February 25 2010

Today my cousin Chad gave us a tour of his workplace, where they distribute seafood. It was cold, but really interesting.

Today was also my last day at Cracker Barrel – and I have to admit, I’m ready to move on. The job has been a blessing in a couple of ways - a bit of ready cash, and I’ve lost over 20 lbs! But it’s time for something else.

Family in Chandler

It’s getting very close to time to hit the road again! We are looking forward to it, but it’s also a bit un-nerving. We are heading into an area we’ve never been before – Canada and Alaska – where we don’t know anyone and we don’t know exactly what to expect. But I guess that is the point of this lifestyle. Also, we have met some great folks here that we have to leave behind, which is hard to do. Leaving people was the hardest part about leaving the Illinois/Missouri area, and it continues to be the main drawback. Besides still missing everyone from the Midwest, now we will be missing some folks from Arizona. At some point that might be too much. But for now, we’ll continue to see new sights and have new experiences and share them with anyone who cares to read this blog.

Recently I realized that I have a cousin in Chandler, so I arranged to meet up with him on Saturday. I had to work Saturday morning and as I left work and headed home, it started to rain. But the rain was moving quickly through the area and as it moved out, I saw the most beautiful double rainbow imaginable! The main rainbow was so bright it almost looked like it was neon - it glowed with bright, vivid colors as if it was lit from within. And then there was a softer, lighter rainbow above that one. Both rainbows were completely visible from end to end – so beautiful! It made me think of someday seeing the rainbows surrounding God’s throne – now that will be really amazing!

Randy and I did get to visit with my cousin Chad later that day. Chad is a transplant from California and he is really in love with this area. It was great to visit with him and catch up on what’s going on in his life. He’s got a really good job and a lot of good friends here. He works in the seafood industry and was able to get us some great shrimp and scallops. Good thing we recently bought a small freezer!

For dinner we went to Joe’s Real BBQ. This is the sister restaurant of Joes’ Farm (see January 2), and it’s the original one. When we got there the line to order went from the back of the restaurant through the dining room and out the door. The line moved pretty fast, but people kept coming so that the line was was always out the door. We got the BBQ sampler so we could try the chicken, brisket, ribs and pulled pork, with sides of mac-and-cheese and beans. Randy does better BBQ, but it was all good and definitely worth having!

Yesterday some friends arranged to take us out, as a farewell gesture. Skip and Bev, Clyde and Nancy, Bob and Vicki and ourselves car-pooled into the Chandler area. We started at Santan Brewing Company. The best thing on their menu was the raspberry mushrooms, but they were out of those, so we all ordered appetizers to share and beer samplers (not me – I ordered my beloved Diet Coke!). At the end of the meal the waitress came by to say they had a new batch of mushrooms, so what the heck - we ordered those also! The restaurant was a fun place to visit. The bartender would occasionally ring a bell over the bar so we asked the waitress why he did that. She said everyday he made up a different reason, and today’s reason was Cougar Day – when he saw an older woman making moves on a younger man, he rang the bell. Of course it was suggested he ring the bell for me, since as everyone knows, Randy is 6 months younger than me!

Eventually we left there and walked down the street to the Kokopelli Winery. There everyone ordered wine or beer, except me – I ordered the chocolate port brownie. That was a quieter place and it was very relaxing to just sit around and talk with friends.

When we left there, we decided to get something (else!) to eat. So we drove to Keegan (a bit of a challenge – someone’s GPS lead us in the wrong direction and he will never live it down!). Randy and I split a burger and fries, which was very good. After more visiting and laughing, it was time to go home.

February 16, 2010

Today was a day to prepare for our next trip. We shopped around and bought a small freezer that we can fit into the RV. The idea is to fill it with fresh-caught salmon in Alaska! We also visited with Bonnie and Ken, who had a lot of great information about their trips to Alaska and Mexico. We will be covering some of the same ground as they did, so it's nice to know what to expect.
We also went to see the movie Avatar. The special effects are good, but the story line was predictable from the opening scene. I wish movie makers would spend more time on a good story line, and quit relying on special effects so much. Special effects should enhance the story line, not replace it!

February 16, 2010

In October we drove through part of the Apache Trail (see October 28th). Yesterday we drove through the rest of it. The second part started at Tortilla Flats, which is also the last touristic stop. Tortilla Flats is not much more than a couple of buildings, but its claim to fame is that all the interior walls are covered with dollar bills from customers or fans of Tortilla Flats. The original building burned down once and folks sent in dollars from all across the world to replace them. While the dollars were being stored during reconstruction, someone stole them. And people sent in more dollars to replace those! They write their names or a note on the dollars, which are stapled to the walls. The current guesstimate, based on the size of a US dollar and the amount of wall space covered, is that there might be over 120,000 pinned up now!

The rest of the trail was incredibly scenic. About 22 miles of it are not paved and the road gets quite narrow in some places. Along the way are 3 lakes – Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt lakes. The general area is part of the Tonto National Forrest. It’s not a forest in the Midwest sense – no towering trees. But the mountains are covered in cactus and scrub brush, and topped with rocky crests, and it’s all really beautiful. I took about 260 pictures but none of them really captured the beauty, and unfortunately by the time I cut them down to a size that will fit here, they are even less impactful. But the views are really beautiful! At one point I heard a nearby lady said that this was just about as beautiful as the Grand Canyon, and she was right. It’s not as accessible and it’s not well publicized, but it is worth the trip.

The last stop on the trail was the Tonto National Monument – an Indian cliff dwelling estimated to be about 700 years old. It’s very accessible – just a short walk up the hill and then we were able to walk around inside. We had to be quiet because some Africanized bees are nesting there and apparently they don’t like noise. Or sunglasses – the range asked me to remove mine because the bees might attack them. There are several rooms open to visitors, and it's really interesting to imagine how (or why) people lived up there. It would be safe from enemy attacks, but it would also be very difficult to carry water and supplies into the houses. Times must have been tough to make it worthwhile to live up in a cliff house.

Valentines Day Feb 14, 2010

Happy Valentines Day. I hope all are having a wonderful day.
Today in Az it is about 75 degrees and sunny. What beautiful weather we are having these days. As Jackie told you yesterday we went to our first Rodeo. It was a lot of fun. I think the best part was the wild horse race. That was just plain hilarious watching those guys try to catch the horse, saddle it and ride across a finish line.
A while back we went to a restaurant in Chandler called My Big Fat Greek Restaurant. It was great. We had a meat platter that contained Lamb Chops, Chicken Souvlaki, Beef Soulvaki, pork Soulvaki, Mousaka, Pastitsio, Gyro meat, Rice, Vegetables and Lemon Potatoes and it came with salads. Needless to say it was more than we could eat and we brought home 2 large containers of food. I highly recommend this restaurant. I am putting a link to their website here on the blog.
Until next time happy eating.

Feburary 11, 2010

A few days ago we joined some friends from the Park and drove to Mesa for dinner at Organ Stop Pizza. That’s an unusual name for an unusual place, but it turns out to be an accurate name. They serve pizza, and they have the world’s largest pipe organ. It’s a beautiful ebony organ with gold leaf decorations, at least four keyboards, and around 6,000 pipes. It rises up from below the floor on a platform in the center of the stage. There are several organists who work there and the night we went, the best one was playing. He was really excellent! He played everything from Phantom of the Opera to the TV Star Trek theme. There are a couple dozen other instruments (drums, bells, chimes, etc) around the stage that are keyed to organ pedals, so the organist can bring them into the music as needed. The many pipes are all around the room, and most of them are behind slender glass panels that open and close to help control the volume. The pizza was good, the company was great, and the entertainment was fun.

Today we went to a more traditional event – the 43th O’Odham Tash Casa Grande rodeo. The O’Odham Tash are a local tribe, possible descended from the original inhabitants who build the ancient structure preserved as the Casa Grande National Monument, which gave the town of Casa Grande (“big house”) its name (see our October 28th blog). This event is billed as the largest all-Indian rodeo. Since it’s the first rodeo I attended, I have nothing to compare it to, but I really enjoyed it! The rodeo started with O'Odham veterans parading the US, Arizona and O'dham Tash flags, and then an Indian lady in beautiful blue and white dress with gorgeous long fringes did the Lord’s Prayer in Indian sign language.

Next another Indian lady sang the National anthem in Indian language. Then the rodeo events started, including calf roping and barrel racing. Apparently there is a relatively new event called team roping – one person ropes the calf’s horns as usual, and the other person ropes the calf’s two back feet . . . while it is running and jumping and trying to escape. That second roping is a really difficult throw! Some of the participants were pretty young – one guy who was able to rope the calf’s feet was only 12 years old!

There was only one bronco ride – apparently most of those are scheduled for the next day. What they did have was a lot of bull riding! Most of the bulls where huge and none of them were in a good mood. Very few guys were able to stay on the full eight seconds, but nobody got seriously hurt.

The last event was something I’d never even heard of before – a wild horse race. Several teams of 3 guys competed in this event. To start, a wild horse has a head rope put on it and is put into a shute. The team members take hold of the head rope and the shute is opened. The first thing I learned is that one angry horse can easily drag 3 guys off their feet! The most successful teams had someone who was able to throw their arm over the horses’ eyes, which made the horse stand still for a few moments and allowed them to try the next step – putting a saddle on the horse. Then one of the guys needed to mount it and ride to the other end of the arena to complete the event. All along this process all sorts of things can – and did – go wrong. Getting close enough to blindfold a wild horse is really difficult, even with a head rope, and if that works, getting the saddle on is whole new battle. Some horses refused to let anyone get close enough to blindfold or saddle them. Several horses broke free enough to try to run away. Since chasing down a wild horse on foot almost impossible, the cowboys will do almost anything to avoid letting the horse get completely away. So several hung on to that head rope and went for a ride called "cowboy mud skiing" – getting dragged face down across the arena through dirt, mud and whatever else the horses, cows and bulls had deposited on the ground. Eventually a few cowboys were able to saddle up and when the horses took off across the arena, they went bucking all the way and were able to drop a few riders down to hard ground. Out of 18 teams, only about 4 or 5 were able to complete it. It looked pretty hard on the cowboys, but it was a tremendous amount of fun to watch!

Feburary 8, 2010

I’ve been sick for about a week – a bad case of the sniffles and a hacking cough. I missed a couple of days of work last week but am starting to feel better now, even though I haven’t shaken it off completely yet. I have decided to cut back on the time I spend at Cracker Barrel – I don’t really want to work more than 2 days in a row without getting some time off. I’ve lost 20 pounds from the work, which is wonderful, but I also have some aches and pains after a couple of days, and it’s not worth that!

Sunday Randy and I went to a local Swap Meet for some fresh vegetables, then drove to the Glendale Chocolate Festival. That’s the same neighborhood that put on the great Christmas light display. The Chocolate Festival is their Valentine celebration. It’s billed as the largest gathering of romance writers, who show up to sign autographs and promote their books. Since I usually read science fiction, I didn’t know any of them, but that’s OK – I was only there for the chocolate! We took a short tour of a local chocolate factory (it was not much of a tour – it was mostly just a way to get people in to buy chocolate), and did a bit of local shopping, where Randy bought a cool hat. We had lunch at a German restaurant which was pretty good, but the food could have been better seasoned.

At the festival there were several booths with a wide variety chocolate – crepes, pizzas, dipped fruit, popcorn, candy bars, etc, and I was really amazed to find a small booth that sold Leonidas chocolate! When I worked in Spain I often visited Belgium, where I discovered several wonderful Belgium chocolates such as Godiva, Callebaut and Leonidas. After spending several months in Europe, I couldn’t bear to eat US chocolate for a long time. Eventually (and unfortunately) I learned to enjoy Hershey’s again, but there is really no comparison between a fine, quality chocolate and the waxy stuff that passes for chocolate in most of the US. All chocolate melts eventually, but an excellent chocolate melts quickly on your tongue and increases in flavor as it does, until the taste is more like a feeling than a flavor. I immediately paid $4 for a 1.7 ounce bar of chocolate, and just barely restrained myself from buying more. After just one nibble of it, I totally lost my appetite for all the rest of what passed for “chocolate” at the rest of the festival – anything else would have been like following a fine wine with generic Kool-Aid.

Friday February 5, 2010

Hello. Today has been a beautiful day here in Arizona. It has been sunny and the temp somewhere around 70 degrees.
The news of the week is that we are leaving Quail Run on February 28 and beginning our journey to Alaska. Now we won't be driving straight to Alaska, we will begin meandering toward it. We plan on heading to Quartzsite, Az, then to Sultan Sea in California, then to Riverside and from there taking our time heading up the West Coast through California, Oregon and Washington with our arrival in Alaska about May 16.
It seems like we have been here in this park for a very long time and are really looking forward to seeing new areas. While at Salton Sea we hope to go see my brother Butch and his family. Then while in Riverside we will visit with Jackie's Aunt Jean and her family.
Many of my friends here at the park have been giving me ideas of things to do and places to see on our trip. There is a town in Washington called Oysterville where the ships come in with loads of fresh oyster (Aaron and Dezina I wish you could be here to share some but since you can't I'll try to eat your share). Also there are many great lighthouses to be seen, the Redwood Forest, the Spruce Goose and many other interesting sites. All in all it should be a great trip.
We do miss our friends back in the St. Louis area and hope that all of you are doing well.