Spent the night in the Sears parking lot in a big mall in Danbury CT. Some truckers suggested the location on the CB.
In Mt Holly NJ with Don and Maria (Liz's daughter). We got to see our friend Sue and to meet her boyfriend Charlie, a nice guy.
We zipped out to the coast around Barnegat Bay and up to North Jersey (New Providence) to spend the night with Liz's old high school classmate Fibbie and her husband George. They fed us a great meal and we stayed with them until noon.
Down the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, narrowly missing an 8 foot bridge (the van's about 10 and a half feet high). Back over to the coast of New Jersey (Ocean City) to see Stan's old MIT buddy Tom and his wife Lilli, and to Stan's dismay, their gigantic dogs. They treated us to a tasty italian dinner and we visited for a while then to a campground in Ocean View, NJ.
Left Cape May, NJ, on the ferry to Lewes, Delaware. Then South to Chesapeake Bridge-Tunnel and a Wal*Mart in Norfolk, VA.
Liz did Jazzersize in Portsmouth and then we went to a great Maritime Museum in Norfolk. Then to a Yogi Bear Campground in Emporia, VA. Tomorrow further South. Weather has been very cold, 30's nights, 40-50 days. Forcast to warm a few degrees per day. Still looking for warm weather. Van has been working well. Have needed the extra battery to keep warm at night. Now to find a modem port.
After waking up cold again in Emporia, we looked at each other and wondered what was keeping us from just going south right away! It was so cold that we couldn't drain our washing water, valves frozen. Off we went, pretty much straight down to Brunswick, GA. Zoomed through NC and SC. Spent the night at Wal*Mart.
Stan started catching a cold. We decided to push on, still not warm enough. By early afternoon we found ourselves at the home of Liz's daughter Nita. She and her husband Theo's family were all there for Thanksgiving. We spent two nights there, got ourselves a shower and did laundry. Very nice.
Spent the morning at "Fantasy of Flight" near Orlando. B-17, B-24, B-26, Storch (a flying demo), WWII diorama tunnel, a tour through the restoration part of this large privately owned collection. All very interesting. Then onward to the Gulf Coast. By evening we had shopped for food and settled in an RV park in Cortez, near Sarasota.
Some problems with the refrigerator/freezer not keeping cold enough. Food is more of a problem in the warmer weather, but we are not complaining! We had some rain, the first we've seen. Did some paperwork and puttering and left in the afternoon for a campground at Dunedin Beach, near Clearwater.
The best part of this day was that we spent hours of it at Siesta Key. The whitest and finest sand we've seen. Stan sat happily with the scanner and Liz walked for miles along the beach. Gorgeous day, amazing birds, gentle breezes. Someone mentioned that there was freezing rain at home? Surely only an ugly rumor! (heh heh). By evening we'd come down the Tamiami Trail to Naples, the home of Stan's sister Katie and her husband Harry, where we spent our first night out of the van. Liz also found another jazzercise class, hooray!
After a leisurely morning we were taken to lunch by Katie. Delicious deep-fried grouper. Key lime pie for Stan. We were driven around Naples and walked out the enormous long fishing pier. Saw a fisherman hook a pelican, reel it up, net it and release it. This apparently happens all the time because the pelicans hang around waiting to go after the fish caught by the fishermen. We thanked Harry and Katie for their hospitality and moved along to the Naples/Marco Island KOA. Nice place, and a nice area. Naples is just outstandingly beautiful and well maintained. The traffic, however, is horrendous.
Drove to Tigertail Beach on Marco Island and did a good bit of walking. A slow and lazy day, picked up some groceries and are now a bit inland at the Collier-Seminole State Park in the cypress groves with the mosquitoes and the satellite TV. Time for dinner, so goodbye until next time!
Stayed another night at Boyds, which we really liked a lot. Good campsite on the water, always breezy, nice heated pool, convenient modem access. Wed go back any time.
Drove up the Keys to Big Pine Key, where we investigated the Key Deer Refuge. The deer are only 2 or 3 feet tall and very tame. Walked the nature trails and got educated about poisonwood, etc.
Our longest stay anywhere so far, at Long Key State Park. We needed to be somewhere long enough to get mail delivered. A wonderful campsite on the beach, all kinds of exotic birds walking right past us, literally feet away. Good beach for walking, very shallow and not so great for swimming. Only complaint was the no-see-ems, which seem to adore me and ignore Stan entirely.
One night we saw Jim Mathews from home (Kiewit colleague of Stans) win half a million dollars on tv. That was pretty exciting.
Left the Keys to whiz past Miami/Ft Lauderdale and move up the coast to Juno Beach. The RV park was paved and landscaped and Stan hated it. Palm trees and Christmas decorations like nothing weve ever seen back home. The beach was fantastic, however. Saw my first ever Portuguese Man-o-wars, scary! A long fishing pier like at Naples, but with a price tag. Kind of an up-scale yuppie place, Juno Beach. The beautiful people, body builders, surfers and sportsmen. A little too much for us.
Northward to Sebastian Inlet State Park. We really like the state parks best, except for the absence of modem access. Sebastian is geared mostly to fishermen and surfers. Wonderful beach for miles, vicious undertow, clean as a whistle. Found my first sharks tooth!
Finally some relief from the bugs, found a spray that really works! We drove up to the Melbourne/Merritt Island neighborhood, did some food shopping, washed the van.
We came inland for a while to check out the Orlando area again. We are staying at Thousand Trails in Clermont, a private RV park where we are guests of Pete and Ellen, friends we met through Cal and Connie. No bugs here! Its a very large (700+ sites) and long term kind of place, complete with clubhouse and recreational facilities and several pools.
We spent a whole day at Epcot and that was very entertaining. Stan did laundry, Liz managed a jazzercise class, the first in two weeks. On our final day here we met with a large group of hams at a place in Kissimmee for supper. Of course we also watched election TV until finally there was nothing more to wait for, thank goodness!
Today has dawned bright and clear, so were packing up and heading back to the Atlantic coast, probably to the Daytona area. And thats it until next time!
Regards to all,
Stan & Liz
We said goodbye for a while to Pete and Ellen and left central Florida. On our way back to the Atlantic coast we stopped at Daytona for a tour. It was a thrill to see this up close, and there was a great set of exhibits in their museum. That day was to be about the last of our nice weather for a while.
Our wonderful spot, Bryn Mawr, right on the beach at Anastasia Island (part of St. Augustine) was as nice as ever, but this whole day was foggy and chilly. A minor bug had laid Liz low, so it was a good day to spend just vegetating.
It was tempting to just stay on indefinitely in Florida, but the weather forecasts were threatening, and we felt an urge to move on (now we are questioning the wisdom of this choice). We stopped briefly to visit with Lizs ex-sister-in-law Mickey and her husband Jim, who live not far off I-95.
Then on to Tallahassee over I-10. Ferocious winds as we drove along, rain beginning to spit and dire forecasts of waterspouts in the Gulf. This was the same weather system that brought the devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa. We didnt linger long, but managed to drive downtown to see where all the fuss of the previous 5 or 6 weeks had taken place. Then on to Mobile. We just skipped all the tasty Gulf beaches because of the bad weather. They will be there waiting for us another time.
Mobile. Our campground was nothing special, but we toured the battleship Alabama and saw some wonderful planes, particularly the A-12 Blackbird. Stan was in heaven.
Drove right into downtown New Orleans, paid $15 to park only to walk around for a couple of hours freezing our butts. A vicious wind off the water made us both pretty miserable, and the French Quarter was looking extremely seedy. Even beignets at Café du Monde didnt sweeten up this abortive visit. Another time when its warmer.
So on we went, and the afternoon provided a much nicer experience when we stopped for the tour of the Tabasco factory at Avery Island, Louisiana. It was interesting driving, seeing a completely different sort of terrain with sugar cane growing and being harvested. We wound up for the night at a KOA in Lafayette, and had a wonderful dinner at a nearby Cajun restaurant. Fried green tomatoes! Chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with rice! A cheeseburger for Stan.
Spent these days in Houston with our friend Flora and her husband Bob and their Jack Russell terrier Mr. Spot. (Actually, on the street across from their townhouse). They live inside the loop in a nice convenient part of town. Three jazzercise sessions, that was great.
Shopping for food, van maintenance, showers and laundry. We had wonderful food: Japanese one night, an incredible steak dinner cooked by Bob, and another dinner at a Central American restaurant.
We toured the battleship Texas, which was particularly interesting because it had piston steam engines and was built for WWI and also saw service in WWII. Another day Flora took us down to tour the Johnson Space Center. Cold and windy. Stan "landed" the shuttle and Liz crashed it brutally.
If we thought moving south was going to help, we were wrong. Galveston isnt that much further south than Houston, but in any case it was not a bit warmer. We stayed at the State Park on Galveston Island, right on the beach. The water is brown! It rained and blew and refused to warm up at all.
Undaunted, we went looking for what Galveston offered, and we found Moody Gardens, an entertainment complex with a wonderful aquarium (king penguins!) and rainforest pyramid and discovery museum with excellent hands-on exhibits. We saw our first 3-D IMAX film; it had performances by the Cirque du Soleil acrobats. Stan also took an IMAX ride but Liz, as usual, chickened out.
On Christmas day we drove around Galveston where everything was, as one would expect, CLOSED (except for a Waffle House, which we were glad to patronize). At the northern tip of the island were acres of open beach where you can drive anywhere you dare to! We watched people fishing off the seawall and listened on the scanner to marine traffic in the channel.
The next day, extreme weather north of us kept us in Galveston where we did a few things that were fun. The Lone Star Flight Museum has beautifully restored planes. The Great Storm slide show illustrated the hurricane 100 years ago that leveled the island. Then we saw the Ocean Star, an offshore drilling rig thats been turned into a museum. We enjoyed all of these a lot.
We turned south to find Lizs friend Julie and her family in Angleton, where their house in the country would have been hard to find without the services of Garmin and DeLorme. Visited with them and spent the night in their driveway in the pouring rain.
Since mail had finally shown up in Houston, we went back and picked it up. Then we turned south. By late afternoon we were crossing the Corpus Christi ship channel at Port Aransas. The shortest ferry ride weve ever had (5 minutes), it was certainly one of the most scenic. We had dolphins leaping out of the water alongside, birds swirling in the air around us. Just at sunset we arrived at Mustang Island State Park, where we plan to stay for a few days.
Mustang Island is just north of Padre Island, which runs for over 100 miles from Corpus Christi down to Brownsville. The beach is wide and clean and nearly deserted. We are a comfortable distance from Corpus Christi, no light pollution at all.
Spent a day seeing the USS Lexington, a WWII aircraft carrier. Liz is getting a real education in battleships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, subs, and all kinds of planes and helicopters!
On wild-card playoff Saturday we stayed at Mustang Island so Liz could get a football fix. Once again the mail failed to arrive. We have lost all faith in the USPS. Even Xpress mail doesnt live up to its promise. Mail sent on Thursday from Etna hasnt arrived yet. So were here until at least Tuesday. Good thing we dont have any pressing deadlines!
Sunday, end of 2000. Were off to find a Kinkos to send mail.
Happy New Year to all!
Cold, gee what a surprise. New Years Day we spent almost totally in the van. The wind howled and slammed us around. It was a good day to vegetate, catch up on mail, do some housecleaning, and watch TV.
The minute the mail finally arrived, we were ready to leave Mustang Island. We headed down the road to South Padre Island, which we got to by the shortest ferry ride weve ever taken, all of 5 minutes! We had birds swirling around us and dolphins alongside jumping out of the water.
If the weather had cooperated even the slightest bit, wed have stayed longer, but it was still uncomfortably cold and windy. Extensive dredging operations were going on at the beach. We marveled at the heavy surf and promised ourselves wed come back when the weather was nicer.
Near Brownsville we stopped at the Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Confederate Air Force, which is a big imposing name for a small but interesting museum. The main museum is in Midland, and we will get there, maybe on the return trip when we might take a more northerly path.
So on we drove to McAllen, which we liked. At Cal and Connies recommendation we tried a Golden Corral all-you-can-eat buffet. Yes, we will be on the lookout for more of these. We dont eat out very often, and when we do it is great to have lots of variety.
McAllen had everything we needed to get errands done: we developed photos, shopped for food, made some phone calls, and spent a while at a Kinkos getting and sending email. By late afternoon we were just outside Laredo at the Lake Casa Blanca International State Park.
The good news was that it seemed to be a bit warmer. Shirtsleeves, sandals, the noisy van heater off, thank goodness. Our campsite was right on the lake and we saw loads of birds.
How could we be here without checking out the streets of Laredo? We parked right downtown on one of those streets and walked across the bridge into Mexico and right back into the US. We will get into Mexico somewhere else for a more pleasant visit later on.
We moved westward to Seminole Canyon State Historical Park. We have been very impressed by the Texas state park system. Its very consistent and efficient, and we have not hit a bad one yet. Seminole is really special. Its in the desert and one can see the mountains of Big Bend in the distance. Birds all around, especially toward sunset.
We walked a short nature trail before leaving this beautiful place. Next time we will try (at least one of us will try) to join a guided tour down into the canyons where there are caves and ancient pictograms.
By late afternoon wed made it into Big Bend. Once youre into this park, you still have miles to drive to get up into the Chisos mountains, which rise to around 8000 ft. The van made it through the pass into the Basin, cupped in the heart of the Chisos, but on the steep descent it began it act up and finally just quit. That was pretty unsettling! We managed to get situated in a campground with stunning views. Hiked up the hill to the lodge for dinner, the only food service in the entire park.
Happy Birthday to Stan! This was a great day all around. The van was just fine. Weather was perfect, so we decided to explore Big Bend.
What is accessible by paved road in Big Bend allows one to see what makes it so interesting geologically. Once it was all as high as the mountain ranges on either side, east and west. Then the middle dropped out and the Chisos were formed volcanically in that flat area. So there are these huge canyons on either side of the park where over time the Rio Grande has carved deeper and deeper.
We headed to the eastern part of Big Bend, to Boquillas Canyon. On our way we met these nice people from Wyoming, Chuck and Jane, who were traveling in a van about the size of ours but without the overhead bed. We talked a bit at a roadside stop and shared some of our experiences. Nice people, traveling with three dogs.
At Boquillas, we climbed up an overlook trail carpeted with tiny wildflowers and looked down at the meandering river, where a great blue heron was standing waiting for us to take his picture. This end of the park also has an RV camping facility at Rio Grande Village, so we took advantage and had showers and did laundry.
The baking heat of noon gave way to chilly winds. It just happened to be a football playoff day, so Liz caught the end of the Phillies-Giants game.
We discovered that our next-door neighbors were Thad and Virginia Johnson of Sutton Mills, NH. Thad retired from CRREL 13 years ago and we found we had many friends in common. They are dancing their way across the country, doing what they call round dancing. Theyre headed for Mesa, AZ, just east of Phoenix.
We took off for the scenic drive back across the park to the southwestern corner, the Santa Elena Canyon. The views were dazzling, indescribable, and we stopped at nearly every opportunity to read the signs and get educated.
To get to the western exit from Big Bend we elected to drive some 12 miles over a dirt and gravel road. Thats all we need to say about that.
On balance, we are finding we love the desert. Its so quiet and so full of surprises. Its mostly the little things, tiny flowers, subtle changes in the terrain and vegetation here in the Chihuahuan desert. The variety of birds is amazing.
Our day ended at Lajitas, right on the Mexican border. We ran into Thad and Virginia again and wound up having dinner together. Thad had hoped for fajitas in Lajitas but they were not available. Nonetheless a nice dinner and lots of interesting conversation.
From Lajitas, where we picked up email, we backtracked somewhat, driving northwest into the Davis Mountains. The road between Presidio and Marfa, particularly, was very challenging. Challenging, that is, to Lizs fears of sheer dropoffs and sharp twists and turns. Stan and the van do well in these conditions.
It was an interesting day as far as animals went. First Stan spotted a coyote, then camels, yes, CAMELS. Then it was pronghorn antelopes, and longhorns, and bison, and ostriches. The road leveled out some and the vistas opened up north of Marfa, and we arrived at Fort Davis in time to get registered at the state park (at over 5000 ft) and go back to town to visit the Fort Davis historic site.
Who should we meet again but Jane and Chuck, with whom we toured the old fort, with its excellent restorations and audio-visual aids. This place operated until 1891, and in its later years was occupied by the buffalo soldiers. We all ate dinner at a small but tasty Mexican restaurant in town, Chucks treat! Now we owe them one. Guess we will have to go up to Sheridan and take them out to dinner.
The lunar eclipse was not visible for us, alas. But we had a wonderful spot at the campground that was wildlife viewing area par excellence. Birds, a variety not to be believed.
We woke to a dusting of snow. Drove up the mountain to the McDonald Observatory, where it was snowing furiously. We elected to take the tour, which took us in a bus to the even higher mountains where the telescopes are.
Came down out of the mountains and returned to I-10, which we had not seen since Houston. Finally we decided wed had enough of Texas. After all, wed been there for a full 3 weeks, longer than weve spent in any state except for Florida. So we have entered New Mexico and found the wonderful Hidden Valley Ranch we learned about from Cal and Connie (thanks so much, you guys!). 8+ miles of dirt and gravel road were no problem for us. A gorgeous sunset hypnotized us from Las Cruces to Deming on I-10.
Stans going to take the Mac up to the office and send this trip report off. Our campsite here is so nice we think we will spend at least another day here while the weather holds. The desert is most entertaining with roadrunners and coyotes and giant jackrabbits and an amazing array of birds. So until next time, greetings to one and all. Stay warm if you can, and healthy and happy. We miss you.
Stan and Liz
PS Weve been out 8 weeks, traveled 7000 miles, through 19 states.
We spent a second night at Hidden Valley Ranch in Deming NM and could have stayed even longer. It is very high on our list for next time. We spent a quiet day hiking and birdwatching and snoozing. Guess who did which? Then we went into Deming to develop film, shop for food, and eat a Mexican dinner. Stan discovered sopapillas, which were served gratis.
Westward ho! into Arizona. We detoured north off I-10 to Safford, where we found a great state park at Roper Lake with huge Mt Graham (10720 ft) out our picture windows. Got ourselves settled and looked around for things wed like to do.
One of our best tours so far took us to Morenci, to the Phelps-Dodge copper mine. This company puts on free guided tours that are over 3 hours long. You put on a hard hat and safety goggles and get in their bus and get an education. The whole operation is on a scale that is hard to comprehend, just miles and miles of excavations into the steep hillsides, exposing rocks of every rainbow hue. The size of the machinery they use to mine copper boggles the mind. For example, one steam shovel stands 3 stories high and its dipper holds 56 cubic yards. The mining trucks hold 360 tons apiece. Stan was, of course, in heaven.
Playoff Sunday at last! What more do I need to say? During half time Liz managed a walk around the area, and Stan prepared his famous specialty of eggs and home fries.
Decided to head on down toward Tucson. We stopped at the town of Benson and turned south to visit Tombstone. The day was very bright and sunny but with a sharp biting wind that made you want to avoid the shady side of the street. We pretty much only toured the courthouse, which was interesting. It had an old Chickering square piano, as had the officers quarters at Fort Davis.
Up the road to Tucson, where we tracked down a Passport RV place. This is a deal thats supposed to give you half off the price if you join their club, but we found they only honored the discount between May and October. Also it was kind of an underwhelming place, too crowded. However, Liz found jazzercise! And it turned out navigating around Tucson and environs was quite easy.
Tucson. What a gorgeous place! We agreed we could go back there any time at all. In spite of waking up to SNOW, our spirits were not dampened. We left the not so nice Tra-Tel RV park and drove down to an old Titan II missile site, now an excellent museum. Then we drove back up into Tucson to the Pima Air and Space museum, where we saw hundreds of planes, acres and acres of them. The day never warmed up much but the volatile weather brought out the best of Tucson, its skies and clouds and mountains. Yes, it was interspersed with occasional rain and flurries of snow, but also with glowing rainbows. Between the clouds and the mountains its hard to decide whats the prettiest.
To make things even more entertaining (as if zillions of planes werent enough) the sky was also filled with A-10s and jet fighter planes swooping around constantly. And near the Davis-Monthan AFB were graveyards of B-52s and Phantoms and C-141s. It was a very full day, which we finished off by going to a movie, Traffic, which was good.
We were planning to do other things in Tucson, but Stan needed more of an airplane fix, so he took the tour of these old planes in the AFB while Liz stayed in the Pima parking lot and quilted happily for hours.
Liz liked Tucson so much that it seemed best to leave while we could, before it sucked us in and refused to unhand us. After all, it had Everything. Jazzercise, airplanes, movies, great places to eat, all kinds of attractions, and amazing natural beauty. However, it will be there for us another time, and we had to leave some things undone.
So off we went, vaguely heading up the road toward Casa Grande and Phoenix on I-10. Just on the off chance that we might find our friends Connie and Cal, we stopped to check out the Buena Tierra campground, which is near the intersection of I-10 and I-8. As we bumbled around admiring the scenery, we finally spotted their rig just as they converged on us from their walk in the desert. Old home week! How good it is to see friends like this, whom we had not seen since last fall. Also Bob and Helen Seger with their 38 foot motor home were parked right next to Connie and Cal. Wed met Bob at Rochester NH in the fall, but this was the first time we met Helen.
Went into Casa Grande, which is pronounced Casagrand with the accent on the "Cas" part of the name, and got Liz a haircut. Dropped film to be developed and shopped for food. Enjoyed a walk in the afternoon with Connie and Cal, and pooled our resources for potluck dinner in Helen and Bobs enormous space.
After a morning of errands we proceeded up the road to Phoenix, actually to Apache Junction, west of the city. The Santa Fe RV park sits between the Usery Mts and the Superstition Mts looming dramatically to the north and west. A fine place with all the amenities, where we did laundry and took showers. Connie and Liz enjoyed sitting by the pool in the sun for a while before dinner. Dinner was "dinner theater" with all six of us (Bob and Helen, too) where we were fed a "home cooked" meal and entertained by the "Arizona Opry." It was all run by this family of musicians and was very interesting. About 500 people at long tables of 8 in one huge room.
As nice as the RV park was, we longed for a more rural location. After an e-mail stop at a Kinkos in Mesa, we found the McDowell Mountain Regional Park north of Fountain Hills, northwest of Phoenix just beyond Scottsdale. This is an awesome place, what they call "high desert" or "green desert." Its right across Fort McDowell Road from the place where Lizs daughter Edith lived with her husband Biscuit when they worked at Fort McDowell Adventures, a kind of dude ranch and outfitter place, while Edith was finishing law school at ASU in Tempe.
Liz found time to walk a few miles in this beautiful place before catching the figure-skating finals on TV (thanks, Nita!) and collapsing.
We met with the other four at Out of Africa, a wild animal park that specializes in big cats, right in Fountain Hills just down the mountain from us, for a very enjoyable day. We shopped for some food in Fountain Hills and it is amazing how this place has grown in the last 5 or 6 years, since Liz had last visited. There are houses just crawling up every hillside, all very tasteful and obviously costly. I remember it as a dry and dusty and rather scruffy place, barely carved out from the desert. Of course there is "the fountain" which only underscores the extravagant use of water stolen from the Colorado river. Greater Phoenix is a phenomenon. I know what its like in summer, Ive been here! It is truly not fit for human habitation, but in the winter it is awfully nice!
In the evening we managed to stay up for the Golden Globe awards and saw Bob Dylan receive one. Hooray!
While Stan and Cal went off to the Champlin Fighter Aces museum downtown, Connie and Liz set off for a hike around the McDowell mountain area in the park. The day was just heavenly, cool breezes and warm sun, and we loved our hike. We probably went around 8 miles, but it seemed like nothing at all because we were mostly on the flat and we took our time. How great to be walking with someone whose pace is so familiar and comfortable, to stop and look at tiny wildflowers and all the fantastic scenery around us!
That evening we went to Scottsdale to meet Alan Breed, and old friend from Hanover. He took us to a great Mexican restaurant where the portions were enormous. We finished off with sopapillas and staggered back up to our campsite in the mountains.
Spent a relaxing day with Liz vegetating and watching birds and coyotes, and Stan doing various work on the van. Aired out Mr Big, the giant sleeping bags zipped together. They also made a nice nest for snoozing in the sun on top of our picnic table. This has to be one of the best parks weve run into yet. Spacious, intelligently laid out, huge showers in the immaculate restrooms, of which there are enough. Well marked hiking trails and plenty of them. Helpful park hosts and rangers, Our vistas include the Mazatzal Mts (the Four Peaks especially), the McDowells, the Superstitions, the Usery Mts, Gunsight Mt, and many many others. I would go back to this place and stay for weeks, but I believe they have a 14 day limit.
At the end of this long and wonderful day, we drove into Scottsdale to get Liz jazzercised and to find ourselves some dinner. Alan had recommended "In-N-Out Burger" so we tracked it down, and he was oh so right! A great place where everything is super fresh and the décor and management leave absolutely nothing to be desired. It offers a very basic menu and operates with dazzling efficiency. The really good news is that its a California chain and Liz acquired a guide to all its locations in CA.
This was the day wed promised ourselves wed get to Quartzsite and indeed we did. So did untold thousands of others. We arrived at Mile Marker 99 on US 95 and found Connie and Cal and Bob and Helen and Pete and Ellie, whom we hadnt seen since Florida six weeks back. Where we are gathered there are hundreds of hams; this is their spot and has been for some years. We found it by plotting in 33 35 00 N -114 13 30 W; right on the money! We lean very heavily on the GPS and De Lorme.
Spent most of the day actually in Quartzsite, which is hard to describe. Some of you may have seen an article in the current National Geographic. We havent seen it, so can only tell you our impressions. As we approached the previous day we began to see RVs and campers parked willy-nilly out in the desert right off I-10. They got thicker as we neared the epicenter, and at the intersection of I-10 and US 95 we hit complete gridlock. The downtown area of Quartzsite (which has a summer population on less than 1100), is completely taken over with what looks to me like the worlds largest flea market. There are vendor tents where people are selling anything and everything you can imagine. There was a heavy emphasis on RV-related stuff but some weeks back it was on classic cars. And always the main focus is on rocks, gems, minerals. The prices are great if you want or need any of this stuff. I wound up buying three minneolas, an orange-opener kind of ring thingy, and a t-shirt. Last of the big spenders! < 5$ total.
This morning the hams were offering testing for amateur radio operator licenses. Stan had been studying theory and practicing to pass the code test at 5 words per minute. So off he went leaving Liz to catch up on cleaning in the van and writing postcards, etc. He came back after a couple of hours having passed the code test, the technician test, and was waiting to see if hed passed the general test. The next time he returned to the van, hed passed the general and the EXTRA CLASS! So thats it, there are no more tests to pass! It will be some time next week before he gets a call sign, but Stan is now a bona fide ham. Very exciting.
We tried going in to town to meet others for a meal, but the gridlock got us. In the evening here in the desert the hams gathered for potluck, the so-called "hobo stew" where everybody brings cans of this and that and they are all thrown together. It was very good, kind of like a thick soup.
Today has dawned cold and somewhat rainy, so after Stan checked out the ham swap meet for a possible 2-meter radio (didnt get one) we are thinking of heading down the road for Yuma. It HAS to be warm and sunny somewhere!
Almost as soon as we left Quartzsite, the sun came out and the day warmed up. Cal and Connie had told us a little about the change in terrain, but we hadnt expected it to be quite so abrupt. The lush green fields were a welcome sight. Wed been told about a good place to stay by our friend Pete, but it took us hours of looking around before we sought it out. Next time Pete tells us something, we will listen! The "strip" along the interstate seemed to have lots of places, but they were nearly all full and not at all appealing. Petes place was south of town by some miles, but in Yuma it doesnt really matter.
So we settled at Southern Mesa RV Park, which was nestled among fields of vegetables and groves of lemon trees. The place is run by a feisty old lady we came to think of as "Pinky" because of her color-coordinated outfits, including her hat. She remembered Pete and treated us well. It was a nice quiet place with blooming desert to walk in just through the hedge of trees across from our site. Great baths and showers, a rec room, email access, and it seemed a good place to settle and wait for a mail delivery.
Totally dedicated to the Stupor Bowl, and what a sad disappointment that turned out to be. Stan avoided as much of the football as he could by trotting back and forth to the rec room doing email.
We had a couple of pieces of disturbing news from Etna: Lizs mother was ill and in the hospital (better now, thank goodness) and two Etna neighbors, a couple of Dartmouth professors, had been found murdered in their home. These folks were also former neighbors of Stans in Hanover before they moved out to Etna. Shocking, unbelievable to have something like this happen so close to home. We can hardly imagine the impact it is having on the Etna and Hanover communities.
Our day was spent exploring Yuma, getting the van Jiffy-lubed, shopping at a Mexican supermarket, getting take-out dinner and watching planes at the airport.
A housekeeping day. Everyone needs one of these periodically, and we were way overdue. Stan did all our laundry. Liz cleaned out the van, rearranging the stuff in what Cal and Connie have taught us to call "the poodle bath" to make better use of our space. The mail sent from Etna and forwarded on from Scottsdale finally caught up with us and bills were paid, etc. Then we sorted through photos and got our pictorial journal up to date.
Easy trip up to Niland, CA. This is our 21st state! We drove through widely varying terrain including some Sahara-like dunes not far from Yuma, then through serious agricultural areas all irrigated by canals, on to the Salton Sea. We found Connie and Cal at the Imperial Spa just north of Niland and it was old home week. True, wed seen them just days earlier, but it felt like lots longer. We parked close to them in the "dry camping" area (no hookups) and then we all had a lovely soak in one of the many hot tubs.
This is a park wed come back to. It sits right against the Chocolate Mountains, and yes, they are as pretty as their name sounds. Theres a great view of the Salton Sea. Connie pointed out to us the clock in the office, which epitomizes the attitude out here: it has hands pointing to some unknown hour, unknown because the numbers are all tumbled in a heap at the bottom with the caption "WHO CARES?" Our sentiments exactly! PST, EST, CST, MST, what the heck?
During the night the wind had picked up and by morning it was still increasing. Before it got completely out of control, somehow Liz managed to mark another border on her current quilting project. It had to be weighed down on the picnic table with hand weights and rocks! The weatherman promised that the wind would subside around midday, so we all agreed to move over to Slab City.
Now, Slab City is not a place youll find on most maps, although it appears as a "point of interest" in a California road and recreation atlas. Until we have a chance to search the internet for more info, all we can tell you is that our first impression was "Quartzsite Lite" minus the flea market. That is to say, its free, its entirely without amenities, its in the middle of the desert, and it is sprawling!
It used to be the Camp Dunlap Naval Reservation, a military base laid out in a grid with concrete slabs and bunkers that now remain more or less. Theres a large community of apparently permanent residents squatting there happily, and many transients or seasonal visitors as well. At the entry to the place theres a gentleman who came for a week and stayed for 16 years, working on his masterpiece, a religious shrine festooned with flowers and crosses and Bible verses, all painted right onto the sand on a hill. He texturizes the sand with straw and wets it down to make a kind of adobe, then slathers bright day-glo paint on top of that. Hes happy to tell anyone all about his work.
We cruised around until Cal found us the perfect spot right near the canal. The wind died down as promised, and we settled in for the night. Nice weather, sunny and bright.
Punxatawney Phil apparently saw his shadow and it looks like you all have a bit more winter to endure. Sorry about that. We had a relaxing day at Slab City. A nearby camper flew his ultralight and landed right smack in front of Cal and his camcorder. We also were treated to big bangs in the distance from the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range. And among the planes we watched was a solitary F-18, a Blue Angel, practicing his dives and climbs and rolls with smoke trailing behind. Connie and Liz had a stroll down the canal, and we had potluck dinner together.
After a leisurely start to the day, we gassed up in Niland and headed up the Salton Sea. After some birdwatching and a stop at the Visitor Center, we proceeded through fields of palms, oranges, grapes, red peppers, up the Box Canyon road and into Joshua Tree National Park.
Where we came in, at the southern entrance, we were in the Colorado desert. We passed through that into the Mojave desert and spent our first night at Belle campground among the giant boulders.
We spent all day touring the park with many little hikes here and there admiring the views and the stately Joshua trees, which dont seem to know whether they are trees or cactuses. We drove part way down a "geology tour" road to get some education on the genesis of this landscape. At a lookout point we found out exactly what we were seeing, especially the names of the snow-covered mountains nearby (San Jacinto Peak and San Gorgonio Mt.). Finally we exited the park to return to one last campground, Black Rock Canyon, for our last night here.
Palm Springs, wow. Our RV park, Horizon Village, had been given excellent press by Connie and Cal, and they were not wrong. We arrived in lovely weather, 80s. Had time for a swim at the pool. Our RV site had a live phone, so we had email and internet access, and what a treat that was! Liz found jazzercise while Stan got film developed.
More of the same, some food shopping and another jazzercise. The prices at the local Albertsons were shocking, but other than that we found Palm Springs quite reasonable. Of course, not being great shoppers, either of us, we didnt go right into the heart of downtown Palm Springs or to any of the outlet shopping centers.
This was a fun day. We hiked up into the hills behind Horizon Village to see where the rich and famous people live (Bob Hopes huge house was the only one pointed out to us, and it was impressive enough!) A steep windy dusty trip, but scenic and satisfying. Then on to the Living Desert in Palm Desert down the road. This was a wonderful place to visit because the plants were all identified. The animals were terrific, including the meerkats. Unfortunately our film ran out just as we got to the warthogs, which were very funny. 5 or 6 came pouring out of a hole in the ground followed by Mister Warthog himself, who rooted and dug and tossed dirt around in a most alarming way! A face that only a mother could love.
The weather had turned sharply colder, so we decided to head for the coast in hopes of more warmth. After one last shower at Horizon Villages five-star facility, we stopped at the Palm Springs Air Museum for a few hours and then drove the easy trip to San Diego. We stopped to see Diamond Valley Lake, the huge reservoir and recreation area still under construction. By late afternoon we hunted down Connie and Cal at the RV place on Mission Bay. Old home week again, a dinner at a Hometown Buffet, and video of their experiences for our evenings entertainment.
We all took a Trolley Tour of San Diego, which turned out to be a terrific way to see it all and get our bearings. Then we went to the beautiful Balboa Park where we divided and conquered, Stan and Cal to the Automotive Museum and Connie and Liz to the Botanical and Japanese Gardens.
The RV park on Mission Bay irked us all, because all we were getting for our money (which increased on the weekend from a price already too high) was a place to park. No hookups.
Stans friend Pat Wilson, whos just moved out to San Diego from Hanover, met us this morning and we all joined forces to go to Sea World. Its a remarkable place indeed. At the end of this day, we caravanned up the road to the South Carlsbad State Beach.
2/11 All the sites are good here. We are on a high bluff looking out over the ocean and are soothed by the sound of the waves. We all needed a day to DO NOTHING, and only brief food-shopping and showering excursions were undertaken.
Raining, and 6 FEET of snow expected not too far from us, up in the mountains. Were doing errands today, Wal*Mart to develop film, Kinkos to do email, and In-N-Out Burger to get our strength up for the next bunch of adventures. This evening were hoping for another video installment of The Adventures of Connie and Cal. Tomorrow Stans hot on going back to San Diego to do more museum stuff, and if weather allows, perhaps the Zoo. Then onward up the coast to LA and the Bay area.
It continues to be a wonderful adventure. California is like another planet, or at least like another country. Its THAT different.
We enjoyed our time in the Carlsbad/Oceanside area. We both find California quite beautiful, if somewhat surreal. We left Connie and Cal at the beach at South Carlsbad and returned to San Diego where Stan had a couple more museums he wanted to visit. We then turned north and stayed a night at San Clemente.
Spent a wonderful sunny morning at out campsite and then slowly idled up the coast to LA. We drove through all kinds of great beach towns and parked for the night at Dockweiler Beach in Playa Del Rey in the shadow of LAX. This is the only downtown RV place in the area, and right smack on the beach. And it is a nice clean beach.
Visited the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. Drove up to La Canada Flintridge right next to the snow-covered San Gabriel Mts. to spend the night with Lizs old friends Marty and Debby Weiss.
Debby took Liz to the Huntington in San Marino near Pasadena for a tour of acres of fantastic gardens. When Marty got home, we all went out for Mexican food. It was a great place to be for a couple of days to rest and get and send email and do some laundry. Old home week for Liz, who had not had a real visit with Debby for decades!
Off to Glendale to purchase Stan a 2-meter handheld rig. All the hams will know exactly what this means. For those who care to know, he bought the ICOM W-32A. Then we went to the Getty Center, which is gigantic and white. Thank goodness it was not a bright sunny day or wed have been blinded.
Since we were in the right neighborhood, we took a chance and called Mel Weaver, Lizs daughter Ediths boarding school roommate. We found her home and had a short visit before returning to Dockweiler for one last night in LA.
Woke to rain. The only good thing to say about this is that it seemed to clear some of the smog out of the air. We toured the Queen Mary, which was interesting. There was also a wonderful reggae exhibit with a heavy emphasis on Bob Marley. To add to the variety of this days experiences, there was some sort of Scottish festival going on all day. So the stereo effect of deafening shrieking bagpipes and throbbing reggae music was disconcerting. There were loads and loads of people, and all of a sudden it just got to us, so we hauled out of there.
The ride up the coast was great. Ocean and mountains: yes, I guess you CAN have it all! We stopped for the night at Carpinteria State Beach. A nice spot, but extremely muddy. The surf was really pounding and we found that a soothing sound. In the morning the tinkle of raindrops added to the effect.
Onward up the coast to San Simeon. We were lucky enough to catch the elephant seals on the beaches near Piedras Blancas. There were at least hundreds of them, and maybe more. They are huge and noisy and fun to watch. Across the road from the seals is lush green pastureland dotted with cows. The whole section of coast from LA to the Bay area is beyond anything a camera can capture.
We finished our day with a delicious Mexican dinner with the BEST sopapillas yet. Chocolate and vanilla icecream on the crispy crepe-like dough, all sprinkled with cinnamon and chocolate and drenched in honey and topped with whipped cream. No calories, either; imagine that!
Hearst Castle, it more than lives up to ones expectations. We took only the #1 tour for first-timers. We would go back on another visit through these parts. WR Hearst sure did know how to pick a great location with a wonderful view.
We cruised up Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at many outlooks. What a winding road! Amazing engineering to build this and dogged persistence to maintain it. We ran into a rockslide area that we had to pick our way through, and found highway trucks en route to fix it just a few miles beyond on the other side. Stan loved the twists and turns. Liz held on for dear life.
We only made one more stop before ending our day, and it was at Pfeiffer State Beach, which is at the bottom of several miles of Very Bad Road. It was a sentimental journey for Liz, whose beloved nephew Ben Chickering had taken her there some years back. The main reason for anyone to stop there is that it has purple sand. Really purple. Also great craggy rock formations and heavy surf squishing and blowing through holes in the rocks quite alarmingly. Liz made a bad guess on the tides and got wet up to the knees.
Onward to stop for the night at Seacliff State Beach in Santa Cruz. Good campsite right on the water.
Rain again! Yes. No matter what it did today, all was redeemed by our success at getting the computer screen fixed. A hapless G3 owner had just days ago spilled a cup of coffee into his machine, killing the motherboard but sparing the screen. We were able to swap in the "new" screen and are crossing our fingers that it will remain good. After 3 months of worsening dimness and failing eyesight, our navigation is now improved and we are happy!
The day improved enough for us to go hunting down the Monarch butterflies in their resting spots. Just the way the pictures show, there were zillion of butterflies clustered in great drooping bunches from the pine boughs and eucalyptus trees. Wed missed the biggest groups, but what we saw was enough to impress us.
Our last effort for the day was to drive over Route 17 to Los Gatos to the home of Stans friends Jerry and Joanne Clancy, old MIT buddies. Theyre in a quiet cul-de-sac with enough space in the driveway for us to plug in. We ate a lovely lasagna dinner with them followed by lots of icecream.
Woke up to (what else?) rain. Gale warnings all along the coast. We are happy to just be here for the day, and will move over to Boulder Creek for the night with Lizs niece Kate and her husband Ralph. Todays a good time to get showers, catch up on email, and get some details on the horrible happenings in Hanover, which we can hardly believe.
We took our time getting to Boulder Creek, driving through Big Basin and communing with the giant redwood trees. Kate and Ralphs house is in the deep woods and steep mountain country, up a driveway that took some skillful driving to negotiate. Our night with Ralph and Kate was fun. They fed us a great meal and we were entertained afterward by a violent hailstorm. Ralph, who works for PG&E (the power company) was called out for emergency repairs which took all night. In the morning Liz managed to find a jazzercise class at the local rec center, and then we were on our way back to Santa Cruz, where were both still trying to connect with our mail.
Our trip continues to be an exciting and challenging one, and we are so glad to hear from you all.
After we finally got the last trip report sent out, we had a very full day. We met Kim, our friend in Santa Cruz who had been holding our mail for us. Ate lunch with her, got pictures developed, and then drifted up the coast along Route 1 where Liz enjoyed the nostalgia of seeing beaches from her childhood. Then we crossed over to Burlingame to see the home she left in 1950.
We drove on down to Cupertino to meet our friend Phil, whos busy with the release of Mac OS X. We got a little tour of Building 2, his part of the Apple campus, and then enjoyed a delicious Italian meal with him.
Also made voice contact with other old friends, but it is simply impossible to do everything and see everybody, so we prepared to move north. We spent our last night in the Bay area at Half Moon Bay, where it rained torrentially.
After visiting one last Bay area beach, we drove into San Francisco, crossed the Golden Gate, and proceeded up 101 through the wine country. Regardless of the weather (yes, still raining and foggy) the drive was beautiful. We got well into the redwood country and spent the night at Hendy Woods State Park near Philo, a tiny dot on the map.
What? What is this blinding light in the sky? Of course we could not see a lot of it because we were deep in the redwoods. But finally we emerged on the coast, through Mendocino and Fort Bragg and Eureka up to Patricks Point State Park north of Trinidad.
We spent the night high on a bluff above Agate Beach under dark dark skies with a tiny fingernail moon.
After exploring Agate Beach we moved on. Stopped to view an elk herd along the roadside. At this point we decided to just push on to Portland and stay along the coast rather than go inland to I-5. By evening we had made it into Oregon, Stans first time ever in this state.
We found another great state park at Bullards Beach near Bandon. Wed go back to lots of these beachy state parks and stay longer, but we were really feeling pressed to get the northernmost part of our travels done before really cold weather overtook us.
A good day driving along the beautiful Oregon coast. We crossed the 45th parallel! Met Lizs daughter and granddaughters (Olivia, 8 and Rachel, 4) at their ice arena just outside of Portland late in the afternoon. Liz enjoyed a delicious sushi dinner with all the Pozzy family (thanks, Nita and Theo!) and Stan tried not to look.
The Pozzy house is in a typically hilly west Portland neighborhood, with a driveway that is nowhere near flat. Stan wedged the vans wheels and made us safe for the night, and Liz fretted and worried about how tippy it felt.
Off in the morning to do errands and get Liz a haircut. While Stan was back at the van and Liz in the hairdressers chair, we experienced the 6.8 earthquake whose epicenter was about 100 miles north. In the evening there was a dinner with members of Lizs family. Stan left to visit his old friend Lou Fernandez.
Leaving Portland and the beloved granddaughters was not easy, but we felt the pull of two grandsons in Boise moving us along. So we made about half the trip along the Columbia River, where Stan stopped to enjoy dams and Liz caught up with postcards and paying bills. We managed to duck into Washington state (our 23rd). Spent the night in Hermiston, OR, at a nice RV place. We heard some pretty disturbing reports of bad weather and figured if it really happened, wed just stay where we were.
False alarms? Well, it didnt seem too bad, so off we went. Had a nice free tour of the Pendleton Woolen Mills. This is just the place where they do the blankets: the carding and spinning and weaving. It was deafeningly noisy (we had headsets to hear our guide) and very interesting.
Re-crossed the 45th parallel and found the bad weather, or at least its remnants. I-84 is very well maintained, thank goodness! We rested and ate at a diner in Baker City and then had an uneventful trip the rest of the way into Nampa, just west of Boise. We arrived at Lizs daughter Ediths home just minutes before she appeared with Henry, 3, and Charles, 4 months.
Ediths took us for a drive down to Swan Falls on the Snake River. This was a nice warmup for our planned trip to Hoover Dam. The day was chilly but we had some sun. It was lovely to see this family, including Ediths husband Biscuit, and we all had a great (yes, Mexican) dinner that evening.
It was not easy to leave Nampa. Stan hustled us out of there while Liz slept most of the day trying to fight off a cold. We spent the night at a KOA in Provo (UT, our 24th state) which had nothing to recommend it and was overrun with ducks and geese. Snow in the nearby mountains, and boy, are we getting sick of seeing it!
En route to this nights stop in Hurricane, UT, we didnt do much except take a scenic drive into the northern piece of Zion National Park at Kolob Canyon. The place is beautiful with its red rocks and the great wide vistas with all shades of pink and red and browns and yellows and tans in the stratification. It is particularly pretty with the snow for contrast, but enough with the snow already!
With Lizs cold, the elevation changes have been hard on the ears and congestion in the head (whine, whine, whine). We are both feeling very eager to find some good (warm and sunny) weather. Where could it be?
After a rather late start we decided to go into Zion in spite of the dreary cold rainy weather, and we were glad we did. There are two major car-accessible routes through Zion, and we did only one of them. The other has an entrance from the east, and were saving it for later, maybe when and if we visit Bryce, Capitol Reef, Escalante, etc.
We descended through the steep Virgin River canyon just through the northwest tip of Arizona and into Nevada, our 25th state. Once the road leveled out it was an easy trip into Las Vegas. We are at the Destiny RV park just south of the city and feeling very small amongst the giant RVs here. Stan was energetic and adventuresome enough to take the free shuttle into town while Liz stayed behind to rest and recuperate.
A nice day of practically nothing at all. The sun finally emerged and it got pleasantly warm. Stan shuttled into town again and Liz didnt.
Errands and a cruise down the Strip, parking at New York New York and going in long enough to see the slot zombies and eat some indifferent pizza. Stan washed the filthy van and we did some grocery shopping. Liz worked on her quilting project. An evening ride down the Strip to see all the neon. Time to be leaving here, we think, and to head for Death Valley.
The best thing to be said about the RV place in Las Vegas is that it had a great shower. Not knowing when we might get another chance, we took advantage. So we gassed up, pumped up, dumped and hit the road around 10 and set off north and west toward Death Valley.
In Pahrump NV we replaced a tired battery and got jiffy-lubed. I dont know why Pahrump is so-called, but am learning to say "NeVATta" instead of "NevODDa" (Stan already said it the right way, the smarty!)
By 2PM we had come over the high terrain and through the passes that introduced us to the northern reaches of Death Valley, which we will now call DV. These are only the northernmost for those with non-4wheel-drive vehicles, and we stuck to paved roads except for short (<10 miles) loops or spurs to particularly scenic and unmissable locations.
Our first stop was at Scottys Castle, aka Death Valley Ranch, and it was interesting. Its really a mansion-style vacation home more than a castle, but it has beautiful Mediterranean architecture and some fine artifacts, although most of it was custom-made for the "castle." The National Park Service offers tours given by guides who address you as if we were all back in the 30s, and its not hard to imagine what this place was like when occupied.
When we left here in the late afternoon our closest campground was at Mesquite Spring. DV has no hookups, and limited services (unless you want to pay >$2/gal for gas). It is, after all, Death Valley! But we did not care, since we are self-contained and in a typical days driving we build up enough battery to keep us nicely through the night.
Mesquite Spring was sparsely occupied. We had rain in the night, yes, rain in DV. The wind and rain howled and slapped us around and washed the colors from delicate into brilliant. We were in hilly desert with big snowy mountains to our east and west. It could not have been more different from the previous night if wed been on the moon!
The bad news was that Stan was sick with the cold Liz had just gotten over. The good news was that we could drive all over the upper part of DV, let Liz off to walk around and see the sights, and leave Stan resting in the green chair.
We saw Ubehebe Crater, Titus Canyon, and Salt Creek, home of the pupfish that live nowhere else in the world. Late in the day we hit the Visitor Center and stayed near there at Texas Spring campground. This area is the heart of DV, and there were lots more people around than the night before.
DV has so much to see that one could spend a lifetime traveling in it by car, bus, jeep, horse, or shoeleather, and never know it all. The extremes can be described with a lot of words, but nothing can prepare you for what its really like here.
Zabriskie Point exceeded all expectations. Next time Liz intends to do some serious hiking: theres a route between Zabriskie and Golden Canyon (see 3/12). The geology of this place just screams at you (here the badland-looking hills are of yellow and tan mudstone).
We drove up the very very steep final approach to Dantes View, which shows the whole of DV from the south. You are in the Black Mts on the eastern side, looking north and west across the flat salty sandy floor to the Panamint range on the west. What you see before you reaches from the 282 ft low point on the valley floor to the 11,049 ft Mt Telescope in the Panamints. No photo can do it justice.
As Liz hiked out to the precipice, Stan called Sean back home to hear about all the snow in NH.
Our travels during the day included sand dunes, an old borax works, Mosaic Canyon (smooth white marble walls), Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, and we spent the night at Sunset campground.
Our final day at DV was full and busy. We walked up Golden Canyon, but that tired Stan out right away. The trip to Artists Palette was a drive-through, and at Badwater he could rest while Liz hiked out into the middle of the salt pan. We exited DV to the south and it was hard to leave! By late afternoon we were in Shoshone, CA at a quaint little RV park. We ate at the only restaurant in town, and we just wolfed down our dinners. Youd think wed been out in the wilderness or something!
We both managed to get showers at this place. Stan wisely took his late at night with no contention for hot water. Liz lazily waited until morning and was treated to some serious fluctuations in water temperatures as others did laundry and showered. It was great to be back in a place with real trees. Whatever they were (tamarisks?), it was soothing to hear them sighing in the wind all night.
This was our first email opportunity for a while, and we heard from our friends Connie and Cal that the desert was in bloom further south. With Stan still feeling pretty lousy, that was enough to decide us against heading for Bryce and the Grand Canyon and northern New Mexico.
Our days route took us close to Las Vegas where we had, we fear, our final In-N-Out burger for a while. We wound up at Lake Mead NRA, at Boulder Beach campground in time to sit and enjoy the sunset.
Our main stop today was Hoover Dam, which was incredibly crowded with people from all over the world, as well as being on Route 93, which is the only road off !-40 west into Las Vegas. So on this not very wide but very winding road are huge 18-wheelers and RVs and passenger cars, all of them contending with pedestrian traffic all along the dam. Stan really wanted to take the "hard hat tour" (of course!) but the timing was not in our favor. So we took the shorter tour this time and promised ourselves a longer visit.
Our stop for the night was at a treasure of a campground called Burro Creek in Wickieup AZ. We were awfully glad to get back into Arizona. We think maybe we have said goodbye to California and Nevada, but it has not been easy to do so. Our spot here has everything: a babbling brook down in the valley, high cliffs across the way, the promised desert flowers and the palo verde, mesquite, creosote, saguaro and cholla we have come to love. No hookups, none needed. The bluest sky imaginable, and a hot dry sun with a refreshing breeze. Sound good?
Hard as it was to leave Burro Creek, we felt the pull of the southern deserts, so we drove through Phoenix and down to Casa Grande, our first repeat on this trip. As Connie had promised, the flowers were in bloom. We had to stop several times so Liz could examine the desert flowers up close and personal. We saw the blooms of the Joshua tree, which are about as big as your head!
It is tempting to go out and buy reference books for flowers, and for trees, and reptiles, and rocks, and bugs, and where do you stop? And if you have all these books, how do you keep from needing to have them with you at all times? For this trip, this year, we have only the bird book. Enough.
Somehow we have mysteriously turned into slugs! We didnt know there were slugs in the desert, and now we are them. Pato Blanco Lakes in Benson AZ has been our home since Friday night (it is now Sunday). Its got these little fishing ponds, not "real" lakes, and large sites, and the nicest bathrooms and showers, and a swimming pool and a hot tub small pool.
The night we arrived marked the end of our 4th month on the road, so we celebrated with dinner at the Horseshoe Café downtown. Yesterday we did almost nothing, and today propose to do more of the same. Maybe Liz will cut Stans beard and hair. Thats about all the ambition one can have when its bright and blue and sunny with temps in the 70s and a light breeze.
We will leave here some time tomorrow for New Mexico.
On our last day in Benson AZ, Stan got his hair cut and beard trimmed by "Mr. Liz" of Etna. This spectacle provoked many comments from passers-by. We met Carol and John Gould, fellow travelers from NH (Milford) and found lots to talk about. We exchanged email addresses and hope to stay in touch. Since they were headed to the Phoenix area, we recommended McDowell Mt Regional Park to them (they went, and liked it as much as we had).
From Benson AZ to Deming NM we drove through miles and masses of golden poppies blanketing the hillsides. These great sweeping splashes of color climbed the mountains all around as we made the easy trip into Hidden Valley Ranch, where wed arranged to receive our mail. Hard as it was to leave Arizona, we had a scenic day while doing it.
How pleasant to return to a place you have liked so much! Mail delivered, we were ready to move on, even though the desert weather nearly enticed us to stay another day. We had a little engine trouble at a border patrol inspection station as we crossed into TX, but waited a while and it was OK. We crossed back into Central Standard Time and drove on I-10 across the high west Texas plains to Van Horn and El Campo RV.
Wed had thoughts of eating dinner at Chuys, a local spot heavily endorsed by John Madden, but the RV park lady encouraged us to go across the road to Rosas Café. Well, Rosa was not having a good day by a long shot. She delivered our dinners to a couple of guys whod come in well after us, and when our repeat dinners finally arrived, they were pretty awful. Whod have thought flautas could be dry tasteless little sticks? Rosa was all out of desserts, so there was nothing redeeming about this (mis)adventure.
El Campo did have nice showers and modem access.
We drove northeast on I-20 (which is indistinguishable from I-10) to Midland, where we saw the Confederate Air Force Museum, which was high on Stans list. We also found jazzercise for Liz, the first in a month! On the outskirts of town we stayed at the Midessa Oil Patch RV, which sounds highly unappetizing. It was a very nice place, actually in Odessa. What a shock to see green grass and trees with leaves! Spring has come to Texas and its lovely. We hardly minded leaving New Mexico, although next time were in this state, we really want to spend time further north. Ditto for Arizona and parts of Utah: Capitol Reef, Escalante, Bryce and the Grand Canyon, not to mention friends near Taos wed have liked to see.
Another jazzercise for Liz and we were on our way. We headed back down to I-10 by way of Rt. 137, where the wildflowers and increasing amounts of green delighted us. We stopped in the town of Ozona and washed the van. We ate lunch in Junction and ended our day early in Boerne (pronounced "burney") just west of San Antonio.
Thoughts of spending time in San Antonio were no match for the magnetism of the Gulf Coast. Wed been thinking about Cal and Connie down near Corpus Christi and reading their messages about how nice it was on the beach. Before we knew it, we were on the loop road around Houston and arrived in Galveston late in the day.
There are wildflowers in the median strips and along all the roadsides. The Texas bluebonnets are what we call lupines back East, but they are smaller and they grow so densely that they are in solid patches that go on for miles. A coral-colored flower grows just as profusely, and many yellow and pink and purple flowers, too. We thought the desert in bloom was spectacular, but this density and variety of color dazzled us just as much.
Near San Antonio the climate changed dramatically. It became downright muggy and we realized wed left the desert for this season. Were both a bit surprised that we became such desert rats. We miss the saguaro and Joshua trees and yucca! (and the bunnies, and the coyotes, and the lizards), but well be back.
A cold front moved through during the night, so in the morning we were ready to talk seriously about where to go next, south to seek a warmer spot or east into Louisiana. Just then Connie and Cal called us saying they were ready to leave Port Aransas, so we agreed to meet down the coast. We drove down the chain of barrier islands to Quintana Island and its excellent county park. Time seems almost to have forgotten this island. It was leveled in 1900, just like everything else along this stretch of coast. It is now a quiet little backwater and just what we like!
There are long fishing jetties on either side of the Brazos River shipping channel here, right next to the campground. There are dolphins jumping and lots of fishermen. We can see the tugs going out to bring tankers in, and theres an abandoned oil rig right across the road from us. Low dunes separate us from the beach and block the wind a little. The park is very clean and natural, full of flowers and acres of green. Picnic tables, great showers, our friends parked right next to us: what more could we want?
Liz watched the Oscars and was thrilled to see Bob Dylan perform live from Australia and win the award for best song. It was pretty strange to be watching alone and to miss the Oscar party and pig-out that has become an annual fixture in Etna. Missing you all, you know who you are.
We joined forces with Cal and Connie to drive around the area and do some errands. Even though there are many refineries and chemical plants in this area, the wind blows the right way so theres no smell at all.
Woke to a windy gray morning and felt ready to move on. We left Connie and Cal and returned to Galveston to eat a Whataburger (we are trying to sample every fast food burger chain we find) and see "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Then we had a short but turbulent ferry ride from Galveston to Bolivar and continued into Louisiana, to Holly Beach, where we parked right on the water.
Make that IN the water. We had a monsoon with howling winds forget about the satellite dish for TV and it was chilly enough to need the heater.
The tour for today included the Brimstone Museum in Sulphur. Stan hit it off with the museum ladies who let him use their phone line. Then we went to see the historic houses of Lake Charles and camped for the night at Sam Houston Jones State Park.
We met Connie and Cal mid-day at Avery Island and toured with them through the Jungle Gardens. C & C returned to Abbeville, and we stopped next at the Conrad Rice Mill in New Iberia. Stayed at a nice city park in Morgan City right on a large lake. Theres water everywhere down here.
This day marked the start of our 20th week on the road. Stan was happy to find an Air Museum in Patterson, small and interesting. In the afternoon, we got a tour of Mr. Charlie, an early submersible oil rig that now serves as a training center and museum on the Atchafalaya river. And on the way to Baton Rouge we checked out the Plaquemine Lock. We went out to dinner at a wonderful cajun seafood place where Stan was served an excellent homemade pizza and Liz tried etouffe (and liked it!)
Were having a lazy start to the day. Stans at the picnic table listening to Car Talk and we may do nothing at all today, for a change.
We finished March with a restful day doing laundry and taking showers and working on the van. The Baton Rouge area probably has lots to do, but the only attraction we took advantage of was the destroyer USS Kidd. Liz is partial to destroyers because theyre so much smaller than aircraft carriers and battleships. And this ship was particularly well preserved in spite of having suffered a direct kamikaze hit.
We drifted along the Gulf shore through Gulfport and stopped for the night in Biloxi. After paying an arm and a leg to stay at Biloxi RV, just across from the beach, we found that we could have dry-camped for free at one of the casinos right ON the beach. Well, now we know.
We walked through Treasure Island casino and found it a very different experience from being in Las Vegas. But as before, we both resisted putting even a nickel into a slot.
We woke to fog, but left it behind and drove to Dauphin Island through beautiful countryside on fire with azaleas in bloom. At Dauphin Island, one either parks and stays or takes a ferry across the bay to Fort Morgan. We took our time thinking about this while we toured Fort Gaines, and the timing worked out just right for us to catch the ferry. Another time wed like to stay longer on Dauphin Island. We had never even heard of this lovely little place, but would highly recommend it!
The ferry ride was easy and made us just a tiny bit homesick for the Captain Neal Burgess, our ferry from Rockland to North Haven where Stan keeps his sailboat. We camped for the night in Gulf Shores, Alabama, at the huge Gulf State Park.
The sand at Gulf Shores beach is very white with a sugary consistency, and the surf was quite mild. The beach was empty when we arrived, and it never got crowded at all. The day was partly overcast, but we managed to get quite fried nonetheless.
Evening found us in the Pensacola area, on the Alabama side of Perdido Bay, at a nice quiet little RV place, a KOA. That was the last time we had email access for a while.
We explored the Pensacola area, got taxes done and found a copying place, shopped for some food, and got Liz a haircut. We met Connie and Cal at Big Lagoon State Recreation Area. We managed to get a rise out of the Park Ranger when we came in minutes after they had arrived in their identical van!
This beautiful park is on the sound rather than right smack on the Gulf, and is honeycombed with beautifully maintained trails and boardwalks. After an extensive walk we went out to dinner at a local spot that featured triggerfish. Except for Stan, the others found it very tasty.
Liz started the day with jazzercise, which she found quite taxing after a 2-week layoff. We all proceeded to the Museum of Naval Aviation on Pensacola Naval Base. This place puts all others to shame with its handsome and accessible exhibits. One could spend days and still not see it all.
Connie and Cal had paid for another night at Big Lagoon, so we said goodbye and moved on to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. We barely got into this extremely popular place. Its just across the road from miles and miles of more of that sugary white beach and respectable surf. It seems to be a good fishing spot, too. There are serious campers here, mostly in tents. There are more kids and dogs and noise and campfires and bicycles and those annoying little scooters than weve seen to date. Hello, spring break!
As we drove to the mainland around 7:30 AM to drop Liz at another jazzercise, we saw a sizeable line of people waiting at the registration office. When we returned, we managed to get the very last site, available for one night only. Connie and Cal couldnt get in and moved on to the east.
Liz found out that the weight of the snow had collapsed a beam in her barn. The depth of snow still on the ground makes us reluctant to rush back home.
Our day was spent relaxing, some on the beach and some at our campsite. One of the most desirable qualities about Gulf Islands National Seashore is the absence of BUGS.
Moving eastward, we stopped at Hurlburt Field, just west of Ft. Walton Beach. Here dozens of war planes are artfully arranged in a beautiful landscaped park, framed by brilliant gardens.
By chance, the places wed thought of staying were full or unappealing, and we lucked into a state park that was grander than most expensive resorts themselves. We think it was once a resort and has now been taken over by the state. Anyway, it had everything, even our own private pond with a resident alligator.
We took our time leaving such a nice spot and after a few hours we found St Andrews state park to be just as pleasant and more rustic.
Connie and Cal caught up with us again and we all had a wonderful day on the beach. There was a yellow caution flag out, but the conditions were fine for a little bodysurfing. We took off after turning our campsite over to them, and drove for several hours to Tallahassee, where we parked for the night at a Wal*Mart, the first time wed done that since December.
Drove down to Lakeland in central Florida so Stan could visit the SunnFun Fly-In, a huge air show for builders of experimental aircraft. It was extremely hot in this part of the state, and the humidity seemed much higher than it had on the gulf coast. It was well after dark when we stopped for the night at an RV park in Lakeland.
Stan woke up raring to go to another day of SunnFun, and Liz, who did not, found a bus Stan could take so she could rest and try to keep cool.
Stan decided against a third day in Lakeland and we moved over to the coast. Our favorite spot, Bryn Mawr, was completely booked (just how long does spring break last, anyway?) but we got into a nice quiet RV place just across the road. The heat here lately is breaking records, but at the beach it is tolerable with the breeze off the water.
At our current home, Peppertree RV resort, were at a nice private spot over by their pond for $10 a night. This gets us the resorts facilities (dump and pump, bathhouse, large pool, easy modem access), and for $5 a day, we can drive the van right out onto the beach and park.
After a great day at the beach in St. Augustine, we moved on up the road, stopping at Mickler Landing near Ponte Vedra to search for sharks teeth (success!), and settled in at Hanna Park in Jacksonville. It was huge and sprawling, a city park with a long clean beach and not too much activity.
Most of this day was spent getting the vans tires aligned and rotated and doing other errands. We found the greater Jacksonville area easy to navigate. And there was time for a little bit of walking and sitting on the beach. Guess who did which?
The ride up to Jekyll Island was beautiful, off the beaten path along the barrier islands of southern Georgia. We spotted some places wed stay at on another visit, state parks. When we pulled into Jekyll, Cal and Connie were waiting for us with our spot already picked out. Connie and Liz had a long walk on the beach, which was liberally strewn with conch and jellyfish. Jekyll is an interesting place, owned by the Jekyll Island Authority, which controls everything. It cannot, however, control the Atlantic Ocean, so the beach erosion continues. Oh yeah, it cant control the bugs, either. The no-see-ems were horrendous. Down there theyre called sand gnats.
Overnight we had a cold snap, and it discouraged the bugs. We spent the morning doing the Jekyll tour, driven around in linked trolleys. We enjoyed this a lot, and the four of us had a farewell lunch at a nice restaurant overlooking the beach. Connie and Cal had decided to head home to attend to house matters in West Lebanon, so we parted company for the last time this season.
We spent the night at Whispering Pines RV in Rincon, near Savannah.
Although wed thought about returning to Edisto Beach, we decided to try the state park at Hunting Island, South Carolina. To get there, you drive to Beaufort (pronounced Bewfort, as opposed to Bowfort in NC) and over bridges and causeways until you run out of road. What a fantastic place! The campground was excellent, with tall pines and live oaks, Spanish moss, etc. The beach had beautiful white sand and tidal pools and sand bars, teeming with life.
We explored the island, climbed the lighthouse, and had some more beach time. That is, Liz stayed on the beach while Stan did some shopping in Beaufort.
What a hard place to leave! We know now, or we have heard, that the bad bug times are April and October. If this was bad, the rest of the year must be heaven. They were not much problem at all.
We next stopped to visit Stans old friend Anne Gunn in Florence, SC. She included us in a dinner party at her new boyfriends house where we met some interesting people and had much laughter and good conversation.
While still enjoying the hospitality of Annes driveway, we did laundry and got the van cleaned up. How much sand can you track into a small van? You dont know until you start cleaning it out.
We pulled into Durham NC by suppertime and went out for Mexican food with our friend Rick Duncan.
Rick took the day off to spend time with us and show us his world. Since he lives practically on the Duke University campus, we visited the gardens and chapel there. The days real treat was a tour hed set up for us at the Duke Primate Center, where we saw dozens and dozens of lemurs: ringtailed, ruffed, blue-eyed, mongoose, and the aye-aye, to name only a few. See www.duke.edu/web/primate for info.
Liz watched Rick play a tennis match in the evening and Stan spent time snoozing on the porch and gathering information for our next adventures.
It was extra hard to leave Durham, as the weather had turned so nice, but we set out for Charlottesville, taking the back roads. The drive was lovely, and we took our time, stopping at Appomattox. We arrived at Monticello just in time to be inside the building when a thunderstorm struck. And it ended just as we went outside to view the grounds and gardens and outbuildings. It's a wonderful place, and we felt we learned a lot about Jefferson.
We spent the night at Small Country CG in Louisa, and the place was practically deserted. At this point we considered going over to the Blue Ridge and maybe spending some time in West Virginia, but something was pushing us east and north.
Washington, DC, has so much to offer that a couple of days dont even begin to scratch the surface. We picked out a national park in Greenbelt, north and slightly east of DC, and headed straight into the mall area of downtown Washington. After spending the remainder of the afternoon and only getting halfway through the Air and Space Museum, we braved the traffic and went up to Greenbelt.
Stan had figured out the way to see and do Washington, which was to be there when the parking spaces open up at 9:30. This plan worked to perfection, and we parked on Independence Ave., right across from the museum. Air and Space, American History, Natural History, museums upon museums, far too much to try to see in this trip. We left Washington promising to come back and spend more time.
With luck, we avoided the rush hour somehow, and made the easy drive to Greensboro, Maryland, where we found our next campground, also nearly empty. The season was barely starting there and we wondered if the beaches further north would even be warm enough to be appealing.
Decided to pay a visit to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB in Delaware, and found it to be a very good air museum with beautifully kept aircraft and excellent exhibits. All very educational, and a nice place to be on a lovely day.
We continued to Mt Holly NJ to spend some time with Lizs daughter Maria and her husband Don. They took us out for Italian food one night, fed us our friend Sue and her fiance Charlie met us for breakfast.
We left that afternoon for New York State and spent the night at Harriman State Park up near Bear Mountain. Again, practically empty.
Farewell to the month of May, and goodbye for now to our travels. We drove around Poughkeepsie to see Stans old haunts and then headed for I-90 and I-91. If wed realized last night that it would be our final stop, maybe wed have chosen some other place. But it was fine as it all turned out.
This day marked the end of 23 weeks and four days on the road. Weve been out for 165 days with never a harsh word, no major mishaps, and memories to last a lifetime. We are lucky to have had this opportunity and we know it. A trip like this is very satisfying, and at the same time, it whets the appetite for more.
It will be great to see our friends and families after such a long absence, and to welcome spring in the Upper Valley.
PS. Stans stats:
We traveled over 18,000 miles in 165 days through 25 states plus DC. Stayed overnight at 100 locations in 20 states.
In a separate mailing (for those with slow links) Ill send a jpg map of where we went. Green is out, red is back.