Monday, February 27, 2017

Obvious unintended consequences: Grandma as a permanent houseguest

One of the things that I've heard coming up as part of the ambitions of the Trump administration is the desire to turn more stuff over to the states, like converting programs such as Medicaid into block grants. Medicaid is the federal program that funds health care for extremely poor people. You know, our fellow Americans who too many of us assume are shiftless, lazy, and unwilling to work. If you ask the typical right-wing conservative what they think of government-funded health insurance for persons living in poverty, the likely response is going to be "they should get jobs and pay for insurance like those of us who are willing to work do." Only one problem with that thinking.

You know where the bulk of Medicaid funding goes? It's not so to some kids or people of working age. It goes to keep old people in nursing homes. Observant readers may have noticed a proliferation of attorneys specializing in "elder law" in recent years. There was a time when only the wealthy worried a whole lot about estate planning or what was going to happen to their assets such as real estate once they hit their golden years. Since life expectancies crept up and more people started living long enough to develop the wide array of chronic morbidities that hit with age (i.e., diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, dementia, . . . ) families of the elderly began realizing that it was quite possible that whatever Mom and Dad managed to accumulate during their working lives was going to vanish as the medical bills piled up. Instead of inheriting the old family home or a stack of T-notes, the potential heirs realized they'd have to accumulate their wealth the old-fashioned way: earn it themselves. Unless, of course, they could shelter assets through estate planning. Hence the proliferation of elder law specialists.

Elder law specialists do more than draft wills to help prevent heirs from squabbling over who gets Great Grandma Clara's Wedgewood china. They help people with assets (real estate, cash, whatever) figure out ways to shelter it so that if the day comes when they've got to go into a nursing home the cost of their care is going to fall on society as a whole, aka taxpayers, and not on the individual elderly and their immediate family. The initial legislation for Medicare and Medicaid was passed in 1965. It took a decade or two, but people eventually realized that if their elderly parent qualified as "poor" that Medicaid would pick up the tab for the nursing home. The trick was making the parent poor enough, which is where the elder law attorneys enter the picture.

It can be a rude awakening for most folks when they discover (a) Medicare does not pay for nursing homes; (b) when the government says you have to be poor to qualify for Medicaid, they mean it. Absolutely bare bones no assets whatsoever worth mentioning. If you own real estate, if you can't sell it before you die, it's going to have a government lien on it when you do go. If you have a whole life insurance policy, you're going to have to cash that sucker in, although you will be allowed to use a chunk of it to pre-pay for a funeral. And, as any good elder law specialist will tell you, the earlier you realize those facts of life, the better. The government can go back several years searching for reimbursement for the cost of your care. It used to be three years; it might be more now. That particular aspect of Medicaid law is, of course, intended to prevent people from trying to milk the system the day after they require nursing home care.

So what happens if the conservative Republicans succeed in their plans to turn Medicare into a voucher system and Medicaid into a grant block program? I can tell you. I've seen it. I remember it. Back when I was young, in those days of yore when dinosaurs roamed the earth, when someone's elderly relative became too fragile or feeble to live independently, they took up residence with a relative. If they had multiple adult children, families would engage in "pass Gramps around." The old person would spend a month here, a month there, until whoever was hosting the old geezer or geezette would decide they'd had enough and pass the aging parent on to the next unlucky sibling. In some cases, PawPaw or MawMaw would become permanent houseguests. Family members would find themselves having to bathe and diaper their now senile and incontinent parent or grandparent. Without having to think about very hard, I can recall at least half a dozen friends who had a grandparent living with their families. For most, it was not a happy situation.

You don't find many elderly chronically ill people living with their descendants these days. They're in nursing homes. How many would be there if not for Medicaid is debatable. Until the reality slaps you in the face, the typical person has no idea just how incredibly expensive caring for the elderly can be. Back in the '90s I served as my aunt Thelma's financial representative. She had to go to a nursing home after she had a stroke following by-pass surgery. She was a frugal woman and did have the cash stashed away to be private pay. At that time, the basic monthly cost was about $3500 a month. It would easily be double that today.

So what happens when the greedy heirs who have pushed their parents into estate planning and signing away their assets discover that the reason for doing it -- Medicaid -- no longer is an option? Are they going to be willing to start liquidating the stuff they'd anticipated inheriting? (I'm guessing probably not.) And what about the elderly who were genuinely poor to begin with, the old folks who maybe have a small life insurance policy and not much else? Families have gotten smaller -- it's no longer possible to play pass the grandpa -- and most don't have the ability to pay for outside help, like an aide to stay with the senile parent while the adult child goes to work. What happens when Medicaid goes away and the nursing home tells you to come pick up your senile parent or grandparent because they're about to close their doors  because without Medicaid payments they can't operate and the old person has to go somewhere? Every so often there'll be a story on the news about an aged relative being abandoned at a highway rest stop or other odd location because the family hadn't been able to get that person into a nursing home but could no longer cope on their own. How much more common will that scenario be if Medicaid vanishes?

We live in interesting times. Here's hoping that enough politicians can be persuaded to look at real world consequences instead of blindly behaving like lemmings and following The Donald and Paul Ryan off a cliff.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

And the itinerary changes again

We just got back to Safford from Grand Junction, Colorado, where we spent a few days helping my sister Cheryl and her husband empty our mother's apartment. No need for condolences, gentle reader, my mother isn't dead. She said a couple years ago that she planned to live to be 100, and at the moment it's looking like she might do it.

My mother is 94 and has been living in an assisted living facility for a number of years. Assisted living facilities provide a person with a fair amount of independence: depending on the facility, you may have an apartment that isn't much different than what you'd have in any regular apartment complex except the unit will have features making it handicapped accessible (aka more user friendly and safe for the elderly), like a shower stall with a built in seat or bench and grab bars, outlets placed higher up the wall than in most conventional construction. and so on. When my aunt Thelma was in assisted living, she had a studio apartment that included a pretty decent kitchenette so she could have cooked real meals if she ever felt like it. My mom's apartment is a one bedroom, but has less of a kitchen than Thelma's did: my mother just has a microwave and a dorm-size refrigerator.

Anyway, assisted living facilities operate on the premise that the residents are still basically independent but for various reasons no longer feel comfortable living totally on their own. Residents are supposed to be able to take care of most of the activities of daily life (aka ADLs) like getting dressed or going to the bathroom on their own. There may be aides who will help residents with some ADLs, like taking a shower, and there are housekeepers who do things like change the linens on beds, take out the trash, and vacuum, but in general you're still living pretty independently. And, just like in a typical apartment complex, the units come unfurnished. You get to bring in all your own stuff so it really does feel like your own home.

Well, a couple weeks ago my mother fell. She had been having an upset stomach for a few days, wound up dehydrated, felt light-headed, and did a spectacular face plant while walking to the bathroom. Through sheer dumb luck she did the face plant into a bucket instead of right on to the floor, which meant no broken nose, black eyes, or smashed glasses, but it still resulted in one of the more interesting bruises I've seen: a vivid, clearly defined semi-circle across her forehead. To use her own words, it looked like she'd tried painting on clown eyebrows. Bruises tend to take a long time to fade when you're in your 90s so the line was still highly visible as of 48 hours ago. 

Anyway, end result was a trip to the emergency room, a stay in the hospital that led to the discovery of another problem (like most nonagenarians she has a number of chronic comorbidities), several more days in the hospital, all while being totally bedridden, and now a stay at a rehabilitation center/skilled nursing facility. It is remarkably depressing to see how quickly a person's muscles atrophy and how weak one gets after only a few days of forced bed rest. The being on a clear liquid diet for several days didn't help much either. She's back to eating real food and a relatively normal routine, but she's still going to be at the rehab center for a few weeks. She can't go back to assisted living until she's strong enough again to be able to take care of basic ADLs like going to the bathroom without having help, and although the doctor is optimistic that she can rebuild her strength with physical therapy, it's not going to happen overnight.

Bottom line: she's not going to be able to get back into her current apartment before the end of the month. If she's not going to be in the apartment (and may never be able to get back to the apartment) there's no point in paying the March rent. So she told us to clean it out, pack things up, and then we'll all deal with what to do next when she's stronger. Cheryl has storage space for the furniture and other items that would be needed for a move back into an apartment so what we did was more of a thinning than a liquidation. The apartment had been a little crowded for its size so we figured do some editing and create a little more open floor space and provide a little more maneuvering room for her walker and wheelchair. A few things went to Salvation Army, but most just got carefully packed away for awhile. If it turns out the next step for our mother is permanent residency in a nursing home, Cheryl will deal with whatever furniture and household goods are left later in the spring. .

So what do my mother's health issues have to do with changes in our itinerary? Furniture. A couple of the items that will not be stashed at Cheryl's very long are bookcases my father made. Cheryl and Wally suggested donating the bigger one to Salvation Army. I couldn't do it. The thing is solidly built, it was designed to hold books, and there is actually a space in the Retirement Bunker that would be perfect for it. And the Old Man made it. I had (for me) a rare attack of sentimentality. The S.O. measured it and figures there'd be no problem (other than its weight and general awkwardness) in putting it up on the bunk over the cab and hauling it home that way. The smaller bookcase (also made by the Old Man) will fit on the back seat of my car.

Bottom line: instead of waltzing across Texas in March, we're going to Colorado. We'll hang out there for a couple weeks, doing stuff like going through old photo albums with my sister and (if we're lucky) helping my mother get moved back into assisted living, and then will figure out just what route we want to follow home. We'll have to talk with my other brother-in-law about highways and campgrounds. For various reasons he prefers not to get on airplanes so whenever he and my sister Valerie go to Colorado from Alabama they use their camper. By now, I'm reasonably sure the man knows every good spot to boondock between Grand Junction and the Mississippi.

We do wish there was a better way to get from here to Grand Junction. In the Rand McNally (or even on Mapquest) US-191 looks like the most direct route. Well, we know that's not the best idea -- we've been over US-191 here in Arizona. There's about a 90-mile stretch of it going through the mountains from Morenci to Alpine where you average 30 mph or less thanks to all the switchbacks and hairpin turns. It's extremely scenic, a truly lovely stretch of road, but a royal pain to drive. The Guppy could do it (it's only 27 feet long; the road is closed to anything over 40 feet) but the S.O. has no desire to try it.

Because we'd heard that sometimes people will go over to US-180 in New Mexico and take it up to Alpine instead of driving US-191, we decided to check it out and came back that way, sort of. We drove down from Gallup on state highways and connected with US-180 near Reserve, which is east of Alpine. We discovered that route's not such a hot idea either. It's slightly less of a corkscrew than US-191, but it also felt much too empty. We went for a long, long way between Gallup, New Mexico, and here without seeing much in the way of gas stations. When you're driving something that sucks down petrol the way the Guppy does, seeing signs saying stuff like "Next services 95 miles" is not a happy prospect. It's a bit weird. I always thought of Maine as the "you can't get there from here" state, but apparently I was wrong.

On the bright side, if the most logical route north would be a slight variation on what we did last week (US-70 [Safford] to US-60 [Globe] to US-191 [St. Johns] to I-70 [Utah] to Grand Junction), it could mean camping for a night or two at Chinle, which would not be a horrible thing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Weirdness overload

Astute readers (all two of you) may have noticed I haven't had much to say about The Donald lately. I'm suffering from what is probably a common affliction these days: weirdness overload. I'll see the news first thing in the morning (the little bit of news I do see), think "Aha! That calls for a blog post!"but before I manage to start typing, something even more bizarre or outrageous or just flatout stupid has popped up.

Ivanka Trump's fashion line tanking and The Donald declaring war on Nordstrom. Kellyanne Conway violating federal employee ethics rules. The Donald indicating he plans to spend every weekend jetting between D.C. and Florida (and people had the nerve to complain when President Obama went to Hawaii once a year?). The Donald holding policy meetings discussing classified information in the middle of a public resaturant. Betsy DeVos. Michael Flynn and the Russians. Oprah scuttling a cabinet pick. Learning that he'd filed for re-election on what was basically his first day in office. Three weekends in a row of golfing in Florida after the man spent multiple years complaining about how much it cost taxpayers any time President Obama left Washington. It's a never ending shit storm. How the more political bloggers manage to deal with it all is beyond me.

Part of me has to wonder, as I've noticed a number of the more conspiracy minded types are doing, if the weirdness overload is all part of a nefarious plan, a deliberate attempt to keep everyone distracted while the truly evil stuff happens behind the scenes. I don't know. Is it really plausible that anyone, be it Vladimir Putin or Steve Bannon or whichever the puppet master you prefer, would deliberately set out to cross The Manchurian Candidate with a Three Stooges movie? I doubt it. (And I am now mentally casting movies about the Trump administration and trying to figure out which role Josh Rogen would be good in. And how on earth could any casting director mange to persuade any actor to portray a human toad like Bannon?)

As I noted in a previous post, The Donald doesn't appear to be a particularly smart man. He's a rich guy who succeeded primarily because he inherited money and has spent his entire life surrounded by butt snorklers and enablers who helped him survive in a gilded bubble. With one or two rare exceptions, everyone of his appointees and advisors falls into that same category: not particularly smart or talented, although some do possess a certain amount of avaricious cunning (his now irrelevant pick for Secretary of Labor fell into that category). Nope. In the case of the floundering, chaotic Trump administration, I don't think we need to look for conspiracies or grand schemes. Like the old saying goes, Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity -- and in the Trump administration there's definitely more than enough stupidity to go around.

On a positive note, it has been fun lately watching news clips of various Congress critters being confronted by their constituents. Anyone who thinks that showing up for town hall meetings and asking hard questions doesn't make a difference should take a look at the clips of representatives like Jason Chaffetz (Republican from Utah) freaking out as voters chant "Do your job!" and "Your last term!" Chaffetz was getting enough crap from the voters that he actually withdrew a resolution he had introduced that would have made it easier for the Bureau of Land Management to sell land. The resolution was actually fairly innocuous -- it dealt with lands that had been previously designated as suitable for sale and not as some activists seemed to think a wholesale auctioning off of national parks -- but given current public sentiment about keeping public lands public Chaffetz managed to stir up considerably more controversy than he'd anticipated.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pet peeve of the day: conflating agencies

Image result for smokey bear Resist! National Park Service

Does anyone outside the various agencies, both state and federal, that deal with the environment, cultural heritage, recreation, wildlife, whatever, have any clue that those agencies are not all the same? The most recent irritant in my world is a meme that's kicking around on the Intertubes, a little gem that's being screenprinted on tee-shirts with the dubious claim that all profits from sales will go to benefit the National Park Service. Given that I've seen quite a few variations on it all making that same claim, I somehow doubt any money is going to anyone other than the person peddling the shirts. I am especially dubious given the sheer number of vendors peddling Smokey Resist! shirts -- when I did a Google Image search, there must have been two dozen variations, none of which were being marketed by any nonprofit actually associated with either NPS or the Forest Service.

In any case, the shirt features  Smokey Bear exhorting people to RESIST! Smokey is standing next to the National Park Service arrowhead. One problem, people. Smokey is a U.S. Forest Service employee. He also lends his services to Natural Resources departments in various states. He's not NPS. He's never been NPS. You want to get Smokey collectibles? You go to a U.S. Forest Visitor Center, not a National Park. You want to talk with someone tasked with wearing the Smokey suit for parades or other public appearances? You're not going to find an NPS employee wearing fur. It's going to be someone from a state DNR or the U.S. Forest Service. But try telling the general public that. If it involves protecting the environment, it's automatically the Park Service doing it. 

Of course, the Smokey shirt isn't the only place this irritant pops up. I joined a Facebook group that supposedly is focused on the National Parks. People post photos of the different NPS sites they've visited, share tips on nifty stuff to see, and describe especially nice experiences they've had. Only one problem: I swear half the stuff that gets posted has nothing to do with the National Park Service. Lots of cool photos -- waterfalls in various locations, gorgeous scenic vistas, and so on -- from state parks, county parks, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management sites, Indian reservations, and National Wildlife Refuges. This would not be a bad thing if people identified the sites as such. You know, threw in a sentence or two saying something like "If you visit Mordor National Park, be sure to check out the orc village just outside the gates," but most people don't. Instead they'll gush about visiting Grand Canyon National Park and seeing Havasupai Falls (outside the park boundary on the Havasupai reservation) or seeing Cochise Stronghold (Coronado National Forest) when they visited Chiricahua National Monument.

I don't know why this annoys me. Back when I did field work, I'd occasionally run into local residents who were sure I worked for the state DNR even after I introduced myself as a National Park Service historian, or who somehow thought the National Park unit we were standing in was actually a state park. Either that, or they thought I was Forest Service for some reason. The average citizen is really, really bad at telling government agencies apart -- and for sure Rick Perry isn't the only person on the planet who doesn't know what the various agencies actually do.

Actually, the thing that floored me the most back in my NPS days wasn't the confusion over just which agency employed me. It was the totally baffled look some people would give me as they asked, "Why would the Park Service have historians?" I could halfway understand that question when I was chatting with hikers in the middle of nowhere at Buffalo National River, but when we were standing in a place labeled as National Historic Site? The stupid, it burned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Installment Whatever of the Travelogue: Walnut Canyon National Monument.

After spending the night in Flagstaff, the trek continued. Checked out of the motel, got on to I-40, and then three miles down the road got off I-40. Walnut Canyon has to be one of the easiest parks in the National Parks system to visit: conveniently close to Flagstaff and with a dedicated freeway exit.
Walnut Canyon was popular with tourists long before it was designated as a national monument. Its numerous cliff dwellings began attracting visitors in the 19th century. Many of the ancient cave dwellings were vandalized and graves desecrated as pot hunters and tourists roamed through the canyon looking for souvenirs or anything that might be salable to collectors. Concern about ongoing vandalism and looting led to President Wilson designating Walnut Canyon a National Monument in 1915. The site was managed by the U.S. Forest Service. In the 1930s, the Forest Service requested that management of Walnut Canyon be transferred to the National Park Service, probably because preservation of archeological resources was a better fit with the NPS's overall mission.

Following establishment of the the Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC workers developed the Island Trail, a trail that includes multiple flights of stairs and allows visitors to walk down into the canyon and see the cliff dwellings from a closer perspective. It's not a particularly difficult trail, but, wow, after a while you start to hope you've seen that last flight of stairs. And then it hits you -- all those stairs you've come down require you going back up eventually. Anyone with bad knees or a weak heart should probably limit their views of the cliff dwellings to what they can see from the rim.
 One of the more amusing things I overheard on our visit was a woman talking about how she had been to Walnut Canyon about 20 years earlier and at that time the paved trail, concrete steps, and metal hand railings did not exist. She swore it was all dirt and that they'd had to scramble up and down the cliffs. I'm not sure where she'd actually been, but it wasn't Walnut Canyon. The CCC spent four years working in the Monument: they built a visitor center (still extant, but kind of hiding as a more recent addition masks much of the original building), the Island Trail with its 240 steps, and made other improvements. The asphalt in the above photo may be fairly recently, but the stone retaining wall was the CCC.

Walnut Canyon was occupied at about the same time as the pueblos at Wupatki, from about 1100 to about 800 years ago. Scholars have dubbed the peoples living there as being part of Singua culture, Native Americans who were able to practice farming with very little water, and whose culture spread across a fairly large area in northern Arizona. The cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon aren't the spectacular pueblos you see at places like Mesa Verde. They're more typically single family dwellings, one or two rooms that take advantage of a shallow cave or overhang and are the equivalent of one story in height. I heard other visitors speculating about how the people got around when they were basically living on the sides of a cliffs, but if you look carefully, the cliffs are naturally terraced (there are more or less level areas in front of every dwelling, even if it's not always very wide) and you can also see natural routes up and down between the various levels. Eight hundred years of weather and revegetation can make it hard to visualize, but not impossible.

On the day we were there, recent snow meant that part of the Island Trail was closed for safety reasons. The trail normally makes a loop, but thanks to the ice on the shady side of the "island" visitors had to backtrack. In addition to the Island Trail, visitors who want to see more of the monument can sign up for a ranger-guided hike that goes along the terraces in the canyon and gives them a glimpse of the cliff dwellings not normally accessible to the public.

The park was surprisingly busy when we stopped. The parking lot was close to full, and there was a steady stream of visitors going up and down the Island Trail. Lots of families, and once again I was moderately amazed by the numbers of parents who didn't seem particularly concerned about letting kids run on a trail that had some fairly impressive drop-offs. But, as we all know, it's human nature to think that bad stuff only happens to other people's families.

There is a rim trail that's handicap accessible and has two nice overlooks of the canyon. There's also a picnic area that on the day we were there came complete with ravens. But then ravens were everywhere -- Grand Canyon, Wupatki, Petrified Forest, you name it. They were the one form of wildlife we were guaranteed seeing no matter where we went.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Buyer's remorse strikes again

In the three weeks since The Donald took the oath of office and moved into the White House, there's been a fair amount of hand-wringing and "holy crap, I didn't think he'd really do it" emanating from the folks who voted for Cheeto Mussolini. The latest surge in buyer's remorse seems to be coming from the agricultural sector.

"Farmers" (and I use the word loosely, because I'm not sure it applies when you're running an industrial operation involving thousands of acres and relying on hundreds of workers) in California and elsewhere are now freaking out over visions of a labor shortage. The one agency that seems eager to follow directions from the White House is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aka ICE. There were record numbers of deportations under the Obama administration, but even so ICE was a tad restrained in some areas. Well, from the perspective of undocumented immigrants, those have become the good old days. ICE is now going after anyone and everyone who might be here illegally.

Not surprisingly, a good number of the undocumented workers in this country are farm workers. Let's face it. For various reasons -- changing demographics that resulted in a more urbanized population, for example -- there aren't a whole lot of people who actually want to work on farms. The work that needs to be done tends to be physically demanding, involves miserable working conditions, and pays shit wages. There are, however, still a lot of crops and livestock that require people to get them to market. Dairy farms need real live people to attach the milking machines to the cows. Crops like strawberries are too delicate to mechanically harvested so have to be picked by hand. Depending on the fruit, not as many bodies are needed for harvesting (I have seen mechanized blueberry pickers in action) but you still need people to do the seasonal pruning. And so on. You don't get food to the supermarket without a lot of labor being involved on the production end.

Which brings me to the buyer's remorse. Farmers tend to vote Republican, whether it's in California or Nebraska. In the most recent election, naturally, they voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Trump is now following through on his promise to crack down on undocumented brown people living and working in this country. ICE has already begun deporting persons they were ignoring during the previous administration. Once the easy targets have been swept up, how much longer do you think it will be before they resume massive raids on factories and farm fields?

Which brings us to all those Republican farmers who are suddenly realizing they just screwed themselves. Dude, the Human Yam talked loud and long about deporting undocumented immigrants. Did you believe he was going to make an exception for the Guatemalens who are picking your lettuce?

Actually, they probably did believe that of all the promises their candidate made, the one that would affect them most directly is the one the Trumpster would renege on. If it didn't mean that the price of fresh produce is going to start climbing, I'd be laughing. Just how out of touch of reality do people have to be to vote for a candidate who makes promises to do something and then freak out when the candidate actually follows through? Farmers freaking out about losing stoop labor isn't quite as amusing as the ignorant rubes who voted for Trump because he vowed to get rid of Obamacare and now are panicking because the Republicans are working on repealing the Affordable Care Act -- "What do you mean Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing?! No one told me that!!" -- but it comes close.

In short, when a candidate has a list of promises he's said he plans to keep, what makes anyone think that the one that impacts you where it hurts the most is the one he's going to ignore? The stupid, it burns. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Modifying the itinerary

It's odd how quickly one can become comfortable sitting in one spot. When the S.O. and I started talking about this whole snowbird thing the word 'ambling' got tossed around. We'd go far enough south to get away from snow, and then we'd amble. Spend a week or two here, a week or two there, staying in one spot long enough to do a little exploring, check out whatever units of the National Park system happened to be nearby, visit other local attractions, and then we'd amble on down the road.

Then The Kid got promoted and transferred to southeastern Arizona. Okay, so we'd stay a little bit longer in one spot before the actual ambling began. Instead of following the original plan of kind of hopscotching around to various state and federal campgrounds with an occasional stay at private RV park that had full hookups, we'd find a private RV park that did extended stays and sit in one spot for a month or two.

Well, the month or two became three months before we even got here Once we decided we'd head south at the end of October, it was an easy decision to say, well, it would be weird to take off right after the holidays so we'll stay at Lexington Pines until the end of January. Then we got here, time flew, we got comfortable, and suddenly the ambling didn't look quite as attractive. So we tacked on February.

So here we are. February is now 25% gone. We started talking about where we'd go at the end of the month. . . . and guess what the answer turned out to be? Nowhere. You got it. The itinerary has been modified again. We're now looking at the middle of March before we depart. The original ambling home phase has gone from about ten weeks down to more like four. Which means, I guess, that instead of a week at Big Bend National Park or Canyon Lake, it'll be more like 2 or 3 days. At this point, we're still saying we'll kind of waltz across Texas before aiming North, but the waltz is starting to look more and more like a schottische.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

And the road trip narrative continues.

Sunset Crater National Monument is located slightly northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, and is reached by the same loop road that passes through Wupatki National Monument. One would think it would be a rare person who visited one without also seeing the other, but apparently it happens. I spoke with a fellow recently who had been to Grand Canyon National Park and to Sunset Crater but drew a complete blank when I asked him about Wupatki.

 As is fairly obvious from the map, Sunset Crater isn't particularly large. It is also fairly limited in what one can do there. There are a couple short hiking trails that provide views of the volcano or the lava flows, but you cannot climb the volcano itself. On the other hand, it is surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. The Forest does have numerous recreational opportunities, including long hiking trails, back country camping, and a campground (Bonito) located immediately adjacent to the momument. The campground is named after the lava flow which, as my Guide to RV/Trailer Camping in U. S. National Forests, notes, lends "another worldly appearance to this starkly beautiful place."
 If I had any photo editng skills at all, I would play with the above photo so it didn't look like the mountain was about to be struck by a humongous flaming object.
I must confess that Sunset Crater Volcano was place where we behaved like windshield tourists. We pulled into one overlook, admired the view of the mountain, admired the view off in another direction, and then got back in the car and continued on our way. We overshot the parking for the trail by the lava fields, which actually merited a closer look, and then stopped at the Visitor Center. We briefly contemplated doubling back to the lava field trail, but it was getting late in the afternoon, we weren't sure just how far we were from Flagstaff or how long it would take us to find a motel, and so instead continued on our way.
In retrospect, I wish we had spent a little more time at Sunset Crater. It was interesting seeing what is obviously fairly recent volcanic activity. In geologic terms, a little over 800 years since the last major eruption comes close to being no time at all. Definitely worth visiting if a person is in the Flagstaff area; it's only 14 miles from I-40 so it's pretty easy to get to. If a person wants to camp, the Bonito campground is open May 4 through October 8 and can accommodate motorhomes and trailers up to 44 feet long. Sites at the campground are reservable through No hookups, but potable water is available and there are toilets.

Top photo and map lifted from the National Park Service.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Shoot me. Just shoot me now.

Speaking of RV park oddities, this is one we'd noticed the first time we campground hosted. Little old ladies and their drop kick dogs. Everyone knows that little old ladies have an irrational fondness for little yippers, the annoying rats on a string or the superficially cute balls of fluff that have the same lovable personalities as gila monsters. Like Pomeranians, a breed that terrorized me back in my newspaper carrier days. (I will go to my grave convinced Pomeranans are the nastist little bastards on the planet.)

With a few rare exceptions, though, when it comes to RV living it is not the little old ladies who get to walk those wee beasties. It's the old dudes, the geezers who spent their entire lives working so they could afford a really nice Leviathan or humongous 5th wheel. The golden years finally arrive, they're able to do some traveling, be snowbirds, enjoy the good years ("this message brought to you by the Ketchup Advisory Board. . ."), and what does The Wife do? She insists first on sharing that motorhome or travel trailer with a dog, sometimes multiple dogs, and the beast is one of those miniature breeds that puppy mills crank out by the gazillions and that are usually psychotic as hell from having spent the first ten weeks or more of its life in a canine concentration camp. Then she decides that walking that beast, that nasty-tempered little yipper, is a good chore for the Old Man. He apparently needs the exercise more than she does. End result? A lot of old dudes shuffling around the RV park or campground walking shih tzus, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, etc., and all with the same expression on their face: "Shoot me. Please shoot me now." You just know that this is not how they pictured retirement.

One of the neighbors here is an older guy, I'm guessing he's probably somewhere in his 80s, who amuses us because his vehicle has a set of truck nuts dangling from the trailer hitch. You just don't expect to see truck nuts on a vehicle belonging to someone that old. (Actually, you don't expect to see truck nuts anywhere any more -- that fad kind of came and went a few years ago.) It didn't take us long to figure out why he has that set of plastic testicles. They're to compensate for the ones he lost years ago when his wife insisted on getting a couple of perambulating dust mops that he's now stuck walking and cleaning up after. Poor bastard.

Another set of neighbors, some folks who just pulled in a couple days ago with a high dollar Leviathan, actually have four, count 'em, four annoying little furballs traveling with them. The little bastards bark like maniacs every time anyone walks past their site. Now, I know a Class A has a lot more space in it than the Guppy does -- being quite a few feet longer does make a difference -- but even so, why anyone who was even remotely in their right mind would want to travel with four yippers is beyond me.