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Southwest October 4-18, 2003

We flew to Texas then rented a car and traveled through New Mexico and Arizonia before returning to Texas to return the car and fly home.On this trip we visited:

San Antonio, Texas

We flew out October 4 and stayed in San Antonio a couple of nights.

Sunday morning we found a church in the yellow pages and headed out to find the church. Though we went to the places the map in the yellow pages pointed out, we could not find the church. We drove about another 1.5 miles down the road and then back without success. We decided to continue on and visit the Alamo.

We arrived near the Alamo about an hour before it was open. We took some pictures around the Alamo (the Crockett Hotel that has a restaurant named Ernie's, a fountain that forms a traffic rotary, a monument to the people who last their lives in the battle of the Alamo, post office & government building).

While waiting for the Alamo to open we went to the visitor center where we heard about the Menger Hotel near the Alamo and the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum a couple of blocks away. We went to see the hotel. It is a very luxurious old hotel. The first level has a large lobby, shops, offices, function rooms, and wide corridors. There is gorgeous woodwork and pictures and statuary everywhere. We did not think to take any pictures of the hotel.

When we left the hotel, the Alamo was open. We followed a walkway to the Mission. To the side of the walkway is a lovely garden in front of the library. We went through the walkway to the front entrance to the mission. We were not allowed to take pictures in the building. In the main room there are plaques about what happened and some of the people. There were a number of state and foreign country flags around the main room. On each flag pole was a ribbon with the number of people from that state or country who took part in the battle. We were surprised to hear that not everyone died during the battle, some were captured and killed afterwards. Davey Crockett may have been among those captured along with what remained of his 32 Tennessee Volunteers. There is a room in which there are possessions of some of the people who were in the battle, most were not things that they had at the Alamo, but had been left with their family when they went off.

After leaving the Alamo it was time for lunch so we decided to visit the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum. The saloon has been in business since the mid-1800's. It used to be at a different location. We learned a little about the place while having a nice lunch. The name was derived from the practice of giving a free shot to anyone bringing in buckhorns. Many people started to bring in stuffed heads as well. The saloon is decorated with hundreds of stuffed heads and thousands of buckhorns. They have the stuffed head of the white-tailed deer with the most recorded points on its antlers (78). There are also quite a few stuffed animals in the saloon and hundreds in museum.

The proprietor made furniture with the buckhorns. Some of the items were interesting, but not very comfortable looking. Obviously, there were many more buckhorns brought in than he was able to use.

After eating we went around checking out some of the stuffed animals in the saloon. We then went through the museum, actually several museums in one. There are sections with:

Of the tourists sites in San Antonio, we enjoyed the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum the most.

We then went to the Riverwalk. It is nice looking, but not something by which we were really impressed. We walked a little ways down one side of the river and back up the other side.

As we crossed the park near the Alamo on the way back to the car, we stopped to listen to a group singing hymns and Christian music. As we stood there a man, possibly the pastor, came over to us, talked with us for a short time, and after asking if it were OK, prayed over us.

We were told that Dwight Yoakam was appearing at a local dance club that night. We called the place, we were told we could get tickets at the door. The directions received were not quite right so it took us an extra 15-20 minutes to find the place. We were asked if we wanted general admission and we said yes. It was a large bar/dance hall there was a good sized dance floor with a stage at the end. The dance floor was enclosed with a rail fence, you needed VIP tickets to get inside the fence during the show. All the tables near the fence were taken. We noticed that there was a balcony running around 3 sides of the place so we went upstairs. There were 2 levels of tables around the balcony which were all being used. We sat at a table away from the edge where we could not see the stage, but there were very large screen TVs on either side of the stage and smaller ones all around the outer walls. When the show started we walked over to the tables near the edge of the second level and could see really well. There were only 2 people at the table by which we were standing, they asked if we wanted to sit with them. We had a great view of the show. Afterwards we tried doing a dance called the El Paso, but even though the song was a Cha Cha quite a few couples came out to do the 2-step. Since the 2-step is a dance that continually progresses around the floor and the El Paso is done in place with some progression we could not continue doing it without having people run into us. We had a really good time though we did not get to dance very much. For those who are asking "Who's Dwight Yoakam?", he is a Country Singer/Actor. The only movie we have seen him in is Swing Blade, he played the lady's boyfriend, who the main character killed at the end.


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Carlsbad Caverns

Monday morning we left about 7:30 and headed out to Carlsbad, NM. The western side of Texas has pretty much nothing in the way of places to stop. We went by an exit with gas and had a good ¼ of a tank. By the time we got to the next gas station we were praying that we would find one before running out of gas. We got to Pecos, TX around lunch time and went to a family run Mexican restaurant. We had fajitas, the American-Mexican restaurants should find a Mexican family to show them how to make Mexican food, the food was great and the price was around $10.00 for both of us.

We had directions to Carlsbad, but we had discovered that the road leading up to Carlsbad Caverns is actually in Whites City about 20 miles south of Carlsbad on a state high that runs parallel to the one we were on. We also found a road that cut straight across to Whites City so we did not have to go 20 miles north to Carlsbad then back 20 miles south. There is a tourist center with a motel, general store, restaurant, gas station, museum, and a couple of other things just off the state highway on the road that goes to the caverns. We were able to get a room at the motel.

It was still light after we got checked in so we headed up the road to the caverns. There are some places to stop along the way with signs telling about the terrain, flora, and fauna. We stopped at a few of these places. We were told that the bat talk outside the main entrance to the caverns would be starting in about an hour. We looked around the visitor center then head to the amphitheater for the bat talk. The amphitheater had a good size group, not crowded and not a lot of empty seats. The ranger talked about the bats and the caverns, then the bats started to fly out. They fly in a counter-clockwise spiral to gain altitude coming out of the cavern. Hundreds of thousands of bats came out. We had been sitting a little more than half-way back, but when the crowd started to thin out a little we moved down to the front. Some of the bats flew directly over our heads as the spiraled up. It was a really great experience. We were not allowed to take pictures even though the flash on the camera we have can be turned off. The flash mechanism even when shut off makes a noise that can confuse the bats as they fly by sonar.

During the bat talk someone asked the ranger when the bats came bat to the cavern. He said that if we could be there about 6:00 in the morning the experience would be well worth getting up early. We got up at 5:30 got dressed and drove up to the caverns. It was still really dark and we had no flashlight, but there is a white line painted on the side of the path to the amphitheater and we got to the cavern entrance with no mishaps. There were only 5 other people who showed up. We could hear a noise like rain, but it was too dark to see anything. We were watching in the direction the bats had flown off, in front of us to the right. Dale looked straight up and thought she saw a couple of bats zip into the cavern from right over head. She started seeing more and more. It took a few minutes before Ernie started seeing them, but once we could see them well it was more amazing than watching them fly out had been. They were coming from behind us and right over our heads. They fly up to the pit at which is the opening to the cavern, close their wings dropping straight down, then open their wings and fly into the cavern entrance. We watched them come back for over an hour.

We went back to the motel to get ready for the day and have breakfast. We had gone to the restaurant at the tourist center the night before for supper and not finding anything on the dine-in menu we wanted had gotten a pizza which we had to bring back to the room we could not eat it at the restaurant. The pizza was really bad so when we went to the restaurant for breakfast we did not know what to expect. We had certificates for free breakfast. One of the choices was hot cereal, toast, juice, & coffee, we both decided to get this. The hot cereal was oatmeal and it was obviously not instant nor quick oats, it was real thick but not lumpy and tasted great.

We went up to the caverns getting there about ½ hour before the caverns were open for visitors. We attended a talk about microbes that were found in caverns in another part of the park. It was discovered that in a test tube these microbes wiped out breast cancer cells leaving good cells alone. They have been able to make synthetic microbes with the same result. According to the ranger giving the talk in every test all cancer cells were destroyed and no good cells were harmed. Testing on animals has started with the same type of results. They will be testing on other cancer types. We pray that this will work as well on humans.

The ranger that gave this talk was the same one that gave the bat talk the night before. We waited until everyone else left and talked with him about the microbes. Before we left we mentioned noticing that the bats left in groups and returned in groups. We asked if there were sub-colonies within the colonies. He said he did not know, but it sounded plausible. He was going to check with the real bat expert, of course that did not do us any good since we would not see him to get the answer. Hopefully, he got an answer so he can tell others in the future.

We used the natural entrance to go into the caverns, there is also an elevator that can take you to the bottom. There is a paved walkway that curves back and forth bringing you to the large "rooms" at the bottom. The pathway is lighted as are specific formations off the pathway. It is about 1.5 miles from the entrance to the end of the pathway at the beginning of the "large room". Stopping to look at the formations, read signs, and take pictures, it took about 1.5 hours to transverse the pathway. We walked all around the caverns at the bottom, there are some shortcuts for people who do not want to do the whole thing. We were having a problem with the camera, it did not always take a picture when we pushed the button. This coupled with the fact that the flash is only good for 6 feet resulted in our not getting a lot of good pictures. We have a few that are OK.

We took the elevator back up to the visitor center where we had lunch. When we left we followed a dirt road beside which are signs with facts about the dessert and/or describing the area or building at which you are looking. When we got back to the main road down we stopped at a pull-off and went to a cave that was used as shelter by the indians. The camera had stopped taking pictures all together by now so we do not have any pictures of this part of the trip.

That night we decided to go into Carlsbad for supper and found a Chili's. Ernie had almost finished his meal when he discovered that the chicken was not fully cooked. He told the waitress and the manager came over to talk with us. After explaining that he looked the chicken over and had determined that it was probably cooked good enough that it was only a minute or so from being fully cooked he told us he would take Ernie's meal off the bill. When the waitress brought the bill the meal was still on it, we told her what the manager said and it was taken off. All through the night Ernie thought he was having some minor symptoms associated with salmonella, put it turned out that it was all psychosomatic. Noticed we did not say only psychosomatic, your mind can make you just as ill as the actual malady.

In the morning we had the same good breakfast as the day before, packed up, checked out, topped off the gas tank and headed to Albuquerque.

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Albuquerque, NM

All the time in New Mexico we had on and off rain. We were lucky, when we were outside it was really nice weather, but it rained most of the time we were indoors or underground. Dale kept saying "I thought you were bringing me to the desert!". One night in Whites City there was a brown-out. Some lights went out and some dimmed down. We were watching the baseball play-offs and the TV stayed on.

Our route to Albuquerque took us through downtown Carlsbad. There was a flood at every intersection. Some were bad enough to make us wonder if we would get some wiring wet and have the car die, but we got through them OK. The towns in New Mexico are slightly closer together than in Western Texas, but it was basically the same, not much to see. We did go through Roswell, but we did not see any UFO's though we did see a lot of businesses that incorporated UFO, meteor, or some other space term in their names.

When we got to Albuquerque we discovered that we had directions to the wrong EconoLodge. We were on the correct road, more than 5 miles from where we were suppose to be. We found the correct place and checked in. For those who have not been to the Southwest, Albuquerque is divided into quadrants. Both EconoLodges are in the NE quadrant. The first EconoLodge is a little over a mile from the NW quadrant and the one we stayed at is more than 5 miles due east of it and it is more than 10 miles further to the city line. If you get on the interstate at the edge of the city and drive the speed limit to the opposite edge it will take close to ½ hour. There are some cities in the Southwest into which you could put the state of Rhode Island.

When Ernie worked in Albuquerque he would stay for a month and be home for a month. Each time he went he stayed at a different place usually in the same area and he would get a one month membership at a health club close by. One time he stayed in a different area and so had gotten a membership at a different health club. The health club was in a strip mall off a busy street and just up from the intersection of another busy street. There is a driveway behind the buildings with a stone wall on the other side of the driveway. Over the wall between it and the intersection is an open area. There is a prairie dog village in the open area. After checking in we went to see the prairie dog village. There were not many out, in the picture you can see one eating leafy vegetables that had been thrown out for them in the center of the picture.

Ernie showed Dale some of the places he stayed when working in Albuquerque and tried to take her to the Congress Chicken which was near most of these places. It was not there and neither was the Little Caesar's that had been next to it. Ernie thought he remembered where a Macaroni Grill was, but had the wrong place. There was a Boston Market near where he thought the Macaroni Grill was so we ate supper there. This was not much different from if we had found the Congress Chicken except Boston Market does not have jalapeno cornbread.

Ernie then showed Dale where the Kirkland Air Force base and the Albuquerque International Airport are. We then drove by the office buildings Ernie worked at and his favorite restaurant in Albuquerque (The Quarters). We then went back to the motel to get some sleep so we could get up early for the balloon fiesta.

In the morning we went to a balloon fiesta shuttle pick-up area. We got to the fiesta about 6:30 and went looking for breakfast. The only thing we could find were breakfast burritos, they were filling though not healthy nor very tasty.

We walked around the field where the balloons would be lifting off. After a while they started rolling out the balloons preparing to fill them for lift-off. These balloons are huge and it takes a lot of people to unroll them. They lay the basket on its' side to connect it to the balloon, then they use a huge fan to fill the balloon with air. The air is cold so the balloon gets bigger but it does not lift into the air. They then turn on the burner at the top of the basket. As the air in the balloon heats up it rises up standing up the basket. They have two ropes which people hold to keep the balloon from lifting off, they keep the air just warm enough to keep the balloon above the basket without lifting off the ground.

The day we went was the special shapes day. The balloons started lifting off about 7:15. Some balloonist decided they did not like where the winds would take them and deflated their balloons without taking off. There were hundreds that did take off.

After the lift off there was a competition with balloons coming in from a mile or 2 away. There were 5 telescoping poles with an envelope on the end of each. The envelopes contained money and the balloonists were trying to get close enough to grab an envelope. One was successful. There were also circles drawn in the field with a flag pole in the center of each. The balloonist each had a strip of cloth with a weight on the end. They tried to throw the strip of cloth as close to the flag pole as possible.

After leaving the fiesta we went back to the motel to clean up and consult the yellow pages and our Albuquerque map. We found the location of the Save The Children office, a Souper Salad, and the AAA office.

At the time we took this trip, there was a young boy on a reservation in Arizona that we sponsored through Save The Children. Since we were going to Arizona in a few days we stopped by the office in Albuquerque to see if we could visit him. We found out that they need 2 weeks to arrange a visit. We had a very nice conversation with Nora, the field office director. We then went to Souper Salad. Souper Salad is a restaurant that has a huge salad bar and a gigantic soup bar. Ernie enjoyed eating lunch at one near where he worked. Of course being in the southwest, the soup bar always had chili and all the fixings for making tacos. Dale found that she liked having lunch there as much as Ernie. After lunch we went to the AAA office to pick up a new map of New Mexico and Arizona.

We then headed for Sandia Crest. The Sandia mountain range is in the northeast edge of the city. It is about 2 miles in elevation about 1 mile higher than the rest of the city. We decided to drive to the crest instead of taking the tram. We did not realize how far around we had to go to get to the crest road, so by the time we got to the top we had only enough time before dark to go a short ways along the ridge trail which goes from the top of the crest road to where the tram comes in. The car we rented had electronic door locks with a remote. The remote would not work, we found out that the signals coming off the TV and radio antennas on the crest sometimes interfere with the remotes. We also heard a story of a car's alarm system being set off by the signals. It was the type of alarm that if it is set off and not reset you cannot start the car. The driver could not shut-off the alarm and had to let the car roll down the road until far enough away to be able to start the car. We assume the story is true though we do not know how they unlocked the steering wheel and got the brakes to work without starting the car.

We went back to the motel and cleaned up for supper. We went to Ernie's favorite restaurant in Albuquerque. The Quarters is a barb-e-que restaurant that has a great barb-e-que sauce of which Ernie once again bought a quart to take home. Dale had chicken and ribs and Ernie had chicken. The food is great and the service very friendly. We had thought about going dancing that night, but decided we were too tired to really enjoy it.

We had only reserved a room for 2 nights, but had decided to try to extend the reservation by one night when we first got there. We were told they would try to so something for us each of the 3 times we asked about it. When we got to the motel Thursday night we decided to once again ask. They told us they did not have anything available, but there was another motel a few miles West on the same road where they could get us a room for the same price we had paid for each of the first two nights. Since with the balloon fiesta in town, prices had gone up $40.00 for the weekend we thought this was a good deal. In the morning we went to the other motel and they said they would have the room for us after they were done cleaning the rooms.

We headed for Old Town, the section that was the original Albuquerque. We stopped at the Route 66 Diner for breakfast, but it was not open. When we got to Old Town we looked for a restaurant for breakfast and found the Church Street Cafe. The food was really good and the service was great. It was a nice looking comfortable restaurant.

Old Town is mostly restaurants and souvenir, jewelry, and art stores. There is also the San Filipe de Neri Church, which was the center of the original settlement life. There are some courtyards with local musicians playing for tips and to try to sell their CDs. While Dale was shopping in one store, Ernie sat and listened to AmauTa, a Mexican group, they were so good he bought one of their CDs. There are some Indians that sit on the sidewalks outside a section of stores selling jewelry they made. We bought Dale a Sleeping Beauty Turquoise necklace from one of them. We also went into a couple of stores and got Ernie a cowboy hat in one store and some souvenirs for relatives.

Friday night we finally got out dancing. We went to The Midnight Rodeo where we did some two-stepping, line dancing, and even a cha cha. The Midnight Rodeo is a huge honky tonk with a least 3 bars and a lot of tables around the outside and a huge dance floor in the middle. The dance floor is like an oval race track. The "island" in the middle of the dance floor has another bar and some tables. There is a railing around the dance floor with stools by the railing. There is a smaller room in one corner, Gotham, that is a disco/rock dance area. We did not bother going into Gotham. Up until this point it had rained quite a bit, but we had been indoors or underground when it was raining. When we left The Midnight Rodeo it was pouring. Ernie ran to the car and drove back to pick up Dale, this was the only time either of us got wet on the trip.

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Fort Mojave, AZ

Saturday morning we got on Route 40 and headed west for Arizona. We were greeted with the sight of hundreds of balloons coming towards us from the north, it was a beautiful sight. The scenery through western New Mexico and Arizona is a mixture of desert and mountains. It is a lot more interesting than western Texas and eastern New Mexico with some really beautiful mountain vistas. It was an uneventful trip to Fort Mojave. From Fort Mojave if you go north to the next town you are in Nevada and if you go west to the next town you are in California. It took about 7.5 hours to drive from Albuquerque to Fort Mojave.

We wanted to go to a swap meet (flea market) Sunday so we went through the yellow pages to find a church with a really early morning or an evening service, we found the Mojave Baptist church had a 6:00 PM service on Sunday, so we headed for Lake Havasu City and the swap meet Sunday morning. The swap meet was in a parking lot adjacent to an American Legion hall where Sunday mornings they serve breakfast, we had breakfast there. We bought a belt for Dale, 2 wooden carvings (an armadillo and a bison), some dish clothes, and 12 metric sockets. Lake Havasu is where the London Bridge was reassembled, we could see it from the swap meet, but we did not time to go to the bridge.

We went to Oatman which is advertised as an old western mining town. Route 66 runs up the main street. The buildings date back to the time when it was a working mining town. They have actors perform gunfights on the street. There are burros walking loose in the street and you can buy carrots to feed them. All the tourist in there shorts and tank tops and the credit cards accepted signs in all the windows kind of spoiled the effect of an old western town so we did not bother taking any pictures. There is an old hotel with rooms to view that still have the furniture and amenities used at the time. There is also a bar and restaurant in the hotel we decided to eat lunch there. An interesting feature of the hotel is the walls of the restaurant and bar are covered in one dollar bills with notes from the people who donated them. The restaurant serves Burro Ears (handmade potato chips), ostrich burgers, and buffalo burgers along with the usual items. Dale and Ernie each had an ostrich burger. They were really good, Dale thought they tasted just like a hamburger and Ernie detected just enough gameness to make them more interesting than a hamburger, and contain a lot less fat than a hamburger.

We went to church that evening where we met some very nice people. The service was not as structured as what we have come to expect at churches of the major denominations. Intermingled during the service were hymns (without musical accompaniment), missionary stories of the pastor and church members, scripture passages relating to the stories, upgrades on how parishoners were doing after their illness or other setback, and a very nice sermon. Over all it was a very refreshing and rewarding experience.

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Hoover Dam

Monday we drove to Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam is on the Colorado River. One side of the dam is in Arizona and the other is in Nevada. We parked on the Arizona side and walked across the dam to the Nevada side where the visitor center is.

We spent time looking around then went into the visitor center. It costs $10.00 for the tour and you have to pay for the tour to get into the visitor center. The guided part of the tour consists of a talk about building the dam and a trip through a tunnel to the Nevada generation room. Afterwards you are free to roam around the center. There is an observation deck at the top of the center and a museum inside the center. We spent ¼ hour on the observation deck and 1½ hours in the museum. After leaving the visitor center we went for lunch then we went to the library for a talk about the area benefitted by the dam and how the water control and electricity are used. There are a couple of outdoor talks that are considered part of the tour, but to which anyone can listen. One of the talks was at the statues across from the visitor center and the other on the walk way out to the Nevada intake towers.


Trip Back

The next morning started back to Texas. About 100 miles into the trip we saw a warning sign that there was a truck fire ahead and the road was closed. There was an exit just beyond the sign that appeared to be a small country road and most of the traffic kept going on I-40, so we continued along. We got into really heavy extremely slow moving traffic. About 10 miles beyond the sign we went by an RV on the side of the road and the traffic picked up speed just beyond it. We figured that the truck fire message was the closest they had to display on the sign. After another mile the traffic slowed down even more than before. Another 10 miles further we went by all that was left of the truck that had burned, a burned out shell of the tractor and one large piece of sheet metal from the trailer. We had never seen such a badly burned truck. After getting home Ernie asked our friend Dave, who drives trucks for a living, what could have caused so much damage. He told Ernie that the trailer was probably aluminum or fiberglass, since there was a large piece left it was probably aluminum, and it was hauling some hot burning cargo. It had taken us over 2 hours to go a little more than 20 miles averaging about 10 MPH.

We got to Albuquerque about an hour before dark. We headed south on I-25 out of Albuquerque and stopped in Belen for the night. We checked in at a motel beside which there was a diner. We were told the diner was a good place to get supper and that we could get a free breakfast there since we were staying at the motel. We got the bags into the room and walked over to the diner. They told us that they had discovered a gas leak and were not serving food at that time.

We found out how to get to a street in town that had some restaurants. We found a Pizza Hut that was open and had supper. Upon returning to the motel we noticed the diner was open again. In the morning we had breakfast at the diner and headed out once more.

When we got to I-10 we headed east toward Texas. When we crossed into Texas we were in El Paso. We stopped at exit 0 and went to the visitor center. We noticed that there were quit a few boot stores in El Paso and got directions to Cowtown Boots. Dale got a pair of boots there and we asked where we could get lunch. He told us that the Iron Skillet was a good place to get back on I-10 east and get off at exit 39. We stopped there for lunch.

In the Albuquerque section we talked about how big some of the cities are in the Southwest. In Texas the interstate roads have exit numbers that coincide with the mile markers. El Paso goes up to the New Mexico border, we ate in El Paso at exit 39, and continued east on I-40 for a while before leaving El Paso. The city of El Paso is well over 40 miles wide.

We spent the night in Fort Stockton and got to San Antonio at 2:00 PM on Thursday. We visited with some people we know on Thursday evening and Friday. We all went out for supper at the Outback Friday night. Saturday morning we boarded the plane to head home.

The flight back was uneventful, though Dale thought it was a bit rough. It took about an hour to find where they make the limo drivers park to pick up passengers at the airport. By the time we got home it was close to 10:00 PM.

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