Tuesday March 30, 2010

I haven’t added to the blog for a few days. We have been to the Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, and I am finding it difficult to write something that conveys the intense feelings those places generate. This won’t do the job, but I have to start somewhere. . .

In Sequoia we started by hiking to Marble Falls, which is about 7.4 miles round trip, and I learned that I am not in as good shape as I thought I was. The hike is a medium-grade difficulty but most of the trail to the falls is uphill, and a lot of it is right on the edge of the mountain; stepping 6 inches to the left would make you slide right down the mountainside. It took us 2 hours to hike to the falls but I’m glad we did it. Marble Falls is not one big falls – it’s a group of smaller falls strung together. The area has a lot of huge boulders with some marble in them, which gives the falls its name. It took us only 1 hr and 15 minutes to hike back from the falls (downhill helps!), after which we lunched on the peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches which we had stashed, in accordance with park rules, in a bear-proof box at the trailhead. I didn’t used to like peanut butter but after more than 3 hours of hiking, I really appreciated them!

The entrance to Sequoia Park was just 5 miles from our campsite but the Sequoia trees are about 18 miles inside the Park. Because they only grow at elevations of 5,000 to 7,000 feet, the road to get there is really steep and filled with switchbacks. The road is a good one but you definitely need to follow the speed limit, which often drops to 5 mph. At some points the grade was posted as 8%, but at other times they didn’t tell how much the grade was, probably to avoid scaring people. There are several mule deer in the park and they are obviously used to cars; several times we saw them grazing just 5 or 10 feet from the road.

The drive alone is worthwhile because of the beautiful vistas across the valley and neighboring mountains. But when you get to the Giant Forrest, it’s a whole new game.

Sequoias would be beautiful even if they weren’t so big. They are a gorgeous cinnamon-red color and their bark isn’t rough, like most trees. It looks and feels like built-up layers of paper or cardboard, and there is so much bark built up that it gives slightly to the touch, and makes the tree sound oddly hollow when you knock on it. Somewhere under all that bark (which in the really big trees can be one or two feet thick) are the actual tree trunks.

When we were there, there had been a recent 6-foot snowfall and the forest was covered in a thick fog. It was 34 degrees at that elevation so the snow had softened and packed down a bit – when I fell through the snow on the pathways (and I did that a lot) I only dropped a couple of feet down, but off the path the snow was a lot deeper. We walked out into the forest to find the biggest tree in the world – the General Sherman tree. Unfortunately the snowfall had covered the trail signs and the fog hid the treetops, so we ended up taking a round-about hike of almost a mile long, but eventually we found the right path. Most Sequoias are huge – the size of 2 or 3 normal trees bundled together. But General Sherman is unbelievable.
It’s not the tallest tree or the widest, but in volume, it’s the biggest. It’s 36.5 feet across, stands 275 feet tall and weighs about 1,385 TONS. There were probably a dozen people there that day, and everyone was practially speechless. It's the sort of thing you can hardly beleive, even while you are standing in front of it.

Clear weather would have been nice,but the fog added extra atmosphere; the forest felt like a secret place and it was unearthly quiet. Everywhere we turned, the giant trees seemed to appear silently out of the mist. This was genuinely an awe-inspiring experience.

March 23, 2010

What a week - we’ve been so busy that we haven’t kept up on the blog and now it’s hard to recall where the time went! In the past when I filled in several days, I put the most recent at the top and worked backwards, because that follows the Blog organizational format. But it doesn’t read well to me, so this time I’ll start at the end and work forward. So here are last week’s highlights: (as I typed this, I realized most of the “highlights” included good food….and that is not a complaint!)

Tuesday, March 16
This was a low-key day, catching up on some necessary tasks. We spent some time looking at what our next route should be, then repacked some of the RV. We are working on a better way to organize things while we are on the road, so we don’t have several boxes in the living room.

My cousin Jim returned from his Mexican fishing trip and took everyone out for dinner at the family’s favorite Mexican restaurant, Zacatecas. It's easy to understand why this is there fav!

Wednesday, March 17
We drove to downtown Riverside to see the Mission Inn. It’s not a real mission; it is a wonderful inn that was built by Frank Miller in the Mission architectural style in the late 1800’s. Frank had a passion for traveling the world and collecting beautiful or interesting items and bringing them back to his inn. At one point in history the inn fell on hard times, but now it has been beautifully restored into a first-class hotel. We walked into the Spanish courtyard and immediately felt the charm of the place. Having enjoyed several months in Spain a few years ago, we could tell that Frank knew what he was doing and really captured the right ambience.

Later we walked across the street to tour the 1st Congregational Church. It’s a beautiful building with an ornate exterior and a somewhat austere interior. Then, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we went to a local Irish pub called Kilarney’s and had lunch with Jim. His office is one block away from the pub, so it was an easy place to meet. And later for dinner Teresa cooked corned beef and cabbage, avocado/cucumber salad and coconut cream pie. She can cook as well as her mother, and that is saying a lot!

Thursday, March 18
Randy went fishing with Jack again and this time they were very successful! Randy came home with 9 trout and Jack caught a bunch, too. They had such a good time that they didn’t get back until 3pm, and shortly afterwards Mike stopped by to take us to a hockey game at Staples Center. Mike had box seat tickets for a game between the LA Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. Sadly the Kings lost, but we had a great time anyway. This is the first hockey game we have attended and seeing it from box seats with free food (and desserts!) is a nice introduction. If I could watch all games this way, I would be a big fan!

Friday, March 19
We needed to get a form notarized so we went to Jim’s office. When we got there Randy tricked the receptionist into thinking he was a customer who was mad at Jim and wanted to chew him out. So the receptionist, who is apparently quite loyal to Jim, left him a phone message to see if he wanted to talk to the angry customer outside. I suspect that if Jim said no, we would not have gotten past the front desk! But it’s hard to fool Jim - he knew it was us, and came out to give us a quick tour of his company offices.

For lunch Randy and I went to a local Thai restaurant – Bann Thai on Brockton street - that everyone in the Booth and Burns family recommended. The recommendation was on track and we had a good lunch. Then we went to the Mission Inn again and took a tour about its history. The Inn has four separate sections – Spanish, Italian, Oriental, and the front courtyard. It is beautiful and elegant without being too formal or structured. For example, the outside wall is adobe with sections of iron fences. The iron sections are, on close inspections, from different gates and fences and none of them match, but the overall effect is lovely.

To end a perfect day we went to Aunt Jean’s for dinner. Mike was helping her cook Dorado (a delicious fish that she or her sons had caught in Mexico), and she had also prepared a scrumptious strawberry salad, cabbage-rice salad, corn, peach cobbler and cream pie. Too much good food is never too much!

Saturday, March 20
Randy and I ran a few errands and looked at a few RVs at Giant RV in Riverside. Fortunately we didn’t find anything irresistible. In the afternoon I felt the need for a nap . . . one of the sweet things about retirement is that when you feel like a nap, you just take one!

Later in the afternoon Jim and Teresa came in for a visit. As usual, the conversation bounced between cooking and fishing, and included the best of both worlds - cooking fish.

For dinner Teresa and Jack took us and Aunt Jean to BJ’s, one of their favorite restaurants. The wait to get in was about 45 minutes so they gave out pizza samples while we were waiting. The pizza was very good, and since we were able get it while we were in line, when we sat down to dinner everyone was able to order something else. I highly recommend their desserts!

Sunday, March 21, 2010
Teresa fixed some awesome biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Most Californians don’t seem to know much about good biscuits and gravy, but Teresa is really a transplant from Missouri and she knows all about them! Then we were able to spend the rest of the day with her, taking a scenic drive up to Big Bear Lake. There’s a cute tourist town at the lake and beautiful mountain views all along the drive. We didn’t do any skiing, but it was so relaxing to just enjoy the view and visit.

For dinner Jim and Mike smoked some ribs, pork, chicken and prime rib, added some great side dishes, and Aunt Jean brought homemade German Chocolate cake. Everyone ate too much and wished they could eat more - that seems to be the theme on this trip!

Monday, March 22, 2010
We had lunch with Aunt Jean at Bann Thai (it was worth a second trip), then drove to the grade school to watch Tara and Dennis’ son Riley (Aunt Jean's great-grandson and Teresa's grandson) receive a Citizenship award. He’s in the 2nd grade, and he and his older brother Ian are really smart. Ian also received an award on Friday, but we weren’t able to attend that time.

For dinner we met Mike and Claire and Aunt Jean at the Mission Inn. The Inn is even more beautiful at night! I can’t describe it and pictures don’t do it justice. I’ll just say I love this even more than chocolate, so if you get a chance, visit this place!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The weather could not be more perfect but at this time of the year there is tree sap in the air, and it gets onto any vehicle that’s parked outside for a couple of days. Fortunately it’s not hard to wash off, so that’s what we did today. Randy also had to spend a couple of hours on the phone with tech support because our PC security application got messed up and was blocking all Java scripts. Since we use the computer as a link to almost everything, it was critical to get that corrected before we go anywhere.

We‘ve been parked in our cousins’ driveway for a couple of weeks now, using their water and electricity and being chauffeured all over town. It’s really hard to do something for them but everyone likes to eat, so Randy cooked dinner tonight. He made Sweet Sensation salad, fettuccini with Cajon cream sauce and scallops, asparagus with orange cream butter, and Banana nut cake. Fortunately most of the family were available on short notice and we were able to spend another relaxing evening together. It will be hard to leave, but we definitely need to be on the road again by Thursday.

March 15 2010

Monday: Randy: Today we drove to LA for some real tourist activities. We went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to see the footprints. Some of them are really neat because they are messages to Sid Grauman who apparently owned theater. Humphrey Bogart wrote “Sid, may you never die till I kill you”. From there we walked down Hollywood boulevard, look in some souvenir shops and had a slice of pizza at a local snack bar.

On to Beverly Hills; the houses are pretty neat though the front yards are real small. These folks should visit Lindell St in St. Louis for an idea on proper showing-off yard size. We did not see any movies star houses, so on to Rodeo Drive.

At Rodeo Drive we were able to find parking on the street amongst the Rolls, Bentleys, Porsche, Audis and Lexus. It is nice to have a unique car like the Jeep Commander in a town where your car says so much about you. We walked down Rodeo and stepped inside a few of the stores. They have some beautiful things to sell and I am sure a beautiful price to match.

From there we were inspired so we stopped at a Rolls Royce Dealership and began browsing cars. They had 5 different cars on the showroom , all used. There was one that was a 1962 limo and in the back compartment it had a speedometer and an odometer to ensure the driver wasn’t wild and crazy and it was only $175,000. What a steal - the leather in these cars is incredible. Well, suffice it to say we didn’t find the right car for us but maybe at the next dealer.

One thing we saw on the street causing quite a commotion was a Bugatti. It was black and red and was a real eye catcher. The car itself was fantastic but the color choices made it look more like a freak car than a high end car (my opinion). Then we saw this Rolls show up and when the driver locked the car, the front emblem went down into the grill and a lid came over the hole to prevent anyone from breaking off the emblem. What money will buy!

After seeing the ritzy part of town we thought we ought to see the more eclectic part. Off to Venice beach boardwalk. This place is known for the strange, bizarre actions/antics of the people. It was pretty mild when we were there. There was a much older black muscle guy wearing a pair of briefs who was posing for pictures - quite a sight to behold. There were some street performers doing acrobatics. There is a weightlifting gym right on the beach with a training area for gymnastics. There were a couple of guys working on the gymnastics equipment that were pretty good. There are also paddle balls courts, hand ball courts and basketball courts.

The boardwalk is lined with stores and restaurants. There are local artists plying their wares, but they can’t sell them unless they have a permit. Therefore, to get around this they have a sign that says they accept contributions only, and according to the law they must be willing to give at least one item a day away for free if someone asks them. Some of the items were very neat. One guy was selling all types of things made from Bamboo, including medical instruments. It turn out the medical instruments are pipes to smoke the Medical Marijuana that is available. Out here they say that Medical Marijuana can cure just about anything, or maybe just make you forget about the problem. There are plenty of stores on the boardwalk to get your prescription filled.

From the boardwalk we drove home in the evening LA rush hour traffic and believe me it was not fun.

Sunday: Randy: I got up before 5 am to go fishing with Jack and went to Mountain Lake, a member only campground. It is a beautiful area with 2 different lakes. Jack said there were fish there but we didn’t catch any to prove it. We stayed there for about 3 hours, not catching fish, then we went to Bass Pro Shop where we knew we could spend money. And we did. Jackie got up later to go to church with Jean and Theresa, then lunched with them and Emma at BJ’s Brewery. Afterwards they met with Alma and some friends and went to see “Menopause: The Musical”. Great play!

Saturday: Visited my cousin Mike who was preparing smoked pork and beef for the staff of the children’s theater. Later that night we went to the theater and saw a performance of Beauty and the Beast. The kids are kindergarten through eighth grade and they did a really great job with the play.

Friday : Drove to Riverside and parked the RV in my cousin’s driveway. Visited with Jack and Theresa, then drove over to see Aunt Jean.

Wild Animal Park

Today Butch and Lina took us to the Wild Animal Park, This 1,800 acre park is home to some amazing animals who live in large open-air displays that mimic their natural habitat. There were a lot of beautiful birds here - some were in large netted areas, but a lot were free to fly and roam.

Several endangered animals were there because they needed a home. Their elephant herd was started with elephants that were scheduled to be destroyed (i.e. killed) because their original facility somewhere else was not adequate. All of those elephants found a home at either the Zoo or the Wild Animal Park. Here they have a big area and several baby elephants have been born since they arrived. The latest arrival was born on Valentines’ Day this year.
Their condors were in a big area that is netted over, to keep them from taking off. At least one of their condors was originally raised in captivity and released in the wild, but recaptured because it developed lead poisoning. Because they eat carrion, they sometimes eat the bullets that killed the animals they eat. These aren't pretty, but they are so amazing to see!
We took a tram ride through the vast plans section that is home to rhinos, giraffes, buffalo, and a large variety of antelope. Lions and cheetahs each have a separate area.
We were there when they fed the 3 cheetahs their lunch. They are sisters who were hand-raised because their mother rejected them shortly after birth. So they like their handler and, after snacking on some raw meat, one sat down beside him as he talked to the crowd. She licked his leg or hand all the time he was talking, and the handler said she was purring. He also said their tongues are very rough and if she licked him a long time in one place, it could cause him to bleed. Since that might trigger some natural but disastrous instincts, he didn’t let the cat lick too long in one place. Our thought is that she's either taking a taste, or washing her dinner before taking a big bite.
Normally I don’t care for the gorilla exhibits, but today it was a fine, sunny day and the gorillas were foraging comfortably through the grass. Their area was large, clean and grassy, and they seemed at ease and interested in what they were doing.
These animals are so huge when you see them up close, and they are amazingly muscular.
At the end of the day we all went to Outback and had yet another good meal. Tomorrow we will be on the road again, but it is sad to say goodbye.

Baseball game

Randy asked Lina to show him how to make a couple of Philippine dishes, so today he went to their house and watched her cook. Then we stayed for lunch, and it was delicious! 

In the afternoon we went to watch Mitchell play baseball. It was really cold and windy – I was bundled up in jacket and gloves, sitting on one blanket with another one around my knees, and I was still cold. But it was worth it; his first time at bat Mitchell hit a home run, right out of the park! 
He played several positions in the field – shortstop, pitcher and 3rd base. One inning while was pitching, he got 3 batters in a row out.

March 9, 2010

Tuesday: The sun was shining today but it was really windy. Nevertheless, we went to the Boardwalk at Mission Bay to see the beach and walk through the boardwalk shops. The beach, as always, was awesome. We found that lots of sand dollars and kelp had washed up on shore. I was surprised to see what kelp looks like up close – it’s very rubbery, almost like it’s made of a plastic.

No wonder folks have died when they got caught up in this stuff – you’d need a very sharp knife to cut yourself free of it! There are small pods along the main strand of it that are filled with air, for buoyancy. And near the bottom of the thing is a pod larger than a grapefruit, with a spongy shell and a hollow center – again, for buoyancy.

The wind was really strong at the beach so after a short while we got back in the car and drove to the Viejas Casino. The casino buffet was less than $8 with a players’ card, so we had lunch there. They had crab legs on the buffet so I was a very happy camper! I was so busy with the crab legs that I almost forgot about dessert; crab legs are one of the very few things that can take my mind off of chocolate.

Eventually I had to leave the buffet, so we went out into the casino to spend the $5 of free play that came with each player card. $5 isn’t much, but at the penny slots it can last awhile. I ended up winning $9.06. Randy said that with all our recent big casino wins, he’s about ready to order a new Prevost!

Maria invited us to their house for dinner this evening. She made chicken asado and had cake for dessert, and it was all great. Another evening of great food and conversation – who could ask for more?!

Monday: Well, it’s not raining, just a little overcast. Butch drove us out to the Coronado Amphibious Base and gave us some info about his time in service (he’s a Marine). Then we drove to Coronado and walked thru Old Towne. They have beautiful garden areas in town. I don’t know what the plant is that is in this picture, but I love it!

We had lunch at El Fandango and walked thru more than a dozen shops. Lina, who is an avid gardener, got several new seeds for her garden (with permission, of course!).

We also visited MCRD (Marine Corp Recruit Depot) and saw some troops drilling.

Sunday: Randy’s birthday! The light rain was still here, but the rain is really needed in this area so it’s hard to complain. In the morning we went to church with Butch and Lina, and then went to lunch at Anna’s, one of Butch’s favorite restaurants. We went shopping afterwards but didn’t buy anything – it’s just as well, we don’t have any room for anything anyway! Then Lina fixed dinner for us – salad, rice and great big steaks. Penny came over with her fiancé Jesse and daughter Melissa, as did Michael and Maria with their sons Matthew and Mitchell, and everybody brought something wonderful for the dinner. We had a great dinner and a wonderful time visiting with everyone.

Saturday: Butch drove us out to the local Swap Meet in the morning. We didn’t buy much but we did enjoy walking around to see what was there. There was a light rain that cut down the number of folks there, but it didn't bother us. For lunch Butch and Lina took us out to the Claim Jumper restaurant, where Randy and I had excellent salads. Mine was a California Citrus Salad with walnuts, raisons, apples, avocados with a light vinaigrette, and it was so good that I may try to create it at home sometime. Afterwards we all walked around the nearby Grossman Mall.

March 9, 2010

Ahhhhhh . . . the San Diego Mission Bay beach.

March 8. 2010

It is an unfortunate fact my photographs don’t really capture what I see. However, I love to try!

In Arizona we noticed there was often a ring around the moon, and it had a light rainbow-color. Of course it doesn’t photograph well, but this will at least remind me of it.

There are some beautiful flowers In San Diego’s Old Town. One of the buds (about the size of my fist) looked like Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors”.

And another, smaller flower was a magnet for some lively honey bees.

March 5, 2010

Today we left Oasis Palm RV Park, and I wanted to jot down a few more memories before moving on. One of the nice things about the Park is that fresh fruit is so close. In fact, this is the view from our shower:

These are juice oranges – the white inside skin on them is bitter, but they give a lot of sweet juice.

They grow a lot of produce in that area, but one of the main crops seems to be date palms. These trees get very tall, and it is common to have one section planted with mature trees and the next section planted with younger trees. I learned that when a palm tree is younger, it is shorter but not much smaller. That is, the top of the tree looks about the same – it’s just how far it is off the ground that gives an indication of its age.

This morning Randy drove us from Oasis Palm to the Sweetwater Park in Bonito, in the San Diego area. The whole trip was less than 120 miles, but they were some of the hardest miles we’ve covered yet. We went south on 86 and turned west onto S22, which crosses into the Ana-Borrego Desert State Park, rising gradually in elevation. Around the town of Borrego Springs we picked up S3 south. That was a truly horrible road, in every sense of the word. I don’t know what the grade of descent was, but it was much too steep. It would never be allowed on a highway, but here for some reason, it was considered OK. And to make the road drop elevation even faster, the road was nothing but a continuous series of hairpin turns and blind-corners on the edge of the mountain, with no shoulder and no barriers to keep you from going over the side. There wasn’t a single stretch of road as much as 10 feet long that was straight and clear. It would have been trying in a car, but Randy was driving a 38’ motor coach and pulling a Jeep Commander! Every second he was on that road, he was making a turn in one direction or another, with no way to see what was up ahead or if there was a car coming towards us. My side of the road was right against the mountain – many places I could not have put my hand out the window without scraping rocks or trees. On Randy’s side the other lane ran right on the edge of the mountainside, so there was absolutely no room for vehicles to maneuver. Not only was there no shoulder on the road, but in a lot of places the edge of the road itself had eroded and collapsed. We hoped for better things after we got off the mountain, but as soon as we were in a level spot, we started seeing road warning signs such as “Rock Slide Area Ahead”. And “Sharp Turns Ahead”. And “Flash Flood Area”. And “Horse Crossing”. And “Cow crossing”. As Randy said, that road had a warning sign for everything except fire and brimstone! The road then proceeded to go up another mountain, with more blind corners and hairpin curves, shoulder-less and right on the edge of the mountain, only now my side was on the outside! I couldn’t see any of the road when I looked out my window, so I quit looking. When we finally turned onto highway 78 we thought it would get better, but that road was EXACTLY THE SAME!! Maybe just a tiny bit less elevation, but it was still impossible to see where the road was going more than 10 feet ahead. Then we pinned our hopes on 79 south, but no, that was just déjà vu all over again! At this point I have to say that Randy is a wonderful driver. We would not have tried that road if we’d know what it was like, but he did an amazing job and got us through without a scratch.

We did make it to San Diego area in one piece and visited with Randy’s brother Butch and his wife Lina. Their daughter Penny and her fiancé were there, and they offered to take us all out for dinner. So we all went to Applebee’s and over-ate.

March 4 2010

Wednesday we drove to the Joshua Tree National Park. This is a huge national park that is comprised of two deserts. At the southern entrance we took a short walk to a small oasis. The oasis is completely overgrown with huge palm trees that almost completely hide the water. I couldn't begin to get the picture of the oasis palms to fit on this blog, but this pic shows a couple of them, with Randy at the bottom of the frame.

The desert is starting to bloom here. The cactus often has blooms, and on the ground, almost unseen, are tiny red or yellow flowers. Further inside the park there is a garden of ocotillo plants. It’s not a garden in the Midwest sense - it’s an area that contains several dozen ocotillos, and people are allowed to walk among them. Right now they are full of green leaves and several are showing red flowers at the end of their branches. These are not true cacti, and they are nowhere near as dangerous as what is in the next “garden”. That is a group of Cholla cacti. They are nicknamed Jumping cactus because the small segments of cactus at the end of their branches are very easily dislodged by the slightest touch, and will stick (literally!) to anything that bumps them. Because such a slight touch transfers them to what touched them, people often don’t know they actually did touch it and assume it “jumped” onto them. Their other nickname is Teddy Bear because the many fine needles make them look fuzzy, like a teddy bear. And anyone who knows me knows I want to touch anything that I shouldn’t, so yes, I really, really wanted to touch these fuzzy looking things. But for once, better judgment prevailed and I didn’t.

(Who am I kidding? I touched one of these earlier, and it hurt like the dickens)

We got back into the car and drove on. The next area is full of huge, huge rocks. These rocks just sit on top of the ground like they were stacked up there. They don’t match the ground rock beneath them and don’t blend into the landscape. To give some indication of the rock size, on the first picture below, Randy is just barely visible on in lower right corner. This was nowhere near the largest rock.

The rocks were in fantasic shapes, and often looked like sculpture.

Eventually (miles later) we reached the northern section of the park. This is the area that contains the many Joshua trees that give the park its name. Joshua trees, according to one source, appear to try to grow in as many directions as possible.

We drove to Keys lookout, climbed a few steps, and found a breathtaking view. The plains below stretch out below and on you can see as far as Palms Springs, which is over 40 miles away.

And on the way home, as we passed by the Palm Springs area, we saw an amazing sight – an enormous wind farm. There was easily more than 200 wind machines, all turning and generating electricity for someone and cash for someone else!

Thursday we talked about going to Palm Springs, but instead we headed back into the mountains in search of more beauty and a little exercise. We drove out to the Painted Canyon, which fulfilled all the requirements. On the way we saw two very unusual planes overhead, which Randy recognized as Ospreys. They are a new type of air force plane that can change the direction of its engines, so it can move vertically through the air. The rest of the drive to the canyon was uneventful, except that it was a tough drive – Randy had to drive very slowly and very carefully on a pitted, sandy, rough dirt road for about 5 miles But when he parked the car and we started hiking into the canyon, it was all worth it! The part that is responsible for the name “painted canyon” is at the start of the canyon. The rock is in shades of red, light gray, dark gray and almost white.

Further on as we hiked deeper into the canyon, we found several slot canyons and explored a few of them. This is new territory for us and we both loved it! These are narrow slits in the canyon walls that wind around the harder rock columns, going up and down, following the path that was cut out by the flash floods. The slots would be a deadly place to be if there was any rainfall because there is no quick way out, but today there was no danger.

Eventually we hiked back to the car and drove on to the next canyon, which was Sheep Hole Canyon (not sure how it got its name). This canyon had a trail that led upwards. As we climbed, we found we were standing on the top of the canyon, overlooking the valley below on both sides.

The “valleys” on both sides are spectacular vistas of craggy canyons and smaller mountains. The pictures I got don’t convey the view, and I can’t get them to fit here anyway. But on the picture below you can see the trail that runs on top of the ridge – this is the trail we walked along.

A trip to Mexico

Monday: This next part will sound normal to the Arizona folks, but it may sound strange to our Midwest friends. We went back to Mexico at 8:30 in the morning to see the dentist. Her sign said the office opened at 8 am, but the office was closed. A nearby person said the office would open at 9, so we had some time to kill and decided to walk around. We stopped to read a sign about another dentist who advertized teeth cleaning for $15. And anytime you pause for even a moment in Algadones, someone is there to talk to sell you something. In this case it was a very well-spoken man in surgical scrubs who told us about the great dentist he assisted. He didn’t have the usual hard-sell technique, and our dentist wasn’t open yet, so what the heck - we decided to try it. There were two dentists working in that office, so Randy and I both got our teeth cleaned at the same time. It transpired that neither dentist spoke English. But the assistant spoke excellent English and kept checking with both dentists to translate as needed. The dentists seemed to do a nice job, and Randy and I are both pleased with the results. The dentist who cleaned my teeth said I was developing a few tiny cavities, but I decided to not do anything about that yet. Maybe the next visit. . .

After that, we had the rest of the day free, so we went to the Purple Pharmacy for a bit of breakfast. It’s a big store with more than just a pharmacy – it also has a big liquor store, a small bakery and a grill. We ordered a ham and cheese (jamon e queso) sandwich and Coke Light. Coke Light is the Mexican version of Diet Coke, and it’s actually better than our version. Their regular Coke is better than ours, too, because they still use sugar in it.

We walked around town, not really shopping, just to see what is there. Algodones is all about selling – there are dentists, optomologists, dermatologists and pharmacies everywhere, mixed right in with the liquor stores, tourist shops and street vendors trying to sell purses, jewelry, belts – almost everything!
Everything is a bit more casual here. One dentist had a sign outside his office that advertised “Whithe fillings and Feeth cleaning. Apparently someone told them the sign was mis-spelled, because they used a black marker to change the “F” in feeth to a “T”.
We went looking for – and found - a small taco stand that specializes in fish and shrimp tacos. It’s sort of famous in town – several people in Arizona City told us to stop there, and there was a long line waiting for those tacos. They were pretty good and there were a lot of toppings to dress them up with.
Eventually we made our way back to a liquor store with a good price on Chivas and bought some. We also got some Kahlua at the Purple Pharmacy/Liquor store. Everyone is allowed to bring back 1 liter of alcohol, so that was all we got. We finally did decide to get one souvenir – a hand-painted lantern. It’s got a beautiful lighthouse scene on it and an electric cord so I can plug it in. If it doesn’t get broken, it will look nice outside the RV in the evening. On the way out of town we stopped one last time at the Purple Pharmacy for another Coke Light and a donut, then went to stand in line to go back across the border. There was a long line because everyone has to go through customs, but it moved reasonably well.

And after all that, it was only 12:30! Well, we still had plenty of time to be tourists, so we headed to Yuma to check out the old Yuma prison. A lot of it was destroyed so the materials could be reused, but some of the buildings from the late 1800s are still there. The prison was functioning from 1876 through 1906. There is an old cemetery that contains the remains of 104 prisoners who died at the prison. The graves are unmarked, except for a pile of stones on top of each one. I usually like cemeteries, but this one was just sad.
Inside the old prison are several rows of cell blocks. Each cell held 6 convicts. If someone miss-behaved, they were chained to a large metal ring in the middle of the cell floor. But the bad news was that whenever anyone was chained to that ring, the other 5 people in the cell were also chained to it. So there was a lot of peer pressure to behave!
Although the prisoners may not have agreed, this was considered a very humane and progressive prison. The worse punishment allowed was the dark cell. This is a picture of the outside of the cell. . .
. . and this is a picture of the inside of the cell. Enough said.

After we got back from Yuma it still wasn’t dark, so we took a walk down the All-American Canal beside the casino, just to see the area. On the other side of it is a large section of Indian-owned land that is used as RV parking. Unlike the normal RV lots, in that one you just drive down winding dirt roads until you find a spot you want to be, and stop. There were some small groups of RVs together, but a lot of them were off somewhere by themselves. I heard it’s run pretty casually – someone stops by to collect the $15-a-day fee for dry-camping, but they only do that about once a week, so you might be there for several days before you see anyone.

Tuesday: Decided it was time to move on, so we left the Casino this morning and headed towards the Salton Sea area. We stopped at the Red Earth Casino and Truck stop for fuel. To get the best price we had to get a player’s card in the casino. While we were there we played $1 and walked out with $2.21. Not exactly breaking the bank, but it’s better than losing!

We continued to Salton Sea and checked into the Oasis Palm RV park. It’s a small and pretty park, with pavement to park the RV on, grass between the sites, and orange, grapefruit and lemons trees beside the RV sites. Across the street from the RV park is a big grove of date palms. While we were there, they were trimming the palms. Each one of these palm trees has a short ladder attached to the upper-most part of the tree. A cherry-picker raises the men up as far as it can, and then the men climb out of the basket onto the tree ladder, climb the rest of the way up to the top of the tree, and trim it.

They grow a lot of fruit around here. Besides the date palms, we passed vineyards, cultivated fields, and groves of oranges. The oranges here are cultivated in a hedge formation, instead of trees.

We drove out to see Desert Shore, which is a small community right on the shore of the Salton Sea. It’s one of the most dismal little places I’ve ever seen, with very dilapidated trailers and houses. Most of the shoreline is fenced off and the little area that isn’t, stinks of dead fish. Glad we didn't try to park the RV there!

March 2, 2010

Friday: Got the oil changed in the Jeep and had breakfast at JBs in Casa Grande. We spent the day running around to various grocery stores, getting ready for our next trip. Then for dinner we went to Chris’s Diner one last time for their great pizza. Clyde, Nancy, Skip and Bev joined us and we had a great time visiting.

After dinner a big group of folks met at the local Moose lodge (Joe, Sharon, Marvin, Dee, Gary, Gail, Clyde, Nancy, Brad and Sue). The guys kept buying Randy beers and they wanted to buy me something, so I asked for a strawberry daiquiri. It took the bartender a long time to get an opportunity to make it, but eventually she brought over a red drink with whipped cream and a cherry on top...I've never seen a daiquiri with whipped cream.

While I was just getting started on it, she brought over a second one as a way of apologizing for the delay. And one minute later she brought over a slightly smaller third one, saying I might as well have the rest of the mix! Anyone who knows me knows I don’t have enough of a head for alcohol to handle 3 drinks! So Sue and Sharon split the small one, but I pretty much finished the other two.

As more beers were consumed, people started looking thru the karaoke book. Eventually Gail and Joe got up and sang “The Rose”. That went well so Clyde, Nancy, Randy, Gary and Joe sang Country Roads (Clyde hails from West Virginia, so it’s sort of his theme song). Next up – Joe and Clyde singing “He’ll Have to Go”, with some stranger who was moved to join them on the stage! For a finale, Randy, Brad, Gary, Joe, Marvin and Clyde sang “On the Road Again”. And on that note, we called it a night.

Saturday: We got up around 7 am to get ready for the Arizona City Daze parade. A lady in the RV Park likes to put together a group of people who dress their dogs in costumes and walk together as a group. We thought that might be asking a bit too much of Sugarbaby, but that Julienne would like it. And she did – she was just wonderful. She wore one of her dresses (yes…we have several dresses for her). Bev had her dog BJ ready for the parade, so we rode up with her. There must have been between 30 and 40 dogs, and they all got along really well.

In the afternoon we spend a few minutes visiting with John and Janet. They will be out on Sunday, so this was our chance to say goodbye. They have been good neighbors and we’ll miss them, too.

For dinner we just got some Subway sandwiches, and then had one last trip to the Casa Grande Cold Stone Creamery. After dark we walked over to Clyde and Nancy’s for awhile, just to visit.

Sunday: Everyone came out to say goodbye, even though it was cold and rainy, and a lot earlier that some of them normally got up! It was hard to leave, but eventually we had to, so everyone could get in out of the rain.

So down the road we headed. It’s a short drive to Yuma, about 185 miles. We stopped at Dateland on I-8 for date shakes, as recommended by several folks. The shakes are really good! They also sell several types of dates to sell. We were able to sample the date and found one we really like, so Randy bought 4 pounds of those.

We drove on to Yuma and a bit past it, to park at the Quechan Casino. They allow folks to park a couple of nights for free, if you register inside the casino.

Since it wasn’t dark yet, we decided to see what the town of Los Algadones looked like. So we drove down the road to the area with “No Parking” signs all over it and parked there, like everyone else. Then we walked across the border to Los Algadones, Mexico. The Purple Pharmacy is one of the first buildings and it was recommended as a good place to get antibiotics, so we got some there. We found the office of one of the dentists who was recommended to us but her office was closed for the day, so we planned to come back tomorrow.

Back at the casino we registered for a player’s card which got each of us $2 off the price of the buffet and $10 of free play. We did the buffet first, which was pretty good – not amazing, but enjoyable. Then we played our free money and won $22.60, which more than covered the cost of dinner and the tip.