Desert Observations

Since Las Vegas, we’ve continued our eastbound travels with two nights in Quartzsite, Arizona, two nights in Tucson and one night in Deming, New Mexico.  Currently in  El Paso, Tx.  We try to limit the daily distance to around 250 miles per day and plan an extra night in most places to allow for an easier pace and sightseeing.  I can’t believe we once drove from Florida to Phoenix by car in less than 3 days.  It just seems more tiring with the large vehicle.  Or maybe we are getting old!  We are finding more rest areas on our current route, which has included portions of I-10.  Sometimes we only go 20 or 30 minutes between rest stops!  We had to laugh after talking to a couple of truckers who complained they were limited to 11 hours driving time per day.  Can’t image that!

With this desert theme I’m wishing we had made extra time to visit the highly recommended Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. The scenery is subtly changing, but it’s definitely desert, with sparse vegetation, dry conditions and mostly uninhabited.  Apparently we have passed through 4 different desert climates and multiple sub-climates, and both hot and cold deserts.   It’s interesting to see how this vast and mostly inhospitable land is used.

Entertainment and gambling tourism is a pretty smart use of the desert exemplified by the successful Las Vegas economy. Civilization seemed packed into a relatively small area without the sprawling suburbs you often see in metro areas.

Wild mustangs graze the desert near water sources. Since my nose was buried in the Ipad looking for an all day breakfast stop, I missed the horse photo opp. Was really sorry about that.  This photo is our memory of the mustangs.

Tomb of Hadji Ali (Americanized as “Hi Jolly”), a camel caretaker from the Middle East imported with 70 camels in 1856 for a project (ultimately unsuccessful) to explore using camels for transporting people and freight across the desert.  Hi Jolly was very popular with the locals in Quartzsite, thus the special memorial, created in 1903.  Have to wonder how a Muslim camel driver would be received here today?

Quartzsite, AZ, a town of 3600, boasts a million winter visitors taking advantage of numerous boon-docking opportunities and inexpensive RV sites.  It seemed like the middle of nowhere to us without much infrastructure other than more gravel or dirt RV spaces than you can imagine.  If you are into off-roading or rock/gem shows, the most popular local activities, this place might be a winner.

The dry desert climate is excellent for preserving aircraft.  We toured the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, made extra special by our tour guide, a retired AF aviator.  Learned that Jackie Kennedy was tasked with redesigning the color and paint scheme used by Air Force 1 above, a scheme still in use today.

Inside the museum were more fascinating aircraft. This one’s for Joe who will recognize the significance of the CAP emblem on the suspended plane. We almost missed it!  Nice to see that AF auxiliary group recognized here.

Solar farm makes sense with so much sunshine.  Large power lines noted nearby, so presumably the energy is being transferred from this remote spot to useful purpose.

Solar panel covered parking spaces are even cooler!

We found more seasonal RV resorts in Tucson in closer proximity to “stuff” although not at the same discount as Quartzsite. In October the  winter crowd is just starting to trickle in.

Spotted this Roadrunner sculpture made of recycled materials at a New Mexico rest area overlooking Las Cruces, a tribute to this desert inhabitant.  It’s quite a bit larger than the live roadrunners, which are actually pretty small, not at all like the famous one we remember from Roadrunner & Coyote cartoons.  The live ones also ran too fast to photograph.

Jerky is heavily marketed here and seems like an efficient and simple food for the desert.  Wish my carnivores agreed.

Passed several desert prisons and an area used as an internment camp during WWII.  Same territory as Sheriff Joe’s place.  Can only imagine how hot it gets in the summer. Unassisted escape would be pretty tough.

Tons of BLM public land free for camping. We might have taken advantage except for high daytime temps and we wanted electricity for AC.

At first glance thought we were seeing a moving train. Turns out the arid climate is also good for locomotive engine storage. Passed by hundreds of choo-choos  just hanging out here in the desert.

Many tacky tourist stops, with recurrent billboards to draw you in.  This one advertising “The Thing”.  We read the reviews, didn’t stop.

Pistachio orchards! Patches of greenery in the distance mean a river or some source of irrigation, and usually a town or small settlement and some sort of agriculture.

Creative private picnic shelters at a rest stop.  Shade rules!

More shaded NM picnic shelters.  Love those frequent rest stops.

Rascal appreciated the occasional grassy cultivations, this one at the Escapees Dream Catcher RV park in Deming.

Well, we’re off to the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso.  Thought that would be appropriate as our upcoming route will follow along the Tex-Mex border.

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This entry was posted on October 12, 2017.

The Unimaginable in Vegas

Our experience in Las Vegas was clouded by the mass shooting.  As chance would have it, we were on the strip at the time. Bob said it was a good thing we didn’t get a hankering to listen to live country music that night.

Bob loves Vegas and wanted to spend a full week there.   I’m a fan of the shows, not a gambler, but what the heck. Our friends Deb & Bill from St. George who come to Vegas frequently got us a free pet-friendly room at Caesar’s Palace for a couple of nights through their rewards perks.  Wow – what a treat and we enjoyed a fun weekend playing with Deb & Bill.

We left Rosy at the KOA Sam’s Town.  This was our first KOA experience after Bob came to the conclusion it just didn’t make sense to pay all the extra fees to “camp” on the strip at the Circus Circus RV Park.   It probably worked out for the best anyway, given the situation downtown.  I’m still trying to figure out how a campground chain with a tee-pee in their logo could prohibit tent camping, though.  Not that we wanted to do that or anything.

Vegas has changed since our last visit in 2006.  The economy is booming and casinos thriving, packed with young fashionable gamblers and foreign tourists. Gone from the strip are the loss-leader buffets and super cheap eats enticing casino visitors. The formerly family-friendly old downtown area appeared to have given up on family for a somewhat seedy and rowdier Freemont Street experience, with sidewalk entertainers reminiscent of Key West’s Mallory Square and outdoor DJ’s catering to an older and more middle class appearing crowd.  A zip-line over the pedestrian mall accented the craziness with human “aircraft” zooming overhead at regular intervals.

Sunday night we were tired from a late night on Saturday (for us that means midnight) and returned from a downtown outing around 10.  The guys were asleep when Deb called around 11:30 from the casino saying there was an active shooter, everyone was being evacuated to the basement and to stay in our room.  From her shaky voice the situation sounded serious.  I closed the curtains, double locked the door, turned out the lights and did a quick internet search which indicated that the heaviest police activity was  near the Mandalay.  I woke Bob to alert him and remind him not to go out to smoke during the night.  Yeah, yeah, that’s a mile away . . . and he went back to sleep.    I followed the events online until the situation was under control.  Google maps were helpful,  placing a bulls eye at the crime scene and showing all the streets in the area that were closed.  Twitter was also a good source of information, especially the local police department account.

Deb called two hours later when casino evacuees were cleared to return to their rooms.  In the morning we learned the full scope of the tragedy.  If only this event could be a game-changer in how we think and act about gun violence.  Our little household exemplifies the divergent views, from which neither of us budged following our proximity to the horrifying event:  A) It is ludicrous for people to be allowed to own an arsenal including automatic weapons and B) This is allowed by the Second Amendment.  From our glimpse of America on this trip I’m not optimistic that a big change in people’s attitudes toward guns or a willingness to consider how this issue is approached more successfully in other countries will happen anytime soon.  The gun culture is too strong.

We are getting ready to head back to Florida, which will happen at a quicker pace than our trip westward.  Travel planning has gotten easier, possibly due to more experience and also due to fewer route choices.  Bob has a general itinerary in mind and we may do more “winging it” depending upon how we feel.

Caesar’s Palace! What a beautiful place. Rascal unpredictably loved the little astro-turf dog potty area.  Well-seasoned, perhaps.

A prince’s welcome & treated like royalty.

Special dog-friendly floor too!

Such luxury for a little old guy!

And huge hallways! Wow!!!

Bob & Deb waiting to get in to Caesar’s Coliseum, a great indoor venue. Security screening and metal detectors required for access. Didn’t fully appreciate all those features until the following night.

Celine Dion – what a performer! So enjoyed her show.

Rascal skipped the show but we had to get this photo op over his wiggly protests.

Sunday night on the town with Deb & Bill at Hugo’s Cellar, wonderful long standing restaurant in the old section of Vegas.

Freemont Street.  See us flying by up there on the zip line?? Okay, we confess, that’s not us . . .

Finally!  A new bus fridge takes more coordination than a home installation.  Figure out how to obtain one of the few brands that will fit the space and coordinate delivery.  Disassemble old fridge, remove bus window, remove fridge via window, disassemble new fridge, pop inside via window, reassemble new fridge, replace window, connect  and secure. Bob took Rosy to a vendor for help and he gets credit for resolving all the painful details on this job. Yeah!

This entry was posted on October 4, 2017.

Time in the Sierra Nevadas

Surprise!!! September snowfall greeted us in Tahoe.

From Healdsburg we traveled to downtown Napa, stopped at a full hookup campground, cleaned up from 5 days of dry camping and figured out the fridge repair strategy.  We didn’t do more winery visits (Linda was disappointed in us) and enjoyed the downtown riverfront ambiance.

South Lake Tahoe was the next stop, through the Eldorado National Forest, with a steep transition in altitude and a much cooler weather forecast, thanks to both the altitude change and an approaching cold front.   We debated whether to take Hwy 50, a narrower windy road, or I-80, and Bob called it correctly.  There was heavier precipitation on I-80, resulting in multiple vehicle accidents and a fatality that day.  We experienced just a few snow flurries and wet roads on Hwy 50.

The next morning we woke up to a snowy campsite.  Low temps were in the low 20’s at night and Bob was not happy about that, stating that never again will we be camping at high altitudes in September.  If not for our planned visit with Linda, he would have lobbied to skip Tahoe and figure out a warmer alternate.  Rascal, likewise, said “What’s the deal??” and was not keen on doing his business in the sub-freezing temperatures, bundled up in a sweater and coat.   This was another no-hook-up camping experience, and while we had trouble getting reservations here months in advance, there was plenty of space so people must have bailed out with the weather.  There were many tent campers despite the frigid conditions, reminding us to stop whining and appreciate the toasty heat we had aboard.

I was more adaptable for outdoor activities than the guys and enjoyed hiking with Linda.  Linda, who is a Tahoe lover, shared some of her favorite places to appreciate the gorgeous natural surroundings. I’ve not done serious hiking in awhile and had to work hard to keep up with Linda but made it through four successive days of hiking, two with steep mountain trails.

We had an appliance repair company visit and inspect the fridge, which was officially declared “toast” and economically not repairable despite being a new purchase in February.  Bob orchestrated a replacement installation, scheduled for our Vegas stop.  We had another excuse to enjoy lots of dining out, with many delicious options in Tahoe.

From Tahoe, we headed over the hill to Carson City, which is about 2000 feet lower in elevation, drier and warmer. We camped at our friends Al and Delane’s beautiful country home, with 360 mountain views and an organic apple orchard.  What a treat and fun times catching up!

Felt like we were in a winter wonderland on the drive through the Sierra Nevadas to Tahoe.

With the nasty weather we missed out on the spectacular view of the lake coming down the hill into town. Maybe just as well with the scary steep cliff to the right.

We are going to hike up there?? Almost bailed out. The near ridge was thankfully the extent of the planned outing.

Easier hike than it looked.

Waterfall along the Tahoe Rim trail with plenty of water flowing from all the precip.

Beautiful views, well worth the walk.

Spectacular!

Meadows hike along the lake was a good alternate between hilly climbs.

So many shades of blue.

Overlooking beautiful Emerald Bay.

Warmed up toward the end of our Tahoe stay and Rascal had an outing to get his selfie on the Lake.

Bob enjoyed the dining outings and lots of indoor reading during the Tahoe visit.

Camped in Carson City.  Deer, bears, coyotes & mountain lions in the area and we were on guard for visitors.

Spotted deer from the window of Al &  Delane’s home paying a sunset visit to the orchard.

Really enjoyed our time with Al & Delane and their wonderful hospitality.

Current state of refrigeration on Rosy.  We’re really camping now!

 

This entry was posted on September 28, 2017.

Redwoods to Red Wine

Lighthouse at Crescent City, CA

The trip down the California coast was overshadowed with hurricane worries, but we were fortunate to escape the wrath of Irma.  Just a few to-do’s to repair our little rental homes in St. Pete, not requiring a change in travel plans.  No insurance claims to file, no homeless tenants.  Whew.  We know we were lucky.  Others have lost so much and had their lives totally disrupted.

We intended to do a couple of redwood forest trips, but ended up limiting redwood sightseeing to the Jedediah Smith Redwoods Grove, which came highly recommended.  The RV park where we camped nearby was nestled in a redwood forest, and parts of Hwy 101 also passed through redwood groves, so we decided we had our fill of redwoods for the time being.

Leaving Eureka, Hwy 101 departs the Pacific shoreline and we headed inland to the wine country. We have been to the Sonoma area several times and especially enjoy the town of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley.  We found a campground along the river with availability for 5 nights.  Our longtime Florida friend Linda was spending a couple of months in Tahoe, about 4 hours away, and she drove over to join us for the weekend.  She was also relieved and amazed that her home on Longboat Key had survived the storm and we were in a celebratory mood.

Linda’s a foodie and wine aficionado, and as a wine club member Linda got us into some special member-only events including a harvest party and private tasting.  It was all we could do to keep up with Linda, who has been known to do up to 12 winery visits and tastings a day.  One a day was enough for us!  We absorbed more about different grapes, wines and wine making.  I was particularly interested in how climate change is impacting wine making, and learned about the challenges this season in Sonoma, when a sudden heat wave forced an early harvest.

We enjoyed outstanding and creative food in several different restaurants.  We still don’t understand why wine is so expensive in wine country, though.  Fifteen bucks a glass for house wine in a restaurant is steep.  Leave it to Linda,  she managed to get us upgraded to an expensive reserve wine normally sold by the bottle only for that $15 bucks a glass!  The only downer was that we all missed sharing the experience with Ted, Linda’s husband, who passed away last year.  Ted was more of a beer kind of guy, very practical, with a dry sense of humor, and always fun to be around.  An avid biker, he would tolerate the wine tasting trips for the opportunity to pedal around this gorgeous countryside.  We spent time sharing memories, and making new ones.

The wine tasters in Napa and Sonoma seem younger than we remember from prior trips, and are apparently quite well off.  The Silicon Valley crowd here for the weekend, perhaps?  We felt a little old . . .

On Sunday morning we noticed our new Samsung refrigerator had died.  So we decided to feast at the bus for dinner with steak and shrimp that would otherwise soon spoil.  Even Rascal got a filet mignon, grilled and cut up for treats!  It is aggravating.  The fridge is a brand new appliance and warranty repairs are complicated.  The first question they ask is “What’s the service address?” and the answer is “It’s complicated.”   Looks like we won’t be able to hook up with a repair service at our stop in Napa, so will try to get it done when we’re in Tahoe.

Feeling solidarity with hurricane survivors who lost their power and fridge contents and are living out of coolers.  It’s still luxury camping, though!

Hiking the redwood grove at Jedediah Smith State Park. The coast redwoods can grow to several hundred feet tall, and up to 20 feet in diameter.  Some are over 2,000 years old.

Unbelievably, Highway 101 narrows for a section of redwood forest. Bob was cursing the “tree-huggers” when we drove the motorhome+car-in-tow through this section, but no boo-boos! He’s getting better.

There are numerous “Slide” signs in this part of the country, and a few places where the “Slide” apparently slid. Lots of road work taking place.

A few more peeks at the fog covered coastline before heading east.

Farewell, Pacific. Until the next trip West!

Vineyards and vineyards!

Wineries and wineries!

The beautiful grounds of Ferrari Carano, one of our favorite wineries and a stop for an afternoon tasting.

Linda wanted to do the private reserve downstairs tasting at Ferrari Carano. We non-wine experts were happy with the upstairs econo tasting room.

Harvest party at Gary Farrell winery, featuring Russian River Valley chardonnays and pinot noirs and delicious catered apps.

The Brass Rabbit – new place in Healdsburg. Complementary Tomato Water with app. Interesting.

Smoked lamb tartare & dungeness crab cake for Bob, Linda had a dual rabbit preparation pronounced to be superb.

My Ora King Salmon entree with hollandaise and tiny grilled veggies – delicious.

A peak of the Russian River from our campground

Private tasting at Merryvale in Napa, featuring the larger and more robust red wines that grow best in this valley.

Don’t tell Linda, but I’ve found a box wine in the supermarket that I find quite acceptable. Still, lots of fun tasting and learning.

 

This entry was posted on September 18, 2017.

Down the Oregon Coast

 

From Newport, we traveled south on the Coastal Highway, US 101, which mostly hugs the ocean.  Names of towns, rivers, parks and products reflect the area’s Native American Indian heritage:  Tillamook, Yachina, Yachats, Umpqua, Siuslaw, Nesika, Siskiyou, Coos, Chetco.  Here, too, as in some of our past destinations, we are reminded and ashamed that our forefathers displaced the many tribes and took their land.

The small communities along the way have their own distinct personalities reflecting residential, tourism, commercial, marine, logging, agriculture and ranching interests.  There are large swaths of park lands with  day use areas and mostly “campground full” signs.  At at one point we counted about 1 in 5 vehicles on the road was some sort of RV.

We spent two nights in the Dunes area at a state campground.  The sand dunes there are simply amazing in size, compared with what we are used to in Florida.  They are huge hills, some extending 500 feet above the sea, for a 40 mile stretch down the coast.   Sadly, according to a local guide, the dunes are slowly being taken over by non-native European beach grass imported many years ago with the intent to protect the dunes.

Bob has wanted to see an elk since New Mexico, and we finally saw some!  Another camper tipped us off to an elk viewing preserve along a stretch of road east of the town of Reedsport. Those elusive elks were not waiting for us at any of the designated viewing points, equipped with parking lots, telescope and a pavilion with education about elks and the wetlands ecology.  However, we persisted in our mission and finally spotted a few elk resting in the distance, just beyond the perimeter of the viewing area, their heads and a couple of antlers peeking over the grass.

From the Dunes, we had a longer trip (about a 3 hour drive which takes we slowpokes about 5 1/2 hours with stops) to Crescent City, California.  We had originally planned to stay in Brookings, but with the large Chetco Bar forest fire burning just a couple of miles to the east of town, decided to skip that stop.  We were concerned about getting through that area as we traveled on Hwy 101, but had no problem.  We did see firefighters, fire camps, evacuation areas, the National Guard and signs of community groups coming together to get through this disaster which has been going on since mid July and has threatened the town for the past several weeks.

Mother nature does seem to be getting her revenge.  The forest fires in this region are exceptionally severe this year and  widespread smoke and ash is a serious health concern.  I’m getting anxious to find better air quality. It has been painful to follow Harvey’s destruction in Texas, and now Irma, who seems intent on devastating so many island communities we were privileged to visit on our cruising adventure: Barbuda, St. Martin, British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos.   I am particularly sad for Barbuda, as it a small and vulnerable community, and reread our stories from that island (Breathtaking Barbuda and Spirited Barbuda) knowing it will be a long time for life there to get back to any sense of normal.  We are waiting to see how Florida and our home town of St. Pete fares.  We are making plans to cut short the rest of this adventure and get back home if there is serious damage.

Tsunami zones are marked everywhere along the coast, some with maps and walking times required to get to a safe zone. Tsunamis have been rare on this coast (12 over 3 feet since 1812) but give them credit for preparation.  Sooner or later . . .

Southbound Hwy 101. Winding and narrow in some places but not as treacherous as imagined.

Cool and shady campsites have been the norm in the coastal parks.

There are huge dunes in that fog, believe it or not!

Surprised to find that ATV’s are allowed on the dunes here (but not on the road)and are a popular form of recreation.

Here are those shy Roosevelt elk viewed through the zoom lens.

 

Got lucky on this impromptu rest stop. Discovered a great viewing point just around the corner (photo below) AND a perfect spot for breakfast across the street.  Bob is so happy when he finds an all day breakfast restaurant with accessible parking on travel days.

Example of sea stacks found along this coast – erosion-resistant rocks that have become isolated as the land is worn away over time.

A rainy travel day did not make for great views, but we got past that big fire. Not going to complain further about Mother Nature. She deserves respect.

This entry was posted on September 9, 2017.