Monday, May 29, 2017

South, West, and the Numbers

With Kansas City receding into the background, we're looking forward to cruising across the Oklahoma/Kansas border to eventually wind up back near Four Corners for the summer. Our immediate goal was to stop at places we might not ordinarily, and try to save some cash at the same time. RV parks are pricey to start with, and not really all that interesting as a rule.

We have a number of tools at our disposal to help save a buck or two while we travel. One, The Overnight Parking Website, (paywall) has a database of places to stop, including parking lots, businesses, and small parks that welcome gypsies like us.

One that stood out was Downstream Casino. It sits at the junction of the Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma state lines. The parking area for RVs, according to Google Earth, is in Kansas, while the casino itself sits in Oklahoma on the tribal lands of the Quapaw - the People who moved downstream.

Here's the deal - if you register at the Casino, you receive your standard casino club card, and with card comes one free night at the RV lot. Since there are two of us, each with our own cards, we get two nights. The thinking, of course, is that while you're parked there, you'll drop a few bucks at the slots or tables. The cards come pre-loaded with a small amount of negotiable points that you can use to play at the casino.

We took our cards and headed to one of the casino restaurants, had a nice dinner, and settled in for a couple hours of small-stakes slots. Once the provided money was gone, we walked back across the lot to home, sweet, home.

We spent the next day lounging around and looking for photographs in nearby towns. Then, it's time to move on.

Baxter Springs, Kansas

Baxter Springs, Kansas
 We looked up a good place to stop a bit farther west. We found a city-owned and maintained RV park next to a large lake in El Reno, Oklahoma. Twenty bucks a night with full hookups - water, electric, and sewer -the RVers holy trinity. Quiet and clean, you couldn't ask for more, and the price was right.

El Reno, Oklahoma
A thought about traveling. We are not on vacation, but we like to see and experience local flavor as we go. Two hundred miles is along day for us. Our rig requires a different level of concentration to get down the road, and we learned a valuable lesson about overdoing things a couple of years back. 
Coming home from an amazing concert with Lyle Lovett and the Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills near Strong City, we opted to drive home instead of finding a place to stay closer to the concert. As we cruised north on I-35, Kath was already dozing as I got a bit sleepy at the wheel. I fell asleep while the truck was on cruise control at 70 mph. The rumble strips on the side of the road woke me just two car-lengths behind a slow-moving Toyota. I was going to hit him at a closing speed of twenty mph, and then run off the road, and down a steep ravine. 
We just don't push it any more. Not worth it. There are more concerts I want to see.

Amarillo was another stop dictated by miles. A nice RV park, but even the nicest park is just a place to park. The killer coming across Oklahoma and into the Texas Panhandle was the relentless wind. We bucked a 40 mph headwind from El Reno to Amarillo. Even slowed down to a frugal 65 mph on a 75 mph interstate, our mileage dropped to 7.2 mpg! I thought it was a fluke, or that something was wrong with the truck. These diesels pull so effortlessly, that a full load into a headwind doesn't feel any different than flat and level at 55.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Happy, Texas
Amarillo to Santa Rosa, New Mexico was another howling gale, and the mileage stayed about the same. The park was again, a place to park, and an exercise in how not to deal with customers. It took three phone calls to make a reservation, and was asked at least once to call back later. Your customers shouldn't have to do the heavy lifting to do business with you.

Fortunately, Santa Rosa was a photographically target-rich environment.

Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Santa Rosa, New Mexico
From there, we set off again, still fighting the wind, to another casino, this one on I-25, a part of the San Felipe Pueblo. Same rules as before, except this was a $20 one-night electric-only stay. The massive parking lot gave us a chance to polish our trailer-backing and walkie-talkie skills before we set out again.

Onward to another city-owned park. The Coronado Campground in Bernalillo, New Mexico, just up the road from Albuquerque. It sits next door to the Coronado Historic Site, a beautifully maintained and restored pueblo. It is definitely worth the stop. Take the guided tour.

Our plan from here was originally to make several stops in the desert areas in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. These were all to be "boondocking" adventures. Boondocking, in RV terms is a stay where no utilities are present. You bring your own water, and supply your own power. For us, the power is battery, converted to 110v AC for the refrigerator. All of our lighting is 12v DC.
Our house batteries will last all night and them some, but the next day, need to be recharged. We have an RV-friendly (read quiet) generator, but it requires a physical commitment that I don't look forward to when we travel. It's heavy, and the effort to remove it from the rig is substantial and awkward. Gasoline is involved. I'd prefer to keep it for times when we just have to have the boost.
Of, course, we've been so involved with making travel plans that the opportunity to order the solar panels that would make our boondocking time less intrusive never presented itself. Traveling full-time can present challenges even for Amazon to get things shipped to you on a timely basis. 
So went skipped the idea of boondocking - for now - we shot back upstream to Santa Fe for a couple of days. Another nice park, another chance to chill a bit and wander. Got into Santa Fe and the Atomic City, Los Alamos before we headed back toward Colorado and our summer hosting position.
 The numbers for the month of May:

  • Total miles driven: 2,969
  • Average Miles Per Day: 95.8
  • Number of overnight stops: 11
  • Total cost for overnights: $640.32
  • Average cost per day, overnights: $20.66
  • Average stay per stop: 2.8 nights
  • Fuel consumed: 202 Gallons #2 Diesel
  • Average MPG* : 14.68
  • Fuel Cost: $539.52
  • Repairs: $372
  • Tolls: $22
  • Total cost for the month**: $1573.84
  • Average cost per day, inclusive: $50.77

*Includes travel without trailer attached. When in full travel mode, combined gross vehicle weight averages 22,750 lbs. The truck alone is approximately 7,800 pounds.
** Pure travel cost only. Doesn't include other items - wifi, t-shirts, food, cat toys, or guitar strings

More from beautiful Southwestern Colorado soon.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Going to Kansas City

Our escape from Bennett Spring State Park was a narrow one. Rainstorm after rainstorm rolled into the area, and by the time our Mayday exit date approached, a real Mayday was going out because of flood waters in the park.

Right up to the bridge

This is our exit road.

We had a route out of the campground area for cases like this, but it was a narrow path, with a couple of sharp bends, and a tail-dragging dip, so we were relieved that on the morning of the first of May, the waters had receded to the point where we could get out. We were going to be leaving with our share of mud on our rig, but were leaving all the same.

We headed north to Arrow Rock State Historic Site for a couple of days. We had been there before during our shakedown summer of 2015, so it was a known quantity, and since we received free Missouri camping vouchers for our service at Bennett Spring, our stay there was free. Free is good.

Arrow Rock
Arrow Rock

I imagined Arrow Rock as being a psychological buffer between being on the road and our heading back to Kansas City after nearly a year and a half on the road. I probably could have used some more buffer, truth be known.

We hit the eastern edge of the Kansas City area and set up housekeeping at Lake Jacomo Campground in Fleming Park. Jacomo was a regular recreation stop for us before we started traveling, and I had been going there since I first got a car, but the campground was a nice surprise. A gated campground staffed with full-time, paid hosts, the camp was quiet, well-maintained, and had plumbing-bursting 95 p.s.i of water pressure. You have been warned.

I went to see my dentist the first full day there, and while negotiated the Westport traffic, Kath headed over to see our new great-granddaughter Harper. My planned lunch with long-time pal and former client Jo Coleman fell victim to an erratic electrical system on our rig. I called a service company, and they shifted our Friday appointment to the following Monday. Day shot.

We went to the Polish Festival, "Polski Day" on Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kansas, and saw another buddy and former client Tim Sostarich. Tim played with the polka band at the festival, and we had a good time catching up and chowing down on the church-basement Polish food. I have a history with that church basement, and my adopted Polish family, the Egnatics, that goes back to the early '70s. The Polish/Croatian/Czech/Ukranian communities in Kansas City, Kansas do a wonderful job of keeping their proud heritages alive and well, and passed on to their kids and grandkids. I envy them that.
Tim Sostarich with a traveling Buc-ee's Ambassador

Sunday was BBQ day - finally. I know that barbecue preferences will start a fight nearly anywhere in the U.S., but in my less-than-humble opinion, there is nothing that even comes close to Kansas City BBQ. Our favorite stop is a small pit in Independence, Missouri called, "A Little BBQ Joint". Yes, I know, Kansas City has more famous stops - Bryant's the requisite stop for presidents, Gate's, Fiorella's Jack Stack, Smokestack, LC's, Joe's Kansas City all have their followers. But no one does
better burnt ends than A Little BBQ Joint. Burnt ends are the key to eating this stuff, and theirs melt in your mouth like meat candy. Their Bloody Marys are designed to incapacitate you, and are served with a plank each of brisket and thick, smoked, bacon. Bring a driver.

Burnt ends at A Little BBQ Joint

The rest of the stay in Kansas City was uneventful - I did get to see fellow gearhead and photo blood brother David Hutson for a few minutes, but then had to beat feet back to the park to meet my service tech. A few hours and as many hundreds of dollars later, issue solved, or at least worked around.

I had plans to catch up with a number of friends, but the actual number turned out to be two. I was unable to meet up with a dozen or more people that I really wanted to see. In the course of twenty-five years in the studio, I made many good friends, and those good friends helped me make a comfortable living in photography. I'm thinking it will be at least a couple of years, maybe more, before I see KC again, and that's a long time. 

My home town is finally starting to come into its own, and is poised to take its place among the great cities of America. Much credit to Mayor Sly James, The City Council, and the Council of Governments for allowing Kansas City to finally begin to meet its potential. Mover and shaker Tracey Leiwicke once told me, "In Kansas City, no idea is good enough." Right now, Kansas Citians are looking at replacing their 45 year-old airport, and the predictable wailing and gnashing will likely go on for a while. When the new terminal is in place, the airlines will be able to utilize its central location to create a much better passenger experience in and out of the area. Kansas City's future can then really take shape. Everything will finally be up to date in Kansas City.

But, we have to go. So, with Kansas City in our rearview mirror, we set sail for Oklahoma and a casino experience.