Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Geezer X - The Trip Home and Final Thoughts

Ruidoso to Winslow
September 24

It was a glum morning as we all did our final packing and loaded our cars. Another Geezer Gathering in the books.  Finally, it was time to say our final good byes and hit the road.  Jack and Steph were taking a southern route and would be spending the night in Tucson, Arizona while Val and I would be taking a more northerly route and would be staying in Winslow, Arizona.

After returning the house keys and gassing up the 4-Runner, we were on the road out of Ruidoso by 10:00.  Today’s drive was mostly through the back country on two-lane roads so it was more scenic, but a little more tiring.    It was another beautiful day and after driving for a while we decided to stop in Socorro, NM for an early lunch as there wouldn’t be any large towns for a while.  After lunch we drove west out of Socorro on US Highway 60 and came upon a very interesting sight.

About 50 miles west of Socorro, we could see something that looked like big satellite dishes in the distance and wondered what it was.  As we got closer we could see they were indeed some kind of large satellite dishes and there were a lot of them.  As we came abreast of the dishes there was a turnout with some other cars parked so we pulled over.  It turns out that this was the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array Radio Astronomy Observatory.  There were a total of twenty-seven large dishes mounted on railroad tracks that could be moved and positioned as needed.  Evidently, they are moved quite often depending on what they were looking for and when we saw them they were spread out for miles on both side of the road.  Back off the road there is a visitor center, which we would have loved to visit, but we just didn’t have time today.  The area they are located in is called the Plains of San Agustin and is a beautiful area, but it was so bizarre to suddenly see these huge dishes out in the middle of nowhere.  Here are a couple of links with more information - National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Wikipedia .

The dishes were stretched out on both side of the road, as can be seen on this picture, and the picture below.  You can see the railroad tracks used to move them in the middle on the right.

The building in the distance is the Visitor Center, I wish we would have had time to stop.
After leaving the Plains of San Agustin, we continued on to Winslow where we were spending the night at one of our favorite places, The historic La Posada Hotel.  The hotel was built in 1929 and imagined by the architect as a Spanish rancho of the early 1800’s.  It was renovated into a hotel when the don and his family fell on hard times.  Her vision came through very well and this is a wonderful place to stay with a very interesting and historic d├ęcor.  In the hotel there is a very, very good restaurant called the Turquoise Room with James Beard award nominated Chef, John Sharpe, providing the excellent cuisine. We eat in the Turquoise Room every time we stay here and have always had a wonderful dinner.  Here is a link if you are interested in more detail on the history of the hotel.

Another great dinner in the Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel
After dinner we walked around the hotel a bit and Val spent some time in the gift shop, but it had been a long drive so we soon called it a night and returned to our room.

Winslow to Laughlin, NV
September 25

Today we had a relatively short drive to Laughlin, Nevada where we would spend the night at Harrah’s on the Colorado River.  Just as Tehachapi is a getaway stop on almost all of our trips into the Southwest, Laughlin is a stop we almost always make on our way home.  It is convenient, we get a "comped" room, it has a restaurant we like and we can get one more chance to make our fortune gambling (we never really believe that, but it’s fun to imagine).

It’s a relatively short drive from Winslow to Laughlin, but we hit the road early so we could get in early.  Since we didn’t eat breakfast in Winslow we decided to stop in Flagstaff for a late breakfast.  I have to mention the restaurant were we ate.  It was a coffee shop type restaurant, but the food was great and the service was great also.  I had one of the best omelets I’ve had on the road.  It's right off of I-40 so if you're looking for a place to eat while you're traveling through Flagstaff, try the Northern Pines.

We arrived in Laughlin around 1:30 and after checking-in, we spent the afternoon gambling.  It turned out to be a pleasant afternoon as we would lose a little and then win it back so we had a good time playing without running out of money.

For dinner we ate at Guy Fieri’s Burro Borracho, which has become our favorite restaurant when we stop at Harrah’s Laughlin.  It is very good Mexican food and I thought my dinner tonight was exceptionally good.  After dinner we gambled a little more, but were up in our room by 9:00 as we have a long drive home tomorrow.  We enjoyed our stay at Harrah’s; we had been given a suite, we had a nice dinner, and even though we didn’t come out ahead gambling, we did come home with most of our money in our pocket (unlike my unlucky stay in Las Vegas).

The Drive Home
September 26

Not much to say about the drive home, we have made this drive numerous times before and know the way well.  We left Laughlin around 9:00, made one gas and lunch stop in Tehachapi (no, not at the Red House for ribs) and were home by 5:00.  It felt good to be home and we are looking forward to sleeping in our own bed.  The end of another great trip.

Final Thoughts

Our favorite time of the year is when we meet our friends for our annual Geezer Gathering and this year was no exception.  Ruidoso turned out to be a great location and the house we rented was in a great location and very comfortable.  The weather turned out to be near perfect, with moderate temperatures and nearly clear skies the whole week.

It was particularly interesting to learn about Billy the Kid, the Lincoln County War and the history of the area.  I had no idea all that went on in this area of New Mexico.  I think riding the zip line was the highlight for Val, Jack and myself as it was something we never expected to do and was a very exciting adventure for us.

Most of all though, it’s the getting together of old friends that is the best part of the week.  It is amazing that even though some of us only see each other once a year, we remain such good friends and have such a good time together.  Next year four of us will turn 70 and we are all lucky to remain healthy and able to do this every year.  We do know that no one defeats Father Time and this won’t last forever so we make the most of every year and appreciate being together, as it will not always be like this.

Val and I have a turn-around of less than three weeks before we start on our next trip, which is a long one.  In mid-October we leave on a seven-week cruise out of Fort Lauderdale to the Mediterranean and back so we have a lot to do in a short time.  Until then, we’ll see you on down the road.

Geezer X - Day 7: Our Last Day

September 23

Since John and Greg were leaving today, we were all up around 8:00.  They didn’t end up leaving until around 10:00 so we had time for some final talk before they had to go.  It is always sad to see them go as it means this year’s Geezer Gathering is coming to an end.

We didn’t do much for the rest of the day.  Since the puzzle wasn’t going to be finished, there wasn’t much incentive to work further on it so we mostly sat around and talked.  We also started getting things packed up so we didn’t have to do it all in the morning.

When we were in Hawaii, our friend Ev introduced me to a game called Wordbrain which can be played on smart phones and tablets.  I became addicted and have been playing it ever since so this afternoon I got Jack and Steph playing.  I don’t know whether they will play it as much as I have, but they did play it for most of the afternoon and evening, and I did pry Jack away long enough to take a walk.

The only real place to walk is on the roads so we developed a route that is probably about a two-mile round trip.  Since we are in the mountains the roads are either going up or going down, nothing is flat ,which means half of our route is easy and half is quite strenuous. The last section was especially strenuous.  When you add the 7000-foot altitude, Jack and I were panting by the time we reached the house.  It seems like it has not gotten any easier over the week, and actually seems to have gotten harder (maybe that has to do with our snack table).  Anyway, we certainly felt like we had gotten our exercise for the day.

Dinner tonight was eating leftovers from our previous dinners.  With so many good meals this week it was hard to choose so we made multiple choices.  We spent the rest of the evening talking and then called in an early evening.  Tomorrow we go our separate ways.

Geezer X - Day 6: Zipline Day

September 22

Zip line day – Everyone was up by 8:00 as we needed to call and see if the winds had calmed and the zip lines were running.  We got good news, but couldn’t get reservations earlier than 11:00, so we killed some time until our 9:45 departure time.

Only Val, Jack and I were going to do the zip line, but John and Greg came along to lend us moral support.  Steph decided to stay at the house and enjoy some quiet time.  We arrived a little before 10:30, paid our money and began the check-in process.  You first watch an orientation video and sign a waiver saying that we understand all the bad things that can happen.  After that the real process began as you go into the equipment room where they harness you up and get you a helmet.  They also provide you with a backpack that holds the latch equipment that is only used when they hook you to each zip line, and it allows you to "zip" down the mountain.  I was pleased to find out they had helmets equipped with GoPro mounts so I would be able to film our adventure.

Jack and I get harnessed up.

Val and I
There zip line is 8900 feet (1.7 miles) in length and divided into three sections.  There are two cables so two go at once, but they are far enough apart that you can't bump into each other.  You start out at a platform at the top of the mountain at 11,500 feet where they harness you up in pairs to the twin zip lines.  After "flying" down the line, you end up at a landing platform and then walk to the next connected platform to start the next segment.  The third segment ends back at the bottom near where we checked in.  In busy times, they have guides stationed at all the platforms, but this is not a busy time so we had two guides accompany us the whole way. One guide going down first to the landing platform and the second guide coming down last.  They give detailed instructions at the start of each segment about when and where to initiate the brake and other pertinent information, as each segment is different and requires different techniques.

After we got our equipment and were all harnessed up, our guides walked our group over to the gondola that took us to the top of the mountain.  There were only seven in our group so we started to get to know each other and it was obvious everyone was pretty nervous.  We got out of the gondola at the top of the mountain, which was around 11,500 feet and the views were spectacular.  One of our guides (Wyn) talked for a long time on the geography, history and culture of the area we could see all around us.  You could see all the way to Texas in one direction, White Sands National Monument in another, and all the way to Albuquerque in another.  His talk was very good and you could see he was very passionate about the area and the nature around us.  We had another guide who was also great, but I’m sorry I can’t remember his name.

The gondola ride to the top.
Our guide, Wyn, telling us about the surrounding area's geography and culture.
After our talk, the moment was upon us and we were put into an ATV and taxied to the starting platform of the first segment.  The first segment is the longest at just over a mile long. When you look down from the platform it looks very long and very steep.  Val and I volunteered to go first and soon we were standing on the edge of the platform getting hooked to the line.  The way you are harnessed up leaves you in a semi-sitting position and you’re kind of tilted back and hanging in the air.  There is a handle attached to a rope which operates the brake; you have to pull down to go and release the tension on the handle to brake.  It is a deadman’s brake so when you release it, you will start to brake.  It’s a friction brake so you would never come to an abrupt stop.

The starting platform for the first segment.  One of the guides is on his way down to the landing platform.

Val doesn't look very nervous.
I'm all harnessed up and ready to go.
The view off the platform, it sure looks like a long way down.
Since Jack didn't have a partner, our guide Wyn went down beside him.  Here is a selfie of Jack and Wyn.
Jack strapped in and ready to go.
Val and I got our last-minute instructions, pulled down the handle, and we were off.  It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.  You reach a top speed of 60 to 70 miles an hour.  With wind buffeting you, you twist and turn at times as you sail down. The loud cable whines as you slide down and adds to the sensory overload you feel as you careen down to the next platform.  Very quickly we were over the tree where we were told to brake, and our ride slowed down as we came to a gentle stop on the platform.  We were unhitched and were sent on to the next platform for the second "zip".  There were sighs of relief, high-fives and fist bumps as we were all relieved to finish the first segment.  For me, the ride at 60 miles per hour, hundreds of feet above the mountain slope was both exciting and exhilarating, and it was not very scary after the initial start. I had my GoPro fastened to my helmet and recorded video of all segments, but my results were a little disappointing.  Once you get underway, the last thing you are thinking about is that you are taking a video and should be paying attention to where the camera is pointed.  Below is a quick look at some of our ride down the first segment, I shortened it to keep the files size down.  When I looked at the video for the first time I thought it sure doesn't look like we were going very fast, but believe me, we were flying.  As I said not a great video, but you get the idea. 

The next segment wasn’t as long as the first one, but I think it was steeper.  This time Val and I went second and weren’t nearly as nervous as starting the first segment.  It went very quickly as it seemed like we were at the spot where we needed to brake all too quickly, but again, what a thrill.  We followed the same routine of waiting until all of our group was all down the mountain, and then heading to the third and final starting platform.

This is the landing platform for the first segment.  You can see how far up the mountain the starting platform was.  The guide is directing two others from our group as they near the platform.  The guides use arm signals to let you know whether you should speed up or slow down.
Looking down the second segment.
Here is my GoPro video of the second segment.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Geezer X - Day 5: Visiting Apache Ski

September 21

As usual, everyone wandered in at various times this morning, with Greg added to the mix for the first time.  Nothing was planned for the morning so the puzzle makers worked on the puzzle and we all chatted and did whatever we felt like.  Jack wanted to fly his drone so we spent some time out on the deck "helping".  He is becoming quite proficient and has made some great videos from some of his drone flights.

"Helping" Jack fly his drone.

Before we left on this trip, Val had discovered a zip line in the area at the
Apache Ski Resort just outside of Ruidoso and she wanted to try it.  It is one of the longest in the world so we decided to drive up and check it out after lunch and maybe even do it.  The ski resort was at about 10,000 feet and the top of the zip line was at 11,500, so pretty high up.  There is a gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain to ski or to get up to the zip line.  It was a beautiful day when we arrived, but very windy and we soon found out they had shut down the gondola and zip line because of the that, so no chance of zip-lining today.  I don’t know whether we felt more disappointment or relief, but we did decide to return tomorrow and try again.

It was nearly dinner time when we got home and tonight Steph made pulled pork sandwiches, which were as usual, delicious.  After dinner it was another night of homemade videos.  I had videos of our Voyage of the Vikings Cruise last year and our Hawaiian trip this spring.  Jack had some videos he’d shot with his drone and from his trip to Ohio this summer.  Jack and I always enjoy showing our videos since this is somewhat of a captive audience.  After the videos, we all sat and chatted for a while, but one by one everyone drifted off to bed and we were all done by 11:00.  No late nights on this trip; after all, we are all geezers.

Geezer X - Day 4: Waiting for Greg

September 20

Today is the day the final Geezer arrives.  Greg had a meeting yesterday in Denver and is flying into Albuquerque where John will pick him up.  It’s a three hour drive one way for John so most of his day will be taken up driving.  He left just before noon and wouldn’t be back until around 6:00.

Steph wanted to visit some of the local produce stands in search of some roasted peppers so we decided to do that after lunch. The peppers we went in search of are very special, have a distinctive taste, and only grown in Hatch, New Mexico. We drove south out of town taking the same route we did for our Billy the Kid Scenic Byway and found the produce stand we were looking for.  You see bundles of dried peppers hanging all over New Mexico so it is a good place to buy them.  Steph found what she was looking for at the first place we stopped so that ended our search.  We bought some tomatillo salsa with Hatch peppers in it and I'm looking forward to trying it.  We headed back into town and stopped in an area that had a lot of shops and walked around a bit.  Jack was looking for a Ruidoso t-shirt so we looked at a couple of shops and he found what he was looking for.  After perusing a few more shops we headed back to the house.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and Steph started the prep for dinner that night.  Steph has ended up cooking most of our meals and that is fine with us as she is a wonderful cook, we have had great meals this trip and on previous trips.  John and Greg arrived right on time around 6:00 and after catching up with Greg, we sat down to a delicious meat loaf and baked potato dinner.  Pure comfort food and it was wonderful.

After dinner, we settled in to watch a special video I had made.  Since this was the tenth anniversary of our Geezer Gatherings, I made a video highlighting our previous nine years.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, which made me feel good and made my work worthwhile.  I had a copy of the video and a companion photo book for everyone, which I handed out after the movie.  These gatherings are very special to all of us and we all enjoyed reminiscing about past years.  It was a very nice night.

After the video and a little chat, it was off to bed.  Greg had been up since 3:00 AM so he was particularly anxious to call it a day.

Geezer X - Day 3: Billy the Kid Scenic Byway

September 19

The plan for today was to drive the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway.  We decided to make sandwiches and have a picnic lunch so after everyone wandered in and had their breakfast we packed the cooler, loaded the car and hit the road.  Since Greg doesn’t arrive until tomorrow, there were only five of us, which means we would all fit in one car.  We took my 4-Runner and although the three in the backseat were a bit squeezed in we all fit.

Our first stop was the Byway Visitor Center in Ruidoso Downs where we got a more detailed look at Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War.  It was very interesting and I was very surprised to see just how big Lincoln County is; it takes up the whole Southeastern quarter of New Mexico.  John told me to be sure and use the men’s restroom before I left and I thought he was just reminding me of the long drive ahead, but as evidenced by the picture below, I was very surprised by who I was sharing the restroom with.

I didn't expect to find him in the restroom.
Oh well, when nature calls.

After everyone checked out and took pictures of the men’s restroom we were on our way again.  Along the byway there were many markers showing where a shootout took place or someone was killed.  I really had no idea of how lawless and violent this area was before New Mexico became a state.  Our next stop was the old community of Lincoln, which was the center of commerce during the Lincoln County War and for a short time, the county seat of Lincoln County after New Mexico became a state.

Our first stop in Lincoln was the Old Lincoln County Courthouse, which was originally the Murphy-Dolan Store (simply called "The House" back in the day), which was at the heart of the Lincoln County War.  When it became the courthouse it also housed the county jail.  We walked around and looked at the exhibits which were very interesting.  This is where Pat Garrett resided when he was sheriff of Lincoln County.  Also, Billy the Kid escaped the jail here and killed a deputy; you can see a bullet hole at the bottom stairs where the deputy was killed.

"The House", the Old Lincoln County Store/Courthouse.
The courtroom.
The only known photo of Billy the Kid.  This is a copy, the original sold for over two-million dollars.
We next visited the Lincoln Visitor’s Center and Museum where we watched a documentary on the Lincoln County War; again, very interesting.  Preceding the documentary, a series of movie trailers were shown of some of the numerous Billy the Kid movies that have been made, amazing.  After a long visit at the museum, everyone was hungry so we had our picnic at a very nice little park in the center of town.  Lincoln is a very authentic western town and although catering to tourists, there is not any of the fake western theme that you see in a lot of tourist places.

Lunch time
A nearby restroom.
Room for two.
After lunch, we visited a couple of shops and then got back on the byway for the trip back to Ruidoso.  We made no more stops, but the countryside was very scenic so it was a nice drive.  I never knew much about this area, but learning about the history of Lincoln County has been fascinating.  I’ve heard the names of Pat Garrett, Billythe Kid, John Chisum, and many others, but I never knew how their lives intertwined and the parts they played in the Lincoln County War.  It is tempting to go into more detail, but I couldn’t do it justice so follow the links to learn more, it is really interesting.

We got back to the house in the late afternoon and kicked back and rested until dinner.  For dinner, Steph made spaghetti, which was delicious, Steph is an excellent cook.  Val brought this set of cards with questions to spark conversation on specific topics and so we did this during dinner, which turned out to be a lot of fun.  In keeping with our theme, I brought the movie “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” so we spent the rest of the evening watching that.  We were all pretty tired and the movie didn’t end until 11:00 so we all headed off to bed, the end of another great day.