“Where are you going?” is the unanswerable question that greets us as we set out for another road trip on our
2001 Damon Daybreak Motorhome. As usual we had some ideas for the route and this time we knew we would
turn around in Long Beach, CA because Azriel (along with Abba and Ima) is there and the Pacific Ocean limits further westward progress.
My journal will provide much of the detail, maybe more than you want, of the trip. It serves as a travelogue and
a guide for our future trips and for anyone who wants to follow in our tire tracks. To see Carol’s journal you will have to ask nicely because hers is handwritten.
Here are the pictures from the trip the journal follow:
Carol is preparing dinner as I sit with my glass of wine and contemplate the past three days. Although we had planned to leave Rochester on Sunday the 12th, the deteriorating weather and a bad case of road tripitis caused us to hurry up our preparations and get underway on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 . With NOAA and Weather .com repeating warnings of lake effect snow south of Erie it was with some trepidation that we embarked. We had water for at least a couple of nights and were sure we could make Pembroke, our closest Flying J truck stop to top off fuel and Propane. It was so and we left Flying J with full tanks and a light heart. The roads were clear and dry and it looked great.
At about Orchard Park, there must be something big there because it has a two lane exit, the lake effect began to reduce visibility. We lined up with the trucks and joined a parade that varied between 30 mph and 50 until the PA line . . . with Ohio . We knew there was an open campground we had stayed at before just into OH, but decided it would much easier to get moving from the Flying J at exit 223 in OH. We pulled in there at about 8:30 PM and after asking permission to stay the night in the RV parking area we prepared dinner and then fell sound asleep. < This is not the most restful environment, vehicles of all kinds pull in and idle their engines without any regard to possible residents of a blacked out motor home.At one point we heard the plow clearing the lot and I thought it sounded quite close. In the morning, I discovered that had I left my steps in the extended position, I might have lost them.When we awoke we had breakfast on board and proceeded to fill the gas tank and the propane tank again.During the drive to Ohio I had pulled into a T/A (Truckstops of America) to get off the road so we could use the facilities.Yet again we found that, although they advertise “RV’s Welcome” they mean you can get in but you cannot out get out. In the process of discovering this I got too close to a stanchion and bent the exhaust on my generator.This now seemed to be working poorly.In the process we had had to unhook the car and maneuver to a position so we could exit and then reconnect it.The temperature was in the 20’s and the lake effect was blowing all over. Not Fun!
Our goal for Sunday was Columbus , OH where an old friends lives. Lee Cherney and I go back to Sunday school at Temple B’rith Kodesh and later, we found ourselves as roommates at Brown. His wife is Tinya and they have started a house building business, while Lee is still a working chemist. They stopped by in Rochester this past a fall, but Carol was not around. Since Columbus was on the route we decided to make a stop. We are so grateful we did.The visit was delightful and the chance to continue to reconnect was very important. We went to dinner at The Cheese Cake Factory.Portions are very good but way too big – I left substantial amounts behind. The cheese cake is . . . cheese cake. Their house is amazing and I must say I hope they get to finish it and finish moving in. We would love to see what they do with it.
In Columbus the temperatures were below 32 F and at night it got very cold. The water supply lines in the campground (Alton Campground on US 40 west of I270) were frozen and I had to hunt for a functioning spigot within reach of my hose, which was not frozen since I had kept it in the shower to thaw). Found one and filled the tank.It was great having a hot shower, but as a result instead of having time to go to a museum we went to WalMart to buy a couple of necessities, not my idea of fun.
Monday morning, this morning as I write, we rolled out with the tentative plan of going through to Nashville , about 400 miles.As we drove I 71 southwesterly the sun warmed the cab and the outdoor temperature rose to above freezing.The sound of ice flying off the roof was a pleasant reminder of the warming trend and I did not see any of it hit vehicles behind us. Just south of Cincinnati I stopped to let Carol drive.As is my habit, I began by walking around the motor home to give a mini inspection. This time I noticed that the cable that activates the lights on the car in synchrony with the motor home lights was disconnected. Closer examination revealed that continued impact with the highway had not improved its ability to mate with the receptacle on the car. A call to a nearby campground brought the information that there was a large RV dealer not more than 10 miles from where we were and no more than 5 miles out of the way.Delightful Day RV was just that for us.They had the part I needed and while I was there one of the mechanics looked at the bent exhaust pipe and straightened it out with his hands while examining it. Perils of Paul were all resolved in a brief stop.
We revised our schedule and called ahead to Nashville to let Jerry know we were going to be a day later than planned. We pulled off of I 65 (southbound out ofLouisville ) at exit 58 into a KOA campground that we are sharing with one other motor home.It is on a ridge that overlooks the highway and is quite close to Mammoth Caves NP. By now those of you that know us understand that we seldom pass up a chance to go down into a cave or cavern. We will pass up many in this region as it appears the entire area is riddled with caves, most are commercial. Tomorrow we will get together with Jerry Bufano and Cheryl after we do theMammoth Cave tour at 9:15 . Fortunately we crossed into the Central time zone this afternoon and our bodies don’t know it yet. 10:15 is good.
Mammoth Caves is definitely worth the stop. Instead of the normal 6,000 to 10,000 daily traffic in season and on holiday weekends, we took a tour with a dozen people and they expected to serve 25 to 30 all day.Private tours for the price of the cattle car tour are really nice. The tour we were on has a cutoff of 120 tourists, in season. It was a lot of fun our way. Not sure I would put up with it otherwise. After the tour and a brief walk to the “historic” entrance we began to roll forNashville. I really had to contain myself as we drove through Bowling Green and saw the National Corvette Museum go by right after the factory where every Corvette is assembled. Next trip. We pondered stopping at Camping World but decided to press on.
Upon arrival at the KOA on Music Valley Road (that really is the name) I found a place to wash the lake effect off of the motor home. They normally charge a “nominal” $5 for the privilege of using their driveway and some water, but someone had stolen their hose and they said if I had my own I could wash it for free!Carol and I worked as a team to wash the entire rig in under 45 minutes. It felt great to be rid of the salt and filth. We thought the campgrounds were remarkably full for the time of year. It was. But most of the motor homes present were for sale by a dealer down the road.It feels kind of spooky being surrounded by mostly unoccupied motor homes. For those who are into such minutia, the closest one to us is a Damon Ultrasport – big Diesel brother to ours.
Jerry found us as we were washing Goliath and after we had a chance to set up and get ourselves cleaned up we went back to his house with him. His wife, Cheryl was working so he prepared dinner for us and we had a nice conversation until wine and the hour had taken its toll. They both seem to be doing very well. Today we toured with him this morning and got a nice taste of Nashville . After lunch he dropped us off with plans to meet for dinner. Carol and I went grocery shopping to cover ourselves for the next couple of days as we set off down the Natchez Trace Parkway . Jerry called to say that Cheryl was stuck at work again and he was feeling under the weather with a cold coming on. Never fazed, we check out the music venues and set off for Tootsie’s on Broadway. This is not our normal type of venue, nor is the music something we would ordinarily choose. The music was hard edged Country – Guitar, Bass, Hawaiian Steel Guitar and drums. The bar was raucous and smoky. It was a lot of fun and we stayed over an hour before moving on to Hard Rock Café around the corned for some quiet time and a relaxed dinnerJ.
We plan to beat the snow out of here in the morning and move on south.
Famous last words. The snow began to drift down lightly as we sat at the propane fill station at the KOA. By the time we were half way across Nashville headed for the Natchez Trace Parkway traffic was down to 30 and beginning to slip and slide. Exiting from I40, with a breath of relief we encountered worsening conditions made even worse by drivers who see real snow once in 3 years. As we continued on Old Hickory, getting up even gentle grades became a challenge.There was no salt and we have yet to see a plow. Drivers thought that to get up the grade they needed to gun the engine and spin their tires.We managed to weave through the mess and make it to SR 100, more fool I. We spent a couple of hours going the next 5 miles as each car on the road had to make a solo attempt at the one long grade around a stalled truck. The survivors then had to stop and report the problem to each car going the other way. It became a party. I called in four trades and had a cb chat with several drivers. I was at the wheel!The grade was not that difficult, Goliath walked right up it once I was sure I could go the entire way without having to stop in mid grade.
We continued our foolishness by turning on to the Parkway. There were tire tracks ahead of ours. How was I supposed to know they were made by the ranger? Once on the Parkway it became clear that we were not going to continue on south very far.The road is choked with five inches of wet heavy snow and there is no indication they plan to clear it. At the second pullout, I pulled in rather than risk putting us in a ditch. We are cozy and level and plan to be here a day or two. Total mileage for the day was 35.8. Within 15 minutes of stopping the ranger pulled in along side us and told us they were closing the gates and we should move on. I told him I felt safer sitting it out in the pullout than trying to go ten miles down the road with no safe alternative for parking. He thought this over for a couple of minutes and said he would have to report this to Tupelo. He has not been back in two hours.
It is gorgeous here in Birdsong Hollow. It has continued to snow lightly and the temperature peaked at 40 deg F. It has slipped back to 35 at 4:20 PM . We took a walk over the beautiful Double Arch Bridge which is quite an engineering marvel. We were able to look down into the valley and see cars struggling on the cross road and several people stop to help a police officer who had slid his (her?) car into the ditch. These people really have limited experience with this white stuff. We saw one guy letting the air out of his tires to get better traction! Of course sitting here stuck in a pullout does not make me look like a genius, but I did have some expectations about snow removal.
We have plenty of fuel for the generator and the furnace and plenty of water and food on board and a shovel in the basement. We are looking forward to an enforced “doing nothing” for a day or two.
Friday January 17. We slept in in our cozy campsite on the Parkway. Our only company was a brief visit by some people in a 4 wheel Drive pickup truck dragging kids on tubes behind them in the snow. This did not seem bright, but then again they had gotten around the closed gates and seemed determined to do themselves harm. They ignored us after buzzing by our parking place twice. Walking around in the morning I could find no large animal sign, they too were ignoring us.I called into the Parkway emergency center after breakfast to let them know we planned to start moving and wanted the southern gate opened when it was convenient for them. Within minutes the rangers who had stopped by the previous day were along side. They had already been on the way to check up on us. We had a brief palaver and agreed that we would wait for them at the gate. They had to continue on to the northern gate to be sure there was no one else stranded. The going was very slow for the next 8 miles as the only opening in the snow was a couple of trips by the ranger and the children in the pickup truck during the evening. I was able to maintain a fairly steady 10 mph up and down grade. It was really great to know there was no one else on the road. I could use the whole width of the road.
The rangers had left the gate through their maintenance area open, case we did not care to wait. The turn in looked sharper than I wanted to deal with so I pulled on up the gate to wait.These two men were very nice to us.When Carol asked if they had any NPS maps for the Parkway with them, the driver drove to the maintenance facility to get one two for us while his associate stood by the closed barrier to pull it aside for us when we came through. My fond thoughts about the rangers was enhanced later in the day when we stopped at the Meriwether Lewis site and the rangers there told me that they had heard of our situation on the northern Parkway and were interested in how we had made out.At this point the road was still full of snow and the track was mostly ice. We drove fifty miles down the trace before we began to see consistent clear pavement in the track.We got off the Trace at the turn for Lawrenceburg, not because we cared to go there, butDavid Crockett State Park there had something we really needed, a sanitary dump station, there are none on the Trace. We also took advantage of the turn to fill the gas tank. The park is gorgeous.It seems to have fine facilities, but enough were closed off and the roads blocked that getting out got to be a bit of a game. The restaurant in the park offered a very Tennessee menu, catfish or meat loaf.We gave it a pass and drove on back to the Trace to find a convenient lay by for lunch.
Soon we entered Alabama .By this point the snow had vanished from the grass and the road was clear. It was still 30 or 32 degrees F. The car was still covered with snow from the storm. For that matter as I write this it is still mostly covered with snow. I will not attempt to give you the history and details of the Trace and the Parkway.If you are interested, do a Google search on Natchez Trace, you will find all of the NPS handouts on line.In Alabama we crossed the Tennessee River and later the TennTomWaterway. After 40 miles of AL we entered Mississippi. This is one of those states I have never had a desire to visit. However the Trace and sights we have never seen have drawn us here.
We stopped at the Tupelo VisitorsCenter for the Parkway at about 4:20 , they close at 5.The video was, as usual, excellent and provided a lot of explanation that was otherwise lacking. One of the rangers, a youngster, got all excited when he saw the snow on the car. He asked if he could have it, a request that was greeted with equal enthusiasm on our part. He went to make a snowball and hurl at another staff member. Snow is not real common in northern MS. When we explained where the snow had come from, they wanted to know the details of the road conditions because they had been trying to dissuade drivers from running that far north all day.We continued on from there a few miles to a Passport America campground we had found in the book.Nice place, really cheap.
Next to our camp ground outside of Tupelo , birthplace of Elvis, is a restaurant. Carol and I walked in to check out the menu. It is a very Mississippi menu, catfish and rib eye steaks and grilled chicken. The room looks like a large bare room with folding tables and folding chairs setup to accommodate up to 75 people or so. We seriously considered eating there just for the local color. Looking at the menu we remembered that Carol is a “strict” vegetarian and used that to make a graceful exit back to Goliath for a delicious chicken dinner.Tomorrow we will continue south. There is supposed to be a hard freeze tonight. If all goes well we will eventually reach someplace we can put away our winter coats. We plan to stop in Jackson and Vicksburg tomorrow and we have no idea where we are likely to be staying.
Today we covered 225 miles in about 8 hours. Considering the start and the fact that the maximum speed on the road is 50, this was a lot of territory. I did not think we would get this far today. Had the weather been better we probably would have spent less time driving and more time sightseeing.
Saturday, January 18, dawned clear and cold, we have got to keep moving south, I want to be able to connect the water and sewer hoses and use them without fear of freezing them solid. We want to be able to walk out without a coat and I want the furnace to shut down for 45 minutes at a time. We moved on down the parkway unwinding the skein of the “Kaintucks” who used this pathway to walk back to Kentucky after rafting their goods down to Natchez .Along the way we made several stops. The most fascinating to me are the Indian Mounds, both burial and temple mounds that are a major mark of the Chickasaw and further south the Choctaw Indians. We continued on to Rocky Springs Camping and Historic area on the parkway. We are fans of a mystery author named Nevada Barr whose main character is a National Parks Service Ranger. One of her juicier stories takes place in the Rocky Springs area. It was really fun to walk the trails and see the sights that she described in her story.That was how we first heard about the Parkway and as we got closer to Rocky Springs it became clear that both of us wanted to camp there if possible. We pulled in to find the campground infested with Boy Scouts. It was Saturday night of MLK weekend. There was one pull through campsite left and I pulled in as quickly as I could.We were in place. In typical NPS fashion it was very well laid out and had no services whatsoever. We knew this and had ample fuel, propane and water on board.
We set out for the nearest town, Port Gibson, in hopes of finding a decent place to eat. As described in the novel, there was nothing that looked hopeful. We continued on to Vicksburg where we found Borrellos, a very nice Italian restaurant. After dinner we walked down the embankment to Harrah’s. One look inside the casino was enough. We got back in the car and headed for Rocky Springs.
In the morning we took our time. We went for a walk along a section of the old trace. This section is called sunken and gives new meaning to the term. Those of us who have hiked in the Adirondacks or any other heavily trafficked area are familiar with trails that are as much as two or three feet deep. This section of the trace is over ten feet deep and wide enough to easily pull a horse cart through. The loess that makes up the area is very soft and very subject to erosion. From the trail markers we learned that most of the erosion of this trace is from the era when the trace was in active use, a period that ended with the development of the paddle wheel steamer able to go up the Mississippi River. We visited the sight of the town of Rocky Creek which was abandoned in 1903. As we prepared to leave I noticed that our neighbor had his hood up and I stopped to ask if he a problem. He showed me the broken headlight that appeared to be the only significant damage from his contact with a deer on the trace the previous night. The tow bar mechanism on the front of his car had taken the bulk of the impact and saved him and his wife from much more serious damage and injury. We moved on with even greater wariness when we saw deer moving in the woods. At the Natchez terminus we left the Trace and decided to move on to New Orleans without spending any more time inMississippi . We were sad to leave behind the quiet and limited traffic of the Trace, but anxious to get on to New Orleans , “the Big Easy.”
We found our way down I 55 and on to I 10 eastbound into the New Orleans area. The hammering of the highways was painful; I don’t know how they tolerate such lousy roads.From our conversations with other drivers it is clear that this is endemic to this part of the South. We made our way into KOA West, just off the river, and after taking some time to set up. We decided to venture into the French Quarter for dinner and entertainment. We had missed the last shuttle and we set off with directions in hand to get only moderately mixed up trying to stay next to the river. With only a couple of stops for remapping or asking directions we made it to the parking lot that had been described as the cheapest in the area. Dinner was oysters on the half shell at a classic oyster bar followed by a walk on Bourbon Street and main course at Olivier’s on Decatur (this may mean something to you if you have been in N’awlins within your memory).The ride back to the campground was much easier than our trip in.
The next day we took the shuttle in at 9 and spent the day touring and walking.We had an excellent walking tour of the St Louis #1 Cemetery.Getting there was a guided walk through the French Quarter with history and architecture. This was beyond the scope of the tour we had booked and was much appreciated. We had lunch on the veranda of a bar at the corner of St Louis and Bourbon Street . It was nice to sit in the sun and dine outdoors. After an afternoon of wandering in and out of shops and galleries we caught the shuttle back to KOA. There we cleaned up and prepared for dinner with a high school friend of Carol’s, Barry Bisbee. We spent a delightful dinner hour with Barry and he and Carol caught up on a lot of years. It was great fun, even for me, and then we went back to Goliath for a good night’s sleep and preparation for moving on, we will probably come back, but big cities are not our major interest when on the move.
On the morning of Tuesday, January 21, we got up rested and set about some much delayed maintenance. It was short sleeve and shorts weather. After verifying with the office that it was permitted, I decided to wash Goliath again.I really hate to have to see it all covered in the grime of winter. Besides it gets into the locks and everything begins to not work well. Now the car was clean, from a carwash the night before and the motor home was gleaming, Carol had gotten the interior clean too. We could hitch up and start rolling. We avoided I 10 and using lesser roads (but not much lesser) we set out for south central LA.This brought us toLafayette where we have been happily ensconced for a couple of nights. If the temperature had not begun a dive for 30, we might be staying on, but freezing hoses are in store for tonight, if I don’t get them in, and more cold is called for tomorrow. Touring in the South is not fun in 40 degree weather. The only advantage is that there is no competition for parking J.Carol just got off the phone with Leigh Patterson, a young lady we know in Austin, TX and we will be setting up in her area on Friday. Haven’t figured how we will get there without I 10, but we’ll give it a try.
Today, Wednesday the 22nd, we did a swamp tour, burr, it never got over 50, which may sound warm to you, but in an open boat for a couple of hours it gets chilly.We had the tour to ourselves and got to see a lot of birds, especially Snow Egrets, nesting. These birds have been brought back from near extinction and are gorgeous to see.They were mixed in with Great Blue Herons and cormorants also just beginning to nest. Then after lunch in a really old bar/grocery/general store, we set out for Avery island and the tour of the Tabasco Pepper Sauce factory. Great fun, we definitely recommend the visit there and to the JungleSwamp Garden on the Island . We are preparing to go out and drain our hoses so they won’t freeze up in the night.
Thursday, January 23, 2003 , we got up to the expected cold. Actually it is even bitterer than we expected. The wind just cuts through everything.We had a relaxed breakfast and then got everything together for the highway. Pulling out onto 90 into morning traffic began the day’s excitement. We rolled about ¼ mile to the U-turn loop and managed to swing around to head West without any major excitement. Looking at the map had convinced me that the alternatives to I 10 were pretty ugly and would result in many additional miles with little gain in scenery. Cajun Louisiana is working country. At every turn you see petroleum industry yards. Pipes, derricks, mud suppliers and acres of producing fields, make up the scenery from every road we have been on. It seemed it would be more comfortable to get up on I 10 and move into new territory. As we passed through Crowley, LA we saw the rice and crawfish producing capital of Louisiana . They are actually grown on the same land. When the rice field is drained the crawfish adults dig down into the mud and lay their eggs which go through a life cycle I will not describe to be harvested when they mature and crawl out of the mud. Then the field is planted in rice. It is an interesting dual use of the land. As we continued on I 10 we passed through Lake Charles which has a lot of petroleum industry, including a refinery as well as hunting and fishing resources. None of this is of personal interest so we kept moving.
By late morning we were entering Texas . Everything is bigger in Texas , even their Welcome Center (did I say this last year too?). We made three quick stops, the welcome center, Flying J for gasoline and propane and finally a rest area for lunch. We called ahead to the Artesian Camp Ground in Brenham , TX. This is the seat of the area where the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Texas took place, half way between Austin and Houston. Getting through Houston proved more challenging than expected. It seemed so straightforward, go north on I 610 around to 290 west and there you have it.Great concept, but the signage at on point confused both of us and Carol, at the wheel, ended up on a ramp to I 45 south with no recourse. I had been memorizing the map of the immediate area, a bad habit I have, and realized that as long as we could stay ahead of the rush hour, it was trivial to continue back to I 10 and take I 610, which is a loop, back to 290. I think we went 5 miles extra and had only a mild upset over the error. We both had read the signs the same and were surprised at the result. The next trick was finding the campground which should have been easy since it is directly on 290. It is, however, on the South, eastbound, side of a divided highway on which we were westbound. Once again we were confronted with finding a turnout in the mall at 70 mph. Traffic broke for us and it became easy to pullover left and make the swing through the U-turn slot and pull across to the campground. Nice place, we will mark it as a return the next time we are by this way.
Friday we left Goliath and went in search of the local attractions in Brenham.We got to Blue Bell Creamery just in time for the tour. It was a great tour, great ice cream, and a fun time. This was an hour well spent. Other attractions did not seem worth waiting for a tour or even not waiting for a tour.We would like to see the miniature horses at the convent, but enough is enough, we went back to the camp ground and hooked up to Goliath and set off for Austin . Other than the usual fussing over finding a strange place in a strange city with plenty of traffic the drive was uneventful. We are settled in McKinney State Park just outside of (?) Austin. We may actually be in Austin according to the map. We have spoken to Leigh and are waiting for her to return the call with plans. I have spoken to the Exec Secretary of Temple Israel and have directions from the campground for tomorrow morning.
I’ll write about the weekend in my next journal, it was wonderful; we are headed off for west Texas and may not have acceptable internet connection for a while so I want to get this off now.
Friday night we joined Leigh and Patrick at a Mexican restaurant on S. Congress in Austin .Leigh is a lovely young lady who we recognized immediately although we had last seen her some 18 years ago when she was 14.She has grown into a self possessed mature young woman, who has ideas about what she wants to do with her life.Her beau, Patrick also seems to be quite mature and set on a course in life. We talked over dinner until the Indian (that’s from the sub continent) group started performing.We were two tables away, which effectively put an end to conversation. As the set was wrapping up we took our leave and after some hemming and hawing we ended up in a quiet coffee house where talk continued.
The next morning we attended services at TempleIsrael . They use Gates of (light) Blue – backwards – and took the traditional route all the way through. It was a lovely service and their Torah cantillation class chanted the portion. They have pulled up the first five or six rows of pews and put in flex seating with a reader’s table at floor level, in the midst for the Torah. Rabbis and Cantor used the bimah tables – interesting variant.
As services were ending we called Leigh and by prearrangement met them at her house.We went to lunch at the Driskill Hotel Café (if you ever get to Austin you won’t miss the Driskill, nor should you). This is an original rancher hotel that has been beautifully restored and is quite lovely. After that we toured the capital and walked as much of the gallery scene as we could. Late afternoon we went to Leigh’s house where we continued talking while she prepared a lovely dinner. After dinner we parted, for now, and returned to the camp ground and our comfy home on wheels. If things work out for them, the next time we see them they will be in San Francisco.
The next morning:
Wow! While sitting at breakfast this morning, Carol looked out the window and called my attention to what seemed to be a large catlike animal in the campground across the road from us. Once it moved I was able to see that it appeared to be a large cat, much larger than Charlie!It actually seemed to stand a couple of feet or more at the shoulder and it had a mostly black coat.As it moved off it was beautiful to watch, if a bit sinister. Later, as we were leaving the campground, I stopped at the ranger station at the entrance to report what we had seen. They said that from my description and several others that it was a panther. They did not seem pleased to have such an animal roaming in the camping area. I am sure the owners of the dog we saw tied up outside their RV would have moved the dog inside had they known.
We came across US 290 from Austin to I 10 and rather than getting fancy, we broke out the books on tape and just rolled along I 10 for the rest of the day. This section of Texas is magnificent. After we moved out of the Hill Country we entered vast plains with mesas all around us. This is the country of the Wild West movies and travelogues and yes even great car commercials. As we rolled along we eventually got tired of saying “oh, look” but we could not stop saying it.Eventually we came to an area with pump jacks going along the road and vast miles of wind turbines marching off into the distance. The numbers dwarfed what we had seen on Gaspe this past summer and I am sure, since this is Texas , they even dwarfed the number in the pass above Palm Springs, CA . We drifted into Fort Stockton as the sun was setting and got ourselves positioned and hooked up in the fading light. Finally there are no clouds hanging over us and we had our sunglasses on for the last two hours of the drive. The temperature is still lower than we are seeking, but it looks to be getting better as we move west. Maybe tomorrow we will find 60’s or even 70’s.
The next morning, it must have been Monday, we moved right out with a plan of stopping in Las Cruces , NM for a couple of days for yet another visit. This time we will be visiting Leora Zeitlin, the daughter of Marianne and Zvi Zeitlin. We found our way to RV Doc’s Campground a block from the HistoricCenter , MesillaPlaza , of Las Cruces . After talking with Leora, I started doing some maintenance tasks that I had been putting off because of the cold and the lack of time. With those out of the way and full use of our water and sewer facilities, we showered and we set out for dinner on the Plaza. After dinner we got laundry done and cleaned up some after conversing with people we met in the laundry for an hour or so.
We had plans to meet Leora at her home at 3:30 in the afternoon, so with a reasonable early start we set off for Aguirre Springs BLM Recreation area (Bureau of Land Management) in the Organ Mountains. We had read about a couple of trails and have not taken the time for any serious hiking yet.We found the trailhead for Pine Forest Trail after a long drive over a steep, narrow, twisty mostly one way road.The guides said the loop should take from 2.5to 3 hours. As we climbed the first half of the loop I wondered how accurate that time estimate really was. We kept climbing until we well above the snow line we had seen from the trailhead and yet the trail kept going up. We started noticing cat scat along the trail, not kitty cat, but mountain lion. It seemed we were hiking in area some large cat had claimed for its own. Finally, after 1 ¾ hours, we saw the sign for the midpoint and the primitive campsite located there. After a break for raisins and water, we resumed the trek which now began to descend rather steeply.The cat sign was still with us, although that was all we saw of this cat. The descent brought us back to the car in 3 ¼ hours or so. This is not bad for us, although we used to be able to move faster in our youth.We had not seen anyone since we had started the drive into the area. Now we saw a couple of BLM workers cleaning up a campsite where a tree limb had fallen across the picnic table. We got in our car, after thanking them for the work that made the trails a delight to hike on and began our return to civilization.
As usual Carol had something to mail. We had noticed a post office sign as we went by the town of Organ, so I pulled in and located the post office. Carol went in to post the gifts and she came out beaming, she had located a place for lunch. It is the Moon Gate restaurant.We were warned not to pay attention to the appearance, it said dive, truck stop, bad idea as we drove up.We went in and found friendly people, good substantial and cheap eats. It is on the right just out of Organ, NM westbound on 70, should you happen to be in the vicinity at meal time.
We were left with no time to shower and clean up before meeting Leora. So we went as we were. This was another wonderful meeting. Leora and her family have a lovely home and the children were a pleasure to meet.After a couple of hours we left with an invitation to come again next year and spend some time with them. We returned to the campground after doing some shopping and cleaned ourselves up for dinner at La Posta, a must see for tourists. The food was excellent, plentiful and quite inexpensive for all the hype the place has. We are settled in Goliath for the night. Tomorrow we will point the wheels west again. It may be a short run toSilver City with stops in City of Rocks State Park and Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. That is so long as something else does not catch our fancy on the road.
Well, uh, we never did get past City of Rocks with the motor home. The place was so interesting and the campground so nicely laid out with one spot remaining, just for us, that we had to set up camp. There are many rock formations standing 30 to 40 feet high in a group that looks like buildings with streets and plazas among them. They are in the middle of the desert with no seeming geological reason for being here.They have been used by natives going back centuries for shelter and to establish a temporary home. The park, as New Mexico State Park , is set up with campsites and picnic areas right among the formations. There is one slightly separate area that is set up with electric and water for RVs and that is where we are, still only a few steps from the formations. After setting up camp, we put together lunch and other hiking supplies and set off for Gila Cliff DwellingNational Monument . This area was occupied by natives in the late 1200’s for a period estimated to be about 20 years. The total population is estimated to have been about 60. They built elaborate structures within the caves. No one is sure what each structure was used for nor is there good information as to why they came or why they left. The area is blessed with nonstop year round water from the Gila River which runs along the base of the cliff. The road there was an exciting drive with many turns and hills. As we climbed we saw warning of ice and eventually snow along side the road. Other signs warn that they don’t plow on weekends or in the night. The air temperature was shirt sleeve comfortable.
For the return to City of Rocks , I took the wheel and we chose to take an alternate route that we had been warned to keep Goliath off of. Good warning, some of the turns felt too tight for the Infiniti. It was amazing to descend through a series of turns that had me sawing the wheel from left to right and back several times in succession, even at fairly slow speeds.It is as if the Olympic Ski judges had set a slalom course for skiers and a crazy road builder mistook it for plans for a road.Although the return journey was fewer miles, it still took as long. We got back to the campground in time to prepare dinner and start to set plans for tomorrow’s impromptu travel.
As we were waking up this morning it seemed ludicrous to move on without exploring further so we didn’t. While I went to the Visitors Center to use their hot shower, they have no sanitary dump facility for us; Carol went to shoot some pictures in the early light.After she took her shower we regrouped for a leisurely breakfast before going out to explore the formations right here.I also took care of some business calls while waiting for Carol. The phone service is a reminder of what it used to be like all the time in the pre digital days.“CAN YOU HEAR ME?” That also will explain why this is quite delayed in being dispatched. After spending the rest of the morning wandering among the rock formations, we will post pictures eventually; we adjourned to the rig to change to slightly less casual clothes to go into Silver City. We wandered there until we found a back street Mexican joint for really good hot green salsa.Then we went out to find the art gallery area promised in the guide book. The first three galleries yielded two really fine collections and we got really excited about the art scene in Silver City. Alas, except for the second location of Eklekitas, that was it for the fine art scene.The other fine gallery was Christine’s Silver City Gallery. Actually for a city the size of SilverCity, this was still an amazing find. While there we visited the “Big Ditch.” This is where Main St used to be before a series of floods washed it out and left it 55 feet below the level of the rest of the town. We noticed that many streets had very high curbs, several feet in some cases and the roads that lead down to the ditch all seemed to have reverse crowns.
When we finally returned to the car I had a sinking feeling when the doors would not unlock on command. I had left the head lights on and drained the battery.Fortunately there was a garage across the street and a mechanic was agreeable to bringing over their starter box and getting me going. While we walked, he explained in response to my question that when it rains in the mountains above the town the water runs right down through the streets and frequently will rise above the curbs as it drains toward the Ditch. They seem to be inured to this hardship, much as Rochester seems to cope with the snow (some of us by getting out). With the engine running to recharge the battery, we made several stops for errands as we returned to City of Rocks where Carol is now preparing dinner. We stopped the car in position to hook up for towing in the morning.
The next day, Friday, was uneventful. We departed City of Rocks at about 9 AM and drove through SilverCity and on down NM route 90 to Lordsburg where we picked up I 10 westbound into Arizona. As we drove we reviewed our memory of the Benson, AZ campground we stayed at last year and decided it was not special enough for a return visit if we could have similar facilities for half the money. Pato Blanco seemed to offer the same amenities and accepts Passport America 50% off discount membership. Once again we are staying in a Passport America campground. The biggest negative, aside from the gravel parking lot aspect is the proximity of I 10.We are about 100 yards from the right of way. It has not disturbed our sleep yet.The swimming pool was delightful and the laundry facilities are very nice and clean. Although they do not have a POP (point of presence better known as a local phone number) for any national internet providers, they have provided a free log in facility through a local provider. It has limited my ability to get bulk email out, but everything else has worked fine.
Yesterday, Saturday, we awoke to the dreadful news of the loss of Columbia. After wallowing in the CNN/NBC/MSNBC etc morass of endless reporting of the same lack of information and knowledge for an hour or so over breakfast, cleanup and preparation, we set off for a day of investigation and hiking. Our first intended visit was the museum at Fort Huachuca (wha-choo-ca). Getting on to the post was a non trivial exercise. It included presenting license, registration and insurance papers to get a permit, followed by a check of our photo ID to get through the gate. In all of this no one could provide clear directions to the museum other than to say “follow the signs, it’s clearly marked.” For anyone who has ever ventured on to an active duty Army post you know that their idea of clearly marked and a tourist’s idea are two different things. I was grateful to find my way back off the post with loss of no more than 15 minutes. I could have gotten thoroughly lost in the 170,000 acres of post had I not realized early on that this was not working. We found our way to the Sierra Vista visitor’s center where we were provided with a map of the post and clear directions. We also were guided to Ramsey Canyon nature Conservancy site which is known for its hummingbird viewing. We skipped the fort and headed for Ramsey Canyon.
We had a lovely 4 hours at Ramsey Canyon which started with lunch in the car. We had picked up Subs from the Subway shop in Sierra Vista and found that we could not picnic in the conservancy area. Then we took a 4 mile hike up to an overlook and back that took us about 3 hours.
The view from the overlook was phenomenal and worth the effort. Unfortunately we saw very few birds. On the return we saw a family of Coue’s Deer alongside the trail and we stopped to take pictures. After a visit with the volunteers in the gift shop we headed back out to the main road toCoronado Monument. This is an area that commemorates Coronado ’s expedition to find the fabled seven cities of gold. This time we got to drive to Montezuma’s Pass from which we climbed to the top of Coronado ’s Peak. As we stood on the peak we could see the shadow of the mountain range we were on extending over the land we were about to drive through and decided to begin our descent. As we returned to the valley floor we decided to continue the loop we had begun by turning further south, not too much since Mexico was not a mile away, and east towards Bisbee. The sky was darkening as we entered Bisbee and it was too early for dinner so we pressed on. Further north on that road we knew wasTombstone , THE Tombstone of Gunfight at the OK Corral fame. We have been there once before. Tonight we decided to see if we could find some music and dinner in Tombstone. As we pulled in I spied Big Nose Kate’s Saloon on the main drag. We remembered the story of Big Nose Kate from our previous visit and elected to see what the saloon had to offer. It was her Bordello in the time she owned it after Doc Holliday, her husband, was gunned down in the OK Corral across the street. The characters were fun and very local. The music was very cowboy western as you might imagine and the food was limited to pizza or hotdogs.We had pizza with our beer and margarita and danced and enjoyed the music until it seemed time to head back to the tameness of our campsite in Benson.
We met a neighbor on an adjacent site when we first got to Pato Blanco. I noticed him leading a grown man out the door of his motorhome. At first I presumed the man was blind or otherwise incapacitated. I quickly learned that that was an understatement. John, seeing us sitting relaxing came over and introduced himself and asked a favor.He needed to go to the office to get change and had to leave his son for a few minutes. The “boy” of 36 had suffered brain damage at the age of 10 months and was arrested at that mental age.I agreed to keep an eye on him as he played in his inflatable pool with a large bag of pinto beans.Todd never even noticed that he had been left and continued to play contentedly for the few minute his dad was gone. We must always count our blessings. John had just discovered RVing and it was liberating for him since he was now able to travel with Todd and not feel tied to one location with him.
Today, Sunday, we woke to more sun and some wind. After breakfast we set out for a couple of sites about 30 miles to the east of us.The first was Apache Station Wildlife Observation area. From this raised dike alongside Wilcox Playa one can see a large flock of Sandhill Cranes. That is if they decide to come there when you are there. They didn’t. appear.The wind was kicking up, there were dust storms all around us and it was mid day, not a great birding time. We continued down the road to Cochise Stronghold where you can see the Cochise Fortress. There is no building. Cochise and his people withdrew into the Dragoon Mountains and could use the canyons, valleys and woods as their fortress. While Cochise was not an honorable person, however that is no excuse for the way he and his people were treated. Like so many other stories of how we stole the Native’s land and culture from them this too is a story, ultimately, of invader taking what is perceived as valuable with no regard to the original owners of the land. We drove into the “fortress” and found a lovely campground with a very active host who welcomed us and guided us to appropriate sites for parking and picnicking. We then took a hike into Cochise Spring and a bit above it. Again, the primary interest on our part was birds and wildlife. We climbed for some time with few birds being apparent. Eventually we came upon a tree that seemed to host a fair number of birds. Among the birds were several Bridled Titmouse. This bird is fairly common down here, but its range is strictly southwest so we had not seen one before, add another bird to the ill kept life list. At the campsite we saw several Acorn woodpeckers playing. A quick check of the bird book showed that we first saw this bird a year ago in Julian CA when were traveling with Dan, Malena and the children. After this we left to return to Goliath. Since we were driving right by we stopped again at the Apache Station, to no avail.Onward to Safeway for a major shopping and then to the motorhome for cleanup and dinner.
On Monday we drove the motorhome 43 miles to Tucson where we pulled in Beaudry RV for an oil change. Having no idea how long they would be we booked into their RV Resort for the night. The check in desk is more like the front desk of a luxury hotel. All the staff runs around in golf carts and the place is immense. I think that between the coaches in for service, at the park and on the sale lot there must be $1 billion worth of coaches here. I am allowing nothing for the cars towed b each of us. They are setting up for a huge sales show here this weekend. We cannot get away fast enough. However, while we were waiting, I could not resist hooking up with a salesman and looking at some coaches. We even got to take a very nice unit out for a test drive. For the rv’ers who may read this it was a Dolphin LX 34 foot on a Workhorse chassis with the Allison transmission. It is very nice.We are not about to buy so soon, besides they had nothing that met our requirements in terms of floor plan.We set up Goliath on our assigned pad and after dinner and a nights sleep we have no idea where we will be going.The two most likely destinations are Quartzite and then Joshua Tree National Monument, but that may change by the time the wheels are rolling.
Tuesday found us uprooting ourselves yet again. Our roots don’t seem to go very deep, about as deep as the six inch spout on our . . . I guess that simile is not really appropriate so I’ll let it go.In any event, by 9 Am we were out on I 10 headed for I 8 and Yuma, AZ. This drive was not to be totally without incident. Somewhere west of Phoenix Carol, at the wheel, commented that the overwide mobile home in front of us seemed to be shedding something from its roof or side.As she moved to pass it, the driver swerved in front of us and a gust of wind ripped several shingles off of its roof.Carol had no place to go; there was a car along side and large truck tailgating us. We took a shingle full on the driver’s window, at 70 mph. The window held without even a mark, but you can believe we were shaken and upset.I called 911 to report the facts so they might pull this driver down and get some repairs made to prevent this form happening to someone else. I felt better for having done this; I doubt there was any action.
Several minutes later we pulled into a rest area and the driver that pulled in next to us was shaking from an incident with a small car that had slowed to 25 – on the 75 mph interstate – without signaling. This had resulted in the driver of the large diesel pickup with a sizeable fifth wheel trailer trying to come down from 75 to 25 very rapidly, so rapidly that he pulled alongside the small car on the shoulder, there being no room to the left.As he finished recounting this tale, the small car pulled in and parked 15 feet away. The driver was very young and inexperienced and when the driver of the tow vehicle explained how close they had all come to losing their lives he was quite shaken. Not more then 30 minutes later we were overtaking him when we saw him pull to the shoulder AND turn on his four way flashers as he once again slowed to a near stop. His car may not have been fixed, but he seemed to have learned a lesson. This was enough excitement for any day and we were glad to pull into Shangri-La RV Resort at about 3 and set up for a couple of days.
After taking some time to wash up and relax, we got in the car and headed for Algadones, Mexico . As instructed we parked in the Native American run parking lot at the border and walked over. We walked into as weird a scene as I can imagine. Every building advertised a dentist, some also advertised refraction and fitting of glasses – two hours wait. The pharmacies had huge signs listing the prices of drugs for sale over the counter. It seems that almost anything a doctor could prescribe was available for the asking at supposedly very low prices. We saw tomoxifen and other such drugs among those listed.
All of this is set among a scene out of a Middle Eastern shuk. The streets are lined with vendors of every kind of junk you can imagine. It all was closing down at about 5 PM .The parking lot is locked at 8. the restaurants were all closing. We left, grateful that we do not need the meds being offered and even more grateful that we don’t need to return to this scene. We could not find the supposed historic Yuma Downtown. We saw the signs, but no sign of anything worth stopping for. We ended up stopping at an Outback for dinner. It is not as bad as we feared, actually the food was pretty good and they were able to provide Carol with a veggie alternative.
With some persistence, on Wednesday, we found Old Yuma downtown. They do not mean to keep it a secret, but there is very little reason not to. As we walked the length of the street we were shocked to find far more than half of the shop fronts vacant and most of the rest were schlock, a straight 10 on the TQ (Trash Quotient) scale of 10. We found one gourmet shop which was wonderful and appeared totally out of place on the street. We moved on to the Yuma Territorial Prison which is located on a promontory above what was once the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers. The history of the site is really sad, and it’s main reason for being a place to visit is its use over the years in westerns. One of the doorways has had its lintel lowered so that cowboy actors who were short would look taller as they walked through. Our tour guide was a state parks ranger who was giving her first tour. Carol commented on her not being ready for prime time, and I countered that the voiceovers on the video were also made by rank amateurs. A third of the site was sold to the Union Pacific for a relocated rail line in the 60’s.They excavated their third of the hill including most of the women’s block and entire western wall at the time.
After a lovely lunch back in the historic district we began a search for galleries.We found two pottery studios with lovely stuff and one gallery with thirty local artists on display. The pickings are really slim. Yuma is basically a frontier town thriving on its location and climate. There is not much else here.We concluded the day with a search for the Quechan Tribal museum located at old FortYuma . As always the directions were sketchy. We crossed the Colorado and took a right following signs and intuition to a building that looked either closed or abandoned on the reservation. It had a sign and turned out to be open. Inside was an exhibit put together many years ago that takes the Quechans from their contact with the Spaniards in the 1500’s to the 1950’s. They are the only tribe that was not forced off their own land by the US Government.They were forced into BIA schools and attempts were made to force them into the “white man’s” way without giving them the freedom to choose. The conqueror continues to make the rules. The Quechan’s do get one last laugh, they own the land nearest the border at Algodones and they exact a $3 parking toll for all of those who choose to walk across.
We are planning to stay in tonight, Carol has a menu idea that she has not chosen to share with me yet. Tomorrow, Thursday, we plan to move north to Quartzsite or someplace in the area and then on into Twenty Nine Palms on Friday. Since we have already booked the space we will actually, probably, arrive there on Friday.I have not located a synagogue of any denomination there, yet. We will try when we arrive, I don’t have any great hope.
Thursday:We made it to Quartzsite with no problems, 78 miles of desert makes for a relatively straight and level route.This place is an interesting phenomenon.Before I 10 was built there was a post office and a general store. There was no crossroads, US 95 passed through from Yuma to Parker and eventuallyLas Vegas . I 10 crosses US 95 and created the milieu that now exists. Business Loop I10 extends about three miles parallel to I 10 and about a quarter mile north. This creates two (2) exits for Quartzsite. The desert is managed by BLM which permits camping in most of the flat places that are not directly in the flash flood plain. In open areas limited time camping with no facilities is free. In closer in areas long term visits, over 30 days, are permitted and a small fee is charged.No facilities are provided. Both along Business I 10 and various side roads there are a myriad of campgrounds offering all levels of service from dry camping to full hook ups and a restaurant. The prices vary accordingly. We claimed a piece of desert within one of those campgrounds with water and electric, sufficient for one night.
We set off to see what is so special about this place. It is mostly desert enhanced by vendors of everything imaginable. The classic garage sale comment comes to mind, “I am looking for something I just can’t live without.” We looked and we found, stuff! A phone for the coach for $5, still in its original packaging from who knows how long ago, a belt to replace the very disreputable black leather one I have been using for 13 years, bungee cords of just the size I was looking for, a sewing kit and a gift or two. The range is from gorgeous Indian jewelry to everything needed to make jewelry to anything one might need to make life on the coach more comfortable. Take all the handcrafters you have seen at Corn Hill and Park Ave Fest and every other festival you have seen and put all of the non local ones in one of four swap meet areas around the four corners I described and you might begin to get the picture. They are beginning to pack up as the major inundation of RVers has swept on through for this season.By the next week or so those that do not stay year round will be gone until next year. There is much else to do in the area if we were staying on. Many of the best wilderness hiking locations are more convenient to us here than in Yuma. Maybe next year we will come here sooner to reach those areas, or maybe not. We are sort of resting in preparation for going out to dinner to see what the nightlife is like in this place.
There is no nightlife in Quartzsite that we could find. Dinner at the Chinese restaurant was tolerable and after an “I told you so” from Carol we went back to the coach to read and entertain ourselves.
A planned early wakeup gave us an opportunity to search for an intaglio reputed to be located near one of the campgrounds. These are images created by primitives in the desert sands by clearing areas much like the Nazca images in Peru .After some wondering in the desert in our non 4 wheel drive Infiniti, we gave up and agreed that the only way to get decent directions to anything in AZ is to pay for a map, the free handouts and general descriptions of where things are are unintelligible to the uninitiated. We hooked up and pulled out of B-10 Campground headed for Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park.As we passed through Blythe, CA we made one more attempt to see some intaglios. There are several images located along US 95 between Blythe and Vidal where one turns west for a while. We found the marker and a perusal of the road gave us little desire to take our entire contraption up a single lane dirt road into the desert. We parked at the entrance and walked in to the first area. After some head scratching and peering through binoculars we located the first two image areas surrounded by chain link fences to keep fools and vandals out.A further search with binoculars revealed the location of the other images and convinced us that we did not want to walk the additional distance so after looking at and photographing the first images we returned to the coach and resumed our drive. This brings us to our present location at the 29 Palms RV and Golf Resort just a couple of miles from the entrance to Joshua Tree NP.
We had enough time after arrival to go into the park and take a look at some of the features. In the course of that drive we encountered a coyote along the road. He must be quite the successful beggar since when I stopped the car he came around to Carol’s open window with little apparent fear. For that matter he stuck around until I chose to drive off. We got several pictures on my camera as Carol’s picked that moment to be obstinate about wanting fresh batteries. Later we both scared up a rabbit and we saw several birds. We returned to the campground and Carol prepared dinner, well she did most of the work and I grilled turkey sausages out.
The next morning, Saturday, we explored the park more thoroughly and took a couple of hikes to be sure whether the trails were Azriel acceptable. Most were a bit too difficult, but we found a couple that would be fun. The last place we stopped was Cholla Garden (pronounce that choiya) . This was very gorgeous. It is an immense patch of Teddy bear Cholla. They look as soft as their namesake, but they offer very sharp barbed poisoned darts to the unwary.They are said to be able to penetrate a leather hiking boot. I did not test that theory and we decided that this would be a very bad place for an inquisitive and willful two year old. After freshening up at the motorhome we ventured out to a Mexican restaurant, Edchada’s here in Twentynine Palms. It was OK.Fast service, reasonable prices and fairly typical Mexican offerings. We were stalling waiting for Yechiel and Miriam to arrive with Azriel. Stalling does not work in a place that is designed for eating not dining. We went back to Goliath to wait for their call. They called at about 9:30 and we went to the Best Western to check them in and to greet them. The ordered crib was nowhere to be found. The night clerk knew it was supposed to be there, but had no idea where it might be.After they arrived, tired and with a somewhat cranky son we pressed the issue and finally a crib that came from the props department for “Oliver” appeared. Carol says Ellis Island is a more apt description. I won’t argue.It did not get used. Best Western management will be told. The staffer that came to remove it the next day said she had never seen it before.
At 9 on Sunday they appeared in the campground ready for adventure.We had a day of hikes, drives and a picnic lunch.Azriel became totally enamored of rocks, especially rocks for climbing on. There must be something in the gene line. There are more rock scrambling, climbing and technical areas in this park than in any other we have seen. All of us ventured to rock hop and scramble up and over towering rock piles for the views and for the fun of it. Azriel kept demanding “more rocks.” After a pick up dinner in their suite it rapidly became clear that Azriel was overtired and there being no crib to confine him in, bedtime became the kind of contest that no one wins. We retreated to the peace of the coach leaving the parents to deal with the overtired and over stimulated 2 year old.. Late on Monday morning they appeared ready<?> for more activity. We went up to Hidden Valley and climbed through the rocks to enter the enclosed valley area.It is a magnificent retreat from the rest of the park. The area is sheltered from wind and seems to be several degrees warmer than the surroundings.We hiked and climbed and stood around looking at the views and watching the technical climbers high on the faces with their ropes and special shoes working up and down the faces. We retreated to another area for lunch and then drove to the Cholla Garden where Carol and I sat and played with Azriel while Miriam and Yechiel wandered among the cholla without having to worry about him.
They brought us back to Goliath and departed for Long Beach with Azriel fast asleep and enough daylight to enjoy the beauty of the area as they left. We will depart in the morning, over the park to I 10 and Palm Springs where there is a Flying J with propane for sale.Then we will drive on in to Long Beach for a stay at least through Friday.We are planning on seeing more people in the LA area before pointing the wheels back east.
As I write it is Monday, February 17. A week has passed.We stayed at Miriam and Yechiel’s through Shabbat. When he was working on Thursday we drove down to Newport Beach for a visit and lunch with Barbara and Sid Braverman who are wintering there. We did some sight seeing with the family but the weather was dreadful from our standpoint. They got a lot of much needed rain and a cooling trend that returned them to their normal winter. On Wednesday Yechiel took me to see the sights that Carol had seen. I have yet to really see them since the fog and rain made it hard to see anything.That afternoon we went to the Getty Museum in the rain and fog.We had plenty of time for the collection, but it was hard to see the architecture and grounds. We have much to look forward to.Friday we went to the beach, but the cool breezes made picnicking on the beach less fun that we were hoping for.We did take the time to drive over to the Queen Mary, although we did not take the tour this time. For those of you who don’t know, Carol and I returned from our honeymoon in Europe aboard the Queen Mary three years before she was decommissioned and permanently anchored in Long Beach.
While we were with Miriam and Yechiel we called our cousin Helene and Glenn Coul in Thousand Oaks and made arrangements to visit them briefly on our way to we knew not where. We parked in front of their house and had a delightful visit with them. We know Helene wanted to offer us much greater hospitality, but they already had friends in and we are most comfortable aboard Goliath in any event. We parted this morning. They were headed up the coast to make plans for the wedding of their son Gregg and we were headed in a very opposite direction. We ended up retracing our path back to LA and then on I 10 back east through Palm Springs and picking up 86 south past the Salton Sea to El Centro, CA and the Rio Bend Campground. We are here for at least two nights and are thinking of staying 4. It is still warm enough to take a walk in shorts at 9 PM and it promises to provide the weather we have been searching for the past five weeks. We stayed at this campground last year and really enjoyed the location and the quiet. The only noise is the Blue Angles practicing overhead during the day. I 8 is far enough away to be an almost none existent drone in the background. We are content and the laundry is done too.
A reminder for those of you who read this far, I posted a bunch of pictures from the trip so far. They can be viewed at: http://goldberg-online.net/2003xc should you wish.
We had a great day today , Tuesday, February 18. After cleaning up the motorhome, we set off for the Salton Sea .This body of water has emptied and filled several times in recent (geological) times. The most recent filling was 1905 when the Colorado River broke through and flooded this low point. The sea is quite saline and has many saltwater fishes. It also has some freshwater areas that are walled off by barnacle dikes, a result of the use of the sea during World War II. At the southern end are several wild life areas and one that is particularly known for birding.We found our way to the NWR (National Wildlife Reserve) and set out for a short walk to see some birds and we did see some birds. I will skip the new additions to our Life lists and just say there were several. We climbed the Rocky Hill at the end of the trail and found a couple up there and greeted them and exchanged “where are you froms” they are from Rochester , NY – actually Penfield – and were there for the birding. After a pleasant conversation we went our separate ways. They to tour the area until they have to be back next week; us to tour for a while until we begin to drive easterly and northerly. After eating our picnic lunch, we decided to seek out more of the NWR. The roads that showed on the map turned out to be mostly unpaved, hard packed dirt.We found our way to what had once been a marina, before the sea had receded due to evaporation and lack of new water being permitted to enter. The stench along the shore was quite fierce. It is brine and decaying fishes and dieing birds from the continual increase in the salinity of the water. In many respects the Salton Sea is similar to the Dead Sea. The surface is below sea level and the only outlet is evaporation. This results in a steady increase in the salinity and a retreat of the shore line.
We retraced our approach to this area and continued to follow the shore line on agricultural dirt roads toward the north where there appeared to be yet another Reserve area. As we drove the road neither deteriorated nor improved and the cross roads were all marked “not for vehicle use” looking at them made it clear they were not for use by our Infiniti G20 in any event and we continued north. Carol, with the map, wondered what Slab City might be. In my reading of RV news groups I have seen numerous references to SlabCity and I was curious too.We followed the roads where they took us and with some interesting guessing we found our way there. For the Rail Road buffs reading this, there is a wye in the freight track and we had to cross directly over it. SlabCity is low budget Quartzsite.It is Quartzsite without the charm – hard to imagine. There was a military installation in the area during WWII and when the military pulled out they took down the buildings but left the concrete pads, or slabs, in place. RVers and others have moved in with no apparent supervision or plan. I believe the land is managed by BLM.Vehicles of all description are situated in all kinds of places, mostly occupying the old slabs, but some just on the sand. There are no facilities apparent and everyone is self contained and self sufficient.The price for this lack of facilities is appropriate, it is free.
Leaving behind the individualists ensconced there we headed back to some sort of civilization. Returning through El Centro we stopped to shop and get haircuts at Fantastic Sam’s hairstyling salon. Fortunately Carol and I have rather simple hair cutting needs and the same barber was able to take care of us in a period of about 30 minutes. While waiting our turn we shopped at the neighboring Von’s and after the haircut we went back to pick up the frozen items and returned to Goliath for dinner and journaling.
Tomorrow is another day of wandering with a purpose.
We continue our purposeful wandering. Having noted on the map a site called Desert View Tower we are fairly determined to locate this place and see it for ourselves. We set out on I 8 westbound planning on going somewhere past Ocotillo and take an unnamed exit to reach this location. As we drive, none of the exits have the right “flavor.” Having passed the last likely exit we realized that we were committed to climbing the pass through the mountains towards San Diego . This dawns on me as we see a sign indicating that we are at 1000 feet above sea level. The last one we saw was “Sea level.” 2000 Feet above sea level and no mention of an immediate exit causes me a little consternation, but nothing serious, we are gradually slowing as the car can no longer maintain 65 in fifth up the grade and the number of “radiator water” stops starts to increase to every 500 feet. Finally, as 3000 feet above sea level comes into view there is an exit with a 24 hour towing sign.We have seen this one last year and remember laughing then. This time we exit and then wonder what to do. The road to the right says “not a through road” so obviously that must be the way to go.After less than a mile we are greeted by our next most favorite sign “County Road Maintenance Ends 500 feet.”We must be getting someplace now.We round one more be and there it is, an old three story stone tower, the gate is open so we proceed to the parking area and prepare for an ascent and whatever tourist ticky tacky awaits, but wait the sign says and Caves. Have we caught a double win? It turns out to be a quadruple!The tower dates back to 1923 when the old road was first punched through the mountains. The caves are really an inviting bouldering area made up of many boulders that form passages and caves and open areas. They have been enhanced by a Mr Rattry in the ‘30’s who carved the already fanciful shaped rocks into intriguing animals and Indian figures throughout the area and as we learned throughout this section of the desert.
The owner of the attraction, Ben Shultz, is a personable younger man who acquired it from the previous owner 6 months ago. We enjoyed talking with him and shopping in his gift shop. We learned that he is using Workampers to keep the store attended. He lets an RVer camp on his grounds in exchange for several hours work a week covering the store.He is looking for two week stints and Carol and I are tempted for next year. Finally we are given guidance to several other likely sources of adventure. What more can one ask for?
On our way back sort of toward El Centro we detoured to Calexico which is across the border from Mexicali . We parked and walked in to Mexico for a sight see and managed to make two purchases in the course of less than an hour. I now have my signature trip hat. I found a neat white straw hat, Panama style but rigid, for $12.Watch for me to wear it when the weather warms in Rochester .We also found a bakery and bought some items to try.We wish it were not quite so far, the items were very good. We had dinner on board and read and brought financial files up to date then went to sleep in anticipation of some great sites planned for the morning.
The wind blew so hard in the evening that I and all my neighbors stowed our awning and everything else likely to move in the wind. Goliath rocked quite a bit in the wind. It was some blow. The morning was sunny and blue and the wind had moderated to a pleasant breeze. After breakfast we set off to see the Goat Canyon Trestle. This is a classic high wooden trestle that survives from another era. The hike is reputed to be about four miles and is reachable from a dirt road off of CA state highway 2S through Anza Borrega State park . We located the turn off with no trouble just where I expected it form the detail on our fine recreational map.Upon entering we noted a sign that said 4 wheel drive recommended (or was that required?). Having driven by any number of those signs in recent days, we continued up the road with Carol at the wheel. A mile in the road in the road began to change from washboard and sand to rock and up and down. Carol found herself choosing position on the road so she would not bottom the car on the rocks of scrape the crown. We finally came to a sharp rutted pitch where we could not go back easily and going forward was more of a challenge than Carol wanted to face. I got out and chose a path that seemed harmless and guided her through it successfully.Going back seemed to be an issue to be dealt with later, or maybe we could find another road out. At this point I took the wheel and we continued up the wash until the railroad track we were seeking came into sight.
We came up to the track and found a water tower and a loading platform from an old train stop. I hesitate to dignify it by calling it a station. After snooping around and a review of the map we realized that we had covered about half the road we needed to traverse to get to the trailhead. We were talking about the high clearance 4wd that would be our next Tow’d. After proceeding a short distance we came to another very rutted very steep pitch and with great misgivings we backed off and sought shelter under a low bridge over a wash while we planned strategy. We knew we were going to turn around, but having come so far we wanted to take a bit of a hike and not just drive out. The map shows the Dos Cabezos Mine nearby so we decided to hike in the general direction to see if we could find it. We did.It is two pit mines used for extracting lime stone and the corner marker we located was dated 1958! We returned to the car and with some nervousness began to retrace the route to 2S.Somehow all of the difficult passages on the way up were much easier on the way down. We continued to explore along 2S until we came to Palm Spring (note no “s”). This oasis is along the Butterfield Overland Coach route and was used as a stop while crossing the desert and also used by many groups including Kit Carson when they were traversing this area. We drove in on a relatively easy 4wd recommended road and visited the spring where we saw two new birds a Phainopepla and a Costa’s Hummingbird. We turned for the campground and a swim and a rest before dinner.
Dinner was at Comacho’s Place, a back road Mexican dive that we ate at last year,
the food is good, the atmosphere is funky and it is very local and very real.They have a lot of Air Force patches on the wall as well as Blue Angels pictures. While we were there one of the Blue Angels pilots came in with friends for dinner.We will come back next year, when we come through here.The place has been drawing that way since 1946. We returned to Goliath and set up the printer because we are planning our route east bound with tomorrow, Friday, as our departure date.Although we turned east to get here from Long Beach we did not admit that it was the beginning of the inevitable return to cold as we journey east and north.
Friday:this morning we engaged in a discussion with ourselves about whether we really intended to leave the first place we have been warm and really comfortable.The sky was deep blue with not a cloud in sight. The Blue Angels were overhead doing incredible precision flybys as they practice for their new season and the temperature was just about perfect. We left!We have crossed most of Arizona and are in Willcox, 40 miles east of Benson. We had thought we might make Deming, but the mapping software did not take into account the time zone change and although when we stopped it was 6 by our bodies, it was 7 by the setting sun. We thought of stopping here to see the Sandhill Cranes we missed last month. Too late, they have departed for their summer nesting area last week. We will not stay on, although the Passport America price is right there is barely room for me to open my door on this site without having to say “excuse me” to my neighbor.We will roll on a scenic route tomorrow, Albuquerque is the destination, but it may take two days instead of one, oh well, time is still on our side.
Saturday found us remote from anything resembling a Jewish Community. The nearest congregation was 90 miles back, in Tucson . We decided to role on a scenic route that might get us someplace or not for the day. As we headed north on US 191, in case anyone has maps of AZ and NM I kept puzzling over the route we were planning on taking. The red line seemed to have an awful lot of twists in it and the mountain
peaks that were listed near it were reaching up to 10,000 feet. We stopped for gasoline in Safford and I asked the attendant about the road. She was quite certain we would not be able to get our motorhome over it. So we took an alternate, using 191 to 78 to 180. This was the easier route and it had us rolling down grades in first gear and standing on the brakes. I thought that we would meet our car going around some of the bends. In short we had a ball.The scenery was so breath taking that we stopped whenever we could just to look at it. As we started up 180 in NM we saw a sign for the “Running Horse Gallery” and as we came around the bend we saw there was adequate parking for us so we stopped. This was a major shopping event. Jude has a wonderful eclectic collection of local artists and her own pottery work. We took advantage of the fine goods and the good pricing. Then we met her horses and sat down to lunch on board Goliath.
We rolled on realizing that we were passing places we had been unable to see when we were in City of Rocks and here we were without the planned time to stop again. Another trip.We finally intersected US 60 and turned east again.Looking at the map I noticed that there was a mark for something called the VLA. From my reading of Scientific American I knew this was the Very Large Array Radio Telescope.I had read about it but never thought to see it. As we came along the highway and had about 15 miles to get to it, I saw something on the plain in front of us (Carol was back at the wheel) and in my binoculars I was able to pick out a long row of dish antennas pointing at the sky. As we neared the array seemed to change and eventually we got to an overlook with a sign that said there was a visitor center.So for this we detoured about 6 miles and stopped to see this enormous telescope. There are 27 antennas, each of which can contain a baseball diamond within it, spread over a territory that can range up to 36 miles. They are arranged in three legs of nine each and are moved by transporters, when the work calls for a different configuration. The transporters move on two parallel standard gauge railroad tracks. When we saw them they were in their tightest array which still extends over 1 mile.
Leaving there we debated whether to stay in Socorro or go 13 miles out of our way to a campground located near a birding site. Guess where we are.We set up, showered and Carol made a wonderful dinner. She even used the oven.We will turn in soon and wonder what tomorrows adventures will bring.
Did I ever say we planned ahead? It turns out Bosque National Wildlife Refuge is home to a huge flock of Sandhill Cranes that will not be leaving for at least another week. We met another couple as we were readying for departure. At that moment we heard something in the sky and looked up to see a small flock of Sandhill Cranes passing overhead. They did not have time to do a thorough tour, but they had gone to the visitor center and said there was plenty to see. Carol and looked at each other and on the spot we broke the tow and prepared for a day of bird watching and whatever else happened to come along. The edge of the NWR is half a mile down the road from the campground and the visitor center is 5 miles past that. As we drove toward the visitor center we noted several turnouts for the refuge along side ponds and there were many water fowl present.
We spent the day taking the driving tour with a CD Audio Tour. The audio guide was helpful, the reserve is delightful, and the hiking was great too. We saw many different waterfowl (ducks of all sorts) and some Bald Eagles and a Ferruginous Hawk.We also saw a Prong Horn in a field of corn where many Sandhill Cranes were feeding. In four sentences I have summed up 6 hours of bird watching and touring. We wanted to see the Sandhill Cranes ‘fly in” to their roosting area, something they do at sunset. The ranger at the entrance station said that the best viewing would be at a turn out near the north boundary of the reserve. We decided to see what was what since we had to drive right by the turnout on way to the campground. As we went by there was a bus and several cars as well as a line up of people with cameras and VERY long lenses standing on the dike. We continued to the campground, half a mile away, to rest before joining the mob half an hour before sunset. We returned to find everyone still there. The birds were flying in and landing constantly. These birds stand four feet tall and have large wingspans.They are beautiful to watch as they flare for landing and lower their legs and hover until the appropriate moment.
When we returned to the campground, our neighbor told us about the “best hamburger ever” at the Owl bar and Café in San Antonio, NM 3 ½ miles north of us.We decided to give it a try.It was closed, it is Sunday. Carol is making dinner on board.