Trips to Arizona to work on our new Foretravel Early 2001

As many of you know, we bought a new-to-us Foretravel motorhome and took out-of-state delivery.  To avoid paying state sales tax, it needs to remain out of California for at least 91 days.  We accepted delivery in Ehrenburg, stayed there until I installed Betty's lift which I had pre-engineered for indoor mounting, machined the required mounting parts, and brought it all to meet the motorhome.  I successfully installed it in the first several days.  Now Betty can get into and out of the motorhome!  We then moved to a park in Buckeye, AZ and rented a monthly site there.  We plan to visit on work trips several times before we make a long trip before returning home.

Friday March 2, 2001


This is to be a work trip.  We are staying in our Foretravel in its spot in Buckeye, AZ for about a week, while I do a number of tasks on the motorhome.

We left home on Wednesday around 8:40.  It was overcast and wet, but not raining.  We decided to try highway 78 from home to just west of Blythe, then I-10 to Buckeye.  We had drizzle on and off for the first couple of hours, but not bad, we even had a few snowflakes around Julian.  Banner grade, out of Julian, is longer than I had remembered, plus we ran into a fairly long section of winding grades east of Scissors Crossing (S2).

As we reached flatland again, we started seeing light spots in the clouds and actually saw blue in a few spots in the distance.  Pretty soon, we were in an area of scattered clouds and bright sunshine.  As we approached I-10, there were a number of discrete storm cells, some with obvious rain.  We went through several fairly strong showers, then it dried up again.  

I think the weather worked in our favor as traffic on 78 was almost non-existent, and even on I-10, it was very light.

We made it to Buckeye within 5 minutes of the time it took us when we followed the dealer through Hemet to I-10 near Beaumont.

We pulled in by the motorhome, and she still is beautiful!  There is even more of a "new motorhome" smell than I remembered from before.

I decided to work on a "fun" job first, so started removing panels in the cabinets above the windshield.  The standard location for the Foretravel CD changers is in the right upper cabinet.  The center cabinet has the VCR and antenna switch box.  It will have the satellite receiver one of these days.

Speaking of satellite, I pulled the dish out from the storage bay, staked the tripod down behind the motorhome, pointed the dish directly at the palm tree I had determined was a good target, and went in to set up the receiver.  There was no receiver!  I LEFT THE SATELLITE RECEIVER HOME!!!

I cannot believe that I did that!  We are back to the stone age of watching local TV and listening to the radio!

Back to the CD changer (which I pulled from the Gulfstream, along with the Sony radio that controls it, before trading it in).  After pulling the wood panels, there is plenty of space for the changer.  The only problem is pulling the audio and control cables down the windshield post and under the dash to the radio.  There is an AM/FM antenna cable that runs down there now.  It sort of disappears into an unreachable corner under heavy insulation padding.  I decided to wait till morning to really attack this.

Thursday morning I started digging for real.  I pulled a strip on the windshield post, and there was the antenna wire.  I investigated and after pulling a corner of the heavy insulation back, found where the wire came through a slot in the overhead panel.  Of course the opening was too small for the connector on the data cable, so I ended using the battery powered "Dremel" type tool that David gave me for Christmas (along with entirely too much other stuff - I love it!) and ground out the opening until I could force the connector through.  Then there was plenty of room for the cables and the audio connectors.  Getting the cables the rest of the way to the radio location (It's still the Alpine radio in there for now) was easy.

Next I attacked the cargo bay!  It is one large storage area into which I have just dumped things.  Betty's scooter and large wheelchair take a large chunk of the space.  The various chairs, table, and wooden step ladder were all just sliding around, often trying to jam the movement of the sliding tray.  There were also a number of boxes just put in for expediency.  I totally emptied the cargo bay out onto the ground next to the motorhome.

I had bought various PVC sprinkler fittings and pipe to make a chair rack. Thanks for the idea Gene, I am copying your wing-transport rack concept.  I glued all the pieces together and now have a squarish base frame with 6 pieces of pipe extending upward.  Into the two bays formed by these pipes, I can now stack my chairs, ladder, and a small plastic table on edge.  They take less room, and should stay in place now.  The rest of the cargo bay reloaded with a little better organization.

Next I removed Betty's old lift and installed the new longer lift tube, the bracket I took home and modified (Hooray, it fits!), the bushing I made that converts her 9/16 pin chair to the new 5/8 pin bracket, and the 8 inch drop bracket.  Now Betty should be able to get into the chair under just about all the motorhome parking and leveling conditions.  It is a little tricky maneuvering the brackets to clear the door, the steps, and the dashboard, but it is worth it to have the lift indoors.

We went to Walmart (where else?) and picked up some food and supplies, including a new Black and Decker hand jig saw (I guess they are not called saber saws any more.)  This will let me do a couple of wood projects.

In the evening, I started attacking the door and drawer handles.  I tried out my door handle drill jig, which is not really a drill jig, but a marking jig.  After carefully adjusting the top stop and the end stop, I can quickly position it on a drawer front or door, hold it tightly, and tap the two sharpened pins with a hammer.  This leaves two good starter holes in the right location and spacing to mount one of the 37 door pulls we bought last trip.  I was very lucky at our local Ace hardware store and found a box of 1 3/8 long 8-32 screws that are perfect for the drawers. They even have the same "combo" head as the stock screws.  There is an extra 3/8 panel along the fronts of the drawers, necessitating the longer screws.

One of the really vexing problems I have been working on is the drawers. Stock from the factory there is a metal latch which you press as you put your fingers into a cutout on the back of the bottom of the drawer front. This releases the drawer and it is free to pull.  Otherwise it is securely locked shut.  Unfortunately, there is no way Betty can even turn her hand to be able to put fingers in that position.  Also, as Keith pointed out, drawers that have the bottom cutouts, tend to get the cabinet front just below the drawer very dirty and scratched up from fingers and fingernails constantly hitting it.

I think I have found a workable solution.  All the drawers are on full extension slides.  These leave almost no vertical play.  By moving the front attaching screw to the front slotted hole, and not screwing it tight, I can lift the front of the drawer about 3/16 of an inch.  This is enough to unlatch the existing latch.  Now the drawers work like the "cheap" drawers in our two previous motorhomes.  You lift the front of the drawer and pull it open.  What a concept!

While putting drawer and door handles on, I decided to mount the new door I had made, prior to finishing it and installing the mirror.  We decided to put Muff's litter box in the bottom of one of the tall wardrobe cabinets. By putting in a shelf and a short door, we lose only the bottom portion and still have a short closet.  Last trip we implemented this, with a wire bracket to keep the door open enough for the cat to get in and out.  Now we will have the bottom always open.  Today I will un-mount the door and take it outside to stain and finish.  I put the shelf in yesterday, and it makes a very nice cupboard, with a floor that Betty can reach.

Today also, I will try changing out the radio and getting it all hooked up with the CD changer. 

Tomorrow, the Scholls are driving down and we will meet for lunch.  The Wilkisons are driving down on Monday and we will have a meal with them also.  We are really looking forward to both.  We tried, but schedules just would not allow us to all get together.

I hope I am not boring you with all the detailed drivel of my projects.  I am sending this only to a select few of my friends and family - the "short list".

Now over to the office to see if I can still send email.

Sunday March 4

It's Sunday evening and we are having a quiet evening "in".  Betty is busy planning our next major trip.  We are heading to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and areas around.  We expect to be gone about 8 weeks.  The Scholls are joining us for around 4 weeks or so, and we just found out that the Pfafmans will be able to spend about 2 weeks with us.  It should be a fun time.

I just woke up from an unscheduled nap in my lounge chair.  This chair has just about totally replaced the Gulfstream's couch for my relaxing.  We are currently watching a PBS "pledge night" special.  Did you know there is television being broadcast that you can watch even without a satellite receiver?

The transition from the Alpine radio to the Sony went smoothly.  Of course I had to once again change all the connectors on the many speaker and control wires of the radio to match those in the Foretravel.  Between originally installing the Sony in the Gulfstream, re-installing the original Gulfstream radio, and now installing the Sony in the Foretravel, I have certainly crimped a lot of terminals!  I went to install the remote control for the Sony that I so loved in the Gulfstream, and it was not in the box.  It is in another box in the garage.  Oh well, there's always next time.  The remote is great!  I mounted it on the side of the steering column where I can reach it without taking my eyes off the road.  I will really be glad to have it again.

The next equipment installation task was to connect and mount my Silverleaf VMS 200E.  This is an instrument which monitors the data bus to the engine, transmission, and ABS brakes.  (It currently does not report on the brakes.)  This instrument tells just about everything about the operation of the equipment, your current trip, total history since new, and much more.  It selectively displays about 20 engine parameters, including torque, horsepower, several engine and transmission temperatures and pressures, gear selected, gear attained, instantaneous miles per gallon, rolling MPG, trip MPG, total MPG since new, miles to go, gallons to go, miles, trip miles, total miles, etc.

There is much to this gauge I don't know yet, but it will be fun to find out!

Installation SHOULD be very easy - yeah, right!  There is a 6 pin diagnostic connector under the dash of just about all motorhomes with electronic engines and transmissions (All current ones are electronically controlled.)  The manual notes that Spartan chassis and a few others use a 9 pin connector (adaptor available).  They also note that Monaco and a few others do not switch the power on the diagnostic connector with the ignition.  On these you must either connect to the ignition switch or install a manual switch.  Guess what?  Mine has a 9 pin connector (9's better than 6 any day!) and does NOT switch the power.  

As there are only 5 wires needed to connect this device, and only 4 of them are available through the diagnostic connector, I whacked the 6 pin connector off my new harness and started crimping individual lugs.  I then made short lengths of wire with the mating lugs and attached them to the 2 data wires, an ignition switched hot wire, ground, and the headlight switch under the dash of the Foretravel.  They sample the headlight switch to dim the display at night.  I'm sure glad I bought extra lugs when installing the radio.

Mounting the unit was more of a problem.  Mounting in the dash is not an option for several reasons (not the least of which is the "newness" of the coach).  My two main options were above the dash to the right where it would be very readable, and look awful, or under the dash to the right of the steering wheel, where it would look OK and still be readable.  I chose the latter.  

The mounting bracket included with the gauge did not work at all here.  I designed brackets that would mount to a 1/8 aluminum structure along the bottom of the dash. (This coach is SO well made!)  Using my new "saber" saw and a lot of hand filing, I made the brackets from some 1/8 aluminum flat and angle strips I bought at Home Depot.  I sure missed my milling machine about this time.  After an evening of carefully drilling holes in the dash structure and the bracket pieces, all was in.

The other major project of this time period was the oak door I had made. Before leaving home, I sealed, stained, and finished a section of a piece of red oak I got from the maker of the door.  After comparing the sample to the cabinetry in the coach, I decided it fit well within the range of the existing wood finish.  I sanded, sealed, and stained the door.  It looked terrible! (A relative term.)  It was uniformly darker than any of the existing wood, and some of the grain was very dark.

I re-sanded the entire door to try again.  It lightened up significantly, but non uniformly as you would expect.  Today, I re-stained it and wiped it off almost immediately.  I then really wiped and wiped and wiped, to remove as much of the stain as possible.  The door is still much darker than the sample I did, but I think it looks better than it did the first time.  I lacquer finished it this afternoon and it is now ready for me to mount the mirror.  I know that wood varies a lot, but I did not expect this much difference.

Monday, March 5

We had a good time with the Scholls yesterday.  We met at the Cracker Barrel about 15 miles from here.  We were able to make some basic decisions on our upcoming trip.  Tomorrow, we get together with the Wilkisons.

The weather has been beautiful since we arrived.  Prior to today, we had only occasional clouds and no rain.  Today it was pretty much high overcast to broken all day with a breeze.  While California is getting pounded already by the next storm, we are not expected to get it until Tuesday.  I really miss the Weather Channel!  I bet I don't forget the satellite receiver again!

I still have several remaining projects, but none are pressing.  I am in the "how do I do it?" stage of mounting and wiring my new indoor/outdoor thermometer.  I still have to mount a couple of lights in our bedside cabinets, and I need to finish installing the new drawer and door hardware in the bedroom.  I am also looking at the best way to lower the towbar. The receiver on the Foretravel is about 4 inches higher than the one on the Gulfstream was.  The car will tow better if I lower the tow point on the coach.  I will probably take the towbar to Mel's Welding and have them modify it.

We haven't set our return-home date yet, but it will probably be either Wednesday (still predicted to be raining here, but not at home) or Thursday (rain should be over at both ends).  Thursday is looking good.

Sunday, March 25

Hi, we are back in Buckeye for our next session.

It is currently Sunday evening and it's finally under 80 out.  We have the Fantastic fan on with the door open (screen closed).  It should start cooling soon, now that the sun is down.  The days have not been "Phoenix-hot", but are certainly hot enough, pushing 90.

We are going to finish up a few tasks on the motorhome and then drive down to Organ Pipes Cactus National Monument, near Ajo, and visit our friend Dick Vetter while there.  We then hope to do Karchner Caverns on a walk-in basis.

We arrived fairly late on Friday after leaving home at almost 11:00.  Betty had a doctor's appt in the morning.  She had wanted to make it in late April, but was not able to schedule it then.  When we arrived, they said the doctor was running late.  We inquired and they now had an opening in late April, just when Betty wanted it, so we changed appointments and headed to Arizona.

Keith and Virg were heading to her mother's in Yucca Valley on Saturday, so they decided to spend the night here.  We had a good time and got some serious planning done for our May-June trip where we will be gone about 8 weeks, Keith and Virg about 4 or so, and Fred and Judy Pfafman (from Arkansas) will be with us for about 2 weeks.  We are heading to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc.  It was fun having them here.  They parked just across the road from us almost nose to nose.

Before they arrived yesterday around noon, I got several tasks done.  I took dimensions last time and at home I made additions to the frame that Foretravel uses to hold the VCR and the antenna switch in place.  Basically they use a wooden frame that encircles the device around its middle and clamps it securely in place.  I moved the location of the antenna switch and added a holding area to fit the satellite receiver (yes, I did remember it this time!)  I can now slide the receiver into the opening between two upright pieces of 1x2, lay an additional piece under a plate at one end and latch the other end down with a small trunk-hasp like latch.  It is then very securely held with almost no obstruction of the cooling holes.

Our windshield privacy cover is an accordion blind that pulls out from the post at each end of the windshield.  Each half anchors to the center of the windshield with Velcro.  When open, there are 4 small spring retracted cable reels that compact it to a little over an inch thick.  It certainly is a lot less bulky than the heavy rubber backed curtains we pulled across a track in the Gulf Stream.  One problem was that when we put the carpeting on the dashboard last trip, it interfered with the blinds along the bottom edge.  Saturday morning, I pulled both windshield post covers and raised the angle that the blinds mount to.  Raising them 3/4 of an inch now allows them to be pulled freely, and still allows plenty of room along the top.

The next task was to mount a small 2 axis level to the left of the driver. The automatic leveling seems to work quite well, but I want a direct readout of what the level is.  Before trading in the Gulf Stream, I removed the level so I would not have to re-buy it.  Well, did you know that I can make things totally disappear?  I did it with that level!  So the one I just mounted had to be re-bought anyway.  I had forgotten to make a small mounting plate for it while home, so I made one from some of the scrap oak paneling I removed when installing the satellite receiver.  I mounted the level on a small board, then used 3 mounting screws to attach it to the carpeted surface to the left of the driver.  I used grommets over the 3 screws under the board as compressible elements.  I can selectively tighten the screws and adjust the exact setting of the level.  I very carefully hand leveled the coach, using my torpedo level on a number of different surfaces, and wonder of all wonders, they all agreed!  The Gulf Stream had a different level for every surface I measured.  Once the coach was level, I just adjusted the 3 screws to make the two bubbles read dead center.  Now at least, I can double check the performance of the auto leveling.

I also installed the new CB.  Last trip, I was listening to the NOAA weather radio and after about 10 or 15 minutes it started emitting a loud buzz.  I could turn it off and back on and it would be OK for a few seconds, then start to buzz again.  I looked at the Cobra warranty, and it was still well in the coverage.  It is also covered by my 36k mile and 36 month Foretravel warranty.  I didn't know how it would be handled, but Cobra had a statement to not even call for status for 3 to 4 weeks!  I called Foretravel and they said if I would remove it they would swap it out.  I did and they did!  They handed me a brand new, in-the-box unit, then they kept the box to send my old one back.  That was it.  No paperwork, no shipping, no hassle - and instant gratification.  That's my kind of transaction!

Now I ate breakfast!

Next I fitted a small PVC fitting to the bike rack I welded up this trip home.  I made a simple support for the bike rack I had mounted on the front of the Gulf Stream.  I decided not to do the same on this coach, both for the protection of the motorhome, and to not obstruct the front opening generator access door.  The unit I made plugs into the hitch receiver I recently had added to the Saturn.  I was not happy with the support of the bike when I used this rack on the Gulf Stream, so I made a simple pipe that ran from the grill to the top bar of the bike.  I bungeed this and it eliminated all the vibration from the bike.  On my new rack support, I welded a vertical piece of 1 inch square tubing to provide this same support.  Now that I have the bike (it stayed here last time), I could accurately fit this and cut of the excess of the tubing.

Another project at home was to make a satellite dish support which clamps under the bumpers of the coach, either side of the front or the back.  This will allow me to quickly set up the dish, until I figure how to afford a roof top antenna for this coach.  I want a more exotic one than I had on the GS.  If I can at least get a motor operated one, I don't have to drill a major hole all the way through the roof and ceiling.  I like that. Anyway, the sat. dish mount I made mounted just fine in all the selected locations.  Unfortunately, after I made the clamp assembly, I looked around for something to extend it the amount I needed to mount the dish mounting bar and found some aluminum channel.  This is quite strong in flexure in both axes, but really stinks in torsion.  The dish mounts almost at 90 degrees here, so a little torsion changes the elevation of the dish significantly!  It looks terrible in a slight wind, but has yet to drop out.  The aluminum was temporary until I determined the correct length and configuration.  Today I bought a Douglas fir 2 x 4 and some longer bolts for my 2nd temporary bar.  I have some thin wall 1 1/2 square tubing at home that I think will make a good final bar.

This morning I was trying to find the location of the little electronic box that relays the VCR remote control, and could not locate it.  As the VCR, and now the satellite receiver are in a closed overhead cupboard with a solid oak door, Foretravel installed a sensor above the door that senses the IR from your remote.  It then amplifies this and sends it to an emitter that is stuck to the face of the VCR.  This way, when the door is closed, your remote control still works.  I tried the sat. receiver and it would not activate from the sensor where it was.  The electronic box directly supports plugging in up to 4 emitters and several IR sensors.  Be doing some wire splicing it will support over a dozen of each!  I can only guess what Foretravel will want for another emitter after being quoted over $40 for an $8 light switch.  In the meantime I want to remount the existing emitter on the face of the door, allowing me to install and remove the receiver without touching the emitter.

That was the long way around for me to tell you I decided to pull the TV to search for the electronic module.  I pulled the TV out and found a number of neat things carefully tucked in behind it.  I also found that there are A/V inputs on the rear of the set in addition to the ones on the front. This is great, as now I can use video-in for my sat, which makes a very noticeable difference (now that I have it in).

We had the air conditioning on earlier and it works really well, but we are paying our own electricity with the monthly rate.  I think they have the meter set to really run fast!  (I notice there is a "fast/slow" adjustment screw in the meter, and no seal on the meter.)  There is no way I am using over 20 KWH a day in the motorhome!  We have not run the air very much and then only one of them.

I guess it's too late to run over to the office and send this tonight, so I'll send it in the morning.

Wednesday, Mar. 28 

It is now Wednesday morning at about 8:00.  The early morning high overcast is just about gone now.  Predictions are for about 85 today.

We are meeting Gene and Betty Wilkison for lunch today at the Claim Jumper up I-17 a few miles from Phoenix.  Tomorrow we are leaving here for a few days, heading down to Ajo to see our good friend, Dick Vetter, and to see Organ Pipe National Monument.  From there we are going to try to see Karchner Caverns.

I have gotten several more tasks done since the last report:  

I finally mounted the mirror in the short door I worked on last trip.  

I bought a 2x4 to replace the too flimsy aluminum channel for my clamp-on satellite dish mount.  It is now very stable.  I will eventually replace the 2x4 with a piece of square steel tubing.

I lowered the shelf under the kitchen sink by about an inch.  Now there is room to put the small microwave there during travel

I installed the indoor/outdoor thermometer.  With a fair amount of labor, I was able to totally hide the cable.  I put the sensor above the roof, under the kitchen exhaust fan cover.  It should be well protected from the sun there, and be in the natural air flow.

I installed the handles and modified the latches on another set of drawers and several cupboard doors.

I installed a lamp in my bedside cabinet.

As you can see, the magnitude of the tasks is getting more toward the routine.  The major ones are complete.  I think we are about ready to roll!

I thought that when I bought the new level I would immediately find the one I removed from the Gulf Stream.  I did not.  What I had to do was to install the new level.  As I reported last time, I did install the new level.  The following day the old one turned up in a container under the bathroom sink!

Tomorrow, when we head to Ajo, I will be able to try my Silver Leaf electronic gage for real.

Thursday, March 29

We are now in a very neat spot in an RV park in Why, AZ.  Ours is the most secluded spot in the park.  Even though we are in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, we are parked under shade trees with a large stand on the left, and a smaller stand on the right of what I first thought was corn.  Upon closer examination it looks more like bamboo with corn type fronds.  In front of us is a small cultivated desert garden with blooming Ocotillo, a palm tree, some prickly pear cactus and several other arid climate plants.  This landscape is typical of all around the park, but ours seems to be the nicest pocket among it.  It is also one of the few pull-in, back-out sites.

Yesterday we cleaned up around our Buckeye camp site and secured (almost) everything for travel.  The drive to Why, which is about 10 miles east of Ajo, took less than a couple of hours.  Why is really the name of the town, and Abbott and Costello had nothing to do with it.

We had a smooth drive, except for one slight problem:  About half way here we were doing a little twisting and turning (following the road) and heard a crash in the back.  Betty had to adjust herself in her seat to turn around enough to see.  She reported that something seemed to have fallen into Muff's water bowl, and that there was water all over the floor.  I found a place to pull off and found an empty pitcher on the floor and about 1 1/2 quarts of Gatorade all over our floor and carpet, all the way to the dashboard.  The refrigerator door had opened, the pitcher came out, and the door closed again.  I used 3 towels quickly scrubbing the carpet and the hardwood floor in the kitchen.  Our brand new Walmart 88 cent pitcher had a broken lid.  The stupid designers of the refrigerator latch and handle assumed that everyone had excellent dexterity.  They have a latch you must press at the same time as you pull on the handle.  There was no way Betty could work it (and I sometimes had problems with it), so I removed the latch striker.  Our first tests showed the magnetic door held OK, although I looped a bungee cord through the handle just in case.  This time, I forgot the bungee!  I have since figured out how to drill a couple of small holes and drop in a pin while we are in camp.  The pin will hold in the latch.  Pulling the pin (marked with a large red flag) will allow it to latch while on the road.

After we got into camp and settled, we did some more cleanup and ran the towels through the washer/dryer.  We really love the W/D!  We then headed back to Ajo to visit Dick Vetter.

We remembered just how to find his house in Ajo.  Yeah right!  After wandering around looking for something familiar, we stopped at the Circle K and asked.  The fellow went over to a small map and finally found Dick's street and gave me instructions to take the highway all around the town, left around the high school, and to 1st street.  We found his street, but it was only a block long and 500 numbers off.  We were able to find our way to his portion fairly easily.  When we asked, he said we could have gone 1 block from Circle K, turn right, gone several blocks and turned right to his house.  We will certainly remember that for next time! (Yeah, right!)

When we got to Dick's, he was busily working in his motorhome.  It turns out that he had just made a deal to trade in his Bounder on a somewhat newer and somewhat smaller class C motorhome.  This was Thursday, and he was due in Phoenix with an empty Bounder on Friday around noon.  He was busily cleaning out about 8 years of accumulation from all the cupboards and compartments.  There is a LOT of storage in his Bounder.  We parked Betty in the shade and Dick and I worked for a couple of hours, getting practically everything out from the inside.

We then took a break and headed to Why for him to see our new rig.  After the full inspection tour, we headed back to Ajo and had an excellent Mexican dinner.  I then suggested that the cool evening would be a good time to empty his storage compartments.  It only took us about an hour to get his rig totally empty.  That left him only 3 short tasks to do in the morning before driving it to make the switch.  We finished the evening with a bowl of delicious strawberries, fresh from Costco.  They were great.

Friday, March 30

Today we drove about 30 miles to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  It is a truly beautiful area.  The Sonoran Desert is the most heavily vegetated of the 4 western deserts.  There was green everywhere.  The organ pipe cactus is common in Mexico, but rarely found in the United States.  It has the same structure as the saguaro cactus, but has a number of stems all rising from the ground in a clump, with no branching, unlike the single stem with numerous branches of the saguaro.

We saw the 20 minute slide show giving an overview of the area, then took a walking trail in the area of the Visitor Center.  We decided not to take either the 21 mile dirt road or the 53 mile dirt road loops.

We are back in camp now looking at the scenery and listening to the birds. There are a lot of birds flitting around the various trees and cacti. There are also a couple of roosters nearby who think dawn starts at around 4:00 AM!

It is now about 9:40PM Friday, and our next door neighbors just left.  I was walking back from the pay phone just about dark when a lady asked if I was from this rig (pointing to ours).  She introduced herself as our next door neighbor and we got to chatting.  I invited her and her husband over to meet Betty.  Al and Kathy Hollis are a fascinating couple!

Al is a retired school teacher who now writes poems and takes photographs. That is how he described himself.  He then started telling about some of his adventures taking wildlife photos.  He spent several weeks in Alaska trying to get wolf photos.  He calls them shadows, because they are always around, but you never see them.  After spending a day taking video of the wildlife, but seeing no wolves, he reviewed the tape.  Spotting something he backed up a few frames and there lying in the grass were two wolves calmly watching everything they were doing.  At one point he decided to try an experiment.  Knowing wolves were around, he loudly howled. Shortly he heard a pack of wolves off to one side answering him.  Answering them another pack started howling off to the other side, followed by a third pack behind them.  There were 3 separate packs totally surrounding them.  After a while among them, the wolves started coming into the open, and he started getting some good shots.

He also described some of his adventures with bears - Grizzlies and others. He said he has probably photographed at least a hundred bears, usually at a distance of only a few feet.  He has a photo of a grizzly licking Kathy's boot!

There was a lot of discussion whether a grizzly could climb a tree.  The brown bear's claws are curved and are a natural for climbing, but a grizzly's claws go more straight out.  To find out, he climbed a tree and hung a couple of salmon at the top.  Shortly the grizzly came and looked at the tree, then at them as to say "What do you think you are doing putting that way up there?"  After a few moments the bear went right to the tree, reared up and leveled the tree, totally uprooting it.  Of course he then walked over and had his salmon.

Not discouraged, Al found a larger tree and repeated the experiment.  This time after the stare down, the grizzly climbed right up and got the salmon.  He was a little awkward, but had no problem going up.  They can run as fast as a horse, they can jump 10 or 12 feet high, and they can climb trees.  It sort of narrows your options if you need to get away!

Together, they have published a "coffee table" book entitled "Backroads - A Journey of Words and Photography" which is a compilation of Al poems and photographs.  It is beautiful!  We bought a copy from them and had them autograph it (of course).  Al says he is way behind schedule doing the finishing touches on their next book.  

Saturday, March 31, we drove from Why to Willcox, AZ, which is about 85 miles east of Tucson.  It is also about 35 miles east of Benson, where the Karchner Caverns are located.  After getting camp all set up, we drove around and explored the area.

Sunday morning, we headed out for a loop drive of about 200 miles.  We headed down highway 181 to Chiricahua National Monument.  I had never heard of it before - it is beautiful!  It is mountainous country with many massive rock structures.  There are balancing rocks, stacks that look like people, and large areas with hundreds of these structures protruding upward from the ground, looking very much like a number of people standing in a crowd.  There are also organ pipe structures.

From here we headed south on highway 191 to Douglas, AZ.  It is obviously a border town with many of the stores advertising in Spanish and the majority of cars having Mexican plates.  We drove to the border in one part of town.  There was a very high steel bar fence with the poles bent over at an angle at the top.  Where we were there were several generator trailers with high floodlights pointing at the fence.  It was daytime, of course, so none were on.  There were also Border Patrol vehicles literally everywhere!  We passed through several Border Patrol checkpoints in our driving around the area.

From Douglas we drove to Bisbee.  This is an old mining town.  The residential portion was built on the side of a hill.  There were some very steep and very high stairways to get from the street to some of the houses.  They annually have a foot race in Bisbee which includes a lot of running up and down some of these stairways.

A little ways further along the road was the town of Tombstone, AZ, the location of the shootout at the OK Corral.  We passed a building which housed the location of the shootout which we could have seen for the price of admission.  A little later we stopped at the Boot Hill Cemetery.  I thought it might be interesting to see some of the old headstones.  What a disappointment!  There was a smooth layer of gravel with each grave under a pile of rocks.  Each was marked by a small painted sign that couldn't be more than a couple of years old.  Many were marked "Unknown".  There were some that gave a name and year and a comment like "Murdered", "Shot", "Killed", or "Hanged", occasionally including the name of the perpetrator. In the whole area there were 3 or 4 graves, inside small fences, that had what appeared to be original markers.  This location is said to be the original use of the term "Boot Hill".

We completed the day's loop by passing through Benson again and heading back to Willcox.  We stopped in the city part at a Burger King for our lunch/dinner.  We then came back to the motorhome to watch Notre Dame beat Perdue by 2 points in the NCAA Women's championship game.

Tomorrow we are going to head to Karchner Caverns to stay in their RV park.  We will try to get tickets for a tour.

Monday, April 1

It is now Monday evening and we are in the Karchner Caverns RV Park.  We left our camp in Willcox fairly early this morning and went downtown to a Chevron truck stop where we fueled up.  This is really the first time we have done more than a slight "top off".  It took 85 gallons!  Ouch!  With a 148 gallon tank, we don't have to fill up that often, but when we do . . .!  

It is going to be a little hard to get accurate mileage figures as it is hard to fill the tank to exactly the same level.  On the Gulf Stream there was a long filler pipe that would fill up to the top.  Of course if I wasn't quite careful it filled with a gush all over the side of the coach, on the ground, and a couple of times on me.  With the Foretravel the fillers (one on each side) are directly into the tank, so no gush!  However a slight difference in how far the nozzle is into the tank can make a difference of a number of gallons.  I'll still take this one any day!

We drove the 35 miles and checked into the RV park.  The ranger at the gate advised me to contact one of the two campground hosts first thing to get a number for buying tour tickets tomorrow.  We got a ticket with a number 4. I assumed that there were a group of 1's, a group of 2's, etc.  Later in the Visitor's Center we asked what our chances would be and were told that there were 3 purchasers ahead of us for a maximum of 12 tickets.  We should have pretty much our pick of the tours.  There obviously is only one number 4.

We saw the exhibits and the video of the caverns today.  Tomorrow I show up at the Visitor's Center at 7:20 AM and wait for 1,2, and 3 to buy their tickets.  Then it is my turn.  After our tour we will break camp and head back to Buckeye.

This afternoon we drove to Sierra Vista, about 20 miles down the highway, and did some light grocery shopping.  The only problem was that Basha's was totally out of skim milk, and I won't buy at Fry's again since I feel they really overcharge customers without their cards.  Sierra Vista is quite a large town.

You will be getting quite a number of our adventures in this one message as I have not had Internet access for a number of days now.  It is fairly well assured at Buckeye.

Tuesday evening, April 3.

Our technique for Karchner Caverns worked wonderfully!  By getting into the campground early (around 9:00 AM) we got ticket number 4 for establishing our queue.  I went to the Visitor's Center at around 7:15 this morning and waited with over 100 other folks for the doors to open.  At 7:30 we went inside, and within 2 or 3 minutes it was my turn.  I had my choice of any morning tour (and probably any afternoon one also).  They hold from 86 to 106 tour spots available for walk-in customers.  They apparently hold several slots in each tour, plus there is a 1:40 tour that has no reservations.  If the humidity is holding OK, they run this tour.  If the humidity is low, they cancle this tour.  We noticed misters running alongside the trail in several places.  These are calculated to reintroduce the same amount of moisture the tourists carry out in their clothes.

Cars start lining up outside the gate at 5:00 or 5:30 to get the queue tickets.   I overheard one ranger saying there were only 6 cars in line at 6:00 this morning.  I found out that the campground hosts are given 10 even numbered tickets and the rest are at the front gate.  I liked our way!

The tour was very interesting.  The cavern was kept secret for 14 years after its discovery until all the arrangements were made to have it become a state park.  This way they were able to prevent any unauthorized entry and the resulting damage.  The only natural entrance was a hole about 8 inches in diameter at the bottom of a sink hole.  The discoverers had to open it to about the size of a coat hanger before being able to squeeze in.

Our tour guide was very good.  He pointed out all the care that has been taken in the preparation of the cave for public viewing.  The humidity in the cave runs from 98 to 99%, and is essential for the cave to continue living.  There are several sealed doors forming air locks that you go though going in and out.  He pointed out that if they had dug the entrance tunnel without those doors for as little as 2 weeks, the cave's humidity balance would be lost.  It would take over 2 months to restore it, and by then the cave would be dead.  It is living, because the water is still passing over all the structures, continuing to deposit the calcium compounds at the rate of about 0.1 inches per 100 years.

Great care was taken in all phases of construction to not disturb any of the natural balance.  No gasoline engine was ever allowed inside.  Only air tools were used, and these were operated inside a tent to keep contamination controlled.  Much of the concrete was passed to its destination with a human "bucket brigade" using partially filled 5 gallon buckets.  (A full bucket would weigh almost 150 pounds!)

We really enjoyed the tour.  The cave structures were beautiful, and consisted of the common stalactites, stalagmites, and columns.  In addition there were many soda straw formation where the deposit of the hanging element is by water dripping down the hollow tube and depositing on the bottom.  Some of these were up to 20 feet long, with many several feet long.  If one of these plugs up, the water starts flowing over the outside and the diameter starts increasing like a normal stalactite.

Other structures were "fried egg" where there is a round, yellowish "yolk" surrounded by a white deposit like the egg white.  There was also "bacon". Here the deposits were along an edge forming a curtain like hanging with differing colors as it was created.  The result was  very much like a piece of bacon hanging by its edge.  

They are currently working on the infrastructure for another tour going to the "Great Room".  The girl who waited on us in the gift shop after our tour said she had just been given a preview tour of this one.  The walks are in, but not the hand rails and a lot of other features.  It is still likely to be several years before this tour is available.

We headed back to our motorhome after the tour and finished readying everything for our trip back to Buckeye.  We were on the road a little after 11:00 (We had chosen the 9:20 tour).  We were back in our space in Buckeye before 4:00.

Wednesday, April 4

We had discussed driving to Mesa this morning to see the air museum at Falcon Field, but decided that there was too much to do.  Hopefully we can do that when we are back prior to leaving on our long trip.

As it turned out, it was a good thing we made that decision.  I needed a couple of items to complete the tasks for the day.  I went to the Saturn to leave and "click".  That's all I got from the battery.  I had not left anything on.  I pulled out my extension cord and battery charger (I never travel without one!) and connected it all.  After a few minutes I tried it and the engine cranked a few turns and went back to the "click".  I measured the voltage with a 2 amp charge and it was about 16 volts!  This is way too high!  The battery was definitely bad.  I started packing up the motorhome so I could drive it to buy a new battery.  I figured I would try one more time just in case it would now start.  It did!

I drove to a couple of Interstate battery dealers in Buckeye.  The Saturn uses a special battery.  The first dealer did not have one.  The second dealer said it was unlikely he had it, but upon checking, he did.  I now had a drivable car again.  I have had 2 failures with this car, both electrical.  The first was a bad alternator, now the battery.  The alternator is fine this time.

I spent the rest of the day installing the light in Betty's bedside cupboard and doing a very difficult cleaning job on the front of the motorhome (a long story), and several other small items.  We packed up our take-home items and went to bed.

Thursday, April 5

This morning (Thursday) we left Buckeye for home.  The weather forecast was for rain both in California and in Arizona.  After a smooth drive of about 5 1/2 hours without a drop of rain, we arrived.  I have a list of things to do, including getting a bunch of concrete poured to widen our driveway before returning to Buckeye around the end of the month.  At that time we will be leaving for our long (about 2 month) trip.  We plan to bring the whole rig home after that.