Thursday, April 30, 2015

Walked out of Freightliner and Found A Better Place

After checking out of our stinky hotel room, we stopped at the Freightliner to see when the Alfa would be ready. We had driven by a few times and noticed she had not been moved, and were upset that at 10 AM  she was still not being worked on. As we stood at the desk, waiting for some information, the boss came in and said the guys who were supposed to work on her had been reassigned to another job. That, along with their outrageous estimate was enough for Craig to ask for his keys and the bill for the diagnostic work they had done. The boss said he was sorry, and said there would be no charge.

Craig called the place where Al of The Bayfield Bunch had work done earlier this spring, but they were kind of busy and were in the opposite direction from where we were headed. Then he went to the site and found Northern Arizona Diesel Repair. They had some good reviews and when we called they said to come on over.

It is a small shop that seems to do a variety of work, but the immediate and personal attention we received was a fresh experience after our experience at the big Freightliner shop.

The all purpose service guy, Scott, replaced the big air filter, and Craig and I washed the back surface of the radiator with the Pro/HD Heavy Duty Simple Green Cleaner. We really didn't have enough to do a thorough job, but it was better than nothing.

We thought Freightliner had changed the air filter last September as part of the annual big service job, but it was dated 4/14 indicating they had not!

The total bill was $329.  A lot better than the estimate of $2600 from Freightliner.

Our drive from Flagstaff to Page in the afternoon was not easy nor completely worry free. Part of the drive were two rather long grades, and the temperature gauge did go up, but not to the overheating point. Craig worked hard at down shifting at the right time, and keeping the engine RPMs high enough to prevent it from getting too hot.

Do we still need to get the radiator cleaned in some way? I think yes. We have to find a source for the Heavy Duty Simple Green, and a place where we can run off a lot of water.

Rick R. mentioned using an air pressure blast, and he was nice enough to send us instructions on how to do that.

We have had more mishaps, confusion, and silly things happen to us in the last 48 hours than I can write about, but the important thing is we are OK for now. We made it to Page, and overnighted at Walmart because I had cancelled our Monday - Wednesday reservation. Now, Thursday afternoon, we are tucked in at the Lake Powell Campground after a terribly long drive of two miles this morning!

Below are some of the pictures we took on our Flagstaff side trip to Sunset Crater:

This 35 mile loop off of Hwy 89 goes through some very interesting landscapes with short walkable trails. In the image above, the snow peaks in the background are the San Francisco Peaks and are visible from Flagstaff. In Indian lore, gods live there and the volcanic domes of the Sunset Crater area are their guardians. The rough dark area in the mid-ground is very fresh, very rough lava flow. In the foreground you can see plants struggling to take root in the volcanic cinders.

This area last saw volcanic activity between 1000 and 1100 AD, so the frozen lava flows and cinder piles are quite new as such thing go.

Craig seems to be entering a tree loving phase. Above, he hugs a healthy living Ponderosa pine, and as we have been walking in new areas has taken an interest in some special arboreal specimens.

H said this was a very "brave" tree because it conquered the raw, sterile lava rock flow.

Among the many twisted remains of the dead trees we have seen, this one reminded him of a petroglyph drawing of a person.

Not all of the lava flow area was hard black rock. There were also mounds like this rust red hill.

After exploring the volcanic area we continued our drive around the loop and came to several Wupatki Indian ruins.

They have been excavated and partially restored. Obviously the iron hand rail in the picture above is not part of the original structure.

Archeologists believe people built and lived here about 75 years after the volcanic eruptions at Sunset Peak. It is unknown exactly who they were, or how long they lived in this area, but their pueblos were large and had many rooms.

Oh what a beautiful and interesting area we have come to! It is going to be hard to limit the number of pictures we post.

Life is good.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

There Will Be Breakdowns! But unexpected good things can result!

When we started out on this full-time adventure we knew there would be unexpected emergency repair expenses. Everyone has them. Ordinary maintenance on a Class A (or for any RV) can be expensive, but that is part of the deal. It is the unexpected that pinches the most. And are we getting a big pinch this week!

On the drive from Surprise to Cottonwood the engine temperature on the Alfa went very high and the check engine light came on. Fortunately we were at a summit, and the downhill drive cooled the engine enough to keep going.  But, then on the drive between Cottonwood and Williams it happened again. Once again we were able to cool down and get to our destination.

Not wanting to get into a situation where we were stranded, we decided the best thing to do was to stop at Freightliner Arizona in Flagstaff on our way to our next location, and have things checked out.  So, on Monday we were up by 5:30 and drove the 43 miles to Flagstaff, and checked in to Freightliner with no problems.

Several hours later we got the bad news. The radiator and "charge air cooler" that's behind it are sufficiently clogged that both have to be removed for cleaning, and the repairs will not be completed until Wednesday afternoon, at the earliest.  This will cost about $2600, or more if other problems are found.  These units on a CAT C7 were certainly not designed for maintainability.

We checked our extended warranty, but were told that the required work was considered "maintenance" and therefore was not covered. We know radiators need to be cleaned occasionally, especially if you drive through dusty areas, but are shocked that this will require 14 hours of labor. Craig did clean the radiator once while we were at the house, but we have not been anywhere that allows work or washing since. At least not when we had the time or inclination to do so.  

Could we have just driven away and hoped for the best? Probably, but it sounded like something we would have to deal with sooner or later. Could we have found a place that might charge less?  Maybe, but who? Where? How?  If we got in trouble in the canyon lands of Utah and had a complete overheat breakdown the cost of a tow would be enormous and we would still have to have the work done.

Life is too short to be troubled by these things. I mentally keep a place in my "budget" for unexpected repairs, so paying the bill will not be a problem. 

Unfortunately were are not able to stay in the rig Monday and Tuesday nights so we went off to a Flagstaff motel row and checked into an Econolodge. There are four or five similar motels in a row, and as we drove by I choose the Econolodge because the sign said it had an indoor pool. We could see the others had closed outdoor pools.  Unfortunately, the water was murky and I choose not to use it. Also our room smells. It is not too bad, and finally I realized it was because it has not always been a no smoking room. That old dead smell never goes away.

I'm not really complaining. We could move to another place, but doing so would be more trouble than it's worth. I'm just pointing out that not everything is perfect. 

I'm writing this on Tuesday night. We will see how things come out tomorrow when we go back over to Freightliner in hope of getting our home back. 

So, what unexpected good things happened as a result of all of this?

Because we are staying in a motel, we have had to eat out. On Monday Craig Googled "Best Restaurant in Flagstaff"and came up with a recommendation for a little place with a big name: the Simply Delicious Cafe Daily Fare. It is only open from 11AM - 4PM, so we decided to have lunch there on Tuesday. It was a bit hard to find, and if you are ever in Flagstaff you would be best to go to their web site for directions.  

It was just what I needed. I ordered Lamb Stew and a salad. The stew could be described as "Mom Food" if you had a mom who could cook! Comfort food without being heavy or greasy. My salad was also great. I have to say this was one of the best meals I have had in a year of travels. 

[From Craig] My Hot Italian sandwich was among the best I've ever had.

Then another unexpected good thing happened. The owner of the cafe came over to our table and asked a common question "How long will you be in Flagstaff?".  On hearing our plight as delayed travelers, she suggested an afternoon drive  to the Sunset Crater and Wupatki Indian Ruins which are just a short distance north of Flagstaff. 

If we had not had the breakdown, we would not have had the wonderful lunch, and would have just driven north to Page. 

All of the cables that can connect our camera to our computers are in the Alfa at Freightliner, so stay tuned for our next post about Sunset Crater and Wupatki.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A stop at the Grand Canyon is Always Wonderful

I had hoped there would be snow up in the Grand Canyon when we decided to drive up for a day trip from Williams on Sunday.

This what what Williams looked like when we woke around 7.

Feeling no rush to get going, we enjoyed a leisurely morning in bed, enjoying fresh squeezed OJ, and mellow brewed coffee while we checked out the online news and funnies. After a nice breakfast in the coach we drove the Jeep up to the Canyon. 

We only traveled a few miles when all signs of the morning snow disappeared. It had not melted, it simply hadn't fallen there. 

In spite of the less-than-perfect weather, there was still a line of cars at the entrance station, and the parking lots were fairly full.

Throughout the day the sky kept changing. White clouds and blue sky, dark clouds with rain falling in the distance, and both at the same time.

One of many crows we saw riding the wind.

Cloud shadows crawled across the canyon like big dark amoebas.

At the end of the day it is always difficult to choose which pictures to include in the blog, especially when the subject is as breathtaking as this.

Yup, a stop at the Grand Canyon is always wonderful!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Verde Canyon Railroad Ride

We had planned on taking the train from Williams up to the Grand Canyon after our Sedona visit, but when our friend John suggested taking the Verde Canyon Train Ride we decided to do that instead. Several other people had also recommended it as a nice trip. 

Both Bev and I thought it was a bit overpriced, but as Craig would say "the dollar isn't what it used to be!"

We opted for the First Class coach which included access to both a comfortable enclosed car and an open car where a guide pointed out the features that we passed. Craig had a good time taking lots of pictures.

Near the start we passed several Native American dwelling places from 400 to 900 AD.  None of them seemed very tall, more sleeping places than walking-around-in places.

Sometimes the train was quite close to the rocks, at other times they were quite distant.  The Verde River accompanied the tracks most of the time.

A few sandstone expanses interrupted the red rocks.

Most of the Western US seems to be composed of layers.

The ability of cactus and other plants to grow in rocks is amazing.

Looking up at close rocks.

Th train went over several trestles and through a dark tunnel, but we've omitted those images in favor of the scenery.

Bev and I found the first class seating quite comfortable. Although I have not been drinking alcohol for the last month or so, Craig and I shared a bottle of Chardonnay. The view out the window is the ranch land where the engines are brought around for the ride back.

On the ride back the sun had gone lower, which made some of the scenes look better.

The ride is about four hours long. 

[From Craig]  Shooting pictures from a train is much easier than on a hike :-)

On Thursday we drove 100 miles northwest to Williams. From here we will drive the Jeep up to the Grand Canyon for a day trip, possibly Sunday. Other than that, the next few days are devoted to rest and chores around the rig. I am also looking forward to using the heated indoor swimming pool and hot tub. 

The weather is going to be a bit cold for the next few days, with possible snow on Sunday. I hope we can see some snow in the Canyon.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015


On Tuesday we decided to drive around Sedona and view more of the wonderful red rock formations and attractions.

Our first stop was the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Although I am not religious, I did appreciate the architectural simplicity of the place.

In addition to the views of the red rocks we saw a huge mansion just below the Chapel.

There is a great deal of controversy about it, with some saying its size and style violate the natural setting. I do not agree. To me it doesn't violate the setting any more than the chapel above it does. Each to their own. Hooray for the freedom in this country that allows people to build big houses and other people to install symbols of their faith in the same general area. 

Perhaps someday the mansion will be opened as a tourist attraction. It's not as big as Biltmore or the Ringling mansion, but it may be just as interesting, and it's bigger than some of the other private homes we have toured in the last year.

Our friends John and Bev were our guides and drivers. Our next stop was a view point where we could get a close up look at  Bell Rock and several other notable rock formations. 

From there they took us up to an overlook up by the Sedona Airport where we could get a long view of the red rocks and the town of Sedona.

This is one small segment of the horizon to horizon view.  Craig took so many pictures I found it hard to choose among them, but hopefully the few I have posted give you a small taste of the natural wonder of this valley. 

You just have to visit Sedona in person to fully appreciate it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jerome and Old Town Cottonwood

When hearing we were going to the Sedona and Cottonwood area, several people suggested we should drive up to see a small town called Jerome. It was a copper mining and smelting town high in the mountains nearby.
When the copper mine finally closed down, the town died and many of the old buildings were destroyed. But at some point new "hippie" people moved in and Jerome became revitalized. It is now a destination that is not terribly touristy, nor overly "artsy." Some of the old buildings have been restored, and a few stand in their original condition.

The Jerome State Historic Park Visitors Center, great lunch spots, and fantastic views of the valley below make the short drive and difficult parking worth the effort.

We only spent a half day there because my walking is still limited by my ankle injury.

After lunch we drove down and walked around the Cottonwood Old Town business district, visiting a few galleries, antique shops, a book store, and several gift shops. 

I bought some wild new socks with pink and purple smiling javelinas as my souvenir. 
We also stopped  at an Olive Oil tasting room, where Craig got a small bottle of Cara-Cara Orange Vanilla Balsamic Vinegar.

Any souvenir must be consumable, wearable, readable, or for someone else when you live in an RV!

Did I mention there were four other Alfas here in our loop of the Dead Horse Ranch Park? It seems that wherever there is more than one Alfa, happy hour is celebrated. So we joined our Maverick friends and had some yummy bites for dinner. After having eaten lunch out we had planned on a simple salad for dinner, but the crab cakes, meatballs, deviled eggs, and an assortment of  fresh veggies were more than enough. 

The eating is GOOD!

A list of our future reservations:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sedona, Sunday

I visited Sedona, Arizona, several years ago for a long weekend with my sister, and was eager to share its beauty with Craig. As soon as we were settled into our site at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, we got into the Jeep and drove the 20 miles or so to Sedona.

We first parked in a 30 minute spot outside of the uptown Visitors Center, and after picking up a map managed to find a spot to leave the Jeep for a longer time. Sunday afternoon in Sedona is a very busy time!

The sky was quite dramatic all afternoon. It never rained, but we could see rain coming down from the clouds but not reaching the ground. (Such rain is called "virga".) 

Sedona is surrounded by red rock formations. The building codes of the city restrict color and height of the homes and businesses. Even McDonald's had to comply and there are no golden arches!

Our day ended with a get-together with our old friends, John and Bev. We had a light dinner together and then went to their home for a delightful dessert and a delightful desert view. 

We knew at least one of our Alfa friends was coming to this park, this week, but were surprised to see several others! Like us, they are only here for a few days before heading out in other directions.

It is going to be a busy week, lots to see.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Surprise Arizona that is.

We had a very nice visit with my brother Keith and his wife Gerri, at their park model home in Surprise. They started spending winters in Arizona several years ago, and last fall they sold their beautiful Wisconsin lake home and moved down here permanently. They still have their class A motorhome and will be doing some traveling in summers, that will include long stays with family, back up north.

We were able to park in a full-hook-up site right next to their lot at the Sunflower Resort.

On Friday night we went to the Elks Club for a nice fish fry. Joining the Elks is on our list for this year. Perhaps when we are in Idaho in July, or when we go back to San Diego for the holidays. 

My brother loaned me a couple of great books about Utah, and we retired to the Alfa early so I could look through them before returning them the next day.

On Sunday we went over to Lake Pleasant for a splendid afternoon.

We enjoyed hot wings on the shaded patio overlooking the lake.

There were two pair of Mallard ducks that were having a very animated discussion with each other.  The males had the most active disputes, but only when the females were behind them, poking them in the butt with their beaks!

I had never seen Flyboarding before, and we watched several younger people trying it. Not something we will be doing anytime soon, but fun to watch.

Back at the park, my brother cooked up some yummy steaks on the Weber Q, and my sister-in-law treated us to a warm dump-cake for desert.  Which was a neat coincidence, because we were introduced to a dump cake a couple of nights before.

My brother had heard of Mexican Train, but had never played, so he brought out a big light and we played out on the patio table. The night was soft and neither too warm, nor too cool. There were no bugs or mosquitoes.  It was indeed pretty near perfect!

Keith had a nice turn of beginners luck when he used all of his tiles on the first round of play in the sixes round.  If you know the game you can imagine my groan when I was left holding the double nines, several high count tiles, and the double blank.  We had fun, Keith won, I was second and Craig was last after he had four no-starts out of 10 games.

We said our goodbyes by 10:00 AM Sunday, and drove the 100 or so miles north to Cottonwood AZ where we will be getting together with some old friends who have retired in Sedona this year.

Life is good!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 Alfa Owners Club Rally

In some ways this year's AOC Rally has been the best of the three we have attended. 

One of several dinner gatherings in the Ballroom. 

We have been enjoying pot-luck meals, catered meals, and group restaurant meals every evening, along with many "Happy Hour" get-togethers. We could join in for coffee and donuts every morning, but on most mornings we prefer to sleep in and make our own breakfasts.

We feel we know more people than in previous years, and know who to ask if we have a question.

This year we skipped some of the product seminars, because we had already heard them. Craig went to some of the "tech talks", and we both went to the "travel talks".  On our list were talks about Mexico, the Rockies, Alaska, and the Maritimes.  Some of the presentations were by other Alfa owners who had traveled by themselves, and some were by Alfa owners who traveled with the Adventure Caravan company as customers and as employees. There are advantages to both. The caravan approach has the advantage of professional planning and having a wagon master and other guides available to help if you need it. You do not have to make your own reservations, or worry about getting lost or stuck. You travel with a group and enjoy a social atmosphere and group meals. But you do pay quite a lot for these advantages. To quote my brother: "It's like the difference between a cruise and a boat ride."  

On the other hand, if you travel on your own, you can go where you want, and stay for as many days as you want.  Of the trips we heard about, only traveling in Mexico for the first time would tempt me to have a paid guide.  But that may change in the future!  Did you know you can go on an RV Caravan trip in Africa? Who would have thought!

We also took advantage of "Rally Discounts" to have our coach washed, oxidation removed, and a good hand waxing. Our holding tanks also got a thorough power cleaning and all the sensors are reading correctly again. We have never had a black tank clog, but the gray tank has smelled bad lately, and a good professional cleaning was called for.

We have enjoyed some good conversations about traveling in an RV, and have gotten some great ideas and advice from others.

Our chapter of Alfa owners, the Mavericks.
We all try to avoid discussions about politics, but did have one good round where no one really got mad.  That is a rarity these days since it seems everyone is so polarized and unwilling to listen, myself included!

[From Craig]  Wednesday night we went to a dinner and "entertainment night" that we signed up for at our Alfa rally.  The dinner was good, as was the conversation 'cause we were sitting with our friends from our chapter.  Then came the entertainment which was a jazz quintet.  After two numbers, I asked Merikay what she thought of bailing out early, and she said that was OK with her.  After the third number I gave Merikay a high-sign that I was ready to leave.  I said good night to our friends at the table, and Merikay creatively added that we had to get home to walk our dog.  As we're leaving, one of our friends called after us "but you don't have a dog!"

Which some other people around caught onto, leading to general laughter.  At such times I love Merikay more than ever.

Friday was departure day, and we all got a breakfast in a bag from the resort and headed out in all directions. We stopped in at the Purcell Tire dealer in town to get a slow leak checked (caused by a loose valve stem) and got in line behind behind another Alfa for service.

Then we were on our way to Surprise, AZ to visit my brother and his wife. They have also sold their home and now live in a delightful little place in the Sunflower Resort. 

Hopefully I will be posting more often as we start traveling and exploring more of Arizona and Utah in the next several months.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I Promise!

I promise to start writing travel posts again soon. 

Several nights ago I spent several hours crafting a nice summary post about all the things we did with our grandsons during the five weeks we spent in San Diego. Then poof! I must have hit the wrong key and it all went away.  I was so tired and frustrated I could not redo it!

We have left San Diego and are on our own again.

We spent the last two nights at casinos.

Sunday overnight at Indio Casino
And Monday in the parking lot of the casino near Los Algodones, in Winterhaven.

After getting our teeth cleaned in Mexico we drove to Casa Grande, Arizona, for an early arrival at the annual National Alfa Owners Club Rally.  We will be here for ten days, and I probably won't post much about the social activities, catered dinners, pot lucks, breakfast get-togethers, games, classes, and vendor sessions.

I know we will be very busy and having lots of fun! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Tire Monitoring Systems

We'd like to get a Tire Monitoring System soon.  We probably want pressure and temperature sensing for 10 tires (coach and toad).  There are enough brands that we got a headache trying to pick one.

1. Replaceable sensor batteries: do you think that by the time the battery has run down, it's probably time to have new sensors as well?  The environment of a wheel rotating on roads is probably hard on sensors.  Or are replaceable batteries a good economy?

2. Those of you who have TPM systems, what brand do you have and what do you like and/or dislike about your system?

3. Anybody, what have you heard from others about what brand they have and what they like and/or dislike about their system?

Please reply by commenting or by email at craigm014 AT  If we get enough responses, we'll post a summary here.

Craig & Merikay MacKenna

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

One Year Houseless!

Well it's hard to believe, but as of April 1 it is one year since the sale of our house closed escrow. So, it has been one year that we have been houseless. I considered us full time RVers seven months before that, because we were indeed living in our RV full time.

I feel like I should write a special post about how I feel and what our future plans are. 

I can honestly say that I have absolutely no regrets. I loved our house in the Santa Cruz mountains, but I knew we could not comfortably travel for months at a time and still keep it up.  

I really like our Alfa motorhome. It is our home, and it is just right for us. Not too small, not bigger than we need, not too old, and not too fancy.  

But to be honest there are a few things I do miss. I miss my treadmill.  I miss having a really separate bathroom, with a really good exhaust fan to control odors. I miss my large double Electrolux Ovens.  I miss the quality of our land line telephones. I miss getting mail or UPS and FedEx deliveries to the door without extra effort. I miss the libraries. And finally I miss knowing where everything is located at the grocery stores, and where to get some of the special things we like.

But I would never want to go back.

I've never been much of a housekeeper, and I wondered how I would do in the limited space of an RV. I am delighted to say that keeping things neat is far easier in the RV than in a house. Because everything has to be stowed away before driving, everything has to have a place. Since storage is limited, the amount of stuff has to be limited too. Less stuff = less mess. 

I'm quite proud of the way we keep the tiny kitchen area clean.  At the house, Craig would sometimes clear the dishes and help empty the dishwasher but I was pretty much responsible for the rest, and after cooking the meal, it was easy to  leave some dishes undone and a few pots and pans soaking.  I would just turn the light out and go into the living room for the evening. The kitchen was seldom really clean.

But in the RV, with only four large plates, four small plates, two cups, two coffee mugs, and a limited selection of bowls, we have to do the dishes right after a meal, or we would have nothing to use for the next one. And, with the kitchen sort of part of the living room, we don't want to look at a full sink or a messy countertop.  

I think Craig and I have both made some big compromises in how we relate to each other, and they have not always come easily. When I first started reading blogs I got the impression that everyone who lived full time in an RV had a perfect mate. Just like the perfect families with perfect parents and perfect children in the 60s TV sit-coms. I wasn't sure how we would do because I knew we sure weren't perfect.

I think we have learned to fight with each other, but we have also learned to let our differences go. Our biggest problem is we both want to be right all of the time. If anything, this year has taught us that change is possible, so maybe by this time next year we will find that being right isn't always necessary. Maybe...

Living in 300+ square feet, 24/7, has in fact caused us to be more flexible.  We each have our own jobs, but at the same time help the other, and accept having the other check what we have done. We depend on each other far more than we did at the house. In the past we were individuals first and a couple second. Now we are a couple first. I have always wanted us to be equal partners. I feel we are coming closer to that as a reality. Slowly ... almost ...

We have traveled to many new places in this first year. Some were bullet-list places like Niagara Falls and the Florida Keys, but most were pleasant finds as we went. Some were wonderful and a few were not. But, we quickly learned that once the blinds were pulled in the evening, most places are much the same. Noise is the one thing that can become intrusive, but most loud road noise dies down late at night, and we have made the mournful hoot of a train something to laugh about. We have many places we still want to see, but don't want to dash around so fast that we miss the hidden treasures, or get tired of the new.

With all of this in mind, I don't see us hanging up the keys anytime soon. We know this can change quite quickly for many reasons, and we will deal with whatever comes. For now our exit plan is fuzzy and far in the future. 

The next year? We have a general plan and I have made several reservations in places that it might be difficult to get into at the last minute, but they can be changed. 

A perfectly smooth ride would be boring, so hang on and bounce along with us over the bumps!

Note: I have added a new page to my sidebar listing current, future, and some of our past locations. If you want to know Where we are, where we are going, or are in the same area and want to meet, check it out.

Keeping warm at sunset in San Diego