Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Maiden Voyage of the Ursula 2

Hooray! The Ursula 2 has launched and nothing broke so far! It's a miracle!

Last Friday, on Lee's first official day retired from Apple, I came home as early as I could, having already stocked up on food products from Costco, ready to head to Hermit's Rest Ranch. I hadn't been there in a while, so I was really looking forward to it. It would be a short trip, but at least some nature bonding for me.

Lee had been to the ranch more recently, because he and Ruben, our contractor/partner had installed the electrical box, only to find that the wires weren't actually hooked up. He got the Electrical Co-op to come out and fix that, but they made Ralph (ranch neighbor) irritated because they didn't know how to get into the property, having lost the combination to the lock. Anyway, we're sorry. But we are glad to have electricity!

The drive out to the ranch was not bad at all, and pulling the Ursula 2 is not hard on the truck, just on the gas mileage. We got to Cameron before dark, which made it much easier to set up. Also, a great help was the fact that Ralph had mowed us a path and a nice circle in the beautiful, tall green grass in the pasture (what a lovely sight!). So he can't be too mad at us.

Ursula 2 parked in the hay pasture

We ate salads and spent the rest of the evening organizing the stuff Lee’d quickly put in the cabinets while he was moving out of Ursula 1. There is a lot of storage, but it’s different, so I am still not quite good with how the kitchen is set up. We also made lists of all the things we needed to get to finish outfitting her, like towel racks, a toothbrush holder, and trash cans. Little things that the old RV had already had, since she was used.
And of course, we opened the ceremonial first bottle of wine and drank out of the nice new wine glasses I’d gotten at Costco. We only had stemless ones in the old RV, but Ursula 2 has a wine glass holder, so we had to have ones with stems!
Ceremonial first wine! Nice step stool, huh

We were wondering how the king sized bed with the Donald Trump Deluxe Pillow Top Mattress would sleep. (I like to say the whole thing.) And it was pretty good! I slept very well, though we hadn’t turned the propane on, so it got chilly in the night. I’m relieved to report the propane works just fine.
The awnings do, too. They have nice coordinating stripes on them. Snazzy. Also there are two settings, low and high. That’s nice, because on the low setting you can’t see much out the windows. But it would block morning or evening sun.
Stripey awnings
Saturday was, to put it simply, a very nice and restful day, with nothing earth-shattering happening. We need more of those! In the morning we goofed off and drank coffee. At one point I took off for a walk to see how the other side of the property was doing. I got to use my new stile to cross over into the woods. I felt special.
A stile with style!
We also have a nice new gate to get from Wild Type Ranch to ours. It’s quite handy for moving those cattle, I’m sure.
I wandered through the woods, which looked almost as pretty as Palmetto State Park in some places, then I sat and looked at the pond for a while. That was fun because as I approached I scared what appeared to be tiny frogs. As they jumped into the water, each one of them said, “Eep!” really loudly. It was so sweet!
There were a lot of turtles in the pond (and tadpoles for them to eat), including one very large one. It swam off very quickly, so I couldn’t tell if it was just a big regular turtle or a snapping turtle. I still can’t figure out how they all get into the ponds anyway.
My very own green, pretty woods. I am lucky.
Where are the frogs and turtles?
Scenic 5th wheel and willow--spring area is near the tree
I wandered off to see if the marshy area had water, and hooray, it did! The spring seems to be working again, and there was a reasonable amount of water flowing from it. Well, not flowing, more like seeping, but still that was nice, because there was no water in the creek on our side that I could see (Lee says there is water further back). I enjoyed looking at lots of flowers and weeds, and taking pictures of the Ursula 2 from scenic angles.
Evidence the spring has water
But, it was time to go buy supplies for the new 5th wheel in the bustling metropolis of Temple, Texas, a mere 40 minutes away. It’s the same place we always go, but I am trying to make it interesting. We had a passable lunch at a Taco Cabana, then got all the wonderful things we needed at Target and Home Depot. We had all the stuff we needed for the Ursula 2—towel racks and everything!
Most important, from Lee’s point of view, was mounting brackets for the gigantic new sound bar he’d bought, because the sound system the Ursula 2 came with was just not good enough for him. Heck, you can’t have an RV with no holes in the giant television now, can we?
He did get it all finished, while I wandered around and took pictures of wildflowers, and even me in flowers. See, fun day, yes!
Lovely bluebonnets and vetch
Me in the flowers. That's what you do when there's no one to take the traditional Texas bluebonnet photo.
Eventually we ate more Costco delicacies, and then Sara came by to see the 5th wheel in all its fanciness. She also came to chat, which was pleasant, since the last couple of times I’d seen her had not been chatting opportunities.
It was early to bed, because I had to sing at church in the morning…so that was it for the visit. Lee is back at the ole ranch today, with plans to perhaps make a trench for installing WATER for the trailer! Electricity AND water! Wow! We are moving right along in the ranch department!
We do have plans to head back at the end of the month…then we will head out to the big 90th birthday celebration for Lee’s dad.  Then who knows what the summer will bring? Maybe a slightly more exciting trip, or more ranch improvements?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ursula’s Last Stand

Lee took Ursula out for her last trip on Tuesday of last week, driving her over to The Farm so he could be there while his dad had his quarterly “procedure,” as they call the operations where they work on his bladder tumor and give him some chemo. That trip went well, and the doctor sure seems pleased that Ernest Senior has made it as long as he has. The stubbornness seems to have helped.
On Friday, Lee tried to take a shower, but noooo. The water pump seems to have gone out. Well, at least that justifies the decision to trade her in! I sure hope Ursula II (new name for the 5th wheel) is less breakage prone. In any case, Lee left his dad in the capable hands of Chris and lumbered along to Palmetto State Park.
Ursula in her final parking spot with us

I (Suna) had packed some delicious gluten-free foods in my car that Leigh had made, so I left directly from work in Ethel the MINI, joining Lee and our fellow Great Escapists around 6:30. I was blown away by the beauty of the place. If you have never gone there, consider it, even just for a day trip. It’s less than 1.5 hours from most of Austin, between Luling and Gonzalez. The RV parking area was all woods and just full of birds. Never saw so many cardinals. And black vultures playing—they were actually cute!
Chairs awaiting campers
It was a nice coincidence that two of my Facebook friends, who happen to be related to my favorite current LLL Leader, were camping in the same park. They are part of a group of women who camp together around Texas in their incredibly cute renovated trailers. I got to go on a tour of most of them—they were very sweet and welcoming. It’s amazing how they decorate to a theme (hippie/peace, frogs, sunshine, cowgirls and lace, etc.) and even decorate the picnic tables and outside the trailers to fit the themes. There is a great deal of creativity involved in fixing up the 60s trailers, Airstreams, and even a couple of newer ones. 
Interior of one of the cute little trailers. This one is "Cowgirls and lace"--note pink firearm.
After visiting, we made dinner and sat around the “campfire,” which really were some lights Martha brought. Two were spherical and changed colors. We got a great picture of her holding her “blue balls” at one point. The weather was great. The conversation was relaxed. The campground was not crowded or loud. Pretty great! We were all pretty tired, so headed in early.
Martha and her blue balls. Mike laughing.

The next morning, it was cold! All the tent and car campers were busy making fires and cooking fancy breakfasts. I set out on an early morning hike and took lots of pictures of trees and wildflowers. There were some of the biggest trees I ever saw (outside of the redwood forest) along the San Marcos River, which is where the trail went. Beautiful blue and red flowers filled the woods, along with many shades of pink and purple trilliums. I also never saw so many cardinals in my life. They were everywhere, flying around chasing each other. I also saw wrens, chickadees and a yellow bellied sapsucker. The main other bird, though, was the black vulture. There were dozens of them around, and it was educational to watch how much they played with each other. They seemed to be having quite the fun time on the riverbanks, jumping around and flapping away.
Blue mealy cup

Spiderwort (not trillium)
Not sure what this is--too big to be what I thought it was. All over the place.
Field of spiderwort
San Marcos River

Fungus on a log
Where I go in my mind when I relax or meditate

Lee and I went on a little walk to the Refectory, which is a gorgeous building the Civilian Conservation Corps built in the 1930s. It is made of the rocks from the area, and was built to look like it just grew out of the ground. It would be a great spot for a retreat. And it has great vulture views!
What a huge log!

Vultures! I hope Lee adds a close-up
Clever bench that comes organically out of the wall
The photographer, photographing
After I got back, we hung around and chatted, then ate lunch. Many of the group decided to go walk on the Palmetto Trail, which has signs and information around it, and is not too long for the folks with issues walking. What a lovely trail! By this time of day, all the butterflies were out, so there were many photo opportunities. This trail also went through the swampy areas, which were very beautiful (and only smelly in the sulphur parts). There is a really cool pump that the CCC also built—it keeps the swamps swampy after the oil boom lowered the water table. Unfortunately, the “mud boils” that used to be there dried up. That would have been fun to see. We did hear two owls chatting. They were very nearby—and I finally saw the pileated woodpecker. Hooray. There were turkeys around (and it’s turkey season, boom!) but I didn’t get to see one. And oh yes, there were both gray squirrels and fox squirrels, if anyone is keeping count on them.
Our group at the swamp

The pump, pumping. 

Montage of Lee's photos--I was playing with software!

As if I hadn’t hiked enough, later in the afternoon Mike, my usual hiking buddy, and I decided to walk the only trail we hadn’t walked yet. We started walking and talking and ended up walking way farther than we set out to. It had warmed up and gotten sunnier, so it was different from the morning walk! We saw fewer birds, but did see a “swamp rabbit.” They are as big as pet rabbits! It was not at all afraid of us, so we enjoyed it for quite a while.  Mostly we talked and walked, figuring out our lives and futures. Walking helps both of us think!
Can YOU spot the bunny? Hint: she is standing up.

When we got back, it was about time for dinner, so I used Ursula’s stove one last time (yay, we had propane!) and made some squash and couscous, plus put together the salad that Leigh had prepared for us. That was sure worth the effort—it was delicious, and the salad dressing she made was so tasty, and the avocados made the salad very rich. And the brownies she made were gluten free and delicious. There were no leftovers!
The other campers had also made great food, so for only 4 or 5 groups, we ended up with a lot of variety and yumminess. There was stew, chili, pesto pasta and more salad. The dinner went well, and we went on a dog walk afterwards, which enabled Lee and the Neemidge kids to check out some of the cute little trailers the ladies on the other side of the park had brought.
We had great fun sitting around the campfire. Neemidges brought peeps, and they were interesting to roast. The normal s’mores were also delicious. The fire was perfect for the rather crisp evening. But our clothing sure ended up stinky!

Lee and I woke up and decided it was too cold to go out, so we stayed in Ursula and began getting ready to transition to the Ursula 2. (That’s our new name for the 5th Wheel—more like the name of a ship.) We emptied out the bedroom so Lee would not have to crawl back there when he was transferring from one vehicle to the other. It was sort of sad. We really enjoyed Ursula when she was working. As we were cleaning, though, we did come up with a list of things we won’t miss.
  • The uncomfortable couches. Look forward to the nice lounge chairs and actual comfy couch
  •  The drawers that are nearly impossible to open. At least the ones we couldn’t access for the first year finally worked once we got something or other fixed
  • The tiny fridge with leaky icemaker
  •  The giant windshield that made it impossible to cool her off during the heat of summer—though maybe the new air conditioner we bought will help the next family
  • The small bed. Look forward to that Deluxe Donald Trump model king bed!
  • The closet doors that simply won’t stay on track.
  • The bench seats for the dinette. Looking forward to chairs!
We took pity on the other campers and invited them all in to warm up in Ursula, which was a nice farewell to her. We decided on a bird theme for the Ursula 2, since she is a Cardinal trailer.
Photo montage of the trip

Finally, after leftover salad for lunch, I headed back home in Ethel the MINI. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes using the toll roads. This makes me want to go back to Palmetto State Park often! Lee drove Ursula back to her house one last time, then we ran off to the beautiful Omni Downtown Austin hotel, where we spent the night in luxury before I started 4 days of work meetings.
The Ursula 2 and her tow vehicle. This side has only one window when the slides are retracted. There are two in the bedroom slight, at front.

This Week
While I was working and working, Lee took Ursula and his truck in to the RV Outlet Mall, where he got the 5th wheel hitch installed on his truck. While that was going on, which apparently took forever, he emptied out Ursula and put our stuff in the Ursula 2. She is now resting in the storage place, awaiting her first adventure (coming very soon!). Here are a few pictures we took of her when we were buying her, to whet your appetite!
Add captionThe Ursula 2 and her tow vehicle. This side has only one window when the slides are retracted. There are two in the bedroom slight, at front.

Not a great interior shot, but this was when we were looking at her at the RV place. More to come!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ursula, Oh Ursula. You Gotta Go.

If you are an actual reader of this blog, you may be wondering why there have been no posts since we went to New Mexico in November.

Well.  The holiday season was a madhouse of parties and events, plus the creation of a beautiful back porch that required supervision (see photo), so we could not even get her in to the RV Outlet Mall to get her latest collection of issues looked at--we really needed to get the living room slide to work, and that horrible noise it made the last time we retracted it was BAD. Plus, the leveling system still was not working right, after all the repairs we made.
New Back Porch Retreat, January 6

The furniture, rustic benches, and little shed

Getting her fixed was also challenging because there is such a short window of time in which Suna is available to bring a car in so Lee can get home after dropping her off--the repair place is only open on Saturday mornings other than during Suna's work hours.

So, at some point late in January, we got her deposited with the help of Declan, the red-haired son. Or maybe it was February. It was a long time ago. She patiently waited for parts to arrive, still sporting her Christmas decor. Turns out the motor and some other part on the slide needed to be replaced, and a controller in the leveling system needed to be replaced as well. The good news is that our extended warranty paid for most of it. If YOU have an RV, these are a good idea. They all seem to break frequently.

Change Is Coming

For the past month or two, we had lots of talks about our dear Ursula. These points came up:

  • Over the past two years, she has spent about a third of the time in the shop, and I think there may have been ONE trip where nothing broke. That's just not great. We really enjoy her, of course. It is great riding around in her, and she is very comfortable. But, heck, we can't use her whenever we want--she is so often nonfunctional! 
  • Lee calculated that, with all the repair bills, owning her only came out slightly less expensive than renting an RV for each trip. 
  • We now own a very large and very black diesel pickup truck (see below). It is strong enough to pull most anything. And is has enough luxury options that it is a pleasure to ride around in. Like air conditioned seats. Geez.
  • And one thing we had not anticipated when we got the motorcoach version of an RV was that once you get somewhere and get all set up, you can't go anywhere. Looking into the options for towing was pretty sobering. None of our cars are the right kind to tow, plus it really isn't great for any car. Since so many of our trips are to the farm or to the ranch, we really need to be able to go places once we are there and not have to rely on our family or friends' vehicles.
  • Plus, once we have the ranch house, Ursula would mostly be a guest house. It's sort of a waste of a thing with an engine if it doesn't go many places.
  • We still like Ursula. She's just a bit finicky for people who are not mechanically inclined.

Giant new truck actually pulling our actual trailer.
So, we started sort of looking at something the truck could pull. Something new so we could enjoy its brief period of good functioning. And something that would be a nice guest house, or main house while we are waiting to build something at the ranch. Like a 5th Wheel travel trailer.

We went to Camping World to see what they had. Nothing was really very nice. We don't want an entry-level one. We want something with good quality features. Like drawers that open and close, a nice size fridge, and a king bed.

Decision Made

So yesterday we went to the RV Outlet Mall to pick up Ursula. Yay, she is fixed. We will be able to take her on our long-planned trip to Palmetto State Park next weekend, and Lee can take her to his dad's next week and not have to sleep in the scary spare bedroom while his dad has another procedure!

While we were there, we also looked at their selection of nice 5th Wheels. They have the Cardinal by Forest River line. They were fine. Not the fanciest on earth, but not entry level. They have nice lounge chairs, real chairs around the dining table, and those endearing fake fireplaces upper-end RVs seem to all have.

So, after the trip next weekend, dear Ursula will head back to the RV Outlet Mall and once again be looking for a family to love her. We will take Ursulina, her replacement, back to the storage place, ready for the next trip.

More next time--featuring floor plans and photos of Ursulina. In the meantime, here, you can enjoy some photos and the brochure and try to figure out which one we picked.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ursula Leaves the State, Day 10: Sunday, November 25, 2012

I woke up in not-so-scenic Ft. Stockton when the sun rose, about 7, then waited for Lee to get up and take me HOME. Every vacation must come to an end! Unfortunately, he had been having bad dreams and waking up a lot, so he slept another hour and a half. I spent time cleaning mud off the carpet from last night and taking pictures. I had to take one of Ursula while she was still relatively clean!
Clean Ursula! Gleaming in the morning sun of Ft. Stockton.
We were trying to take an alternate route home, but it though it had wind farms, it had no truck stops, so we had to go find a truck stop in Ozona.
Yep, those are windmills.
Now, that was a nasty one, though Ozona itself was a cute town. As I type we are back on the back roads, two hours until home. The highlight of the trip was getting to see some new vistas right after Junction, where we got off the interstate. There were some fun views of the wind farms out there, and a surprising visit to Iran! Well, really it was Iraan, and I think the extra “a” means “America.” It was a typical small, Western town.
Where's the nuclear plant? Oh yeah...none here EITHER.

The low-light was definitely the amount of deer carnage on the side of the road. Wow, a lot of wasted meat. But, not to worry, plenty of venison was harvested this weekend, judging from the number of vehicles we passed with huge coolers attached. I think a lot of good deer hunting went on this weekend. Most of the little towns had signs saying “welcome hunters” on them.
I was ready to go home. Nice earrings, though. Thanks, Lee.

This was truly lovely vacation. We rested, had fun, and visited folks in just right proportions. But we are ready to be home and see the kids, dogs, and new patio!

As for Ursula, it’s back to the shop, or maybe even shops, to figure out the mystery of the malfunctioning turn signals and slide-out. It’s always something with Ursula! But we had fun, anyway! And other than a bug-filled windshield, she’s a lot cleaner.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ursula Leaves the State, Day 9: Saturday, November 24, 2012

Our last morning in Alamogordo. As we secured things and cleaned Ursula for the trip back, Jan and Tara came by to say goodbye. Tara went with me to the pistachio ranch for stocking up on nuts, weird wine and coffee. She was so good that the owner gave her a free bag of pistachios!

Tara says goodbye to the pistachio. Well, she lives there, so she can see it again.

It was no trouble getting back to Las Cruces in time to return the Malibu.  

We found a hat rack in Ursula's bedroom! The hats stayed up there the whole way!
And from there we headed back east, saying goodbye to El Paso and Border Patrol checkpoints. We took Ursula to a truck wash in Socorro, Texas. However much it cost, it was worth it, because all those dudes with sprayers cleaned the heck out of her. She really was filthy, too. It was worth the delay. She even got her tires cleaned.
Ursula's in the truck wash. The truck in front of us sure got clean.

After that it was just driving and driving, wishing the turn signals worked but glad the headlights did work.
I loved Lee's creative use of the bungee cord to keep things under control.
Ursula's command post has been brought into the modern age.

We kept a-going until we got to Ft. Stockton. Lee said let’s stop, so we found a sort of run-down RV park, aptly named “I-10 RV Park.” It did the trick, though.
Classy trees that buffered us from the intrastate, sort of--this was sunrise the next day.

We discovered good news and bad news. The good news was that Lee finally found where the switch to turn the LP gas on was. That meant I could actually cook dinner, finally. At least I got to make one real meal! The bad news is that the lounge slide made a bad noise, like it fell off the track. Great. Something else to fix. At least we were able to slide the bedroom out, and most important, the slide went in, so we could get home!

Lessons learned: If something has to break, at least it should break in a way that does not inhibit movement of the vehicle. And, well, they sure can hide controls in these darn things.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ursula Leaves the State, Day 8: Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday dawned and we knew it was our last day to see sights, so off we went, with minimal dawdling. We headed back up north again, this time heading west when we got to Corrizoso. There we found the Valley of Fires Natural Area. Now, this one fascinating geological formation. It’s an immense lava field that covered a huge valley with up to 65 feet of black lava. All kinds of beautiful plants grow in it, and some of the local wildlife has developed darker coloration to blend in with the lava.
Valley of Fires. These are the Malpais, or badlands.

A man amid the lava flow

Lots of these caves are collapsed lava tubes

These are the cool cactus that make holey sticks.

A 400-year-old juniper, not the kind that took over the land around our house.

A dead tree!

It's so pretty in an austere way

The park was really well designed, with all the campsites having great views. The staff was very friendly and helpful, too. The part I was most impressed with was the trail, which was completely wheelchair accessible and had a very informative brochure that went with it. We had a great time photographing the plants and rocks, and even some birds. I hope it you are ever near here that you stop here. I am so glad one of my Facebook friends recommended it to us!
Cool lava

What an intrepid sotol! It found a place to take root!

You can see exactly how the lava flowed.
On our way to Carizzoso, we stopped at the Three Rivers trading post near the petroglyphs. I just wanted a drink, but we ended up staying a long time. This place was packed with really GOOD Native American art and crafts. The owner knew everyone who did the art, too—she did beadwork and framed the paintings (some of which were spectacular). I ended up getting an inlaid bear ring and a turquoise ring, plus two nice baskets that were hand woven. I put our souvenir rocks in one, and will use the other for apples and such in Ursula—they won’t break! Lee got us some wind chimes made of horseshoes and a really cool knife with an obsidian blade.
Three Rivers Trading Post, which is apparently in a historic building.

So, after the Valley of Fires, we looked for a place to eat in Carizzoso. We found a cafĂ© with friendly staff and free wireless, a thing I had missed so much (I still haven’t managed to download the Audubon app I bought in Las Cruces). This place had my favorite green chile sauce of the trip, and some delicious fried green chile strips I ordered on a whim. Glad I did! I am so glad we avoided chain restaurants and tried all these mom and pop places this week. It was a lot of fun.

We then fired up the Malibu for one last scenic visit, this time we left the black lava for our second visit to White Sands National Monument. It was much more crowded this time, but still eerily beautiful. The late afternoon sun cast lovely light on the sand formations. We were able to find a place where we could hike without people all over us, which made it better. It was fun to see kids sliding in the sand and doggies frolicking, though.
Sand waves plus shadows of plants.

It's just so ethereal!

Lee made a mark on the sand with his new sotol cane. Yep, two canes this trip, but he was a sturdy fellow!

This could hypnotize you!

These are the crystals that form when there is moisture. They break down to form the sand.

As it got later, things took on a golden tone.

I liked how the ripples made shadows. it was a good time of day to photograph them.

So cool how the colors change from cool to warm.

White girl in the white sand. Good thing I wore the brown hat!

We had thought we were having dinner with Jan and girls, but they had gone to Las Cruces for that Friday shopping thing people do. So instead we listened to music in the evening, thanks to Lee having figured a way to hook his iPad up to the new sound bar.  And oh yeah, we plugged in the Christmas lights, in that American "it's after Thanksgiving so it must be Christmas now" tradition.

Christmas RV.
Lessons Learned: There's touristy souvenirs and then there's art souvenirs. I am glad we found some good stuff.