September 1, 2006
We set the alarm clock to get up early because we didn't know for sure when our Monaco service advisor would be by to discuss our recently completed warranty repairs. We had breakfast then waited, and waited some more for him to call or stop at the coach. We knew that he must be busy, but he failed to show up as promised.
While waiting for him to show, we received a call from a fellow named "Jack", who is the Monaco factory rep. for Cummins Diesel, the maker of our coach's engine. We had been advised by Ron at Roadmaster to look into a clutching fan for our engine as our engine was equipped from the factory with a fixed, non clutching unit. The benefits of fitting a clutching unit are many and we agreed to make the swap. Jack was to be our contact for swapping out the fans. After a few minutes of conversation, we agreed on a time for him to come by and perform the conversion. Still no word from our service advisor.
Finally, not thinking that our advisor was going to come by, I took a walk up to the main office area to try and find our advisor, Tom. He was in his office and invited me in. He offered no explanation as to why he didn't call or stop by as we had discussed, but he did have our paperwork on his desk so I sat down with him and we went over each individual item. To tell the truth some of the items didn't seem to me like they had gotten the proper attention, but at this point, I was willing to take a "wait and see" approach. One item, a loose trim piece on the bed was missed completely, but in the interest of getting out and back on the road I told Tom that I would fix it myself.
When I got back to the motor home Jack was there with the new fan and had already started installing it. Jack turned out to be a great guy who seemed to not be bothered by my looking over his shoulder as he worked. We talked while he worked and I took the opportunity to pick his brain about our Cummins ISC engine. It's not often that we get the ear of a factory representative and I tried to make the most of it.
Soon the fan swap was complete except for setting up our engine control computer. This was done by accessing the computer through the Monaco factory supplied data port using a laptop. My, how things have changed. In this case a technician sat comfortably in our drivers seat typing into a laptop while performing his work. I offered to slip him a few bucks if he could turn our 330 hp unit into a 400 with a few keystrokes, but he said that wouldn't be possible. Darn! Oh well, it didn't hurt to ask.
Once Jack left it was time for us to leave the Monaco campground and head for a nearby KOA. With all the excitement of our factory stay we had forgotten that we were coming up on the three day weekend. Once it dawned on us, Margo made some quick phone calls only to find out that just about every park she contacted was full for the long weekend. The KOA had just one space large enough to accommodate our coach and it was only for the one night. We'll need to keep looking or it might be Camp Wal-Mart for us.
Once we got the coach settled at the KOA, we made a run down to the Monaco assembly plant in time to make the 2:00 pm tour. We didn't want to leave the area without seeing both the chassis and coach assembly plants. We pulled into a visitor parking space and walked into a nice lobby where the receptionist signed us in and had us fill out a waiver for the plant tour. This time there were several other RV owners who had signed up for the tour. We were handed safety glasses, a set of headphones and a small radio receiver that would be used to hear our tour guide as we made our way through the noisy plant environment.
Our tour guide showed up promptly at 2:00 pm and our tour began. Speaking for myself, I love plant tours especially the first steps out onto the production floor. In this case we went through a door that lead to a final production area where the coaches appeared to be complete except for paint. Most modern RVs have graphics or full-body paint that disguises what square boxes they really are. Seeing these motor homes without paint or graphics reinforced that fact. Since the materials used to clad the exterior of the coaches are sourced from many different vendors, the visual affect of seeing a coach without paint is sort of like a patchwork. It's only attractive if you love things mechanical, not so nice if you are a fan of the finished product. Personally I like it both ways.
The tour guide led us through all of the major assembly areas starting with the bare chassis and finally leading up to the paint shop across the way. I won't try to detail the tour here, especially since photos were prohibited, but I will say that the tour was a lot of fun and highly informative. One thing that we enjoyed seeing was the coaches being moved about the plant on large pads. We never did find out what was under the pads, but they reminded us of those pads that can be used to move heavy furniture around the house. They're very thin and appear not to have rollers or wheels under them. It's very strange to see a large, nearly complete motor home moving sideways at a good clip across the plant floor.
Our tour drew to a close after our getting to see the paint process over at the paint shop. We found out that it takes 25 gallons of paint to paint the average 40 foot motor home and that Monaco uses the same paint as BMW. We were told that we could buy touch-up paint at a BMW dealership simply by supplying our coach's paint codes, which was nice to know.
Sometimes manufacturing plants give out free samples of what they make but not in this case. Instead we got to have the run of a long line of finished coaches so that we could examine them and have fun going from coach to coach checking them out.
Evening found us back out at the KOA. Margo got back on the phone to RV parks to the west of us and finally found us a park to stay at in Springfield, IL. We had originally intended to head west on I-80, but this heading will lead us back through St. Louis so that we will be heading west across I-70. We didn't plan it this way, but that's the fun of open-ended RV travel. You never know just what you might find and the fun is in being flexible.
September 2, 2006
We rolled out of our Elkhart, Indiana KOA RV park just as most people who had come there were getting into the full swing of their three-day weekend. Our goal for today would be the "Double J" RV park in Springfield, IL. The GPS told us that we'd be putting 283 miles behind us to get there.
The first thing I noticed after leaving Elkhart was that our rear camera was still having problems. Our coach has a total of three video cameras. There are both right and left cameras designed to aid in lane changes and the rear video camera designed to aid in backing. We use it for backing, but mostly for monitoring our towed vehicle, since it's impossible to see without the camera. Our rear camera had been having intermittent problems where it would scramble the picture and become unusable. I would have to shut down the entire camera system then reboot it to get the camera to work again. Very frustrating to say the least. So here we are going down the highway after the factory fix (putting slack into the wiring) and the camera exhibits exactly the same behavior as before. Now we will need to find another service center because we just don't have time to head back to Monaco for a second try.
We pulled into the Double J RV Park under very pretty blue skies and were relieved to find the park to be a nice clean family style park. Margo made her usual trip into the park office while Sparkie and I waited for her in the motor home. Soon she came out with the usual park directions and welcome package. Our space turned out to be great with good satellite sightlines and pay wireless internet available.
Everything was fine until I went to level the coach. Prior to our Monaco service visit we had been having problems with our leveling system. The right rear jack would only extend half way, which would cause our coach to "teeter-totter" between the two jacks. According to the Monaco Service Center, the technicians there had examined the system and performed a few tasks, which gave the leveling system a clean bill of health. Sorry, strike two for Monaco as the right side jack still hangs up half way down. Now we can add the leveling system to our rear camera system as problems that weren't fixed by the factory. Great, we drive all the way from Las Cruces to get professional factory service and already we have three items on our list, which weren't repaired properly. At this point we have little confidence in the rest of the repairs
Most RVers have had similar experiences to this. Some good, some bad, but to us this is totally unacceptable. This coach is a complex unit, we expect there to be minor problems here and there, but it was also a very expensive unit. Number one, where was the quality control on this coach and number two, why wasn't it repaired properly on our factory warranty service? We suspect that the repair order was rushed because of the approaching three day Labor Day weekend. Of course we may be wrong, but the results are the same, we have major items on our repair list that weren't repaired properly. We will be on the phone to Monaco on Tuesday. It will be up to them to make things right. Will they? Stay tuned.......
September 3, 2006
Today was a "kick-back" day. We dragged out the chairs and sat outside enjoying the beautiful Illinois midwest weather. It was an uneventful day and there is really nothing even remotely interesting to report. Just a nice Labor Day weekend day watching people grill, kids play and dogs having fun in the sun.
September 4, 2006
We have designated today as a highway travel day. Last night's trip planning had us putting our heads together as to the best route to take west towards Denver. We have plans to be in the Denver area by Thursday the 7th so that we can meet with some of Margo's family members. After figuring the mileage and quality of life on the road, we finally decided to take highway 55 north to St. Louis, where we would pick up the 270, which connects to westbound highway 70.
That turned out to be a good choice as the traffic was light and the weather nice. As is often the rule with us, we didn't plan tonight's stop until we were well into the travel day. A few quick calculations showed us that the KOA at Lawrence, KS might just be the perfect place to throw out the anchor for the night. Again we made a good choice because the park management welcomed us with a dog biscuit for Sparkie. That is always the perfect way to greet us. Margo came out of the office carrying the little bag with the biscuit and our space information and off we went to our space for the night.
Once set up, Margo jumped into the shower while I emptied the tanks and scrubbed the bugs off of the windshield and coach front-end. This was a big bug day and I know better than to let them bake on in the sun. Then it was my turn in the shower while she went to wash clothes in the park laundry. What planning! What coordrairieination! Actually it's just another day on the road but we wouldn't trade it for anything.
September 5, 2006
Our route for today took us across Kansas on I-70. To tell the truth before we drove it we thought that Kansas might be a little boring. We pictured nothing but prairie as far as the eye could see. The reality is we couldn't have been more wrong. Kansas is absolutely beautiful, especially the eastern portion of the state. The western portion of the state does have some prairie, but it's still a very pretty place in our eyes.
One thing we noticed when we checked the "Kansas" portion of our road atlas was that there wouldn't be many cities or towns along our route for today. With that thought in mind, we decided to pick a destination RV park before leaving Lawrence. We didn't want to get stuck without a place to stay and Kansas sure has some wide-open spaces.
Our choice turned out to be the "Bourquin's RV Park" (www.colbycamp.com 1-745-462-3300) located in Colby, Kansas. We were scanning our Trailer Life Directory for RV parks when the Bourquin's ad caught our eye. What really caught my eye were the words, "Feel Free To Wash Your RV!" printed along the bottom of their display ad. We love having a clean RV, but trying to keep it clean when on the road is another story. Most RV parks say "No Vehicle Washing!" in their rules and regulations and I usually limit my daily cleaning to knocking the bugs off of the windshield and front end. We don't often have the luxury of being able to wash our coach (for free!) with a hose and bucket, so the Bourquin's owners didn't know what a treat they were offering us.
Our drive across Kansas was really great. The weather was nice and the traffic was light, making for a relaxed trip. After putting 300+ miles of enjoyable highway miles behind us, the west Kansas town of Colby finally came into view. "Mathilda", our talking GPS directed us to the Bourquin's RV park and soon we were parked in our space and ready to drag out the bucket and hose.
It took me about four hours of elbow grease to wash the coach including the roof, then I washed the car just for fun. While I was working outside, Margo was tackling the interior of the coach including doing a load of laundry over at the park laundry room. It took some work but now everything is clean and organized, just the way we like it. It always feels good to get this stuff done, then there is no guilt when we decide to goof off.
Bourquin's RV Park turned out to be an interesting place to stop. It's located in an old Union Pacific Railroad depot that used to be located two miles away in downtown Colby. It was moved to its current location off of I-70 in 1981. It houses the park office, but also a neat little restaurant staffed by the owners of the park, Dan and Shirley Bourquin. In addition to the restaurant, the park offers cabins, 50 amp hookups, WiFi, cable TV and even horse stables. It's a very homey place and we like it enough to add it to our "Favorite RV Parks" list.
Since we both worked hard cleaning the RV this afternoon, we decided to try the "Old Depot Restaurant" located in the old train depot. The menu is simple but the food is wonderful. We both ordered the House Special BBQ Pork Ribs and they were delicious. Margo was stuffed after her meal, but I decided to try the homemade bread pudding, a food item which is hard for me to resist. It was great as was the rest of the meal. The restaurant also has a Saturday morning brunch and daily lunch specials. If you happen to be passing through western Kansas you could do a lot worse than spending some time here at the Bourquin's RV Park. Thanks for your hospitality Dan and Shirley!
Tomorrow we'll be off to Denver 220 miles to the west.
September 6, 2006
Denver is Margo's birthplace and as such she has many fond memories of both her old home as well as the places that she used to visit as a child. That would include her old schools as well some of the places that her family used to frequent. She still has family members living here and she's looking forward to seeing them as well, but I think she will really enjoy making her way around town checking out the places that are still living in her memory.
Her mom and dad built a house here many years ago and she's dying to see what it looks like today. Her grandparents owned a home not too far from our RV park and we want to cruise by there. For her this will be a trip down Memory Lane. For me it's a chance to see what the "old Denver" was like through her eyes. She will have great fun showing it to me and I will have a great time trying to visualize what things looked like those many years ago when the love of my life was just a little girl. It will be fun for both of us, guaranteed.
Our trip over from Colby, Kansas was an easy one. At a little over 200 miles it was an easy drive. The highways were flat and the change in elevation up to the "Mile High City" was so gradual that we didn't even notice it. Denver is no different than other cities in that there is the usual traffic and congestion as well as the usual maze of highways to negotiate, but it's still a fairly compact area relatively speaking.
Our park of choice for our Denver area stay is the Dakota Ridge RV Park (www.dakotaridgerv.com 1-800-398-1625) in Golden, Colorado. Golden is perhaps best known as the home of the Coors Brewery as well as the Colorado Railroad Museum. It's also the home of the Colorado School of Mines. We pulled into the park, where we were met by at least 4 park employees who saw to it that we were registered and led to our space in near record time. These people are organized! The park is very clean and well landscaped with concrete pads and all hookups. Pay WiFi is also available.
September 7, 2006
Our agenda for today includes a get-together with one of Margo's cousins and her husband and her uncle on her dad's side of the family. The five of us weren't scheduled to meet up until 3:00 pm, so that left the rest of the day free for us to check out the town.
Denver is home to one of the country's largest model railroad hobby shops, Caboose Hobbies (500 South Broadway), in downtown Denver, so of course we had to stop by to check it out. It really is huge and a really nice treat for the model railroaders among us. The store carries just about anything involving model trains of every scale and has some very nice highly detailed model railroad layouts in the store to inspect. We spent quite a bit of time looking, but didn't buy anything.
Next stop was the Colorado Railroad Museum (www.crrm.org 1-800-365-6263) located in the Denver suburb of Golden, Colorado. Our last visit to this museum was in 1976 and we were eager to see what changes had been made since then. What we found was a railroad museum that had been completely made over. There was a new main museum building featuring a nice gift shop and railroad related exhibits. The basement has some wonderful railroad artifacts, including some huge locomotive replicas and there is a very well done model railroad operated by the Denver Model Railroad Club. Visitors can pop a quarter into a coin slot and watch a train run around the layout. There are other days when club members operate the entire layout (check for dates and times).
We had a great time at the museum checking out the full-sized locomotives, rolling stock and new roundhouse complete with turntable. We loved seeing the garden railroad and sitting in the cupola of an old wooden caboose. There is a lot to see at the museum and it's come a long way since our last visit. Like must railroad museums around the country, this one wouldn't exist without the help of many dedicated volunteers. Our thanks go out to the folks who have worked so hard to make the Colorado Railroad Museum such a great place to visit.
Late afternoon and evening were spent having dinner and conversation with Margo's relatives. It was a great evening with dinner out at a local Denver area restaurant.
September 8, 2006
We got out of bed this morning knowing that this would be a fun and very special day, but a day containing a heavy dose of nostalgia. We vowed to locate Margo's old family home and that of her grandparents. We would try to find her old grammar and middle schools and we would drive down the main street of her old hometown of Arvada, Colorado. Unfortunately the Denver weather just happens to be on the wet side right now, but it's that way in much of the rest of the country as well. We decided to throw on the lights and wipers and not let the rain stop us from traveling the streets of Margo's childhood.
First stop on our tour was her grandparent's old house, which is located on a tree lined street of an older part of West Denver. Both of her grandparents have passed away and the house now has new owners. New owners that have no knowledge of the family gatherings that once took place there. Gatherings that included many of Margo's family members. Sundays where people would gather at the table and enjoy a hearty meal that could only be prepared properly by those involved. Where after dinner the TV would be on, but some of the male family members would doze off while the ladies cleaned up in the kitchen. The kids had it easier. They could play or tease each other outside in the yard. Those were the days. The days of childhood when kids had the security of older relatives that would be there forever. The adults would never change and they would go on forever. So would the house. It would endure and it would never change. But it did.
It took us a while to find it today, but it is still there. A small brick two-story structure. The front lawn was the same as it looked when we last visited it 30 years ago, but the overall appearance was one of slight neglect. Of course nobody could ever take care of our grandparents homes as well as they did and that was the case with this particular little house with all of the family memories.
We stopped out front and hoped that the current owners wouldn't think it strange that two people in a yellow Mini were pointing at and discussing their house. We drove around to the alley behind the house and tried to get a peek at the back yard through the slats of the fence, but it was hard to see. This was the same house, but it was different. Somehow it had lost its soul. Soul that was provided by the previous generation of owners. I looked over at Margo and she was teary-eyed as we made our way out of the neighborhood, I understood. I feel the same way when I visit the home of my grandparents. Nothing can ever replace memories of our childhoods.
Next stop was to try and find Margo's old schools. Her family moved to California before she had a chance to enroll in a high school, but we did find the location of her grammar school and to her amazement it was still there. Only it had been completely redone to the point where she didn't recognize it. It's still a brick multi-storied structure and the playground is still out back but it's different. Time marches on.
Then we drove to the location of the old Junior High (Middle school) only to find it completely gone, replaced by what appeared to be condos or apartments. It was hard to picture a school there from my point of view, but I had never seen it as it was in a simpler, quieter time. At least the area looks nice.
The next major stop on our tour was the home that Margo and her family lived in until they moved to California in December of 1965. Her folks designed the house and had it built. I've never been into the home, but I've heard of some of the unique features that they designed into it such as the shoe lockers in the bottoms of the bedroom closets and the two sided fireplace that served both the living room and dining room. Very leading edge for its time. A separate fireplace helped warm the family room.
Before I continue, I need to go back to yesterday when Margo put the house up in "Google Maps" and went to the "satellite" feature to check it out. What she saw was the house her family designed, but it looked different somehow. It was shaped different. The footprint had changed. It was obvious that the house had been remodeled to include two separate additions, one in front and one in the back.
Sure enough, when we pulled to a stop across the street from the house the front sported a protruding two car garage that hadn't been there before. New owners had turned the old garage into part of the living space and had integrated a new garage into the front of the home. We both agreed that it was a good job. Even the brick matched pretty good. If the house had to be changed then this was a nice way to do it. It looked like it could have been designed that way. I think Margo's mom and dad would have approved. Sitting across the street discussing the place we again hoped that if the owners spotted us they wouldn't call the police. They didn't.
The rest of our trip down Memory Lane was a driving tour of the neighborhood and the small downtown of Arvada. Margo showed me where her old childhood chums lived and told me stories that stood out in her memory as she used the actual locations as the backdrops for her stories. The neighborhood was remarkably the same as it had been, so it was easy for her to relive the past. I don't think I've ever seen her so animated as she pointed to different homes and told me stories about the people who lived there.
We took a drive through Arvada, a small town that looks pretty much as it did in the old days. Some things have been upgraded, but the quaint narrow streets and small family businesses remain. Most everyone would like to live in a cute town like this. Arvada has the look of a town that will never change.
The one thing that I remember most about today's travels was Margo pointing out a small green door in the side of an old brick building in downtown Arvada. She told me that when she was a little girl she had gone thorough that door to see a doctor who had pricked her finger for a blood test and that she had cried. I'll always remember that green door and what took place there so many years ago. Funny how something so insignificant can mean so much when you love somebody. It was quite a day.
September 9, 2006
Before I get into today's activities, I need to relate a funny story that took place when we first arrived here at Dakota Ridge RV Park.
To set the scene, this is a really nice park with all of the amenities, including a beautiful clubhouse, pool and nicely manicured grounds. Included is a fenced hillside to the south that has been designated as a picnic area. Our coach is situated in a space just to the bottom of the hillside and it was easy to spot the picnic area as soon as we arrived.
I got to looking up there and suggested that we take a walk up to shoot a photo of the park for this website. So on went Sparkie's collar and leash and up the hill we went. Here's where it gets good. There are several items of statuary up there including a small bear likeness. The bear is only slightly larger than Sparkie, but looks pretty real from a distance. It must have looked very real to Sparkie because when he spotted it he immediately started growling! I was busy trying to take the pic and didn't notice what was going on until Margo alerted me.
When I looked, here was Sparkie fixating in the fake bear, growling as though it were real! We cracked up as we'd never seen him react to anything this way before. Little by little he approached the bear until he was up close sniffing the bear's hind-end dog style. By now we were in stitches with laughter! It was a hoot and we couldn't stop laughing. As soon as he took a whiff of the bear's rear end and saw that it was fake he was fine, but he looked at us laughing at him like, "what's the problem?" Sometimes the funniest things happen when you least expect it. Both the park photo and a pic of Sparkie, me and the bear appear in our "Photo Gallery".
This was another day of family visiting. We stopped to see Margo's aunt on her mother's side and while there we were able to also visit with two of her cousins. We all had a great time trying to catch up on many years of experiences in just a few hours. We all did a good job of it and our visit was a success. It was great seeing them all and we have vowed to return here to the Denver area more often.
After leaving the relatives, we decided to return to Caboose Hobbies to look around for a second time. This really is a huge hobby store and we felt that it deserved a second stop. Being the weekend, the store was quite busy, but this time we bought a few items that were priced low enough that we considered them too good to pass up. In our shopping bag were two locomotives and some freight cars to add to our N-Scale collection.
Evening was totally uneventful except for trying to figure out where we're headed when we leave Golden. We're paid up at this park until Monday morning at which time we'll need to move on, so a little trip planning is in order. Maybe we'll just leave and play it by ear.
September 10, 2006
Our plan was to use today as a "chore" day so that we'll be ready to leave Denver tomorrow morning. But before doing the chores we kicked back and watched the Italian Grand Prix from Monza Italy. We weren't surprised to see seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher announce his retirement (and win the race) from Formula One racing, but it was still a sad thing to watch. The sport will be loosing one of the all time best. He will finish out the rest of season with Ferrari, then call it quits. It's speculated that Finn, Kimi Raikkonen will take his place on the team. We love Kimi and can't wait to see him in a Ferrari.
After the race we decided to go do the laundry so that we can hit the road with clean clothes. The laundry room here at Dakota Ridge is one of the best that we've seen. Large and clean, it's the way all RV park laundry rooms should be. We've said it before but this is a really nice park.
Having 45 minutes to kill as the clothes dried, we decided to take a walk around the park to get some exercise. We just started our walk when a car pulls up in front of us containing two familiar looking people. It was another one of Margo's cousins and her husband. We missed them at dinner the other evening, so they decided to try and find us here at the RV park. They were looking for a yellow Mini when they spotted us coming back from the laundry room.
We invited them into the motor home and we all had a nice time catching up on the latest family news. It was great seeing them and only reinforced our desire to return back to the Denver area sooner next time.
That was it for today except that we still haven't decided where to go when we leave here. Not knowing might bother some people, but to us it's the most fantastic part of the RV lifestyle. Taking off with no particular destination in mind is (to us) the purest form of living on the road.
September 11, 2006
We got up a little earlier this morning because we weren't exactly sure which direction we were going to head when we left the RV park in Golden. After considering all of the alternatives, we decided to take I-70 west from the Denver area until it ends at I-15 in Utah. That is until we checked the weather and traffic conditions over the 11,000 feet high Loveland Pass. The Eisenhower Tunnel is being repaved and they have it down to just one westbound lane. They were saying that large vehicles would probably be required to take highway 6 around the tunnel because of the lane restrictions. The final straw was the weather forecast, which didn't look too good up that way so, we changed our minds and took I-25 south out of the Denver area instead. Our destination for today would be Raton, New Mexico, 224 miles to the south.
We love the countryside around Raton and Santa Fe although we've never set foot in either of them or been to either one by car. We know we like those areas because we've been through them more times than we can remember on Amtrak's "Southwest Chief". The Chief follows the route of the old Santa Fe Railroad streamliner the "Super Chief", which passed right through these beautiful areas. Before airliners became all the rage, the all-Pullman Super Chief could make the run from L.A. to Chicago in only 39 hours over the route, which includes the famous Raton Pass. It was the jet-set way to travel back then. Our trip through the area will be a little less hurried, as we want to take the time to unhook the car and drive around doing some sightseeing.
Our trip to Raton was a relaxed one once we cleared the congested areas south of Denver. We were both surprised at the growth in that area. Once past Colorado Springs the traffic became much better, then once past Pueblo it really thinned out. Two noteworthy landmarks we passed today were the Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs and the 14,110' Pikes Peak just south and west of there. Pikes Peak had a dusting of snow on it, which made us think that maybe we had made a good decision in not attempting the 11,990' Loveland Pass over on I-70.
We had a choice of several campgrounds here in Raton, but we chose a KOA that offered WiFi. After registering we were led to a nice enough space with 50 AMP power and the promised wireless Internet. Soon after we pulled in the skies opened up and we got a good hard rain for about 20 minutes. This type of rains clear the air and waters the plants, but it also causes a lot of standing water, which has made for some record mosquito populations this summer.
Just for old times sake we headed over to the Raton Amtrak station to watch the Southwest Chief come in. It was a little strange standing on the platform rather than being on the train to tell the truth, but it was also a lot of fun. The train was running about 10 minutes late, which put it into the depot about 5:32 pm, dinnertime on the Chief. We could see people eating in the diner and others enjoying the view from the Sightseer Lounge car. I guess there was a little piece of us that wished we were on that train sitting down to a nice meal, but it was back to the motor home for us. The truth is, nothing beats travel regardless of the mode.
September 12, 2006
What a day! There was beautiful blue New Mexico skies and white puffy clouds in the distance. The air smelled wonderful and clean. Time for some sightseeing! We have been wanting to take a ride into the neighboring mountains and this will be the perfect day.
We hoped in Willie and headed out of town to the west. The two lane road we chose was one that we had spotted yesterday. It's one of those inviting two lanes that make a person want to follow it just to see where it goes. As we were to find out later, this particular road went about 30 miles into the mountains then turned into a gravel dead-end, but the fun was in finding that out for ourselves.
This particular part of New Mexico (northern) has some really beautiful scenery. The area to the west of Raton is made up of forested mountains. The type that has steep rocky areas with mountain meadows scattered here and there. What we found was that those meadows were almost completely covered with wild flowers. The really neat thing is that these were real wild flowers, not ones that have been planted by the local garden club. We were to see these wild flowers on and off throughout our time in northern New Mexico and even down towards Santa Fe. What a treat they were to see. Most were yellow and looked like tiny sunflowers, but there were places where we also saw purple flowers mixed in with the yellow ones here and there. Sorry, neither of us are experts on flowers of any type so we can't tell you the names of the ones we saw, but we'll put a few pics in the "photo Gallery" for those who are interested.
Our ride into the mountains took us about 30 miles, where the paved road suddenly turned into gravel. Our Mini has very little ground clearance and is best kept on well maintained pavement, but we decided to press on at reduced speed just to see where this gravel portion of the road went. It ended up only going about a half mile further before it dead ended at what appeared to be an entrance to some type of industry. Time to turn around and head back to Raton
We returned to Raton at a nice easy pace pulling over to let the occasional car pass us. With our windows and sunroof open, this was the type of day trip that we didn't want to end. The speed limit on this two-lane back road had been posted for 55 mph but as we neared Raton it changed to 45. We had been driving very slowly all day and didn't even need to slow for the 45 zone as we were already going at or below that speed. But just as we came over the top of a slight hill there was a Chevy Tahoe sitting on the side of the road facing us. My first thought was that it was a local law enforcement officer working a radar trap. Sure enough, it was a Sheriff's vehicle with an officer working his radar. I took a quick look at our speedometer, which indicated exactly 45 mph. I hadn't noticed but Margo said the officer wagged his finger at us as we went by as if to warn us of exceeding the speed limit. Since our speedometer has been checked many times using our two GPS's, we suspect the officers radar unit to be giving him false readings.
We think the larger issue is why is he sitting out there in the country wasting time clocking people if it isn't just to generate revenue for the county? The area where he was sitting is the exact same two lane that was posted for 55 mph just a short distance before. It's still out in the country and wide open. We can only assume that there is absolutely no crime in Raton or elsewhere in the county and that he has nothing better to do. Our advice to him: get your radar unit calibrated!
September 13, 2006
I got up early this morning so that I could run the car by the local coin car wash to give it a quick bath before leaving Raton. Those RVer's that tow vehicles know how quickly they can get filthy. It's especially hard on a neat freak like me, who tries to maintain their vehicles in top form.
Once back from the car wash we hit the road for Santa Fe, NM. Margo and I have long wanted to see Santa Fe so we had set aside at least two days to check out the town. We've been through the area many times on Amtrak and love the scenery, but Amtrak doesn't actually serve the city of Santa Fe so we had no idea what to expect.
The 172 mile drive down from Raton was a pleasant one. We loved the rangeland with the mountains in the distance and seeing the miles of wild flowers along the side of the road. We passed one area where the range was heavily populated with antelope. We could see them standing in the fields as we passed. Some were running in the distance and looked to be playing. All we could think of was the song "Home On The Range" where the deer and the antelope play.
We got excited as we neared Santa Fe because both of us had always wanted to see it. We had heard of the artists and galleries there and wanted to see them for ourselves. We had also heard of the expensive homes there and had a hunch it was a high-end community. That was before we took the off-ramp into town and found ourselves knee deep in traffic and congestion.
Instead of the quaint little town we expected to find, we found strip malls, traffic lights and miles of stop and go traffic leading to the RV park. That was our first clue that we had made a major mistake in coming here. But we had a reservation at a local RV resort and were committed to stay for at least one night.
Heavy stop and go traffic in a motor home towing a car can get a little tedious in an unfamiliar town, so it was a relief when we saw the "Trailer Ranch RV Resort" (www.trailerranch.com 505-471-9970) come into view on our right. The park appeared to feature mostly back-in spaces, so I unhooked the car while Margo went in to register. To be honest, from what we had seen of Santa Fe at this point, we thought that we'd just spend one night then move on tomorrow. We don't enjoy spending our time fighting traffic and crowds, so we thought that we would just cut our losses and move on. But the very nice lady who checked us into the park changed our minds by telling us about the old historical part of town. The part with the artists and the galleries. The part that supposedly has the feel of Old Mexico. So we booked our site for two nights and tomorrow we'll head over to see the "real" Santa Fe.
September 14, 2006
Regardless of where we are, our morning routine is pretty much the same. We watch the news on TV and we check for e-mails on the computer. In addition to TV news, I also have six or seven news websites that I read to get as much of a "news fix" as I can before we start our day's activities. This morning I was shocked to read in the Las Cruces paper that the city and surrounding area had been hit by some extreme weather yesterday. There was the usual thunder and lightening, which was normal for the area, but this time a tornado was reported and there was extensive damage caused by "quarter" sized hail. Conditions were so bad that at one point I-10 was closed to the Arizona border according to the paper. Not good, not good at all. Now we're concerned that our new manufactured home might be damaged. The paper said that many skylights were hail damaged throughout the region and our place has three skylights. We'll need to head back down there tomorrow so that we can check for damage. It hasn't been widely reported, but the Las Cruces/El Paso areas have had heavy rains now for at least six weeks. There has been wide spread damage and flooding and the region has been declared a disaster area. Yesterday's weather just adds to an already grim situation.
After breakfast we took a map provided by the RV park and headed off to find the old Santa Fe historic district. We left the GPS back at the motor home, which was probably a mistake, but we thought that we could find our way around town without it. It turned out that Santa Fe is much larger than we originally thought it would be. Boy, was our image of this place different than reality. After getting lost a couple of times we finally arrived at the historic district.
Our first impression was that it reminded us of the tourist areas of the Caribbean islands that we've visited. There were many high-end shops situated in old looking buildings and the feel was almost exactly the same. We drove down a few of the streets where we passed a plaza and a beautiful old church, but our overall impression of this area was of it being a fancy tourist trap. The streets were clogged with cars and people and there was even a parking structure off of the plaza to help destroy what historical Old Mexico atmosphere it might have had. They can paint it in earth tones and try to make it blend in, but it's still a multi-level parking garage. (I don't think there were many parking structures in old Mexico.) There may have been some nice galleries in the area, but we didn't stop to find out. There were far too many people and way too much glitz for us.
In contrast, our Las Cruces house borders on the town of "Old Mesilla". Old Mesilla was at one time part of Old Mexico and the look and feel is still there. It has a town plaza and old church and what shops there are, are understated and look like they've been there for years. In fact, the rebuilding we've seen has been done with real adobe bricks made on site. Great effort is being made to keep it as authentic as possible. If you like upscale shops and being in a tourist town then Santa Fe is your kind of place. If you would prefer a small slice of Old Mexico then swing by Old Mesilla (www.oldmesilla.org) just south of Las Cruces.
Not to beat a dead horse but Santa Fe has been a major disappointment for us. This experience has taught us to do some research on the Internet before we go out of our way to visit an area. I think much of our disappointment of Santa Fe could have been avoided if we'd simply checked it out first. Live and learn.
September 15, 2006
This morning we woke up to the sound of rain falling on the coach roof. It seems like no matter where Margo and I go, there is always rain in the forecast. It's rained nearly every place we've been since we left Las Cruces. Maybe we could hire ourselves out to generate rain in drought stricken areas. Just a thought. Since we only had about 275 miles to go today we decided to have a leisurely morning with breakfast out at a nearby I-Hop. The hope was that the rain would stop and the streets would dry by the time we got ready to leave for Las Cruces.
It worked. By the time we ate and got ready to go the rain had stopped and the sun was out. We decided to head back down to Las Cruces so that we could check our house for damage from the recent hailstorms down there. We had wanted to continue on, possibly to Las Vegas, NV, but we wouldn't have been able to relax thinking about the hail and what affect it may have had on the house.
So we headed out onto southbound 25 and enjoyed the ride through the desert country of New Mexico. And what a ride it was. The constant rains of the past few months have produced some damage and flooding, but they've also produced a wonderfully green desert not to mention unbelievable amounts of wild flowers. Neither of us has ever seen a more beautiful desert or one more alive with color. We were having such a nice trip that I decided to dial the cruise control back a bit so that we could enjoy it longer.
Soon the small New Mexico town of Hatch came into view and we knew we would be back in Las Cruces in a short time. The downtown area of Hatch, famous for it's peppers, was flooded several times in the past few months and many of the pepper fields were flooded as well. Things looked pretty normal from the highway, but we knew they weren't. Our hearts go out to the people of Hatch and we wish them a speedy recovery as they get their lives back to normal.
Our Las Cruces house is a manufactured home, which is located in a "55+" community. One reason we bought it is because we can leave it behind for extended periods of time and not have to worry about it. We have it alarmed and the community maintains the watering system for us so that there is literally no yard work to do. They will even forward our mail to us if we choose. It's an ideal situation for RVer's that want to spend months on the road, but still want a place to store their belongings while they're gone. To be honest, rain and large hail was the last thing we thought that we'd need to worry about when we bought this place. It's in the desert for cryin'out loud. But hail did hit us and it hit us hard.
As soon as we pulled up in front of the house with the motor home our neighbor from across the street came over to tell us all about the "big storm". Using his thumb and forefinger he described the hail as being "golf ball" sized. At first we thought that he might be exaggerating a little, but that was before we inspected our aluminum carport roof. It looked as though it had been pounded with a ball peen hammer except that the dents were more the size of golf balls. Our neighbor hadn't been exaggerating.
Soon, another neighbor came over to welcome us home and to tell us about the hail. "It was the size of golf balls", he said. I believed it. Now I was anxious to get up on the roof to inspect the skylights and this particular neighbor was kind enough to offer us the use of his extension ladder. We have one of those covered plastic hose reels along side of the house and the thick plastic cover now has several golf ball sized holes in it, so I was braced for the worst when I went onto the roof to inspect both it and the skylights.
To our relief all three skylights are fine as is the roof from what I can tell. Our furnace roof vent got dented in, but I was able to pull it back out. So at this point it looks like the carport was the major storm victim at our place. The funny thing is that we had just extended the carport out an additional 7' in the front and an additional 17' in the rear. Too bad, it will all need to be replaced.
So that's it for this trip. Our next road trip will be a run over to Tucson to get some warranty work performed at Beaudry RV. A wrap up and trip summary follow. We also discuss our experience at the Monaco factory service center.
The main purpose of our trip to Indiana was to have factory warranty work performed on our 2006 Monaco motor home. The coach is new and was a major purchase for us, so we wanted the work performed as expertly as possible. We felt that the factory was best equipped to handle both the amount of work and the type of work involved. This would be the second warranty work performed on the coach. The first was when we lost the use of the windshield wipers on the road and needed a dealership to replace a part. Since then we've been compiling an additional list of items for this factory service visit. Some items were minor, but some required the expertise of a professional technician.
First off I'll say that we're very pleased with our Monaco coach despite its few glitches. None of them, except for the original wiper problem, have kept us from using and enjoying the RV. It's been a delight from the beginning and we love traveling in it. Having said that there was, and still are, a few problems that have detracted from the overall experience of owning a nice new diesel pusher. Unfortunately our recent factory visit only partially cured our coach's ills.
We arrived at Monaco on a Sunday afternoon with the intention of having the work start first thing Monday morning. A security guard showed us to a "campground", which is provided free of cost to Monaco customers who are in for service. We selected a nice end space and were soon hooked up to water and 50-amp electrical service. A community dump station is also available for those who need to dump their tanks.
Next morning we got up bright and early so that we could meet with our service advisor, who would write up our list of defects. Once checked in we were told that the service advisor would meet us at our coach to go over our list of gripes and translate them into an official work order.
Looking back on it, this meeting with the service advisor was the beginning of our not getting all of the items on our list repaired properly. Re-reading the final paperwork we received from the technicians outlining what they did, we can see that there was a lack of communications between the technicians, the service writer and us. This has happened to us numerous times in the past with cars and trucks at dealership service departments, but this was our first time to have this happen with an RV. In Monaco's defense, they do have an open door policy with regards to their repair shop floor. Customers are invited to come onto the floor and talk to the technicians about their problems and to check on the work as it progresses.
We made a mistake in not doing that. Instead of staying there we hopped in the car and went down to Indianapolis to see family. We felt that our problems were straight forward enough that they could easily be written up and the work performed correctly. Besides, we left contact numbers with Monaco and asked them to call us at any time if they had any questions regarding the work to be performed.
Our trip down to Indy gave us a chance to see my dad at his rest home and to visit with my sister. We also made a couple of side trips through the Northern Indiana farm country to check out my grandmother's old farmhouse and to visit the cemetery where many of my family members are buried. It was a good trip and a nice diversion from having to hang around at the service center.
We returned to the service center just before the beginning of the three-day Labor Day weekend to check on our coach's progress. We hoped that our work would be complete so that we wouldn't have to spend three days sitting around waiting. To our surprise and delight, our service advisor told us that all of the work was complete and that we were free to leave as soon as he went over the work order with us. We agreed to meet with him first thing in the morning (Friday) so that we could get a rundown on the work that had been done. Meanwhile our coach had been driven back to the campground and was ready for us to use and spend the night in. Having the rest of the afternoon to kill, we took the factory tour of the Monaco plant and had a great time seeing how our unit was assembled.
We got up bright and early the next morning so that we would be ready for the visit from our service advisor. We waited and waited but he never showed up so I went over to the office to try and track him down. He was in his office and invited me in without offering an explanation as to why he didn't show up at our coach as we had planned. Maybe Margo and I misunderstood the agreement, which is entirely possible. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt anyway.
He pulled out our paperwork and very quickly went over each item on the list outlining what had been done. When I think back on it, his description of what was done varied slightly from what was written on the work order. I didn't think anything about it at the time, but now I know that I should have questioned everything in more detail. At this point I still trusted that the work had been performed properly. I guess I felt that "the factory" could do no wrong.
After our meeting I returned to the coach and Margo and I made plans to leave Elkhart thinking that everything on our list had been corrected to the best of Monaco's ability. Of course it wasn't, but we didn't know that at the time so we pulled stakes and headed for a KOA that we found in the KOA directory.
We got on the road and the first thing that I noticed was that the backup camera still had problems. It had been going off and I would need to reboot the system to get it to come back on again. This would happen 6-7 times a day while we were on the road and it was aggravating to have to repeatedly reboot the system. At my meeting with the service advisor he told me that the technicians had found loose wiring and that they had lengthened the wires and built in some strain relief for them so that they would be isolated and couldn't vibrate loose. The technician's description of the work performed was quite different from that of the service advisor. The technician said that he turned the camera on and checked it periodically throughout the day and it worked fine. Two things are readily apparent. The first is that the technician never drove the coach, which was necessary to recreate the situation where the camera would turn itself off. The second is that the technician never "lengthened the wires" or built in any strain relief, because he never touched the system other than to turn it on. He never even physically inspected the camera or the wiring.
Our next problem surfaced as soon as we tried to level the coach at the KOA. We had told the service advisor that the right rear jack almost never extended all the way down, which would sometimes cause the coach to "teeter totter" on the remaining two jacks. The technician wrote that he had found a bad sensor and that he checked the level of the system's fluid. Everything was fine. That is until we tried to put the jacks down at the KOA. Again the right rear jack only extended part way. Nothing had changed. Within a few hours of leaving Monaco we discovered that two major repair items were exactly as they had been before our visit.
There were other items that were either overlooked or not repaired properly. There was a piece of trim on the base of the bed that was loose and still is, a heat vent that didn't put out heat to the rear bathroom and the passenger seat now has a switch hanging loose that wasn't before the factory visit. There is also the matter of a corrosion problem in the battery compartment that was never corrected.
We spent a lot of time and money making the trip from Las Cruces to Elkhart and to be honest, we're very disappointed in the service we received. Some items on our list were corrected properly, but other items are exactly as they were before. If we had it to do over again we would have stayed in Elkhart and checked in with the service technicians several times a day to make sure that we were all on the same page. That coach wouldn't have turned a wheel without everything being repaired properly. But we thought that this was the factory and they could do no wrong. The coach was built there and these technicians were experts on our coach. Who could possibly know it better and who could do a better job correcting these issues?
In Monaco's defense, we had many people in the campground rave about how great the factory service was. Some said that they came long distances because they didn't trust anybody else to work on their RV. Our opinion, for what it's worth, is that we think Monaco wanted to get our coach out quickly because of the upcoming three-day weekend. Our thought is that they wanted to get everything done so that everybody could be off to enjoy the holiday. We may be wrong, but that's the way we see it.
I will say that everybody at Monaco including the security guards are incredibly nice. They have a nice customer waiting area and the campground is very well done. It even includes a small laundry room just for customer use. Our factory visits to the Roadmaster and Monaco plants were wonderful. It's really a shame that our service experience couldn't have been a positive one.
If you are heading to a factory service center for warranty work or to have non-warranty repairs made, we recommend that you check to see exactly what the service advisor writes up, stay with your RV (if you can) until the repairs are complete and insist that the service advisor be present as you go over each item on your list to make sure that the repairs were done to your satisfaction.
After leaving the KOA we headed west to the Denver area so that we could visit with Margo's many family members. We had a great time seeing everybody and sneaking in a little sightseeing as well.
After Denver we headed south on I-25 towards southern Colorado and into northern New Mexico. We loved everything we saw except for the Santa Fe area, which we thought was highly overrated. We finally made the decision to return back here to Las Cruces so that we could check the house for hail damage.
We had a good trip although we are disappointed with Monaco. Oh well, now we have an excuse to head back out on the road to get the other items on our list corrected at the dealership where we bought the coach. On October 2nd we have an appointment with Beaudry RV in Tucson to let them take a crack at resolving our remaining service issues. It will be interesting to see if they can do the work any better than the factory. As usual, I will be reporting the results right here on these pages.