September 12th through October 3rd Reno, Tonopah, Las Vegas Nevada; Lake Havasu City Arizona

A leisurely rise for our journey to Reno Nevada, our drive today would be a longer distance than we normally roll in one day. Stops to allow the three of us to shake off stiff joints were sparse so during our pauses, KatieBug stubbornly stretched out her leash to its full extent, enjoying the Pee Mail at each new sniffy territory.

Within a few hours, in the distance, storm clouds came into view. Our druthers would be to stay clear of high winds and driving rain but, on our current path, detours were not available. We both have memories of decisions in the past, in which we have experienced byways resulting in disastrous outcomes; seldom do we veer from our Waze, Google Maps or Co-Pilot traveling instructions. Winding through the mountains we drove head-long into the storm.

Storm up ahead

Dark clouds let go a hail storm, pelting our window with tiny pieces of frozen liquid.   Sounding like buckshot on our windows and roof , it slowed us down to a crawl and eventually pushed us off onto an unplanned exit.

John saw an acceptable sized turnout and stopped until the storm passed. Hail stones built up along the ground in crevices, white frozen water bits thinly collecting on LilyPad’s wipers.

Hail

Pushed up against the window taking pictures, I felt water trickle down my arm and onto the passenger seat. I was amazed that we nearly made it through an entire week without “it’s always something” rising up, clearing its throat and demanding our attention as well as requiring full access to our bank account.

leaky window

A towel, blue painters tape and a call to Johnnie Walker RV repair in Las Vegas was completed before John got behind the wheel.  Past performance of the repair shop was positive, we had used them for previous break downs, our appointment was set and they awaited our arrival.  Carefully, John made his way back onto the freeway.

With the storm behind us, the weather improved and travel through the mountains became picture perfect once again.

Scenic views

When we dropped down into the valley, the Truckee River flowed parallel, displaying a peaceful picture of beauty as we rolled alongside.

Truckee River

Reno was a recuperation stop, nothing planned but laundry, groceries, cleaning and delighting in crystal clear smoke free skies. Because John and I were married in Reno back in 1971, we thought it would be entertaining to search for the businesses we had visited during and after we took our vows on that impromptu afternoon so many decades ago.

Motorhome jacks down, LilyPad settled and the passenger side window patched temporarily to stop further water leaks, we turned on a comedy movie for KatieBug and left our site at Sparks Marina RV Park to begin searching for yesteryear memories.

Sparks Marina and RV Park, NV

A few miles away, the entrance to downtown Reno looked exactly the same.

Reno

St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral was our first stop. The doors were locked, just as they had been 46 years ago when we tried to contact a priest to unite us in holy matrimony.

Saint Thomas Aquinas Cathedral

It took a while to find the Chapel of Promises, where we were legally married. Decades ago, it was the first chapel we passed on our way into the gambling part of town. Now, after driving through the area and missing the street address twice, we sidestepped to the local library and research old Yellow Pages. locating the address, we drove to the precise spot, according to the 1970’s Yellow Page ad, and found it in an aging strip mall. Where the Chapel of Promises wedding venue stood, now resides a payday loan store.  The building was outdated and weary, mirroring the way we looked and felt.

Former Chapel of Promise

After our hasty marriage, wedding rings provided by the variety store across the parking lot, our first gambling adventure as a wedded couple took place at the Horseshoe Casino. Formerly a noisy bustling bell ringing casino, it had transformed into an unlit, dull colored jewelry and loan store.  Looking a lonely echo of its former self, it was presently void of humans.

Horseshoe

Still standing was Circus Circus, one of the few well-kept but antiquated casino’s in Reno. Given by Circus Circus all those years ago, we had accepted an offer and attended a land purchase deal for free lunch, including a sizable free wad of gambling money, all at the cost of an hour of our time. Patiently listening for over an hour, we exited the casino having purchased a plot of land in an upcoming retirement development. The newly constructed Lake Havasu City was to be complete with London Bridge, moved piece by piece from England, adjoining the small parcel of land in the lake to the mainland. In hind sight, both of us were thankful we were able to back out of the deal before returning to our respective homes, John living in Chico and I living in San Jose. Although we enjoy visiting Arizona, living on desert lands would have been a difficult adjustment for us both.

Circus Circus

Having explored our youthful stomping grounds with nothing further to see, we drove back to our site and tucked movables securely away, readying LilyPad for an early morning roll out.

 

Sun on the rise, our Sony Tablet blasting out “On The Road Again”, Willies familiar voice woke us up.  Traveling songs are our reminders for which days we must wake up, get set and get along down the road.

On the way to Tonopah, a tiny town once known for mining, Army bunkers from the nearby base lined the highway, three rows deep, for dozens of miles.  We weren’t positive but they looked abandoned.

Army bunkers on the way to Tonopah

Our next overnight stop would be Station Casino, the largest of the small spattering of casinos on I-95, offering a barebones first come, first serve RV parking area. Located in back of the casino and an extension of their parking lot, it provided full 50 amp electric for a fair price.  We selected an open site among the dozen or so available and put down temporary roots.

Tonopah Station RV

Relaxing inside LilyPad until dusk, by the end of the night, the RV park had filled to capacity. Surprisingly quiet throughout the evening, we relished the tranquility.

Tonopah relies heavily on the nearby Tonopah Test Range Airport, a major airfield, for employment. The ranges past life, and the surrounding areas, have been used as a nuclear bomb test site and a bombing range.  After seeing the town, It is not apparent what keeps people planted here in this century.

From 1984 through 1992 the airport was credited for being home base to the F-117 fleet of Stealth Fighters. The town proudly proclaims itself the birthplace of the Nighthawk, a single-seat, twin-engine stealth attack aircraft. The Nighthawk, developed by the secretive Skunk Works division of Lockheed, was the first operational aircraft to be designed around stealth technology.

 

When the sun emerged, we slept late, grateful for a restful spot to pause along our journey.  Today’s goal consisted of restocking staples and poking around the tiny town.  The grocery store was modest but compact and offered enough to see us through to Las Vegas. We dropped our food purchases at LilyPad, gathered up KatieBug and set off to explore town.

Tonopah, NV

The European-American community of Tonopah began circa 1900 with the discovery of silver-rich ore by prospector Jim Butler. The legendary tale of discovery maintained Jim went looking for a burro who wandered off during the night and sought shelter near a rock outcropping. When Jim located the animal the next morning, he picked up a rock to throw at it in frustration.  Noticing the rock was unusually heavy, his stumbling across the mineral eventually led to the second-richest silver strike in Nevada history.

As is the usual trend, wealthy powerful men began converging on the region to consolidate the mines and reinvest their profits into Tonopah’s infrastructure. George Wingfield, a 24-year-old poker player arrived in Tonopah, played poker and dealt faro in the town saloons. After accruing a small bankroll, he spoke with Jack Carey, owner of the Tonopah Club, convincing him to join together as partners and file for a gaming license.

By 1904, after investing his winnings in the Boston-Tonopah Mining Company, Wingfield was worth $2 million. George S. Nixon, an old friend of Wingfield’s, arrived in town and started Nye County Bank. Wingfield invested with Nixon and the two friends grub-staked miners with friend Nick Abelman, purchasing existing mines. By the time the partners moved to Goldfield Nevada and made their Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company a public corporation in 1906, Nixon and Wingfield were worth more than $30 million.

Believing the end of gold and silver mining production was fast approaching, Wingfield took his bankroll to Reno, investing heavily in real estate and casinos. Gambling and land being big business throughout Central Nevada, by 1910 gold production had dwindled and the town of Tonopah shrunk in population to half its count of fifteen years prior.

Wandering through town, we spied the outdoor museum displaying several of the mining shacks and homes, built as they had been during the early 1900’s.

Ore Mining Museum   Housing in early 1900's

A mine shaft had been erected with mining equipment from the same era and on the outskirts of town, an old mine entrance, no longer in use.

Museum mines   old shaft pits

A leg stretching opportunity arose when we came upon the cemetery.  Wandering through the rows, reading sad epilogues of young miners killed attempting to earn a living, gave us a greater appreciation of our own lives.

1901 to 1911    Gone to young

Removing ore from the depths of the earth held a catalog of continual dangers, death by a myriad of causes.  Looking over the graves, thinking about the difficult life of a miner, brought about a wonder in my mind, why someone would chose this town, this trade, this life.

Some attempt had been made to keep the graves from deteriorating but harsh summer heat peeled paint from wood, torrential rains washed away rocks marking the boarders of graves and wind storms sand blasted headstones erasing names and dates of those who lay beneath.

grave site   The grave sites

Bits and pieces of the town’s history were revived and written on metal, some names merely punched into tin plaques, forlorn memorials to those who perished in Tonopah.

How he died

Downtown, the metal statue of a town hero, Big Bill Murphy, stood in front of the town’s post office.  During the Tonopah Belmont fire of 1911, he repeatedly took the cage down into the mine, rescuing men and returning them to the surface. His last trip down in the cage was one from which he did not return.

Big Bill Murphy

I thought it sad, the town waited over nine decades before erecting the statue to honor a hero.

big Bill

Day’s end was nearing and KatieBug reminded us it was time for her evening raw carrots. We returned to our rolling box, packed up and settled down for the night. Next stop, Vegas!

 

Willie wailing out “On The Road Again”, we awoke to a sunny day with temperatures quickly rising into double digits. Our RV being tightly packed in between others at night, we waited for a few RV overnighters to leave before we wormed our way through the narrow lot and picked up from where we left off on our journey to Las Vegas.  As we rolled along, the mineral colors seeped up through mountain surfaces and shown a rainbow palette as the sun warmed the earth.  In a few short hours, John would meet up with our son Josh for his bachelor party.

colorful mineral mountains

Tonopah to Las Vegas, on I-95 south, is one continuous never ending gentle ribbon of asphalt, split by stripes of bright white paint, only highway divides the monotone sands into halves. Nothing halts the nodding off effect of the drive but loud rock music and a continual influx of caffeine. The road is well traveled, often mindlessly and free from any major bends making it a dangerous span of roadway.

Vegas bound

One thing or another brings a smile to our faces and starts unexpected conversations.  No longer considered a taboo subject in most social circles, a brothel sign appeared in the middle of no mans land.  Las Vegas wasn’t called “Sin City” without reason.  Gambling casino’s, bars and brothels, like this one, were popular entertainment.

Brothel

Passing the Den of Iniquity, we recalled watching the theater production, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  We laughed at the raunchy jokes, tapping our feet to the catchy melody.  Hard to believe the play was nearly a lifetime ago.

Considered a scenic daytime journey only if one enjoys a desolate scrub brush appearance, evening travel presents travelers with coal black skies, millions of brightly piercing dots of white light and a view of the moon rivaling McDonald Observatory in Texas.  Off in the distance, faded out mountain silhouettes and a diverse assortment of spindly brush poking out of the sandy soil was the only eye appeal.  This part of Nevada appears a perfect landing field for Aliens and a major attraction for tourists.

Alien Roadside Stop

The terrain is also where single wide vintage mobile homes and broken down blue collar modes of transportation go to die.

single wides   Truck graveyard

We arrived at Las Vegas RV Resort mid-day, set up at our site and did a grocery run for our supplies.

Las Vegas RV Resort

When Josh arrived, we picked him and a friend up at the airport, depositing them at their rental. The house was a two story vacation villa, complete with nine beds which would all be occupied, multiple TV’s, a swimming pool in the yard and came fully outfitted with anything anyone would need for their entire stay. We availed them one grocery run, a liquor pickup, dropped Josh and supplies back at the rental and returned to LilyPad.

Las Vegas is prosperity plopped in the center of desolation and trimmed around the edges in human destitution. Being here only for John to be present at our son’s bachelor party, I stayed inside LilyPad with KatieBug while John partook of the festivities. He attended nothing to extreme or bawdy and never remained past 10pm.

The heat, again tip toeing up around triple digits during the day, kept me from exploring the area solo, although lack of transportation was a greater issue. In the two dozen or so times I’ve been to Las Vegas, back before John retired and was attending yearly software conventions in Vegas, I saw and smelled what comes off, gets on, and passes out drunk on seats of the local bus routes. Alone and at my advancing age, I decided to pass on public transportation.

Temperature across the following days was desert dry and broiling hot.  John joined the “party hearty” group of young men several times, then returned to gather me for a few outings more suitable to our married-for-nearly-half-a-century age.  KatieBug stayed home in the cool, her favorite music serenading her while she napped. She was done with the sun and heat immediately after doing her duty outdoors.

After a few days of Bachelor activities, we returned to the rental, collecting Josh for his airplane trip home to Seabrook Texas.  From everyone’s relatively careful movements and exhausted appearance, we gathered a good time was had by all.  Josh headed home, we returned to LilyPad and secured everything unstable for our next pause, Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The prospect of seeing the land deal we passed up in 1971, which would have been our retirement home, led us to follow our curiosity.  Nowhere to be for nearly a month, we departed mid morning for the brief jaunt to the lakeside property development.  The elevated climb had LilyPad downshifting, forcing a slowed speed, allowing John to admire the mountains and clear blue sky.

Leaving Nevada

Hoover Dam in the background, you could see the mining excavations scraping deep gouges out of the mountain sides above the dam.

Mining near the Hoover Dam

By and by, Lake Mead came into view, the center of attention, stretching out in front of us with all of its 247 square sparkling blue miles of water.  The lake remained the predominant image our entire stay.

Lake Mead, NV   Lake Mead

Our overnights would be spent at the local Elks Lodge RV facilities, no landscaping, crushed gravel grounds but level with full hook-ups.  Next door, an impressive Lodge, spacious inside with friendly staff and yummy reasonably priced meals.  Jacks down, LilyPad temporarily set up, KatieBug accompanied us to the lake for a stroll.

Lake Havasu Elks Lodge RV Park

First on our list, finding London Bridge.  We drove around in search, but from the road it was difficult to locate until we spied the modest sign.  Driving over to the island, we parked and walked the waterway path, looking back at the bridge.  It is a beautiful bridge but not as spectacular as our minds eye had imagined.

London Bridge sign    London Bridge

We strolled along the dock, passing up the urge to peak inside the Resort, instead electing to watch the idiosyncrasies of tourists and bask in the fresh air and sunshine, gazing over Lake Mead and its sky blue waters until the sun began to set.

Lake Havasu dock

 

Next morning, rising late, all three of us wandered around the town and I poked my head into a resale shop and a health food store.  Trying to get in my 10,000 steps, we walked down along the docks, hesitated a while to rest our feet and study the structural details of London Bridge.

Returning to the RV, KatieBug pug settled in comfortably, relaxing to the sound of a comedy show.  John and I dined at the Lodge for their weeknight special.  Turning in early evening, we prepped for next mornings travel, watched TV and slept soundly.  Tomorrow we would be on our way to Williams Arizona and our second Grand Canyon visit of this year.

August 15th through September 12th, 2017 Grants Pass and Sutherlin Oregon; Redding, Eureka and Napa California

Up and off early morning from Myrtle Creek, tail winds blowing the wildfire smoke around every mile we travel.  Our journey was through haze of varying degrees letting us know it would be a long time before we saw clear sky’s.

closer to Grants Pass

Nearing Grants Pass, the smoke hung over the mountains.

Grants Pass in the distance

Dropping down into the valley, we arrived at Jack’s Landing in Grants Pass.  While setting up camp, we could still see the hills across town.

Arrival in Grants Pass   Arrival day in Grants Pass Oregon

The park borders Hwy 5, is clean, well-groomed with level cement pads but somewhat noisy from the traffic when you step outside. Inside the RV was muffled enough to be acceptable for a good night sleep. Our site had a landscaped park like setting in the middle section with a small pavilion and picnic table surrounded by grass.

Jack's Landing RV Resort Aug 2017

Within an hour, our view in the distance became hazy grey and the air had a strong campfire smell lingering outside, as well as inside every grocery store and local building.  Back to LilyPad to batten down the hatches.

Our view gets worse by the hour

A gusty morning wind had temporarily cleared the heavy smoke from the valley but it returned, the fires still raging out of control along the coast.  By 6:00 pm, the grey crept over the entire city.

Grants Pass 6pm

Comfortably settled inside, I opened the freezer for ice cream. Water dripped out. Everything else considered, not a comforting sight. We added one more repair to our list. Checking the internet for the area, no authorized repair center for Maytag was within 100 miles of our current location. Bad ball joints cancelled traveling to an authorized repair.  John bought another ice chest, a few blocks of dry ice and we moved frozen foods to the basement freezer and what didn’t fit into ice chests. Silver lining…the freezer was going to get a super thorough cleaning.

Heavy smoke rolled back into the valley sometime during the night. We kept busy inside, searching for an RV refrigerator repair man, deciding the location of our next overnight and eating every drop of the soon-to-be-melted Halo Mint Chip ice cream. Several referrals later, we found someone who “might know how to fix your refrigerator problem”. We were on the schedule and hopeful a solution would be available quickly. The waiting continued.

Time passes slowly when your nights and days are spent indoors. To date, I had been stuck inside our 350 square foot motorhome for several weeks and spent nearly a week living out of ice chests. Being blanketed by choking hazardous level smoke while waiting for repairs was contributing to an already tense situation. Knowing my 89 year old dad and step mom were along the coast where the raging Chetco Bar fire surrounded their home, burning out of control for over 30 days with zero containment added further anxiety.

 

This morning, local news was describing Hurricane Harvey gathering strength and bullying its way towards Texas. Landfall near Houston would threaten the safety of our immediate family and friends. When Harvey hit, our daughter in Conroe was completely surrounded by flood waters and stranded in her apartment for nearly a week, safe but soggy. Our son and future daughter-in-law had water surrounding their home and streets. When the waters receded, they spent their days helping neighbors and friends nearby, opening their home to friends who had flooded.  Texans, along with thousands of Americans all over the US, were suffering a multitude of Mother Nature’s wraths.

My distress level had reached dizzying proportions and our days switched from concentrating on repairs to contacting family and friends. Although there was heavy damage surrounding everyone we knew, no one flooded out completely and all humans and creatures were safe. something for which to be eternally grateful.

 

This morning, the dreadful prospect of another day indoors was joyfully interrupted by a temporary but strong wind, first time in over a week, blowing smoke out of the valley. The clearing produced visitors. Down from Redding with their two adorable mini’s came family. We ate breakfast out together and I had the enjoyable opportunity to bounce their youngest on my knee while his mom ate. Back at the RV, we watched our fearless grand-nephew fly around on his peddle-free balance bike in our park, his oversized dirt bike helmet weighing as much as he. Still a toddler he is extraordinarily athletic and fearless, entirely his father’s son in abilities.

T Cute as a bug

Our visit flew by but the time spent with family warmed my heart and relaxed me down to my core.  By late morning, the smoke rolled down into the valley and I was forced back inside.

 

Next morning we rose early for refrigerator repair day. John pulled the unit out of the motorhome wall. A few bangs with a rubber mallet at precise points, probes into refrigerator guts and a great deal of testing resulted in additional unhappy news. The compressor is dead. Only one guy, not this guy, can do the repair…possibly.

Compressor failure

Another appointment scheduled and more waiting days. No one can replace the whole unit. The only way it can be taken out is through the window and equipment for this type of removal, in this part of California, is nowhere to be found.

 

A few days later we were visited by a new repair man. Slightly over a grand drained from our pocketbooks, one problem checked off our extensive repair list. Installation of a new compressor and relay switch had fixed the freezer. Frozen foods back in the immaculately clean freezer, the waiting game continued.

When we left family in Brookings, the plan was to meet up with cousins along the coast in Waldport Oregon to view the Total Solar Eclipse. Smoke, fires and road closures made the gathering impossible.  This once-in-a-lifetime event was viewed from our Grants Pass RV park site and substantially obscured by wildfire smoke. John ventured outside to take a picture while I looked out our window.

Eclipse in the smoky OR skys        Solar Eclipse

A bit of a let down but under the circumstances, a better view than what we would have experienced engulfed in smoke sitting near uncontained blazing fires continuing along the coast. As my cousin repeatedly reminds me, “it is what it is”.  TV, bed and another day of waiting passes.

 

Finally, LilyPad’s repair day arrived. We checked out, drove to Henderson’s and moved into our designated “up next” location for the night. In the morning they will install new ball joints and boots, a new suspension system and new shocks. Reading rave reviews from all over the country eased our trepidation of having major repairs done outside Red Bay Alabama or Conroe Texas. We are confident and comfortable with Henderson’s expertise.

Patiently waiting for our luck to change, enough to move us on down the road and make smoke disappear from our lives, spoiler alert…not going to happen yet. Gusts of wind blew the air clean in the morning hours but as day dimmed to dusk, the smoke floated back into town and intruded across what would have been an incredible sunset.

Chetco Bar Fire snuffing out the sunset

 

Another early rise to let Henderson’s “do their thing” while we spent the day inside stores fleeing the smoky out-of-doors. Professional, timely but costly, price shopping to cut costs or ignoring mandatory repairs leads to disastrous results so we considered the money paid was well spent.

Henderson's for ball joints

All suspension work complete, we paused overnight in the parking lot of Henderson’s searching for a smoke free area to wait for the fire in Brookings to come under control and allow us to have our a/c installed.

We took a chance Roseburg would stay free of smoke and made reservations for a week at Hi-Way RV Park and Movie Drive In. John and I had stayed several times in the past but not on a weekend when movies were shown. Hours later, leaving smoke behind, we pulled into the RV Park.  Through each road bounce and roll, John remarked how well the motor home was handling on the drive.  Two thumbs up for Henderson’s.

Hi Way Haven RV

The managers of this park arrived here several years ago after leaving the RV park on 242 in Conroe, Texas. We had stayed at the RV park in Conroe and chatted together several times.  For a bit, we discussed how each of our lives had changed.  They returned to work, I walked outside and stood, letting the sun shine down on my face while John unhooked the car.

Our space was first row, we would have an up close and personal space for the movies. First night featured Laurence of Arabia, the second night The King and I. We had popcorn, comfy seats and air conditioning. Our large driver side window gave a clear view of the movie. Finally excited about the prospect of having a little fun, we rolled forward to our site.

Pulling in, LilyPad was halted by a big low branch which hooked itself under our roof air horn. We called the front desk and maintenance came, pulled the limb out from under the horn and cut down branches so we could move forward. John released the brake and LilyPad set the brake. John released the break again and gunned the engine and LilyPad stubbornly set the brake again. After three attempts, John realized the air compressor, designed to lift LilyPad up and control the braking system, was not filling the air bags enough to move forward. Hmmm…not good!

We inched our way into the space and put the stabilizer legs down. John made calls to a truck repair and we watched our blue skies turn hazy, then grey, turning to ugly smoky brown by days end.

Hi Way Haven 2nd day   Sunset Hi-Way Haven

In the evening, the movie’s clarity was distorted, the sound was low and garbled and my mood sunk lower than a snake’s belly. It’s becoming apparent, it is not possible to escape from these horrific and smoky fires.  The effect they are having on this side of the country is beyond scary. When I checked the Oregon Smoke Blog, our area had sucked the air from the gargantuan zero contained Chetco Bar Fire now burning through 100,000 plus acres.

The nightmarish waiting game continued. My lungs were severely unhappy, my airways struggling, regressing from the ability to breathe using an inhaler, to forcing me onto my travel ventilator with much stronger and multiple liquid meds. Venturing outside would have chocked the breath from me so I concentrated on enjoying my computer and keeping up with family and friends on Facebook. Dinner, bed and sleep.

 

Next morning my computer became uncooperative, refusing to connect to our internet. John spent several days using all his computer repair knowledge trying to solve the problem before giving up. He made a solo trip to a repair Geek in Roseburg, someone we had used two years prior. After keeping the computer for a few days, nothing was determined and John brought back my ailing Dell. The fix would have to wait for our next multiday landing.  Dreary, depressing same old, same old continued.

 

The mobile diesel repair man came this afternoon, checked the undercarriage near the air bag valves, told us he couldn’t find anything wrong and charged us an outrageous amount of money for his time. Good news, bad news, no news, it all costs money, halts our travels and steals away happiness and tranquility.

This week, maximum ragweed pollen counts were added to hazardous smoke levels outdoors, a detrimental combination of conditions for asthmatic lungs. John and I discussed what were our chances for improved air and pondered how to stay upbeat.  John suggested we pull up and out of the RV park early.  Extra days paid but not refunded, we pointed LilyPad towards Redding for an overnight, then on to Eureka in search of a waiting place with clean air.

Highway travel was slow, air was thick, both HEPA filters were running full blast.  Hour after hour, smoke made the scenery barely recognizable.

Chetco Bar and Miller fire smoke   Leaving Sutherlin OR

Passing Lassen National Park, the mammoth mountain veiled in smoke, its beauty dimmed by the haze.

Lassen National Park from Sutherlin to Redding, the dark side

When we reached the other side, you could see the smoke bumping up against the mountain, the monster wildfire exhaust seeping around the edges in an attempt to move past.

The other side of Lassen

One overnight at Winn River Casino, near Redding, arriving near sunset and temporarily free of smoke,

Sunrise in Win River Casino Redding

rising at sunrise for our travel to Eureka with prayers going up to please keep the air clear. Another spoiler alert…once again, it wasn’t in the cards.

Sunrise departure Win River Casino Redding 2nd time

 

On to the ocean and Eureka. Our travel was slowed due to wildfires nearing the road in several sections of the highway.  After we passed through, the road closed for several days before opening up but allowing only a few cars through either way, one at a time.

Temporarily on the other side of the haze, we arrived on the coast at one of our favorite Elk Lodge RV Parks, Eureka Elks Lodge in California. Setting up, it was clear enough for me to be outside, my lungs sucking in much appreciated misty salt sea air. Clear air didn’t stay for long, rolling in and covering the area mid evening.

After a little research, we found Eureka had a suitable well rated RV repair shop to install the air conditioner and a Geek repair for my computer. John would retrieve the a/c from smoke inundated Brookings and have my computer fixed while I remained indoors in Eureka.

 

John made his trip down the coast in dense smoke.  The air around Brookings was mind-boggling, so thick the fire camera monitors didn’t register anything recognizable, not even a hint of the surroundings.  I was thankful my computer would, once again, be available to provide entertainment while I waited nervously for John to return.

If you think this trip is the dullest account of a West Coast adventure ever, you should try living it while sealed indoors, saddled with daily potent asthma drugs and constant anxiety.  Not having an iota of “fun” is a humongous understatement.

Cabin Fever is an idiomatic term for a claustrophobic reaction taking place when a person is in an isolated or solitary location, or restricted to the indoors. August 6th we arrived in Portland Oregon and were soon blanketed by smoke as the sun began to set. We have been engulfed in smoke, except for a few hours, ever since. Today is September 6th and I have remained indoors for 99 percent of the past 30 plus days.  My time indoors has not yet ended.  Wearing “Life Is Good” t-shirts to boost my spirits have miserably failed at their intended job.

I wish we had taken the hint, driving into Chico and seeing dozens of rescue and emergency fire teams traveling towards the West Coast area back when we arrived in California for our West Coast Trip. Smudged with black and streaked with dripping pink fire retardant, the trucks were an obvious sign of wildfire.  Stubborn like my dad, I ignored the signs and we continued forward. I wanted to enjoy one entire season without workamping, free from major drama or continual stalls in Podunk towns for repairs. And how’s it working out for me? So far, the experience has convinced me we should buy a house and stop insanely rolling around the country.

John returned with the a/c, we drove our home-on-wheels to have it installed.  A few hours later it was chilling properly and we parked at the Elks for one more night to get an early start in the morning.

 

Today we travel to Napa and will stay at the Napa Elks RV Park. First time here, our overnights began far better than expected. Upon arrival we found the RV park tucked comfortably into the back quarter acre of the Lodge with a pleasant setting.

Napa CA Elks Lodge Sept 2017

Back-in but spacious gravel sites, our front yard is the entire park like space in back of the Lodge.  Currently in transition, the area looks spacious and when complete, inviting.

Napa Elks Lodge CA

A level tree shaded trail follows a stream and is a few yards from our door. I am overjoyed at the prospect of having a fun experience but approaching joy with trepidation. Many of our worst experiences have begun with positive expectations. The weather is not overly hot, no humidity, blue skies and friendly neighbors. I spent the evening in search of wineries with high ratings of deep robust reds before retiring. We slept soundly, fully relaxed for the first time in substantially over a month.

In no hurry, we rose late, enjoyed our coffee while browsing through TripAdvisor’s “things to do in Napa”. Not surprising, winery tours and tastings made up the majority of the listings. So many choices, so little time! Making sure my favorite would be visited, Beringer was positively happening today. The rest would keep for tomorrow. We both guessed 11:00 am was late enough to begin imbibing in sips of the fermented grape.  KatieBug had her extended walk along the stream and we left for St. Helena, a short jaunt from Napa and the Beringer Winery.  Naturally, wine vines and winery’s dominate our scenic drive.

Wine vines   Napa Winery

On our way, we stopped to check out the motorcycles at a motorcycle shop in St. Helena.

Motorcycle shop in St Helena

Entering the winery, you are welcomed by a gracefully shaped and manicured grounds and a woodsy scent emanating from giant Redwoods. The crowning glory of the estate is the1884 fieldstone Rhine House, the Beringer tasting room.

The visitor’s center at Beringer Winery was our first stop.  More interested in the tastings, we passed up the tour and continued our walk to the Rhine House.

Beringer welcome center

The winery was established in 1875, when German immigrants Jacob and Frederick began building the winery. The Tunnel of Trees was planted and still graces the front entrance road to the winery. The Rhine House, now the tasting room, was their home.

Beringer Tasting House

Elegant but comfortable, I slowly walked around the home in admiration of the intricately carved woodwork and exquisite stained glass windows.

Beringer Front door   Beringer hall

Inside the tasting area, the stained glass windows tinted the rays of sunlight and warmed the entire room.

Stained Glass in wine tasting room

Jacob and Frederick built the stone winery building and hand dug the wine caves. Beringer has been making wine for over 141 years. The grounds and buildings give you a sense of the attention to fine detail, elegance, style and artistry of yesteryear Napa.

Mark Beringer, great-great-grandson of founder Jacob Beringer, joined the winery last year as its Chief Winemaker and so the Beringer wine empire continues its excellence in wine production.

John paid for a tasting and our friendly host poured generous samples.  Along with the tasting, we bought a wine club membership.  Our purchase included freebies, a wine chiller bag, wine glass trivet and two bottles of red wine.  We toasted another year of rolling through good and bad times and left in a greatly relaxed state.

Back to LilyPad, early to bed, Red Box movie and sleep.

 

Today is my birthday. I’m old, enough said, subject closed.  Our day starts with the list of wineries offering the best red wines in Napa, according to the phrasing given by each winery. The sales pitch on the first of our choices, Artesa Vineyards & Winery, claimed to have the setting, grounds and feel of a fine art gallery. In their own words “The interplay of art and wine reaches its zenith in this setting as reflected light plays off the jewel-like tones of the elegant, hand-crafted wines…”. We fell into their eloquently written advertising trap and drove to the vineyard.

Artesa Winery fountain

Arriving and entering the huge expansive tasting area, the only samples available was the generic, which included whites, not a favorite of John or mine.

The wait, approximately an hour, left us uninterested in the high priced gamble of Artesa varietals.  We walked the grounds, took a few photos and left for the next winery.

Artesa Winery

McKenzie Mueller Winery, second on our list, had claims of an exceptional Malbec. John and I are fans of the rich Malbec’s from Argentina and both curious to try Napa’s offering.  Upon arrival, we were told they are appointment only. Having experienced wine pours at wineries all across the US during the past five years, neither of us realized some wineries in California are not licensed to allow walk-in’s. Useless factoid now stored for bar trivia games, we made an appointment for the following day. A quick Kodak Moment to photograph wine grapes and olives before our departure.

Red wine grapes on the vine    Olives on the tree

Lastly, Joel Gott, one of our favorites. Upon arrival, unluckily they are closed to the public. Not the most enjoyable start to the next portion of my life as an elder but the weather was glorious, smoke was nowhere in sight, the views from the country side were breathtaking and dinner held much promise.

For my birthday dinner, John make reservations at Villa Romano, a small family run Italian restaurant on the outskirts of town, charming vintage two story home turned restaurant. A glass of mellow red vino, delicious off-menu frutti di mare (fruits of the sea) tossed in a light oil with crushed garlic sauce covering al dente linguini.  The dining room was eclectic Italian décor and nearly private, one other couple sitting near the door. We ended the night uncorking a bottle of private stock 2012 Joel Gott Estate Cabernet while watching a comedic Red Box movie. My “Life is Good” t-shirts finally are bringing the “good” back to my life and our travel adventures seem to be improving.

In the morning, we will turn LilyPad in the direction of Las Vegas for John to attend our son’s bachelor party.

July 31st through August 15th, 2017 Coos Bay, Newport, Tillamook, Portland and Myrtle Creek Oregon

Farewells and hugs to family and off we limp to Newport, the first stop on our journey for LilyPad’s necessary multitude rehabilitations.  Our final destination for these major repairs, Portland Oregon and B. Young Tiffin Dealership to insure the ailing ball joints and boots are done correctly. While waiting for ordered parts to replace those dangerously worn, Tuff Top Awning will replace three slide toppers, on site, for three of our slide outs.

Mornings are cool and Highway 101 remains a disaster of road restoration coupled with the mounting collection of Total Solar Eclipse seekers gathering along the coast.

More road work

Rolling waves of fog stubbornly interject dense blankets of haze across what is normally an amazing view and we slow to enjoy each fog breakout scene.  Our travel speeds are cut from regular speed limits to half.

Fogy coastal view   Along the coast

John crept across Thomas Cr. Bridge, highest bridge in Oregon, 345 feet high and presently spanning out completely above the thick fog.

From Thomas CR. Bridge

Just past Gold Beach, fishing boats, out for their limit of salmon.  Dozens of them are spread out across the entrance to the bay.

Salmon Fishing in the Bay

New white stripes painted on the roads are designed to make a musical sound when crossing over, a helpful noise when the road suddenly sinks into thick fog.

Musical white lines

Nearing Coos Bay, we paused at our favorite rest stop in Bandon, Misty Meadows Specialty Foods and Gifts.   Their fruit jams are phenomenal. The first time we stopped, John drove behind the building to turn around leaving only inches to spare between the motorhome and the building wall.  This time, he decided to turn around in the parking lot.  He must have been thinking five years on the road was ample time to gage this sharp U-turn but it was false security and we got stuck straddling the berm with LilyPad’s two front wheels.

Misty Meadows in Bandon OR   Over the edge

Out from the berry fields came the owner and her nephew to our rescue.  The towed was removed, John rocked LilyPad off the berm, hitched up the towed, thanked them all profusely and we continued on our way with our year supply of delicious berry jam.

Wood carvings are popular throughout this area and it is entertaining to see what each store displays in their yards.

Bandon OR wood carving

Miles of cranberry bogs line the highway on the path to Coos Bay.  The cool coastal sandy soil is home to countless Ocean Spray cranberry fields.

Ocean Spray Cranberries

Waterways run along our right side and we pause to watch the Princess Haru offloading cargo a few miles short of the casino.

Princess Haru

Crossing over the railroad tracks, we enter The Mill Casino Hotel and RV Park.  After a three hour journey, we arrived at the first of many “repair bound” overnights.  Plans are to spend time in the park and relax, planted temporarily.  The Coos Bay Farmers Market is foremost on our list as it is one of the best in the area offering fresh everything.  Exercise for the entire family and a short respite, exactly what we needed.

The Mill Casino and RV Park

Parked and settled, we scouted the RV park and walked along the abutted Ferndale Lower Ridge of the North Pacific Ocean.

Mill Casino Site

Shipping docks, long ago rotted and consumed by the brackish waters, left their tell-tale spears rising out of the water.

Our view at casino

Local sea birds have claimed many of the decaying dock piers as their homes and nesting habitats.

Gull nest

 

Bright and early next morning the three of us were off to the Farmers Market in downtown Coos Bay.

Farmers Market

Last pass through we scored the most delicious strawberries we had ever tasted. Sadly, this trip was not taken during strawberry season. Free entrance, upbeat music, every possible food type imaginable, four legged family member friendly and great leg stretching opportunity made for an entertaining morning adventure.

Music

After our stroll down a half dozen crowded streets, I paused for a bathroom break. Exiting the bathroom near the Market, I once again was struck by the large bold sign, in multiple languages, heart wrenching and socially disgraceful but verifiable true, assaulting my soul and dampening my happy spirit.  Another written plea in a public restroom located on a well-traveled road. I am thankful someone buys and posts each and every one, that they have to exist continues to turn my stomach and chill the blood in my veins, reawakening my determination to keep an eye open for odd child behavior wherever we may land.

The notices are posted to warn and enlighten individuals, a high percent being foreign children and young adults, about their right to flee the bondage of illegal human trafficking. It is shocking so many citizens are unaware of this atrocity. The sight of my first sign resulted in phone calls to local police. Being informed by a policeman, many of these perverted degenerates live the rolling lifestyle to travel under law enforcement’s radar. It has forever changed my outlook when in new surroundings.  A harsh reminder that evil can be lurking in the most welcoming and secure looking communities.

Back to our LilyPad for the night, a Red Box movie and sleep.

 

Packed up and rolling early, roadways not in repair are smooth and easily passable.  Tiny townships allowed us several rest stops between temporary overnights.  Rolling along the new roads, a few of the old roads can be seen off to the side, unbelievably cracked, shifted and splitting.

The old road (2)   The old road

The coastline this morning has minimal fog so the ocean views are incredible.

Seacoast view

Passing landscapes flowed from ocean to river and back to ocean.  We drove along the Nestucca River for several miles appreciating the peaceful stillness of the water.

Nestucca River

Back on stable inland roads, we reached our destination for the night, pulling into the Newport Elks Lodge but finding no room at the inn, not one sliver of a hookup site was available. We have rarely seen an Elks Lodge with all slots occupied. Parking on the Highway101 side of the Elks parking lot along with a few other overnighters, we set down temporary roots, fired up our generator and wound down from traveling among the hectic total solar eclipse seeking travelers. The Newport area is near epicenter for the August 21st 2017 Solar Eclipse.

Elks Lodge Newport OR

Next morning we awoke in a leisurely fashion, took KatieBug on an extended walk and set out to explore. During a previous visit we found an amazing restaurant serving fresh fish and local produce.  It is located across from the docks near the grand and stately Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Yaquina Bay Marina

We walked the wharf, stopping to check out the Fresh Catch of the day.

Newport Fishing Boats

One fishing boat had a special blessing printed on its side.  We stood near the standing shelter and read:  Oh Lord, thank you for one more day.  Bless my Mother and Father, watch over my children and all those I love and hold dear.  And Lord, help me to be a better man, walking through this life, that I might make a difference in someone else’s.  For Your name’s sake, Amen

Capt. Rocky Moffatt

The sign made both of us smile.

Fishing Boat in the Marina

Turning back towards town, we wandered around, poking our heads into seaside gift shops, a dog boutique and several fish markets. Fresh sweet smelling handpicked crab pieces were coming home with us and were to be the headliner in a scrumptious crab salad for tomorrow’s dinner.

Airy and casual, Local Ocean Seafood was our destination for lunch. Been here before and it is always an excellent choice for the freshest seafood, locally grown veggies and friendliest service.  Small in space but expanded by availing outdoor dining and cranking open huge windows on both floors giving your senses multiple exposures to the ocean. Seeing the rolling waves and fishing boats bobbing up and down, hearing gulls cry and ship bells ring, smelling the salty breezes, all a few steps from your table, makes for a relaxing dining experience.  Another five star meal settling in our tummy’s, we walked to the car and turned it towards the Elks Lodge.

On the ride home, I noticed a glass blowing shop and we took a detour to watch a class shape molten  orbs of glass.  Looked like fun so I mentally added a glass blowing class to my Bucket List.

Glass Blowing Class

Arriving back at LilyPad, we packed up what little was out of place and made ready to move on early a.m.

 

The morning sun broke through the fog as we left masses of eclipse viewers settling in for the event.  Off to our next stop.  Passing over one of Oregon’s numerous attractive art deco bridges, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is stretched out over coastal sand dunes for several miles along our route.

Art Deco Bridge

Weekday visitors seem to be a calmer group but during the summer, weekend visitors triple the attendance, the sandy mounds become crawling with four wheelers zipping along, being jettisoned up into the air, their landings spewing clouds of beach grit in every direction.

Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area

We passed handmade stick lettering, five feet high and designed from large pieces of driftwood, stuck into the sand bars asking visitors to “leave nothing but footprints” and a peace symbol, made alike, a short distance away. Some four wheeling tourists who pass thru seem hellfire bent on contradicting the results expected by kitschy artistic environmentalist pleas. Hydration debris and other trash was scattered alongside four wheel tracks running up, over and around the sand dunes.

Several more hours rolling in slow motion, passing strings of bike riders traveling near edges of cliffs and attempting to “share the road”.  We reached Tillamook, our next overnight and parked near the entrance of the Lodge.

Bikes and curves   Bikes on US 101

Another no hookup dry camping stay, we arrived on the date of the Tillamook Elks Lodge’s Annual Bar B Q and picnic. Members come out of the woodwork to attend and the park was overflowing with celebrators.

Dry Camping Tillamook Oregon

This was our second visit to this lodge. Although primarily a quiet farming town, the Lodge was abuzz with activity and entertainment.  My reason for loving this area are the dozens of local dairy farmers supplying the country with my favorite cheese, Extra Sharp Tillamook Cheddar.

The Lodge is friendly, as are all, and after settling ourselves, we were invited to the picnic area to join in the fun, food and banquet. Hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, coleslaw and cake for three dollars, what a deal! Horseshoe torments, music, a super-sized water slide and other family events and games would continue throughout the day. Asthma beginning to squeeze tight my lungs, I wisely chose not to venture outside in the breezy pollen and hay filled air. Instead I stretched out in front of the TV, feet up and chair leaned back while John visited with the Elks Lodge Folks and brought back our dinner from the bar-b-q. After a Red Box movie, we called it a day.

Slow to rise and dress, we casually drove around town for photo ops of this region’s predominant creatures, cows and chickens. The chicken ranch had multiplied tenfold.

Tillamook chicken farm

Where there had been one medium house-size lot, now stood a gigantic ranch stretching across several acres.

Tillamook chicken Farm chickens

I noticed a dozen or more wheeled and mobile chicken coops designed to house hundreds of free range chickens, the bright red chicken house pods were all decked out for roosting and egg laying.  It is satisfying to see mom and pop businesses prosper.

The milk cattle farm down the road was typical of the tidy barns, stalls and milking facilities this area uses for the Tillamook brand of cheese.

Tillamook Farm

Still an unpleasant odor, we kept the windows closed and inside air circulating, my lungs thankful for the filter inside Ribitts interior, while we watched the cows munching before being milked.

Tillamook cow farm

This visit, the thick foggy outdoor air had the odor of sour hay, wet sweaty dog and muddy cow dung rolled into a noxious combination. Our brief car tour, less than an hour, allowed enough leakage of extremely unpleasant odors to further set off my asthma sending me back to LilyPad and our two HEPA filters for the duration of our stay. Spring, compounded with farming scents, has never been my favorite and outdoor time must remain limited.  Relaxing in LilyPad for the rest of the night suited me fine.

 

Early to rise and all set for departure, we began our final leg of our limp to have LilyPad repaired in Portland, fingers crossed nothing further would befall our box on wheels. A quick stop at the local Walmart for supplies, entertainment provided by a local Wal-Martian.

Wal-Martian

A few additional hours on the road and we would arrive prepared to forge through the three motorhome service appointments.

Crossing California through to Oregon, one would have to be wearing blinders not to see the homeless, either stricken by poverty, perhaps a complete absence of ambition or a mixture of other sad human conditions.  Major highways have tents tucked into the brush and built in among the trees,

Freeway camp  More freeway camps

crumbling and vacant buildings house vagrants living in boxes, homeless living out of shopping baskets in downtown parking lots,

Portland street people

drifters sleeping in alleyways carrying backpacks of all they own, crippled and partially demolished RV’s settled permanently on the side of major streets or under bridges,

brokendown trailer    Portland road dwellers

they are everywhere and year after year they remain, either refusing to conform to the rules of assistance or incapable of accepting the help offered.  It is hard to understand, heartbreaking to see and impossible to alleviate.   I will never reach a comfort level seeing so many downtrodden humans broken down along the paths we travel.

We came across the perfect pause for distraction and a late breakfast break.  Camp 18, an old logging camp turned restaurant, provided an entertaining rest stop.

Camp 18

This is Bigfoot country and you are met with a giant size chain saw carving of the creature upon entering the parking lot.  On the front steps, more intricate wood carvings of men and animals decorate the long porch and entrance.

Camp 18 Bigfoot     Carved figures

Inside is warm and inviting.  Huge solid logs brace the walls, ceilings and floors.  Antler and stained glass chandeliers hang above your head and protrude from the walls throwing soft glows across the antique décor surrounding dining tables.  Monstrous sugary cinnamon buns are guided onto platters by wait staff and brought to customers who find them so large they share with everyone at the table.  John and I shared a sensible breakfast, then splurged and split a cinnamon bun.

Camp 18 restaurant, to Portland

Displayed outside was old logging equipment and miscellaneous spare parts found on the property.  This is a popular place to eat but our wait was short.  After allowing KatieBug to peruse the outskirts of the property, we got back on the road.

Logging crane   Vintage logging pieces

Nearing our end destination we crossed mud flats.  I imagined plump juicy Quahogs hiding under the muck.  Digging for clams is another Bucket List item postponed for another time.

Mud flats

Arriving at The Columbia River RV park, it is tight fitting, road noise is loud and continual, airplanes fly overhead day and night with some train noise thrown in to add to the annoyance. If we didn’t have to be here, we certainly wouldn’t. On the plus side, the area was familiar to us, convenient for availability of necessities and the home of a scarce but reputable amount of acceptable Tiffin repair shops.

Dragging our feet on this section of our journey, our scouting for entertaining distractions has been replaced by searching for well rated diesel companies, not an easy task for our type and size of motorhome. Quickly becoming apparent, 2017’s West Coast Experience will be a disappointingly money draining parallel to the previous travel up the Pacific coastline. Our first trip, the leak repair stalled our travel for three months and gutted the entire bedroom before we were able to roll on down the road. Tiffin parts and dealerships are sporadically located in this part of the country. We spent the lion’s share of this journey and many sizeable wads of cash desperately trying to secure critical motorhome mends.

I enjoy being in one place for a week but Happy Camper status quickly turned sour as the air filled with smoke and covered our area with gray haze. Canada’s smoke, from over 100 fires, was covering Portland Oregon, sneaking up the Columbia River and rising to hazardous outdoor conditions for breathing, according to the air quality reports. Our campground sits on the banks of the Columbia River. Checking the government national fire map, I saw the wildfire devastation going on up and down the entire coastal mountain area of the USA, currently worst consumed being Idaho.

Smoke over the Columbia River

Additional fires along multiple mountain ranges in US coastal states are causing hazardous breathing conditions far and wide. Lungs already struggling, I’ll have intimate knowledge of the inside of our 350 square foot rolling box by the time it is safe for me to breathe outdoor air.

And the good news is, the slide toppers were installed quickly and professionally in one day. The rest of the story, our list of “it’s always something” just grew to gargantuan proportions. A pre-ordered new A/C unit will not be arriving in Portland. The repair shop cancelled our order permanently. John made several calls, ordered an air conditioner from Tiffin and it will ship to an RV repair in Brookings that we have used successfully in the past. The silver lining, another chance to visit family.

A third trip to diagnose our front end “knock” has been identified as a loose ball joint on one side and torn boots on both sides.  Both must be replaced and are not an inexpensive repair. After much research it was confirmed, no one in Portland could do the job. The closest place, several hours drive back in the direction of which we came, is mandatory.

Also detected, our 4 year old Road King shocks, top of the line in cost, need adjusting. I had voiced concern over the hard ride for the last six months. My back had complained at each bounce, confirmation enough for me but John needed word from a professional. Now they will finally be replaced as the procedure for adjustment is costly and requires removing, shipping to their factory, then reinstalling, all while you are stalled in one place, unable to move for the entire adjusting process.  John made the decision to buy another well rated brand and the cash bleed out continued.

With the heat rising daily and unsafe levels of smoke, we are forced to leave Portland immediately after the slide toppers are complete.  It appears Seattle, Spokane, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and Canada are unquestionably struck from 2017’s itinerary due to unsafe levels of smoke and a multitude of road closures from fast moving flames. If we consider a six month western coastal trip again, we will leave Texas mid-March to be a lengthy distance from wildfire prone states when air quality fires up the hazardous smoke levels in July.

Our many repair visits to keep LilyPad in top shape while in Texas was begrudgingly accepted so as to allow freewheeling months of fun. Retirement and the RVing life, according to the wide variety of “pro full timing” articles and books we keep reading, tout a carefree and easy lifestyle.  After five years on the roll, I think the truth is being deceivingly fudged to keep the recreational vehicle manufacturers in business.

Today John found the town of Grants Pass has one quality repair shop but the path is dense with smoke.  Dangerous travel for me but our Austin Air filters will stay on, I mask my face “Michael Jackson” style and the journey is mandatory for repair. The thought of having our front end ball joints snap and drop us to the road mid highway, stalling us roadside in the midst of hazardous breathing conditions, is frightening.

Stopping overnight halfway, in the small town of Myrtle Creek at Tri City RV, we watched as helicopters dropped their water bucket firefighting equipment into the nearby river, refill and speed towards distant flames. The gigantic grey clouds of wildfire smoke loomed in the distance.

The RV park was clean, reasonably priced and well kept.  We were exhausted and in need of rest.  A walk for KatieBug, dinner and off to bed for us all.

Tri Cities RV, Tri City, OR

Our sleep was interrupted several times by staccato blasts from the nearby fire stations emergency siren. Waking me repeatedly, I went outside sometime around 3:00 am joined by several other campers questioning the alarms.  None of us had a clue.  Next morning I called the non-emergency police department/fire department to question the reason for wee morning wake up sirens. The reason made me laugh, even after having so few hours of sleep. It was the procedure they used to call ambulance drivers to rush to the firehouse for all emergencies. This town must have dreadful cell phone service!

 

On the road again with thick grey smoke nipping at our heals.  On the way out, I took a photo of signage.  A big red stop sign and right below “Right turn permitted without stopping”.  Pure Oregon.  Next RV park stop is managed by an acquaintance from Conroe, Texas.

d

July 11th through July 18th 2017 Willits and Eureka California

The pathway to Willits took us through miles of flat farm lands before skirting Clear Lake and depositing us near our next overnight site.

to willits (4)   Clear Lake

Willits California is another gateway to incredibly scenic beauty.  Our KOA campground sits blocks shy of the mountainous drive leading through conjoined families of giant Redwood forests for which the California coast is noted.  The road we will travel leads directly to California’s coastal waters and the splendor of the rocky west coast.

Willits, CA

Our en route stop, a roadside park, featured a vintage machine used to transport logs up and down rivers called a Steam Donkey.  A common nickname for a steam powered winch or logging engine, the Donkey Engine was widely used in logging operations.

Steam Donkey

KOA’s are family campgrounds, activities abound with much to do for children of all ages.  The Willits KOA boasts a petting zoo, swimming pool, water works area and their calendar was stuffed with activities.  We parked by the entrance gate house, removed the car from the tow dolly, registered in the office and crept slowly to our site.

KOA Campground

Arriving at our space, I discovered John had not booked us with full hook-ups.  Not a perfect situation but not a deal breaker so we settled in near the entrance of the park.  The gravel roads brought clouds of dust covering a two foot area of the air with each passerby but we arrived before the weekend rush so dust was minimal and all was quiet for a few of the following days.

Our siteOur site (2)

Summer being in full swing, the arrival of Friday brought families with children who dashed around everywhere on bikes and scooters. I am not fond of KOA’s. They cater to campers who bring hordes of children begging their parents for nightly smoky campfires, their arrival and departure times interrupt senior sleep hours and we pay for kiddie attractions and events not ever wanted, needed or used. After a quick grocery shopping trip for supplies, our day was done. Dinner, a Red Box movie, early to bed.

This pause in our travels was a gift from John to yours truly. John booked the reservations, planned our itinerary and oversaw our visits to Glass Beach. I am not sure how my love of sea glass developed but the nuggets of sea-tumbled pastel colored glass fascinate me and whatever beach we visit, my eyes dart across the sands searching for the tiny treasures.

 

Rising early to drive in the crisp coolness of morning, our journey to Glass Beach began with a 30 mile trek through narrow, curvy roads and steep grades up and down the mountains. Giant Redwood tree families line the roadway and rise up to the sky in pods, each pod consisting of trees in various stages of growth.  I opened my window to draw in the pungent earthy pine scented air.

Winding through the Redwoods  Joined

We shared the road with loggers bringing redwoods out of the forests and massive amounts of tourists zooming along the narrow twisting roads, some pulling RV’s, most in pick-up trucks loaded down with large family-sized packages of camping gear.

Shortly outside the grounds of the KOA is Jackson Demonstration State Forest, the largest of CAL FIRE’s eight demonstration state forests.  With a long history of industrial logging activity beginning in 1862 and continued under private ownership until being purchased by the state in 1947, today there is an impressive greater forest growth than is harvested.

Coast redwood is the most common tree but Douglas fir, grand fir, hemlock, bishop pine, tanoak, alder, madrone and bay myrtle live in harmony with the redwoods.   Easily walkable paths and hiking trails wind through the wooded forests.  Posted trail guides inform visitors about the ecology, history and management of the redwood forest.  The area is recreationally dense and includes trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming and camping.

Passing through the ocean side town, I spied our first legal weed store with a bright patch of California’s state flower, the Poppy, growing in the yard.  What us baby boomer hippies called “head shops” quickly are becoming the new age of drug store.  Selling pharmaceutical grade marijuana, the dispensaries are popping up along main drags near boarding states not yet convinced of legalizing cannabis.

We are in Weed country   California Poppys

Arriving seaside nearly noontime, the beaches were quickly becoming filled with people, all ages, digging and sorting, searching and picking up glass, stone, shells and assorted keepsakes.

Glass Beachcombers

Even in the water, the glass was easy to spot although most was mini and micro in size. Being “balanced challenged” presented a little difficulty getting down to the water traversing steep rocky ledges, no stairs anywhere. With my cane and John, I was able to reach the icy Pacific Ocean waters and wade through in search of sea glass, displacing sand with my crocs for photo ops. I found several of the opaque stones. They had the appearance of tiny misshapen gum drops resting among the rocks and shells.

Dry sea glass

A few blubbery sea creatures were stretched out on the rocks, occasionally vocalizing their irritable opinions after humans had disrupted their nap-time schedule.

Noyo Bay seals   Glass Beach seals

Beautiful day, incredible views, well worth the time it took us to climb down to where ocean flowed onto sand.  KatieBug met a few new friends and enjoyed chillaxing with John while I sorted through the beach to find a bit of red. The shore was littered with broken sandals left behind.  Tomorrow, if we return, my feet will be wearing something sturdy.

John chose the KOA campground for its proximity to Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. Although Glass Beach is a state beach, I read an article saying no one will search your pockets if you happen to slip in a few pieces of glass. The sea glass is a result of years of trash being thrown onto the beach, the glass tumbled by the surf and washed back ashore.

From 1906 until 1967, garbage dumps Site 1, Site 2 and Site 3 (a.k.a. Glass Beach) were official dumps for the water fronted communities of the Fort Bragg area.

Glass Beach Guide

Tons of household trash, appliances, vehicles, metal equipment pieces, broken machines, garbage and glass was disposed of into the pristine waters by the now environmentally snobbish citizens of the California coastline. Fires were often lit to reduce the size of the trash piles.

California State Water Resources Control Board closed the dumps in 1967 and clean-up efforts began to correct the damage.

The beach in 1906

Over the next few decades, biodegradables were left and most metal was removed and sold, much being used in art pieces sold in the nearby town. Pounding waves turned glass and pottery into collectables being sought by nearly two thousand tourists a year who visit the beaches each day in the Summer months.

Because the glass is slowly diminishing, Captain J.H. (Cass) Forrington has begun a movement to replenish the glass. The Captain’s private collection of sea glass is expansive and a visit to his museum on the main street of town is a must see.

Sea Glass Museum    DSC_4522

We visited his modest but well stocked and informative Sea Glass Museum and chatted with staff member Christopher about the museum and its history.

Christopher

Watching the video’s and gazing at all the glass was an interesting end to our day of glass beach combing.  The captain’s collection contained vintage insulators,  terra cotta shards,

Vintage Insulators   Terra Cotta shards

spark plugs, pottery shards,

Spark Plugs   Pottery shards

fluorescent manganese glass that changes color under black lights, Murano and red glass,

Glass under black glass    Murano and red glass

Fire Glass,

Fire Glass

and innumerable glass covered display cases containing multifarious exotic pieces of pottery, glass and fragments of vintage rubble.

Other finds    Other Finds (2)

Sailor folklore claims that sea glass pieces are tears shed by mermaids.  Neptune’s jealous wrath brings mermaids to tears when they fall in love with a sailor.

DSC_4524

We donated to the cause, took a brochure listing the chances of finding each glass color and wound our way back home through the forest of hairpin 20 mph turns.

Deep into the forest

The trip took nearly an hour and the twisting made the long and winding road leading to our door an uncomfortable ride for my back but not enough to keep me from eagerly planning our return for another attempt at finding red trash glass.

 

Up early and on the road by 8:30, we arrived an hour later and already pickers had converged on the beaches.

Glass Beach

This time I came prepared. Two pair of sandals, a towel, a trowel, a large screen sifter, drinking water and a reusable plastic grocery bag. I was in serious glass picker mode and would not be deterred from my goal for lack of equipment.  I started my search at the water’s edge.

Sea glass in the water

After half an hour, red glass was nowhere to be found. I switched my focus to pottery shards, clear glass and oddities. After two hours on the beach, John was noticeably board, KatieBug was frustrated from being held in check and was straining against her leash in an effort to break free and dash around the beach. I was gleefully successful as a picker but minus the apprized red glass.

To reward John for his patience, we searched for a café serving fish stew, his favorite, along the waterfront of Noyo Bay.

Fishing Boat in Noyo Bay

Finding an open café with tables outside, John got his sea treat, savoring the flavorful tomato and fish stock broth while KatieBug and I enjoyed views from the dock and cooling breezes being pushed to shore from the ocean.

Noyo Harbor

Our travels have led to discoveries of quirky American creativity and ingenuity.  Parked out front of the café seating area, a vintage car transformed into an outboard motor boat.

Ft Bragg Noyo harbor

Passing three resale shops the previous day, John stopped so I could check out the local resale pickings. A soft baby blanket to cover KatieBug’s bed, a tea light holder and vintage buttons for me, all for pocket change. Everyone was ready to return to LilyPad for a lite dinner, relaxation and night-night.

 

A day of rest before we would set out early next morning.  Groceries, laundry, a few packing and stashing away chores before nightfall and turning in early.

 

At the break of dawn, we were off and traversing the bends of 101 to Eureka, our next destination.  The omnipresent long distance bike riders rolling along highway shoulders, in succession, sporting brightly colored shirts and helmets.

101 to Eureka

Rounding one more bend of the peacefully meandering but seemingly never ending Eel River.

Another bend in the Eel River

The multitudes of emergency fire fighting equipment parked near the road should have been a clue that fire conditions were high and thick black smoke might possibly be blowing around the state.  Putting the thought aside, we continued forward.

Emergency Fire fighting equipment

Nearing the river once again, the traffic slowed to a crawl.  Cars, vans, small trailers and trucks packing overnight camping paraphernalia were exiting, making their way to the rivers edge.  It appeared a large festival was expected to happen along Eel River.

Happening on the Eel River

Richardson Grove State Park, 75 miles South of Eureka and the arrival of welcome shade under the redwoods.   We pointed LilyPad in the direction of Eureka Elks Lodge.

Entering Richardson Grove State Park

The Yin and Yang of traveling through redwoods; magnificent natural beauty but sharing narrow winding roads with cars, 18 wheelers, other RV’s and bike riders.  My first time through was a white knuckle experience.  Now we both breath easier and enjoy the scenery.  Forever changing, the weather was pleasant to start, then patchy fog reduced our view for short distances.

Share the road (2)  Share the road

The secret for getting a good site at an Elks Lodge is arriving early, preferably before 10:00 am. Not a possibility when traveling long distances, we rose at six o’clock, pulling up stakes and on the road by seven, four hours of rolling later, we pulled into a site. The Elk Lodge Spirits were in our favor.

The RV park was busy but not yet full so we backed into our site and began our settling ritual. By afternoon, all sites were filled. Lodge members strolled around the grounds, chatting, greeting each other before heading to the well-stocked bar for drinks which Elks Lodges are well known to offer at extremely reasonable prices.

Eureka Elks Lodge

Eureka is Redwood country. The Eureka Elks Lodge was full the entire five days we stayed. One RV would leave and the site was immediately replaced by another within the hour. All were a friendly group of campers and this is an active Elks lodge. Our second night, we joined in the Cook-Your-Own-Rib-Eye-Steak night, $20.00 for a filling full meal deal.

The small coastal town, for the most part unremarkable, is known for having a higher than average population of meth heads, also known as regular users of methamphetamines.  They walk the streets chatting with ghosts, sit on curbs cursing at traffic and lay on blankets in front of resale stores, some greeting customers, some agitatedly cussing at customers.  We have grown used to their presence but avoid close proximity because of their explosive outbursts and unexpected actions.

Town of Eureka CA

The historic part of town is clean and presentable.  We plan to check out what it has to offer nearer to the end of our stay.

Downtown Eureka CA

 

Our travel to the redwoods brought us through Roosevelt Elk country.  Once almost extinct to California, the elk are now making a comeback and thriving on the edge of the forest.  Late 1800’s to mid 1900’s the land was a former private pasture for cattle and sheep.  When the land became part of the national park, herds of elk living in the old-growth forest migrated to this area.

I am habitually drawn to wild animals so we stopped to view the herd.  People never cease to amaze me, small children and dogs being led onto the field by their parents, frighteningly near where mother Elk are grazing with their young.   Danger signs posted every few feet but “stupid” somehow prevails.

DSC_4624   Roosevelt Elk Herd

Redwood tree sightings were our only plans. We had visited Avenue of The Giants last time through so we chose to explore the various smaller surrounding parks.

 

Early morning travel invariably results in stretches of dense coastal fog.  We would come to small clearings then plunge back into blankets of the thick dampness.  Peripheral sight being smudged, John slowed substantially when driving into each patch.  There are some mighty steep drops should you veer off California’s skinny coastal roads.

Fog in the Redwoods

One clearing granted me an excellent photo op of a herd of elk watching kayakers who had slowed to view the elk.

Elk herd and kayakers

Coupled with fog are the continual repairs being done to highway 101.  Constant traffic paired with immensely weighted logging trucks, a multitude of 18 wheelers hauling life necessities to the coast and big rigs like ours traversing the highway eventually break down the unstable foundation of the roads, splitting sections off and sliding chunks down the steep embankments.  Repairs are ongoing throughout the year and the resulting lane closures slow travel to a snails pace.

Another partial road

There is something primeval about walking among the Redwood groves above and beyond their pungent scent and colossal size. Redwoods have thrived for 240 million years, dying decaying old growth giving birth to young seedlings, old trees nursing young until they are strong enough to join the intertwining communal root system.

John KatieBug Redwoods      Redwoods

Fifty miles north of Eureka, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a coastal sanctuary for old-growth Coast Redwoods.

Redwood State Park

We entered the park and stopped near the trail to hike into the trees, our first visit to the groves this year.

Prairie Creek is home to the “Big Tree” and is our morning destination.  Crowds were low and exiting the car, our eyes were met with the familiar heavenly filtered spears of light piercing through the thick needles above, we stepped out on the decaying dampness underfoot and our noses were overwhelmed with the thick scent of moss and redwood.  The morning was becoming warmer so John carried KatieBug on our hike, no pets allowed on these trails.

Sign by the Big Tree    John KatieBug and the Big Tree

Along the path, an example of the tenacity of tree roots.

Redwood roots (2)

Back into the car, our next stop being the famous Lady Bird Johnson Grove.  Only a short hike to her namesake grove and as an added attraction, the trail is pet friendly.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Redwood Grove

We rested near The Hunnewell-Donald Memorial Grove before reversing our direction and returning to the car.

Memorial Grove

Californians found an ingenious way to preserve redwood groves.  If interested, you can contact www.savetheredwoods.org, and make a contribution, dedicating a tree or grove in honor or memory of someone or something you love.

When a redwood tree undergoes stress from an injury, virus or fungus it generates a burl.

Redwood burls     Redwood burls (2)

A burl is covered by bark and if removed, set partially in water and kept at a steady humidity level, will sprout redwood branches.  Having a successful past history of green thumbism, I bought two that came carefully nested in bags of shredded redwood and tied closed to safeguard them from drying out.  I was given directions for their care by an old codger who claimed the burls would be fine until I reached Texas, several months away.  You can see the green sprigs in his burls laying in a tray in the picture below.

Carvings and redwood burls

Sometimes I am gullible or trusting or both.  To date, one of the burls rotted, one has produced two spindly branches and I am carefully nursing it daily.  Apparently burls do not live happily in motor homes.

Back to LilyPad for the evening, dinner and lights out.

 

With the morning light, comes the fog.  Wanting to explore historic downtown Eureka, we took care of necessities first.  With groceries, laundry, cleaning and other chores completed, we drove into town to explore.

Historic Downtown area Eureka

Resale shops first, then down to the docks to stretch our legs.  The pier and docks are in transition but offer a lengthy level span of a waterfront wharf for walking.

Eureka Pier and docks

Next we drove by the historic home area to check out two Victorian mansions. The 1886 Carson Mansion, now the Ingomar Private Club, a fine dining and social experience for its members.  From the location, perched upon the hill, it has spectacular water views.

William Carson, a redwood timber baron, is quoted as saying about his Mansion, “if I build it poorly, they would say I was a damned miser; if I build it expensively, they will say I’m a show off;  guess I’ll just build it to suit myself.”  Within three stories, it has eighteen rooms, a tower and a basement.  We were able to see the outside but my minds eye could imagine the adornment of opulence inside, designed by the affluent owner who resided here in a bygone era.  The American Queen Anne Style architecture is considered the most grand Victorian home in America.

Carson Mansion 1886 now Ingomar Private club

Across the street, the 1889 Pink Lady, built by William Carson as a wedding gift for his son, Milton Carson.  Much the same style but less grandeur, the home left the Carson family in 1940 and became a boarding house, falling into serious disrepair.  It was purchased by the mayor of Eureka in 1963 and was rehabilitated.  Painted pink to contrast with its grand neighbor, the color resulted in the name.

Pink Lady 1889

The day continued to be overcast.  After walking down some of the historic district streets and peeking into several small boutiques, we drove back to LilyPad and made ourselves ready to roll onward to Brookings Oregon first thing next sunrise.

June 28th through July 11th 2017 Fresno, Lodi, Chico California

Off before sun up for repairs, our destination plans altered once again.  I am smiling as we forge ahead, entering the brilliant sunlit mountainous terrain. Heat and disappearing radiator fluid brought about the inability for LilyPad to pull Ribitts to our next stop. John and KatieBug accompanied LilyPad, Ribitts and I traveled alone. My silver lining of a solo journey was having complete control over all music selections for the entire trip.

Along the way, a shaking clunking noise came from the motorhome undercarriage. Pausing for lunch, we searched through the Tiffin Forum, found a recommended suspension shop, called and added them to our list of fix-it stops.

The weather remains set on dark toast with no signs of cooling down to anything resembling bearable in the foreseeable future. Our hope was to find a 50 amp site with lots of space enabling us to move freely in and out of the site with ease.  Adding another “be careful what you wish for” to our list of “hindsight being 20/20”, the Big Fresno Fair Grounds appeared to fit our needs. Our broken down condition did not allow us the luxury of being overly choosy. We pulled in, paid and set up camp.  The temperature on arrival remained triple digits.

triple digits again

Within a few minutes of turning off the engine, a thick steamy brown smoke seeped into the bedroom from LilyPad’s engine and drifted towards me while I was working on the blog. The stench startled me and I bolted from the motorhome, grabbing KatieBug, my purse and the car keys before dashing out the door screaming at the top of my lungs for John who was removing the car from the tow dolly. I stood away from LilyPad while John poked around the engine and then entered inside.

Investigating, John confirmed it was another leak in the radiator system, probably another blown hose, the smell and smoke coming from the burning hot radiator fluid spraying all over the equally sizzling rear engine and entering LilyPad through our bedroom closet. The odor saturated our clothes and the entire motorhome interior.

Because one of our air conditioners needs a new capacitor and is shut down, the airing out process took an enormous amount of time due to extreme outdoor temperatures.  The wait was stressful and exhausting. Six hours later, circulating 100 degree air and pushing it through the motorhome, the smell finally dissipated enough for us to go inside and fall sleep. It was substantially past bewitching hour when our heads hit the pillows.

In all the commotion, I failed to notice we were the only people spending the night.  Also unsettling, the surrounding neighborhood appears precarious with thick ominous looking security bars on windows and doors.

Next morning, while driving up the street to find a grocer, the reason for window and door bars in the neighborhood became apparent. Piles of trash scattered amid a three block long area of make-shift cardboard and tent housing, the homeless and their shopping baskets full of personal belongings were stretched out under a dozen shade trees lining the streets. Each night, some leave, some stay but it appeared the area was a designated sanctuary for 40 or 50 homeless people, most spending the night.

Our site, at first glance, looked appealing.  Taking a step back, you see “the rest of the story”.  It did have all our requirements and the price was right so we would stay put.

The Big Fresno Fairgrounds  The rest of the story

Across from us are the goat, pig and sheep pens when the fair is up and running.  The air smells of farm animals and blacktop tar from nearby patch repairs.

Our neighbor the livestock pens

Returning to our rolling home each night, the entire fairground stays completely void of people, the exception being a friendly night guard who patrols the grounds every hour in his souped-up golf cart. Unnerved, sleep does not come easy while we are planted at the fairgrounds.

The Big Fresno Fair is the largest annual event in the Central Valley. Attracting more than 600,000 people during its two-week run in October, they feature a large livestock show, exhibits, musical entertainment, live horse racing, educational programs and serves as a link between urban and rural California, educating residents on the importance of the rich agricultural industry. It spans acres of the outlying Salinas downtown area. During our stay, the Junior Exhibits Building hosted a quinceanera and we gratefully welcomed the company.

Up at the crack of dawn, LilyPad’s slides tucked in, we are headed to the Cummins Dealership for diagnostics. For our day of being hot and homeless, KatieBug was sent to PetSmart for a bath, John and I to breakfast and to search for ways to keep out of the stifling heat. Even with an appointment, diagnosis turned into an all-day affair and we drove our car around with no place to stop but the air conditioning of a local Walmart, Marshall’s, Whole Foods and Trader Joes.

At the end of the day, we picked up our clean and fresh smelling fur baby, retrieved LilyPad and drove back through the highly populated homeless section of Fresno to our deserted fair grounds. Evening temperatures remaining above 100, LilyPad still in breakdown mode with half a week gone and every day being dedicated to the sole purpose of repair shop visits.

 

Next day, up before the heat arrived for diagnostics at Betts for LilyPad’s suspension. Luck on our side, after 4 hours, Betts charged us a sawbuck and told us our hydraulic leveling system and shocks had a little give but were secure enough to travel until we found a dealership for any needed repairs.

Knowing the fixing of several “it’s always somethings” would reach deep into our pockets , we stingily kept our wallets closed and drove around searching for interesting but gratis activities.  One repetitious sight, multiple tall forest green spires, natures church steeples, shooting up into the sky, rivaling the pointed heights of church turrets, both rising above the skyline, piercing the baby blue heavens.

Natures church steeples

I had not planned for repair “down time” this trip, quite sure we had fixed everything before we departed. A Facebook post read, “You know great things are coming when everything seems to be going wrong. Old energy is clearing out for new energy to enter. Be patient.” – Idil Ahmed.

Patience is not in my DNA. When I am desperately hot, lungs struggling for air from breathing dust and burning smoky damp chemical radiator fluid, stuck in an uncomfortable and questionable location at night, unable to pause anywhere during the day because KatieBug isn’t allowed in stores, all of us restricted from our home multiple days in a row, this gray haired old lady’s single patience gene disappears.

This weekend is The Fresno Flea Market, a dozen football fields of hot blacktop covered in square metal framed structures topped with a variety of multicolored tarp roofs and selling everything we would never want or need.

Flea Market

The walk across the street was our one and only outdoor exploration during the seven days we spent stalled in Fresno. 9:00 am, already sweltering, sluggishly dragging ourselves the short distance, paid the entrance fee, bought a tacky umbrella to keep the sun from scorching our heads, crept from one shade spot to another, found nothing and walked back home.  At least we made an attempt to venture outside to confirm it was one horribly bad idea.

Nighttime approaching, we were grateful to Red Box for allowing us something with which to entertain ourselves while we wait for our next repair appointment.

 

The weekend passed, this morning we are off to Cummins at the first peek of the sun.  Assured LilyPad would remain plugged in, we left for the day, returning at 3pm to find our motorhome sitting out in full sun, no plug connected and not repaired.  Unhappy campers, we asked the manager why our full time home remained out in the heat all day without allowing the a/c to be connected. Excuses, but no logical reply. When the motorhome was finished, six hours after promised, the inside of LilyPad was a blistering 120 degrees.

Paying, leaving and settling back into our fairgrounds site, I opened the freezer and saw water dripping off everything. John quickly moved whatever possible to our downstairs electric ice chest, stacked refrigerator food in our rolling Coleman ice chest and reset the refrigerator. Next morning, believing all to be in working order, we trustingly put everything away.

On our final night before leaving the fairgrounds, we were joined by two small campers.  Their arrival did nothing to decrease my feeling of unease.

Neighbors at Fresno  Fair Grounds

 

Next morning we left the fairgrounds, any possible AquaHot water heating system attention could wait until Lodi, our next destination. The broken a/c capacitor would be fixed in Harbor Oregon where we had shipped the new part and our failing Road King shocks would be diagnosed at the dealership in Colorado. That was our plan but the universe had its own ideas and wasn’t paying any attention to our itinerary.

Lodi was to be our “in-between repairs” breather. A vital downtime to savor a few moments of retirement, taste wine, visit the farmers market and plant ourselves among friendly people, a safe environment and calm surroundings.

We drove in on Hwy 99 passing row after row of Oleander bushes and patches of Eucalyptus trees.

Hwy 99 to Lodi

As soon as wine vines came into view, we knew wineries were not far from our reach.

Vineyards

Arriving at Flag City RV Resort early afternoon, our site was paved, spacious, with excellent power and water pressure.  Nothing makes me smile wider than a new-to-us RV park with no bad surprises.

Lodi is where Robert Mondavi, who put California wine on the map, grew up. I checked out the deep red wine choices and noted four wineries to visit for tastings.  Back in relax mode, we turned in for the night.

 

Morning arrived and we thought the winds of change might begin to blow in our direction, at least for the next few days. Our Aqua Hot repairman was mobile, no need to uproot to find the shop. The appointment was quick, easy and he found no damage to our system from the blown out coolant hose. Now we could focus on the important task of wine tasting.

First up was Michael David Winery for their Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. Gracious winery but only an OK tasting. Their wine stayed at the winery and we moved on.

Next was Abundance Vineyards for a 2013 Petite Sirah. Beautiful Southwestern style winery tasting room with an impressive Manzaneta wood wine caddy standing by the bar. What we came to taste was not available. We chatted and left empty handed.

Abundance Vineyards           Wine rack at Abundance Vineyards

Lange Twins Winery was chosen for a 2014 Cabernet Reserve.

Langetwins Winery

The tasting room, winery and storage tank area was massive but the wine fell short of our expectations and had an excessive price tag.

Langtwins tasting room     Wine vats

Fields Family Wines was a small, unimpressive, warehouse building with a barely pleasant wine steward behind the bar. He controlled his distaste for us using a Groupon long enough to make it through the tasting but only because he was catering to another couple already imbibing. We guessed his attitude was due to a disappointing day, or by the expression on his face, sour grapes . His social skills during the presentation were egregious. Our Groupon included a bottle of wine and we left with the only winery where a bottle came home with us.  We broke open a bottle of our private stock of Joel Gott and watched the sun set.

 

Next morning we woke to another near flawless day of tranquility. Lodi Farmers Market was a short drive into town, located on the main street section and enough shopping, dining and general merchandise to fit my idea of small town perfection.

Lodi, CA

Parking up the street, we strolled along the blocks, hand in hand, warm sun, cool breeze,

Downtown Lodi Farmers Market     Farmers Market Lodi was blocks long

soft rock band music echoing in the distance.

The Band at Farmers Market Lodi CA

The sign posted near the market entrance gave us both a chuckle.

Farmers Market Lodi, CA

John decided a snack might hold him over until dinner. Rosewood, claiming to have the best bar-b-q oysters, sounded ideal. I love bar-b-q oysters and we make several stops at Gilhooley’s, purveyor of premium oysters in San Leon Texas whenever we are in the area.  Two beers later, I ordered half a dozen oysters. I know my jaw didn’t drop when I saw the plate but surprise is too mild a word for my reaction.  I asked if these oysters were the normal size they served. “Why yes” was the reply. Finishing, I ordered one single oyster, placed a dime next to the oyster and my Nikon preserved the setting.  That photo ended my “perfect little town” perception.  For $3.50 you get one single oyster, containing double the oyster’s weight in cheese, a reality shock and nowhere near my idea of perfection.

Rosewood B-b-q oyster

Returning to LilyPad, we passed a vintage Mickey D’s with golden arches, closely resembling the first McDonald’s restaurant in Chico.  The sight brought back memories of John and my young adult lives together in California.  Back then, we had considered dinner at McDonalds and a few beers at Some Other Place bar, to be a night out on the town.  Retirement has brought us closer to those days than when John and I both were employed.  But no real serious complaints about our rolling around the US.  It is an adventurous lifestyle, good for some, not so much for others but sure beats staying home, doing nothing.

Lodi McDonalds

Back at LilyPad, John remarked our bed was harder than normal. Sleep Number beds fluctuate with the altitude but our bed wouldn’t adjust. Crawling under, he unplugged, wiggled wires, untangled hoses, replaced batteries and generally rattled every connection possible. One final push on the controls and a soft “shhhhh” sound let us know John had solved the problem. Oh how I love quick, easy, no cost solutions.  And now, to all a good night.

 

As is our usual practice, an early start for a day of rolling down the road.  Rice fields surround us.  Crop dusters swoop past, spreading chemicals over the rice fields, some spilling over onto cars speeding along the roadways.

Crop dusting rice fields

Giant storage bins sit in wait for their load of harvested rice.

Rice Silos

We passed over the peacefully still Sacramento River with the calm reflections of trees lined along its banks.

Sacramento River

Throughout our travels across California, we have noticed the love of Oleander plants. Oleanders line freeway mediums, serve as neighborhood fence lines and grow in backyards freely. I fail to understand why a state, so clearly concerned with human life, would let a poisonous plant grow freely when every part of the plant is a danger to living beings.  The roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, sap and nectar contains naturally-occurring cardiac glycosides, toxins directly affecting the electrolyte balance within the heart muscle. Oleander leaves or flowers floating in water will leach poison. I am at a loss to understand the attraction.

Oleander

Prior to arriving in Chico, we followed behind several convoys of Emergency Fire and Rescue trucks from Williamson Rescue, engines spattered with pink foam retardant and grey muck, returning home after fighting the Wall fire.

Rescue fire fighters

Chico greeted us as we crossed over the town’s boarder.

Welcome to Chico

Chico Elks Lodge has a gorgeous RV park. Only water and electric with gravel roads but had it availed full hook-ups, it would not have empty spaces. No trains, no planes, no traffic, quiet and safe, snugly tucked under giant old Oak Trees at the back of the Lodge.  The Elks host a baseball diamond on the property, they built a substantial covered pavilion with bar-b-q pits, tables, horseshoe pits, a large children’s playground full of swings and other play equipment and a half acre of giant shade treed grassy space for activities

Elks RV Park   Elks RV Park and grounds

Another plus, when staying at this Elks Lodge, your second drink is free. At our age, two is our maximum and driving the block back to our RV spot is a short, traffic free, no-pressing-of-the-gas-pedal roll.

LilyPad comfortably set up and planted in the same site where we had previously stayed, John drove past a few old haunts in town.  The corner liquor store where I bought my Boones Farm and Pagan Pink Ripple wine, the motel for which I worked while attempting to squeeze a living out of Chico State University’s job scarce college town and gigantic Bidwell Park with Big Chico Creek flowing gracefully through the forested 2,400 acres.

My corner liquor store

Sadly grandpa and grandma’s home and Verzi Hall, the women’s dorm, are gone, cleared from the earth’s surface and soon to be an apartment complex. Grandpa’s men’s dorm house, where I lived in the downstairs 2 bedroom apartment, is still standing.  Tangibles of my youth may be gone but memories will forever remain. Each evening, returning to LilyPad, the nights are silent and sleep comes quickly.

 

The sun comes up and temperatures slowly rise to a steady 107, increasing only slightly higher as we come into peak heat levels for the afternoon.  With 2,700 acres of the Butte County Wall Fire blazing through the hills nearby and only 20% contained, I was momentarily concerned but the winds were blowing away from the town and the firefighters working out of town had returned home.

Groceries, errands and a walk through main street rounded out our day and TV entertained us for the evening.  In tonight’s sky, the moon’s lower half was hidden behind a thick cloud of smoke from the fires. Had I know what was to be in our future West Coast travels, I would have turned tail and sped back to Texas.

Chico was the home of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, my parents and myself, off and on, for several decades.  John attended and graduated from Chico State University.  Neither of us had visited Bidwell Mansion, the home of Chico’s patriarch.  We both thought today would be an  excellent day to do so.  The Mansion’s Italian Villa style, with its soaring tower, remains the town’s focal point.

The picture below, 1870 depiction, was borrowed from the Bidwell Mansion Association’s website: http//www.bidwellmansionassociation.comstory-of-bidwell-mansion.html.  The site contains additional information on the Bidwell’s and their lives.

httpwww.bidwellmansionassociation.com

Known for their gracious hospitality, John and Annie used the mansion extensively for entertaining friends, family and a host of special invitees.  Their list of guests included, President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony, Francis Willard, Governor Leland Stanford, John Muir, Asa Gray, and Sir Joseph Hooker.

Bidwell Mansion

John Bidwell was born in 1819 to a poor East Coast farming family.  As an ambitious 22 year old, he crossed the Sierra Nevada and arrived in California.  Finding gold on the Feather River, he purchased more than 26,000 acres of land including a parcel known as Rancho Del Arroyo Chico in 1851.  His plans to build a 26 room mansion began in 1865 and the home was completed in 1868.

Despite his modest roots, he became a key figure in California’s history, participating in the Bear Flag Revolt, lobbied in Washington for California’s statehood, achieved valuable advances in agriculture, founded the town of Chico, served a term in the House of Representatives and was nominated for US president.  While serving in the House of Representatives, he met the much younger Annie Ellicott Kennedy, a  Presbyterian activist who would become his wife.

Annie came to live in Bidwell Mansion after it was nearly completed.  John bought an extravagantly priced piano, shipping it to the mansion at great expense, for her as a wedding gift.  He hoped it would lessen any disappointment she felt for not having more involvement with her new home’s construction.

Wedding gift piano

The house contained many modern conveniences including running water, flush toilets, acetylene gas lighting system, eight fireplaces and wall to wall carpeting.  John and Annie had their own large private bathroom.

master bathroom

The hall was built with huge closets to store trunks for the influential people who came and stayed for long periods, extra bathrooms for guests, even a child’s bedroom for the children of guests.

bathroom  Visiting childrens room

The President’s bedroom was beautifully furnished and near as large as John and Annie’s room.

Presidents room

A painted slate fireplace was featured in the dining room and the dining table expanded to seat a dozen dignitaries.

Painted Slate fireplace      Dining room

In the corner of the sitting room was an Edison original, one of his first record players and in the bookcase, a set of originals, History of Women Suffrage.

First record player    Original history of Women Suffrage

There was an indoor laundry room and the kitchen contained one of the first refrigerators.

Indoor laundry room   Kitchen

Up on the third floor, bedrooms for the presidents staff and extra rooms for storage.

Outside was the carriage house displaying several styles of  carriages typical of those used in the 1800’s.

Carriage house

General John Bidwell passed away in 1900 and Annie, honoring her husbands wishes, donated 2,400 acres of creek side property to the city of Chico in fulfillment of her husbands wishes.  The park, established July 10, 1905, was given the official name of Bidwell Park.

In 1918, Annie died and bequeathed the mansion and grounds to the Presbyterian church to establish a coeducational Christian school where the Bidwell values would be taught.  The church realized establishing and continuing such a school was not possible and in 1923 the property was acquired by the Chico State Teachers College.  In 1964, the California State Park System gained possession, naming it the Bidwell Mansion State Historical Monument but later changing to Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park.

After walking the mansion grounds, John thought we should drive through the park to reawaken memories long past, reflecting on the years we appreciated Bidwell Park for all it had offered, long walks, swims in the cool waters, peace and quiet, gatherings with friends.  We stopped several times to breath in the forest bouquet and reflect, not in any hurry to interrupt our thoughts.

Back to LilyPad at sunset, pack up inside and out, early to bed for next mornings drive.

 

Leaving slowly from our site at Chico Elks Lodge, sunshine rising above the distant mountain, we watch several young men practice in the cool mist of the morning on the baseball field. John dumps our tanks and I watch dragonflies zip around the outfield. KatieBug has had her morning constitutional and we are on our way. The drive is not long and we should arrive at our next destination, Willits California, before noon.

June 24th through 28th 2017 Oakhurst (Yosemite) California

If Santa Clara was a heatwave, Oakhurst was the fires of Hades. On the way, the weather was hot and dry.

To Oakhurst  Dry hills and windmills

When we arrived it was a combustible 117 degrees.

Oakhurst triple digits

Our 30 amp site sits in the dust and gravel of the lower campground at the foot of the steep set of steps descending from the Oakhurst Elks Lodge.  Extremely reasonable, but you get what you pay for.

Elks Lodge Oakhurst, CA

We kept our generator running to keep us cool and finally retired with our 30amp plug supplying our electricity at 11pm. 30 amps will only run one air conditioner, nothing else, and no ability to keep 350 square feet below 90 degrees when temperatures exceed double digits. Nighttime brings the cooler and more bearable temperatures.

These past weeks of “it’s always something” have snuck up and pounced, substantially squeezing enjoyment from our West Coast trip. Being stalled where temperatures reach those of an inferno is unpleasant but without alternatives.  Our car won’t hold a charge and must be jumped to start, our air bed won’t release air and is stuck on hard-as-a-rock, the left side of LilyPad is without power and, although no leaks show up on the ground, LilyPad is not holding coolant in the radiator. I am certain the intolerable heat showed up to show us, no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.

Because steep grades up and down hills would put considerable stress on our car’s 12 year old engine and cooling system, paired with this hellfire heat, we had planned to rent a car to traverse the mountains around Yosemite National Park. Expecting the rental but not a repair bill for our trusty elderly Lexus, we reserved a standard size car and searched for an auto repair shop nearby.

After picking up the rental, we toured around town and stopped at the Visitor Center for information on local dining, shopping and tourist destinations. The two biggest old growth Giant Sequoia groves were closed for reforestation and we inquired about any others to visit. Shadow of the Giants National Recreational Trail, Nelder Grove, was open but a distance away and several miles down a dirt road. Determined to hike among the Sequoias and inhale those marvelous scents, we drove the distance.  On the way we passed an old forest fire,

Wildfire damage

drove down narrow roads used occasionally as range cattle crossings and finally came to the sign designating our arrival at the Grove.

Make way for range cattle   Nelder Grove

Turning off on a lumpy bumpy dirt road, we slowed to 10 mph and opened the windows to take in the cool forest scents.

The not too bad road

Rutted, most of it passible by only one car at a time, we ended at the trail parking lot, took the only open spot, near the vault (pit) toilets. Disgustingly dirty, I gave them a wide berth. Obviously, those here do not take pride in their job of cleaning the vaults as John and I did over the past five years.

We climbed up the trail, stepping over densely packed decaying woody limbs and fresh dropped needles, the forest floor sinking beneath our every step.  A stream ran parallel to the trail.

Stream in the Nelder Grove Historic area

Within a few minutes, the woodland gnats found us, dive bombing our ears and noses.  Minutes later, the scourge of the flying in insects, mosquitos, swarmed our arms and faces, franticly searching for veins. Not prepared for the attack, we hurried back to the car, stopped for a Kodak Moment beside the largest Sequoia we spotted in the area and followed the dreadful road back to civilization.

John and the Giant Sequoia

Close up of John standing by the Giant Sequoia.

John and a Sequoia in Nelder Grove

Smoldering hot days spent with blinds closed and never venturing outside wears on my nerves especially when there are no TV stations and internet is sketchy. On our second day of rental car use, too late to return it for another car, we learn the a/c cools only when we are traveling at speeds in access of 35 mph. Unbelievably inconsiderate of a rental car company located in blazing hot summer destination. Taking the car back for an exchange now would result in a loss of our one and only day of exploration in Yosemite National Park. Our solution was 440 A/C. Four windows down, 40 mph , doable on main roads but not something possible on the multiple hairpin turns that lead to the park.

Warned by the Visitor Center that Yosemite Nation Park is extremely crowded after 11 am, we rose at 6 am and were on the road by 7:30. The drive is long and curvy, steep grades in both to and from directions.  We arrived at Glacier Point, our first stop, at 9 am. Dogs are allowed in the park and KatieBug was happy to be out of the warm car.  She was not a happy camper traveling so far without a/c. The three of us would remain somewhat glistening the entire day.  Our respite, the short periods we stood near the waterfalls.

Today’s plan of attack, after Glacier Point, we would retrace our steps back to Yosemite Valley, stop and park for the hike to Bridalvale Falls and hike to the base of Yosemite Falls.  This said, no plans are ever set in stone. After five years, I have come to realize planning and arrangements are fruitless. Alterations will be made, some daily, a few hourly and in desperate situations, minute by minute. I have never been good at flying by the seat of my pants but I am now less a mess of frustration when traumatic and/or dangerous situations arise.   I am learning to eat what’s served, even when I spy a bug swimming in my soup.

Along our journey to the Park, we stopped to stretch our legs and watch the snow melt waters flowing onto the valley floor.

Snow melt waters

Climbing upward, we stopped for our first view of Yosemite, an overview of the areas we would see up close.

Yosemite rangeYosemite range (2)

In the distance, snow on Yosemite mountain tops.

Snow on Yosemite mountain tops

The Glacier Point Overlook had a decent paved walkway leading to several outlooks and falls. KatieBug was allowed on all paved paths but not the dirt trails.  With the suffocating heat, we nixed taking lengthy hikes but the more obvious reason, narrow earthen trails and the valley floor were a long steep downward drop.

Glacier Point and valley

One of the big rock mountains at the overlook is Half Dome, a split rock of gargantuan proportions. Several of the domes in Yosemite are favorites of rock climbers but we didn’t spot climbers on the rocks today.

and Half Dome 2

The overlook rim spanned nearly a mile and we stood admiring the view while dozens of tourists took selfies from the edge. I had to wait for the crowds to part to catch my Kodak Moments.

The view in another direction a few yards down the walk, North Dome and Basket Dome.

North Dome and Basket Dome 1

In the distance you can see the 594 foot drop of Nevada Falls, 317 foot drop of the lower Vernal Falls and Grizzly Peak next to Vernal Falls.

Nevada and Vernal Falls From Glacier Point

We had success finding a parking spot and as we walked back to the car, we spied a strange auto antenna décor two spaces down.  Odd folks in these here parts.

Weird

After more than an hour of exploring the Point, we drove to Bridalvale Falls and walked up the path to the welcome spray of tumbling waters.

Bridalveil Falls

Relaxing hike, cooling spray, comfy benches at the base for watching the rushing waters down below the falls.  Well worth the effort it took to find parking.

Creek flow of Bridalveil Falls

Easy walking to Lower Yosemite Falls with more bursts of cool mist when we drew near.  The crowds were thickening but had not become overwhelming.

Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite Falls up close.

Lower Yosemite Falls

Meeting an abundance of fur babies on the trail, we imagined this trail had the most canine visitors. KatieBug was relaxed and happily perched next to us on the bench, watching two legged and four legged souls walk by. Near the falls I spotted a metal plaque, dog paws imprinted in brass. No sign of the significance but with all the padded prints in the sands, it seemed likely a paid tribute to the four legged who had gone on before.

Yosemite paw prints

Passing by a dainty little chapel in the woods, Yosemite Valley Chapel was closed but was posed in a fairytale like setting.  Built in 1879, the chapel is kept in peak condition for a variety of celebrations.

Yosemite Chapel

Driving along the floor of the park are huge mountain walls and open fields studded with clusters of tall trees.

Driving through the park

The Big Trees Golf Course was established in 1918 and is one of the few organic golf courses in the US. No pesticides are used on the course and recycled gray water is used to water the greens. Not a surprise to me, the lawn is green, lush and healthy.

Yosemite Golf

One more stop on the way out, Tunnel View. The Tunnel was Yosemite’s last stop when exiting the park. KatieBug was joined by several other fur babies just coming off the trail with their humans, all sitting enjoying the view. Our troupe being hot and tired, we stretched out our legs, took a photo and went on our way.

Tunnel View Outlook

Returning our rental, picking up our car now sporting a new battery and a few minor additions to keep the oldie but goodie in top auto health, we arrive back at LilyPad.  After a check up under LilyPad’s hood, John relays disappointing news.  All previously tried fix-it-yourself procedures have not been successful.  Something continues to be amiss.  The closed radiator system seems to have a breach hiding somewhere inside the dark cavity of diesel pushing mechanical workings. John has filled the gauge twice, two full gallons, but the glass level reader remains empty, fluid disappearing into the unknown.

A call to the nearest Cummins, in Fresno California, secures our appointment for diagnostics.  This was not a planned stop so now we must find a site for an undisclosed time period.  Our three necessities; being near Cummins, 50 amp hook ups, ample space to pull in and out multiple times.  After another quick series of calls, John finds us a spot at the Fresno Fair Grounds.

Knowing we will be limping to Fresno but believing all will be kosher in time, I began my standard stash and secure duties for our unplanned trek, beginning before sun rises next morning.

Eager to be free of roasting temperatures, we turn in early, our two remaining air conditioners struggling along in unison.

June 15th through 24th 2017 Santa Clara California

Hot, Hot, Hot. When I left Texas to cool off, I was not expecting Santa Clara to get swept up in a heatwave. We paused for nearly two weeks and parked close by my childhood hometown of Campbell at the Santa Clara Elks Lodge. Having stayed here in past years, we loved its central location, welcoming lodge members, close proximity to family, a few blocks from the freeway system and quiet nights.  A day of laziness to recoup from travel, we mapped out upcoming explorations and family visits before catching some Z’s.

 

California’s massively supplemented growing fields of fruit and vegetable crops keep the farm to market circuit in full swing most of the producing season. There are multiple cities hosting markets within a 20 mile reach of LilyPad’s location. Needing veggies and fruit, we set up camp and stopped at the closest, Campbell Farmers Market. A variety of interesting choices, we walked the rows inspecting the offerings. Entertainment was provided by a local singer and his guitar. With our bag of fruits and veggies, and munching on a macaroon, we returned to LilyPad to watch a Red Box movie, spend some time with the pug and sleep.

Campbell Farmers Market

 

A leisurely rise with a cup-a-joe bolted us awake while planning our day. San Jose is the heart of Silicone Valley, arguably the most inventive place on earth. First on our list, The Tech Museum of Innovation and IMAX. One of my favorite sayings is carved into the slab of stone at the entrance. “Optimism is an essential ingredient for innovation. How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in safe places.” Bob Noyce’s truest of words. It is impossible to live on the roll, traveling far from the safety of normalcy and conventional living, without mega amounts of optimism to solve the unending supply of complications created by this lifestyle.

Tech Museum

Museums with hands-on activities top my list of “to-do’s” and The Tech Museum is overflowing with techie tactile tangibles. Reasonable pricing for seniors, we had several hours of playtime. John was my guinea pig only because he is less than accurate when I’ve requested he capture our Kodak Moments.

Inside, we checked out the gift shop while the crowds were small.  Quick stop at the restrooms brought another high tech discovery.  The water faucets at the sinks were ones I had never seen anywhere else, quite inventive.

Tech womens sink

I found it amusing; one of the tasks in the multiple activities section designed for 4th through 6th graders was a lock picking exercise. A locksmith docent demonstrated two different techniques to pick locks and John practiced until he succeeded. I thought it curious, a museum teaching pre-teens how to pick locks. Then again, anyone having access to a computer would have far more intriguing and dangerous blueprints available, should they wish to conceive more sinister plans.

Picking a lock

Inserting your entrance ticket into slots at each station unlock a multitude of tasks, games and learning opportunities. In one room, John reprogramed a robotic assembly line computer to remove the hack. I was the cheering section.

computer games

Typing into another computer programed an electronic arm to spell out your name in wooden blocks. The computer misspelled my name causing me to be thankful it wasn’t a program used for human surgery.

Oops, wrong letter

Another area demonstrated the 3D printer.  Although not a new concept, it was fascinating to see one in action.

3 D printing

Outer Space had representation with physical activities and exhibits. Early Space Rover samples of rock and soils from the moon, Mars and Earth were encased in thick see-through display cabinets with informative descriptions.  These were the smallest of samples we’ve seen across the US.  It is puzzling how anyone would believe we haven’t gone to the moon. There are tangibles in many museums, in various states across America.  “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”  St. Augustine.  Truth.

Planetary Soils

John and I watched several teens maneuver a landing for a space flight simulator and I captured a Kodak Moment of virtual John in a space suite. I must admit, while taking the picture, I thought of the many days I would have welcomed sending John to the moon.

Space suit John

A variety of science labs and hands on explorations were in the next section.

Tech Lab

In an enclosed science classroom setting, Stanford University sponsors mini genetic classes, demonstrating how current research is uncovering the microscopic mechanisms at the heart of Bates’ speciation discovery of 150 years ago. We listened in on the animated teacher and watched the fascinated students for a short time before leaving to watch the IMAX movie presentation.

Stanford Genetics

The museums IMAX theater presentation of Amazon Adventure, for me, was the most fascinating segment of our museum experience. As an environmentalist, I listened for decades to my peers claim humans were destroying species at an alarming rate, their only proof, bones and remnants but finding none living.  150 years ago, biologist Henry Bates spent 11 years on a journey through the Amazon rainforest identifying 8,000 new species leading to crucial contributions in biology. “Batesian”, his discovery of the mimicry phenomenon of edible animals deceiving predators by adopting the look of poisonous animals, resulted from collecting the first evidence of speciation, the birth of new species. It is known as the “beautiful proof”, natural selection, survival of the fittest.

After the IMAX, we drove back to LilyPad, gave KatieBug time outside and spent the balance of the afternoon and evening visiting family. Dinner out and we hit the hay.

 

Our plans for this bright sunshiny morning included rising early to check out the Santa Clara Farmers Market and breakfast at a local café.  Not the biggest market we’ve attended but certainly the most colorful with more than a dozen stands offered blooming plants and cut flowers.

Santa Clara Farmers Market    Santa Clara Singer

Picking up KatieBug, we visited another old childhood haunt, the Municipal Rose Gardens.  The Gardens were a favorite picnic spot for me and my mother.  Whenever the weather was pleasant, my grandmother would come with, toting a picnic basket loaded with all the trimmings for a delicious ladies only luncheon in the garden.

Roses everywhere, in every color, many with multiple colors and all bushes trimmed to produce flowers near nose level. The scent, when the roses begin their bloom, is otherworldly, sweet, perfume like with bees and butterflies joining the in-your-face experience of blossoms and buds.

Yellow Rose

In the center of the park is a refreshing pond and fountain surrounded by benches.

San Jose Municipal Rose Garden Fountain

I did not recall the overpopulation of geese resulted in dung stains, the pool clouding, messes on the sidewalks and pollution of the water from high levels of unsafe bacteria.

I am no longer a goose fan since cleaning up after wild geese at the BLM day use park in Massachusetts. They are nasty noisy massive poop producing machines and regularly pollute beaches near ponds and lake waters, using them as toilets. The bacteria surge forces government ponds and lake areas to close until the high levels of bacteria decrease.  Exactly why you see signs instructing visitors to never feed wildlife.  It encourages them to seek humans for food.

Many of the roses were past their prime but the scent remained a bouquet of marvelous fragrances. We walked through the rows, breathing deeply, before sitting on a bench to appreciate their beauty and watch volunteers trim and dead-head the bushes. The Gardens are a fitting place of remembering grandma telling me to “stop and smell the roses”, something John and I do often in our travels.

Off to visit family, afterward returning for another Red Box movie, pug time and lights out for the night.

 

Santa Cruz Beach, Boardwalk and wharf were our primary destinations for today.  The rising temperatures and sandy beach would not be a pleasant experience for KatieBug so we dropped her off at the local day care, one where she had happily stayed in previous years.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The wharf and boardwalk are where I spent my childhood and young adult summers and weekends for as far back as I can recall. After my parents gave me a car, I became the chauffeur, friends and I spent our weekends in Santa Cruz until I moved to Chico, met John and we were married.

Older and worn around the edges, the boardwalk arcade still makes me giddy when I walk inside and hear the clanging bells and upbeat music blasting from the games.

Front of Boardwalk   Santa Cruz Boardwalk Arcade

The sounds of the new skill games are slightly more instrumentally varied but the thrill of the challenge remains the same. Walking through the arcade and down along the boardwalk, we stopped to watch pop-up jugglers, slight-of-hand magicians and listened to carnival game barkers calling out for tourists to come win a prize.

Mid way down the boardwalk is the 1911 carousel, a boardwalk prized original and the boardwalk’s oldest ride.  We stood watching the children, hearing their squeals, seeing little ones hanging on for dear life.  Everyone in our family has ridden on the merry go round to the sound of the 342 pipe Ruth and Sohn band organ.  Built in 1894, it still chimes out a merry tune.  Details of each carved wooden horse are incredibly unique down to the real horse hair tails.  Listening to the music and watching the horses go around still paints my face with an ear to ear grin.

Santa Cruz Carousel

When my daughter was a teen, for a half dozen years of family visits to California, Laffing Sal would welcome us at the entrance of the San Francisco wharf’s vintage game building. We would play pin ball machines and other vintage games of chance, then sit to rest on the bench in front of Sal and listen to her laugh each time a coin was deposited. To see this strange larger-than-life lady, grinning widely with her gaping missing tooth, standing in a Santa Cruz boardwalk window was a surprise until I read the poster. She was purchased and moved to this location after years of storage and would now be an historic reminder of the world of amusement parks of the past. I was pleased to find her safe from destruction, even though her odd fashion statement, toothy mouth and loud cackle were slightly frightful.

Laughing Sal

A day at the beach would not be complete without walking along the Santa Cruz wharf.

Santa Cruz Wharf

Entering the sturdy wooden roadway of boards as thick as tree trunks, sits a vintage fishing boat, original to these waters back when my grandfather was young and fished along this stretch of ocean.  Wisps of sea breeze, fried fish, fresh cut bait, candied apples, taffy and boiled crab sneak into each breath you take and drifts along with you all the way to the end of the pier and back again.

Vintage wooden fishing boat

Resting with my tummy arched over the whitewashed railings, my eyes followed the foamy white line of ocean rolling up onto the sand. Looking out over the beach I saw small groups of children building sand castles, teens showing off their daredevil boogie board stunts, mid-life sun worshipers slowly basting themselves while they turn into the future leathery brown elderly couples who walk along the surfs edge. The scenes bring a peaceful full circle acceptance to my now senior self.

On the far side of the wharf is where I learned to skin dive. The dark and cloudy waters hiding whatever wiggly slithery ocean creature I might have been afraid to confront.

Santa Cruz where I learned to skin dive

When I visit Santa Cruz, I am transported into my past, to my childhood, young adult “happy place” and back to reality, where I must acknowledge everything eventually comes to an end.

Slightly wind burned, sparkling sandy specks still clinging to our feet, we toweled off and drove the familiar serpentine highway back to Santa Clara, picking up KatieBug from day care, dining at home and a slipping into a peaceful nights rest.

 

Spending most of our day with family, John found an evening Summer Music Concert program in Santa Clara and the three of us visited the circular outdoor event center to listen to classic rock tunes. Deciding to walk around the circle for exercise, the music could be heard from all sections of the amphitheater.

Santa Clara outdoor concert

A beautiful night, the venue sat in the middle of a city park and provided us with a flat pathway with which to stroll and intermittent bits of lawn for KatieBug to meet and greet other fur babies in attendance.

Santa Clara Park pond

Dinner tonight was with lodge members at the hall.  We sat at a group table of contract employees from Tesla, the luxury electric car company. Surprised at the claims of low pay and unacceptable working conditions, we listened to them tell of workers moving to contract work to earn a livable salary. I had heard only positive observations from stockholders I knew,  yet from different perspectives comes an alternative truth.  Intriguing conversation, it was a surprise to find how late the hour had become.  We said our good-bys and walked the short block to LilyPad, ended our evening.

 

Morning arrived and I was excited about today’s day trip. John, myself and my aunt would be spending the entire day in San Francisco. KatieBug was comfortably settled in with her buddies at day care.  Over an hour away, only a few stops planned, this trip would be a whirlwind jaunt but one which would include Chinatown, something we passed by on our last visit.

On observation, along with the words and signs of California’s political street corner barkers flashing in my head, one prior personal opinion immediately changed upon arrival on the streets of Chinatown. All Americans most certainly do not integrate into our society. If ever one needs proof, Chinatown offers a discernible example.

Arriving near Chinatown, we parked on a side street and walked down Grant, the main thoroughfare. Chinatown’s streets are alive with the color red in every hue, lanterns hang from windows, are strung across streets and dangle from poles.  Pungent exotic scents fill the air, tiny Asian markets with dozens of foreign vegetables and fruits sit on display in boxes along the sidewalks and customers scurry up and down the streets popping in and out of stores.

Chinatown SF

The smells emitted from open doors of hole-in-the-wall shops are foreign to many, barrels overflowing with leggy ginseng, crystalized ginger and dozens of mysterious pods, leaves and earth colored powders, overpowering aromas to most Western noses.  I fully appreciate the medicinal properties of plants.  My kids call me a witch doctor but most of my healing knowledge comes from Asian, rather than African herbs. Healing teas and salves, roots and powders are staples in my medicine cabinets, any surplus shared with my adult children whenever needed.

Strolling the streets to absorb the atmosphere, we stop in front of a famous Chinatown landmark, Tin How Temple, one of the oldest operating Chinese temples in America. The temple is dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu, known as Tin How in Cantonese. A Kodak Moment to appreciate the intricate details before continuing.

Tin How Temple

At the end of the street, we made a U-turn and wandered back down on the opposite side, stopping inside several shops for candied ginger slices and herbal teas. Our destination, a small side street called Row Alley where we hoped to take a tour of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. A few steps off the main street we found Row Alley.

Ross Alley, SF

Expecting to take a tour after having read a TripAdvisor review, we entered the small working shop, barely having room enough for 10 people to squeeze in at the same time. Completely open to the entire cookie making process, workers were sitting at their machines, everything out in the open, no tour necessary. If there had been a tour, no English was spoken by the shopkeeper or workers so none of us would have understood.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

The fortune cookie was introduced to the United States from Japan around the 1890’s. Initially the cookies were made by hand using a special iron mold called a Kata. When demand grew, a San Francisco confectioner was hired to produce the cookies in larger quantities. Original fortune cookies make in Japan were savory rather than sweet and it is believed a vanilla recipe was developed to appeal to Westerners palates. It is traditional to serve fortune cookies to Tea Garden visitors and for some reason, the custom grew to include Chinese restaurants.

Our original plans were to visit St. Mary’s but we parked opposite St. Francis of Assisi Church, the first parish church in San Francisco, so we wandered inside to explore.

St Francis of Assisi  Church 1849

One of my favorite St. Francis prayers is posted just inside the door.

DSC_4089

Begun in 1850 it was the first parochial school in California and in 1852, held the first ordination to the priesthood.

Peaceful and quiet, walking through the church and resting in a pew offered us a cool and relaxing break in our day.

National Shrine of St Francis of Assisi

Onward and upward to drive the downward zig zag drive on Lombard street, another San Francisco landmark on my list. Habitually crowded with driving and walking tourists, Lombard Street must be a distressing street on which to live. The steep plunging grade, sharp curves along the entire street, an entrance only at the top and exit only at the bottom is a must-do for visitors, regardless of its intimidating appearance.  Breaks in the traffic allowing an owner to pull into or out of their garage were scarce.

Lombard Street   Lombard Street (2)

Lombard is located on the upper most top of the hilly streets of San Francisco. Many of the streets are known for their heart stopping plunges and breathtaking views.

Exiting Lombard, we hooked a left and looking outward, Alcatraz Island took center stage. Located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, its 22 acres were originally the first lighthouse and fort in the US.  Known primarily for it being the infamous Federal Penitentiary and therefore off limits to the public, major crime patronage included Al Capone, George “Machine gun” Kelly, and Arthur “Doc” Barker.

Steep San Francisco Streets

Another not-to-be-missed sight is the Golden Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge connecting the one mile wide strait across San Francisco Bay over the Pacific Ocean. It carries travelers from U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the waters but is not RV friendly.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Park is near the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge and was our next destination.  Parking and walking the pathway around the rocky mountain protruding from Stow Lake, we passed Huntington Falls, now dried up, and stopped at the Chinese Pavilion for a rest.

Chinese Pavilion at Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park

Circling back, I took a photo of the 1893 Golden Gate walking bridge.

1893 Golden Gate walking bridge

Crossing the bridge led to hiking paths circling up to the top of the mountain. Returning to the car, we all settled in for the hour drive back to Santa Clara.

At my request, John made a slight detour on the way home so we could all sample a few noshes at what was touted as the best Jewish Deli in San Francisco, Wise Son’s Deli.  When my aunt lived in the Las Angeles area, we dined regularly at a local Jewish deli and I was eager to find an equal near her current home.

Wise Sons Deli

The founding location, in the Mission District, is located on a quiet tree lined street in a iffy neighborhood that once must have been magnificent. Old unadorned deteriorating row homes on the same block as gigantic elegant Victorian mansions, all needing some form of repair. Had I unlimited funds, nothing would keep me from purchasing one as our home.  The building was my favorite style of vintage, intricate bay windows overlooking the sidewalk below. Both the building and the owner of the Deli oozed character. What the Jewish Deli lacked in extent of variety, the joyous owner more than made up for in character and delightful banter. The meal was tasty and the social interaction with the owner was purely delightful.

Wise Sons

Time passed quickly and we arrived back at LilyPad early evening.  My aunt left for her home and after picking up KatieBug, we all  turned in to get our forty winks.

 

Early to bed, early to rise, our first stop this morning will be our last farmers market produce stock up until we reach our next pause.  Sunnyvale Farmers Market is medium sized, shade trees offering no shade to shoppers and items for sale were divided between fresh produce, general market items, specialty foods and a few non-profit organization tents spaced intermittently throughout the market.

Sunnyvale Farmers Market

The only booth which piqued my curiosity was Rebecca’s bakery goods. Remembering back to the days our family was following the Rotation Diet, I wondered if she used the same items to make bakery goods with no gluten, dairy, sugar or eggs as I used. Stopping to chat, the goodies indeed looked familiar. I baked with almond milk, almond flour, coconut milk, coconut flour, pure vanilla, honey and nut butters as did she.

Purchasing a particularly tempting looking Rebecca’s macaroon, we strolled through the balance of the booths and returned to LilyPad. Tonight we bid farewell to family and my hometown, prepare LilyPad for the next leg of our journey and rise early in the morning for our next destination, Yosemite National Park, California

Sometime in May 2017, Roswell New Mexico

John and I both thought long and hard, neither knowing why we had a complete lapse of memory regarding our trip to Roswell New Mexico.  Our pug KatieBug, if she had any idea, was keeping quiet.  If you saw Men in Black, you know those alien pugs can be picky about with whom they converse and often clam up without a reason.

Those few days back in May, we arrived in Roswell New Mexico, took pictures, filed them away and without out a backward glance, moving on to the next destination. Until we were forced to pause for weeks between the border of Oregon and California, sandwiched between devastating fires and over the top levels of hazardous smoke, needing a myriad of tweak’s and repairs to LilyPad, we blocked the experience from our minds.  Having indoor only time on our hands for days on end, giving our future planning mode a long continuous break, the Roswell encounter reappeared squawking for attention.

Why had our minds gone blank to the events our pictures were claiming had taken place in Roswell?  How did a small fraction of time disappear, taking our bodies along but blocking our minds, leaving memories blank?  KatieBug, our pug, mumbled something in her sleep about green aliens landing  behind our motorhome while we were parked at the Roswell Elks Lodge RV Park.  Of course, being a pug, she naturally had inside information but was refusing to talk.

Roswell Elks Lodge RV Park

Our site was minimally landscaped but with all the essentials necessary for a few days “let up” in our travel.  No more interesting than the drive to this stop, it was flat, empty of prominent mountainous protrusions of any sort and planted with a few scraggly trees.   Like the freeway drive here, you could see mile upon mile across the horizon.

The road to Roswell

Offering us a preview of our upcoming October Balloon festival trip, the RV park airspace displayed views of the local hot air balloons similar to those we will see in Albuquerque New Mexico.  I took pictures of a few, the outside silence temporarily interrupted by the swoosh sound given off by fuel forced flames and hot air flowing into the center of each balloon, lifting basket, body and balloon high into the sky. I have always been fascinated by multicolored orbs floating overhead.

multi color balloon   hot air balloon

A few passed within shouting distance of their occupants.  I waved.

Over our R

I don’t think for one moment the reason for our memory lapse was being of vintage age and forgetful.  Everyone knows green aliens can wipe out your recollection, leaving you in query of events.  Alien intervention, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

We passed so many fun and fanciful interpretations of aliens along with a few grey metal flying saucer dotting the downtown streets.

Alien Display     Welcome Aliens

Wandering around town, we strolled into a few of the eclectic tourist-trap shops promoting alien casual ware,

Alien Gift Shop

passing hotels prominently displaying those rarely seen in person little green men,

Alien Neon   Motel Aliens

gas stations sporting flying saucers, roadside signs claiming “official” UFO stops

Gas Station Spaceship   UFO business

and the space ship designed Mickey D’s with a Jetson style galaxy mural painted on the building next door.

McDonalds space ship   McDonalds mural

As the sun began to warm up the town, we headed for air conditioning and used our Groupon for entrance into the number one tourist destination, located on Main Street downtown, the International UFO Museum and Research Center.  Entering, we watched a video and strolled through the compact but well stockpiled museum of things UFO.

UFO Museum

Food for thought, the video brought to mind questions from 1947 newspaper exploited claims of people involved being crazies.  Answers were provided by people interviewed, most were professionals, well educated and creepily well informed about government secrecy including having read paperwork and memo’s by government officials.  I exited the video unsure how I stood on the subject.

Technical machines from 1947 lined a wall, set up to look like a government office.  Aging myself again, they had the typewriter and rolling stand my high school supplied to students taking typing class.

1947 office equipment

There were several walls dedicated to photo’s of UFO sites, spaceships, newspaper articles and “proof” of extraterrestrials.

Facts from the dig

As one would expect, the museum offered a presentation of life size aliens and a spaceship complete with eerie otherworld sounds and coordinating flashing lights.

UFO display

Interest drawing to an end, we exited after purchasing a tiny plastic green alien to hang from LilyPad’s front fan, hooked near the copper sun and plastic Chinese “luck” symbol.  Our length of time rolling in a motorhome has encouraged our acceptance of the tacky side of interior decorating.

Leaving the downtown area, we passed an alien driving a vintage western wagon, a fitting Texan ending to our Alien experience.

Western Alien

Back to the Lodge and our site, a long walk for KatieBug under a setting sun, dinner and sleep.

Sunset in Roswell

 

One last day, our only plans were to walk through Cahoon Park for a leisurely stroll with KatieBug.

Cahoon Park

Long stretches of walkways, continuing down several blocks, shaded by dense tree branches and, at the end, a peaceful miniature Japanese Water Garden.

Water garden    The Water Garden

Preparations for the next day included stocking up on groceries, programing both navigators for our morning exit and sleep.

This post is out of date succession because those darn little green aliens messed with our brains.  Next post will be from Santa Clara California.

June 8th through June 23rd 2017 Boron, Oceano, and Salinas California

Our journey to Boron California was a long tedious hot as hades haul from Las Vegas. Still in desert, Boron is a small sun bleached, wind worn town in the Mojave Desert.

The highest summit in the Mojave Desert is Cave Mountain, a refreshing change of scenery from the flat lands.  After passing through, the picture returned to flat and barren.

Cave Mountain

Nearing the Nevada border line crossing, we passed Zzyzx Road leading to the fabricated town and oasis of the same name, formerly known as Soda Springs.  What you would imagine an oasis to be, is what you will find.  Palm trees surrounding water in the middle of a desert.  Not willing to take our 65 feet off road or through small towns, I Googled the name.  It has a history as strange as the name and worth the time spent reading.  Traveling onward, our desert view, that of sameness.

Zzyzx Road

Tall wooden poles stacked with brightly colored pillow shapes came into view with dozens of cars lined up nearby.  No signs of their significance and never found out what they represented.  Drop me a line if you know.

Poles of color in the field

A late start from Texas resulted in our traveling through The Mojave Desert at the height of hellfire temperatures.  Scrub brush being the only plant brave enough to rise to the surface and face the sun, the desolate view was consistent through to Boron.

Mojave Desert

A distant blip in the scenery was our overnight.  Just off the highway, we rolled into the entrance of Arabian RV Oasis.  Much appreciative of the 50 amp service, it was enough to run our two remaining a/c’s and help us survive the smoldering temperatures still surrounding us.  The site was sparse but level with plenty of elbow room.

Arabian RV Oasis, Boron

After setting up camp and having a good night’s sleep, we drove into Boron next morning to visit the Colonel Vernon P. Saxon Aerospace Museum and the Twenty Mule Team Museum. The Aerospace Museum was closed, actively being remodeled but there were a few museum quality examples of flying machines out front.

Saxon Aerospace Museum  Scooby Doo

Directly next door to the Aerospace museum sits the Twenty Mule Team Museum.

Borax Museum

Named for the borate mineral that was discovered in Kern County in 1913, the town of Boron grew up around the mining operations.  The mule teams for which the Borax brand was named, operated from Death Valley to Mojave from 1883 through 1889. Business men gave the name “20 Mule Team Borax” from the number of mules it took to pull the wagon full of product through the desert.

20 Mule Teams

Now owned by The Rio Tinto Boron Mine, the open pit borate mine is California’s largest and the largest borate mine in the world, producing almost half the world’s supply.  On our way out of town, we passed the giant mine off in the distance.  Neither of us had any interest in traveling over dirt roads to take a tour.

Boron Mine

Borate is an interesting mineral. In chunk form, it can be polished to a beautiful opaque pearl hue and it will retain its perfection if kept in a dry climate. Such a delicate and pretty mineral, I wanted to take a piece home until the curator told me, in Houston’s humidity, it would decompose and turn into a fine baby power.

We entered the museum to a display of kitchen and family articles used by town founders. Some of these articles looked familiar, like those in my grandmother’s house when I was a child. And I’m aging myself once again.

1932 Kitchen   Curlers and curling irons

The next room had a complete vintage fire fighting machine once used at the mine.

VFD

Lining the walls were displays, Borax products and articles from Boron’s pioneer beginnings.  The museum curator chatted easily with John and I, no one else was in the building, telling us about the history of the town.

Borax Products  Displays

When I questioned if she had lived here all her life, she replied she was from Hinkley, a town 30 miles away and of course, it piqued my interest.

Now a ghost town, Hinkley’s claim to fame was the poisoning of the town water supply after Pacific Gas and Electric(PG & E) allowed groundwater contamination from a compressor station to leach Hexavalent chromium. The curator pointed to the albums of newspaper articles and photos from the movie, Erin Brockovich, and stated the crew and cast were guests of Boron while the movie, shot in 2000, was being filmed.

Erin Brockovich

The movie, Erin Brockovich, was the true account of a legal clerk and environmentalist who worked for lawyer Edward Masry and began investigating the elevated cluster of illnesses in the community in 1993. She doggedly stalked and successfully brought PG&E to its knees. Because of her efforts, the plight of the people of Hinkley became widely known. In 1996, the families settled for $333 Million, the largest settlement every paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history.

When the film was released, Julia Roberts brought Erin’s story to light. While the movie was being filmed, the crew and cast took pictures together with locals and residents of Hinkley and Boron. The Boron museum has pictures of the filming from start to finish.

We thumbed through the photos and read some of the newspaper articles. Being involved in environmental issues all my adult life, I was fascinated hearing about the event from someone who watched, from a front row seat, the events unfold.

Browsing through the balance of the museum and stopping to continue my chat with the curator, John chose to sit patiently outside.  Considering items in the gift shop, depositing our donation in the box, thanking the curator and finally exiting the museum, we took a quick peek outside in the yard.

A remarkably complete vintage mining car and wench sat near the side yard.  Working conditions in the desert must have been unimaginably horrid for employees in the 1800’s.

Mining car

We took a few steps, not finding shade from the blistering heat, snapped a few pictures of vintage boring tools and mining tools, got back in the car and turned the air conditioning on full blast.

Machinery  Bore drills

Wicked hot outside, we drove around the small town area, the entire tour taking less than 10 minutes.  Returning to LilyPad for cool down time, a Red Box movie, sleep.

Our RV site was the fly over zone for Edwards Air Force Base, home of the Air Force Test Center. Daytime silence occasionally interrupted by the swoosh of jet engines zooming overhead, so close they shook LilyPad. At night it was peaceful and quiet.

 

A 7:00 a.m. Willie’s wakeup song eased open our eyes and we were “On The Road Again” in under an hour.   We will pause somewhere down the road, continuing on until we reach Oceano California and the Five City Elks Lodge.

Still in desert we traveled on, checking all road signs for open rest stops, zero found so far.  There were none open back in 2013 or 2014 our last pass-throughs.  Remodeling signs were still up at each but activity looked suspiciously idle.

Rest stops closed

California is persnickety about what they allow into their State, specifically no citrus this time through.  My doctor nixed all citrus for me so none is on board.  That was easy.

Crossing the border

Passing oil pump jacks, we didn’t stop to count but there looked to be hundreds of them crowded together along miles of deserted barren land.  Close together, the property becomes completely useless, total destruction of land.  John, having worked in the Texas oil field business for 30 plus years, told me close quarter spacing is no longer allowed in Texas for that exact reason.

CA drilling

Along most of the freeway runs the old El Camino Real, Spanish for Royal Road and also known as the Kings Highway.   600 miles long connecting the 21 Spanish missions in California.  Mission San Miguel was the first we passed.  These commemorative bells roughly trace the original route.   My Bucket List has visiting all the California and Texas Missions on it, somewhere near the middle.  I’m  considerably behind schedule.

El Camino Real Bell   Mission San Miguel

The ocean boarders the freeway in stretches, receding then replaced by earth covered in the green of growing produce.  The next few days we will travel alongside the countries thriving farm belt.

Oceano coastline   Field workers

Early afternoon arrival, long back up into our wide gravel site, set up camp and relax.  Tepid weather outside floated through our screen door.  Slightly briny seaweed smells from the ocean, a short block from our site, was a welcome scent. My lungs celebrated the cool saline sea air. We wouldn’t need an air conditioner tonight.

Five Cities Elks Lodge

Waking early to the sound of joyous songs and dancing feet on our roof, compliments of the local bird population. Reminiscent of mini tap dancers, they moved from one end of our motorhome to the other, striking the roof haphazardly with their nails, prancing and dancing, all the while in loud proclamation of it being morning. Natures noisy little tap dancing alarm clocks.

Today, grocery shopping first, beaches afterwards. In the afternoon we drove to Dinosaur Caves Park and enjoyed the cool but sun shiny walk along the cliffs. The walkways were accented by brilliant billowy purple blooms.

Seacoast purple flowers

Easy flat walking paths, corralled by sea sturdy plants and flowers with an amazing view of the ocean in the background, all added to our pleasurable stroll.

Dinosaur Caves Park

Margo Dodd Park was a short ways from Dinosaur Caves Park and an excellent place to sit on wooden benches and watch the pelicans take off and land from their semi private roost.  Gulls noisily fought for space on the overcrowded rock.

For the birds   Brown Pelicans

Beaches were pet friendly and KatieBug had many friendly greetings by several giant size fur babies, everyone sniffing all the pee-mail along the trails.

Each morning John walked with KatieBug to Pismo State Beach. Most mornings were shrouded in fog all along the coast but refreshing as long as your walking was brisk. Some mornings I slept in, enjoying the coolness from under warm blankets and a soft pillow.

One night we decided to participate in the Bingo games at the Lodge. Completely unaware of members extreme dedication, everyone seemed to be gung-ho about Bingo, we bought a dot marker, two game sheets and sat across from a die-hard Bingo player who nearly covered half a cafeteria table with sheets. Neither he nor we won but it did pass the time and when conversation was allowed, we found him to be an interesting table companion.

Walking back to our site for bedtime, the night was cooled by fog and light breezes had the scent of seaweed and the feel of warm summers by the ocean.  Childhood seaside memories floated along with me while we walked.

One more day of coastal living before we would be on our way. The usual housekeeping and stocking up on supplies completed before noon, the afternoon was spent ocean-side, watching the waves and seagulls.

Evening was heavenly, breezy, cool with patches of fog, a decent sunset then back to our motorhome to sleep.

 

Morning arrived and we began the next leg of our journey by driving into the mountains, through dry hills, the came the rains and we spotted warnings of deer and black bear crossing,

Into the Mountains  bear crossings

across more flat dry land and past fruit orchards,

Dry hills, dry fields   Second flat lands

and finally rolling us out onto one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.

Crop workers

Watching farm hands in the fields, passing way stations with harvests waiting to be loaded into trucks, trucks full and pulling out on their way to distributors.  The odor, when we passed by, told us they were carrying onions.

Onions

Sometime this afternoon we would reach Salinas and stay four nights at the Salinas Elks Lodge. As a child, the many times our family passed through Salinas was en route to the ocean with the Pokey Penguins, my father’s skin diving buddies. Mostly farm land, old warehouses, farm houses and trailer parks, I never imagined it had any cultural appeal.

Farming

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” Samuel Johnson, 1709 to 1784

Our visit to the farm lands of California brought into focus the impasse between the food consuming public and the farm owners who employ poverty level field workers.  The rising operating costs, ever increasing water expenses and difficulties of using migrant workers makes farming sound unappealing and not near worth the effort and cost that must be expended.

Traveling by land forces you to see people.  Crossing miles of California’s large agriculture industry exposes the abject poverty working and living conditions for full time and migrant workers.

Migrant workers  Field workers (3)

Seeing the multitudes of field workers all across the farm belt confirms the importance they play in crop production, yet they are financially unappreciated.

Migrant workers (4)  Field workers (2)

As we drive, the land is banded together by endless rows of green, separated by thin brown lines of earth and dotted by humans and machines.

Migrant workers (2)  Migrant workers (3)

Gatherings of colorfully clothed farm hands and field workers were checking crops, picking, pulling, bent over tending the crops alongside gigantic John Deere Tractor type rolling machinery.

Migrant Workers

Dozens of small businesses catering to local farmers passed us, offering necessity services for migrant workers and field hands.

work crews

Nearing our destination, we saw the humongous eucalyptus tree before spotting the Elks Lodge hidden behind. I rolled down the window and breathed in deeply. The tree’s scent was intoxicating. John took the car off the dolly, I backed us into our spot, set down stabilizers and took KatieBug for a stroll alongside the neighboring golf course.

Eucalyptus

Our site was a gravel covered rectangle with 50 amp, water, local TV and access to a black tank dump. Across the street, the local airport planes flew sporadically and we were told, only during the day. The far end of the Elks Lodge parking lot was being set up for a weekend Flea Market. Near the golf course, a patch of brilliantly golden California Poppy’s swayed in the gentle breeze.

California Poppies

Night crept over the parking lot after showing off a colorful sunset peaking out between the treetops. Bed, sleep, quiet.

Sunset in Salinas CA

Concerned we would not have enough to occupy our time, I consulted TripAdvisor and our days immediately became overflowing with outings. The basin was the hometown of Nobel Prize in Literature laureate John Steinbeck. Several of his novels were based on the fertile basin area’s downtrodden. I was a fan of Steinbeck so a visit to the Center took first place on our list.

Being an avid reader, Steinbeck’s novels were a part of my reserve, introduced by my mother and enjoyed throughout my bookworm teen years and subsequent adulthood. Being a skin diver, my father knew several farmers in the valley whose property abutted the ocean. The divers were welcome and payment for diving privileges was fresh catch of the day, often times, in large quantities.

The farmers plight and those of their field hands and migrant workers were a part of my adolescence but mainly from a distance. Because entertainment for the field workers often included cock fights (roosters with blades on their feet encouraged to fight to the death), I could play with the children when they were on the beach but was never allowed near their barns.

 

Up early, we were on the road and looking forward to our first stop.  Along the route many of the billboards and signs were cut-outs of people.  Interesting and eye catching.

Billboards

Our first day long outing was the Steinbeck House Gift Shop and National Steinbeck Center. The gift shop occupied the basement of Steinbeck’s birthplace and childhood home, a Queen Ann style Victorian, built in 1897.

Steinbeck home

Stately and beautifully renovated, a lunch restaurant occupies the living quarters of the house. After browsing through the gifts, we drove the short distance to the National Steinbeck Center near the main thoroughfare of downtown Salinas.

Steinbeck Center Museum   Steinbeck museum

Welcomed by friendly staff, we walked slowly through the museum skimming through the wordy exhibits. Most impressionable was the struggle of farmers and field workers in the valley during the 1930 and 40’s, of much concern to Steinbeck, his writing bringing light to the difficult way of life.  One quote from the Center read: “It’s one of the ironies of farming. Ultimately farmers are financially penalized because of their ability to produce”.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” Mark Twain

Housing options remain dismal for farm workers.  We passed many single wide trailer park housing compounds where the units were within inches of each other, no room for cars, no front or back yards.  Knowing California rental prices are continually skyrocketing, I had read most all migrant workers live in trailer camps, three and four families living together, with rents as high as $600.00 a trailer.  Paying for basic living expenses and bus transportation to the fields is said to have pushed combined incomes for these families below poverty level.

The museum is expansive for readers but still of interest for those seeking an overview in pictures, video’s and props. My favorite exhibit was the truck camper from Travels With Charley: In Search of America.

Steinbecks RV

Not spacious inside but room enough.

Inside Steinbecks RV

Steinbeck wrote a travelogue while on his extended road trip with his poodle in 1960. Naming his specially designed camper Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse, he traveled nearly 10,000 miles, following roads that touched as many states as possible while following a reasonably direct route around the outer of our United States. He claimed the purpose was to see the country of which he wrote and visit personally the America on which he based his novels. The result was him having concerns for the “new America” he was witnessing.

In later notations made by the author’s eldest son Thom, the real reason for his father’s journey was to see his country one last time. John Steinbeck knew he was dying from a heart condition.

Another of Steinbeck’s novels, The Winter of Our Discontent, is based on a family in an imaginary town in New England, directly based on the town of Sag Harbor.  The father, born to wealth but fallen on hard times, is unhappy that his spendthrift wife is never satisfied and his children want everything.  Set in 1960, it might have been his reason for traveling around America in what Generation Y, The Millennial’s, call a “tiny house”.   Steinbeck wrote, “Having too many THINGS, they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul.”

In 1966 Steinbeck wrote: “We shout that we are a nation of laws, not men – and then proceed to break every law we can if we can get away with it. We proudly base our political positions on the issues – and we will vote against a man because of his religion, his name, or the shape of his nose.”

His statement didn’t take much research to pull up the political campaign to which “the shape of his nose” remark referred. Nixon and his prominent nose clearly won the radio campaign, however, Kennedy won the personal appearance and television campaign.

With his finger on the pulse of America’s turbulence in the 50’s and 60’s, his commentaries were bluntly eloquent . About school integration in New Orleans in 1960 he wrote: “It would be difficult to explain to a dog the good and moral purpose of a thousand humans gathered to curse one tiny human.”

In 1933 to 1940, approximately 3,500 Dust Bowl migrants settled east of Salinas. Two local farmers subdivided their property and offered plots for sale but many of the “Okies” were cash poor, instead accepting work in the lettuce and vegetable industry.  The work helped protect Salinas from the worst of the Depression years. With unemployment rising, one response was to expeditiously deport large numbers of Mexican workers, seen as competing with U.S. Citizens for jobs.   It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Walking back to the car, we passed through the downtown area and perused the produce being offered at the Salinas Farmers Market.

Monterey downtown  Salinas Farmers Market

Learning about a barn out standing in a Salinas field called The Farm, I was still searching for fresh apricots and figs so we added the stop to our itinerary.

 

Our next extended day long trip was to Monterey while KatieBug was treated to a day of pampering, enjoying a full spa with mani-pedi experience at PetSmart.

It had been years since we traveled along Monterey’s 17 Mile Drive, a pay-for-view experience winding past California’s wealthy homes overlooking the ocean and bordering the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.

Pebble Beach Golf Course

These are premier spots for climbing among the rocks and poking into cracks and crevices to spot the stranded-in-low-tide sea life.

Monterey Cypress Trees

Stopping several times for the view, Bird Rock seemed to be the pause of choice for tour buses and tourists.

The granit outcropping of Bird Rock

Out to stretch our legs, we took deep breaths of the refreshing salty sea air and watched continuous strands of feathered friends land and take off from what the locals had named “The Rock”.

Pelicans in flight

Making the spa-like area between The Rock and shore their rest stop, we saw gulls, Cormorants, roosting pelicans and sea lions. The sea otters were difficult to spot without binoculars.

Signs saying “do not feed wildlife”  apparently were ignored. Rocks near the water were well populated with chunky, noisy, aggressive squirrels.

Do Not Feed

The drive, taking close to an hour, emptied us onto the freeway and near Monterey’s newer wharf area. I had read that Monterey opened a privately owned Salvador Dali Museum in Monterey. We parked and walked part of the wharf before spotting the huge dripping clocks advertisement sign for the Museum.

S Dali

John being a fan, we paid the overpriced entry and viewed the Adult graphic sketches and signed prints.  There were few prints without lewd images but I found two acceptable if you don’t look to close.

S Dali Museum     Dali Museum

After viewing, I mentioned to the young man at the desk, my expectations were of seeing at least an oil painting, considering the advertisement showed one of his paintings, not his prints. His snippy remark was “Dali was a printer, what did you expect to find?” Very unprofessional, very rude, very college age I-know-everything attitude. I showed my appreciation for his inappropriate response by leaving a blunt comment on TripAdvisor.

Although interesting, the signed prints were primarily of extreme adult content with a miniscule amount of first run prints. What we enjoyed most were the short films shown in the screening room of the museum. Also extreme in adult content, the films followed his life and relationships as narrated by an acquaintance. It was intensely apparent Dali struggled with sexuality and reality. The films gave insight into his demons, his odd marriage relationship, his greedy wife, his obsessive and destructive lifestyle and lingering death.

Leaving the museum area, next visiting the waterfront streets of the abandoned sardine canning factories.

Monterey revived factory docks

In 1941 through 1945, the sardine canneries were where many immigrants found work. Conditions were wet, cold and smelly with the roar of machines and clanking of cans drowning out a multi-cultural chorus of languages in Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Sicilian, Japanese, Mexican and English. Within five years, the industry had died after decimating the supply of sardines.

Revived as shopping, dining and wine tasting, anchored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the upscale shops and dining establishments still make for an enjoyable stroll through the area.

Cannery Row

The last factory closed in 1973 and my earliest memories of the factories are sealed by photo reminders from dad’s old skin diving photo albums. While the Pokey Penguins went ocean spear fishing, I wandered under the boardwalk during low tide. The towering black wooden piers securely attached to a cave-filled rocky coastline, outcroppings of giant boulders, dank and cool underneath the factories, premium for investigating sea creatures clinging to the wood and rocks.  Never tiring of the experience, it occupied hours of my time.

On the way back to LilyPad, I notice the freeways continue to be lined with blossoming Oleander, the most popular ornamental plants in the arid region, also one of the five most poisonous.

Favorite part of freeways

 

Next morning we reviewed TripAdvisor to double check locations and decided on a doubleheader. First stop, the Monterey Zoological Society Wild Things Program. Located on the 51 acres of Vision Quest Ranch, the zoo and facility is the vision of Charlie Sammut .

Monterey Zoo

Beginning as a home for working film and TV animals, Charlie with his lion Josef at his side, worked to improve comfort and living standards in a safe environment for the industry’s animal stars.

In 2008, at the age of 22, Charlie’s special partner Josef the lion, passed over the rainbow bridge. Charlie continued his work, providing trained animals a better quality of life not dependent on a given industry.

In recent years, California’s high cost of production and filming drove business out of state leaving the facility searching for a new purpose. With the help of volunteer workers and donations from generous companies, the Ranch evolved from a home for working movie and TV animals to a Safari Bed and Breakfast, Special Event Site, private/custom educational programs and zoo tours open to the public. Now home to working and retired TV, circus and undomesticated animals donated by person’s previously keeping them as pets, the zoo houses a wide selection of wild things.

An elderly retired kangaroo.

Senior Kangaroo

Several pet alligators.

Pet Gaters

A retired baboon.

Retired moviestar Baboon

Our tour guide next to the black panther enclosure.

Panther and our guide

Another former pet, released to the sanctuary.   There are dozens of rescued wild things at the Ranch.

Mountain Lion

A funding source, known to Charlie but referred to only as, the “donation angel”, brought new life to the Ranch, eventually opening several showcase homes for lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!

Lions    Tigers

I learned about White Bengal Tigers from sanctuaries we visited in the past.  They are not endangered because they are not able to pass on the missing pigment naturally, without human imposed interbreeding.   When the color gene is found missing, humans breed father to daughter, sister to brother, etc., destroying any tigers born of normal color.  So sad that people are led to believe the missing gene is a natural process but it is no more natural than crossed eyes, it is a defect.  The incesstual breeding forced upon tigers often result in severe deformities.

White Tiger

The new super-size enclosures have giant clear display windows on the ground level allowing a close up encounter for the cats and humans.  The lion is watching a little boy from our group rush past the window.  I didn’t see her licking her chops but the pray instinct was very apparent by the lions reaction.

Watching a mini kid

Continuing to capitalizing on Monterey’s tourism industry, the Ranch continues to expand and has become an exceptional educational experience for the public. Now called “Monterey Zoological Society”, the tour has knowledgeable, well trained and interesting guides, close up views of the animals and is definitely worth the price of admission.

Paying a slight upcharge so we could feed the elephants, it was a fun experience.  The highlight was watching one participating family’s young preschool boy stretch out his arm to give a carrot to the gigantic bull elephant.  Not terrified but certainly hesitant with only a thin wire between them, his father took over after his son became frozen and motionless.

Elephants

After visiting the Zoo, we rode out to The Farm.

The Farm fields

Offering organic fruits-of-their-labors for sale, we found fresh flowers, produce, eggs, baked goods and gifts along with a clean, well-kept petting zoo.

The Farm

Still searching for ripe apricots and fresh figs, none were available at The Farm but we came away with ruby red sweet cherries and a photo of farm animals from the petting zoo experience.

The Farm residence

Returning home to the Elks Lodge, the flea market was up and running so we strolled through in search of a good deal. If something was found, something else must go, so I considered my purchase carefully. A terracotta pot for a future planting of California succulents was an item on my “want” list. We found a space in the car and I traded a basket for the pot.  I hope to find unusual plants along the coast to bring home to Texas.

Salinas Elks Flea Market

Tonight the Elks Lodge was having a Karaoke night.  Known for their extremely reasonable drink prices, we walked down to enjoy a nightcap, music and the possibility of entertaining songsters.  For the first two people, we needed more to drink.  The third person drank too much himself, his performance loud and boisterous, causing John to quash an explosive laugh-out-loud.  Either we were suffering from a serious liquor buzz or the balance of the singers were enjoyable.  After our third round, the sun was setting and it was time for sleep.  I snapped a photo of the waning sunset after reaching LilyPad, walked KatieBug and we all turned in for the night.

Sunset Salinas

In the morning we will pack up and drive the short distance to Santa Clara, visit family and explore Silicone Valley Techie experiences.

May 21st through June 8th, 2017, Bryce Canyon UT, St. George (Yosemite) Utah, Las Vegas Nevada

Early up and off we rolled to our next destination, Bryce Canyon in Dixie National Forest Utah. I could hardly wait to reach our next extended stay campground. Excitement kept my spirits joyful in spite of the nasty roads.

Cold, but as predicted, sunny morning, our travel across Native American Indian country roads were reminiscent of those we traveled across on our trip to Alaska. They appeared to be in a state of constant repair. Bouncing over areas of haphazardly patched asphalt shook housewares from our countertops and skid them across our floors. In some portions of the road, the asphalt had disintegrated and the partially dirt packed gravel caused us to slow to a snail’s pace. I took my accustomed position leaning over the kitchen sink area to alleviate the pounding on my spine and attempted to keep loose items in place. In hindsight, as enjoyable as our stay in the Grand Canyon had been, I wished this had been “The Road Not Taken”. Unluckily, this road was our only choice from our current position to our next.

As horrid were the roads, the beauty of the scenery passed was amazing.  Glen Canyon with a high level of sparkling sky blue waters.

Glen Canyon

Black Hills of Arizona and beautiful stone formations as we neared Utah.

Black Hills AZ  Nearing Best Friends

The Stair Steps mountain formations in Utah

Stair Steps (2)   Stair Steps

A shout-out to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary where we volunteer,

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

and onward into the Red Hills.

Red Stone   Red Hills

A few more hours of travel before we snugly slipped through The Twin Tunnels

The Tunnels

and into the Red Canyon,

Kanab, UT  Red Canyon

rolling out onto the flatlands of the Red Canyon Forest with snow in the distant mountain tops

Red Canyon Forest    Snow on the mountain

and passing more charcoal colored Black Hills.

More Black Hills

Finally, we were approaching Dixie National Forest and approaching our campground in Bryce Canyon City.

Entering Dixie Nat'l Forest   Bryce Canyon City

Early afternoon we arrived at Ruby’s Inn and RV Park. For the next five days and nights we would experience the front-runner of my favorite destinations, the breathtakingly beautiful and mysterious, Bryce Canyon. This visit, I was determined to make the climb down among the Hoodoo’s. Nowhere else in the world do Hoodoo formations exist and I was not going to miss the chance to experience them up close and personal.

As we entered our requested Big Rig pull-through site, I noticed our RV was in close quarters with several trees.

Ruby's RV Park

My excitement over nearing the Canyon stopped momentarily. Commenting to John, we wouldn’t easily be pulling through this site with all the large tree branches hanging down.  I received the typical John response, no worries. Too excited to argue, we set up camp and drove into the park for an afternoon stroll through the Visitors Center.

Bryce Canyon Entrance

After inquiring which trails were less than moderately difficult and being told The Rim Trail, I disregarded common sense choosing to tackle something slightly above my ability. Back at LilyPad, clothes laid out for an early rise, I slept with dreams of hide-and-seeking around Hoodoos.

Next morning my eyes popped open early, we dressed for hiking and were off to the trailhead. Caution thrown to the wind, I set my goal on trekking the Navajo Trail. The hike was approximately a mile of switchbacks descending nearly 590 feet down to the relatively flat lands among the Hoodoos.  The first set of switchbacks appeared less strenuous as seen from the trailhead.

Start and first set of switchbacks

I kept my eyes glued to the dirt and gravel path knowing a wobble or stumble might send me over the edge, reaching the canyon floor quicker albeit less comfortably than planned.  The second set of switchbacks were steeper but shorter in length.

Second set of switchbacks (2)

Periodically stopping on switchbacks to take in the view, concentrating on the steep climb downward, I had to remind myself, there were no elevators at the bottom for returning to the Rim. We forged downward, John slightly ahead.

Reaching the bottom, we rested under shade of tall pines and strolled along the flat path.  Neck craned skyward, I marveled at the gigantic hoodoo’s and their compressed through the ages sandstone stripes of fascinating multi earthen colors.

Down among the Hoodoos

Documenting our accomplishment with a Hoodoo Kodak Moment and gathering up as much determination as I had left, we began the long steep upward climb.

Bottom looking up

If I had possessed the ability to balance, we would have continued through Queens Garden but the sheer drop offs on either side of the trail, no guard rails with which to grasp, had scared any chance of continuing completely out of my mind.  Next visit, with two walking sticks, Queens Garden shall be conquered.

The switchbacks rising back up to the Rim Trail were as steep as expected but the view was extraordinary.

Half way up Navajo Trail

Slow and steady, resting at several bends with other elderly folks, the top came into view.

Switchbacks were steep

Nearing the lengthy set of second tier switchbacks, Thor’s Hammer appeared before us.  I snapped a close up picture to show details.

Thors Hammer    Close up of Thors Hammer

Coming within one final stretch of the Rim Trail, I glanced back down to measure my progress.

Switch backs

At the trail head, perched on the Rim Trail wooden bench seats, John admitted he had worried I wouldn’t make the climb back out.  Dusty, hot and thirsty yet joyfully exhilarated that a major Bucket List item of mine had been conquered, I was happy I made it out unscathed.

Resting and catching our breath, we looked across the canyon and spotted Inspiration Point, the highest elevation in the park.

Insp Pt from Navajo trail

In the morning, John and I would make the hike up and John would join me in looking out from the Point for his first time. Our previous visit, John stayed with KatieBug when I hiked up alone as dogs were not allowed on the dirt trails.   This visit, KatieBug would be snug as a bug in a/c while DH (the initials we use for dear husband on RV forums)  climbed with me to the top.

Back at LilyPad, after a hot shower and a lite dinner, we drove back into the park and walked out to Sunset Point for the view.

Sunset Point at sunset

Dozens of visitors from around the world joined the stroll along the Rim Trail.  When we arrived at the overlook, a couple from India sat next to me. A group of Germans were chatting and laughing while snapping selfies and group shots of the Canyon view. A large Asian family was having dinner at the rangers presentation area while waiting for the sun to set. The extensive assortment of foreign chatter brought back memories of walking along the Woodlands Waterway in our home town.

Sunset views were not exactly what I had expected but the night was mild, the air was clear and clean so John and I sat near the rim and watched until the sun disappeared. A memorable day followed by a peaceful night.

 

Refreshed and ready for another adventure, this morning John and I would hike to Upper Inspiration Point together. Breakfast first, then getting KatieBug settled before leaving, the ride to the parking lot was brief.  The elevation rise is less than walking among the hoodoo’s but the grade is steeper in the 200 foot climb.  I inched slowly upward, passing several ladies perched on the fence beside the trail, several refusing to go further. Knowing how amazing the view, I rested then continued on, John slightly up ahead waiting for me.  The view from the top is stunning, multi hued Hoodoo’s jutting out of the canyon floor.  The Point looks down into Bryce Amphitheater, the largest grandest and most colorful natural amphitheater.

Inspiration Point 1 8100Inspiration Point 2Inspiration Point 3

Crowds preceded us so we waited our turn then gazed out over the extensive view.  One can truly appreciated the depth of the canyon after having walked on the canyon floor.  Pictures do not portray its magnificence, stretching outward into forever.

Slowly making our decent down the mountain side by side, we sat in the car resting before the drive back to LilyPad.

Bryce Canyon has visitors from around the world but parked in front of our car was a tour bus from Campbell California, the town in which I grew up.  With each year that passes while we roll on, the world becomes smaller.

Campbell CA

Before reaching home, we paused to watch the endangered Prairie Dogs popping in and out of their burrows.

Endangered Prairie Dogs

Another open field had Mule Deer grazing.

Mule Deer

My frame of mind was not in a cooking mood so we dined at Ruby’s Buffet and Steak Room Restaurant. Plenty of healthy choices and reasonably priced.  Afterwards, a short walk with KatieBug and to all a good night.

 

This morning I slept late while John enjoyed an early bike ride along the trails.  When he returned, we finished our everyday chores, escaping in the afternoon for a visit to a few must-see overlooks, areas all reachable via walking The Rim Trail.

Fairyland Canyon

Fairyland Canyon 1Fairyland Canyon 2Fairyland Canyon 3

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge 8627

We passed a large section of burnt trees from a forest fire on the edge of the park.

Forest Fire

Farview Point is located near the end of the park canyon road.

Farview Point 8819

Mule Deer out for an evening veggie bite.

Mule Deer with horns

I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating. The Senior America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is one of the best deals the government offers. Both John and I bought one as it is only good for the person who purchases the pass. Considering the daily entrance fee for Bryce alone, we saved $120.000 over our near weeklong stay.

Canyon Fees

Out of the park, into LilyPad and asleep by 9:00 pm.

 

Another day of cool mornings and restful afternoon visits to Bryce Canyon. Stopping to visit The Bryce Canyon Lodge, we marveled at the beautiful vintage structure.  Our visits to national parks require a look-see at the interior details.

A short walk to the entrance.

The Lodge

Inside, the omnipresent focal point stone fireplace facing ample cozy cushy couches, a gift shop with a full range of items for sale and a restaurant.

Grand Lodge Fireplace

Driving back to LilyPad we spotted more local mule deer out grazing.  Note to self, check KatieBug thoroughly for deer ticks.

Mule Deer in pm

Tonight we pack up for our early morning roll out.

 

Becoming our tradition, the exit was delayed over an hour. When we slowly began to sneak out from under the trees, LilyPad got caught up in the overhanging tree branches. Armed with a ladder and hack saw, John attempted to free us of the small branches but waited while I summoned the Park maintenance men to chain saw us out of the big tree limbs.

Stuck again

I called and spoke with the manager to express my dissatisfaction of putting us in a site too narrow and branches too low for an exit without tree damage. I reminded them I had called on several occasions before arriving to confirm they were aware of our height and width.  When we arrived, I mentioned my concerns but was told “no problem, you will fit fine”. After getting caught up in the overhead Pine limbs, I gave the manager my opinion of their casual disregard of damage we would suffer to our full time home. Suggesting they may want to designate appropriate sites for larger rigs, I asked that she please not include the site she had given us. After the chain saws set us free from the branches, we hooked up and left.

Traveling via the Old Spanish Trail, the scenic views closely resembled those we had seen over the past few weeks.

Old Spanish Trail

Over more flatlands, twisting through mountains and rolling back out onto flatlands.  Hot as the weather we were experiencing had been, snow on the distant white capped mountain tops still teased us into the belief we would eventually reach cooler weather.

Twisting through the mountains   Snow on the mountains

Our next stop would be St. George for nearly a week. We were staying at the St. George Elks Lodge, electricity only, not a problem for our fully self- contained LilyPad.

The St George Elks lodge

Temperatures pushing 100 plus, the weak 50 amps struggled to cool us off so during the hottest part of the day, we used our generator to keep KatieBug a cool pug-bug.

The first day we rested. I searched TripAdvisor to plan a few outings, the first being to satisfy my craving for anything “religion or church”. We were in The Church of the Latter Day Saints territory. Tomorrow we would visit the church and other local sites.

Relaxing under the shadow of the red rocks of Utah, we watched as the Elks Lodge RV Park filled to capacity under a setting sun. John walked to the Lodge bar for an evening nip, took KatieBug out to potty and we fell asleep to local TV.

St. George Elks Lodge site

After breakfast next morning, we drove to town. Our first stop was St. George Tabernacle, closed for remodeling.

St. George Tabernacle

Parking across the street under cover of shade trees, we momentarily entertained ourselves watching mom’s, dad’s and children playing in the adjacent water park.

Town water park

The LDS Temple complex can be seen from almost any point in town, brilliantly white and gleaming. The Temple, with its tall slender steeple, radiated in the sun and complimented the deep red and brown hues of the mountains.

LDS From the hills

Although they didn’t allow us to enter the church, their Visitors Center had pictures of the temple interior, a senior volunteer gentleman showed us the history in pictures and a young recent high school graduate volunteer guided us through, answering questions along the way.

LDS Temple

We listened to a video speech of the Second Counselor and peeked at a play town with videos showing subjects dedicated to children.

Childrens video's

Sitting for a short religious talk in front of a giant statue of Jesus before our departure, we had been warned by other TripAdvisor reviewers not to give out our address at any time during the tour. Not a problem for us, we live on the roll so not even the LDS can track us down!

Jesus Statue

Their hierarchy listed First President and Profit, First and Second Counselor and a Quorum of 12 apostles, somewhat familiar for John and I, both of us being Catholics.

Speaking with the young lady, we learned she volunteered for 18 months, the place being chosen by elders.  For her, St. George Utah was their choice. She was friendly, informative, genuinely happy to be of service to visitors wandering into the center.

One unusual piece of trivia told to us about how nearby Flood Street got its name.  The Temple was built on top of underground springs.  When rains filled the springs, they had to pump the water down the street.  It kept the name Flood Street although water is no longer pumped out into the street.

Flood Street

Thanking, then leaving the company of our young tour guide, we departed for our next destination, St. George Dinosaurs Discovery Site.

St. George Dinosaur Discovery

In the parking lot, a two story Century Plant, appropriate landscaping.

Agave plant

The museum gift shop is well stocked.  Introduction to the museum comes in the form of a short video.  Inside are hundreds of dinosaur footprints preserved on the original site of discovery.  After paying our nominal senior price and sitting through the short video, we walked up the ramp.

Inside the museum

Up the incline, we found ourselves walking alongside Jurassic muds with dinosaur foot prints forever imprinted in sandstone.  Some dinosaurs were running,

Tracks of running

some were walking,

Largest single specimen of dino tracks

a Eubrontes was in a sitting position,

Eubrontes  Sitting Eubrontes

one showing swimming prints,

Dino swim tracks

and all were incredible.  The docents were extremely knowledgeable, full of fascinating facts, willing and able to go into detail when answering questions.

A total Do-Not-Touch area, there were up close and personal footprints at the entrance.

Dino Foot  DSC_3347

We found the plant for which our LilyPad was named but no toad.

A LilyPad

Scanning through the hundreds of dinosaur footprints, John found a small print of a baby dinosaur.

Baby dino prints

One of the cases displayed 100 million year old teeth.

100 Million year old teeth

The idea for the museum began when Dr. Sheldon Johnson was leveling an area of his property.  After removing large blocks of sedimentary rock, he began tearing up the sandstone in large blocks.  While doing so, he discovered three-dimensionally preserved dinosaur tracks. They were significant enough for the excavation to continue and the findings would be used to start the museum.

The sandstone and mudstone formed almost 200 million years ago on the shores of an ancient lake in the vicinity of St. George.

Layers of the tracks

The discovery was the first of thousands of well-preserved indentions of dinosaur tracks, plants, fossil fish, shells of small aquatic animals, seeds of plants and rare dinosaur remains.  Below is a Semionotid fish fossil, nearly complete.  Its body covered with heavy enamel-coated diamond shaped scales.

Semionotid fish fossil with scales

In the rear of the museum, behind a glass wall, lab volunteers prepare finds for research and display.  Below is a Phytosaur skull found at another site and brought here for preparation.

Phytosaur scull

Also containing invertebrates traces and important sedimentary structures, the site has been described as “one of the best dinosaur track sites in the world”, one of the most important discoveries in Early Jurassic paleontological history.

Back wall 1   Back wall 2

Near the gift shop were touchable dinosaur related items, some real but some obviously plastic.  A fun area for the kid in all of us to encounter a tactile experience.

Bone pieces to touch

There were several enclosed cases.  One contained fragments of fossils, allowable to collect for personal use.

Fragments

Another case held Jurassic backbones and ribs from an aquatic dinosaur.

Backbone and ribs

Having had a dose of the Heavens and walking where dinosaurs roamed the Earth, we drove back home to cool down, unwind and keep the sweltering desert sun from boiling our brains.  Tomorrow morning we will stroll through the Red Hills Desert Gardens.

 

The desert is best tolerated in the morning before heat turns walkways into bar-b-q grills.  The Red Hills Desert Gardens are a slice of land banked by the sandstone hills and skirting the highway. The forecast was for another scorcher, not good for fur baby paws.  KatieBug took her position as guard dog of our LilyPad while we drove off to explore the Gardens.  No crowds, the gardens were ours exclusively.

Red Hills Desert Garden

Climbing downstairs for a look at the fish, we realized the tanks must be difficult to keep clean with the heat and sun shining through the glass.  There was so much green algae, nothing fishlike appeared to be in the tanks.

Virgin River Fish tank

The paths were cement, clean, level and  easy to walk along.  In tepid weather the Gardens would be enjoyable to visit any time of the day.

Flowering path   Overlooking the water

Stopping to smell the bright yellow flowers, we watched several types of bees fly in for pollen.  I backed slowly away but they showed no interest in us.

Several types of bees

Several shaded swings provided rest stops along the pathways.

John on one of the swings

One of the gravel paths crossed a stream with tiny fish squirming through the shallow mucky bottom waters.

Path over water

A few sections had names posted of several prominent desert families of plants.  They grew more types of aloe than I knew existed.

Agave Hesperaloe

Flowering

The sun was merciless but blooms were brilliantly colored and thriving.

Lots of color   Cactus flower

My favorite plant in the garden was the chocolate plant.  The aroma was heavenly.

Chocolate Flower

Back home to cool down and begin the process of preparing for departure in the morning.  After five years, the time assigned for the task hasn’t declined.

 

Leaving the desert sands, we navigated our 65 feet long home and car between mammoth peaks and valleys holding a thousand years of prehistoric fossils between their layers. Remembering the mud prints of Jurassic dinosaurs, I could imagine herds of Scelidosaurus, Dilophosaurus and Megapnosaurus wandering through the area leaving behind tracks and traces of their lives pressed between layers of earth for humans to one day uncover and display to future generations.

Mountains    through the mountains

The river trickled along the roadside until we left the mountains and flat sandy desert lands spread out before us.  One turn before pointing LilyPad’s direction towards Las Vegas.

River alongside

Sandy loam, as far as sight could see, with Joshua Trees dotting the landscape until we neared the voracious electricity consuming town of bright lights, gambling and “whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.

Joshua Trees

The long thin black line that appears to separate tan desert sands from layered rock mountains, banded unceasingly across the desert, are masses of solar panels for the ravenous appetite of neon nightlights required by “sin city”. I couldn’t begin to imagine the price tag for the utilities each casino complex consumes daily.

Solar fields   Vegas Skyline

Our next two weeks will be spent in 105 to 112 degrees of dry heat during the day and cooling to a mild 80 to 90 degrees at night. We jumped from Houston’s frying pan temperatures into Nevada’s and California’s burning desert fires.

I thought I was over being surprised by the differences one experiences when living in a motorhome compared to a sticks-n-bricks home but I was wrong. Taking a shower one afternoon, I waited a seemingly endless amount of time for the water, which I had entirely twisted in the cold position, to become less scorching but refreshingly cool was not arriving.  I soon realized if it is 112 outside, your entire water tank will be hot so cold is not an option.

We set up house at Las Vegas RV Park, away from any road noise and tucked securely behind solid stone walls topped with barbed wire and a full time 24 hour gate keeper. The high crime rate of the area and the dismal poverty level becomes intimidating if you look closely. The city ignores derelicts, not bothering to remove drunks who pass out in front of neighborhood grocery store entrance doors. In the heat, the stench is overpowering.

Our first venture out will be an afternoon trip to the Downtown Container Park and a daytime visit to Fremont Street.

Container Park

The concept of a container park is a brilliant idea. Sturdy, easy care, recycled containers put to use as shops, eateries and outdoor bars. In the middle, a giant play area for children and in the rear, a stage for outdoor entertainment.

Containers

At the entrance sits a giant praying mantis and at night, we were told it shoots fire.

Praying Mantis

Near the mantis, a huge red heart iron sculpture art piece with hundreds of love locks attached within its metal boundaries.

Metal heart and locks

We wandered through the enclosed area realizing daytime was not prime time to see the rock and roll activity of Vegas bar scenes. Most stores were open, my favorite being San Miguel Collection. A houseful of this décor would entirely fit my personality.

San Miguel Collection

Fremont Street was a short two block walk down from the Container Park. Prominently displayed mid-street were vintage refurbished signs, those I remembered from my early adult years when John and I frequented Vegas.

Vintage Vegas Sign  Vintage Vegas Signs  Vintage Vegas

Wacky, wild, slightly obscene but the perfect place for people watching, we strolled down the no auto pedestrian friendly “Strip” at a relaxed pace.

One of the stranger sights, the Heart Attack Grill restaurant offering people over 350 pounds to eat for free.

Heart Attack Grill

Thrill seekers were zip lining high above Fremont Street,

Zip Lines over Fremont Street

Partially dressed entertainers vying for attention.

Dressing up less is more   Fremont Street Entertainers

Magicians floating in air, all were part of the bewitchery of old Las Vegas

Magician floating

This year, because of the heat, we didn’t venture onto the strip.  Walking long distances for hours, even in the cooler 90 degree night heat, for me was flirting with heat stroke.

 

Back to LilyPad with groceries, the temperatures kept me inside the balance of the day. As the sun began to set, we dressed for our nighttime dinner date.  Hugo’s at the Four Queens on Freemont Street is my favorite Italian splurge whenever we visit Las Vegas. It remains one of my fondest memories of our visits to Las Vegas during the conferences John attended for 10 plus years while employed by GeoSouthern Energy.

Candle lit tables in cozy bricked alcoves, sharing a bottle of Argentine Malbec, exceptional service,  knowledgeable and entertaining career sommelier, salad prepared tableside with a dozen choices of add-ins, raspberry sorbet to cleanse the pallet, fresh sweet perfectly grilled seafood and gratis chocolate dipped fresh and dried fruit to end another unforgettable dining experience.

 

This morning we were off to tour the home and horse stables of Mr. Las Vegas. I had purchased Groupon tickets for the Diamond Tour of Wayne Newton’s Casa de Shenandoah.  The style of the front gates set the tone of the tour.  Casa de Shenandoah, meaning house of beauty, has welcomed presidents, kings and countless celebrities.The 52 landscaped acre grounds are a manicured perfection in tranquility.

Entrance gates

Opened to the public in 2015, the tour reveals acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, several artesian wells bubbling up in the lake as the water supply, a mansion, guest homes, barns, arenas and a collection of exotic animals, all originally completed in 1976. Modest for Vegas, the mansion and some areas are open for tours.

The draw for me was seeing his Aramus Arabian stables and horses.

Aramus Arabians stables   The stalls

We toured the immaculate stables, then watched an exercise session with an informative explanation by the tour guide.

Arabian exercizing   the exercize pond

One of his younger horses was brought out into the arena and his spirited prancing and alert pose provided excellent Kodak Moments.

Running the Arabian       eye makeup

We toured Wayne Newton’s modest 1950’s original home where he, his older brother and parents lived.  Wayne began his singing career as a child.  He sang with his older brother until the 1960’s when he sang a solo song written originally for Bobby Darin.  After hearing Newton sing, Darin insisted that Newton sing the song, “Danke Schoen” and at the age of 21, his solo career began.

The entrance to the home is elaborate, the house well furnished but comfortably down to earth.  His father began with five acres and the original home, purchasing land as it became available.  Our tour guide told us the family loved to entertain.  There was a pool in the yard and an extensive workout room in the rear of the house.

50's entrance   50's den

The living room was formal and contained many personal items belonging to the family.

50's livingroom

His collection of exotic animals was our next stop.  Although there were dozens, I took photo’s of my favorite.  The enclosures were clean, roomy and designed for the protection and comfort of each animal.

One of the Wallaby’s was bouncing happily around his area but stopped to stare while I took his picture.

Wallaby

I love the looks of the African Crane.  There were two, but only one wanted to pose.

African Crane

The Capuchin monkey Boo and his dog were my favorite.  Boo walks the dog around on a leash and they live together in a huge enclosure with everything a monkey and his dog could ever want or need.  Neither were interested in us or the tour guide.

Boo and his dog

The grounds had several peacocks, brought in by a past guest and are allowed to stay or go, whichever they chose.  The white peacock is rare and not an albino.

grounds peacock  white peacock

A short cart ride away, we arrived at the mansion.  Although Wayne no longer lives here full time, he visits daily.  This mansion has glitz and glamor, rare wood ceilings, crystal, secret rooms, what you would expect of Mr. Vegas but not enormous in size.  A grand entrance and exquisite Baccarat and Waterford crystal chandeliers welcomes you into the living room.  For safety, the gorgeous crystal banisters to upstairs had to be replaced with metal before opening the mansion to the public.

Casa de Shenandoah    The mansion livingroom

Warm and expansive, the dining room is set with Waterford crystal and 14-karat gold leaf chinaware personally designed and signed by Mr. Newton.

Wayne's gold dinnerware    Wayne's custom dinnerware

The custom chefs kitchen is small but packed with every necessity for entertaining.

Catering kitchen

An impressive heart shaped pool can be seen through the living room windows.

Big House heart shape pool

The house contains many rare original artworks including Renoir, Van Gogh and Keane.

Rare art  Keane drawings

Newton purchased several of Keane’s paintings after learning the wife was the actual painter.  She was grateful for his support and painted a picture of his animals as a gift.

Keane of Waynes animals

A rare antique billiard table from India, complete with Baccarat crystal legs, sat in the room nearest the living room.

Crystal pool table

Red Skelton’s famous clown paintings, with beloved Lucile Ball painted as a clown, decorated one wall in the billiard room.

Red Skelton's paintings

The “Red Room”, his office, contains memento’s ranging from a flag flown over the Alamo in his honor, his portrait on a Wheaties box and robes for knighthood, two showing in the background. His collection includes pictures taken with presidents, kings, statesmen and movie stars.

Wayne's Red Room   Flag over TX for Wayne

The museum was our last stop. Wayne’s life is entwined with the history of Las Vegas, his family first, then his home for so many decades.  The people he has helped, those who he befriended, all the kindness he has shown throughout his career have filled his warehouses with incredible memories but only so many will fit in the museum at one time.

His car collection is extensive and includes a station wagon from a friend who he teased about using it to drive around on shopping trips.

The car collection

Lucile Ball left the station wagon to him in her will and it is displayed with love, next to the others in his collection.

Lucy's shopping car

Stage props, the boat from On Golden Pond and Vivian Leigh’s couch in Gone With The Wind are a few of his collection pieces.

Film props

Not having much knowledge of Wayne Newton outside my mother being a fan and having seen him several times, our guide provided enough information for us to realize what a generous, giving person he is, still performing to this day several times a week and continuing his tradition of honoring our American service men.

We toured his former plane, his museum and viewed some of his memento’s of the performances he gives to service men overseas, spanning several decades.  Below are some of his USO jackets and a few award cabinets.

Wayne's USO jackets   Awards and recognitions

Wayne Newton is still admired by thousands of loyal fans, continues to entertain crowds and is truly Mr. Las Vegas.  As we left the grounds, we decided our next visit to Las Vegas would include one of his performances, now enjoyed with a greater understanding of the person behind the performer.

Our nighttime entertainment is Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson One. Thoroughly enjoyable for me, a longtime Michael Jackson fan, acceptable as entertainment for John. A walk around the casino to stretch out after sitting down for an extended length of time and back home for the night.

 

Today will be dedicated to cleaning and preparing for the next leg of our journey. Shopping, laundry, checking fluid levels and air pressures, securing anything that may become airborne and plotting our route, all to be completed before bedtime.

 

Bye, Bye Sin City, hello California.  Rising early to beat the 100 plus degree heat destined to torch its way across Nevada, we turned onto Interstate 15, the highway that stretches across hundreds of miles of arid rain-shadow desert and set the navigation for Boron, Southern California, the home of 20 Mule Team Borax.

Interstate 15, a.k.a. Mojave Freeway, crosses the torrid valleys of the Mojave Desert, the driest desert in North America. Little more than sand, rock and scrub brush with wind distressed landscapes and mountains off in the distance, stepping outside will cause a sweltering heat flush stronger than a major menopausal hot flash.

Said to parallel the approximate route taken by Mormon pioneers traveling from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino, it is unimaginable how anything alive would survive this heat using a cart, equine drawn, as their mode of transportation.

Swales, ditches cleared to direct water flow, appear every mile or so, running under the road and out into the Mojave National Preserve. Whoever in San Bernardino County named these ditches must have had a humorously jolly outlook on life to dream up so many playfully creative names. Prominently displayed signs with entertaining twisted names were given to the gentle crevices that slightly indented the desert. Names such as Moby Ditch, Bangla Ditch, Sonofa Ditch all provoked a chuckle while rolling across hundreds of miles of parched bare uninhabitable land.

Tonight we will arrive in the town of Boron, near the Mojave Desert, the closest town to the freeway with an easy pull through RV stop for our next set of overnights.  If weather reports of predicted temperatures for the next few weeks are to be trusted, the coming heatwave will make a Texan summer feel practically artic.