We were able to spend 3 days with Randy’s sister Tina and her family in Oklahoma. About 3 months ago their son Brandon married a beautiful Chinese lady named Summer. He met her while he was in China last year on a mission trip and decided he couldn’t live without her, so they came back to Oklahoma and got married. There is a ton of red-tape to get through so she can stay here, but they are working on it. Tina's house is in the country, where we saw some beautiful sunsets across the fields.

Friday Brandon had to work but we joined Summer, Tina and Garrett on a drive around the area. The nearby towns are small but we found plenty of stores to check out. We got some groceries and then looked through an antique store where Randy found a Chinese cookbook for Summer. That night Summer cooked us a fantastic dinner - not from the cook book, but from memory of her mother’s cooking. That event Tina’s daughter Erica and her husband Nathan stopped by for a visit, although they couldn't stay for dinner.

The next day we taught Summer to ride a bike. She can’t get a driver’s license here yet so she needs another way to get around. In return she taught us to use Skype, which she uses to talk to her family in China. For dinner that night Randy made pulled pork - something Summer had not tried before.

Sunday Garrett and Tina drove us to Oklahoma City for a day of tourism. First we went to an Oriental store called Super Cay Nguyen Market where these guys caught my eye - all lined up and ready for someone's dinner pot.

Then we parked at Bricktown, a section of the city that is being developed into a nice area to walk around or take a boat ride. We got good nachos at Texadelphia and great gelato at the Candy Company.

Monday we had to leave again; we got as far as Downstream Casino. Downstream’s road entrance is in Missouri, its parking lot is in Kansas and the casino and hotel are in Oklahoma. They have free electric hookups for RVers, as long as you go into the casino to get a Player’s Card. I lost $5 again - I think my system may need some work.

By the way, altogether we spent $31.25 in tolls in Oklahoma, and the toll roads weren’t as good as you would think.

Tuesday we stopped by Bass Pro in Springfield to get the tip of Randy's fly fishing pole fixed. There are several Bass Pro shops around now, but this is the original and they feel required to make it the biggest. I could not begin to count the number of stuffed and mounted animals they have set up on the walls and ceiling.

Then we went to Bennett Springs, which was our first stop on our journey west back in 2009. And on Wednesday Randy not only caught his limit of 4 trout, but we still had time to drive over to Lebanon.

Thursday we arrived back in St. Louis. We haven’t been here for almost 2 years, so a few things have changed - like the work on Clayton road is done! We decided to celebrate being back in St. Louis by going to Carl’s Deli for a pastrami sandwich and to World’s Fair Doughnuts for dessert. These are two places we really missed - they are must-stops for anyone in the area.

. . . .What happened to the weather here? Is that snow in tomorrow's forecast?!?!

Wednesday March 15, 2011

Our second day in Albuquerque we took the train, the Rail Runner, to Santa Fe. The cars are double decker and we rode on the top deck. The ride up took about 1 1/2 hours and during much of the trip we were crossing Indian country. Prior to entering their country the train conductor requested that we take no pictures; we had to guess this was out of respect for the Indians beliefs.

When we got to Santa Fe it was close to noon so we went to Tomasita's restaurant for lunch. They have really great mexican food and they serve wonderful soapapillas. The soapapillas were huge and, when filled with honey, delicious.

After lunch we walked around the town and did some sight seeing and shopping. There are a lot of famous churches here. There is a lovely old church called Lorreto Chapel with an unusual staircase. The choir loft was built without a staircase, which wasn’t that unusual for small churches at that time (1877). A regular staircase would have used up almost a third of the space needed for pews. Ladders were often used to access choir lofts, but in this church the nuns didn’t want to climb up ladders so they prayed for an answer. An unknown carpenter created a circular staircase that used up very little space, making 2 tight circles. The stairs did not have any handrails until 1887, when the sisters decided that although the stairs were sturdy, they were too high to navigate with comfort without banisters. The added handrails are of darker wood and the combination is striking.

The altarpiece is made of wood and painted to look like marble, and the stations of the cross are made from marble dust. We are non-denominational so we we don't understand all the details, but it is beautiful.

And the Basilica of St. Francis is located in Santa Fe. We really like the ceiling in this one.

The San Miguel Church is supposed to be the oldest church in the US. It is built on the adobe walls and floor built by the Tlaxcalan Indians around 1610, under the direction of Franciscan fathers. Inside it retains some of the simpler artifacts.

Of course there are things besides churches here. For example, what is advertised

as the oldest house in the US is here. Portions of it date from 1610, although it’s not clear how much of that adobe remains.

And there are lots of stores markets. One side of the downtown square is reserved for only Native Indians, while the rest of the square is filled with other vendors.

After our exhausting shopping we did what we do best, eat. We went to the Route 66 Casino where if you get a players card you get a buffet lunch for $5.00. Well, we did just that. The food was great so if you are ever in the area check it out, you won't be disappointed.

The next day was low-key. We went to Rio Grande to buy some jewelry supplies. During our shopping trip I think all of us, including Clyde and Nancy got an education in jewelry making. It turns out there are many possibilities when it comes to findings, wire wrapping wire and tools. But we got through it, even though it did take us 2 trips.

Then we had to do the hard part of RVing, which is leaving friends. The few days we spent with Clyde and Nancy have been so enjoyable. Not only are they great tour guides but they are a lot of fun. We want to thank them for being great hosts and good friends, and can't wait to spend time with them again.

We started moving east again, and without a scheduled stop, we just kept moving. We drove out of New Mexico, across the Texas panhandle, and into Oklahoma before stopping around 9 pm at the Lucky Star Casino. Not only did they let us park there overnight, they let us know that we could hook up to an outlet for 20 amp power.

Thursday we drove to visit Randy’s sister Tina and her family near Lawton, Oklahoma. But it's close to midnight now, so this blog is closed for the night.

March 13, 2011

We just finished spending a week in Casa Grande, Arizona, visiting friends. We stayed at the Escapee park this time, and we were glad to find that Bonnie and Ken Woepke were there again. They are the folks who got us interested in full-time RVing. I worked with them at Enterprise several years ago, and when they retired in 2001 they got in an RV and headed for Alaska. Randy and I were fascinated with the opportunities that full-timing offered and decided to become full-timers ourselves. We have met up with them a few times since then, and they offered advice for our Alaskan trip. This time we were able to visit with them for a couple of days, catching up and having fun.

We also visited good friends in Quail Run - Skip and Bev, Marv and Dee, Bob, and others. It was so good to find everyone in good health and good spirits. We were fortunate our schedule put us there at this time - a couple of weeks later and we would have missed everyone, as they headed for their own summer destinations.

Our next stop was Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. For us this town doesn't have much to offer except their hot springs. But Randy had been driving for several hours and a long soak in natural hot springs seemed like an excellent way to relax, so we stopped there for the night. We went to the Riverbend Hot Springs, which look out over the Rio Grande river (which is not very wide at that point). $15 per person for an hour, and well worth it.

Yesterday we drove into Albuquerque, New Mexico to meet up with Clyde and Nancy, also friends from our days at Quail Run. They welcomed us with a steak dinner last night, and today stepped into the role of tour guides. They lived here for several years before they retired, so they know the area well.

The day started with a trip to see the remains of three small volcanos. Although they are long extinct and quite worn down, I was still fascinated by them.

We hiked up the largest one. A vague, general shape of the crater is all that can be seen now. The volcano had blown out on one side, so the old crater slopes out that side. In the photo below, Randy is on the left, walking around what remains of the crater rim.

It was surprisingly cold and windy out there!

Next Clyde drove us out to Rinconada Canyon to see petroglyphs. We had to hike again, but once again, it was totally worth it. All along the trail you can see petroglyphs, although sometimes we had to climb a bit to get a good look. I am always fascinated by very old things, so I loved these.

Today was the last day of the 23rd Rio Grande Arts and Craft Festival so next we went to see it. This is a really nice event - the quality of the art work was remarkable. If we still had a large house, we would have definitely bought some art here! I hope to exhibit my ivory work here in the future.

Next our tour guides took us to a place where ancient pueblos had been discovered. The community was known as Kuana, which in the ancient Tiwa language means “evergreen”. It has been dated from the early 1500s and contained over 1,500 rooms, build over a period of time. I am not sure if these ruins are from the original people or from reconstructions build later.

For dinner we went to the Range Cafe, where they serve good Mexican food as well as nice selection of non-Mexican fare.

The last event of our day was a visit to the Sandia Peak Tramway. This is the longest aerial tram in the world, covering 2.7 miles and rising 3,819 feet.

Our tour guides did such a great job that they not only filled the day with wonderful experiences, they also timed it so that the tram ride coincided with a beautiful sunset.

We stayed at the top until the sun set almost completely. The tram literature says the view covers 11,000 square miles. In the evening, when Albuquerque is lit up, it’s amazing!

March 5, 2011

Well, we are on the road again! It was hard to leave our family in Riverside but we have commitments to keep elsewhere, so we gave in to the inevitable and headed east.

Before we left Southern California we spent a couple of days in San Diego with Randy's brother Butch and his lovely wife Lina. We hit 3 buffets in 2 days - a new record, and one we are not in a hurry to break soon. One of those buffets was at the Valley View Casino, where they offer a free lobster buffet when you sign up for a players card. So we all said "Sign me up!" It turns out they also have crab legs on the buffet, so I didn't even got to the lobster. Nothing can beat good home-cooking, including this, but it was one of the best restaurant meals I've had. Crab legs dipped in melted butter, fresh avocado slices (if you haven't tried avocado with salt and pepper, please try it!) mashed potatoes with beef gravy, and creamy macaroni and cheese. Carrot cake (my favorite non-chocolate dessert), chocolate covered strawberries, and cookies-and-cream ice cream. WOW. Randy said the lobster was also great, but I was just too full to try it.

Besides all the buffets, we had a nice visit with Butch and Lina. Lina loves flowers and she has transformed her small backyard into a garden paradise.

We tried our best to win a fortune at the casino, but that didn't happen so we turned the wheels east. First stop - Oasis Palms, where we parked the RV and drove the Jeep to the Mexican border town of Los Algadones for a quick shopping tour.

Medical services are a huge draw in this town. There are dozens of pharmacies, eye doctors, and a surprising number of dental clinics. I have heard only good things about the dentists here and twice we've had our teeth cleaned with good results, but I still get a kick from their unorthodox appearance. The dental clinics are are well advertised but hidden behind the abundance of more standard tourist fare.

The business of this small town is 100% tourism. They sell t-shirts, hats, sterling silver, leather purses, belts, liquor, snacks, pottery and almost everything else. The hot, dry weather here makes it perfectly natural to use building roofs to dry pottery.

We never drive in Mexico; we park on the US side and walk across the border. But it is possible to drive across. I don't know why anyone would drive in Los Algadones - the town is not much more than 2 streets long and 4 blocks wide, and the wait to drive back across the border is very long because of the security checks. But to make sure drivers don't get bored while they wait, venders kindly walk beside them, keeping them company and offering some last-minute bargains.

Now we are in Casa Grande, Arizona for a few days. During the winter of 2009-2010 we stayed in nearby Arizona City, and some of the friends we made then are here again this year. So it's a great chance to catch up with them and revisit a few sites before continuing eastward.