that the light coming through the pinhole falls on the paper at the other end of the box.  Turn the box so the paper is completely shaded from direct sunlight.  There should be a small dot on the white paper.  That is an image of the Sun.
    A natural variation of the pinhole projector occurs when sunlight filters through the leaves of a tree.  Look in the shadow of a tree and you may notice that the spots of sunlight coming through the tree take on a crescent shape as the eclipse proceeds.  These are images of the Sun.  Sometimes with trees you will see hundreds of images, some overlapping.  This works best where the shade is falling on a flat smooth surface like a sidewalk, a parking lot or a porch or deck surface.
    The third method is much less desirable in my judgment but it does offer a guarantee of seeing the total eclipse no matter where you live.  If you are unable to see the total eclipse in person, this represents the next best thing.  You will be able to watch the eclipse and hear it described for you in some cases.  The Weather Channel will cover the eclipse from beginning to end from a variety of places along the line of totality.  Local TV stations are likely places to get live coverage of the eclipse.  The internet will no doubt have many images and perhaps some live coverage as well.  You can also look at images of total eclipses by searching the internet.  You can see pictures from long ago and from many locations on the Earth.  There will be no comparison to the excitement and the drama of standing in the Moon’s shadow and watching the actual eclipse.  It would be like going to the library and looking at a book of birds and then claiming that you had a “Big Year.”  Setting a record for the number of birds seen in a year.  Shoot, why not go for a “Big Day” and see all the birds in the world in one day?  I have no doubt that given the resources of the internet, it could be done.  This is why I’ve encouraged those who can to get to the path of the total eclipse.  It will never get easier or less expensive than when it comes to us here in the US.
    Now, for those who are going to see the total eclipse some special instructions.  These apply only to those who are within the ribbon of totality described above.  Once the Moon completely covers the Sun you can remove your glasses and look directly at the dark "hole in the sky."  My first impression of my first total eclipse was that someone had pulled a cork out of the sky leaving a deep dark hole where the Sun used to be, an intense dark spot where the Sun used to be.  Around it will be the corona of the Sun.  The corona is the outer atmosphere of the Sun.  It is safe to view the corona without viewing glasses or other eye protection.  The corona may be a uniform circular veil around the eclipsed Sun, fading with distance until it is no longer visible.  Depending on solar activity, sunspots and solar prominences the corona may be quite irregular with spikes and gaps.  I’ve already described in a previous post the planets Venus to the west of the Sun and Jupiter to the east of the Sun which will be visible during totality.  For those with a partial eclipse you can look for these planets by blocking out the sun near its maximum and looking to the west and east of the Sun for Venus and Jupiter.  Those viewing the total eclipse will get the bonus of seeing a number of other bright stars in the sky.  Orion’s bright stars, Rigel and Betelgeuse, Sirius, the dog star and Pollux and Castor in Gemini may all be visible to the west of the Sun.  East of the Sun you may see Spica in the constellation Virgo, Antares in the constellation Scorpius, Vega in Lyra will all be to the east of the Sun. 
    Here are a few of the things you may notice during the eclipse.  In the beginning, the changes will be slight and if you are far from the center line of the eclipse you may not notice much at all.  As the eclipse deepens, the nature of the light will change, shadows will become less sharp, the bright light fades and the shadow seems less dark.  The temperature will drop, birds will sing like they do in the morning and evening before going to roost.  Some birds will go to roost in areas where the eclipse is near total or total.  The wind speed may drop and possibly become calm.  The reverse will happen as totality ends and the Sun returns to the sky.
    As the totality begins and again at the end you may see Baileys Beads as sunlight dances through the valleys between mountains on the Moon.  The first direct glimmer of sunlight as the Moon covers or uncovers the Sun is called the diamond ring.  It will be a fleeting moment, it signals that you must look away and put your glasses back on.  Take a breath and reflect on two of the most amazing minutes of your life.  You have stood in the shadow of the Moon and seen the Sun like few other people have.  To ancient people it had various meanings, often described as fear and dread.  It was frequently thought of as an evil omen.  Ancient people feared the Sun might never return.  Now, we understand what is happening.  We can enjoy the eclipse as a unique and rare natural occurrence. 
    Such are the benefits of the age of enlightenment.
  14. tbutler
    Yesterday Louise and I played golf.  As we started the back nine, I noticed the last quarter Moon high in the western sky.  You can see the Moon in the morning sky before sunrise.  It will be visible in the morning sky and even in the afternoon for the next few days.  As it creeps closer to the Sun, it will be more difficult to find, a smaller crescent in the brightest part of the sky, near the Sun. 
    On Thursday morning the waning crescent Moon will be above and to the right of a bright object in the pre-dawn sky, the planet Venus.  Look again on Friday morning and you will be able to gauge how far the Moon travels in it's orbit in one day.  The Moon will still be above and right of Venus but much closer on Friday Morning.  By Saturday morning, the Moon will be almost directly below Venus.  You would have to look very closely on Sunday morning to find the thin waning crescent Moon.  Not only will the Moon be just over 1 day's travel in it's orbit from the Sun, you would only be able to see it in the light of dawn if you had a near perfect eastern horizon.  Any hills, buildings or trees will block your view. 
    On Monday, eclipse day, if you are in that narrow ribbon where the total eclipse will be seen, you should be able to find Venus to the west of the Sun.  Even those seeing a near total eclipse (partial eclipse) may be able to find Venus as the maximum eclipse occurs at their location.  If you know where to look, the planet Venus is visible in full daylight if it is far enough from the Sun in the sky.  If you can find the Moon during the day on Thursday you may be able to use it as a guide to viewing Venus during full daylight.
    There will be another planet easily visible during the total eclipse.  That planet is the largest of the planets in our solar system, Jupiter.  Jupiter is visible in the evening just above the horizon in the western sky.  So Jupiter is east of the Sun.  During the Eclipse you should see Jupiter east of the eclipsed Sun.  Those with a deep partial eclipse may also notice Jupiter to the east of the Sun, not far away.  If you are looking for the planets during a partial eclipse.  Take off you eclipse glasses, block the sun with your hand, a piece of paper or another object.  Be sure to keep the Sun covered as you search the sky near the Sun for Venus and Jupiter.  Never look directly at the Sun without eclipse glasses.
    We are camped on the high plains in Eastern Colorado.  Our weather has featured fairly frequent afternoon and evening storms.  This has been pretty consistent since we arrived on August 1.  Areas where we plan to go had thunderstorms early this morning.  The forecast for now seems to be improving for those areas (Casper, WY or Scottsbluff, NE).  As eclipse day approaches I'll be watching the weather, on my smart phone and tablet as well as on the weather channels (WEA - The Weather Channel and WN - Weather Now).  For the moment, we are planning on a car trip from our current location but if we have to travel further for clear skies we may leave the campground on Saturday or Sunday.  Given two days we could roam from western Oregon to eastern Missouri.  That is what I want, maximum mobility and the clearest skies I can find. 
    I wish clear skies and good viewing to all.
  15. tbutler
    At the Monaco International Pre-Rally for FMCA 2017 in Indianapolis, Louise and I looked at a nice used coach.  It was a 2008 Monaco Signature in beautiful condition.  Louise loved it, very nice inside and out.  I really liked it also but the price, the age and the 45 foot length were a problems for me.  We ended up walking away from the deal.  I told Louise that I now had a huge budget for making “home improvements” on our 2004 Windsor.  So, I started by ordering something I had seen on the Signature.  It had two pass-through storage bays, just as our coach does.  Both those bays had slide trays.  We have one slide tray and I have often thought about adding a second.  At the FMCA convention I found one vendor offering slide trays for storage compartments.  I talked to them, got prices that didn’t scare me away.  I went back to our coach, measured carefully, and then went back to the SlideMaster booth and placed an order.  It arrived on Tuesday, a freight shipment, on a huge 18 wheeler. 
    Slide Master coordinated the delivery with the Emerald RV Park in Fort Morgan, Colorado where we are currently staying.  The truck driver very generously agreed to unload the slide tray alongside our coach.  So, there it sat, 229 pounds shipping weight including the 42” x 8’ pallet.  I unwrapped it, operated the slide, looked at the hardware supplied, and began moving it toward its eventual home.  Everything had to be unloaded from the compartment.  Piece by piece I moved everything from the compartment.
    With the slide extended, the opposite end was easier to lift.  I set it into the open compartment.  Then I moved the slide to the opposite end, making the far end from the coach lighter and lifted it, sliding it into the coach.  I scooted it this way and that way until I had it positioned so it would slide both ways with the desired clearances.  In specifying the vertical position, I had given them the height of the lip on the storage compartment, 2 ¼ inches.  The sliding tray needed to clear that lip.  They supplied 2 inch aluminum block shims for each mounting hole and also one ¼ inch aluminum block for each mounting hole.  Unfortunately, the desired shim that was needed to elevate the sliding tray was 1 5/8 inches and there was no way to get to that with the shims they provided.  I ended up using a wood 2x2 plus some 1/8 inch stock that I had on hand.  I wrestled the 8 foot 2x2 under the rails on each side of the tray.
    I drilled holes in the 2x2 shim and through the compartment floor at each end of one rail and anchored the tray in place.  A check confirmed that everything cleared the doors, the position was good.  Everything that fit in the compartment had to be stored for the night (we’ve been having frequent rains) so I reloaded the compartment.  Good news, everything fit just as before.
    The next morning I’m off to Ace Hardware for bolts, nuts and washers.  The two 3 inch bolts I used the previous day seemed too long so I got a set of 2 ½ inch bolts.  I set about drilling holes at each of the pre-drilled locations.  The first bolt went in the hole and it was too short.  Back to Ace Hardware, longer bolts.  When I drilled the holes, the standard 3/8 inch drill was too short, I made do with the 5” bit by inserting the bit only as far as absolutely necessary to get enough length and even at that the drill chuck was contacting the rail of the slide tray.  I forgot to get a longer drill bit so it was back to Ace Hardware.  Before the project was complete I was on a first name basis with the checkout clerk. 
    I finished inserting the mounting bolts on one side of the tray on the first day.  Day two I unloaded everything in the compartment – again.  I crawled back into the compartment and began working on the other side of the tray, drilling holes and inserting bolts in those holes.  I’m working in and out under the storage compartment doors.  The slide tray has cross members so I’m laying over the cross supports and maneuvering in limited space.  Every move is twisting and stretching, craning my neck to see through my glasses, using the mini-vacuum to clean up the drill shavings. 
    Once all this is done I have the bolts in place.  I can put the nuts on the lower side of the end bolts myself, working the top of the bolt inside the compartment and putting the washer and nut on under the coach.  I even managed to do the second on one end of the tray.  The rest will require Louise working from above, holding the head of the bolt stationary while I put the nut on below.  So now I’m underneath the coach on pads, pinned between the gravel below and the coach above.  I’m putting silicon caulk on the washers to seal the hole from the bottom.  Maneuvering a caulking gun is never easy for me but doing it laying on my back under the motor home, well, let’s just say I was in danger of being caulked permanently to the motor home.  I can maneuver all the way to the center but everything is limited, stretching, trying to see what I’m doing all the while.  We got it done, the whole thing is in place and bolted down, ready for use.  So, I reload the tray, everything back in place.
    “So, what does this have to do with Yoga?” You ask.  Louise loves to watch Rachel Ray each morning.  This morning Rachel Ray had a guest on the show.  She was young and an author.  It was a promo for her book on Yoga.  She loves Yoga and she was demonstrating Yoga moves that you could do while reading a book, watching TV, vacuuming the house and many other ordinary situations.  At one point while watching the show, I mentioned that this reminded me of my last few days of working on the slide tray.  I said, “RV Yoga.”   Louise laughed and said, “The topic for your next blog.”
  16. tbutler
    Look up at the sky tonight or any night in the next few days.  The brightest thing in the sky is the Moon.  Our Moon will play a key role in the coming total solar eclipse.  Between now and the 21st of August, the Moon will move from its current position, slowly closing in on the Sun.  On August 21 the Moon will slide between Earth and Sun, casting its shadow on Earth.  You can watch this drama starting right now.  If you look at the Moon in the next few nights, you will notice that shortly after the Sun disappears below the western horizon you can turn to the eastern horizon to see the Moon rising higher into the sky. 
    Continue to watch every night, you will notice that the Moon is closer to the horizon each night at sunset.  Next week if you look for the Moon it won't be in the sky until after sunset.  At the same time you will notice that the Moon changes in appearance, becoming fully lighted, full Moon.  A few nights later the Moon will begin to darken along one side and you will have to stay up later to see it in the sky.   All of this can be quite mysterious until you think about what is happening in three dimensions. 
    At this point the show becomes much more exciting.  You will be able to see the Moon in the morning sky before sunrise.  Watch carefully each day as the Moon moves closer to where the sunrise is occurring.  In the days just before the total solar eclipse, a thin crescent Moon will be poised in the eastern sky above the sunrise point.  You will have to look very carefully to find it in the eastern sky on August 19.  Few people will be able to find the Moon on the morning of August 20 but if you have been watching you will have a real good idea where it is hiding in the glare of the Sun.  On August 21 the invisible Moon will slowly reveal itself as it slides between Sun and Earth.  Of course we won't be seeing the familiar Moon we are used to seeing.  During the eclipse we will see it's silhouette as it moves between us and the Sun.  If you are fortunate enough to be within the ribbon of totality, the Moon will slide across the face of the Sun and for just a few precious seconds the Moon will fit exactly over the Sun.  Then just as fast as it moved in front of the Sun it will retreat, slowly exposing the full face of the Sun.  Once more, the Moon will become invisible.  By the evening of August 23 or 24 you will once again see the Moon in the night sky.
    When it makes it's reappearance, be sure to give it the applause it deserves.  That wonderful total solar eclipse you saw was brought to you by the greatest supporting actor of all time, our Moon. 
    If you watch each night and morning until the eclipse you can also challenge yourself to think in three dimensions about what you are seeing.  See if you can keep track of where the three actors in this play are each night.  Earth, Sun, Moon in a dance of the centuries.  The show never ends.  Follow it every night, just as your ancestors did. 
  17. tbutler
    We visited the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO this week.  The memorial was built immediately following the World War.  It was known as The World War at the time because there wasn't a second one and everyone hoped there would never be another one.  Of course today we know that wasn't the case.  There has been a second world war and a succession of other wars of smaller scale, revolutions, regional wars, proxy wars between world powers, a never ending sequence of violence between countries continues today. 
    We are now in the 100 year anniversary of many of the final events of World War I.  With that much time to reflect on the events that led up to the war and all the subsequent events, a clear analysis can be done.  The memorial built in 1921 has been completely reworked to be more than a memorial, it is now a first class museum.  While the war seems quite distant, Louise and I found the events and lessons of the war to be very relevant to current events. 
    The introductory film explores the events and causes leading up to the war.  The museum documents every aspect of the war from the battle conditions in various battlegrounds, the countries involved, the weapons used, the heroic acts and the human suffering of those involved in the war and those caught in the middle of the war. 
    At the present time, there is a traveling exhibit that includes among other things, the actual declaration of war signed by Woodrow Wilson.  To read the words and realize the tremendous commitment putting the signature on that document would take is quite sobering.  If you are in the Kansas City, MO area this summer, stop by to visit this outstanding national museum.
  18. tbutler
    We are in rally mode.  We do this every two or three years.  It is a fun thing to watch the coaches gather, a small city literally pops up almost overnight.  Thousands of people bring their houses, whether full timers or just camping for the week, they have almost all the comforts of home.  And, at the end of the week we will all scatter to the four points of the compass and the city will just disappear - poof!
    Our rally attendance began last week.  We were one of the last arrivals at the Monaco International Pre-Rally in Celina, Ohio.  Monaco International is a chapter of FMCA, in this case the chapter is open to owners of all the Monaco family of coaches, including Safari, Holiday Rambler and Beaver.  We like their pre-rally before an FMCA Convention and this one lived up to our expectations.  We arrived Wednesday, July 5, in time for the 4th of July Picnic.  Many gathered earlier in the week just for the chance to sit around and visit informally before the actual rally began on the 5th.  By the time we arrived, most of the coaches were already parked.  There had been significant rain so they were being quite selective with the parking.  Even so we were directed to drive across a field up to a road on the far side.  As I did so, I could feel the coach lugging in the soft ground.  I kept a steady foot on the accelerator and managed to pull up to the road.
    More rain was forecast so after seeing some of the coaches that had arrived earlier, now with wheels sunken well into soft soil, I went in search of lumber to place under my rear wheels.  At Menard's I purchased two 3/4 inch plywood pieces 2 feet by 4 feet.  I also purchased four 2x12's four feet long, one for each tire.  The 2x12's supported the tires while the 3/4 inch plywood under the 2x12's kept them from sinking into the ground individually.  I now had a 2 foot by 4 foot pad to put under each rear dual.  At this point let me point out our coach has air leveling only, we have no jacks which could be used to raise the rear of the coach.  So I pulled forward far enough to put the pads behind the wheels and backed onto the pads.  It worked, I was solid, for the moment.  The front wheels sunk in some but being near the road, the soil was more solid there.  I could move them if I had a solid surface for the drive wheels.
    By the end of the rally on Sunday, the whole assembly on the left rear had sunk into the ground about 3 inches.  Still, the tires were now on a solid surface.  It rained several times more during the rally, such that there were large puddles in the street which weren't gone by Sunday, our planned departure date. 
    Saturday afternoon as festivities were winding down, I made a run to Menard's and picked up two pieces of 3/4 inch plywood, 2 feet by 8 feet and four 2x12's six feet long.  This would give me additional support as I pulled off the pads I was parked on.  I was certain enough that the wheels would just sink into the now saturated soil when I tried to pull out if I didn't have some support under them.  Part of the convincing came from watching other coaches being pulled out by wreckers. 
    Louise described our departure from our parking spot as the Egyptian method, kind of like moving stones for the pyramids.  Place a set of boards in front of the tires, pull onto them, move the set that were under the wheels ahead, pull onto them, move the boards again.  By then we were close enough to the road to put the short 2x12's in front of the tires and the plywood in front of that.  I accelerated firmly until the tires were near the end of the plywood and then eased off to let the rear tires "coast" across the last of the soft soil.  The left rear was running on mud and the tires pushed mud up eight inches between them.  The resulting mud sculpture was impressive.  We were out without damage, delay or expense.  Yes, I could have used my road service for this but if I can keep the wrecker away from my rig I'm happy.
    We left Celina Sunday afternoon and drove to Anderson, Indiana.  We spent the night at a very nice RV park, Timberline RV Resort.  There we purged our waste tanks and recharged the fresh water tank in preparation for our stay at the FMCA Crossroads to Fun, Indy-2017.  We arrived at the north campground shortly before noon Monday.  There was a line of coaches waiting to be parked.  We waited patiently and then impatiently for more than 30 minutes before finally reaching our assigned space.  The north campground is pretty far from the activities of the convention but we have bicycles and they run a shuttle so we are happy to be here.  More importantly, we are in a real campground with 50A power (which we paid for), water and sewer at our site (which was a pleasant surprise).  We have learned never to expect this but sometimes we just get lucky.  Louise was ecstatic.  She can tolerate dry camping for a short period of time, we had just completed 5 days living on our tanks.  She much prefers to have all the nice features of our coach working fully. 
    I am certainly happy.  It is Tuesday, the convention starts tomorrow.  We woke up to thunderstorms this morning.  It continues to rain this afternoon.  Almost 3:00 p.m. now, we are under flash flood warnings until noon tomorrow and it continues to rain off and on with the occasional lightening and thunder.  We are not in an area subject to flash flooding but if we travel we know there are already roads closed in the area due to flooding.  We are parked on a solid surface, gravel is below the grass growing in this area.  No worries about tires sinking into a soggy grass surface.  So this year, we won the lottery.  Now if we can get the storms to move on we'll let the fun begin.
    I certainly don't know for sure but I think FMCA may have scheduled us to be in the campground on Monday because the full hookups makes it easy for us to be on-site for a week.  I assume then that those without hookups are being parked this afternoon or tomorrow morning.  It would be a tough day to arrive and set-up.  My heart goes out to those who are faced with this challenge and to the parking crew that is out in this weather getting everyone safely situated for the convention.
  19. tbutler
    In a previous entry I described the total eclipse of the sun which is happening next month, August 21, 2017.  Total solar eclipses are rare.  How rare?  It has been 26 years (July 11, 1991) and that was only seen in only one state, Hawaii.  The next solar eclipse for the US will be April 8 2024.  This one enters from Mexico into Texas and slices northeastward through New England exiting the US in Maine, continuing on through New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.  There have been many partial eclipses, but the difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse of the Sun is night and day if you will pardon the obvious.  The eclipse next month can be seen from the entire US as a partial eclipse but only those who are in a ribbon that is 71 miles wide at it's widest, will be able to see the total eclipse.  That ribbon of totality enters the US near Portland, Oregon and exits on the east coast of South Carolina.  If you are exactly in the center of the ribbon of totality, you will get about 2 minutes of darkness before the Sun reappears.  Standing near the edge of the ribbon the length of the eclipse could be just a matter of a few seconds before the Sun reappears.  It is going to take some planning to see this eclipse.  Millions of Americans will flock to that ribbon.  They will be joined by many thousands of visitors from all over the world. 
    Now some details.  States with larger populations are already issuing travel alerts and making provisions to handle the millions of people who will see the eclipse.  States with smaller populations will have fewer locals to deal with but they also are states that have widely spaced roads which will concentrate crowds on the few roads in those states that cross through the ribbon of totality.  RV parks, motels and hotels along the ribbon of totality are already sold out in many locations.  Those of us with RV's are fortunate, we travel with our motel.  I would not plan to take your motor home into the ribbon of totality unless you have already secured a campground.  My personal planning is to watch the weather as the eclipse approaches.  I'll start watching the weather weeks before the eclipse.  I plan to get close to the area with the greatest probability of clear skies with the motor home and then use the toad to get to the clearest skies with the toad.  I'll try to be at my chosen observing site by sunrise and will watch the entire eclipse from that location.  We'll pack food for the day, liquids and perhaps a celebratory bottle of Champagne.  Once totality passes, many people will start for "home."  This can create tremendous traffic jams so plan to sit tight and watch the whole show before departing your observing site.
    Where do you find specific details?  I gave several references in my entry several months ago.  More are available now as the eclipse approaches.  There are good sites that show details of the ribbon of totality so you can position yourself precisely on its center line.  Many of the sites have eclipse glasses for sale.  These protective glasses, some with aluminized mylar are quite cheap but very effective, are necessary for the partial phases of the eclipse.  Once the sun is completely covered the glasses can be put aside and you will be looking at one of natures most spectacular displays.  The Moon is the dark spot, silhouetted against the light of the corona of the Sun.  You may discern a drop in temperature as totality approaches.  Birds will be singing as though it was sunset coming on.  Listen during totality, can you hear any birds chirping?  At totality, the sky becomes dark enough that planets and bright stars can be seen.  Using binoculars (during totality only) you can get a good look at solar prominence which look like small red "flames" rising from the Sun.  If we are lucky we may even be able to see other features.  Large solar ejections and flares can cause the corona to have strange shapes. 
    Whatever you see, it will be an event you will never forget.  
    Just a few links:
    The Great American Eclipse - Fantastic traffic and crowd information
    Eclipse 2017 - Great video of the shadow sweeping across the US
    NASA - As only NASA can do it.  Great images of the Sun.  What to look for.  A great set of nine regional, detailed maps of the path of totality.  How to photograph.  Weather prospects. Much more...
    Space.com - Great detail, how to photograph, what to look for.
    Each link has it's own special information, most have eclipse glasses for sale, as does Amazon.  Order soon, don't be disappointed.  Your eyes are way too important to take chances with someone's home-made eclipse viewer.  I ordered 50 glasses for less than $1.00 each.
  20. tbutler
    We returned to our winter residence in Edinburg, Texas, in Mid-April after a three-week trip to Tahiti that included a two-week cruise in French Polynesia.  Living the high life agrees with me but all that food seems to find a home somewhere around my waist.  Nine days after our return we were headed north in the motor home with friends accompanying us on the trip. 

    The motor home had been in the shop for about six weeks during the winter, some repair, some upgrades and some maintenance.  We also had the carpeting replaced.  The upshot of this was that for the first time in thirteen years we had emptied the motor home almost completely.  So we’re like newbees, having completely re-stocked the motor home we’re finding out what we forgot.  The list isn’t short. 

    We travel all summer long, visiting relatives, touring and attending conventions.  We didn’t have definite plans for this summer, mostly visiting our children and grandchildren.  In early March the bucket list came up and our friends suggested the Kentucky Derby.  We gave it about 5 minutes thought and decided we were going to sign up.  I had just seen an advertisement for Fantasy Tours Kentucky Derby Tour in the e-mail that morning.  I thought it was for 2018, but no, it was for this year.  Several spots were available and we signed up.

    From Edinburg to Louisville is about 1100 miles and we decided to make it a four-day trip.  Doing about 300 miles a day would get us there on time.  We planned to arrive on Sunday, a day before the tour started.  At our first fuel stop our friends said their dash air wasn’t working.  Consulting with the manufacturer, they checked the fuse and several other causes and then decided to run the generator and the roof air to try to combat the 90+ degree temperatures of south Texas.

    Our goal for the first day was to get through Houston before stopping for the night.  We pulled into the Houston East RV Park about an hour before sunset.  Problem two cropped up at this point, the single slide-out on our friend’s motor home wouldn’t slide out.  In the morning, they were on the phone with the manufacturer again.  After checking several items, it was decided that if they did get it to work, they may not get it back in so they are going to have to live with this until they could get to a repair shop.  Our schedule didn’t allow for a day or two in a repair shop so we continued our journey. 

    On the good side, departing Houston put us in lighter traffic on I-10 for the first hour or two.  We stopped in Lake Charles, LA to refuel and it became a lunch stop.  Departing I-10 to the north we headed for Hattiesburg, MS.  That became our overnight stop, now about 800 miles behind us.  In the morning, I followed the GPS and led us on an extended short cut on roads barely wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass.  We all laughed about it later and it did cut off quite a few miles.  Our trip continued through Nashville, TN and on to Louisville, KY. 

    The problems with the slide out were solved by a careful reading of an on-line version of the owner’s manual.  When we parked for the tour their slide operated perfectly.  The solution was to hold the activating switch for 10 seconds which re-synchronized the motors.  Later we learned that the dash air conditioner failure was due to a loose connection.  They are on their way to the east coast and we are with my daughter and her family in Missouri.  The Kentucky Derby Tour, that is another story…

  21. tbutler
    August 11, 1999 Louise and I traveled to Paris to see a total solar eclipse.  The trip was our first adventure to Europe and was a wonderful adventure that helped convince us that there was much to see in the world.  Our trip was a success, we saw the total eclipse briefly as the clouds parted during totality.  The sight was spectacular, something that many people may live a lifetime and never experience.  I had traveled with my family to Hawaii July 11, 1991 to see the total solar eclipse there.  Spending the night alongside the highway in the desert on the western side of the big island, Hawaii, we were clouded out and sat through the eclipse in a light drizzle.  Then, June 21, 2001 Louise and I traveled to Zambia in southern Africa to see the solar eclipse once again.  It was another great adventure filled with African wildlife and many memorable experiences.  Once again, we were successful and were able to observe the total eclipse of the sun.  This time the sky was smoky as it was the season for burning off old crops in preparation for the coming planting season.
    I describe all this to emphasize the importance many people attach to chasing the shadow of the Moon.  The total eclipse is only visible when you are within the total shadow of the Moon.  You can see an eclipse in the partial shadow but it will only be a partial eclipse.  I would never pass up a chance to view a partial eclipse but the real prize is the total solar eclipse.  The thing about a total solar eclipse is that the full shadow of the Moon from which you can view the total solar eclipse is a very narrow band.  For the eclipse in Paris, it was about 70 miles wide at its widest point.  The eclipse in Hawaii had a shadow width of 160 miles at its widest point.  The African eclipse was almost 125 miles wide at its widest point.  To experience the longest possible time in the Moon’s shadow you must be near the centerline of the path of the shadow. 
    Given all that, Monday, August 21, 2017 you will have a chance to see the Great American Eclipse.  It has been many years since a total solar eclipse could be seen in mainland US.  This eclipse will cut a swath across 12 states starting in NW Oregon at about 10:18 a.m. PDT and will exit the US at 2:48 p.m. EDT in Eastern South Carolina.  Other states that will see the eclipse include Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, extreme northeastern Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, northeastern Georgia and the western North Carolina.  You won’t have to travel to a distant country, this eclipse is coming to a state near you!  All areas in those states won’t see totality, the shadow is only going to be 71 miles wide at its widest point.  You will need detailed information to get as close to the center of the shadow as possible. 
    In an article on the History of FMCA from May 2004 FMCA Magazine there is a reference to a meeting of motor homes at a total solar eclipse at Hinckley School in Hinckley, Maine on July 20, 1963.  Out of this gathering of 26 “coach owning families” grew the present organization.  That eclipse was one of a series of eclipses in a sequence that astronomers call a Saros.  From one eclipse to the next in a Saros is 18 years, 11 days and 8 hours.  It happens that this eclipse was number 19 of 77 eclipses in Saros 145.  Its path came onshore in North America in western Alaska, crossed Canada and exited the continent as it passed across Maine.  Alaska and Maine were the only states where the total eclipse could be seen.
    There have been several other eclipses in Saros, 145.  In July 31, 1981 number 20 in that Saros crossed Russia.  It was not visible in North America.  On August 11, 1999, number 21 of Saros 145 crossed Europe, the Middle East and exited into the Indian Ocean from the eastern coast of India.  Louise and I traveled to Paris, France to observe this eclipse.  There were clouds around and we drove frantically across northern France looking for an opening in the clouds as totality approached.  When I took a wrong turn at a roundabout and then attempted a U-turn on the road the wheels mired down in mud when I pulled onto the shoulder.  We slid into a ditch.  A passing couple from Belgium stopped and said (in perfect English) they would call a wrecker.  We watched as the clouds parted and the partially eclipsed sun became visible.  The wrecker arrived just as the shadow of the moon was within seconds of reaching us.  We shared our Mylar glasses with them and then put the glasses aside to watch the total phase of the eclipse.  We weren’t on the centerline but were well within the path of totality.  It was our first total solar eclipse and we were hooked. 
    During the total eclipse the corona or outer atmosphere of the Sun becomes visible and any prominences (loops of solar material) or flares will show up.  All these can be viewed without eye protection.  Looking at the rest of the sky, planets and bright stars will be visible.  Being aware of other circumstances, the temperature will drop as if the sun has set, birds may sing and then grow silent as they roost for the short night caused by the eclipse.  Right at the beginning of the eclipse and again at the end you may observe the diamond ring, the last glint of direct sunlight through a lunar valley as the rest of the Moon is surrounded by the faint light of the corona.  If you are hampered by thin clouds you may be able to watch the shadow of totality sweep across the clouds. 
    That brings us to the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  This eclipse occurs on August 21, 2017.  It is number 22 in Saros 145, 54 years and one month after the eclipse in Hinckley, Maine.  This total solar eclipse will cut a swath across 12 states starting in NW Oregon at about 10:18 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and will exit the US at 2:48 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time in eastern South Carolina.  Do the math, that is about one hour and 30 minutes, coast to coast across the United States.  At any given location, the eclipse will last for about two minutes to as much as 2 minutes and 40 seconds.  Other states that will see the eclipse include Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee and the northeastern tip of Georgia.  All areas in those states won’t see totality, the shadow is only going to be 71 miles wide at its widest point.  You will need detailed information to get as close to the center of the shadow as possible. 
    You should make plans to see this eclipse in person.  You can watch it on TV, view it a hundred times on YouTube but there is nothing like standing in the Moon’s shadow.  Everyone in the US, part of Mexico and Canada will be able to see a partial eclipse but only those in the narrow total shadow of our Moon will see the total eclipse.  That path is widest and the eclipse will last longest in western Kentucky.  More important will be the weather across the country.  Watching weather patterns as the eclipse approaches may give you a general idea where to set up to see the eclipse.  Then plan to take the toad to the actual observing point.  Expect to be joined by throngs of people from around the globe who are also scrambling to see this spectacle of nature. 
    As the eclipse draws closer, I’ll fill in more suggestions for observing the eclipse.  In the meantime, consult some of these websites to find information on your own.  Some RV parks near the path of totality were already taking reservations for the time around August 21, 2017 last summer.
    Great American Eclipse
    Eclipse 2017
  22. tbutler
    Happy New Year!

    Another year, 2016, is coming to an end.  We are happily ensconced in our winter home here in Texas.  I’d say deep in the heart of Texas but it is more like the tippy-toes of Texas, way down south almost on the US-Mexico border.  We had a light shower this morning so my outside work is delayed until the ground and grass dry.  I’m enlarging the patio in our back yard and adding a walkway alongside the house to replace the path I’ve worn in the dirt.  The lawn needs mowing and I need to check the roof after a particularly windy night earlier this week.  None of this was necessary when we were full time!!!

    I just picked up my iPad to check the weather.  What an amazing device the iPad is.  It’s a second computer that I can grab and get information from almost instantly.  Handier for checking information than opening a document on my computer.  Pop it open and get an address or phone number, open a map and zoom to any area you want in just a minute.  The world at my fingertips.  I like to reference it while driving the motor home but of course I can’t so I turn that duty over to Louise.  She is less a fan.  I need to talk her through step by step to get the information that I want.  Occasionally, she will agree that it is helpful to be able to zoom in on a map and see road detail that isn’t in the trucker’s atlas.  We use it to search for cheap diesel, find rest stops, overnight parking, and campgrounds.  It saves us money and makes life on the road much easier.

    Several years ago, I took the training to get my certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.  It is similar to the Master Gardner program.  The focus is on all of nature, not just plants and gardening.  In fact, the Master Naturalist Program began here in Texas when some Master Gardeners became adventuresome and were introducing many fringe areas to the Master Gardner meetings.  They were bringing in bugs, birds, butterflies, soil science, water conservation, native plants, invasive species and a host of other topics that were related to gardening but not quite part of the Master Gardner area of focus.  So, they started something new.  It has grown from a single chapter in San Antonio to over 40 chapters state-wide and is now found in many other states.  I mention this because when we return to Texas I pick up the mantle of a Master Naturalist and dig into volunteer work at some of the local nature and wildlife parks here in the Rio Grande Valley. 

    January is the beginning of our annual class for certification and we have 24 people lined up for the training in our local chapter.  I will have the stage at the orientation session as I describe the program, it’s history, purpose and the training program which starts them on the path to certification.  I will mentor three of the new trainees, giving them encouragement and advice to help them reach their goal.  I also do the website for the chapter. 

    My favorite volunteer activity is to assist a local high school teacher, a trained wildlife biologist, with his bird banding.  It has expanded my experience with birds and pushed me to learn new skills.  There is nothing like having a bird in the hand.  What amazing creatures they are.  Of course, there is the occasional Cardinal that will get it’s beak on a bit of a finger and it won’t let loose until it draws blood.  Putting bands on birds is real research, helping us learn more about the birds, their migration patterns, their longevity, their patterns of movement and much more. 

    On our return to the RGV in late October, we stopped north of Houston so I could attend the Master Naturalist annual meeting in Montgomery.  I enjoy these meetings.  We stayed at the KOA in Montgomery, a nice very large park with strange KOA rules.  Louise is happy to have some time to read and relax outside in the sunshine while I’m spending the day in meetings.  There is always something new to learn and this meeting was no exception.  Meeting other TMN’s and learning about their activities is inspiring.  There were over 300 TMN’s from all over Texas in attendance.  One of my friends received an award for 4000 hours of volunteer time and the corresponding Presidential Volunteer Certificate of Recognition.  This is the program started by President George H. W. Bush, his “Thousand Points of Light.”  Her husband received an award for 5000 volunteer hours.  That is some real dedication to the community and its nature parks and centers.

    Our motor home has spent the last two months in the shop.  There were several things that needed work on the motor home and some body damage from an ill-advised backing maneuver so we decided to get all the work done at one time.  We didn’t anticipate it taking two months but ordering parts takes time and then I think of one more thing and that takes another part so here we go again.  I’ve already moved it from the RV shop to Freightliner for some chassis work, brakes, belts and more.  That was done while waiting for one of the last parts to be ordered.  Then I found that the step cover that slides out to keep the grandchildren from falling into the stairwell wasn’t working.  That means another part…

    When the RV shop releases it, I’ll take it to the flooring shop to get new carpet.  We debated going to tile or other flooring product but finally decided the simplest thing was to simply replace the carpet.  Once it returns home we will do a complete restocking.  We cleaned it out completely before turning it over to the RV shop.  That is something that hasn’t happened since we moved into it in November of 2003.  I’m guessing more than a few things that we removed won’t go back.  It needed a good housecleaning. 

    Here’s hoping that 2017 finds all well with you and that the coming year will bring you good fortune and happy travels.

  23. tbutler
    When last you heard from us we were winding up a huge tour of the National Parks in the Four Corners area.  We arrived in Las Vegas for an extended stay.  Actually, it was planned as a departure point.  We stayed at a park in Henderson, a southeastern suburb of Las Vegas.  The rates were good and the security was by all accounts very good so we felt comfortable leaving our coach there while flying to St. Louis to be with family for the big 50 birthday party.  Las Vegas RV Resort turned out to be an excellent choice.  In early September, the park is mostly empty but the staff is on duty taking care of the park.  During the winter this must be quite a busy park but for now, it provided easy access to the Las Vegas area and the good security we wanted.  There is a gate house with someone on duty 24/7. 
    We spent several days out on the town.  I had a Euro recliner that was part of the original coach equipment.  It was showing its age and I had been considering replacing it.  I figured a larger city like Las Vegas would provide a good selection of furniture stores.  A little internet browsing and we picked several stores to visit.  The first had recliners, the big puffy kind, not exactly what I needed.  The second store had one that looked good and it was on sale but, they didn't have it in stock.  It would be several weeks, we weren't staying that long.  On the way to the car, we walked past a tent sale for the same store.  We decided to take a look and found a nice chair and ottoman combo that fit our needs.  These were clearance items so I figured what we were looking at was the item on sale.  It looked to be in good condition so we caught a salesperson between corralling children playing on the furniture and put in our request.  Over to the register, provide all the information and we get directions for picking up our, new in the carton, chair.  It was half the price of the one we had looked at in the main store and was quite similar.  I'm in it now!  I put the old chair out on the street in the RV park with a  note attached, "Free to a good home."  The next morning it was gone! 
    We did the obligatory run through some of the big casinos on The Strip.  It really isn't as exciting as it was when I was young.  They even charge for parking these days.  We drove out to Hoover Dam one day.  We've done the dam tour before and I'd recommend it to everyone who is interested in taking a look at this amazing piece of engineering and construction.  This time we took the walk across the Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.  This is the amazing engineering project that allows US Hwy 93 to bypass the dam.  The views of the dam and the canyon from the walkway are spectacular and unlike a helicopter ride, you can linger and take all the pictures you want.  There is a great array of informational panels and displays about the project. 
    We flew Southwest Airlines from Las Vegas to St. Louis on Thursday, September 8.  Friday we attended a practice marching band performance at our oldest grandson's school.  He has found his calling in marching band and we enjoy the seeing the performances.  Saturday we pitched in and helped get everything cleaned up and ready for the big birthday party.  We had several people in the family turning 50, my youngest sister and our oldest son-in-law were both celebrating.  I myself had just turned 70 but nothing was said about me being one of the celebrants.  About an hour before the party my brother and his wife who are living in Kentucky arrived.  There was a decorated table with my name on it and a sign that said, "70 Rocks!"  My grandchildren had picked out some special rocks to anchor the sign, rocks that we had brought them from our travels. 
    Our oldest daughter and her husband hosted the event using their garage, driveway and patio to entertain the crowd.  We had great weather, a musician had been hired for the night, there were plenty of snacks, beverages, and several campfires with chairs set up around.  We had a very enjoyable evening visiting with family and friends.  Sunday we slept in then went to an RV Show with the other two birthday celebrants who are both into RV's now.  My oldest daughter and her husband have a nice travel trailer that they have been using for some nice family trips.  My younger sister and her husband have a Class B that he used for commuting to work across the state for years.  The RV Show had a good display of trailers and motor homes all on a shopping center parking lot.  In previous years the venue was indoors but for various reasons they moved outdoors, more appropriate I thought.  It is fun to look at the state of the industry even if we weren't shopping. 
    Monday morning we were on our way back to Las Vegas.  Tuesday we had an appointment at Freightliner in North Las Vegas, to look at a few chassis problems.  They were short handed and didn't think they could do more than look at any problems.  So we left there disappointed.  We had a Wednesday appointment at Cummins in  North Las Vegas and went there to see if we could get in early for engine maintenance.  They were booked so we ended up at Walmart for the night and got in early the next day. 
    Wednesday we departed North Las Vegas about 1:00 p.m., temperatures still near 100, and headed into cooler weather in northern Nevada.  US Hwy 95 along the western border of Nevada is a common route when we leave Northern California on our way south to Texas.  This was the first time we'd traveled that route headed north.  It does make the scenery a little different.  We covered a little over 300 miles that afternoon and settled in for the night in a "dispersed camping" area alongside Walker Lake.  Temperatures were in the 60's overnight and by morning, the coach was nice and cool.  A little more than 200 miles through the Sierra Nevada on California Hwy 88 to Jackson and on to Valley Springs to our youngest daughter's home.
    We've been here two weeks now, temperatures in the low to mid 90's are a little warmer than desired but a cool front has come through and they have dropped into the 70's into the afternoon and 50's at night.  That's more comfortable.  It never (hardly ever) rains when we are here in the fall and this fall is no exception.  We stock our wine rack while here in California.  We have a favorite winery nearby and we will take several cases of their wine with us as we return to Texas.  There is also a liquor chain here, BEVMO (Beverages and More).  They have periodic 5 cent wine sales.  Buy one bottle at regular price and the second bottle is 5 cents.  We enjoy a variety of wines and this gives us a chance to spend a little more than normal on a bottle of wine and still keep it on budget.  So we'll look a little like bootleggers as we head for Texas.  It's all legal!  The motor home makes a great truck.
    Our two youngest granddaughters live in Valley Springs and their schools year-round schedule has them on vacation for the next two weeks.  That is our mission, to keep the girls busy while they are on vacation.  Their mother will be on vacation next week and we'll all head north to their "OHO," their Oregon House.  Several years ago they purchased a house on the banks of the Umqua River in western Oregon.  The whole family loves to fish and the river is in their back yard.  The house is on a good sized hilll, well above river level so anything resembling normal flooding will be no problem for them.  We'll spend a week there then depart for Texas as the family returns to California and back to work and school. 
  24. tbutler
    Our travels have taken a turn for the hot lately.  We've been spending most of our time in southwestern Colorado, northeastern New Mexico and northern Arizona.  The temperatures we've faced have been moderate to cool.  Several weeks ago we decided to visit Louise sister in the Mohave Valley in western Arizona.  The elevation is 483 feet alongside the Colorado River.  Needless to say the temperature was quite a bit warmer than in the mountains and high elevations we were used to.  Temperatures were in the high 90's during the day.  We had a nice site at Moon River Resort with a little shade but not too much.  We enjoyed three days of visiting.  On Saturday we spent the day at Oatman visiting the donkeys that roam the town and doing some shopping before having a fine dinner at the Oatman Hotel. 
    Our next stop was Lake Havasu City.  This is where Louise's parents settled when they retired.  The state park was almost empty and we had a nice site with a view of the lake.  We visited the cemetery where her parents are buried and spent some time around town.  In Lake Havasu City, elevation 459 feet, the temperatures at sunrise were 90 degrees and it warmed into the mid 100's.  We took the Copper Canyon Sunset Cruise the night before leaving town.  The best part was the breeze when the boat was cruising.  We left town headed for Williams, Arizona. 
    We had stayed at the Canyon Hotel and RV Park in Williams, elevation 6924 feet, just a week before.  Returning, we were delighted to find more moderate temperatures again.  We were back to comfortable daytime temperatures in the upper 70's and low 80's.  We spent one day in Flagstaff at the Lowell Observatory.  The Lowell Observatory was built by Percival Lowell, an astronomer famous for his drawings of the canals on Mars.  This is also the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.  They have a spectacular program of lectures and tours of the telescopes that are well worth a visit. 
    The next morning we were on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  As busy as the South Rim is, the North Rim is uncrowded and very available.  We stayed at the Jacobs Lake Forest Service Campground, elevation 7900 feet which has no hookups but has some nice sites the will accommodate large RV's.  We ran the generator morning and evening to charge the batteries and only needed to run the furnace at night.  Air conditioning was never needed.  We were parked among trees and the daytime temperature was in the high 70's while the nights dipped into the high 40's. 
    We drove to the North Rim one morning and came back after dark.  There are many overlooks into the Grand Canyon and you can drive to each one.  There were plenty of parking places at each viewpoint.  There were never crowds at any place until we reached the visitors center and the lodge.  After a day of exploring along the northeastern reaches of the canyon we spent the evening at the Lodge and the viewpoints in that area. 
    It was a little early for dinner but Louise wanted to get dinner at the lodge so we asked and were given a table by one of the big windows overlooking the canyon.  Wow, was that a fantastic setting for dinner.  Louise had roast duck, I opted for the blackened chicken fettuccine Alfredo.  Both dishes were gourmet quality and the service was excellent.  Following our meal we made our way to the overlook below the lodge.  We enjoyed the view and visited with several of the people who were there.  Everyone was quite talkative, maybe the bar above had something to do with it.  From there we made our way to the Bright Angel Viewpoint to watch the sun set.  We drove back to the park and arrived by 8:00 p.m.  On the way back we saw a few cattle near the road (open range) and several deer but none challenged us for a spot on the road.  
    The next day we moved on to Hurricane, UT.  We stayed at Sand Hollow State Park, elevation 3040 feet.  We're back to warm again.  With highs in the upper 80's and nary a tree in sight, the air conditioners are running all day.  We are headed for Zion National Park tomorrow morning for a little hiking and exploring, then we'll leave for Las Vegas, elevation 1672 feet, on Friday.  Once more into the desert heat.  Maybe they will have a cool spell while we are there though the forecast calls for highs near 100. 
  25. tbutler
    Happy birthday to our National Park Service.  One hundred years ago this week, Congress created the National Park Service.  There were national parks before the park service was created.  The park service became the agency that managed the national parks.  In the last few weeks we have visited four parks.  At each park we found amazing views, exciting experiences and crowds of people enjoying their heritage.
    Our first stop on the way west from Denver was the San Luis Valley of Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park.  The dune field at GSD is located on the east side of the San Luis Valley.  Winds picking up sand particles from the dry lake bed of the San Luis Valley drop them when they encounter the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  We've seen and walked dune fields before but these are unique for several reasons.  The highest dune in the field is over 600 feet high.  You can rent sand boards to surf the dunes and many people climb all the way to the top to do just that.  Younger sand surfers were busy learning on the lowest dunes.  But before you reach the dune field, you have to cross Medano Creek.  In the spring, Medano Creek carries large amounts of sand from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the southwestern edge of the dune field.  Choked with sand, the stream periodically experiences blockages and then breaks them creating pulses of water that people surf on.  In mid-summer the stream flow becomes more docile and it is filled with young children with buckets and shovels who enjoy a great cooling sandbox.  Shortly after we reached the dune field, the wind began to pick-up and we were treated to the marvel of dune formation.  Sand grains began dancing around our bare feet.  With each gust of wind the sands around us began to flow along the ground toward the dune field.  Our footprints in the sand were quickly turning into mini-dunes. 
    Moving on toward southwestern Colorado we stayed at a campground across Highway 160 from Mesa Verde National Park.  Mesa Verde is a very large park and features hundreds of cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people.  There are overlooks to view many of the cliff dwellings but the real highlight is to actually tour some of the dwellings.  There is currently one that can be toured on your own.  Another that was open to touring is currently off limits because of potential rockfall.  Ranger guided tours are available for three others.  To manage the size of the audience, you purchase tickets for each tour.  The ticket specifies the time of the tour.  Tours involve walking and climbing stairs or ladders.  To walk the ground where the Pueblo people lived and learn about their lives and their history in this area is an amazing experience.  There are also museum exhibits with some of the artifacts from the park.  A recent series of fires on the mesa has exposed hundreds of archaeological sites on the mesa surface.  Prior to the cliff dwellings, the population lived on the surface where they farmed.  The cliff dwellings are the final phase of their history at Mesa Verde.  After about 100 years living in the cliff dwellings they were abandoned as the Pueblo people moved on to other locations.
    In northeastern Arizona is Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shey) National Monument.  A National Monument is designated by Presidential proclamation, National Parks are created by an act of Congress.  Canyon de Chelly is an example of a national monument.  It is administered by the National Park Service but has limited visitor information.  There are cliff dwellings at Canyon de Chelly but none are open to visitation.  There are places to view them from a distance.  One can be viewed up close by hiking two miles down into the canyon and back out.  We made that trek one afternoon.  Along the trail we encountered many Navajo people on their way to visit the cliff dwellings.  Near he site we witnessed a religious meeting of the Navajo people.  In fact, the national monument is located on the Navajo reservation and many of them live within the national monument.  Access to the canyon floor is limited to Navajo escorts at all other locations.  Jeep and horse tours are available.  The canyon itself is quite spectacular in its beautiful formations.  Sandstone layers were formed by ancient sand dunes that migrated over the area many millions of years ago.  The cross layering within each layer tells the story of the passage of another dune.
    From Canyon de Chelly we traveled to the granddaddy of all canyons, Grand Canyon National Park.  It had been a long time since either Louise or I had last visited the Grand Canyon.  Needless to say, things have changed.  Louise had been there as a young teen (no year given ), I was there in the late 70's.  While the experience was different, the park service is doing a wonderful job of managing the crowds and keeping the canyon accessible to all.  Visiting the south rim, large parking lots at the visitors center are the starting point.  There are shuttle buses, tour buses and a train to bring you to the park in addition to your own private vehicle.  Yes, they do have an RV parking lot.  Parking becomes difficult to find early in the day during the peak summer season.  Once at the visitors center, a bus system will transport you around the central park area and out to the viewpoints which are scattered along the canyon rim.  Walking part of the Canyon Rim trail gives you a constantly changing view of the canyon.  You can also ride the shuttle bus from one major viewpoint to another.  As interesting as the canyon was the amazing variety of people visiting the canyon.  Foreign languages were as common if not more common than English.  The story of the formation of the Grand Canyon is the story of Earth's history.  Along the rim trail there is a timeline of Earth history.  Markers on the trail about every 30 feet mark the passage of 10 million years. 
    Our national parks are a national treasure.  Our Senior Pass allows us free entry to these parks.  When we got our lifetime pass to these parks we became members of the National Park Foundation, a private foundation which assists in funding the parks.  It is a way for us to continue support of our parks while we enjoy our Senior Pass.  Find a park near you and drop by to visit this week. 
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