Captain’s Log, Day 3
Next day we take a lazy breakfast and then decide to visit the Biosphere with Grandpa. We head out to Nessie and observe the new tire is looking mighty flat. Humm…. we hook up the air pump… and it’s at 80 psi, spot-on the normal max pressure. Looking further: the inside tire is flat. CRAP. But wait! It really WAS fine in Casa Grande, I checked it before we drove off. And pretty quickly it’s clear that the rubber value stem is leaking, probably
banged too hard during the change and now it’s going flat overnight. We call up Ed. He agrees to change it under warranty… but he doesn’t want to drive out to meet us. But he Does The Right Thing, and calls GCR Tire, a Tucson local who WILL come out to Grandpa’s. Ed’s covering the whole cost. So now we’re basically stuck at Grandpa’s waiting on GCR Tire (who’s promised to get there “in an hour” and it’s already 10am).
Meanwhile something triggered in Shelley’s brain about tires aging, so I go read up on them. I learned something new today: all tires age. After 6 years you should replace them, completely independent of tire wear. Pretty much no tire is expected to last 10 years except under “ideal” circumstances. And tire manufacturers have to stamp the date of manufacture on the tire, so you can tell how old your tires are. (read up on it, but it’s the week & year of manufacture as a 4-digit number in an oval after the “DOT” stamp). So we go look at our tires (mostly meaning Shelley crawling under the RV in the 110-heat to read between the dualies). Sure enough, the youngest tire is 8 years, and the oldest is 12 years old. Good tread, but expected to blow at any moment.
Crap, crap, crap. Another round of planning & family voting. We decide to limp over to Big-O tires to replace the remaining 5 tires, never mind fixing the old one. GCR Tire shows up for the repair while I’m finishing negotiations with Big-O (and yes I asked GCR and no they did not have the tires we need in stock). So the GCR guy politely fills our inside tire (it’ll last maybe an hour) and we roll over to Big-O. We drop everybody off at Costco, where we do some shopping and eat a delicious Costco lunch (which is actually pretty dang cheap and a decent enough hot dog), and wait 2 hours for me to blow another $900 on tires. After a while we’re back at Grandpa’s house with 6 brand-spanking new tires, waiting for a thunderstorm to pass before we go swimming. It’s too late for the Biosphere, that will have to wait for another visit.
The thunderstorm takes too long to pass and we miss swimming also. We have some more family over for a nice dinner, then we hit the road again for more night driving. This time we’re heading for Carlsbad Caverns. It’s a long haul out of Tucson but utterly uneventful. We even give Luke (19 yrs old!) a turn at the wheel. He’s a natural driver and handles this big rig fine. We make a long drive of it but Carlsbad is just too far to make in one day. We end up in the backside parking lot of a Walmart somewhere just inside the Texas border (Walmart mostly has a “RV friendly” policy). It turns out that while our GPS has many useful features, finding RV campsites is not one of them. Also when we turn off I-10 and head into the countryside we lose all cell phone service and can’t call ahead.
Captain’s Log, Day 4
It’s a 3hr early-morning drive or so to the Caverns. We get there just before the heat starts getting oppressive again. This time we decide to leave the generator on and the AC running while we spend the hot part of the day underground. I used to see this all the time and wonder about it: RV’s with the generator going constantly. Now I get it – Nessie will be in tolerable shape when we return to her, but without the AC Nessie would heat up like a tin
box in the hot sun.
Several of my kids are really nervous about entering the Caverns; they’ve had some scary cave experiences in the past. We have to gently encourage several down the switchbacks into Carlsbad, but they master their fears and soldier on down into the cool cave air. Carlsbad does not fail to deliver. The Caverns are immense on a scale that’s hard to imagine; all of downtown San Jose could comfortably fit in them. The trails wander on for miles in there (the sections closed to the public are probably 100x larger than the miles of public sections). There’s a section where the roof soars over 300ft overhead and single rooms covering many acres with lines-of-sight of perhaps a quarter-mile underground. And it’s all a fairyland of cave growths and little pools, with eerie lighting everywhere; flowing stone sculptures with names like “Temple of the Sun” or “Doll Theater”. For the younger generation: it’s the largest Minecraft cave you’ll ever see. 🙂
We ride the 800ft (!) elevator lift back to the surface and decide to stay for the evening bat swarm (it’s still to hot to drive). Every evening at dusk between 250 thousand and a few million bats leave to go eat mega-tons of insects up and down the local rivers (the numbers fluctuate so much because the bats migrate frequently). We hang out in the local gift shop & cafe for a few hours (always a bad plan when on a budget), then try to watch a movie in Nessie (AC keeps it tolerable in there, but it’s still pretty warm), and finally evening rolls around. We settle in to listen to the rangers and then finally the main show: 250 thousand bats fly out of the cave like smoke on the wind. There’s a faint odor of bats in the air, and an endless murmuring of chirping bats and the little winged creatures are flitting everywhere overhead before flying off the escarpment edge and off into the darkness.
We do another (not so long) night of driving, stopping at midnight in Fort Stockton, TX. We get a longer nights’ sleep tonight, even if the location isn’t as glorious.