Westward Ho!

You can click on "photos" to get directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second page, or you can click on specific links in the text to get to the photos associated with that part of the travelogue.  

The storm that kept us an extra day in Atlanta blew over by morning.  We said goodbye to everyone and started out on the first leg of our journey to The West on February 17.  The first stop was the Rainbow Plantation Escapee (SKP) park in Summerdale, AL.  There we would hook up with John and Libby Veach and travel out to the Phoenix area together.  First we would spend a couple of days in Summerdale to take in some of the area and for us to drive over to Pensacola for some warranty work on our motorhome. It also gave us an opportunity to finally meet Dick and Phyllis Davis (http://home.att.net/~duodavis).  Although not yet full-timers, they live in their motorhome while finishing up their working years.  They call their motorhome "Sudden Impulse". We also met Willie and Sandy Hories. We all went out one evening to eat dinner at Lambert's, also known as "Home of the Throwed Rolls". You probably figured out by now it is named that because they throw the rolls to you.  What a hoot, plus great family-style meals.

Our next destination was the Rainbow's End SKP park in Livingston, TX, so we set out on Tuesday, February 20 full of excitement and energy to be finally making our way west.  John pointed his Discovery to the west and off we went, with us following in our coach.  When we got to I-10, I grabbed the CB and yelled out "WESTWARD HO!" for all to hear.  RVers usually use channel 13 on the CB to stay in touch with rigs that are traveling together. One of the most amazing things I have seen was the engineering marvel to run the interstate through the Louisiana swamp. We traveled a good 20 miles on a bridge through the swamps. We try to limit the driving to no more than five to six hours, but something in the four to five hour range is even better.  With this lifestyle, there is no need to push as one does when on vacation. We got as far as Crowley, LA and decided it was time to stop for the night, so we pulled into "Camp Wallyworld" (aka, Wal-Mart) for the night. There were already several rigs in the parking lot, so John drove his Discovery towards the side of the parking lot and we settled into two spots along the fence that bordered the property.  Usually, we don't bother to unhook the towed cars and we try to eat within walking distance. Sometimes there are lots of restaurants and sometimes there aren't. This was one of those "there aren't" times. The only place close was a Wendy's, so that was dinner.

We arrived at Rainbow's End the next afternoon and settled into two "dry camping", also known as "boondocking"  (i.e., no hookups) sites. We intended to stay a couple of nights, but stayed a little longer to wait for the Holders to arrive so we could visit with them, and to let some weather pass through the area. That, of course, meant going out to eat a couple of times, which are always enjoyable occasions. One of the places we went to eat was the Catfish King. Great price-performer with good food: $5.49 for catfish filet, rice, baked potato, corn on the cob, and coleslaw. Yum!

I had another small world experience while at Rainbow's End. One evening, I was awaiting a turn at the phone jack so I could check my email.  While I was waiting, I logged onto one of the two terminals provided by the park for its guests. The guy who was using the phone jack turned to me and said "Don't I know you?".  "I don't know" was my reply, although he looked familiar. So he says "Rich?" and I said "Yes". Now he had my interest and I tried harder to remember him. Then he said "Rich Emond" and now he REALLY had my attention. Then he said we met in Harlingen, TX last year at the RVAMERICA Y2K Party. It was Bob Eberly. What a small world. The next day, Bob and Donna came over to visit for a while with everyone. We chatted for a long time. We would see them again at the RVAMERICA rally in Arizona the first week of April.

It was time to get on the road again and our next stop was San Antonio, TX. That was a place that I have longed to visit. Ever since I was a kid I have wanted to see the Alamo in person. After all, Fess Parker IS Davey Crockett, isn't he? The Alamo was everything I expected it to be given I had heard that it was in the city and surrounded by large buildings. It didn't matter, I was standing where it all happened and it was exciting and moving. We also saw the IMAX movie about the Alamo and it was great.

One of the folks we met at the Y2K Party last year in Harlingen was Gene Dwiggins. Gene is career Air Force and stationed in San Antonio. The campground we chose to stay in, Schertz Stone Creek RV Park, is close to his house. He knew when we were arriving and showed up at the campground with a biker friend of his after they had been out riding for the day. We visited for a while and then later we met Gene and his wife, Ann, for dinner. They are still thinking about full-timing, but have a few more months of work left. Gene plans to retire from the Air Force later this year. Unfortunately, they won't make it to the RVAMERICA Y2K-2 rally this year in Apache Junction. It was nice to see him again and to meet Ann.

I had been told about the River Walk in San Antonio, so that was also on our list of places to see while we were in town. John, Libby, Diane, and I went there for lunch one day and to walk through the mall. The Walk had a nice ambiance to it and we had a nice lunch. There was a Brookstone store in the mall and that is always hard to resist. So we didn't resist. There was a recliner/massager on display that seemed to catch everyone's eye and, of course, it had to be tested. I think the photos show how relaxing the recliner was.

Our next stop was Del Rio, TX, right near the Mexican border. Our route was along US 90. I was amazed at the vastness of the country and, as we moved further west, the terrain kept changing from flat to hilly. So much property out there, and we were told it is all privately owned. We checked into the American Campground for three nights and scouted out the area. It was OK, but not someplace that we would want to spend a lot of time. We took a ride with the Veaches to the Mexican border town of Ciudad Acuna, but it was nothing like Progresso that we visited last year when we were in Harlingen. The town was small and didn't have much allure to it. However, we did bring back four bottles of Kahlua. Great price.

Someone had told us about the Alamo movie set in Bracketville. We went through Bracketville on the way to Del Rio, but decided we would take a day trip from Del Rio rather than stop enroute. Diane and I drove there even though it was kind of brisk that day. The location had a re-creation of the Alamo, as well as Old San Antonio. It was about 35 miles from Del Rio. It was in the middle of nowhere and on a 35 square mile ranch owned by one James T. "Happy" Shahan. For those of you too young to remember, the movie was filmed in 1959 and starred John Wayne. It was an epic movie. Diane and I walked around the town, which included saloons, general stores, jails, hotels, stables, a church, bank and, of course, the obligatory town cemetery. We were told that over a hundred movies, commercials, TV shows, and documentaries, including the IMAX film, were made there. Some of the movies filmed there were Lonesome Dove, the Roy Rogers Show, Bandolero, Gunsmoke, and many others. We had lunch in one of the saloons and then headed back to Del Rio. We would recommend a visit to this place for anyone who is a western movie fan.

While we were walking through the buildings in Old San Antonio, we came across a tour group. I couldn't make out the language, so after a while I asked someone what the language was. It was Dutch and the group was from Brugge, in Belgium. When Diane and I were in Amsterdam for several weeks in 1995, we took a day trip by train to visit Brugge. Lots of nice lace things in Brugge. One of the guys in the group was tall, as in VERY tall. I told him that we had been to Brugge and he immediately started speaking in Dutch and told some of his traveling companions. We chatted for a little while and then went different ways to tour the town. The tour group came into the saloon while we were eating lunch and sat down at tables near us, so we started chatting again. The tall guy was a retired professional basketball player (what a surprise) in Europe. He told me he was 7'1" tall. Actually, a couple of the guys were retired basketball players, and every year they take a trip to the USA to visit different NBA venues. They do this during the basketball season so they can see the US teams play. This year they were doing Houston and Phoenix, and a couple of other NBA cities. We chatted about how they like the country and they loved touring the USA. I'm sure probably as much as Diane and I enjoyed touring their cities and countries.

The original plan was to go through El Paso on our way to Phoenix, but John and Libby suggested a detour up to the Carlsbad, NM area to visit the SKP park, The Ranch, in Lakewood, which is north of Carlsbad, and to visit the Carlsbad Caverns. No problem. Diane and I are pretty flexible. We figure that anything we see out here is probably going to be new to us, so why not. Besides, we had always wanted to travel with someone else and the journey was turning out to be all that we expected it to be. It helps to be somewhat compatible with folks with whom you are traveling. We had heard, and I had read, some war stories about folks traveling together with two, three, four rigs, and not really being compatible. For example, if one couple likes to get up early and be on the road by 7 AM and the other couple likes to leave, as John says, "at the crack of 10", then that probably won't work. Diane and I don't believe in alarm clocks anymore except for very rare occasions. We get up when we get up. And so do John and Libby.

The same thing is true with eating out. That was usually one of the hardest things for me when I was working and traveling with a team for extended periods of time. Diane, our friend Peter, and I would eat just about anything. However, there were sometimes some fussy eaters on the team and it would get frustrating to find a place to eat that everyone agreed to. With John and Libby we were compatible. We'll eat just about anything. AND...we all like the big screen, so we go to the movies together whenever we can. Our first experience with traveling with someone else was working out perfectly.

We hit the road on Friday and headed for Pecos, TX via US 90 and US 285. One of the stops that we needed to make was in Langtry, TX, home of Judge Roy Bean. We pulled into Langtry and found a place to park the rigs while we walked around the place. "'I'm fining you $45 and a round of drinks for the jury, and that's my ruling! The gavel smacked the bar of the Jersey Lilly Saloon, and another case was settled according to the 'Law West of the Pecos.'" So it was written in the brochure we obtained at the visitor center.

Judge Roy Bean of Langtry was the West's most colorful, and one of the most well-known, justice of the peace. He ruled with his own brand of justice in the last decades of the 19th Century. He became a legend in his own time. Not far from Langtry, at Dead Man's Gulch, a silver spike was driven into the tracks to join the transcontinental tracks of Southern Pacific's Sunset Route on January 12, 1883, which connected New Orleans with San Francisco. But is is Judge Roy Bean that brought fame to Langtry. There were many stories about this man, and many were shown in displays in the visitor center. A movie was even made about the judge.

As we proceeded long 285, we came across a cattle crossing, with real cowboys. So we stopped the rigs and watched as the cowboys moved the herd across the road. We parked at the SKP Trapark RV Park in Pecos for the night headed up to Carlsbad, NM on Saturday. Lakewood is actually 25 miles, or so, north of Carlsbad, so we drove through town on the way north. We arrived at The Ranch on Saturday afternoon. It was in the middle of nowhere. As we drove down the entrance lane, two rigs one behind the other, we saw some folks sitting out on the porch of the clubhouse. The next thing we knew we saw someone start pulling a cord attached to a big bell. This SKP park touts itself as the friendliest park in the Escapees network. If the welcome provided by the bell ringer, which brought folks out of their rigs and the clubhouse like ants, was any indication, it must certainly be the friendliest park in the network. Not all of the SKP parks are that friendly. One of the things we heard about the Escapee (SKP) parks as we traveled west was that they weren't all very friendly. The Escapee folks tend to be huggers and there are two types of SKP parks: Rainbow parks, such as Rainbow's End and Rainbow Plantation, that are owned by the Escapee organization, and Co-Op parks, such as The Ranch (NM), Hondo (TX), Saguaro (AZ), which are owned by the people who own/lease the sites. There are 7 Rainbow parks and 11 Co-Op parks. So far, we have visited 4 of the 7 Rainbow parks, and 2 of the 11 Co-Op parks. The Rainbow parks seem to be universally friendly, but the Co-Op parks vary in what is perceived as friendly.

We took a ride to the Carlsbad Caverns one sunny, warm day. I was familiar with the fact that there were caverns in Carlsbad and had always wanted to see them. We opted for the mile+ walk into the cavern and the elevator to come up. The walk was worth it because one misses a lot of formations by taking the elevator down. Diane and I had been to Luray Caverns in Virginia last year, but these were much more impressive, not to mention massive in size.

John and Libby loved the location of The Ranch, and the friendliness of the people, so much that they decided to purchase a lease there. So our days of traveling together came to an end. It was great while it lasted and we hope to do it again sometime. They decided to stay at The Ranch for a couple of weeks and then join us in Phoenix. Diane and I decided to stay an extra day and we left on Tuesday for Deming, NM. The Ranch was surely a very friendly park, but it wouldn't be for us due to its remoteness. We (I?) would need to be a bit closer than 20 miles to restaurants, stores, and movies. But it is a great place to visit for a little while to recharge ones batteries.

Along the way, we planned to make a quick stop in Alamogordo and the White Sands Monument. We had two choices for the route to take to Deming. One would take us south and through El Paso. The other one would take us over the Sacramento Mountains and into Alamogordo. We were watching the weather because it was mid-March and still winter, and there had been snow in the mountains recently. However, the weather seemed clear, and the grade on the mountain was 16 miles of 6%, which was doable. So off we went to the north and through Artesia, and then west along US 82 to Alamogordo. The scenery was beautiful along the way thanks to lots of snow just off the road and up on the hills. Someone told us that a great view was possible from the pulloff just past the tunnel on US 82, so we stopped to take a look a get some photos. The road goes through the Lincoln National Forest and the stop afforded a distant view of the white sands.

The 6% grade was not a problem and we made it to the White Sand Monument. We didn't realize that it was possible to drive the rig around the scenic road to see the white sands, so we just went inside and watched the video and looked at the displays. We will surely come back this way when we do some touring of New Mexico. On we went and arrived in Deming later that afternoon. We checked into the SKP park known as the Dream Catcher RV Park and planned to spend two days in the area. The one place we were told was a "must see" in Deming was the museum. We drove into town the next day and walked around a bit before stopping at a coffee shop for a cappuccino and tea. Unfortunately, it was the fake cappuccino, more like flavored hot chocolate. Sometimes when I fail to note whether there is an espresso machine behind the counter I get faked out. It tasted fine, just wasn't cappuccino. We chatted with the owner for a few minutes and then made our way to the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum. This has to be one of the nicest museums that I have ever visited. It was nicely laid out with items from the area's past displayed in separate sections by time period.  We spent a couple of hours in the museum. When we came outside the wind had gotten very strong and a dust storm was brewing. We made a stop at a market in town and it was very windy. I'm glad I didn't have the awnings down on the motorhome.

We were now on the last leg of our journey out to the Phoenix area. The plan was to be in that area for about four weeks before heading out to Las Vegas, Zion, Bryce, and north to Idaho for the Life on Wheels Conference in early July. Our excitement was growing every day to arrive in Mesa and hook up with some friends we hadn't seen for many months, Norm & Linda Payne, Jim & Patty Hammond, and Ron & Barb Hofmeister. They were wintering in Mesa at the Valle del Oro RV Resort and we were also excited about finally getting to visit that RV park that has 1800 sites. We would be there in a couple of days. There was one more stop to make along the way and that was the Saguaro (pronounced Sawaro, as in the cactus) SKP park in Benson, AZ. From there we could also drive to Bisbee and Tombstone. It was to be a short visit, but I'm sure we will return another time.

We stayed in Deming an extra day to wait out some bad weather that was passing through the area and arrived in Benson on Thursday, February 6. We were amazed at the landscape as we drove from Deming to Benson, ranging from desert to mountains. We checked in and got the Dutch Star parked for the night in the boondock area, and then immediately drove the 45 miles to Bisbee to see if we could take a tour of the copper mine. From Benson to Bisbee we drove across desert with mountains to the west of us and then we drove up into the hills to Bisbee. We were lucky and were able to get on the last mine tour at 3:30. The train took us 1500 feet into the mine. It was quite interesting. Given how dark it was deep in the mine, it had to be extremely difficult to mine the copper without current technology. The guide told us they mined by candlelight, whereas we had bright battery operated lights on our helmets. Also, today's machines move thousand of tons of ore at a time versus maybe a ton at a time in earlier times. It had to be a very rugged life for those miners.

After the tour, we decided we had enough time to stop in Tombstone on the way back to Benson. Most of the shops were about to close, but we had some time to walk around the town and to eat dinner in town. We decided to eat at Big Nose Kate's Saloon. On the way to the saloon we stopped in a couple of shops and Diane finally convinced me that it was time to buy a cowboy hat. I have tried on hats every now and then, but never liked the way any of them looked. Maybe I'm just getting older and less picky, but even I thought one of the hats I tried on looked OK. So I let Diane convince me to buy it, and even to wear it in the saloon. How 'bout that?  :-)

When we got back to Saguaro we found out there was a dance going on in their beautiful clubhouse, so we decided to go over and check it out. The theme for the dance was western and the group that was playing was excellent. It was a husband (on guitar) and wife (on keyboards) team. They had a large repertoire of songs and both had great voices. We stayed for a little while and enjoyed the music.

Contrary to what we've heard about Saguaro, we didn't find the people there to be cool and unfriendly. They were certainly not as openly friendly as the folks at The Ranch, which is probably the friendliest park we've been to since we started full-timing. Folks there will approach freely and start chatting. No one approached us in Saguaro when we went to the dance but we did notice that it was packed with folks that obviously knew each other from spending the winter there, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. There were lots of very good dancers on the floor. As Diane and I were leaving, there were four folks looking at the bright full moon and they were very friendly and talkative to us. Anyway, they seem like a fun bunch of folks and their bulletin board is absolutely full of things to do. We hope to eventually visit all of the SKP parks and then we will be able to judge for ourselves which ones are friendly and which ones aren't.

It was now time to finish our journey to Mesa, which was about three and a half hours away. Again, the excitement built as we got closer and reached a climax as we entered Valle del Oro. We stopped at the gate to tell them we were checking in and to get directions to the clubhouse. As we were driving along the main street that leads into the park and to the clubhouse, I spotted a blue and white Dutch Star and asked Diane if that was Jim & Patty's motorhome. I slowed down to almost a stop and sure enough, it was. Patty was in the window, waved to us and came out to greet us. We continued to the clubhouse to register and get our site assigned.

We had arrived! What a great trip across the country. I hope you have enjoyed following us across the country from Summerdale, AL to Mesa, AZ. I will document our stay in the Phoenix area, which ended up being extended to seven weeks for various reasons. The next travelogue will document our stay in the Phoenix area, including the Hofmeister's campout at the Lost Dutchman State Park and the RVAMERICA Y2K-2 Rally in Gold Canyon. Until next time....safe travels.

Copyright © 2001, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

Return to Travelogues Menu