Thursday, September 29, 2011

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

We drove into Durango, CO and settled in at the Alpen Rose RV Park located just north of the town of Durango. We were impressed with the beauty of the area as we drove into the park. 

We initially figured we would stay here just a few days, but ended up staying a week, both because of the beauty of the area and for Rick to complete a few maintenance items on the coach. We had a good site and enjoyed the park.

The next morning, we stopped by the Durango McDonalds for coffee and Rick heard a steam train whistle! Whoa! There, right next door to the McDonalds, as seen above, is the Durango and Silverton railroad which runs steam trains to Silverton, CO about 50 miles to the north.

 Rick is a big train fan, especially steam trains, which are very hard to find. He went outside to find locomotive 486 getting ready to head out of Durango. Wow! What a find.

 The 486, a Baldwin Locomotive Works product dating from 1925, hauled a long train of some 14 cars filled with people. This is a real trip to the past.

Rick is in his glory. A real steam locomotive ready to roll AND he gets his coffee too. Things don't get much better than this.

 A couple minutes later, the 486 whistled and chugged out of the station. Traffic on the cross street in front of the McDonald's was stopped and the train eased forward with a great display of smoke and steam.

 The driving wheels on the 486 are very small, giving it a tremendous amount of low speed torque, which is just what it needs to climb the steep grades up the mountain. A round trip on the train to Silverton and back takes about 8 hours, so it is a full day.

The mountains are steep toward Silverton, as we found out later when we drove up there, and we thought about the train working its way north. This was a great opportunity to see trains in action.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Arches National Park - What an Amazing Place

 Arches National Park is located just a couple miles north of Moab, UT and just to the east of Canyonlands Park, yet the differences between them are dramatic. Arches, of course, features a number of stone arches, but offers much more in remarkable stone formations like this.

 Orinda was really impressed with the balancing rocks that we saw all over the park, such as these. Apparently, the soil below the rocks erodes away,leaving the rock balanced above.

 Rock towers such as these were throughout the park. We were surprised at the way the rocks stood by themselves - the Canyonlands rock formations seemed to be shoulder to shoulder with others.

 As we drove into the park, we saw more of the balanced rocks which made for almost an alien environment. This is the sort of park that new views pop out around each turn.

 About halfway into the park, we saw the first arches. These solid stone arches are eroded over many, many years, to create the arch form. The park features more natural arches than any other place on earth.

 This is the most famous balanced rock in the park. The rock is huge and it is hard to believe that it is 55' high making for a total height of 128'. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most popular features in the park.

 Close to balanced rock, we saw this rock column and at second glance, we saw rock climbers scaling the face. Look closely and you can see one person in blue near the bottom and another on the top right of the column. While it was interesting to watch, Orinda was not too excited about trying to climb it.

 Rick was impressed with this large arch in the "Windows" area of the park. This arch is huge (it is about 1/2 mile away) with the sandstone being worn down over the years. Rick was also really happy that the weather was perfect! He was here a few years ago in the summer and WOW was it hot!

 This is Double Arch which is shaped like a tripod. This is a huge formation and I wonder how long it took to create this remarkable shape.

 Another famous arch is Delicate Arch - so named for its delicate look. However, this is no small arch formation -- indeed, you can get an idea as to the size by looking at the person in blue next to the rock on the right of the arch. This arch is over 50' high and is unique for its isolated presence.

 Arches are found throughout the park and each one is different. This is another huge arch located near the back of the park. We really enjoyed our visit to the park and the amazing rock formations inside. If you are ever in the southern Utah area, Arches and Canyonlands are a must visit.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Canyon Lands National Park -- an Island in the Sky!

Canyonlands National Park is located about 5 miles north of Moab, UT and almost directly across the street from Arches, National Park. These are both spectacular parks, but surprisingly different. As you enter Canyon Lands, you first travel past these two large mesas named the Monitor (right) and Merrimack, which were named after the Civil War ironclads. I guess, with some imagination, we could kind of see the two warships here, but in any case, these were beautiful rock formations.

 The entrance to Canyonlands is about 20 miles to the south after turning off the main road from Moab. There are several interesting stops, including these cactus which are growing in one of the pot holes on top of solid rock as you can see above. These are the early stages of erosion that will eventually create new canyons of the future.

 Driving along the entrance road, we came to the Canyonlands Visitor Center. Named Island in the Sky, we didn't realize at this time that we really were on a mesa way up in the sky -- and surrounded by deep canyons.

 A few miles after the entrance, we figured out the Island in the Sky idea as we came upon these amazing canyons. These are a couple thousand feet deep and several miles in width.

 Wow! these are very large canyons! We could see well over 50 miles and it was a great view to consider the floor of the canyon. In this case, the canyon houses the Colorado River, although it was so far below us, we could not see it from here.

 Here, you can clearly see a small, dirt road that folks can drive with a Jeep or dirt bike. These are very popular activities, but we decided that our trusty Buick might be better off on the top of the mesa rather than down on the bottom!

 There are all kinds of interesting rock spires, mesas and formations that stand in the canyon areas. This is the second main canyon, formed by the Green River and will eventually join the Colorado at the end of the Island in the Sky, a few miles south of us.

 Rick really enjoyed looking at the rocks, drop-offs and canyons. Orinda, on the other hand, does not like heights -- and we had PLENTY of heights and dropoffs here. Needless to say, she was content to stay a bit back and take the occasional picture.
 Here, we are approaching the union of the two canyon systems (Colorado and Green Rivers) and the canyons are getting very, very wide. The formations in the background are about 40 miles away.

 This is part of the Grand View, where the canyons join. You can see three distinct levels in the canyons -- the top, where we are, then the next level where there are white deposits around the deeper canyon and then the very bottom of the canyon. Each level of about 1,000 feet deep, so the bottom is a good 2,000' below us.

 Orinda was not delighted to be standing here, but wanted to get a good look at this huge canyon system. It did not take her long to get her fill of the canyon!

We had a great visit of several hours at Canyonlands Park. The scenery is unlike almost anywhere else we have been and is well worth the visit.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The La Sal Road near Moab, UT -- Great Drive

 We arrived in Moab, UT from Salt Lake City after dealing with lots of road construction which caused Rick to miss his morning coffee - and he was crabby. Fortunately, he was delighted when we got to Moab and saw the fabulous sites in the area. In fact, our first day there was spent traveling on the nearby La Sal Mountain Road. This great scenic drive starts just north of Moab and first follows the Colorado River in this spectacular canyon. 
 The canyon walls next to the river are amazing. Here, you can see a new stone arch in the making which is being carved right into the rock.

 The road is cut right into the base of the rock wall as you can see here -- we felt a bit insecure as we drove under the wall, next to the river. Imagine the forces that are at play in carving this rock wall.

We eventually emerged from the deep canyon and saw these mesas and remarkable rock formations along the river's edge. 

 After a few miles, we turned south, away from the river and entered a very different type of terrain as typified by this huge mesa that seemed to grow vertically out of the ground.

 The formations became ever more interesting, such as this stone spire seen here. This is probably familiar from a number of western movies and TV commercials (in fact, Chevrolet actually used a helicopter to hoist a car up to the top. Not sure how this helped sell Chevy's, but the rock is pretty cool.)

 Soon, we began to climb on the La Sal mountain and soon got to see landmarks we had passed along the way. In fact, you can see rock spire formations we had just seen. This was a beautiful view as the skies cleared, so we headed up on the mountain.

 The storm that went through the night before was exiting toward the east and was still over the La Sal Mountain. It was fun to see the top of the mountain at 12,750', covered in clouds. We also learned a bit later that it was pretty cold up there!

 One of the amazing things of this drive is the different terrain we covered in only 60 miles. First, we drove through rock canyons and then remarkable rock formations. Then, we began to climb the mountain into forests and lush growth. This is clearly seen above where the forest suddenly changes into wild rock canyons and spires.

 This sign kind of sums it up. The road climbs very steeply with sharp curves, but is no problem as long as you keep it slow and under control.

After an hour of hill climbing, the sun came out fully and we could see the results of the clouds on the mountains -- new snow! This is now mid September and we can tell that winter is on its way.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Working on the Coach

This post will take a short look at some of the little projects Rick has been messing around with on the coach. Fulltime RVing means there is always something to putter around with!

Replacing Halogen bulbs with LEDs

Rick has been interested in replacing some of the halogen lights in the ceiling of the coach. The halogens are hot, use quite a bit of electricity and burn out quickly. 

This LED light, on the other hand, is supposed to run cool, last a long time and give good light. We will see. 

The installation is easy, but some LED lights must be installed with respect to polarity - if the socket is not wired with correct polarity (polarity does not matter with halogen bulbs), the LED light will not operate and you will need to reverse the wires to the socket. Fortunately, you can also buy bulbs with circuitry that eliminates this issue and Rick thought were well worth the extra couple dollars. 

Anyway, after plugging it in, we tried it and success! Looks like nice illumination.

 With the light cover screwed back in, we were delighted to find that the LED lights were actually brighter than the old halogens. I think we will move to replace all the commonly used bulbs in the coach, but at $10 to $14 a bulb, this will take a while!

New Plug on the Brake Buddy:

We have used a Brake Buddy for supplemental braking in our towed car with great success for several years. Lately, however, Rick noticed that the Brake Buddy was acting erratically and did some investigation. He found that the cigarette lighter plug used to connect the Brake Buddy had corroded and was overheating. 

Rick did not like the cigarette plug since it seemed to be loose, so he bought some high amperage in-line plugs to simply replace the cigarette plug route. These are simply installed by soldering on the ends on the male/female ends.

 Once soldered on, the ends just plug into the nylon socket and we were ready to go.

 Success! The plugs work great and provide the Brake Buddy with consistent, strong and reliable 12 volt power. The Brake Buddy operated much better and this upgrade has totally solved the issues.

The Fabulous Collapsible Bucket!
 While not seemingly an exciting little project, Rick found he was always dragging out a bucket to clean the windshield, or wash the coach. The bucket was always in the way when stored and, being round, did not fit the rectangular brush we used. But, when he saw this rectangular bucket he was impressed. Mad of a waterproof fabric, it is very light and easy to lift.

 Hey, look at this! It folds up into a couple inches high instantly. Interesting.

Finally, the collapsed bucket fits into this handy cover. Wow, this thing stores anywhere, unfolds instantly, and works great. Rick is a much happier camper when cleaning the coach now.