Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tourist traps

We pay $5 to see a giant redwood that cars can drive through. I feel
sorry for the tree. The wood near its roots is punched out. People
gawk. So do we. Ouch. The manmade oddity suffers next to God's

Sun sun sun

We awake from a week of rain in sunny Eureka, CA. :)

We've retraced some of our tracks and are camped at the fairground,
the same place Allen had a great walk with the dogs a week or
so ago accompanied by a tall red rooster. I volunteer for the job to
meet this rooster. Alas, Jacob, Josh and I get just within crowing
distance of the barns when we are asked to leave. Doggies,
apparently, aren't allowed in the area, where about 150 horses are
stabled for the night, along with Mr. Rooster. So sorry. We didn't
know. We walk back to Otto.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Wonderful Christmas

After spending days and days enjoying Christmas with family in
Seattle, we are back on the road and missing the kids and grandkids
already. It's hard to leave them behind. We mourn what might be if we
lived closer.

We stop for a light lunch in Eugene, OR, and while Allen prepares the
PB&Js, I walk the dogs. Then, Gordon waves at us through the
windshield. Instant friends.

Gordon and Wanda are the kind of people you'd love to live next door
to. They are considerate, kind and lively, and they love the Lord. We
exchange e-mail addresses, talk about life plans and look forward to
seeing each other again. We live on opposite coasts. But perhaps ....

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who Turned the Lights out?

Allen is feeding the dogs and spills their food on the counter and, of
course, it rolls onto the floor and gets trapped in the rug. I'm
standing in front of an open freezer deciding what to do for dinner.
Suddenly, the lights, everything, go out. We are in darkness,
boondocking at Mill Casino in Coos Bay, OR. And it's getting cold
without the furnace on.

Allen grabs the emergency flood light and cranks up Otto's heater. We
crawl around on the floor, checking fuses, circuits, batteries. We
drag out manuals. We find nothing wrong. We crawl around on the floor
again, just to double check. It begins to rain. And it's getting colder.

We sit at the dining table and are perplexed. I stare at the door. I
remember a switch. The master switch. Down near the floor where the
doggies scrambled to dig their kibble out of the carpet. Could they
have thrown the master switch?


Heeding Local Advice

I find a natural food co-op in Eureka and am stunned at how expensive
stuff is (about $6 for a small bottle of salad dressing). A fellow
stocking the shelves explains that those beautiful, cruvey mountainous
roads we just enjoyed driving through are tortuous for truck drivers.
So they charge more to bring food in. We, therefore, pay more to buy
the food.

He encourages me to continue driving north on Highway 101 in order to see the Roosevelt Elk herd in front of the little red schoolhouse in Orick. OK. Curious.
How do I find the schoolhouse? "You can't miss it," he says.

He's right.

As we cruise past ocean waters on the left and mountains on the
right, we swoop down into a valley, where we see about 60 elk in front
of, by golly, a little red school house. What a joy!

Watch the slide show and you will see the elk, (look at the rack on
the big daddy of the herd!) and scenes from
Redwood National and State Parks just up the coast
north of the little red schoolhouse.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Northern California Drive

We spend most of the day at a hilly, wooded Badger Dog Park in Healdsburg, CA, because Allen is
still sick and needs the peace and the doggies need to stretch and lay
down in mud and leaves.

Once we get driving, we continually gasp at the landscape. This part
of Northern California (north of Santa Rose) resembles Death Valley,
only lush. We see contours familiar to Death Valley blanketed in
grass, trees, shrubs and countless vineyards.

The sun lowers and leaves a crimson sky. Then dark. And suddenly, we
see passing glances of mammoths standing next to the ever narrowing
road. We've passed under the arches of Willits, CA, Redwood Country.

These Goliath sentries shorten us, minimize us. We look forward to
daybreak to grasp their full potential.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lots of Fishies

We stroll through Monterey down Cannery Row and the edge of the bay,
heading to the world-famous Monterey Aquarium. Do we smell sardines?
Couldn't be. The fishing industry is long gone here, replaced by hopes
of packing in the tourists. It's off season. A few people window shop.

The aquarium deserves the acclaim. While there are more open spaces
than I imagined, the displays (when we find them) betray reality. How
can I be standing inches (at least four) from a great white shark, a
Pacific barracuda and is THAT what an ocean sunfish looks like? Didn't
someone chomp off the rest of his body?

I study the ballet of giant kelp, stare at the symmetry of a rolling
mass of anchovies, watch a diver feed hungry rock fish and alpha
sheepheads. On my. There's even a display of shore birds, all kept
happy by a tide machine that keeps the water rolling up onto the sand
in time with the real word.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Safari in Sand

I am awed by hundreds (soon to be thousands) of elephant seals
bubbling up out of an angry Pacific Ocean in a not-so-secluded Point
Piedras Blancas Beach in the Big Sur area of California.

The two--ton males raise their massive heads and bellow (a deep,
resonate sound like that made by a huge rubber mallet striking a huge
hollow log), defending their rights to their harems. Pups, scattered
along the beach, imitate their dads, only their bellows resemble
honks. Then, the newborn (just one today, right), squeaks, defending nothing,
demanding dinner.

The pelting rain whisks us inside Otto, where we still hear the
bellows and honks. This is just the beginning of the elephant seal
season here.

Exploring the coast of California

We leave Long Beach and our good friends the Cuevas today (after a
delightful three-day visit that included praising Jesus, doggie walks,
yummy YUMMY Italian popcorn and three hours of "Survivor") and head
north up the Pacific Coast Highway.

We pass familiar place names -- Redondo Beach, Marina Del Ray, Santa
Monica -- and then Malibu, where hillside fires have blackened the
scenery. The charred remains line Highway 1. Right up to the pavement.
Up close and personal.

We smell the ocean, turn westward and find the beach. I nap. As does
the Pacific, which calmly breathes in and out. Allen walks the dogs

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Cuevas are Beautiful People

Our day in Long Beach, CA, is sunny, warm and wonderful.

Our dear friends the Cuevas make this place their home and meld well
with the community. We (and hundreds of others) attend a festival at
their church, where adults and children enjoy games, a climbing wall,
bouncey houses, food and fun. The outreach touches us and many in the
community. Tonight, we attend "Stable," a new play written by one of
the pastors. The production shows an intense love for Jesus and a
talented cast and crew.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Question of Need

We are parked for less than five minutes in the Long Beach Wal-Mart
when two women drive up and ask for money for food. One, the
passenger, is in her 60s. The other, her daughter, is driving the car.
The daughter, Jessica, says she and her mom just escaped from their
home, where a drunken, enraged dad/husband is endangering their lives
and those of two other children/grandchildren.

Jessica says a domestic violence center has put them up in a local
hotel for the night, but will help them no further until Monday. This
is Friday. They want money for food.

I give them three bags of food.

Now they want money for gas, so they can go to San Diego to stay with

I give them no money for gas and tell them, instead, to wait until
Monday when the "system" will take care of them. The enraged man, I
tell them, will know to look for them with family. Jessica changes her
story and says they now plan to go to Mexico to her grandmothers. Her
father, she says, does not know her grandmother.

I am troubled.

Will the system work? Did I do the right thing? What would Jesus do?

Friday, December 14, 2007

First wrinkle in boondocking

We overnight at or oddest "campsite" yet: alongside a service road to
an industrial park in Palm Springs, CA. On one side, we have a busy,
BUSY highway and on the other, a wind farm dotted with outcroppings of
low-slung buildings. It looks lovelier in the picture above than it is.

Our night's stay follows two rather odd days accented by missteps.

It starts in Baker, CA, a little desert town, where we stay in the parking lot of the Mad Greek 's Diner across the street from the world's tallest thermometer (left, taken from the Web site highlighted).

The dirty, trashy ground framed a concrete village of tattered and torn mobile homes. We ask around for a grocery store. We are laughed at. "This is the country," one man honks. "What did you expect?"

We travel on to Barstow, CA, where our fun really begins. We overnight in a sandy, rocky, glass-strewn side lot of a Wal-Mart, where security checks our receipts against our purchases. At the Post Office, a clerk complains loudly that she won't assist me because I failed to prepared my package according to regulation. A kindly customer sends me across town to a Mailboxes, which we can't find.

We decide to move on out of Barstow (not a pleasant town) and end up in Yucca Valley, CA, (on the Top 10 list of places to retire) and find the city recently banned free camping at the Wal-Mar. So, we return to the road (after a Pizza Hut dinner), and head to a Palm Springs truck stop, which is FULL when we get there.

So, we drive around and find truckers parked alongside the road with the wind farm mentioned above. We join them.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Returning to the Mojave Desert

Forty-four years ago I spent a few hours hunting cactus in the Mojave
Desert while my mom and dad fixed a flat on our blue station wagon. I
remember the sand, the heat and the cactus.

Today, the Mojave I am visiting bears no resemblance to the one in my
memory.There are lava formations, jagged, craggy towers of stone, and
even a restored train depot (inset) housing a museum explaining what
the Mojave National Preserve encompasses.

The preserve came into being in 1994 and differs from a national park
in one respect only: you can hunt in a preserve, but not in a park.

We see no hunters. We do see towering dunes that boom when disturbed
(find out why here) and the largest Joshua Tree forest (above) in this
country (more so than Joshua Tree National Park).

We are in and out in a day; perhaps I'll wander back one day because
there's so much more to see.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Welcome to a ghost town

We plan to spend the day at Rhyolite, NV, a ghost town just outside
the east border of Death Valley, CA. But we pass right on by because,
on first glance, little remains to entertain us. We return, however,
out of curiosity and find history in a state of decay, deliciously languishing
between government control (think Disneyland) and abandonment (which is reality). We see a place the U.S.
government wants to fence off to keep us out, but hasn't completed the
task yet. Two of the buildings are fenced. None of the others are out
of reach (there are signs warning us not to trespass ... no one is
there to stop us.)

Gold grew the town to 8,000 people around 1907. But soon there were
none, no gold, no people. Left behind are bits and pieces of that life
100 years ago. Stone remnants of two banks, a jail, a dry goods store, a
railway station and a few other buildings await government
restoration. No original wooden structures remain because when the
people left, they took the wood with them (there is precious little
wood in the desert.)

We walk around and imagine living here so long ago. The sun begins to
set. We need to leave, too.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Death Valley -- What a Place to Be!

This is our second day in Death Valley and we've fallen in love. Ever
walk on great salt flats? Or touch a mountain turned up on end by
seismic activity? It's all here.

Check out the views.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Japanese Internment in Death Valley

We spend the morning, the day after Peal Harbor Day, visiting the remains (above) of a Japanese internment camp inside Death Valley. Laurie, our forest ranger, puts a positive twist to a very negative part of American history. Even though what America did to the Japanese Americans during World War II was unfortunate, "We like to think they had a positive experience here in Death Valley." Hmmmm. See what Dorothea Lange saw. She was a photographer the government hired to document the process of forcing people out of their homes and into concentration camps.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

London Bridge Out in the Desert

We're at the edge of Arizona in a desert city called Lake Havasu. There is no grass. Just sand, stone, gravel, traces of dirt and a glorious stretch of the Colorado River. We're here for Otto repairs (a faulty connection in one of his rear airbags) and the job takes less than two hours.

What we find are delightful people, crisp, 56-degree air and what's this? Oh Yes! It's the London Bridge. Click here for pictures.

Remember the giggles in 1968 when the sale of this 130,000-ton historic bridge became public? The snickers didn't deter industrialist Robert McCulloch, who paid $2.4 million to bring the bridge to a city he built a few years earlier as a retirement and recreation community. He even created a little English Village (closed when we were there), which unfortunately blocks our view of the full span of the bridge. We can't see a full view. It's all so built up now.

For the story on all of the bridges known as the Lopndon Bridge, click here.

A land full of people

We spend two days at the Grand Canyon. Before leaving, we stay the
night at our first pay-to-park campground, a little stony and
grassless RV park in Cameron, AZ. It costs $14.72, and includes

In the morning, we play with a puppy from the nearby trailer park and
ruin our shoes in red mud. We meet Drifter and Moses, an old fellow
and his dog (Moses is the dog ... half Lasa and half Shitsu).
Drifter's wife did seven years ago and he's been on the road ever
since. He says his wife would have loved this way of life; they bought
the little trailer together in 1982. He smells just like the
cigarettes he chain smokes.

Today in Lake Havasu City, AZ, I meet a woman in the bathroom of an
Ihop, who, at the sink, proceeds to tell me her life story. She was
married for 34 years to a man with a temper so bad, she'd wonder each
morning how mean he'd be to her that day. She finally divorced him. A
week later, he dropped dead from a massive heart attack. (Her kids
blame her to this day.) Five years later, she married a retired
airline pilot. He's in service to her completely. Brings her socks to
warm her feet. Holds her hand. Heats up her tea. Each day, she thanks
God for renewing her passion for love.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Grand Time

I can't stop staring at the Grand Canyon. Let's pick a few words to describe it: magnificent, awesome, sweeping, stunning, inspiring, grandiose, powerful, legendary, staggering, beautiful. See some pictures by clicking here.

At one of the turnouts, I see a collection of young adults (above) chatting about their travels. One balls up some snow and tosses it over the rail into the canyon. I joke, "Careful! You might hit someone." He jokes back: "Sounds like something a mom would say." Hmmm. He put me in my age-appropriate place, didn't he!

Two of the gang just got engaged in Las Vegas after a four-year friendship. She's a teacher-to-be from Wales and he's a chemical engineer from Ireland. They were pen pals for years and 18 month ago took their life savings and hit the road, backpacking throughout New Zealand and now America. During that time they fell in love; last week he popped the question. They hope to be home by Christmas and then to start looking for jobs. Al and I could pocket our savings and travel for 18 months. But we don't want to come home and look for jobs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Beautiful Day for a Drive

We travel into the night, pushing northward from Roswell, NM, hurried by our need to be in Lake Havasu City on Thursday for needed repairs to our airbag system.

After climbing winding mountain passages to arrive at our campground (Wal-Mart in Cottonwood, Az), we sleep easily and awake to tremendous vistas from every window in Otto. What a view (see above)! The sun is bright and the air is crisp.

Route 89-A from Sedona to Flagstaff unfolds vistas of tremendous beauty through the densely wooded Oak Creek Canyon and along breathtaking uphill switchbacks.

White spires race skyward. Red rock buttes push through below, mounding and rounding everywhere. In the Coconino National Forest, Navaho artisans sell traditional wares (horsehair pottery and jewelry made of beads, feathers, sand and silver) through a Native American Vendor Project sponsored by Native Americans for Community Action in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service.

I meet artisan Lorraine Nincto, a Navaho jeweler, shown below holding the turquoise necklace she fashioned and I bought. Lorraine's granddaughters are Navaho dancers and are hoping to perform at the Seneca Nation PowWow in Binghamton.

The day is filled with beautiful images. See some of them by clicking here.

We end the day in a Flagstaff dog park, where we connect via Skype to the PC Users Group meeting in Liverpool, NY, as part of a "Point 'N Click" TV show reunion. They are under a foot of snow; we have a bright day, with temps in the 50s. Our Internet connection is bad. We talk briefly. The night here gets below freezing. But we stay warm in Otto.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Look, up in the sky!

We land in Roswell, NM, unprepared for the numerous "sightings" we'd encounter BEFORE we enter the International UFO Museum and Research Center. Evidence of those little green guys is everywhere. Check out these pictures to see what I mean.

All I can say is good for Roswell. The city is accepting of its claim to national fame as the place aliens may (or may not) have crash landed during a thunderstorm in July 1947. Many say they did, and the government concocted a bogus explanation out front while scooping up the evidence and hiding it out back.

In all, the museum (above) is pretty lame. Lots of newspaper accounts, lots of affidavits, lots of ramblings on and on without points being made. I avoid making eye contact with other patrons for fear they might think I am one of them. :)

We enjoy listening to a period radio (pic at left) playing the original 1947 news broadcast of the UFO crash.
You can listen to the broadcast by clicking here.

Texas surprises

What a beautiful and versatile state Texas is. Once we escape the cacophony of the Fort Worth/Dallas metroplex, we tumble like weeds through a western landscape (above) that's vast, sprawling, flat, parched.

What is this? Has a light snow kissed the fields? But no! It's cotton! Thousands and thousands of acres of cotton. And the season of harvest is here. Bales the size and shape of trailer-tractor beds sit everywhere (above), waiting to be hitched for the ride to market. Texas harvests 4.5 million bales each year, making it the highest yielding cotton state in the union.

Not too far from Abilene (which looks like it'll be a ghost town in 10 years), hundreds of modern windmills rise from the cotton fields. We've discovered the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, the largest wind farm in the world, where 421 turbines harvest the wind off 47,000 acres in west-central Texas. The other-worldly vision complicates my sense of Texas as a patchwork of outdoor life: cattle ranches, oil fields and cotton fields. The turbines are today's overlay on yesterday's landscape.

So much of Texas is both old and new.