Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Welcome to Mesa, AZ

We have a reservation at Sun Life Vacation Resort from the middle of October to January 2, 2012 at a very good rate so we headed straight here from Albuquerque. Of course, we stopped at the Arizona visitors center to pick up our gun so we would not be the only people in the state without one:-) We are off to a fast start seeing many friends, doing major interior and exterior cleaning of the house and going on a couple of adventures all during the first few days.

The first Saturday we were here we got a call from Mike Liberti, the balloonist we met at the fiesta, who wanted to know if we wanted to crew on Sunday morning. Wow, we went from never being in a balloon to going up two weeks in a row. There were only five balloons that flew out of a park in nearby Chandler at dawn so it was very different from the fiesta. Also, the crew was Mike's wife T, who drove the chase car, and Nanc and I. It was really neat getting to fly together this time and we had a great view of Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun. We are planning to crew for Mike at a Halloween glow this weekend.
The first week we got a message from Mark and Renita that they were passing through the area and were going to stay at Sun Life for a few days. We got together with them and Alan and Sharon, whom we also met at Watersedge in Rockport in 2008. Here we are at Tortilla Flats, a neat little tourist spot east of here on the Apache Trail. The walls of the restaurant are covered with money from over 60 nations.

Beautiful desert scene along the Apache Trail that we drove on the day we went to Tortilla Flats.

Mark's picture of an Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep that everyone saw except me as I was roaming were I could not see it. This is a rare sighting, especially during the heat of the day.

Another evening we all went to Organ Stop Pizza, a neat place with a huge Wurlitzer theatre organ. Orchestra organs were used during the showing of silent movies and have many other instruments attached that make it sound like a full band. This one was originally built for a theatre in Denver and has grown to have nearly 6000 pipes since it was installed here during the 1970's. It is a great stop for an evening of great entertainment and an OK pizza.

Another evening we were invited to Alan's and Sharon's for a cookout. It was fun sitting around and swapping tales of all our travels. Above left are Sharon and Renita with Molly. Bottom are Mark, Mike, Alan and Rose. We met Mike and Rose here on our last visit. They also used to stay at Watersedge.

I always kid Mark and Renita that their 5th wheel is going to end up like Lucy and Desi's in the movie, The Long Long Trailer, as they collect rocks all over the country. When we saw their finished work in Medora this summer I did not have my camera to show what they are doing with the rocks. Bottom left is a raw stone, right are cut stones and the rest is some of their finished work after the rocks have been shaped, polished and wire wrapped. They make necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. You can see AND BUY more of their work here.

We knew the Steelers were playing Arizona the second weekend we were here so we went on line and got tickets not realizing there would be THOUSANDS from STEELERS NATION in attendance. We saw the truck above and just followed it into the parking lot so we were with many Pittsburgh fans. Above is our section in the stadium, me partying with fans before the game and Nanc with a real enthusiast. We met people who had bussed in from LA, Las Vegas and other places around the Southwest just to see their team. Here is a short video of the Steeler fans drowning out the boos of Arizona fans when they were introduced. It really was like Heinz Field West.

Bottom is the pregame coin toss and the Steelers scoring a field goal. Top you can see the sea of Black and Gold in the stands. It was a great time (they won 32 - 20) and even Nanc, who would NEVER sit through a game in October in Pittsburgh, loved it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ABQ Friends & More

Our stay in Albuquerque was more than just balloons. We visited with old friends, both RVing and from our w**king days and made new friends. We also visited a nearby national park site to explore and add a stamp to our national parks passport.

Here we are having lunch with Larry and Amy Stone. After not seeing Larry for over 25 years, we stopped to visit with them in '08 when we passed this way. I w**ked with Larry at my first full-time teaching j*b and Nanc and I traveled cross country with him in 1977 when he was returning from Colorado to Pennsylvania. On that trip we briefly visited some of the sites we stopped at during our travels this summer. They are both doing well and Larry is enjoying his first year of retirement. It was great seeing them again and catching up.
Petroglyph National Monument was just down the road from the Balloon Fiesta RV Park so we had to visit. This is an easily accessible site with a few very short walks that get you up close to as many as 24,000 petroglyphs along a 17 mile lava escarpment. Most of the drawings are believed to be between 400 and 700 years old, with some possibly dating back 3000 years. This is a great place where anyone can view these ancient works.

Jim and Nanc, Kaz and Jackie Hada, Marcia and Joe Jones at dinner. When we were in Gillette 07 mates Marcia and Joe expressed interest in going to the balloon fiesta. We put them in contact with Judy and when a spot opened up they jumped at the chance to attend. Kaz and Jackie were our neighbors and while we were setting up I kept thinking we had met before. It finally hit me that we talked to them at Greenbelt National Park outside of DC last fall. The RVing community is a small world and we often meet people we have seen on the road before.

Left are Jan and Chuck Moore who we met at Quartzite two winters ago. They were parked two rigs away. Right are Terry and Vickie Webb who we got to know while crewing together. We are planning to see them all at Q this winter. We also got together with Andy and Diane Hitzel who we also met at Q and saw again this spring at Betty's but I did not get a picture. As we say so often, meeting and seeing friends along the road is one of the best things about our fulltiming lifestyle.

Well, we are in New Mexico (you know Roswell and all that alien stuff) so Nanc could not resist having an out of this world picture taken. She wanted to buy it to put behind the wheel of the CRV when we are towing it but we passed when we thought about how often we would be blowing the thing up. Such a shame, he is soooo cute.

The Boomers thanking Luke and Judy for all their hard work in putting together a great two week event. Here is a link to her blog about the fiesta. Our thanks again to Luke and Judy for a great time.

The Boomers are about more than having a fun time. Here people peruse a few of the items that were to be auctioned off. The auction was to raise money for Escapees CARE (Continuing Assistance for Retiring Escapees). The goal was to raise at least $1500 and this group really outdid themselves and raised the bar for future auctions with a grand total of $2876. It was a great job for a great cause.

Here Terry Webb, Chuck and Jan Moore and Judy St. Croix were very good in the role of auctioneers and encouraging people to raise there bids with the constant reminder of where the money was going. We did make a couple purchases and had a fun time.

We had a great time and have crossed the balloon fiesta and a balloon ride off our bucket list, but we both agree that this is one event we will fit into our future travel plans.

Friday, October 14, 2011

UP, UP AND AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After working with Daniel for four days we Boomers on the crew, Marcia, Terry, Nanc & I were pretty confident that we would get in the air. But then, starting on Wednesday, all events were canceled for three days because of the wind and rain and our chances were not looking very good. We still had to get up at 5:15 AM each morning to check on conditions with Daniel to see if it was a go. We awoke Saturday to cold temps (39) and s**w down to about 6500 feet on Sandia Mountain. We layered up with just about all our cold weather gear (we do not normally do cold) and went to the launch field. After the balloon was spread out and waiting for the zebras to tell Daniel to start the fan, T, Daniel's mom, told Marcia and I that we needed to sign the release because we were flying that morning. Wow, were we happy. When I told Nanc she smiled and gave me a hug but I could tell she was sad that she was not going to be going up. Marcia and I had a GREAT flight and when we landed Daniel told us to call Terry in the chase truck and tell him to get to the balloon because conditions were still fine and he was going to take him and Nanc up. WOW, what a day.

Jim and Marcia in the air and Nanc and Terry in the balloon waiting to lift off. Do you think she was happy? They got off the ground and the wind quickly changed so there flight was very short and we on the chase crew had a hard time getting to them where they landed. They did get down really close to the canal and loved the ride even if it was a bit short.
Looking at the launch field as Marcia and I slowly rise above the crowd. What an unbelievable sight of colors and people.

It really is like you are floating. The only noise was the occasional burst of gas when Daniel hit the burner. You can see balloons in every step of the process from envelopes on the ground, to being aired up with the fan, to standing upright after going hot, to flying.

As we floated away from the field we were surrounded by balloons. They coordinate the launch in waves with different rows going together.

Looking down on our rig (middle) and a few Boomers watching. Many of the balloons that had launched earlier were landing by the RVs.

It was amazing with balloons above, below and all around us. It was without a doubt one of life's great experiences to get a ride. The basket on Daniel's balloon, Morning Wood, only holds three or four people so it was much neater than being in one of those big commercial balloons.

This is our first flight initiation. Terry had been up before so he was exempt. Top left, we kneel before our glasses of champagne. Top right, Chris, Daniel's brother, tells the tale of how champagne became an important part of ballooning going back to the first flight in France. Bottom left, as we all drink without using our hands the whole crew drenches us with whatever liquid (water, beer, champagne) they had in hand. Bottom right, for those who know Nanc and how much she HATES the cold (remember it was 39 that morning) I think her smile says it all about what a great experience this was.

As we got the balloon ready for the last mass ascension on Sunday Nanc learned that since her flight on Saturday had been cut short she would be going up again with Michael and Courtney. I thinks she loves this ballooning thing.

There they are soaring above the crowd.

Looking down as they float above the launch field.

You can see the bees spread out on the field before they begin to inflate them as other balloons take off.

Looking down on balloons, Albuquerque and the Rio Grande where Daniel was taking them for a quick dip, another ballooning tradition. They got up to about 2000 feet above the ground, an altitude of 7000 feet.

With Sandia Mountain in the background the balloons line up to take their shot at getting in the water.

We were chasing them, but did not get there in time to see them in the water. Morning Wood is the highest balloon on the left.

Nanc's look at the river as she was about to get her feet wet. Wow what a ride.

One thing about ballooning, you never know for sure where the wind is going to carry you and where you are going to land. It was rather calm so they were drifting real slow as Daniel looked for a spot to land while we followed through the streets below. It was so calm that he threw a rope down so we could pull the balloon to a good landing spot. After it was on the ground the whole crew walked it to a spot were there was room to deflate the envelope. Really a rather strange sight seeing a bunch of people out walking a balloon down the street. The people in the neighborhood even lent a hand.The crew of the Morning Wood (Marcia and Nanc were taking pics) celebrating a great flight and a great week. TRULY AWESOME!!!

Going to the Balloon Fiesta was a bucket list item and when you think that thousands of people attend each year just to watch and that we got to be part of the event as crew members, including some great tailgating and partying with the pilots, it was really special. Then, when you throw in the fact that WE GOT TO FLY that really made for a super fantastic week . For any SKP going with the Boomers it is also a great deal as we only paid for camping and the crew pass got us into all events whether we were working or not. There was just too much going on the whole week to cover in two blog entries so here is a web album of a few more of the over 1100 pictures we took. We had a great week and plan to return for a future fiesta. A special thanks to all the Liberti family who let us be part of the action of their exciting family hobby. YOU GUYS ROCK!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

A bucket list event for us since we went on the road has been the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. At Betty's last spring Jim and Bobby told us the way to go was with the Escapees Boomers so we immediately made our reservations. The advantage of being with the Boomers is that they have great contacts to get everyone a crew pass which gains you admission to all events so the only cost we had was for camping. That was a bit of an issue as it is dry camping and we had never gone 12 days, but it has been working out just fine.We arrived on Wednesday, three days before the fiesta started, so we could get acquainted with the other Boomers (here at the first happy hour) and attend crew training. Here, Cool Judy our host (she and husband Luke live in Cool, CA) brings us all up to speed on the upcoming events. We all went to the orientation video and had a safety talk by pilot Mike Liberti. We ended up crewing for Mike's son, Daniel, on his balloon, Morning Wood. Our first hands on training event was to be Albuquerque Aloft on Friday. This is a neat experience where balloonists go to schools all over the city and launch from there as all the kids watch. Unfortunately, the weather (to windy) did not cooperate so we did not do much that day except meet our pilot, Daniel and crew chief, Jess.The fiesta's official start was early Saturday morning. Yes we were up and at it by 5:15 AM every flying day:( Our first sight of a balloon launch was the Dawn Patrol, a few balloons that launch before sunrise to check out the winds aloft. Albuquerque is a great ballooning location because of the “box” which means the winds blow in different directions at different elevations so they can drift in different directions at different altitudes.Here is our first real crewing experience at the mass ascension. The burners are attached to the wicker basket and tested and the envelope (balloon) is laid out on the ground. Then the pilot and crew chief attach the lines from the balloon to the basket as Marcia looks on. Then Boomer Terry uses the fan to fill the balloon with cool air. The pilot, Daniel, goes inside the top of the balloon to attach the crown with Velcro. This will be pulled out on landing to deflate the balloon. As the pilot uses the burners to heat the air the balloon begins to rise with someone holding the crown line to keep it from rising to fast. When the balloon is upright ALL crew members have “weight on” the basket to hold it on the ground. Next is “hands on” so the buoyancy can be checked. Finally the balloon is in the air along with several hundred others. The crew then stows all the equipment in the trailer and the chase is on.This is the scene as the balloons launch in well orchestrated order. The colors and shapes are just fantasticHere are Daniel's Morning Wood and Mike's Morning Star in the air.As we watched all the balloons above us Jess told us to make sure we kept an eye on Morning Wood. Yeah Right!! This part of the crew, Dwayne, Vickie, Marcia, Nanc, Linda and I were transported to Terry's truck in the back of the trailer so for the first few minutes we saw nothing. When we were in the truck Vickie, who is not a morning person, took a nap. Then we stopped to see if we could find Morning Wood among all the balloons. We found Daniel and raced to the landing site. We had a couple of false stops as he was searching for a good spot. After he landed he kept the balloon inflated until we arrived and spread a tarp so it could be pulled gently to the ground. There are no pics of this as it was ALL hands on deck. The deflated envelope is then stuffed into the bag and then along with the basket is put into the trailer.Next we learned that balloonists know how to party and have a great time after the flight. Mike (not Liberti) had a huge parachute to use as a tent and it was a real group effort to get it up, but we made it. Marcia and Nanc fit right in with the Mardi Gras theme that included gumbo and king cake. T & Mike had a ride in the Model T and Mary & David (who had us to their home for a party the night before) just carried on. Part of the ballooning tradition is the first flight initiation that Creighton and Cory got to “enjoy”. Being part of the chase crew has been a great way to get the feel of this wonderful balloon culture, BUT, we are still really hoping we get to fly.Another big event is the Special Shapes Rodeo where the balloons are every size and unusual shape you can imagine. They did not fly this day because of the iffy weather but it was neat to see only shaped balloons on the field. We helped Chris Liberti with the Shamrock that was really hard to control in the wind.The Twilight Twinkle Glow is another magical event where the tethered balloons just use the burners to make the balloons glow. These were followed with a great fireworks show.

UPDATE!!!! We did get in the air today so more Balloon Fiesta will follow.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


The plan (as always written in sand) was to stop for a few days in Santa Fe, NM on the way from Yellowstone to the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. At about 12 noon and just 60 miles into the thousand mile trip the STOP ENGINE light and buzzer came on. Fortunately, we were by a turnout in Grand Teton National Park so we immediately did as told. The next step was to call our road service for the first time ever. They called back with the info that the closest Cummins repair facility was 135 miles away in Idaho Falls, ID and they were trying to find a truck big enough to carry our 33,000 pound motorhome, Opus. A while later they called to say someone could be there by 9PM which would have required us to follow the tow for about four hours over very steep Teton Pass at night. We opted to spend the night where we were and wait until the AM for the tow. Just after dark a ranger knocked on the door to see why we were along the road in the park which is illegal. After I told him the story he had no problem with our staying.

About 10:30 the next morning Sean from Eaton Towing showed up with a flat bed to carry Opus to Idaho Falls.

I did have to help by basically hanging on tight to the steering wheel so it would go straight on to the trailer. It was a bit tense as the trailer wasn't much wider than our wheels.

To haul a big rig you need a big rig.

This is not the view of the Tetons we were looking forward to seeing. It took some time to get relaxed watching our house on top of a trailer going down the road. Going under the traffic lights in Jackson was a little hairy, but the further we traveled the more confidence we had in Sean.

Then we came to Teton Pass that is a 10% climb up and a really slow 10% decent. It was all done expertly and we were very happy with the service.

We did not arrive at Kenworth in Idaho Falls until after 3PM and they could not work on Opus until Friday, so we had a night of industrial camping. They were also very accommodating and gave us an extension cord so we could have power to charge the batteries. Here is another Sean under the rig checking things out. The news turned out to be not too bad as the problem was "only" a $27.81 heat intake sensor that cost "only" $301.60 to diagnose and install. After a 51 hour delay we were back on the road at 4:30 PM (a later start then we have ever had) heading south to Utah.

Since we were West of the divide we decided to go to Moab for a couple of days to relax. We were here in 2008 and loved it. On Sunday we did some short desert hikes in Arches National Park. Here is a link to our 08 post on Arches.

The red rock and blue sky were absolutely beautiful.

Another view in Arches

The next day we did a 30 mile side trip to see the only place in the US where four states, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. This little geographic oddity was on our to do list so we made the stop for the mandatory picture. When we looked at it we discovered Nanc was only in three states as she was not touching Arizona so we might have to return. We were also able to help the Native American economy (which Nanc did visit in every state) as we made a couple of purchases from the artisans.

A few sights from along the road South. The cloud was dropping rain but it was not getting to the ground. Top left is Ship Rock and the others were just some of the interesting landforms we saw along the way through the arid Southwest.

We are now at Enchanted Trail RV Park in ABQ and will be moving 20 miles to the balloon fiesta for the next twelve days. They have a couple of old cars and several old campers displayed here. This is an old Hudson. All said, the trip we planned did not happen but the trip we were forced to take turned out to be very great. This past week showed the down side as well as the up side of having a home on wheels and living this adventurous lifestyle. Life is Good!!