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Archive for October, 2008

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Yesterday we met with 28 other Airstreams at the Camping World on I-40, and the entire line of aluminum caravanned together to the Balloon Fiesta Park on the north side of Albuquerque.   From a gravel lot overlooking the Balloon Fiesta field, we will spend four nights watching all things related to hot-air and gas ballooning going on.   This is our final blowout adventure of this season of travel.

The danger of attending the famous Albuquerque Balloon Festival is that you’ll take too many photographs.   Actually, it’s inevitable.   The balloons are so colorful and scenic that you can’t stop at, say, 100 photos.   I got up in the 5 a.m. darkness to scout a location for photos of the “Dawn Patrol,” and by 8 a.m. I had filled a memory card with over 300 photos.   Don’t worry, you don’t have to look at all of them.   You can see some of them on Flickr by clicking here.

This is also an event designed to mess with your Circadian sleep cycle.   Everything happens between 5:45 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., then again from about 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when the winds are light.     In between, there’s little to see except the long row of merchants, arranged like a county fair, that runs next to the balloon launching field.   If you try to be awake for everything, like we are doing, it means a nap in the afternoon is a really good idea. Normally that would work for me, but with all the socializing going on, I haven’t been successful today.


Balloon Museum, by Bill Ferry

The other hazard to successful sleep is generators.   We are parked in tight rows.   Behind us is a row of Country Coach motorhomes.   In front of us are three rows of Prevost bus-based motorhomes ($1 million and up each).   All of these motorhomes have diesel generators built into them, and the Balloon Fiesta allows very liberal generator hours, from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.   Even though those diesel generators are pretty quiet, we can hear them running for hours on end, and the fumes of diesel can be intense.   We have to sleep with the windows and vents shut completely.

Emma linked up with Olivia, a 5-year-old girl who is the only other kid in our group.   The two of them spent the afternoon building a robot (named “Rusty Sprockets”) from paper, and then running the classic lemonade stand next to Olivia’s trailer.   They cashed in to the tune of several bucks and so tomorrow they want to try selling popcorn instead.

I’ve been surprised at the number of people here who say they’ve been following our blog.   There seem to be many people reading it who prefer to remain anonymous.   That’s fine, but it makes me wonder what I will do to stay in touch after next week, when this blog will end. It’s a subject of much debate in my mind right now.

Tonight the schedule calls for another balloon launch and some fireworks.   The wind has picked up and the forecast is for rain tonight, so I doubt we will see any balloons taking off, but there will likely be a “balloon glow” at least. We may stay in and get to bed early.   Tomorrow the schedule repeats, starting once again with 5:45 a.m. for those who care to get up.   Those who don’t care to get up will be up anyway, around the same time, when the generators all fire up to run coffeepots in the morning.   So I have a feeling we’ll all be ready to hit the sack by 9 p.m.

Off to the Balloon Fiesta

We’re heading out this morning to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!

Yesterday we took a daytrip to El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monument, both of which are about 30-40 miles south of Grants.   El Malpais is a large area of volcanic origin, with lava tube caves, cinder cones, craters, and other features that are fun to hike around.   A chat with the ranger on duty, and a three-mile hike gave us   a nice overview of the park’s major features.

El Morro is only 18 miles away but entirely different.   It is much smaller, comprised of a bluff of very soft sandstone and a permanent pool of water that was a popular stop for native Americans, Spanish explorers, and settlers during the western expansion.   “Inscription rock” holds most of their signatures, petroglyphs, and graffiti.   The oldest European signature dates to 1605, but there are even old Puebloan petroglyphs that of course have no dates

I’ll get pictures up later, but right now we are rushing to get out of Grants in time to drive to Albuquerque and meet the other 29 Airstreams for a caravan into the Fiesta grounds.   We’ll be parked right next to the balloon launching field for the next four nights.   You can expect a lot of photographs soon.

RV economics

Our great Four Corners circle tour is coming to an end.   Over the past month we’ve wandered from Great Sand Dunes NP to Silverton CO, Mesa Verde NP, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Kanab, Grand Canyon, Page AZ, Navajo Nat’l Mon., Canyon de Chelly, and finally here to Grants, New Mexico.   That’s in addition to minor excursions to Pipe Springs Nat’l Mon., Glen Canyon NRA, Grand-Staircase Escalante, Vermillion Cliffs, Navajo Bridge, and (on Monday), Hubble Trading Post Nat’l Mon.

All told, we’ve driven about 1,300 miles since the last oil change in Cortez, CO on September 2.   Since then we’ve visited 15 national park sites, camped for a month in some spectacular locations, and had a really terrific time.   Since we never drove more than 100 miles on any towing day, and because we were careful about where we camped, our costs were ridiculously low.   We spent a total of $500 on gas, and $471 on camping — for a month!

That means our daily cost for camping and fuel to explore the Four Corners was about $32 per day.   All of our other expenses were the same ones we’d incur at home (groceries, etc).   That’s a serious bargain.

Now, it has not escaped anyone’s attention that the economy is struggling.   The RV industry is being hit particularly hard, by the dual whammies of higher fuel prices and tight credit.   The manufacturers of behemoth fifth-wheels and expensive Class A motorhomes are getting hit the hardest.   The word on the street is that “the price of gas has made RV’ing too expensive.”

Nonsense.   We just demonstrated how incredibly affordable it can be.   If we’d been like the non-RV tourists who packed into buses or rented cars at Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, and who stayed in the expensive lodges, we’d have spent our entire budget in a week.

The trick is to stop driving around so much.   A lot of people who have bought RVs in the past have a tendency to log miles instead of days.   If you’re going to drive 1,000 miles a week, you’re going to expend a lot of your budget on fuel.   Sometimes that’s unavoidable, but fortunately there’s a lot of stuff to do and see in this country without going too far. You don’t have to go to Alaska to have a great adventure.   We’ve visited most of the 50 states in our travels and there isn’t one state in this great country that doesn’t have fun and interesting things to do.

In other words, instead of point-to-point roadtrips of the classic style (drive 1,500 miles to the destination, spend four days there, then drive 1,500 miles back), the secret is in picking a specific region and exploring it.   By focusing on the Four Corners region and hopping slowly from park to park, we were able to keep our mileage to an average of 43 miles per day.

A few weeks ago when I was being interviewed by a L.A. Times reporter for an article about RV’ing, he argued that my claim of economy was invalid because it didn’t include the cost of ownership.   He figured that a travel trailer sitting in the garage at (for example), $477 per month made the true cost of an Airstream trip much higher.   (I’ve figured a $50,000 loan on a travel trailer for 15 years at 8.0%. That would get you a heck of a nice Airstream.)   The reporter was correct if you leave your rig in the garage most of the time and only take it out for two weeks a year.

But how much of a premium are you really paying even in that “worst-case” example?   A year of payments would be $5,724.   Add in insurance, a little maintenance, and even some storage fees, and maybe you’re up to $7,000.   Now, go take a two week trip and spend $500 on fuel and $350 on camping (full hookups every night!)   Your trip just cost you a total of $7,850, and for that you paid for the trailer for a year.   No question, that’s expensive.

Now go price a two-week trip for a family of three to any popular destination in North America.   Add in airfares for everyone, hotels for 14 nights, rental cars, tips, 42 restaurant meals for three people, rental car fuel, excess baggage fees, etc. That’s about $5,000.   That’s expensive too, and we’re close to paying for the Airstream already.

Take just one more week-long trip with your family, and you’ve paid for that travel trailer for the year. Not only that, but you didn’t have to go through security checkpoints, sleep in unfamiliar beds, tip bellhops, live out of a suitcase, comply with a rigid schedule of hotel reservations or tour schedules, etc.   It’s still a no-brainer from my perspective.

The real economy of this form of travel is for people who have lots of time and want to explore North America.   If you take just one week of vacation a year, or you prefer your vacations to be spent in Paris, an RV is probably not for you.   But if you like to take lots of road trips, it’s still a great way to go — even with gas prices. We’re certainly happy with our $971 month-long trip through the Four Corners.

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