Monthly Archives: October 2018

Favorite Recipes: MB’s Award Winning Chili

0211.jpgThis recipe is award-winning. Seriously. It won the Faith Presbyterian Church Chili Cook-Off some years ago, which granted me eternal bragging rights (as far as I’m concerned). I always cook up as large a batch as I can manage, and freeze most of it in meal-size portions for later. It’s been a family favorite for years, so here it is – documented for posterity!

MB’s Award-Winning Chili



2 pounds ground beef
1 large mild onion, diced
2 large green bell peppers, diced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
2 cups water
1 15.5-ounce can beans (any type)
3 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper
grated cheddar cheese (for topping)


Brown ground beef, drain and add to large soup pot. Sauté onion and green
pepper until just tender, add to pot. Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes,
tomato paste, beans, and water. Stir to mix thoroughly. Add seasonings and
stir. Add water, if needed to desired consistency. Bring to boil, then 
reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least one hour, longer if possible. 
Stir frequently to avoid scorching the bottom (Chili will thin a bit 
during cooking, as the tomatoes cook down.) Taste and add additional 
chili seasoning if desired. 
Serve topped with grated cheddar cheese.

You can vary this recipe by adding additional or fewer cans of diced tomatoes. You can use “chili ready” tomatoes, fire-roasted tomatoes and/or tomatoes seasoned with peppers. You can use any style beans; chili-style, navy, white, black or kidney. You can add another can of beans to stretch the recipe. You can add more or less seasoning, or add hot sauce for extra heat. You don’t have to use the chipotle pepper seasoning, but I think it adds a nice hint of smokiness. To stretch the meal, serve over cooked pasta.

This recipe also works great in a crock pot. Make sure you brown and drain the meat, but you can add the peppers/onions raw. Cook 4 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low. You can’t really over-simmer this recipe.

Bon appetit!


Campground Memberships: Our Experience

Member Stamp Shows Membership Registration And SubscribingGoing into this full time RV life, I knew that one of our largest ongoing expenses would be our camping costs. As I researched the lifestyle, I also looked for ways to reduce those expenses, such as investing different types of campground memberships. Since we’ve been at this for almost a year, I thought I’d share how the various membership schemes have panned out for us.

Passport America  Billed as the “original 50% discount camping club”, we find its utility to be somewhat limited. Many of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in either don’t accept PA or accept it only within strict limits (such as, not in high season, or only for a few days). However, we did find a couple of places so far that have taken PA; one near Boerne TX and the other near Durango CO. Both of those parks were fantastic, and the discount rate made the stays total bargains. In fact, just ONE of those stays fully justified the $44/year cost. And, if you spring for a 3-year membership, the current cost is $109 or about $33/year.  I will definitely keep Passport America in my wallet because it only takes one use per year to pay for itself and then some.

Good Sam:  We have found that many of the campgrounds we’ve visited do give a Good Sam discount. It’s only 10%, but that 10% can really add up over time, especially at the higher priced parks. The membership cost is a modest $29 for one year. Good Sam often provides incentives to join; right now a 2 year membership is $50 and they give you a $25 Camping World gift certificate! (3 years for $75 / $50 gift certificate). Other Good Sam perks that we take advantage of  include discounts on Camping World merchandise and Pilot / Flying J fuel. We may also switch to their mail forwarding service next year at a discounted rate. This is definitely another discount card that pays off for us.

KOA Value Kard: This membership is specific to KOA campgrounds only and I have a bit of a philosophical problem with paying $30/year just to get a 10% discount. In general, I find KOA’s to be expensive for what you get and variable in quality. I stay at a KOA when it’s the only campground in the area I want to be. I sprung for the Value Kard last year when I had KOA reservations and knew the card would pay for itself. The 10% discount price plus small rebates you rack up with accumulated points almost brings the KOA cost down on par with similar resorts. The good news is that if you rack up enough points in a membership year, the card is renewed automatically (free) for an additional year. So far, I haven’t had to pay to renew it, and I’m not sure I would. I suspect we’ll end up staying at KOA’s just enough each year to get the renewal for free.

Harvest Host:  I really like the Harvest Host concept. Basically, you pay an annual fee ($49) for a listing of wineries, farms and museums that allow you to park overnight at their facility for free. The host facility hopes you’ll patronize their amenities, and you get a safe and interesting dry camping parking space. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able take advantage of any Host locations yet. We only need an overnight spot when we’re in transit to another area and there has never seemed to be a Host location where we need it. They are usually a bit off the beaten path, and we don’t want to travel out of our way. Also as a very big rig, many Host sites can’t accommodate our length. I paid for a multi-year membership so I haven’t given up on it yet, but it’s unlikely that I’ll renew.

Thousand Trails  Thousand Trails is a general name for a portfolio of complex and confusing camping membership contracts. The most basic membership is an annual $575 Zone Pass which allows you to camp “for free” at certain campgrounds within a geographical zone. You are limited to 14 days at a time, then out for at least 7 days, then you can stay again for 14 days. You can pay up to $thousands more and get more campground choices, more days in, no days out, and earlier reservation windows. There are myriad flavors of these contracts, each with their own stipulations, up front costs and annual fee rates. My biggest objection to their campgrounds is that all are “find your own site” places. You don’t reserve a space type guaranteed to fit your needs,  you take your chances on finding a suitable site upon arrival. Since most of these campgrounds are older, finding a big rig site is chancy. Not to mention that their largest network is still limited, and not necessarily where we want to stay. We tried out one TT campground in Arizona, and were not favorably impressed. No thanks – not for us.

Coast to Coast  Owned by the Good Sam parent company, C2C memberships are another abstruse and confusing membership scheme. First, you have to buy a membership at a C2C campground, which becomes your “home” resort. That usually requires thousands of dollars up front, plus annual fees (total cost depends on the resort). Then you “add on” the C2C network for an additional annual fee. That entitles you to stay at other C2C facilities for $10/night. Just like Thousand Trails, I find that these campgrounds are typically older and not in our desired locations. And they also subscribe to the “find your own” site philosophy, which is very risky for a Big Rig like ours. I much prefer to get to a campground confident that we’ll fit into a site! We stayed at one C2C campground in Mississippi and suffered through the high-pressure sales pitch. (We declined)  At least we stayed for free!

We could probably get more out of these memberships if we planned our travels around their campground networks – but we don’t. We decide where we want to go, and look for suitable campgrounds near that location that are easily navigated, highly rated, and suitable for our bus. Whether or not they subscribe to a specific discount scheme is way down on our list.

I truly wish we could find a campground membership for higher end resorts, but one simply doesn’t exist. We are finding that the simplest way to control campground costs is just to stay longer to take advantage of weekly / monthly discounts. So, that will be our best strategy for now.


Biking in Bentonville

The area in and around Bentonville Arkansas is surprisingly bicycle-friendly. The backbone is the 38 mile Razorback Regional Greenway trail, which extends from Fayetteville northward through Bentonville. Substantially funded by the Walton Foundation, this paved multi-use trail connects parks, green spaces, and a number of other trails. We picked a beautiful Indian summer day, and saddled up!

024We parked in downtown Bentonville and headed north, exploring the northernmost 8 miles of the trail. Along the way, we passed through parts of downtown and by homes creatively decorated for Halloween. We also meandered through the grounds of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art which displays a number of interesting sculptures.


025As a chemist, the sculpture I was most taken with is the Buckyball. What is a buckyball, you say? Short for Buckminsterfullerene, it is a spherical nanoparticle made of 60 carbon molecules. Postulated in the late 1960’s, the molecule was first created in 1984 by scientists who used a laser a laser to vaporize carbon in a supersonic helium beam. Aren’t you glad you asked? The sculpture is an artist’s rendition of a super-giant molecule. Or, it’s a soccer ball skeleton. Whatever floats your boat.

The weather was sunny and perfect as we cycled along through the Arkansas countryside. The trees were decked in their colorful Fall finest. We hit the northern terminus of the trail and looped around, back toward town.


Closing in on our parking spot and desiring to quench our thirst, we stopped in at the Tusk & Trotter for a late lunch. The restaurant offers locally brewed beverages and fresh, tasty fare. My BBQ sandwich and hard cider was delicious, and Jeff made short work of his “carnivore” flatbread. And a bit of trivia – the restaurant space was once Sam Walton’s office and general warehouse.

Another beautiful day!


When the Frost is on the Punkin’

031I grew up in central Indiana where there were four distinct seasons. Although we loved to hate cold and gloomy winter, the Fall season that preceded it could be glorious. There is something about the brightly-changing leaves against crisp, clear blue skies that is especially invigorating. My birthday is in September, so maybe that had something to do with it too!

Then I moved to South Florida, the land of eternal summer. We knew it was Fall when a cold front FINALLY dipped the night time lows below 70 degrees! We never experienced a season of dramatic temperature and color change. I never missed winter all that much, but I did, sort of, miss Fall.

And now, our journey is taking us through the Fall season! We saw leaves beginning to show hints of color back in Yellowstone, and as we have progressed south and east, we are seeing more and more trees sport their lovely Fall attire. The mountains around Durango Colorado were lit up with bright yellow clumps of aspens. Santa Fe offered a few beautiful trees that slowly changed color during our stay. But now, here at our current spot near Bentonville Arkansas, the surrounding hills are brightening with glorious red, orange, maroon and yellows. For the first time in many years, I can shuffle through fallen leaves and marvel at God’s painting ability. There’s a cold nip in the air, pumpkins in the patch, and a corn maze just down the road.

The season reminds me of a poem I learned in my youth by Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley:

When the Frost is On the Punkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and the gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’; of the guineys and the cluckin’ of the hens
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O it’s then the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock

They’s somethin kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here –
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock –
When the frost is on the punkin and fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries – kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A preachin’ sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below – the clover overhead! –
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it – but if sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me –
I’d want to ‘commodate ’em – all the whole-indurin’ flock –
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!


I lift a glass of fresh apple cider to toast the magnificence of Fall.

Full Time RV Living – 5 Things We Didn’t Expect in our First Year

1_f6aGa-44g1FzUEXPNpcriwReflecting back on our first year of full time RV living, much of it has gone as planned, but there are a few things that we didn’t expect!


  1. Vehicle repair costs. We started our adventure with brand new almost-everything: new motorhome, new truck, new motorcycle. In our budgeting process, we didn’t include repair costs, figuring problems SHOULD get fixed under warranty.  But, routine maintenance comes up sooner when you’re on the move and that adds up: motorhome chassis oil change/lube (every 6 months), Onan generator service, truck oil changes, motorcycle service and new motorcycle tires. When our rear AC unit went out, we paid for a wasted service call in Las Vegas, because we didn’t understand how the warranty repair process worked. Even when the AC replacement was done under warranty, it didn’t cover all of the service call costs. The most recent incident was discovering our severe alignment problem which necessitated the emergency replacement of our steer tires and has significantly shortened the life of the tag axle tires. We have requested to be reimbursed under warranty, but all of the players are pointing the finger at each other: Spartan chassis, Goodyear tires, Entegra, and the dealership that sold us the rig. I am not optimistic. Paying for all of the routine maintenance and non-routine repairs has added up to thousands of dollars. We can afford it, but didn’t expect it to be quite so much.
  2. High camping costs.  We read a lot of full-timer blogs while researching this lifestyle and figured our nightly camping fees would average about $30-40. We’re finding it actually costs us significantly more ($45-50 average) for several reasons. First, our large size simply cannot be accommodated by all campgrounds, especially the older, and less expensive, ones. Our weight is also a factor, as we have found that our heavy bus will sink in soft gravel or dirt. So we look for RV parks with lots of maneuvering room and solid pads, which tend to be the newer and more expensive parks. Additionally, we are often staying at desirable locations in peak season –  at peak season rates. And, we LIKE the highly-rated RV parks with paved level pads, 50 amp electrical service, nice restrooms and the occasional hot tub. At the end of the day, we will usually choose a really nice, cushy RV park in a prime location over a less expensive park  – because we like it better. It’s a conscious decision that may end up costing more, but we feel it’s worth it for the comfort and convenience. We could do it cheaper if we needed to, but for now it’s the cost of our particular travel style.
  3. The weather is never “average”. As we planned our first-year route, we blithely said that we would “follow 70 degrees”. We meticulously researched the normal weather patterns and monthly averages at each planned stop, with the intent of maximizing our time in the nicest possible weather. Well – it hasn’t always worked out that way! Charleston was freezing. We weathered an ice storm in Northern Florida and another while staying outside New Orleans. We were in Spokane when it hit 104 degrees. Hurricane and Moab UT had highs in the mid-90s in late September. And in Santa Fe, we encountered mid-October snow. None of these reflected “average” weather patterns for those areas. You just have to be prepared for anything.
  4. Missing familiar surroundings. I lived in South Florida for almost 33 years, 30 years in the same Pembroke Pines neighborhood! I had such deep ties after working, living, raising 2 children, worshiping and volunteering for so long in the area. So many memories and relationships. I significantly underestimated the difficulty of emotionally detaching from such a long-term life of stability in order to launch into this nomadic existence. Now, our life is constantly changing as we move from place to place – nothing is familiar except what we carry with us. It has been a process of adjustment, more so for me than for Jeff, I think. It’s getting better over time, for a couple of reasons. One is that time and distance lessons the pain of leaving all that was familiar and stable. Being a nomad IS the new normal. Also, I find that staying in a nice place for an extended period of time (a few weeks or more) allows me to put down mini-roots. I can shop in the same grocery store more than once, become familiar with the area, and feel like its home, just for a little while. I like that.
  5. This US is full of wondrous places. As we travel, we keep finding new and exciting places to go and things to see. There is just so much to do in this enormously varied country of ours. The National Parks are glorious, but so also are the large and small towns, each with its history, culture, cuisine, and activities. We’ve been at this a year and have only begun to scratch the surface of everything that is out there. It could take a lifetime to see it all.

That sounds just grand. Looking forward to it!




Favorite Recipes: Coconut Red Curry

007I’m a big fan of freezer cooking; that is, cooking large quantities of a dish, enjoying some now and freezing the rest for later easy meals.  I was introduced to this concept years ago when my sister gifted me with the cookbook “30 Day Gourmet“. As a busy working mom, this efficient cooking approach appealed greatly. The cookbook provided recipes and strategies for buying in bulk, and investing in one mass preparation day that would yield dozens of prepared freezer meals for later. I employed this strategy for years and when I downsized to the bus, this was one of the few books that I have actually kept in hard copy.

Although I don’t go full-on freezer cooking any more, I still embrace the philosophy. In our busy travel lifestyle, it’s fantastic to be able to pull a delicious, home-made meal out of the freezer at the end of an adventurous day. Just heat and eat! So, when I have a little time, I will intentionally make a large batch of a recipe that freezes well and stock up.

Here’s one of my faves – Coconut Red Curry. It does require a bit of preparation, but it tastes fantastic and freezes quite well. I’ve adapted this recipe from one that I got from taking a Publix Aprons cooking class series. This makes a double-batch – enough for dinner and a freezer meal.


1 medium onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 can bamboo shoots
6 green onions, sliced on a bias
3 Tablespoons grated fresh (peeled) ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons red curry paste
2 (15 ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tablespoons honey
2 limes, juiced
1 cup cilantro, chopped
salt / pepper (to taste)


Sauté onion, bell peppers and white portion of green onions in a little
olive oil until just softened. Add bamboo shoots, grated ginger and 
red pepper flakes. Cook for another minute or two. Stir in red curry paste
and cook one minute. Whisk in coconut milk, honey, green onions (green 
part), lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
Heat through.

Serve with rice.

One of the things I like about this recipe is its versatility. If you don’t like it spicy, leave out the red pepper, or add more if you want to turn up the heat. You can add any vegetables you like –  baby corn, bean sprouts, mushrooms, water chestnuts, stir-fry vegetables, pea pods, bok choy – whatever you’ve got. You can add more or less red curry to taste. If you don’t like cilantro,  just leave it out. I suppose could substitute bottled lime juice and ginger seasoning, but fresh tastes so much better, it’s worth the effort.

This makes a nice vegetarian meal, but you can also serve with any protein. You can sauté shrimp along with the veggies or add cooked diced chicken at the end. Or just serve with a nice grilled pork chop or salmon filet on the side – it’s up to you!

I cook up a huge Instant Pot of brown rice to go with this. Freeze the leftovers (package rice separately) and you have an easy, delicious meal anytime!

If you try it – let me know how it turns out!

Motorhome vs. Traditional home: 5 key differences

What’s it like to live fulltime in a motorhome? I know I was intensely curious about that topic while we researched transitioning to this lifestyle. I’m still a relative newbie at this, but below are a few key differences that I’ve noted between living in a regular house and living in this compact, rolling home.

1. You have to be strategic and selective in what you take with you.  The first, and biggest, adjustment is the need to pare down everything you own to fit into this smaller space. I found that I can take quite a variety of things with us, just in smaller quantity. For example, I can’t take every kitchen appliance I used to have, so I purchased an Instant Pot which is multi-function. I have clothing for every kind of weather, but less of everything. I still have crafting supplies, Christmas decorations, dishes, clothes, games, linens, office supplies, camping gear, tools, and so on, just not as much of each.  I even have our guitar and my violin. You make room for the things you REALLY want to keep, and fill in the gaps with the other necessities and luxuries. The process forces you to decide what is really important to you, and what isn’t. In a traditional house, I often kept things just because I could.

2. Everything is just a bit smaller and clutter can accumulate quickly.  Everything in the bus is scaled down just a bit; the shower, the couch, the dinette area, etc. (The bed is still king size, though!) Because you have less overall space, items can stack up and overflow corners and on counters very quickly. You can’t just shut the door on the dirty dishes in the sink and go into the living room to watch TV because it’s all one living space. The old saying “a place for everything and everything in its place” applies here. I find that it works best to put items away immediately after use and clean as you go. The good thing about a small space is there is less to clean, so it takes less time! I must confess, I was a more lax housekeeper in my 4 bedroom house. Of course, I also had a maid service then ….

3. You can cook just about everything – but not all at once. My lovely kitchen is equipped with a two-burner induction cooktop and a standard size convection microwave oven. Induction cooking is awesome; quick and efficient. But the power is split between the two burners, so I can’t set both on “high” at the same time. And since my oven is both my microwave and conventional “heat” oven, I’m limited as to the quantity and cooking method that I can utilize at any one time. The oven will fit a half size cookie sheet, but not a regular one. I can manage to fit my lasagna pan, but not a large pizza. Counter space is also limited, so I can’t spread out as much during food preparation.  If I intended to throw a large dinner party with many dishes or bake 12 dozen cookies, I would have to plan and make adjustments. But, for two people and ordinary meals the facility is more than adequate. And most campground parties are potluck anyway! If all else fails, there’s always take-out.

4. You have to manage holding tanks.  One of the realities of RV living is dealing with holding tanks for fresh water and waste. If you are “off the grid”, then the amount of water in your fresh water tank is all you’ve got! Being self-contained means that all of your waste water flows into waste holding tanks, and when they are full it’s got nowhere else to go but to “back up” into your home! If you are on fresh water hookup, then water supply is provided by a hose so the supply is limitless, but water pressure is not. You have plenty of water pressure to wash dishes OR take a shower OR run the washing machine, but not all at once. Having a sewer hookup sounds easy – just run a hose to the drain and you can just flush everything all the time, right? Well, not exactly. The problem with leaving the drain constantly open is that liquids drain and solids tend to be left behind to accumulate, forming what is affectionately known as a crap pyramid.  Accumulated solids can plug the line, foul tank level sensors and generally wreak havoc. The way around that is to keep the drain line closed, wait until a waste tank is reasonably full, then dump it all at once. That approach is not difficult, but requires that you regularly check tank levels and plan your tank dumps accordingly. You want to stay on top of it and not have to do an “emergency” tank dump in the dark or in adverse weather. Checking the tank levels has become an automatic part of my day.  When not in water conservation mode, we usually need to dump the gray tank (wash water) about every other day, and the black tank (potty water) about twice a week. No big deal. Oh, and you have to use a toilet paper that is “septic safe” so it breaks down in the tank. No more cushy 2 ply, it’s the thin TP from now on.

5. Remember where you parked!  Being on the move means that you are always figuring out where everything is, such as grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations. When living in a regular house for 20 years, I could put  my drive home on auto pilot. Not so when a different week brings a different parking spot! Thank goodness for GPS.

So there you have it. After I’ve lived in the motorhome longer, I’m sure I’ll develop another list!

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

The geologic area around Santa Fe is marked by its volcanic history. Nearby Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument boasts unusual conical “tent shaped” formations. These vaguely phallic formations are created by the erosion of volcanic ash (tuff) cliffs. Rather than cracking and eroding into columns (as in Bryce Canyon National Park), the softer ash melts down into conical shapes.

It’s not a very big Park, with just two small hiking areas. The area nearest the entrance has a trail that leads back through a slot canyon before climbing 600 feet up to an overlook. This trail is fun, requiring squeezing through a few narrow openings, a bit of rock scrambling in spots, and a fairly stiff climb to the overlook.  It’s not very long (3 miles round trip), but offers scenic views. You just have to be careful to watch the weather forecast as a flash flood in the slot canyon could be – problematic.

Reaching the second area requires driving on a gravel road through the local Indian Reservation. At the end of the road is a nice canyon overlook and a gentle one-mile loop trail around the mesa.

Only about 45 minutes from Santa Fe, this Park offers a nice half-day excursion.

And that’s it for Santa Fe! We are currently working our way South, toward Bentonville Arkansas – home of Wal-Mart, and (presumably) some nice mountain biking trails.

My Amazing Balloon Adventure

023The day of my much-delayed balloon flight began long before dawn. The weather appeared calm and clear as I made the 40 minute trek to our Rainbow Ryder check-in point. Prospective passengers signed waivers and mingled in the warehouse, as we waited for everyone to arrive and preparations to be completed.

Around 7 am, our assigned pilot (ours was Kris) rounded us up and we loaded into vans, heading to a nearby park which was to be our launch site for the morning. Kris gave us a preliminary briefing and the balloons were set up for launch. It was really going to happen this time! Woo-hoo!!!

The Rainbow Ryder crew prepped 5 balloons for launch. Ours was one of the larger ones, with room for 12 passengers. After my Balloon Fiesta experience, I felt practically like an expert as I watched the crew cold-inflate the balloon. Then Kyle began to carefully blast hot air into the balloon envelope to complete the inflation process. Once the balloon was fully inflated and the gondola was lightly bobbing, we quickly clambered in. A few adjustments, the crew cast off the lines, and we were away!

I expected the ascent to feel like an elevator, but it was like riding a soap bubble. The rise felt so gentle, almost imperceptible, only the rapidly shrinking ground indicated the rate of ascent. The winds were light as we drifted slowly toward the Rio Grande Valley. We could see the other balloons rising and floating around us. As we approached the frost-tinged trees lining the river, Kris piloted so closely that we actually brushed their tops. As we approached the river, he allowed the balloon to dip down and skim the water’s surface before gently rising again over the opposite bank.  Wheeeee!

Then, Kris poured on the heat and we began to rise, higher and higher, until we were the highest balloon in the sky. We drifted over the city, watching as the sun rose higher over the mountain range. The ride was quiet, punctuated only by giggly conversation and the periodic warm WHOOSH of the propane burner overhead. There was very little apparent wind, since we were drifting with it. I was torn between just soaking up the experience and taking numerous snapshots in an attempt to capture it. I think I had a silly grin pasted on my face for the entire trip. It was fantastic!

All too soon, it was time to look for a landing spot. Kris had stayed in contact with our chase crew for the entire ride, so they were not far behind us. As we descended toward the mesa, the winds were higher than before. We flew quickly toward an open lot in a housing development under construction. We assumed the instructed landing position – standing facing forward, knees bent, gripping rope handholds. As we approached the landing spot, we  narrowly missed a light pole, then the corner of a house and then bumped onto the ground! The 12 mph wind pulled us forward, dragging the gondola on its edge while the ground crew raced to grab lines and stabilize the rig as the balloon deflated. Just as the balloon envelope sank to the ground, the gondola slooowly tipped over onto its side. Touchdown! Check out the drag marks!

Laughing, we crawled out of the gondola and watched as the ground crew began to gather up the (now deflated) balloon. A few minutes later they jumped into action again as a second balloon landed not far from us. (That gondola tipped over too). That IS considered a normal landing, and isn’t unusual in higher winds. The crew called it a “sporty” landing!

137The crew set up a table offering champagne, orange juice and cran-apple juice. I enjoyed a post-ride mimosa as we all toasted a successful journey. Kris, our intrepid pilot, presented each of with a lovely commemorative flight certificate. Before too long, the balloon rig was packed and loaded, and we all piled back into the van for the 20 minute ride back to the office. A spread of beverages and packaged snacks were available to nosh on, which was a nice final touch.

The ride was just magical – everything I hoped for and more! I’ll leave you with an Irish Balloonist prayer:

The winds have welcomed you with softness
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands
You have flown so high and so well
That God has joined you in laughter
And set you gently back again
Into the loving arms of Mother Earth

Just magical.

National Park Annual Pass and Passport Fun

NATIONAL-PARKS-ANNUAL-200X126One of our goals during our travels is to see every National Park along the way. And one of the best deals for us is the National Park America The Beautiful Annual Pass! We aren’t (quite) old enough to take advantage of the lifetime Senior Pass, but the $80 Annual Pass is still paying off handsomely for us. Most National Parks cost $30 for a 7-day entry these days and that adds up fast when you’re visiting multiple parks.

We just renewed our pass in Yellowstone National Park. Since then, we’ve visited seven more Parks or Monuments: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Monument, Bandolier National Monument  and Petroglyph National Monument. By my calculation, the Pass has paid for itself 3 times over already, and that’s in less than 2 months!

2-9000cI’m also participating in the National Park Passport program. We purchased our little blue Passport book during our 2017 trip to Yellowstone and have been using it since we began our RV travels. Basically, every National Park and Monument provides a cancellation stamp – usually at a Passport Station located in the gift shop. Most are simple circular stamps giving the place name and date of visit. But some are creatively, decorative. I always love finding those! The stamps are fun, and they provide a record of our travels through the National Park system. If you don’t have a Passport book, you can still capture the stamp on slips of paper provided at the cancellation station. I’ve even seen folks create their own “passport book” out of a simple note pad, but I like the look and organization of the actual Passport.

You can purchase a Passport book at any National Park gift shop or online. The Passport is organized and color-coded in geographic regions, making the proper cancellation section easier to find. Even the stamp ink is color coded! (They’ve really thought about this!) The book comes with a US map showing all Park locations and there also is an companion mobile app.

Say what you will about our Government’s failings, but I think the National Park system and their visitor engagement programs are absolutely fantastic. It’s a wonderfully positive use of our tax dollars.