Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Photography's Two Lives: Entertainer, Reminder

We left home Jan. 3. A long time ago.

We've stayed two weeks here, a week there, four days some place else.
We've seen amazing things and met amazing people.

On Wednesday, it'll be April 1.

We've been gone a long time. And have gone a long way.

A friend of mine asked me recently to bring home plenty of pictures. I
will. I've taken many. As I go through my photo albums, I realize how
each picture fails to show what we've seen or the people we've met.
They show bits and pieces of our life on the road, but not our life.

I'm getting sentimental here. How can you photograph vastness?
Quirkiness? Sensitivity? How can a picture of the Pacific Ocean show

In the picture above from Fort Bragg, CA, my motor home is the low, white square thing off
to the right, nudging up against the taller string of buildings.
Above the cliff. The picture shows the brilliant blue water crashing
below and the highway behind and the escarpment in front. It doesn't
show the beach to the left with tree-sized driftwood or the grassy
knoll to the right with a new Victorian-style house and community
park. It doesn't show the hiking trail snaking along a precipice
defining the edge of the Earth. I'm standing on that edge to take this

How can I show you how beautiful, peaceful, serene, windy, nippy, it
is here? Can you hear the foghorn or the sea bell? Or the waves?

Pictures are powerful. Look at the one on my husband's Web site and
you will see what I mean. To the viewer, though, my photographs
provide a mere snapshot of my world. For me, they do much more. They
remind me of my world. They tap at the door to my mind's eye, which
then fills in the circumference.

And I can see, again, what was in my world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Breakfast In An Old West Coast Mill Town

We eat breakfast in the land of dreams. Big ones, broken ones,
unintended ones.

The Samoa Cookhouse is the unintended part of this dream trilogy. It
started life in 1893 as a lumberjack's dining hall in the mill town of
Samoa, on Humboldt Bay, just outside Eureka, CA. And even though the
mill and its lumberjacks left town about 30 years ago, the Samoa
Cookhouse stayed, and today serves people like us, tourists, and
locals who love to eat the way the lumberjacks did, at long rows of
tables with the food served in community bowls and where everyone
orders the same thing. The heavy dishes are old and the chairs

This morning, breakfast is biscuits and gravy, french toast, sausage
and scrambled eggs, orange juice, coffee and water. Not just one or
two, but all of them. (Everything yummy, but the gravy. Too sweet and
too salty.)

Yvonne, our waitress (above), flits about, seamlessly conquering the
demands and requests of our row of diners, then the two rows next to us.

A second waitress, Ivy, is loud with her antics. She chews gums
constantly, open-mouthed, and sings the theme to the '60s "Batman" TV
show as she piles bowl after bowl of breakfast food in front of her
guests. She toys with the male server and the cook, Roberto, a tall
large man who grimaces at her. "Well, you have to be nice to the
cook," she winks at me and cracks her gum. "If he gets mad, he rattles
off in Spanish."

And with that comment she's off. They're all busy. The Cookhouse has
served up to 15,000 people a day.

Yvonne returns with our check ($11 each) and tells us why this is the
land of dreams. The original BIG dream, she says, came back in the
beginning (1889), before the Cookhouse was even built, when a group
of businessmen (with little acumen, obviously) bought up the land as
an investment. They named it Samoa, thinking vacationers would flock
to an area with such an exotic name.

But there's a reason the town was originally called Brownsville, and
why sea captains called the watery approach through the bay the
"Graveyard of the Pacific." The sun doesn't shine very much here, and
there's a lot of fog and the currents are variable.

So with their dream of a tourist town broken, the businessmen settled
on selling the town to a mill (in 1892), which kept the name Samoa,
and attracted lumberjacks instead of tourists until the last of the
big trees was milled in the 1980s.

The unintended dream actually realizes the original BIG dream. Samoa
finally attracts tourists. Not for a vacation, but for a meal, at the
Samoa Cookhouse.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Wild, Wet West

The West Coast has something the East Coast lost eons ago: vast expanses of wild and free coastline.

Mile after mile we tumble down from Washington to northern California, the angry, cold Pacific licking our right side and redwood forests and birch meadows hugging our left.

We see things we will never see on the East Coast.

I've never seen fog rushing and tumbling over the road like smoke from a raging fire. Until today. It's 48 degrees, and we see kids, in bathing suits, wrapped in towels, huddled around campfires on the beach. We see a herd of wild Roosevelt Elk grazing inside a pasture with two horses. We see trees so big around they look like walls. We see mountains of rock rise out of the sea then disappear into the mist.

In the Pacific Northwest, on Highway 101, we find no condos or multi-million dollar complexes pushing skyward, or angling out to the sea. We see some new development (in Oregon we see eight or nine really big houses all lined up in a row, oceanfront), but most of what we pass has been there a while, since the '50s or '60s. 

Maybe the towns want the seaside undeveloped. 

Or maybe there's no money in spiffing up a place where the sun visits less often than the rain.

A  woman I meet from Rome, NY, who now works in Coos Bay, OR, misses the East Coast and hopes to return one day. The West Coast is too wet for her. Rain is better than snow, she laments, but there's a vibrancy to the snowy East that's dampened in the West.

I see her point. I feel the difference, too. I like that it's different.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Love So Deep ...

Over and over I tell myself that today's blog should be about the

After all, the great whale migration has begun and we are in the
middle of it. How exciting! We mingle with dozens of other whale
fanciers who don't mind the drizzle and 48 degree weather. We chat
while continuously scanning the horizon for a speck of life or a spray
of water, the blow, that shoots up nearly 12 feet in the air.

But you can read about the event online at dozens of other places.
Just Google Gray Whale Migration and you'll see what I mean.

What you can't read about anywhere is the little boy who almost lost
his life and how really great his dad was about the whole thing. It
happened fast, so there's not much to tell. But, it's a great story.
A little boy is safe and his dad is proud.

Here's what happened: Allen and I stop at an oceanside bluff in
northern Oregon to just hang out. We walk the dogs over by the cliffs
and see a man and his dog scaling some rocks (see the picture) and a
couple of kids chasing the waves back and forth through the surf (wish
I had taken their picture instead).

I joke that the kids must be northerners because it's so cold, yet
they are in shorts, that by now are quite wet.

Allen goes back to the motor home and I hang out on the cliffs. I see
one of the boys climbing back up the hill and notice he is now soaking
wet. HA! A day at the beach and it's 48 degrees.

He's struggling up the steep incline, grabbing hold of bushes and
weeds to help his progress. He then climbs over the fence and stands
near where I am, to catch his breath. I notice he's wearing one
shoe. "I lost my shoe to a wave," he said, looking down at his feet.
"I lost my glasses, too."

Now I notice he's shivering. Oh, I think he's about to cry. I watch
him hurry over to his family's van, parked next to our motor home.

I tag along, a distance behind, and see the other brother is already
in the van, along with two sisters, a dog (named Maggie) and Mom and

I overhear the tale-end of the story: Dad is applauding his son's
bravery, his son's skill, for keeping his wits about him. It seems the
"wave" was an unexpected monster, one that knocked him off the rocks and tried to claim him for the sea. He
resisted, clung to the side of the rocks and then made it back to his family.

What I find remarkable is the dad chose to forgo a lecture on safety
to instead lift up his son as a hero. A hero who fought the sea and

What a great dad. I could see the kid was still shivering, sitting in
the backseat of the van, tucked inside a blanket. He didn't need to be
slammed for being stupid.

Oh I'm sure Dad will nail him later for carelessness. But, for now,
Dad knows it's more important to love that boy, because he is alive.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gambling On A Free Night

I'm in a casino and I detest casinos.

I don't like the atmosphere. It's full of desperate hope that goes
unmet quarter after quarter, dollar after dollar. Cigarette smoke
curls and grasps this expectation, darkening it, almost damning it. I
feel heavy with sadness as I look from machine to machine and see
futures going down the slot holes. Ca-Ching. Swirl swirl. Ca-Ching.
Swirl swirl. Ca-Ching. Swirl swirl. Another puff of smoke  wafts toward me. Envelopes my hair.

Now I'm sad and I stink. Gambling sucks. My parents called it sinful.

But I'm not in the casino to gamble. I'm in here for a good cause.
It's called boondocking. We're camping in the casino's parking lot
overnight for free. But we still have to register. Inside the casino.

We are near the Oregon Coast for the Whale Week celebration, a time
when a series of docents situate themselves at whale watching spots
along the coast and help visitors spot migrating gray whales. I've
never seen a gray whale in person. I'm excited.

So I volunteer to hop through the Spirit Mountain Casino in Grande
Ronde, OR, to register the RV for the free night of camping.

It's OK, I tell myself. I'm not gambling. I'm just registering my RV
with security.

But, the security guy tells me I have to be a casino club member to
park overnight. Membership's free, he says, and points over to what's
called the Coyote Club. It looks like a hotel registration desk. OK. I
can do this.

I run over and stand in line for membership  alongside a few
excited people cashing in their winnings. I notice the winners are few
compared to the losers. Or should I say those still trying to win.

When it's my turn at the desk, I must prove I am who I am. So I hand
over my driver's license. I watch appalled as a very nice attendant
scans my personal data into a computer which now has me on file as a
gambler at the Spirit Mountain Casino. I try to act nonchalant. I hate
gambling. I don't want to be on the list as a gambler. But I love
parking overnight for free.

It's OK. I tell myself. I am NOT gambling.

The lady returns my driver's license to me along with a beautiful
membership card of yellow, orange and deep blue with reflective gold
lettering that has my name on it and my membership number. Great. Now I'm a card-carrying gambler.

Then the attendant hops up and yells IT'S YOUR LUCKY DAY! The
computer has randomly selected me to win $5 to use in the club's
beautiful slot machines. She hands me another card telling me how to
redeem the $5 for gambling. No, she says, I can't have the $5. It's
only for gambling.

I turn to go to the security desk to register the RV and DING DING
DING. It's my lucky day again! I've been chosen, the lady tells me,
to take a FREE CHANCE toward winning $1 MILLION DOLLARS! Come this
way! She's waving her arms over her head to get my attention. Just
pull this LUCKY LEVER!

I feel like I'm reading one of those fake e-mails, or, worse yet, like
I'm walking down the midway of a seedy carnival.

I pass. No thanks, I tell her. She tilts her head in confusion.
Evidently NO ONE in a casino should give up a FREE chance at $1 million.

I duck my head, trying to be out of sight, and continue toward
security, where I sign in with my new membership card and hurry back
to Otto, getting as far away from the gambling crowd as possible.

When we are finally set up for the night, Allen, who knows none of the
above events, smiles at me and says, "Since we are at a casino, want
to play some cards?"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where There's A Will

Allen and I live in upstate New York, less than 20 minutes from Syracuse.

Which means, the NCAA basketball game between Syracuse University and Arizona State is a big deal. We don't want to miss the game, but some things are more important. Like family.

We've driven all the way across country to see Allen's kids and grandkids and they expect us this afternoon. We can't, we just CAN'T take the time to go watch the game somewhere. And anyway, we're on the West Coast. Is the game even televised here? (We are woefully unprepared for this ...)

We're on Interstate 5 just south of Portland, OR, in our Navion when the game begins. I know I can stream TV shows online while on the road, so why not a basketball game?

I fire up my Mac and fail miserably to install all the software required by CBS to pick up the March Madness live action coverage. (I can't figure out how to do it and Allen is driving and can't help.) I can't even find a radio station  carrying the game live. OK. Maybe I'm trying to hard or too fast, but I'm eager to catch up with the game. I'm watching the score tick higher and higher on a scoreboard I found. But it's not the same. I want to know more.

Then it dons on me to head to my hometown paper's Web site for a live action feed of some kind. I retired from that paper, The Post-Standard, two years ago and Allen still writes a weekly technology column. So we know the paper is dedicated to online news reporting and to SU sports.


I find immediately what I need. Two sportswriters, Donna Ditota and Mike Waters, are providing nearly minute-by-minute accounts of the game in update form and photographer Dennis Nett is posting stills from the game.

FANTASTIC! I read each post out loud to Allen and described Dennis' fabulous action shots. While we ride along Interstate 5, heading north. The only annoyance is I keep forgetting to update the page.

OK. I admit. It was NOT as good as being there or seeing it on TV. Or even listening to it on the radio. But we followed right along, edge of our seats, and could roar with the crowd (well, I imagine there was a crowd roaring) when SU won, 78-67.

What a game. What GREAT coverage.

So now we know if, on Friday, when SU and Oklahoma go at it, if we can't watch it on TV, we'll be there on syracuse.com. We hope to see Donna, Mike and Dennis there, too.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tired Traveler Seeks A Beach Day

I just did the math: We've logged more than 10,000 miles this trip.

I'm tired. Justifiably.

Thomas, our GPS (a Tom-Tom) says we are 2,898 miles from home. And if
we turn around now, we will be home in 45 hours.

I'm tired.

We're nearing Portland, OR, and will be in Seattle on Sunday. We'll
spend a week there with the kids, grandkids, then head back down the
California coast. I'm looking for a secluded Pacific Ocean beach,
where the dogs can play and Allen and I can shake off some of those
10,000 miles.

Then, we'll be ready for 10,000 more.

Zuka's Physical Therapy

When I meet Zuka, a 17-month-old English Bulldog, she's sitting in a
tub of water, just like you see her doing in the picture, at a dog
park in Redding, CA. The tub is really the park's water bucket, used
by all the dogs to quench their thirst after raucous play.

But not when Zuka's using it.

It humors me to see the chunky, brick-like little dog curled around
inside the bucket, her squarish shape squished into a circular fashion.

Even more humorous: Her fierce protection of the tub and
her red ball that floats in what little water surface is left after
she wedges herself in. Several dogs stop by for a sip and get a snarl
and nip instead.

I grab my camera and splish splash, she's out, running around,
playing with the very dogs she snapped at seconds earlier.

My disappointment over the lost photo opportunity must be obvious,
because her mom hollers over: "Wait a few minutes, she'll be back in."

Sure enough, in less than five minutes, she's protecting her watery
turf again against all intruders. I snap away, then she jumps out
ready to play again.

There's a story behind these pit/tub stops. When she was 5 months old,
Zuka was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. So she's been on a restricted
diet and exercise program all her little life. The exercise includes
coming to the dog park and chasing her favorite red ball.

Her mom is convinced Zuka hops in the cool water to soothe her joint
pain. Then hops out to play again. That's why mom so confidently told
me I'd have more chances to get a good picture.

After an hour of play/physical therapy, it's time for Zuka to go home,
with her ball, and not as much pain thanks to her personal tub of water.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Things We Do For Love

We're doing what we're doing today because I love Allen.

We take a sideways excursion from our northward journey to Seattle to
visit Cupertino, CA.

Regular people don't know Cupertino. If you do know, then you, like my
husband, breathe technology.

Cupertino nestles inside Silicon Valley, birthplace of modern
technology. Inside Cupertino sprawls Apple.

Yes, we visit Apple, but we don't stop.

We drive around and around the large, multi-building campus at
quitting time, looking for Steve Jobs and wondering if we'll ever see
anyone with gray hair. Well, we see neither.

What we see is a sea of 20-somethings (see the pic? She's playing with
her iPod), including 15 or so lined up outside the company store,
waiting to get back on their tour bus. We also see lots of Asians.
And we hear lots of languages, including English.

I fire up my Mac (I'm a little bit techie, too) and pick up 12
networks, all locked, of course. These people know computers.

Cupertino is not Everywhere USA. While I do see Target, Staples and a
few other chains (Starbucks, of course) most of the places sound  
home grown, like Lee's Sandwiches and Didams Amazing Party Store.

The place is so crowded you'd think someone inflated a new dot.com
bubble. Traffic jams up the highways for miles (quitting time,
remember?). We crawl out of town through a landscape filled with much
younger drivers in much smaller cars. We are the only motor home in the bunch, What odd ducks we must look like to these people.

I'm relieved to be rid of the congestion. Yet, I'm tickled to 
visit Apple. Something I get to do because I love my techie husband.

Now I wonder, when we get to Seattle, will we take a side trip to

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No Question of Faith

We are somewhere in Southern California between the towns of Rosamond and Pear Blossom. The temperature  falls from 95 to 58 as we climb from desert into mountain.

A magnificent view halts our progress. It's just too beautiful to pass up. We want to capture it to take it home.

So we grab our cameras and slide out of Otto, snapping away to capture this beauty. I see deep in the valley a neat sight: cattle, grazing.
It's neat because they seem so small.

To my left, a van lugging an impossibly long open-bed trailer pulls up and out spill four giggly, wiggly children along with Mom and Dad, cameras in hand, who also see the need to capture this beauty for later.

I walk over and say to Dad: "Tell the kids if they look real hard, they can see cattle down there."

Dad says to me: "We're from Texas. That won't mean a lot to them."

The little girl, about 10, swirls over to show me how cow smart she is: "Are they longhorns?" she smiles. Then pirouettes away.

That smile is beguiling.

We all keep taking pictures because the magnificent views are breathtaking.

In between picture-taking, child-keeping, protecting and enjoying, I learn a lot about this young family. There are two adults, four kids and two cats packed inside that van. Mom and Dad are both seminary schooled and have been out of work for 10 months before landing a job at a Christian camp on the coast of Oregon.

They've put their lives in God's hands, and trust He has a purpose for them in Oregon. So everything they own is in that trailer (I see four bikes, a broken pitch fork and a plastic yellow bat; tarps cover
everything else). And they're heading north, into a world quite unlike their own.

The sun sinks steadily lower and we all know it's time to go. We exchange names, promises of prayers. And then Mom and Dad collect the kids (including a spirited tiptoeing 3-year-old) and everyone disappears back into the van. As they pull out of the lot, the sun shines on their trailer. And I snap a picture (above).

And then I think "What a magnificent view!" A family. Trusting so completely in God. I'm glad I have that picture, an image of faith.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Life In Death Valley

For four days, we live in an abyss, a dry, hot lifeless place that's
desolute, yet immensely beautiful. (In the picture, we are the first
camper on the left, with the red car in front of us.)

We're in Death Valley, CA. No electricity. No phone service. No
Internet. Lifeless. A dead zone.

We have water. In fact, water flows from underground springs
throughout the valley, accounting for the pockets of life we do

Move away from an oasis, though, and Death Valley's lifelessness

Inhale. Not too deep. The air is saturated with dust.

Feel your skin. Leather.

Blink your eyes. Dry.

We hike with our dogs through the canyons and each step (of foot or
paw) releases a puff of borax or more dust, drying our skin even more.
Making us sneeze. The hills we climb have no dampness to hold the
soils together. The ground crumbles and gives way under each of our

The aridness, the dryness is unimaginable to a Central New Yorker,
former Southern belle, who grew up near the Kanawha River and now
lives a block form the Erie Canal.

I say this place is lifeless, yet at night the sky twinkles with life.
After dark, I see stars, shooting stars, planets, satellites, solar
systems and, last night, at least one UFO. (I didn't see it. Others did.)

And, after we tuck ourselves into bed, the coyotes come and howl and
yip, right outside our reach (scaring the patooties, I bet, off the
teens (Boy Scouts?) who pitched their tents just before dusk.)

In the morning our bath towels dry within minutes. Spilled water
evaporates in a flash.

I say this place is lifeless, but as I sit on a gravelly slope and
look down. I see a tiny yellow flower. All by itself. No bigger than a
pea. Looking at me, A single flower. I focus and see that to the
right, an even smaller white flower waves at me for attention. Oh.
Wait. The wave is not for me. It's moving because a salamander snaked
around it on its way to hide from me.

Lesson learned.

There is abundant life in Death Valley. I must first learn where it
lives, then slow down and enjoy it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Boondocking Humor

We pull into the parking lot of Terrible's Town Casino in Pahrump, NV, and finally relax. It's nearly 1 in the morning and we are wiped. We
know Terrible's because we've boondocked here before.

Simply defined, boondocking in a motor home means spending the night
in a parking lot for free. It sounds awfully wrong, almost illegal,
obviously noisy, unsafe and downright boring.

None of which is true.

Boondocking makes all this traveling around we do in our motor home
affordable. It's legal, as long as we ask permission first, and it's
usually quiet. Most businesses that let us boondock have few customers
overnight and almost always 24-hour security. And it's not borning,
because no matter where we are in our motor home, at night we are
usually inside looking to sleep, not outside looking for fun.

Terrible's encourages boondocking with a large sign that says "Free
Parking." Lots of casinos allow boondocking ... it usually means more
business for them. (They lose with us. We don't gamble.)

As we batten the hatches on our RV, we notice there are a lot of
unoccupied motor homes in the lot. They are the big guys, You know,
the ones that look like buses.

It's amazing how many of these new guys there are. I count them: 8,
10, 12 and more. In our 24-foot Navion, we look like David among a
slew of Goliaths. Undaunted, we pull alongside one of the monsters
and wind down for the night.

In the morning, we awaken to bits and pieces of chatter outside, and I
imagine other boondockers walking up to the casinos to get an early
start on the slots.

We slowly prepare to start our day, hear more chatter outside (which
is unusual), then drive across the street for diesel.

While Allen mans the pump, I look over at Terribles and I see,
immediately, the reality of our overnight stay.

We didn't boondock in a parking lot. We slept in a store.

All those Goliaths in the lot that USED to belong to Terrible's make
up an RV Superstore. And the chit chat we heard? Customers, sales

Oh well. No one kicked us out or arrested us for trespassing, OR, come
to think of it, showed ANY interest in buying our little David.

While Allen continues to pump, I see there's still free parking for
Terribles, only it's now next door.

We missed THAT sign.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another Jacob Story

Jacob is my 6-year-old Giant Standard Poodle. Everything about him
delights me. As it should.

Why, just the other day, I laughed heartily when a tumbleweed tumbled
right into him. It stuck itself to his ear and foot, making him
dance, sort of like a kid with a mouse down his pant leg.

We rescued both dog and weed and went on with our walk in the wind.

"Something's wrong with Jacob's eye," Allen has said every day since
(well, we're not quite sure of the timing on this ... was it before?

Jacob's eye? I stroke his head, scratch under his chin, then raise his
face toward mine. I draw down the lower part of his lid and expose
red where white should be. Oh, I think. His eye is just a little pink.

"Something's wrong with Jacob's eye," Allen continues to say everyday.
And everyday I go through the motions of checking it out.

"Something's wrong with Jacob's eye," Allen insists loudly this morning.

I stoke his head, scratch under his chin and raise his face toward
mine. OH MY! His deep black/brown cornea keeps rolling up, back into
his head. WHAT?

We Google "Galllup, NM veterinarian" and find two. We make
appointments at both and end up seeing both (the first guy was a
little off the wall.)

I say to both vets "There's something wrong with Jacob's eye."

The first vet suspects poisoning and wants us to contact a veterinary
ophthalmologist. So we keep our second vet appointment.

We learn from both vets that Jacob's cornea is not moving. It's
his third eyelid that's raising up to cover a part of his cornea. (All
dogs and cats have a third eyelid; we often see it when the animal is

Our second vet dismisses the poison theory and suspects Jacob has a
scratched cornea. Well probably. Her equipment shows big scratches,
but not little ones. So she's making an educated guess based on a
series of tests.

And, she theorizes, it could have been happening while I was laughing
at him dancing with that tumbleweed. Or anything small blowing in the
wind could have stuck in his eye, causing problems.

We don't know.

But after two days and special ointment, there should be nothing wrong
with Jacob's eye.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Monumental Time, Thanks to Mike

I'm sitting on top of (OK near the top ... I didn't make it all the way) an escarpment in the Boca Negra part of Petroglyph National MonumenT in Albuquerque absorbing the experience. The monument (which has many parts) protects more than 25,000 rock drawings found in these volcanic cliffs on the city's western edge.

To my left (and below)  is an upscale adobe walled neighborhood. In front of me is the same. To my right is a crosshatch of roads. I hear the beep beep beep of a dump truck backing up and the machine-gun whacks of a jackhammer.

But but but. This shouldn't be.

I'm sitting on volcanic boulders more than 100,000 years old viewing rock carvings, some dating back 3,000 years (and, yes, some dating back more recently, as in graffiti).

This richly historic place feels more like a roadside attraction than a preservation of a people's way of life. The path up the mountain is partially paved. Not natural. Steps and handrails reduce the stretch of the climb.

Some of the rock carvings conveniently face the path. So which came first? The path or the rocks? Let me guess ...

The unnatural feel pushes  us back down the rocks. We want to leave. Dissatisfied. Empty. And then we meet Mike (above), born in Long Island and IN LOVE with this place. He's a former park ranger here (he hopes to be rehired soon) and visits often. Like today.

He stops our exist with his fascinating tales of how this place came to be and how today blends with yesterday. He knows the little things that bring a park to life. Those rocks that face the path? They aredead, he said, because they were moved from the housing project across the street -- over the objections of the Pueblo people. The Pueblos believe the boulders protect and contain a part of the artist's spirit. The spirit dies if man moves the boulder. Man did. So those rocks are dead. Empty.

But because we meet Mike, we discover that most of the boulders in this park vibrate with life. With Mike, we climb more rocks and find serious etchings, such as the spiral that signified the path to the underworld, the warrior (hands face down) and the praying man (hands face up).

Thanks to Mike, we  see a spaceman carved in the rock hundreds of years ago (you have to stand just so and look up) and graffiti left by "NH in 1987."

Mike points out where, in 2006, some lughead pushed a truck down the escarpment, dislodging one of the huge boulders. And those bones I see deep in the crevice? Mike knows (and this is sad) that just a few years ago a bobcat swiped an untethered domestic dog from a nearby neighborhood and dined on it here.

OK. I'll stop.

There's just so much to tell because Mike's enthusiasm for the petroglyphs and the Pueblos is infectious. We're no longer disillusioned.

Instead, we're sore: our necks from craning to see all we can see, our ankles from wobbling on the rocks and our knees from stopping our ankles from wobbling.

What a great day.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Goes Around

When we set off on this adventure on Jan. 3, we sought the Historic Route 66 and found frustration instead (click HERE to read why).

Today, more than two months later, we get our kicks (sorry ... I couldn't resist) by happenstance.

We're cruising down I-40 in New Mexico, watching a big, beautiful sky
get even bigger, when I see, briefly, a scene so dynamic I turn to Allen and say, "Now THAT'S a picture" (see above).

So, we take the next exit to backtrack and, by golly, turn right onto Historic Route 66.

After the picture session with the cars, we reload ourselves into the Navion and don't return to I-40. Instead, we continue on down Route 66.

And we're pretty excited because we drive by the things we wanted to see on the famous road to begin with: '50s-style neon signs (darkened, of course, and broken and sad), deserted gas stations and motels (all whispering how popular they were back in the day) and lots of retro curio shops (hoping to make a dollar off tourists seeking their kicks ... oh, there I go again).

There's not much I can say about Route 66 that's not already on the Web somewhere. See more of my pictures and a map and a rundown of some of the towns we passed through (ummm if you take that link, the name of the town is BUSHland, not BRUSHland). You can read about the father of Route 66 and get a feel for the old TV show that made the road famous (and watch a few episodes).

You can even vist Del's Restaurant in Tucumcari, where we consume way too much soup and salad bar.

My biggest kick (no apology this time) isn't a click away in Cyberspace. It's meeting Bridget, our waitress, who shook the dust off the old road for me. It's the main road through town, she nods. And of course, it's hopping. It's much more vibrant than the small downtown.

It's alive and serving her well.

Bridget didn't intend to return to the town she left years ago to make
a better living in Albuquerque. But she moved back after her husband died and because her mom battles cancer and needs her help. She brought with her her 5-year-old daughter, Destiny, and they are settling in to a quieter way of life.

Destiny just started school.

So imagine that. Historic Route 66 nurtures yet another generation. By happenstance.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Texas Camel Tale(s)

We're in Texas farm/oil country. Miles and miles of US Route 287 travel alongside cotton fields and cattle ranches. Oil pumps silently inhale their riches from beneath everyone's feet.

A hump in the distance catches my eye. Then another and another.


I'm seeing lots of one-humped camels grazing in a field right next to ordinary Texas.

We pull over to get pictures and find a trucker has matched our interest and he, too, has pulled over. He's braver than I and is yanking up handfuls of unmowed grass growing just outside the camel's long-necked reach. As he waves the sweet greens over head, two camels crane forward and down to retrieve, ever so gently, the offering.

None of the other hundred or so in the herd pay attention to us. So I imagine these two are pets.

And, they are friendly.

So I, too, yank out handfuls of unmowed green grass as an offering to Larry and Cleo (they're such a novelty, I HAVE to give them names). Larry loves a good rough scrub along his golden mane. Cleo bats her lashes as I scratch her neck.

As I scrub and scratch, clouds of dust, dust and more dust billow larger and larger.

The trucker shrugs. The dust comes with Texas, he says.

And the camels, he says, as as much a part of Texas as the dust is.

I like the story he tells better than the one I find later on the Internet. So I'll tell you his first.

These very camels, he says, are the descendants of the American Camel Cavalry, formed before the Civil War.

I wish that were true.

It could be, but it isn't.

There WAS a camel cavalry in Texas right before the Civil War. It's a fascinating tale. Read about it HERE. These guys, though, my sweet Larry and Cleo, and the hundred or so others in the field, have a more mercenary and recent past.

Here's the less glamorous tale:

Larry, Cleo and friends descend from an Australian line brought to America in 1989 by oilman A.B. "Bob" Hudson. His holdings grew until he became the largest camel breeder in America. Petting zoos and exotic animal brokers pay thousands for their babies.

Hudson died a year ago (Feb. 21, 2008). So the future of this herd is unknown.

But today, they are still here. Along U.S. Route 287 near Witchata Falls in Iowa Park, Texas. Where they belong to the Texas landscape.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jesus, Take The Wheel

It's about 9 p.m. and we're heading down a two-lane highway, one that
leads in and out of Dallas.

We're heading out, with Allen at the wheel.

Before we exit the Big D, we notice it's hopping tonight; it IS
Saturday after all.

Cars pack into the parking lots of homogenous restaurants (the same
ones everywhere, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Chilis, etc). They dangle
off the sides of Highway 81 like ticky-tacky souvenirs on a charm
bracelet from anywhere.

We're just passing through, so we buy no souvenirs. For a little
while, I watch the neon fade from my rearview mirror. Soon, the city
and her excitement dissolve, so I settle back in my seat and turn to
watch the road.

There's no one ahead of us, but there is a line coming toward us. I
imagine it's a line of date-night hopefuls, heading into the Big City
for an evening of boot-scootin' fun.

The traffic is fast, about 65 MPH. And suddenly, in this fast traffic,
I see headlights coming straight for me. In my lane. Heading the wrong
way. Heading toward me. It's hard to reconcile what I am seeing.

Finally, my brain regains control and I shout: "He's in our lane!"

I can tell by Allen's calm approach to the impending disaster that he
knows this already.

He waits to avoid a collision until he can wait no more (hoping the
offending driver corrects himself). At just the moment Allen begins to
veer to the right, I know Jesus took control of the wheel of the
oncoming car. The car, aimed directly at us for a head-on at 65 mph,
swerves across our lane to the outside berm, then into the grass at
the very moment we pass.

Allen checks his rearview and sees the car slow toward a safe stop.

God and his grace spares lots of people tonight because there are lots
of cars on the road right now. Going both ways.

Imagine the deadly pile up. That didn't happen.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Flower Power

Be careful how deep you dig. Especially in a dog park.

Today we visit Petal Dog Park in Petal, Miss., outside Hattiesburg.
We're traveling with two large dogs, so it's only fair they get to
play this morning, then Allen and I can ride the Longleaf Trace bike
trail this afternoon guilt free.

At first glance, I see many above ground treasures: six big shade
trees, many benches under those trees and, up against the far fence,
an agility course.

I stroll past the equipment and that's when I see it, the THING that
captures my attention and piques my curiosity for most of the day: a
cement silo inside the park.

I walk up to it and around it. It's about 10 feet tall, and maybe 8
feet in diameter. What is it? I raise my camera to take a picture and
see, out in the field beyond the park, two more of these things, like
sentinels at intervals.

I can't help but think of the secret missile stories of my youth, when
we all talked about the silos in the middle of nowhere actually hiding
long-range missiles with nuclear warheads. Do you think?

At the end of the day, I fire up my Mac and burrow into Petal to find
out what these things are.

What I dig up has nothing to do with the silos, but it is a bit of
dirt about this little Mississippi city:

Go HERE to read one park patron's claim that the city, which owns the
park, ignores it.

Go HERE to find out about the International Checkers Hall of Fame in
Petal and the mysterious fire that wiped it out in 2007, two years
after its benefactor was jailed for money laundering.

Go HERE to find out how some Petalites want Hattiesburgers to stay home.

The stuff I find online's not all bad. I find out that Petal is named
after a little girl who died before her second birthday back in 1904.
She was Petal Polk, daughter of Irving Polk, the city's first

I also learn that the city was in "Ripley's Believe it or Not" twice:
Once because it's the only town in the United States called Petal; and
twice, because it has (had, before the fire) the largest checkerboard
in the world.

But still, not a word on the silos.

So I've written to the Petal Chamber of Commerce to find out what they

If I get no response, I'll take it as confirmation of a conspiracy of
silence between the Pentagon and Petal.

And I'll know for sure that there are strategic weapons buried deep
beneath the Petal Dog Park.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Traveling in Parallel Universes

Riding across Interstate 10 (then I-64, then US 98, etc, aided by a GPS), I embrace the old and the new. And the experience is frustrating me today.

I'm surfing through "The New," a very crowded Cyberspace to find fun and necessary things to do while we scoot along "The Old," real
highways, to Seattle, WA, from Hobe Sound, FL.

Google Maps says it's a 60-hour journey (well, the way we plan it it's 60 hours ... we're zig-zagging to avoid mountain passes and snow.)

So we need a worthwhile break from the road now and then. That's why
I've been online ALL DAY (on my Mac, thanks to a Spring aircard) while Allen drives the Navion.

Usually I love poking around online. But today, I'm frustrated by a confluence of too much information with useless information slowing me down, clogging up the Internet.

Many, MANY websites I access lack necessary information (like addresses) or provide little useable information, then ask me to "click here" for the stuff I really need. Often, I click and land in the Land of Oblivion.

When I do access a usable site, the sterile, custodial information lacks the human touch. It's compiled by a computer from information on
a form. No emotion. No sense of good or bad. Lots about restaurants,
hotels, and other businesses. Not so much about great little museums, must-see theater, town walks worth your leather.

Oh, this information is OUT THERE. Usually on blogs or newspaper
websites low on Google's hit list. But I have to crawl through so much sludge and slime to find it that it's exhausting and frustrating. At least today it is.

SO I've decided to stop, for the day, and trade my surfboard for a travel book from AAA. Although it, too, lacks human emotion, at least I won't spill into a great abyss with one misplaced click.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Truck Stop Double Take

We pull into a Flying J Truck Stop along the east coast of Florida and
get more than a tank load of diesel. We get a hearty laugh and a
pleasant, cartoonish "Hello."

We share the lot with a blue and gold macaw sitting atop a perch
connected to a little blue scooter. He's completely at ease with cars,
trucks, motor homes and people zipping past. He crawls around his
monkey bars, preens his feathers and sounds like Olive Oyl as he
greets passers-by.

I assume he's a part of the family inside the American Eagle (LOL!)
behind him, but for the duration of our stay, he was alone,
untethered, and totally at play.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Square Pond (photo by Pam Kainer)

When we arrived at Jonathan Dickinson State Park a week or so ago, I watched five little boys play at Square Pond (which really is square). They'd run up the bank, scoop up sand, shells and dirt, then run down to the water's edge and toss it all in.

Before too long, it was the kids getting scooped up, by worried dads on the look out for alligators.

Boy. There's no need to worry today. There are no alligators.

And there is no water. A drought drank it away. And left behind a mud flat where a pond used to be.

Sad. But, wait. What do I see? Animal tracks on what used to be the bottom of the pond. Everywhere. Turning the mudflats into Disneyesque storyboards.

Over here are the tracks of several raccoons, perhaps scrambling along to make it home before sunrise. And there, see the footprints of a single stately egret? He's slowly striding across the mud in hopes of finding one more fish out of water.

A small rodent in pursuit of gnats and mosquitos leaves behind little dotted tracks that curlycue about. And look, see these tracks? They belong to a fox, who has set his sights on that small rodent.

And over here, the most grand tracks of all, are about the size of my fist. I think they belong to a cat. A big cat, not the milk-and-cookies kind. And, because this storyboard is mine, I'm going to say the tracks belong to an endangered Florida panther.

By the time I finish my own walk across the mud, I've created lots of mini-stories in my head to explain the dozens more bird and animal tracks criss-crossing the mud.

They all end the same way, with a cleansing rain returning life to the pond, and with it, little boys with hands full of sand.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Chain of Events

It seems like such a bad idea. Absolutely silly. It's cold tonight.
Only 48 degrees.

But my sister-in-law Pam and her friend (my friend, too) Claire want
to go for a bike ride down to the Loxahatchee River. After dark.

I had asked them earlier what they liked to do for fun here at
Florida's Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This is it, they said. Ride
down to the river after dark. They also like to hike (and get lost),  
howl back to coyotes and laugh.

This will be fun, they say. Oh, boy. Fun. We're going to ride bikes
after dark in the cold.

My husband and I wear long pants, long sleeves and a sweatshirt over
that. We attach lights to our bikes, then pull on gloves (mine are
pretty little decorative worthless things, I've discovered.)

It's only five miles away, but it's cold. I'm not looking forward to

By the time we leave, there are seven of us. Off we go, in the dark,
in the cold, to pedal five miles away to a river we won't be able to
see in the dark and did I mention it's cold?

Right away, I discover something about bike riding at night. It's
magical. It's life in a different dimension. I slice through blackness
into blackness, where I can't see things. Yet I feel safe, enveloped.

And what I can't see can't hurt me.

Like hills. I can't see them. There's no  time to fret over
potential pain because I don't know the hill is there until I'm right
in it.

I don't fear the coyotes howling off to our left, or the animal next
to me rattling the grassy shrubs.

I'm protected by the darkness. Even when I take a spill I feel oddly
cushioned by the dark.

I can see my fellow bicyclers, because we all have lights, and I can
hear their constant chatter. I'm chatting lots, too, and smiling a
lot. And I'm having a great time. Because in this new dimension,
enjoyable chatter and spinning wheels dominate time.

We arrive at the river refreshed, then turn around for home.

Ohhh. Do we have to go home? It's not that cold anymore. And the dark is lovely. 

Can we play, just a little while longer?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wonderful Whimsy

I'm looking forward to the 20th Annual Downtown Stuart Art Festival.
Which will be next year.

Today, I'm enjoying, thoroughly, the 19th annual one especially
because of the fairy tale world I see in the art of Avner Zabari.

Zabari designs furniture, tables, chair, storage compartments, that
sort of thing. But, WOW! He does it outside the box and inside the
world of whimsy.

I want I want I WANT the fanciful chest of drawers Allen is standing
next to in the picture above. It's a wonderful, delicious, energetic,
Alice-in-Wonderland chest of drawers with a name: "Trying to Be Good."

How cool is that! A piece of furniture with a name.

Recently I bought a basket my husband calls "Texas" (as in "My keys
are in Texas." Or "The change is in Texas.") It makes sense
because the basket is in the shape of Texas. It cost $1.99.

My delightful, exquisite "Trying to Be Good" esoterically reflects its name: If it were really good, perhaps all of the drawers would
line up. It costs $3,400.

I won't buy "Trying to Be Good." But, as I said earlier, I look forward to next year's show because Zabari might return with even more fabulous furniture for me to fall down that rabbit hole with, even for just a few minutes.

Campfires and Coyotes

We decide to spend a few more days here at Florida's Camp Demo (my
nickname for Johnathan Dickinson State Park -- near Jupiter -- which
is undergoing renovation).

So we stow the lawn chairs, the dogs and the outdoor carpet, roll in
the awning, pull in the slide out and drive five miles away up the
hill to spend a few days camping with the park's volunteers in a
special section where no regular campers visit. Allen's brother and
sister are volunteers, so we have family here.

What a difference family makes.

In the other part of the campground, when the sun sets, we retreat
into our motor home to dine, read, surf, whatever.

Up here, where family mills about, we do to. We find a campfire at
Claire and Steve's (not family, but could be). We stop in. They pull
up chairs for us. Their children and grandchildren stop by. As do
Allen's siblings and their spouses.

We laugh, talk and laugh.

And we hear a raccoon scratching around just outside the campfire
light and coyotes screaming after their hunt.

It's a good night.