Our Chalet Truck Camper

Our Chalet Truck Camper

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 28 Valley of Fire lava fields to Grants, NM

April 28 Valley of Fire lava fields to Grants, NM

The morning started with another walk through the lava fields. 70F and sunny - can't get much better. Many of the cactus are blooming and it is so unusual to see these plants growing up through lava.

This walk was along what was basically a paved boardwalk through the lava. It's about a mile and a half one way and took quite a while since we were enjoying the scenery.

The National Parks and BLM sites get it right with a lot of good information posts along the way where you get basic info on the plants and animals. Fortunately we didn't encounter any snakes or tarantulas but so a lot of birds and ground squirrels. During the night we had heard the coyotes off in the distance. There were places where you could walk out onto the lava and look down into the crevices and bat caves. (Notice the North East Truck Camper shirt!)

The truck camper was a welcome sight coming back. Joe had a great time talking to the ranger who was also retired Coast Guard. I met a woman from Hawaii who was touring the USA and Canada in a VW bus. Out came all the maps to give her some tips of places to see in Maine and Nova Scotia. You really meet interesting people along the way.

We passed by the White Sands Missile Range on the way to Route 25. No activity we could see but lots of heavily barb wired fences. We took 26 to get to Albuquerque and the Petroglyph National Monument. I don't want to live in a city as large as Albuquerque. Even skirting it to get to the petroglyphs reminded us of how much we don't like to travel in a big city.

This is not one of the better places we have visited for history. It is surrounded by housing developments, traffic, noise and odd smells. We quickly headed west on I-40 to Grants, NM and I finally got wifi good enough to load photos on my travel blog. Tomorrow we go to El Morro and El Malipas which are geological formations settled by both the early Indians and the Spanish settlers, then on to Chaco Canyon. We had stopped at the Northern NM state tourist center to get detailed info on all three sites. The rangers told us not to go in the southern route to Chaco as the cattle guards had been replaced and many trying to go that route had punctured tires. I'm disappointed as Ted and Cheryl had told us tales of the road in but I think in this case, prudence will win over.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 27 - Caprock Canyon, TX to Valley of Fire, NM

April 27 - Caprock Canyon, TX to Valley of Fire, NM

What arrow straight roads the ranch roads in Texas are - and 70 mph to boot! We left Caprock Canyon after a three mile morning walk back to the rim to see the morning light. Finally caught a glimpse of the Texas Bison Herd as we left but they were in the distance. There will be more bison to come. Ranch Road 145 runs off of 86 to Kress, Texas. The land is as vast as you always imagine Texas to be, sparcely populated, lots of cattle and suprisingly, cotton fields. Co-op gin mills and grain elevators are tall and can be seen for miles.

Route 87 to 70 takes you through tiny towns like Circle and Muleshoe. We stopped to get diesel next to a Walmart and saw this unique Welcome to Walmart sign. Love the diesel prices in NM.

Did we go to Roswell, NM, home of the infamous 1947 UFO "incident" and of the International UFO Study Institute? Yes we went on a lark but it was actually very interesting and well presented. There were many photos from the 1940s and also of more current UFO sightings.  Some hokey things also like the little grey men. Joe wants to tell Jimmy Crisafulli these are Joe's new bodyguards.

Back on Route 70 to 380 and through the Capitan Mountains Wilderness. It was breathtakingly beautiful and empty of civilization. We also climbed to 6800 feet and found some really tight turns on the two lane road. This small back road is better maintained then most of the main roads in Maine.

We passed through Carrizozo and found a spot in the Valley of Fire BLM campground. I was expecting (and hoping for) just an off road place to camp but found this CG had water, power and very clean showers for $9 a night. We walked out on a trail through the lava fields reading most of the info signs along the way, looking at blooming cactus and the views out over the lava to the mountains. Sunset was what we thought it would be out west - bright, long and gorgeous. Undecided whether to take a rest day and stay here, walk and relax or head up to Albuquerque.

April 26, 2013 - Whitesboro TX to Caprock Canyon State Park, TX

April 26, 2013 - Whitesboro TX to Caprock Canyon State Park, TX

Showers in the AM but we were up early and enjoying the rolling ranchland.  Most fields had a mix of cattle, horses and donkeys. Don't know why so many donkeys? Route 377 back to 82 through Wichita Falls, then Route 287 to Vernon, TX. Joe finally got to walk into the Vernon Auto Group which was a hyper busy place. In addition to an onsite sales force and huge service facility, they had staff at banks of phones taking truck orders from all over the USA. They are one of the largest Ford dealer in the country. Joe wanted to look at a moose guard, more commonly known in Texas as a cattle guard. He says if we do make Alaska it will help protect the front of the truck from road rock damage. Unfortunately, even though they had what he wanted in stock, they didn't have the bolt kit for a F450. Nice chunk of change not spent! The woman running the service department directed us to a local Mexican restaurant for lunch, Mestizo. We were disappointed in that it wasn't any different then what we can get in Maine so either ME Mexican is good or this one wasn't. We'll try again as we wend our way further west.

Route 287 went to Route 86, a two lane road with a 75 mile an hour speed limit !!! We were comfortable at about 60mph but the few people on the road who passed us always tipped their hat. This is a lot of land and few people. We stopped in Turkey, TX and walked around the tiny town which was having a Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys festival. He is a locally famous country western singer. Lots of real cowboys in their work gear, not fancy boots and hats and a huge smoker roasting what looked like a side of beef. They were dancing the Texas two step and having a great time. We didn't stay for the evening activities but went on to Quitaque.

Texas is windy and we were caught up in several large dust devils that were coming across freshly plowed fields. We had been averaging 10.8mph but this last leg dropped us to 10.6mpg. You can't go uphill against a strong wind and keep the mileage. Most of the trees are permanently bent at the tops.
Our goal today was Caprock Canyons State Park in order to walk the three mile rim trail. Since it is currently 6:30PM and it is still 89F degrees we will get up early and do it tomorrow. These two Mainieacs don't do 90 degree heat well. We did drive the scenic loop but didn't spot any of the resident Bison herd. The campsite has water and power and yes, we are using electricity for the AC. $20 for the site plus a Texas Park Pass.  I have a feeling it will be pitch black in here tonight and we'll take a walk on the site roads to see the stars.

There are good exhibits on bison, geology and the use of early Indians and settlers of the land. At least Joe found one bison.

Friday, April 26, 2013

April 25 - Crossett AR to Whitesboro, TX Lake Texoma

April 25 - Crossett AR to Whitesboro, TX  Lake Texoma

Everything is bigger in Texas!

A 300 mile travel day on Route 82 from Crossett AR to Lake Texoma in Texas. We took route 82 to Texarcana and crossed into Texas. The visitor center at Texarcana was worth the time. We found several more places we need to stop while travelling across the top of the state. Texans do like to drive fast. Most roads are at least 10-15 miles over what they would be in the east but drivers are very polite and will wave you ahead of them at intersections. We got a lot of thumbs up from pickups going by.

The dashboard light came on saying "500 miles to empty on the DEF". It seems early as it is supposed to go 5000 miles and we were at 3450. Actually read the manual and hauling can lower the DEF range. Found a Ford dealer in Denison, TX who came out in the work yard and filled the tank for us.

We were aiming for the military family campground run by Shepard Air Force Base. Delorme directions were way off but we found it using the AllStays App on the IPad. What a handy and accurate app we've found that to be. I had been expecting a lot more than was actually here. It is an old facility and needs major updating but probably will never happen with sequestration. We did get all the laundry done, the truck and camper washed and a two mile walk along the Red River. $20 isn't bad for full hookup I suppose though other retired military rave about the fam camps at $8 to $10. We'll find more along the way.

Rig sure looks good clean and the truck is just purring along.

Tomorrow will be the final long travel day as we head for CapRocks  Canyon State Park below Amarillo, TX. From there we start going to the sites we want in AZ. Temperatures have been very low for this time of year in this area. We barely made 70 degrees today but such bright sunshine. The country side is beautiful with waving fields of grass for the cattle herds and patches of what I think are bluebells along the roads. The land is beginning to open up into vastness which is what I remember of our last western trek.

April 24 - The wrong turn that saved a really wrong turn

April 24 - The wrong turn that saved a really wrong turn

Heavy rain overnight on the Tombigbee but so soothing in the camper. No leaks, no problems and we stayed toasty warm though it got to an unseasonably low temperature for this region. Cleaned the camper inside and were delighted that the heavy rain had taken most of the yellow pine pollen from VA off the truck and camper.

We took a county road from Piney Grove to get back on the Natchez Trace and head south. Bad move. CR4271 was a lane and a half, newly graveled with a reddish/yellow substance. Truck was handling it well and no slipping until we made a major goof and missed the fork in the road. We were now on CR4272 which narrowed to one lane, steep sides, with washouts crumbling into the ditches full of water. OH OH! Nothing to do but keep going so we did and ended up at a farm after what seemed like ten miles but was only a half. I was driving and by then had it in 4 wheel low and saying prayers. Rather then drive into the farm yard, we decided to back into a pasture road. Bad move again as it started to slip. Somehow, got going forward and made a loop through the guy's house driveway. He must not have been home as I wasn't greeted with yells, shotguns or polite offers to help. We did get out okay. Later as we are going down the Natchez Trace, we went by where that CR4271 would have intersected. It wasn't there so who knows what would have been at the end of it or if we would have been able to turn around there. Sometimes a wrong turn saves a really wrong turn.

Took the Natchez Trace down to Mathiston and then on to Route 82. 82 turned out to be a four lane divided with a lot of space between the divide so it seemed like only a two lane. Lovely farm country and it was rare to see another vehicle. As this was basically another travel day, it was nice to have such a relaxing road. Do you know how few bridges go across the Mississippi River? We had to go way south to cross at Greenville, MS into Arkansas. This is very flat land and right now there is a lot of standing water from the storm yesterday. I doubt that happens regularly as most farms have huge ponds for irrigation. We are happy to see diesel prices continue to drop, probably because we are getting closer and closer to the refineries. We paid $3.62 today and saw it right after at $3.56 - of course!

Tonight we are in Crossette, Arkansas in the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge. There is a Corp of Engineers park within the refuge that is now run by the town of Crossette. $12 for paved, flat site with water and power. Tomorrow we head into Texas.

April 23 - Almond, VA to Tom Bigbee River in Paden, Mississippi

April 23 - Almond, VA to Tom Bigbee River in Paden, Mississippi

What an odd travel day ! I would recommend the Turkey Creek Campground in Almond, VA to anyone with up to a medium size rig, not a big 5th wheel or A. It is small, tucked away by a brook, meticulously kept and inexpensive as paid campgrounds go. The shower house had brand new tile with individual rooms and showers in the room. That was quite a suprise and appreciated. Our truck camper shower works well but is not spacious and every once in a while a full size one is good.

Part of today's travels along route 64 was through the Cherokee National Forest and the Little Frog Wilderness. The Ocoee River was used as a kayak training river for the Olympics and we could easily see why. We stopped several times to look at the gates and wild rapids though today there was only one paddler. The dam and spillway at Ocoee Lake 2 were quite impressive.

Our favorite kind of road to drive

There are fields of cultivated plants that are so bright yellow they glow like the sun. going to have to ask or look them up to see what it is.

We've curved a bit south west using throughways to bridge gaps in Route 64. Today was basically a travel day going through Chatanooga and hitting some pretty heavy truck traffic. got back onto route 64 and then hit south on the Natchez Trace. Joe likes driving that two lane, 50 mph road and stopping at all the history sites along the way. We again walked back up in a swamp and this time didn't get eaten alive by bugs. Tonight we are in the Piney Grove Corp of Engineers Park on Bay Springs Lake, part of the Tombigbee Waterway. Lucked out once more and got site #44 which is on a point out into the lake. $11 for concrete pad, water, electric and utter peace and quiet. Full moon on the lake with the Leonid Meteor showers expected. Life is good. 

Here is the route travelled to date. I have to keep it written down or I'd never remember where we've been.

April 13, 2013
Route 1
295 at Freeport
95 at Falmouth
New Hampshire
495 at Amesbury
90 at Westborough
New York
NY State Thruway from 90 to 87
87 to Newburg
84 west
206 at Milford
80 to 33
33 to 22 at Prospect Park
476 at Allentown
Overnight at a Cracker Barrell in Plymouth Meeting, PA

April 14
476 to 95 below Philadelphia
13 at Christiana
113 at Dover
376 at Berlin
611 to Assateague

April 16
Back out to 113
13 at Pocomoke City
695 at Temperanceville over to Tall Pines CG, site #37

April 21
13 across Bay Bridge Tunnel
64 south around Norfolk
460 at Bowers Hill
58 to 85 at South Hill
North Carolina
85/40 at Durham
85B to High Point
Overnight at Xtreme Campers

April 22
29 to 64 at Lexington
64 to 40 through Asheville
40 to 19/23/64 at Clyde
Overnight in Almond, VA

April 23
75 at Prospect
24 at Chattanooga
64 at Monteagle
Natchez Trace past Lawrenceburg
Natchez Trace
Piney Grove COE at Paden

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 21 and 22 - Tall Pines Rally to Almond NC via Xtreme Campers

April 21 and 22 - Tall Pines Rally to Almond NC via Xtreme Campers

We do take circuitous routes! After a farewell breakfast and saying bye to lots of friends, we headed off across the Bay Bridge Tunnel to High Point NC. We had purchased a wireless Tadi Brothers rear view camera. Love the screen which is a clamp on to the regular rear view mirror but there was too much interference for the wireless to work well. The original camera which attaches to the license plate was getting water in it. Tadi Brothers sent us replacement parts for everything but the mirror. Joe, Lee, Roy and others worked at figuring out where the interference was from to no avail. Mike O from Xtreme Campers said he could hard wire the camera he originally put on the back of the Chalet to the new mirror. So off we go through farm and field to NC. Stayed overnight in Mike's lot (thanks again Mike). This morning, he ran the wire and the thing works like a LCD TV. sharp clear, large  field of vision and we feel a lot safer now.

We decided to just head west and not spend a lot of time along the way. The first goal is Albuquerque, NM. From there we will start the real wandering and as the heat increases move northward. We've been enjoying the flowering trees, green grass and signs of spring that haven't even started at home.

Tonight's supper was oyster stew. Here we camped in Almond, NC in the Nantahala National Forest along a gently flowing brook eating oysters from Chincoteague VA. Go figure.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 13 - 16, 2013 The new adventure begins

Once again we are headed west into the unknown. Alaska? West Coast? Middle America? We can travel where and when the whim takes us. Retirement is incredible. Blessings again go to Brenda and Ray, our house sitters, for the care they give to our house and cat while we are gone. Of course they get to see all those fabulous perennials come up and we miss seldom do in the spring anymore.

The truck trade from a 2010 F-350 to a 2013 F-450 is behind us. A bit of a delay on getting the camper loaded as we had to go over to Truck Camper Warehouse in NH and get Torklift tie downs, bump stops and air bags installed. It's a monster of a truck and the longer wheel base adds so much ease to carrying the Chalet truck camper. We also ordered a TadiBrothers rear view wireless camera system to replace the one that went with the F350. Install of that has not been easy or satisfying. It works some times but is getting interference from somewhere.

We left Maine in a small snow squall on the 13th of April. After an overnight stop in a Cracker Barrel lot in PA, we arrived at Assateague National Seashore to once again enjoy the ocean, beaches, horses and the smells of spring. The forsythia is out, buds on all the trees and no dirty left over snow piles. Two truck camper couples we know arrived and we enjoyed chatting, walking and watching the wild horses. It was sunny, 70 degrees and windy as usual.

 Assateague took a hit from Storm Sandy also. Lots of erosion along the beaches and the trees have paid the price.

On the 16th we arrived at Tall Pines Campground in Temperenceville, VA on the bay side of the Eastern Shore. This campground got a tremendous hit from Storm Sandy but has replaced electric power lines, water lines, gravel roads, etc. to get ready for the camp season. By Saturday around 190 truck campers had arrived and we shared stories, equipment hints, fire pits, and meals. Great to see so many familiar faces and meet new ones. There are a lot of new campers and trucks among this group. Many many photos of this rally can be seen on the Mid Atlantic Truck Camper Rally web site.

Weather varied from 75 and sunny to a big night thunderstorm that left lakes among the campers. Activities included a pie eating contest, raffles, a kid's parade decorated in Americana, fireworks and more fire pit socializing. TadiBrothers drop shipped a replacement rear view camera lenses but it still doesn't work well. We will go to XTreme Campers in NC and have Mike O take a look at it for us.

It's just plain enjoyable to be by the water in the 60-70 degree range.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Beast arrives

Joe spent a lot of time this past winter researching and looking for a truck that would make us more comfortable on the road. He finally found what he was looking for locally and Casco Bay Ford made the trade in and transition seamless.

Glitches? Of course but that is always to be expected. The Torklift Tie Downs between the truck camper and the truck didn't fit. The rear view camera from camper to truck didn't work on the existing Ford wiring. Where we have always put the laptop computer with DeLorme GPS mapping was completely different. However a quick trip over to Truck Camper Warehouse and we had new Torklifts, air bags and bump stops. The truck rides like a passenger car and the diesel is so quiet.
The truck is Kodiak brown not black. We've loaded the Chalet on and it is ready for the road. We've not had a crew cab before and that extra back seat room is tempting to fill. We are resisting as there is still a weight limit on the truck and we are trying so hard to stay under it.
Best of all our much loved F350 was bought by truck camper friends from New York and so will continue its on the road adventures. Still have the rear camera to rig, we've solved the laptop placement and are locked, loaded and ready to go put some miles on this beast.