A Red Rock Country Birthday

Sedona Arizona is simply put, magical. I can’t think of a better place to meet up with friends, hike and celebrate my birthday than this stunning area. The combination of red rocks, desert landscape and beautiful twisted juniper trees make the vistas a visual treat to behold. The colors are constantly changing on the red rock backdrop as the sun moves through the sky and the clouds cast shadows. The sunsets over these vista’s can look like a fire in the sky.

 

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It’s no wonder this area attracts photographers in droves and inspires artists from all over the world to visit, set up a canvas and paint. This area is often called “Red Rock Country” after these most famous, natural landscapes.

 

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Sedona is a four-seasons playground with something for everyone, from the spiritual and metaphysical to more hardcore pursuits such as mountain biking and hiking. It’s an incredibly beautiful place and surprisingly diverse. In less than an hour you can go from a lush zone by the river, into places with autumn foliage and places with open red rock that make you feel like you’re on another planet.

 

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I know I am waxing poetic about Sedona but wow do I love it here. The great thing about our mobile lifestyle is that it is possible to fall in love often, which I do. But the Sedona love bug has grabbed us both hard. Definitely on the short list for someday but for now we still aren’t ready to stop traveling and choose one place to call home.

 

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We came to Sedona to meet up with friends, celebrate birthdays and hike. On my birthday, we did a beautiful hike with Joe, Sharon and Cooper. We took the Little Horse Trail which took us out to Chicken Point where we were surrounded by red rock views.

 

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Later that day we hosted a big rib feed for a group of friends at our coach at the Rancho Sedona RV Park where we are staying. The spread of food was awesome as were the wines that everyone brought. Wally’s St. Louis Style Ribs smoked on the tragegar, Tom’s Famous Cowboy Beans, Kim’s Most Excellent Potato Salad, Birthday Brenda’s Zippy Cilantro Coleslaw, Sharon’s Smokey Traegar Roasted Vegetables and Kim’s Green Chile Cornbread followed by a TJ’s Pumpkin Cheesecake covered in Caheta, Pinenuts and Whipped cream. Did I mention that the wines were incredible??? WOW, did we feast, laugh and just have a fabulous night together!

 

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It was such a fun group…full-time RVers Sharon and Joe from Texas, who we met last year and have since become great friends. Laurie and Tom who we have hiked with, boated with and travel with for years. Tom’s birthday is just a few days after mine so we try to have a birthday meet up every year. Kim and Jim who are also full time Rvers who recently joined us at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and then just happened to be 30 miles away from us the next two weeks. Jim and Wally were colleagues at Intel so it has been fun to get to know them better. Besides a love for travel, we all share a passion for great food and wine – gee, is that a surprise???

It was great to spend time with friends but I also really appreciated hearing from so many friends around the country who called, texted, FB messaged, emailed and sent cards…It was like you were all here with me, XXOO …what a great Birthday!!!

 

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So You Want To Be Balloon Pilot??

Every balloon pilot that I talked to at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) was passionate about the sport – not a surprise right? But passion isn’t going to get you up in the air, flying a hot air balloon. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a pilot’s license, or airman’s certificate, just as you would need for an airplane or any other aircraft.

 

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Mister Z, aka Naughy Zebra is a 105,000 cubic foot special shape balloon piloted by Thom Wight.

 

That license is earned after taking hours of instruction with a balloon pilot instructor, passing an FAA written test, making a solo flight, and passing a flight test with an FAA examiner. Open your check book…plan on spending $2,500 – $5,000 on training to get your license.

That’s a small drop in the basket (hee-hee pun intended) because by now you are probably hooked so you will want a balloon of your own. Of course, you can buy a used one but plan to spend about $25K for a small balloon. Want one of those special shaped, custom-made babies…Now you are really going to spend some serious money, $60K or more.

 

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 Lady Jester was one of Wally’s favorite special shape balloons. She is piloted by Robert and Sally Lupon and is 77.000 cubic feet.

 

Because the FAA regulates hot air balloons, if you need to have it repaired, the repair has to be done on a FAA licensed repair machine and you will need to get the balloon inspected annually or after any repair.

I had an opportunity to spend some time with the pilot of The Spirit of 76, Captain Jason Gabriel of Aurora Colorado. Jason has been flying for a number of years and started as crew for other balloon pilots. He loves flying, so evident by his big, infectious grin. As a matter of fact, his entire family loves ballooning too and they all crew for him.

 

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USAF Captain and Balloon Pilot Jason Gabriel (sitting) and his family/crew.

 

Jason estimates that most balloons have about a 600 hour flytime lifespan. The material, which is often nylon is really thin. The inside of the balloon is coated with wax that helps keep the air in and protect the fabric from the heat that hot air generates when the balloon is inflated. UV breaks down the outside of the material so with the combination of UV and the heat on the inside, the seams eventually give way and the material becomes too thin to hold hot air.

Jason flies The Spirit of 76 about 50 hours a year and also told me it costs roughly $120 an hour to fly – inexpensive, compared to owning a plane or a helicopter is his theory. Jason is an Air Force Captain so clearly he loves being in the air and gets his other flying fixes at work. Thanks Jason for your service and for doing the special demonstration for our Monaco Club Group at AIBF!!!

 

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The Spirit of 76 was in the first AIBF in 1976. Jason is her third owner.

 

Some of the special shaped balloons that we saw at the AIBF are corporate owned or sponsored but most balloon pilots in general are hobbyists. Google research revealed that there are careers in hot air ballooning but it is really a niche career path. Still curious about hot air ballooning…here is another link you can follow to read more.

 

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Sonrise piloted by John Rodden of Oklahoma, landed right in front of our coach. That is Wally in the blue shirt helping him.

 

I don’t think either Wally nor I are jonesing to be a balloon pilot but Wally had a ball being an impromptu crew member for Sonrise. It was an exciting morning when she landed right in front of us. I have a great video (thanks Jim for editing) of Wally in action as Sonrise comes in for a landing.

 

Another Great Day at the Balloon Fiesta

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So other than getting up at 5am again, it was a pretty amazing day at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF). Thursday morning, the wind cooperated so it was a near perfect balloon morning. All the morning events got off with out a hitch and there were so many balloons in the air it was hard to know where to look.

 

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Listening to the morning pilot’s briefing I learned why Albuquerque is the perfect place to host a balloon fiesta. So why Albuquerque you many ask?

 

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Well, turns out the wind currents and air temperature are key to the successful flying of hot air balloons, and Albuquerque has the perfect combination of these elements.

 

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The “Albuquerque Box” is a set of predictable wind patterns that make navigating a balloon fairly simple in ideal conditions. At lower elevations in the Rio Grande Valley, where the city sits, the winds are southerly. At higher elevations, the winds are northerly. So balloon pilots can launch their craft from Balloon Fiesta Park, drift down the Valley, catch another wind current and drift back north and land near the place they started. That doesn’t happen everyday but it did today and we saw many of the balloons come back and land in the Fiesta Park…heck, some were right near our coaches.

 

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The city’s cool morning temperatures also make it easier to fly a balloon; the balloons rise faster in cool air. According to the National Weather Service, Albuquerque’s wind pattern and temperatures are balloon-perfect in October. Yep, it was cool on Thursday morning but hats, gloves and a down coat did the trick.

 

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My favorite event on Thursday morning was the Special Shape Rodeo…seriously, everyone around us was grinning like a kid as we were all surrounded by 92 huge balloons shaped like Yoda, Van Gogh, Darth Vader, Simba, The Lion King, pirates, dogs, cats zebras, a giant boot, penguins and so many more crazy looking creations.

 

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After spending the morning on the field, I was ready for a cup of tea and a bite of something. We headed back to the coach where I was able to watch most of the Competition Balloon Flying right out our giant front window in the warm comfort of the coach. Somehow, we were lucky to be parked in the front row looking right over the fiesta balloon field.

 

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I took this photo right from the inside of the coach looking out our front window

 

 

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Thursday was the first day that there were events going in both the morning and evening. We were excited about the evening Special Shapes Glowdeo but unfortunately, the wind kept that event from happening. Dang wind was just to gusty to make inflating the large, special shaped balloons doable. The major sponsor for this two week extravaganza is Canon and their team of ace balloon pilots tried their best to get the Canon Balloon inflated but in the end it was a no go.

 

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The fireworks did however go off as planned and were right over the balloon field. All we had to do was step outside the coach to our outdoor seating area to watch the amazing 25 minute fireworks show right over head. All in all a great day with so many ways to be awed and amazed.

 

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Frankly, this is why you want to come to the fiesta for 4-5 days…Mother nature works on her own schedule. We will get up early again on Friday to be on the field for another full day of balloon fiesta events and hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate.

 

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WOW, WOW AND MORE WOW…

 

I can’t even begin to describe the awe and wonder that seems to happen to people when they attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Dawn Patrol. So many smiling faces so early in the morning! Pinch me…I am one of those people!!!

 

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Our alarm awoke us at 5 am, which by my standards is just an indecent hour to be awake. That said, today I was eager to get up and get going. We were down on the balloon field before 6 am trying to figure out what the heck was going to happen. The program for the day gives an hourly breakout of events but having never been to AIBF we didn’t know what to expect.

 

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We wandered around the massive balloon field and ended up at the pilots briefing. We found out the morning event was a go – yay!!! Weather, especially the wind dictates a go-no- go event. We learned that wind over 15 mph usually means that the balloons won’t fly – it is just to dangerous. The Sunday prior it was 25-30 MPH all day so all the balloon events were cancelled which would be a big bummer if it was the only day you could have attended.

 

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The Dawn Patrol got started a bit late, but by 6:30 am balloons were inflating and by 7 am they were taking flight. WOW…WOW…WOW…it is so cool to stand right by the balloons while they are inflating and launching. Seeing the fully inflated balloons floating through the sky, burners firing in the dark is just magical.

 

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After the Dawn Patrol was in the air and it was daylight, hundreds more balloons got ready to inflate and launch. There are “zebras” on the field which are actually people dressed in an black and white striped shirts that coordinate each balloons launch so that they don’t all crash into each other.

 

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So many shapes and sizes

 

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I now have proof that pigs can fly!!

 

Rather than explain what each event is about in this and upcoming posts, I will provide you with links in each post to follow so you can read the details if you are interested (just click on the highlighted text to follow a link). Hence to say, I hope the pictures will awe and inspired you to put the International Balloon Fiesta on your bucket list.

 

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The balloons look amazing at every angle!

 

 

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A Beautiful Bounty and a Great Big Burger!!!

Since we left Kennewick Washington the Road House has rolled through Oregon, Idaho and into Utah. The landscape is dotted with fall foliage and we are now cruising in Utah red rock country.

We love 300 mile days and try not to push ourselves much harder than that. Although, we have made exceptions and put the petal to the metal more than once to get to some fabulous wineries!

The last two overnight stops have been too easy, just off the highway RV parks.  We spent one night in rural Caldwell Idaho at the Country Corners RV Park. I had planned a simple dinner of Picante Black Bean Soup with a Spicy Hatch Green Chili Slaw and Corn Bread so we could relax once we arrived (check out the Epicurious page for the recipe) I also knew there was really nothing around that area to do!

 

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The shady picnic area would be a great place to hang out on a hot summer day.

 

The owners at Country Corners RV Park are super nice and invited us to take a walk to the garden and help ourselves. That was an invite I immediately took up after we got all settled in our site.

 

 

 

The grounds around the RV park have started to show off their fall colors. The garden itself is still producing a bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins. The corn had all been harvested but we left with our pockets and bag full…what a bounty. The overnight site only cost $37 and I think the veggies alone were worth that much.

 

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There were sooooo many ripe tomatoes that I could have picked for hours.

 

The following morning we rolled through the rest of mostly flat Idaho farm land that I84 travels along. I will say the area around Twin Falls is just stunning, especially when the Snake River Canyon comes into view. We had an unexpected layover last year in Twin Falls and really enjoyed touring around the area despite our RV woes.

 

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There is a lot to see and to in the Exploring the Snake River Caynon area.

 

Our stopover on Friday night was in Brigham City Utah at the Golden Spike RV Park. This small, family owner park is another place we have stayed before and also has easy access on and off the interstate.

On the counter when I checked in was a big basket of TOMATOES!!! Sandy told me to take as many as I wanted…turns out they have a small but productive tomato garden. Couldn’t refuse a few of her gorgeous heirlooms – SCORE bounty number two!!

 

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I already ate the beauty on the left. It was perfectly ripe…so good with some salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

After getting settled in site 3 and taking Bentley out for some exercise, I had high hopes of visiting the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge where we could get some exercise. The short 1.5 mile walking trail meanders through the wetland habitat just outside the visitors center.  Alas, we arrived to late, the visitor center was closed and the gates all locked. We considered driving the 12-mile Auto Tour Loop that is open everyday from sunrise to sunset but we were both starving so off to Brigham City we went.

The downtown historical area is very quaint and very walkable so we got in a few steps that way. This is Utah, so that means that every town has a very picturesque Mormon Tabernacle.

Brigham City is no exception and for such a small town we were surprised that they had two. The older tabernacle was built in 1865 and is set on a beautiful square at the edge of the historical district.

 

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Just across the street is the newer Brigham City Utah Temple which was completed in 2012. The evening light made for some beautiful photography.

 

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Love the warm glow shining through the stain glass.

 

By now, we were really jonesing to visit the Peach City Diner. This cool, old diner has been around since 1937, thanks to Bill Harris who had a dream of owning an original malt shop and branding his family recipes. We love funky, old diners and by the crowd that was here last night it seems there are lots of other folks who also can’t resist the lure of handmade ice cream, a big fresh burger and sweet potato fries!!

 

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I think the doggie was headed in to order the Big Joe Bacon Cheeseburger too!!

 

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The food was great and the milkshakes were huge so they are now in the Road House freezer, waiting to make a reappearance…maybe tonight!

 

 

 

 

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Of course I had the peach milkshake.

 

Curious about the name Peach City and thanks to Google, I learned that there is a stretch of U.S. 89 from Brigham City to Willard that has become known as “Fruit Way” because of the many seasonal produce stands that line the road. Baskets full of peaches in several varieties stock their tables right now, along with pears, onions, squash, peppers and even ruby-red popcorn kernels. Shoot, wish I had know that earlier so we could have stopped at one of the local fruit stands.

Turns out this area of Utah has a bounty of things to offer so if you are ever traveling Highway 15 be sure to add Brigham City to your list of places to slow down and explore.

 

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Those Damned Frogs…

Our first day back on the road went smoothly…an easy 254 mile drive from Anacortes Washington to Kennewick Washington. We pulled into the Columbia Sun RV Resort around 3:30 pm, got set up in a nice big pull through site, ran some errands then headed out for dinner at J. Bookwalter Winery.

 

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The sites are huge with plenty of space between RV’s.

 

Our only bit of excitement was the Frog Balls incident…Our large front slide pulls in over the pantry and somehow in transit a door popped open and some Frog Balls escaped. Luckily I noticed that the slide wasn’t retracting quite right and stopped before it pulled the pantry door completely off the hinges and jammed up the slide forever.

 

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A window with a view…

 

Damned Frog Balls…I really don’t even like them and have been carrying them around for over a year, meaning to foist them off on someone at a happy hour. Hmm, I am for sure getting rid of them of them at a Balloon Fiesta happy hour!!!

Okay, so they are not real frog balls…they are pickled brussel sprouts which sound okay in theory but they are kinda mushy and sour – yuck.

Anyway, the damn jar fell out of the partially open cabinet door and wedged perfectly in the narrow area between the slide wall and the cabinet.  Wally, being Mr Smartie, figured out that if he took off the undamaged pantry door he could reach in and get the nasty frog balls. Disaster averted, slide went out and Mr. Smartie fixed the door…wife of smartie was chastised for using storage bins that were too big and put pressure on the door – damned frogs balls anyway!!!

 

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The view through the window down to the source of the problem.

 

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Stupid Frog Balls…I guess I should be grateful that the jar didn’t break and spill its nasty sour juice everywhere.

 

On the upside, The Columbia Sun RV Resort is a beautiful park, 145 big sites on 25 nicely landscaped acres with a long list of amenities such as a heated swimming pool, hot tub, exercise room, off leash dog parks, frisbee golf, pickle ball courts, laundry facilities and a store. Plenty of room for big rigs too.

 

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Not only is the park spotless and well maintained, the staff is very friendly and provide you with a personal escort to your site. Nice touch!

 

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While we were just passing through the area, there are plenty of reasons to make this area a destination visit and stay for a week…or more. Wineries…lots and lots of great wineries, 10 golf courses, fishing on the Columbia River and miles of paved trails for biking or walking. Had we not had a series of medical appointments and boat repairs to coordinate, we would have left at least two weeks earlier and spent more time meandering through this beautiful area.

Since we had limited time to explore, we headed over to J.Bookwalter Winery for dinner at their Fiction Restaurant. Happy Hour is the dealsky here but thanks to the Frogs Balls (which I dislike even more now) we didn’t make happy hour and got to pay full price for dinner and wine….wahhhh!

The food was good and we went casual… splitting a harvest salad, Wally had the house made fennel sausage pizza and I had the waygu beef tacos. We opted for a 6 oz pour of Syrah and Malbec which were very tasty but at $14 each I would say J.Bookwater thinks quite highly of their wines!

 

 

With so much to do in this area we left wishing we had a few more days to relax and explore. Note to self, always stay longer in any wine country area and DON’T buy any pickled vegetables with snappy names!!!

 

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The Road House is Rolling….

Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” is blasting in the coach as we are rolling down the highway. The next five days will be drive days…Kennewick WA, Boise ID, Brigham City, UT, Moab UT and Gallup NM are our planned overnight stops. Monday the 8th we will roll into the Balloon Festival Grounds in Albuquerque NM where we plan to meet up with friends at The Monaco International RV Group site. Bucket list event…can’t wait!
Today we were a bit slow getting out of Anacortes, taking our time to double-check everything on the coach and the car since it has been about 4 months since we (okay, Wally) has been behind the wheel. After fueling and weighing the coach at a local weigh station, we finally got on I5 around 10 am.

 

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We had a great stay at Fildalgo Bay RV Resort …great view out our front window of Padilla Bay and Mt. Baker.

 

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We had one last crab feed before leaving Anacortes. Thanks Ted and Marsha for the fresh steamed and oh, so delicious crabbies.

The left side rear side of the coach is heavier than the right side by almost 1,000 lbs so we will have to do a bit of repacking in Kennewick. Hmm, could it be that pesky wine again??? Having the weight distributed evenly makes the coach handle better and also prevents overload wear and tear on the tires.
It is nice day to be driving across Western Washington and it feels great to be “On the Road Again! Good Bye for now Anacortes…see you next spring!

 

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Headed over Snoqualmie Pass…yep, there is a bit of snow on that peak.

 

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