Thursday, December 30, 2010

Exploring SE Arizona

Willcox, AZ
I wanted to visit this little town because the town kept coming up on the internet when I searched for farms and produce stands in Arizona.  It is right off Highway 10 so I stopped by as I exited New Mexico.  I was there in the wrong season to find fresh produce or stands but it does claim to be the home of Rex Allen. Rex was a western singer of the 1940’s and ‘50s who also became a cowboy movie star.  He played the Red Rider on the radio (yes, I remember).  Otherwise the town is a mix of buildings and closed shops.  I did find the “Big Texas BBQ” housed in an authentic red railroad dining car.  Good pork sandwich and French fries double dipped in beer batter. 
Onward to the west.  Next stop was a left turn onto Benson and to the big caves.
High Desert-Kartchner Caverns State Park
This evening, Monday, December 27, I’m at Kartchner Caverns State Park near Benson, Arizona.  I was told by friend Sharon to see these caves since they are the newly discovered in 1974.  I had already seen Carlsbad Caves in New Mexico as a child. 
The state park is in the desert high country and has a lovely large area for RV’s that include electricity and water, free showers and several rest rooms for $25 per night.  It is a well manicured area with paved driveways and pads.  I’m writing this from the picnic table and near dusk.
The modern visitor's center features large lit pictures of the inside of the cave, films, a café and gift shop.  There is a lovely cactus garden surrounding the building.
I was interested in the rocks and bought a book on Arizona geology. The tours were filled up for the day but start again early the next morning.  Perfect timing. 
These caves were amazing.  Discovered by two young cavers, they kept it a secret for many years while working with the family who owned the property.  They eventually got funding and the state parks department spent millions of dollars to develop it.  The hour and a half tour costs $22 which includes an electric tram ride to the entrance.  At the entrance to the otherwise normal looking small hillside, there are two chambers to protect the limestone “living cave” from outside influences.  First was the air, the second was a misting room to contain even the lint on visitor’s clothes.  It was then about a half-mile walk with a guide along cement paths with metal railings.  There are necessary to keep your balance as you look at the top of the cave…actually a series of caves.  Water percolates from the upper surface and calcite formations continue to grow as stalagmites reaching up from the ground and stalactites dripping down like icicles. The main feature is a column that is lit with music and changing lights.  I would recommend this tour to anyone.  The tour guide was excellent.  It is very well done and worth the price.
On to Bisbee, Arizona
I’d had mixed reviews from friends who had been here but their brochure was so compelling that I just had to see it.  It is a town near the furthest southeast corner of the state and near the Mexico border.  As I got within about 10 miles, I entered some serious mountains.  VANessa was struggling to the nearly 5,000 mile elevation level. 
This is the craziest place I’ve ever seen. It’s rather like an illustration from a Dr. Seuss book.  In a confluence of a variety of steep mountains and deep gullies is this town clinging to the hillsides and centered in a narrow, curving, and rolling base. There is not even a flat place between the mountains, let alone a valley.  I parked and started walking until I found the “Savory Café” (on several levels of the slope) and sat at one of the two counter seats.  This is a combobbled combination of any type of building materials available.  I ordered a sandwich.  Another woman sat down beside me and looked to me like a local…so I asked her.  She said she had moved here 30 years ago from California, had run a gallery and was now retiring.  She said this was originally a copper mining town that closed down.  The hippies had moved in to abandoned buildings and because they were so self-sufficient they could live there without much from the outside.  Then, she said, the gays and artists moved in because of the cheap housing and they improved the housing, restaurants, old hotels and downtown shops.  The rich visited and bought art but didn’t seem to stay because there is nothing else to do such as skiing or water sports.   I thanked her for the information and started to walk the narrow, winding sidewalk to downtown. 
This is still a hippy town.  Galleries did not have the finer art…in fact it was rather crude for my taste.  There were a lot of dusty antique shops with overpriced goods…mainly western and cowboy items…plus an old bookstore. Many of the "old west" look has been preserved in the hotels and other buildings.  I did find a book-on-tape. The dry goods store had a creaky wooden floor along with lots of rodeo shirts and a big array of cowboy hats and boots.  I noticed a machine in the corner that I’d not seen since childhood.  It was an X-ray machine formerly used in shoe stores.  Children put on the new shoes and put their feet into it.  The salesman, parent, and child all had viewing pieces to look and see thechild’s foot  bones and determine if the shoes fit well.  This type machine was in every shoe store but suddenly they were removed.  As an adult I understand they figured out that X-rays were not so good for people and they stopped doing that.  The clerk said that this machine was not functional…only a discussion item.   Several of us customers did have a lively talk about our youth…and how amazing it was to wiggle your toes to see your bones moving.  
Pawn Shops and Thrift Shopping
Because there were reports of wind, cold, and snow forecast, I called Aunt Fran in Scottsdale to say I’d try to make it to her house before the storm.  I arrived about 7pm and settled in for the night.   The next day Fran talked about advertisements on TV regarding pawn shops and she’d never been to one.  We headed out after breakfast to the part of town that is supposed to have a lot of them.  We found the first one and ended up each buying a bit of jewelry but otherwise it is mostly “guy stuff” or electronics that we didn’t need.  On the way down the street she spotted a thrift store and said she’d always wanted to stop but never had.  It was a Value Village (VV’s to those of us bargain hunters).  I told her it was overpriced and I no longer went to the ones at home…but I’d go with her.  Well, it’s a very different store than I’m used to.  Clean, carpeted, wide aisles, and  low prices.  We found cartloads of Chico and other designer brand items in nearly new condition for amazing prices.  I asked about any other stores and they sent us down the road where we found an even bigger store.  I found Ralph Lauren shirts and sweaters and more Chico’s….like new.  As we left, the storm hit with pouring down rain and streets flooded.  It continued the rest of the day and evening  and even during the night.  My van was gently swayed by the wind as I slept.  In the morning all the water was gone and the sun was out.  Fran said this length of the rainstorm was unusually long and she could remember only a few other times it has happened.  To me it felt like home for a short while.  
By Thursday it had turned cold and I saw a small flurry of snow in the afternoon.  The local news showed some Phoenix areas with light covering and lots of snow in the surrounding mountains.  We covered Fran's plants with sheets to protect them from the forecasted night frost, then settled in to a great dinner of BBQ ribs and baked potatoes.  
I'm not sure when I'll be moving on.  I'm keeping an eye on the weather reports both west and northwest. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Deja vu Ozona

I was driving through west Texas and the sun was going down.  I turned off the freeway at an RV Park sign, and signed up for one night.  With a little time, I drove down town and had a strange feeling I’d been there recently.  Yes, I had stopped at the post office on my way east.  The postmaster and several locals had chatted with me as I purchased stamps for some postcards. 
This little town of Ozona, Texas (population 3,500) is the county seat of Crockett County and has a beautiful county seat building downtown.  Next to it is an historical museum along with a statue of Davy Crockett in the park.  These, plus some downtown  buildings  (one looks like an old bank) and even some bulk work along the park has an elegant beige stone that looks hand cut.  They say that Davy Crockett never stepped on land in this county but they do honor him with the county name.
I left Ozona early Sunday morning with a good nights sleep and a full day of driving ahead of me.  West Texas reminds me of parts in Eastern Washington.  I put in the books-on-tape of “Outer Banks”  and the drive went by faster.  The next two hours I pondered the surprise ending then pulled into a rest stop to make a sandwich and cold drink for lunch.  The sun is bright and I had to pull the curtain over the driver’s window to keep from burning.  My next big city is El Paso at about 2:30.  The new time zone gives me an extra hour of daylight.
It was a very long day of driving and my eyes were stinging.  I bunked down at an RV park in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The restaurant next door is closed on Sunday and I was starved!  I cooked in the van...sweet potato pancakes, and pickled beets (whole can).  Yum 
Regarding the Bridge from Hell
I got an email asking if I went back over the "bridge from hell" in Lake Charles, Louisianna.  Yes, I did...this time with my eyes open.  There was little wind which made it easier.  At the top I looked out at oil refineries, tanks and oil ships as far as I could see. The big oil leak was closest to this area...but out to sea of course.  I can  understand the mixed feelings when they were going to shut this down...a lot of jobs are here.
So, what about all these fireworks stores?  Not just seasonal tents but two story brick buildings and permanent retail stores as well as those tents.  I casually asked what that was about in December…and apparently all year long.  I’ve seen them from Florida across to at least the west Texas border.
The only answer was “They like to shoot them off in the south.”  Do any of you know about this?
In the evening of Christmas Day I hear and see fireworks going off in the nearby sports field. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Last Day on the Gulf Beach

Another lovely and warm day of shopping, beach, and big lunch at the Golden Corral.  However, it’s  time for me to head west.  As I drive along the coast highway to the Louisiana border,  I’d not considered that I’d be looking into the sun from 3:30 until dark.  Driving, reading maps, and glare put strain on eyes and I don’t need more.  I will go to sleep earlier and get up earlier to accommodate this.
So, I pulled over at yet another Wal-Mart to stay overnight, and enjoyed pushing a cart around as families bought their gifts and holiday food.  One woman had a frozen duck and said it was traditional in her family.  I'd tried it many years ago and a few bites of cooked duck did not produce a need for more.   It was a noisy night at the Wal-Mart even though I was parked on the furthest boundary.  Motorcycles, car alarms, screeching tires.   I guess I can sleep through anything.    
On Friday I started early with about 8 hours of constant driving until just west of Houston.   Since it was Christmas eve, I decided to give myself a treat.  I stayed at a nice hotel with an in-room Jacuzzi and lots of hot water.   With dinner next door at a recommended restaurant (good food and service) I then got a good night’s sleep as I watched a drenching Texas thunder and rain storm from a warm space.  Christmas Day is forecast as windy but dry.  I will be starting early.    

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Friends along the Gulf Coast

After staying the night at a favorite RV Park, Martin Lake Resort, the manager gave me a map and suggested I visit Ocean Springs, a small town on the east end of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  This is on the coastal highway but I’d missed it on my first drive through.  It was too cold then to enjoy anything anyway.  Today it was nearly 70 degrees and sunny.  The tiny town’s main street is lined with tall oak trees and branches that reach across at the top to form a shaded arch.  With little shops with names like “Bayou Belle”,  I had to stay.  There was easy parking off main street and I spend the afternoon just taking-in the beautiful items, people, holiday music and even hot cider and cookies. A bit of southern holiday hospitality.

I ran into two other shoppers who seemed to be on the same shopping route I was.  One had a beautiful Scottish accent.  When we were at the Lovelace Drug Store old fashioned soda counter at the same time, we naturally struck up a conversation.  They had seen the van and knew the name “Okanagan” and were delighted to tell me they were Canadians. 
Bell Ringer
Tonight I met Julie. I was spending the night parked at the 24 hour Wal-Mart near Biloxi.  She was outside the store ringing her bell and tending the Salvation Army kettle.  It occurred to me that she might know of the local Salvation Army thrift store.  I asked her and then as she considered it, I said I’d be back out after shopping and it would give her some time to think. 
In the way out, I dropped my money into the kettle and we began to chat.  She gave me some very confusing directions which she continuously corrected and we both started to laugh.  She said the Goodwill that used to be near the coast was destroyed by Katrina and she doesn’t know where they are now.  Many places had relocated.
I asked her about her home.  She lives in Bay St. Louis…along this coast but a bit further west from here.  She said it is brick but it was filled by 7 feet of mud and surf.  She and her husband lost everything.  She had worked at a local hospital but it was damaged so she had no job.  Her husband is a carpenter and is out of work too.  This bell-ringing job will help them for another month.   
She was curious about my travel adventure so we talked about that and all the while people stuffed money into her kettle.   When the wind turned chilly, we said good-bye with a hug.   
Most of the casinos…about 6… are grouped together in Biloxi.  Formerly (before the hurricane), they were built on the water.  The local or state ordinance required that.  After they were all blown away, the law was changed to allow them to build on solid land.  However, half of them are right on the beach and the others are across the road that skirts the shore.  I don't see how that afforded much change or protection in case of another one. They appear to be the tallest buildings in the area. 
After a quiet night at the Wal-Mart, I'm traveling west along the coast to Gulfport.  My thanks to McDonald's for the use of their parking lot and free Wi-Fi this morning. 

Along the Underside of Florida

The coastal road along the underside of the Florida panhandle is leisurely and relaxing.  The white sandy beach is visible while driving. There are signs of damage from hurricane Dennis which left just walls of beach cabins...otherwise popular for summer visitors. Insurance costs and restrictions for rebuilding have left them shuttered and sad.

At about the furthest south point of this portion of the state, the highway goes through the town of Apalachicola (just like its spelled..just take your time) and turns left. It was time for a rest, lunch and a walk about this quaint town.  I found a antique store...sort of.  He was the former editor of the town newspaper, sold it but kept the old building as his "man cave" and had collected enough to almost be a museum.  The town was the home to the man who invented the first ice-making machine.  I guess in this part of the country they are very motivated.  I had lunch at the counter in "The Grill"...a cup of shrimp chowder and fish/chips (haddock).  All was delicious. 

The road got busier with more commercial development as I neared Panama City and further up the coast.  Lots of tall condo and upscale restaurants and amusement parks. I continued to Grayton Beach State Park and signed up for the night.  Florida state parks are outstanding with clean, private RV spots with water and electrical hook-ups.  There is an abundance of staff and it is quiet.  In the morning I went to the beach which startled me since the grassy dunes are made of pure white sand that looks like snow.  The sand is like
talcum powder and I was the only one there as far as I could see in both directions. A board walk ambles over the dunes to protect them until reaching the water.  The drifting sand over the boardwalk looks like snowdrifts.  Cost for the stay was about $20. 

Now the traffic, stop lights, and commercialism were testing my patience so at Pensacola  I returned to Hy #10...the main freeway.  I drove through Mobile, AL, and to the Gulf Coast starting at the eastern point of Biloxi, Mississippi. Sunny and no wind.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Time in Tampa

First Days in Tampa
I must say that sleeping in any place other than the van left me uneasy for a few nights.  Vanessa had become like a safe cocoon.  Just after I arrived, she had lost the use of the interior lights and electrical outlets so the boys went to work.  Bryan, Shon and Will checked everywhere until they found a battery underneath the couch and suspended below the level of the floor.  It took some time but they persisted.  They found the battery dry and filled it with water.  After a short time Vanessa was as good as new.  My thanks, guys, for the help.   Some lazy days watching Brian catch fish in the lake, walks, shopping, even a work-out at the club and I was feeling great.
Birthday and Christmas
Since my birthday is so close to Christmas (9 days before), I’ve usually gotten and “happy birthday and Merry Christmas” present.  However, this one was unique.  On the 16th the “gang” took us all out for a wonderful dinner and movie.  The next evening was an early but traditional Christmas .  After a great dinner, we gathered around the tree and opened gifts.
Heading West on Sunday Morning
Sunday, Dec. 19th, I said goodbye to everyone and headed out.  Teri and Bryan were catching a flight at noon and we’d all had a wonderful  time reminiscing and sharing stories.  I caught highway #19 again…this time going north.  I made a side trip to a small fishing village named  Aripeka …named after a Seminole Indian leader.  The original one-room Post Office said the town was settled in 1886.  I stopped at “Suzie’s Shack”  a second hand store that was a small and modest home completely filled with used clothing and household items. I don’t know how, but the family including children, lived there too.  Suzie says she does a good business with summer tourists.  Nothing there for me but we did have a nice chat.
I passed over the Suwanee River.  I didn’t know it came so far south.  I’ll have to look that up.
Back on the highway, I saw several produce stands and flea markets.  At one I purchased beautiful strawberries.  He said they were from Plant City, an area two hours away that has huge strawberry fields.  We’d all seen the news of the freeze a few days ago but these were large and delicious.  So nice they saved some for me.
I continued north to the town of Perry, and then followed state highway #98 which is also called the Sopchoppy.  The road is good and lined with trees and short palms.  It skirts the edge of the Apalachicola National Forest.  It continues through scarcely inhabited areas which are also protected wildlife areas.  As in many parts of Florida, the roads are built up with swamps on either side.  I slowed down for something moving on my right and a black bear ran across the road…the another followed!  I was stopped on the road…I’ve never been that close to a wild bear. 
 The sun was going down rapidly and I began to get worried.  The nearest Passport America RV park was two hours away.  I needed a safe place to park before dark.  Just in time I saw the entrance to Ochlockonee River State Park.  The Ranger was welcoming and said to take any place I wanted…there were only a few other RV’s here.    Electrical and water hook up, fire pits and picnic tables.  Very nice and clean.  After hooking up I took a short walk and found the rest rooms and showers.  For electrical and water hook-up, picnic table and firepit at a wooded location was $19 per night.   The weather quickly cools down when the sun sets.   Tonight is a hot dinner and DVD. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Finish Line-At Last

This afternoon I arrived at the home of Will and Di in Tampa.  Although known for its balmy winters, Florida is experiencing an "unusual freeze".  You've already heard me talking about cold and windy weather during my last few days along the coast. Fortunately, this is supposed to end soon and warm up.

Daughter Teri and her husband Bryan had been here visiting (they otherwise live near me in the Northwest), then went on a short cruise and will join us in a few days for an early holiday celebration all together.

Now for a little rest and time visiting.

Convoy to Tallahassee

It’s kind of funny how, when you’re driving on the road, you can bond with another vehicle.  Today around Pensacola, I started to follow a small dark Jeep who was, I soon realized, following closely behind a cream colored Toyota pulling a small, rental moving trailer.  They were going at a good pace-60 mph- on this two lane interstate so I followed them a respectable distance.  I found this relaxing since I could think less…they made the decisions for me.  We drove like this for hours headed east toward Tallahassee, Florida. 
I realized I needed to stop for gas but I didn’t want to leave them.  I finally had to pull off an exit and found they were also signaling to exit.  They pulled into a side parking area of the Shell Station while I pulled up to the pump.  I got out and walked over…ready to apologize.  “Hi neighbor” the driver of the Totota said.  I explained that I’d been traveling for weeks and somehow got into their rhythm and I hoped I wasn’t a problem.  “Not at all…we like the company”.  The older couple said they were from Michigan and were helping their son move from Pensacola to Jacksonville.  He was driving the Jeep…smiled and waved.  After I filled up with gas, I pulled toward the road and noticed they were also moving.  I pulled over to let them pass before falling in behind once more.  Then we all entered the on-ramp for another few hours together before our separate destinations.  Our convoy… our little neighborhood… moving forward together at 60 miles an hour.    

Monday, December 13, 2010


Highway 90 along the beach in Biloxi has white sand and the gulf on one side and the effects of Katrina on the other.  Many of the stately southern homes appear to be repaired, replaced or just gone.  There are many cement slabs with a for sale sign.  The lovely old oak trees evidently withstood the winds but show broken branches.  I’m sure those fallen down have long been removed in the 6 years.  Several damaged trees in the median were carved into herons and fish and polished like a work of art.  There are a lot of pull-off parking spaces along the beach side which makes for a time to relax and enjoy the dune grass.
I did find my seafood shack on the beach and had a great captain’s plate.  I must have eaten every species that swims or crawls in salt or fresh water.   The restaurant had formerly been on stilts over the water but all was blown away.  They rebuilt on the land-side of the beach road where a Shoney’s formerly was located. 
I stopped at a casino called “Treasure Bay”.  It appears to be a new name or replaced one of the several that were damaged and closed.  The parking lot is fairly small and there were no RV signs so I hailed down the security truck and pointing to my rig (I don’t refer to it as my RV…just my little van.) I asked if I could stay overnight.  He looked at it and said; “O.K. but the parking lot gets full at night so just don’t carry-on like you’re staying overnight.”  I’m guessing that means no lawn furniture, campfire, or picnics.     
This is a military town so locals say that if the bases go…so does the community.  I wore my Seattle Mariners slicker into a store and the clerk said she and her husband were formerly stationed in Bremerton. 
After some shopping at a mall (it’s just too cold to be outside), I stayed at an RV park just north of I-10 and decided to drive east in the morning.  If it is warmer here on my return trip, I’ll spend more time. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday in Mississippi

Entering Mississippi state line, I stopped at the tourist center where I was greeted with a cup of coffee and all the help I could ask for.  So, with maps and a plan I headed to a Passport America RV Resort near Long Beach.  There is a 75 mile strip of coastal scenic highway (#90) that parallels I-10 and Long Beach is close to the western end. 
I called my daughter Teri’s friend, Cindi, who used to live in this area.  A world traveler, she gave me some ideas.  At this time she was in Washington state and preparing for a trip to Antarctica. 
The entrance to the Magic River RV resort is a narrow road between two private lakes.  It’s quiet with pine trees and only about 6 other rigs .  One gentleman from Minnesota and on his way to Brownsville, Texas said that there is a 70% chance of rain tonight.  He also said that when it rained here on his stop last year they had to leave at 10pm because the roads were flooding.  I’ll be prepared to leave. 
Sunday morning

We got a few rain showers but no flooding.  This area has been concerned about the drought they have had for several years so rain is matter how little.

For a few days I'll be driving slowly along the 75 mile coastline road (#90) that goes through Gulfport and Biloxie.  It is sunny and crisp but VERY enemy since it takes all my energy to keep this "kite" on the road.  Gulfport today is quiet except for church bells. There is some hurricane damage evident especially along the very coastline but it appears that McDonald's and Burger King are new. There is a "memorial sign" where a church once stood.  The lot is empty with just the cement foundation left.  Inland a bit, the traditional one-story brick houses all appear to have new roofs.  The white sand beaches are clean and beautiful with no one on them...too cold and windy.

Bye, Bye Texas...finally

The grass was frosty as I left the little town of Luling, Texas.  The owner of the RV park raises horses and there is a race track next to the RV’s where the community gathers in September.  There is a nice trail to the river and a dock. They also say that a barbeque restaurant in town has won prizes in cook-offs.  I’ll try to stay here on my way through again. 
Meanwhile, the goal today is to reach Louisiana in the afternoon.  After breakfast at Frank’s Restaurant and a discussion with  Darrell, a trucker with driving advice. He says to go straight through Houston…it’s easy.  When I told him that San Antonio was NOT easy, he agreed and gave me a way around that he prefers.  Frank’s is is a family restaurant and advertised as “founded 80 years ago”.  I think some of his help today were originals because they gave authenticity to “like gramma’s  kitchen”. 
I decided to set the GPS for “Port Arthur”, a bit out of the way but it was the first touch of water and the name sounded interesting.  For those of you who missed this school day of geography class,…as I must have…Port Arthur is on a lake, not salt water, it offers refineries and pipes and railroads, and a terrible chemical smell.  And now, students….
We are off to Lake Charles, LA…and hope for the better.  I was looking for one of several casinos and after going over the Lake Charles bridge…a bridge from hell…I limped into the tourist office on the other side.  “that’s the scariest bridge I’ve ever driven on” was all I could say.  “Everyone feels that way”  they agreed. The two  young ladies told me the casino I wanted was closed over 5 years ago due to the hurricane and never reopened.  I got brochures for two others who  are open.   Oh no, not the other side of the bridge!!!  So, trembling, I found the Isla of Capri casino.  Seemingly not an Indian casino, it has large expanses of open space and the gambling is all on a floating river boat.  However, there were not many people and a rather sad place.  Buffet dinner included my southern favorites: boiled cold shrimp, fried shrimp and catfish, hushpuppies, turnip greens, sweet potatoes…and so much more.
There is a free overnight parking area for RV’s and there are about a dozen of us here.  However, it is below that bridge and when I stopped I thought we were having a massive windstorm.   It’s just the sound of traffic overhead!  This bridge is like going up a steep ramp…like a roller coaster…and then down the other side.  It appears to me to be about the height of the Seattle Space Needle with the minimum of railings…I guess so you can see where you are about to plunge!!  Eyes ahead.  Keep driving, keep driving.  
The weather is a bit cool but the two at the tourist office promised warmer days Friday and Saturday.  They also knew all the shopping spots I’d like.   Anyway, they asked me back because I said I was a travel writer.  They said they’d love to have their PR person give me a tour!  I’d better get some business cards first.
On Friday I drove to the other casino…the L’auberg du lac Casino and Resort.  Wow, what a difference from the previous one.  Elegant building and landscaping, golf course, uniformed doormen, huge fresh flower displays, expensive dress shops.   Meanwhile I went shopping at some antique and thrift stores then back to the casino in time for the lunch buffet.  Seated near the window on the water, across the lake I could see…yes, lots of refineries with their smokestacks.  On a review of my maps I’m in an area of lakes connected to lakes with refineries and oil tankers who need high bridges so they can safely go under them.  
It’s Saturday morning and I’m off to find the real salt water. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday as well

I love driving west Texas.  Unlike New Mexico, it has interesting rolling hills, mountains, and a variety of rocks.  Every turn is a new scene.  I see few cars…mostly trucks and some RV’s but the two well-paved lanes are usually mine.  This is so much more relaxing than in the cities.  It is a bit gusty in some areas but otherwise warm and pleasant.   
I noticed an oil rig near the road…not pumping…and the rotating wind turbines on the hill behind it.  Interesting statement.
Just before Fort Stockton, I checked to find the Wal-Mart address and the GPS took me to a wonderfully welcoming parking lot.  I met another RV traveler…a French Canadian…and we both went in to get permission for an overnight and they agreed.  There are about 8 of us parked here now.  I went in to get supplies and a newspaper.  Not much happening in this town.  The sunset is at 6pm…central standard time so this will give me some more driving hours. 
I took a break and had lunch at a restaurant in Vado.  There was a table of 6 ranchers…all with cowboy hats and boots…and I sat as close as I dare as the only other customer.  Yes, they discussed horses, halters, chasing cows, and laughed a lot. 
In the morning, it was an early start and all day drive east past San Antonio and to the RV park in Luling.  I was exhausted but found a restaurant named Blake’s with the best prime rib ever.  The locals say that it was originally a railroad, oil, and cattle town.  In the early days, the town wives burned down a section of town that held the brothels.  There are new oil finds nearby and they are building new pipelines just south of here. This area also grows pecans and watermelons.
Vanessa is making some serious noises, especially when going slow.  Maybe after a nights rest…she pushed really hard today.

New Mexico in One Day

As I entered New Mexico  the sign said: “Welcome to New Mexico”  “Be aware of dust storms that may be hazardous.”  “There is a danger of zero visibility. If so, pull over to the side of the road.”  
Well, I-10 freeway heads directly east and is flat with just a tufted golden yellow grass for miles on each side of the road.  There are mountains on each side in the distance.  I figured that if I could see them, I was O.K.  Sure enough, the signs continued, “Watch for dust storms next 30 miles.”  And the nearly lane-size shoulder continued through the whole state.  
This was a full day drive and was only dotted by colorful billboard signs advertising all sorts of upcoming hotels, restaurants, gas, stops, pecans, jerkey, and even the “Thing”.  I found best gas prices at Love’s  Travel  Stops. They are well advertised exits and visible from the freeway.  Easy on and off. They also have other services such as Subway and Pizza to eat on the road.
Since I had been dry-camping for three straight days, I pulled into a Passport America  RV park just before the Texas boarder.  I needed not only a shower, and do laundry but recharge my phone and other electronics.  
I had taken a Dust Buster and attachments and although it works OK, the trade-off for it’s size and space is not worth it.  A whisk broom and vacuum at any car wash would work well.
When I get to Texas I’m having a big steak.

Sunday Near Tucson

 Sunday morning I traveled from Scottsdale, south past Tucson.  Along the way were bales of newly picked cotton all piled up together into the size of about a freight container…evidently going to market.
I was to meet my old school pal and college roommate, Sharon McCoy Lyons, at the Desert Diamond Casino in Sahuarita...south of Tucson and on I-19.  I left the van there and she provided a tour of the area including information on the pecan trees, plants, birds, and each historical item as we drove down I-19 to the Tumacacori Mission site.  This was the northernmost mission of the Jesuit expansion.  Serving the Pima and other Indians, the contact was first made in 1691.  Although there was work done on the church and community, they had many difficulties:  disease, Apache attacks, Spanish politics, war with Mexico and cold winters.  It was finally abandond and now is a National Historical Park. We toured the ruins but not before enjoying the outdoor fiesta held nearby.  Booths surrounded the stage where Aztec dancers in all their plumage danced to a drummer; and mariachi bands played.  There were basket weaving demonstrations and other crafts of several Indian tribes.  After that we went to Tubac, formerly the site of the mission’s garrison but now know for it’s colorful art shops.  
I should explain that Sharon is a retired school teacher who is a wealth of information.  She and her husband have wintered in the area for six years and we had dinner at their lovely home in a Del Web community.   She had about two days worth of suggested tours and maybe I’ll do them on my way back through.  Right now I’m feeling anxious to hit the road.
That night I dry-camped at the Casino which has plenty of parking places around the back edges of the paved lot.  It’s open 24/7 and has several restaurants and buffet.  Although I didn’t eat there, I picked up  cold drinks at the café.  The security people are very friendly.  
Monday morning…off early to a nearby shopping center for breakfast; a hair cut/wash/fluff, and lots of fresh fruit at Fry’s. 
Hitting the road…driving  east.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Feeling Like a "Regular"...for a Short Time

It's surprising how fast you can fall into a routine.  A few days at the "Good Life RV Resort", I'd met people at the laundry, have "happy hour" with the neighbors, get an acknowledging wave at the gated entrance, and discussed books at the library.  Just a lovely place.

Prince Rupert,, Vancouver Island, many here are Canadian.  They are from all Provinces and some from isolated towns.  Their phone calls to home reported snow by the feet...not in inches.  Since I've worked in Abbotsford, B.C., and traveled most of that area...I was invited to their happy hours.  Although not a beer drinker, I noticed they brought their own Molsen by the case.  They are very encouraging for me to stay..."Best sunshine and no bugs".  "The weather on the Gulf Coast is only 58 degrees today."  On day 5, I sadly I waved farewell to my new friends and drove back to Scottsdale.

After a few days to visit relatives and go shopping, it's off to Tucson tomorrow morning. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

70 Degrees and warmer

The sun is having an effect on my skin (leather), hair (dry and frizzy) and the sun glasses have resulted in those white eye-circles amide a more ruddy complexion…I don’t tan well.  I bought more sunscreen. 
Last Sunday I stayed at Good Life RV Resort in Mesa.  The next morning I signed up for 5 nights.  The resort is huge with mostly “park models”  as well as RV’s .  Park models are a cross of mobile home and a storage container .  White rectangles where people live very close to each other.  There are neat streets with little stop signs at intersections.  People primarily drive golf carts or bicycles.  The center has a pool, hobby center (woodworking anyone?), and lots of scheduled activities.  I used my Passport America card to get the half price…$20 per night.   This membership has more than paid for itself.  However, I do find that the nicer RV resorts listed only allow rigs that are less than 10 years old and/or more than 20 feet.  They do not allow conversion vans or tent trailers.  The regular parks don’t seem to care and I don’t need all their services anyway.  
Mesa is an easy town to get around in.  Main street goes east and west with the downtown area in the middle.   Most of the city functions are there along with a museum, and parks.  Lovely.  I easily found the tourist center where a very nice lady loaded me up with maps and brochures…even a big phone book.  I had picked up a few items at a Safeway earlier so I had a picnic lunch under the blooming pink bouginvillia.  I especially like seeing the lemon, orange and grapefruit trees in private yards. They are colored-up but not ripe yet.
Today I went east on Main Street from Mesa and went to Apache Junction just because I like the name (or was I thinking of “Conjunction Junction”).  People who live there call it “A.J.”  Anyway,  I found some interesting shopping but it’s just not as classy as Mesa.   This valley has many cities all cozied up together.  There is a gigantic street grid so that streets go north and south, and east and west.  Some common streets, like Camelback, go straight for miles and through a variety of cities.  
I’ve been spending lots of time at thrift stores where I got some deals.  An idea is forming for an on-line business, so after discussing it with my sister, Nancy, we will probably do it together.   It’s Just a seed at this point but exciting.  
Note to self:  Don’t bring so many pairs of shoes next time.

Beautiful Phoenix

As I mentioned earlier, somewhere on the way to phoenix, my GPS stopped working.  It was diagnosed as a blown fuse and no one had a fuse that small.  The loss just stopped me in my tracks.  I depend on it entirely. 
Exhausted, I stopped in Good Year (west of Phoenix) just at sunset and got a room at the Comfort Inn, just off the interstate #10.   The Radio Shack across the street had the GPS fuse but it still didn’t work.  They sent me down the road to an auto repair who found I had a blown fuse in the lighter.  Whew, they didn’t have to take the dash board apart. 
I called my aunt Fran in Scottsdale to tell her I was in town.  As ever, she gave me a gracious invitation, so, we talked well into the night.  I parked the rig in her driveway overnight, and the next day we did our mutual most favorite thing…garage sales and swap meet.   She was on the search for more homemade salsa she usually gets from a swap meet vendor.  This swap meet is near the botanical garden in Phoenix and utilizes the former dog race track parking lot.  Dog racing used to be popular here and there is a beautiful facility but the state changed the law and racing is no longer legal.  Fran is a real pro.  We found the sala man.  She got 4 quarts and I got one pint to give a friend.   I did OK by finding a small coffee maker and a portable radio…for a total of $5.  Fran is the youngest sister of my Mother-in-Law, Harriet Tomatich. 
I love this area for its wide streets, great street signs, easy traffic, cleanliness, and rock outcroppings that look like Disney’s space mountain.  It has a sense of humor.  Today it was a cool 60 degrees but that all important sun was shining.  I may stay here forever…or until the temperature reaches three digits…whichever comes first.
I’m off to an RV Resort in Mesa called “Good Life”.   Its’ ad states it is an “age qualified community”….Ha, that just means you have to be 55 or older.  I’m not embarrassed anymore to say “Give me the senior discount please”.  I’m certainly “age qualified”.
A call to friend, Robert Crista, set up a possible time with him and wife Chris on Thursday.  He is a real estate agent and busy…things are hopefully picking up.  Meanwhile the van is making occasional clinking sounds in the motor.  I’m pretending it’s just a purr…maybe a hairball.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Phoenix at Last

Yesterday was a long drive through the desert.  I did spend a little time in Lake Havesu City to see the London Bridge and enjoy the dark rock outcroppings in and around the water.

My "home" is a mess and needs cleaning as well as myself.  Last night I stopped at a Comfort Inn in Goodyear (just west of Phoenix) for a big bed, lots of hot water and speedy internet service.  It was just dark and it's amazing how difficult it is for me to see at night. Now, after a good night's sleep and hot breakfast, I can catch up on house-keeping.  I am near an electronics store so I'll see if the GPS can be fixed. The sun is shining but still a bit nippy weather until the afternoon.  I find I schedule my life and chores by daylight vs. darkness.  Sure am glad I'm not on any tight schedule. 

Thanksgiving at the Avi

The Avi sounds exotic…yes?...not much.  It’s a casino on the Colorado River…the very south tip of Nevada.  It’s an Indian owned facility and I spent yesterday evening enjoying the buffet and movie at the inside theater.  The food was very good but the movie, “Burlesque” was only middling.  Cher was great, Christina over-done, plot was trite, but costumes and sets worth putting up with it all.  The Avi has a free RV dry camp as well as a full hook-up across the street.  I’m dry camping which means I have no electricity or other services.  The weather has turned cold and got down to 28 degrees last night but I was perfectly comfortable.  The winds blow strong and steady all day…the kind you have to lean into to move forward.  My poor van shakes and rolls all the time…similar to being on a boat.   
I came here to Laughlin rather than Las Vegas because I’ve  done Vegas  many times, but never tried the surrounding spots.  Just north of here and also on the river are about 10 major casinos…Harrah’s Laughlin, Tropicana, Golden Nugget.  My favorite was the Colorado Belle with architecture simulating an old riverboat.  The food and other prices are SO much lower than Las Vegas and the casinos are busy.   I did a bit of the River Walk that joins all the casinos but although the sun is shining…it is a cold wind.  While at the casino I talked with a man from Minnesota who has been here for a month.  He says the weather was warmer last week (wooden ‘cha know it).  He also explained that Laughlin is only a casino and residential town.  Shopping and services are directly across the river at Bullhead City, Arizona.  I had always figured that with such an ugly name it wasn’t worth visiting.  So,  this afternoon I drove it and found a shopping mall and a Goodwill.  Just the places I need to be tomorrow, the biggest shopping day of the year.   Their “park ‘n ride” is a boat that goes across the river and docks at the casino side.  These two towns have a nice symbiotic relationship.  Important note:  Buy gas in Arizona…it’s much cheaper at $2.65 a gallon versus $3.49 in California only a few miles away.
My Thanksgiving dinner was at the Avi buffet.  Since Thursdays are 2-1, I made a friend and shared the cost of the great buffet.  I had joined the players club so I used my free $5 up then played with $20 until I left with $27...a net $7 winner for the evening.  All-in-all it was a great and inexpensive few days. 

Ceres to Mojave

In spite of the stress at the Wal-Mart, I did have a good nights sleep and moved on south at early light.  The route I’m taking eventually to Las Vegas, takes me off of I-5  and driving Hy 99.  This runs parallel to I-5 for a while but it’s very poor condition and potholes  make it a hazard to drive at the freeway  speeds of up to 70mph.  It is heavily traveled. I would recommend that a traveler take I-5 and then cross over to Hy 99 just north of Bakersfield.  
Just after Modesto, a small red pick-up truck in my left lane blew a tire.  I was between two semi’s-one in front and one behind in my lane.  The red truck’s tire blew out with flying rubber hitting the side of the truck in front of me, spun around very fast, and headed across my lane and, I expected into the side of the truck in front of me.  I braked, the truck braked, and the red truck spun across our lane going backward and missing the front of the semi by inches.   It then traveled onto a large wide grassy field on the right side of the lane, spun around until it was facing the road.  It was so amazing, that everything and everyone was intact.  It was like watching a movie and the traffic just continued on.  It was just amazing..whoever was in there was very lucky.
Leaving Bakersfield I took highway 58 leading to Las Vegas.  At  Mojave, the landscape changed to barren grassy hills, then mountains of sparking gold and beige and brown.  The early afternoon son made them breaktaking.  But the best was yet to come.  Well into the mountain range was a covering of wind turbines not only across the top of the range, but in rows below that, and below that…as far as I could see.  Big white fins twirling at their best speed.  Driving between the mountain I saw more on the backsides and then I was surrounded by these flying birds.  There must have been thousands.  My guess was confirmed later when the manager of the RV park near Mojave said that many workers stayed at the park as they build 900 more plus solar panels...all to provide electricity to Los Angeles.  

On to Sacramento

Redding to Sacramento and beyond
Leaving Redding I drove by miles and miles of olive orchards…perfectly in line with green grass between each row.  That turned into fields of grape arbors with golden leaves.   In the middle of the olive country, I stopped for breakfast at Corning and had a great meal at a small café at the end of town. I don’t remember the name but it was the only restaurant  not Mexican or pizza.  I did notice palm date trees loaded with hanging fruit.  The weather feels decidedly warmer . 
Traveling south on I-5, I followed the signs to “old Sacramento”.  I was looking for more information on the gold rush.   Exiting the freeway, the streets are layed out so that the capital building is at the end of a tree-lined boulevard.  Lovely   
Well marked with good signage, I soon found the old town and special parking for RV’s (although I later noticed a lot of open parking along the streets).  The sidewalks are rough-hewn plank boards, and the buildings have been restored to their original glamour.  They now house bicycle shops, saloons, dry goods stores, ice cream parlors, tattoo parlors, and restaurants.  I especially liked the old fashioned clothes and even patterns to make your own.  Lots of feathers, ribbons and lace to become a dancing saloon girl in 1849.  The shopkeepers I chatted with said business was slow (this was Monday) and I noticed several store fronts empty and for lease.  Next was the Sacramento Historical Museum  and everything-you-want-to know about the gold rush and how to be a miner…they even used a water cannon to take down hillsides.  I knew the Chinese became miners and were treated badly including taxed as “foreign miners” but didn’t know they were contractors to the Chinese government who sponsored them.
Off to Modesto where I’d hoped to dry camp at the Wal-Mart.  Wow, it was part of a huge shopping center…not stand-alone as I’m used to.  I waved down the patroling security truck and asked where the RV parking was and he said the complex is owned by the mall company and maybe I could park but the Modesto police may knock on my door in the middle of the night.  I went to dinner to ponder my situation and found “Fresh Choice” a local franchise with salad bar, soup, lots of other stuff and desserts.  I had a big green salad to celebrate my visit to California where it’s all grown (maybe).  I then shopped the other stores and asked the nice people in Wal-Mart if there was another one nearby where RV parking WAS available.  They sent me down the road to Ceres…where it was the same story.  However they are open 24 hours and the manager’s manager gave me permission after  I pleaded with every card I had…even night blindness.  I sure won’t let this happen again.  So here I sit at my “oven desk” and  know that I can shop at 3am if there’s anything I need.  

Early Thanksgiving in Scio

Scio, Oregon
Just east of I-5, in the middle of Oregon is the most beautiful countryside I may have ever seen.  I was on my way to niece Suzie Ryan and her fiancée Todd’s farm and ranch at Scio (Sigh-O) .  Boasting the “covered bridge capital of the world” and the “Grass seed capital of the world”, this area of rolling hills and lush green fields of grass is breathtaking…even in winter.   Todd is the third generation to farm the land with cattle and grass seed crops.  Their generous hospitality  in the big old farmhouse was the 2nd annual  Ryan family “pre” Thanksgiving .  Joined by about 20 others, for two days of fun on the farm, we had a traditional turkey dinner  and celebrated Kenny’s birthday too.  They are planning a June wedding and I certainly will return for it in the spring.
Sunday morning, after plenty of coffee I waved good-by to the crowd and headed south.  The Siskiyou mountain passes were dry for the most part with a dusting of snow.  I find these mountains arduous to drive because they never seem to end.   Vanessa did fine on the ups and downs so I drove straight through to Redding, California….the first city on flat ground.  It was just about sunset when my GPS took me to my RV park where I hooked up, made dinner, and watched a DVD of “Dream Girls” .  It sounds like rain on the roof. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ready, Set…..

Winterizing the House and Garden

It seems strange to be insulating outside pipes in 70 degree weather but these are the last dry days and lots of chores still to do before leaving.  So I’m cleaning up the flower beds and harvesting the last the vegetables. The carrots went into my favorite Thai curry carrot soup.

The Brussels sprouts were a new crop for me and I think I beat out the insects.  If you are not aware, these baby cabbages grow on a thick stem with lots of big leaves.  The baby sprouts grow along the stems and between the leaves.  Since these stalks are not sold in regular grocery stores, look for them in farmer’s markets or produce stands and cut the sprouts off yourself…the flavor is so much better.  

Otherwise, I’ve been “eating down” the last of the food in a 21 cubic foot freezer so that I’ll be able to unplug it before leaving.  This year I didn’t grow and harvest the huge amount I’d done years before so I’ll be able to do this easily.  

Office in the Van
The van is ready and I keep finding corners to fill with yet one more item. My “office” while on the road will be in my oven!      

With the help of some chopping boards, I have the laptop screen on the top elements, the keyboard on the open oven door, and the mouse on the middle shelf.  The couch directly across from it provides seating.  Not very ergonomically correct, but a start.  It may be too clever to actually work…we’ll see.

Odds and Ends

Since VANessa is a 1986 model, she has only a tape deck and radio.  This turns out well since I’m finding sets of “books on tapes” very cheap at thrift stores.  Tapes seem to be nearly obsolete.  

Richard, the banjo king, wants me to look for unique songs while I’m in the south.  As a groupie of his bluegrass band, I have memorized their entire repertoire and may be able to contribute something new.  Actually, this is an excuse to rummage through old bookstores for sheet music and seek out local ethnic bands.

I just finished the last of my blogging class at Pierce College.  Thanks to Diane Mettler (the writer) and Chris Bivins, (the techie guy), both great instructors with successful writing careers and blogs of their own.  Their web site is:   

My monthly breakfast pals gave me a sendoff at our favorite restaurant. On my way there, I pushed the van’s electric window button and it went down…but not back up.  I tried the other window which didn’t budge.  Noooo!  Well, at least it wasn’t raining.  (A later call to my mechanic assured me they can fix it before I leave next week.) 

The questions of “Will you carry a weapon?”…and the ensuing conversation that included every type of self-defense known to women-kind was well intended but a bit disturbing.  Another favorite was, “How will we know where you are if you drive off the road and are at the bottom of a lake?”  Well, maybe my window will be stuck open and I can swim out.  I promise…I’ll send you a postcard.  Go to Bonnie’s blog to see more about our group.

The rain has now come.  I have only the final autumn clean-up then I’ll put away these gardening boots until next summer.