Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Travel Review / 2010 Outlook

December 31 marks 891 days since we became fulltimers and we still find this lifestyle to be grand beyond all expectations. This year we slowed down and have stayed in “only” 45 places in six western states and one Canadian Province; Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. We did a day trip to Mexico so we have now traveled in four countries (USA, Jamaica, Canada & Mexico) since going fulltime. This year we traveled from the southern tip of Texas to the most northwestern point of the lower 48 in Washington. At three parks we stayed for at least a month and in most others we spent at least a week. This slower pace gave us more time to explore each area more thoroughly. We only put about 6,400 miles on the motorhome and 11,700 on the CRV. National Parks continue to be the most fantastic when looking for natural beauty and we visited over a dozen this year. We also enjoyed the glitz of Vegas, the brewpubs in Portland, the wineries of the Sonoma Valley, the glamour of LA and the beauty of the City by the Bay. Getting to spend time with friends and family is a special joy of traveling. We had visits from our friends Tom & Georgie and Mike & Sherri and my brother Rick and his wife Denise. We also spent two weeks with Nanc's brother Dave and his family and visited with Erin Jones in San Francisco and Linda Rocks in Mesa. We have crossed paths several times with new RVing mates we have met since going on the road. Right now we are at the Escapees Rose Parade HOP (Head Out Program) with Richard and Valerie Frayer and other SKP friends. The only down side this year are the repairs we have had to make on the rig. But that said, it is really no different from the repairs and maintenance we had to do on the house when we lived in the stix and brix.

Our plans for 010 are to stay in the SoCal and Arizona area through the winter. We want to go to Quartzite which is a huge “must do” RVing event held in the desert in January. We want to visit friends in Yuma and plan to spend February in the Valley of the Sun near Phoenix. As soon as it is warm enough we will be heading east via a route to be determined for a short spring stay in PA. We intend to explore New England and Maritime Canada during the summer. The Escapade in Goshen, IN in September is on the agenda followed by another short stay in PA. We would like to visit DC (always a favorite of ours) and return to the Outer Banks for the fall as we work our way to Florida for the winter of 010 / 11. All that said, because rhome is on wheels we may rhome to other places. We wish all a great new year and may you continue to have good health, safe travels and prosper in 010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Float Decorating for the Rose Parade

The volunteer entrance is well marked as they need all the help they can get.
The SKPs who helped decorate. Our guide Leslie is the short young one in the middle. She also has an equestrian group in the parade.
On the left is an early mock up of the Jack in the Box design. The drawings are the final designs for China Airlines (top) and Jack in the Box floats.
Just a few of the millions of flowers that will be placed on the floats by December 31.
Getting gooey and messy while doing our little part to help.
This really was a messy job.
Richard and Valerie preparing mums to be glued on the floats.
Debbie (left), who works here, is from Ohio and was happy to be working on those red roses. On the bottom they are gluing the mums the SKPs had done to the Ohio State float. (right)
Jim and Nanc by the flames where our pretty sticks will go. Don't forget to look for the China Airlines float in the parade.

We spent four hours working on flowers to decorate floats for the parade. This is a labor intensive job that relies on volunteers who work thousands of man hours on each float. School groups, churches, seniors and groups like Escapees do the final work of cutting and gluing flowers in a sprint starting December 26 and ending New Year's Eve. Some in our group pinched the heads of mums, glued their backs and carried them to the floats to be installed. Nanc and I and several others glued cornmeal and straw flowers to branches that would look like a flame on the China Airlines float. This was a really messy but fun job. The company we worked with was doing four floats; China Airlines, Jack in the Box and the team floats for the O Ducks and O Bucks. The same team float designs are used for three or four years but the roses cannot be ordered until the first of December when they know which schools will be playing in the game. The planning for other floats starts in February with the design and concludes with this week of adding the natural coverings on every visible inch. As with everything else, the bad economy has affected the parade to the point neither FTD or Teleflora has entries this year. This was a great experience getting an up close and personal look at just a small bit of what goes into staging this event and will make viewing even more special. Don't forget to look for our handy work while you are watching the parade.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

LA LA Land

We continued our exploration of the LA area with a trip to Ventura where we toured Mission San Buenaventura, the Mission by the Sea. It was one of twenty one Missions covering an area from the Mexican border to north of San Francisco. They were the plan of Padre Fray Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest from the Spanish Isle of Mallorca. It ended up being the ninth and last founded during his lifetime. The church, which was built in 1782, was damaged by an earthquake in 1857. It was rebuilt then to the "modern" standards of the day. Starting in the mid 1950's a major restoration was began and by its bicentennial it had been restored to its original historical appearance. It is an excellent example of the architecture of the period.
We also shopped at a great farmers market in Ventura, took a stroll on the beach and had lunch overlooking the harbor. This is a working harbor with more fishing than pleasure boats. There was a Boatel B & B available for overnight stays. It was a beautiful day with sunny skies and temps in the 70's. This was made extra special by the fact that on the day we were there much of the nation was in the midst of a big winter storm.
On another day we drove to Hollywood to take in some of the "glamour" which involved lots of tourists and many traps trying to lure them. The pic on the left sums it up with all the ads and the famous sign. The casting couch, where we are trying out for a big role, is at the end of a trail that tells how many stars and movie industry people were discovered. We also checked out the entrance to the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars are presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The names of all the Best Picture winners are displayed in the lobby with room to add names through 2071.
On Hollywood Boulevard I got to press the concrete with Norma Jean. She has not aged at all.
It was neat seeing all the imprints of the "stars" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. One of my favorites was Sonja Henie who left her skate imprints and Sean Connery who did his in his bare feet. Roy Rogers had Trigger's horseshoe print with his. It was great seeing John Wayne's because we previously toured his boyhood home in Iowa and Elizabeth Taylor who wrote Giant in the concrete for the movie that was filmed in Marfa, Texas where we had dinner at the hotel used during the filming.
Several blocks of Hollywood Boulevard have the names of stars from movies and TV. Many of these are much more recent than those at the Chinese Theatre.
We moved on to serious window shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The stores included DeBeers, Harry Winston, Tiffany & Co. and Versace, just to name a few. Parked on the street was a nice yellow Rolls Royce and a Maybach. I think BMWs are like Chevys on Rodeo Drive. The store pictured on the left is unique as it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and has features such as the tower and a circular ramp that are common in several of his other buildings.
As you would expect the Christmas decorations were over the top with whole buildings wrapped with ribbons. We are hanging on to the street pole as the prices had us staggering
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of the most unusual buildings we have ever seen. The curves of the exterior are covered with stainless steel allowing for the flowing shape. Some of the steel had to be dulled because the sun's reflection was shining into nearby condos making the temperature rise resulting in soaring air conditioning costs. Some spots on the sidewalk reached 160 degrees. We did not get in to the concert hall but this awesome building is well worth a visit.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of The Angels is another unique downtown LA building and the third largest cathedral in the world. This very modern cathedral has an altar on display which was built in Europe in the early 1800's. The courtyard with flowers, sculptures, and fountains was a relaxing setting in the middle of the city.Nanc found this statue of Joseph Scott, an attorney and community leader know as Mr. Los Angeles. It could have been her dad Joe with that fist saying, "As long as you live under my roof you are going to live by my rules". It really made her smile. He wasn't quite as strict as he tried to be.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

Wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our friends and family.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

LA, TV, the PITS

A mammoth stuck in the lake. The bubble is from gas and tar rising to the top.
Very well preserved fossils:)
La Brea fossils are brown because of the tar.
pronghorn, saber-tooth cat
buffalo, rapture
A tar pit and the "tree" boxes from Project 23.
Viewing the fish bowl where workers are cleaning fossils, one of which is Zed the Colombian Mammoth..
LA art; Part of the Berlin Wall, Nanc hanging on the lampposts and the Travel Angel.
Christmas in LA
The four heads on the bottom are Val, Richard, Nanc & Jim at the Late Late Show.

We continued exploring the LA area with a visit to the Page Museum and La Brea Tar Pits, a unique natural feature near downtown where thousands of animals have been entrapped in the tar over the last 40,000 years. The pits of asphalt, which are covered with a thin layer of water, would lure animals where they would become stuck in the goo. The gas and tar continues to bubble to the surface which we witnessed as we stood by the lake. This is one of the largest concentrations of fossils in the world as thousands have been unearthed here. More than a million bones including 231 vertebrates, 234 invertebrates and 159 plant species have been found. Thousands of dire wolves are the most common animal with over 2000 saber-toothed cats ranking second. The most resent find, Project 23, was discovered when a new underground parking garage was being built in 2006. To allow construction to proceed 23 large "tree" boxes were placed around the fossils so they could be moved for excavation. Zed, a nearly complete Colombian Mammoth, was among this find. Pit 91 is a site where excavation has been ongoing each summer from July to September since 1969. The museum has an excellent display of many complete fossils that have been found here and at the "fish bowl" laboratory you can watch the scientists clean and carefully examine the bones. The pits are a very interesting find right in the middle of LA.

We also visited the nearby Farmers Market and Grove shopping complex. We had a great lunch at the food court that offered a huge selection of foods from around the world. We did the usual window shopping and enjoyed the Christmas decorations. Going to these shopping areas when you live in a home on wheels with space and weight limits actually makes the experience more enjoyable (for me at least) then when going to the mall meant buying not just window shopping. It is amazing all the "stuff" you can live without.

Another LA experience was going to the taping of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson at CBS. The whole thing was very interesting from start to finish. Richard ordered free tickets on line and we needed to be in line at CBS by 3 PM. No cameras or cell phones were allowed and we had to go through a metal detector before sitting in line to wait for instructions that included no shouting out, how and when the applaud and laugh, no ooohs when Craig told a joke and a reminder that we were an important part of the production. Next, comedian Chunky B came out to warm us up with a few jokes before the capacity crowd of 108 were lead into the studio. Once inside, Chunky B explained what would happen and what we were to do when Craig came on stage. He continued to warm up the audience with candy and more jokes. With the cameras rolling Craig entered and did his monologue and we all clapped and laughed with great enthusiasm. After finishing the monologue Craig explained he would be doing a second one for a future show so he changed ties and we repeated the shows opening. Next up was a "surprise" visit from Betty White dressed as Santa as a promo for the bell ringers of the Salvation Army. We later discovered this portion was also for a future date and not for the show that evening. The featured guest of the night and a highlight for us was Sigourney Weaver whom Craig interviewed about her new movie Avitar. We have enjoyed many of her movies and it was a real treat to see her in person. The final guest was author Hank Stuever who was interviewed about his book, Tinsel - A Search for Americas Christmas Present. After the taping was done, Craig came out and talked to the audience to let us know we would all be receiving a gift bag from Delta Airlines because of nasty comments he had made about another airline. He told us it was probably crap but it was free crap and that was not far from the truth. As we were leaving, a new audience was waiting in line for the taping of the Friday program. We had a grand time being part of the audience and would recommend it as good, cheap and funny entertainment any time you are in LA. All that said, we did not see the show because we really don't ever stay up that late. We did check out some of it on line and captured the passing view of the back of our heads in the last row.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Final Touch

We came to SoCal earlier then planned to have the RV repaired at Final Touch Coach Works in Valencia. We called them in early November to schedule the repair. We chose Final Touch on the recommendations of several reviews we read in magazines and on forums. As a bonus, it is conveniently located just two miles from the park we will be staying in for the Rose Parade. On the day we drove from San Juan Bautista we called when we were an hour away and they had us come in to do the estimate before going to the park thus saving us one trip. After the insurance approved the work we took the rig in on Monday to start the repair.
Joel, Jonathan, and Dave were very professional in their dealings with us and the insurance company. They did a great job of making the entire process go as smoothly as possible.
This is the damage and the marks show the area where the fiberglass would be repaired.
A real plus for us was that they removed the damaged part so we did not have to drive the rig to the shop every day. The top pics show the fiberglass work they started doing immediately. The bottom pic is the rig back at the park minus the damaged piece.
On Friday we returned the rig to the shop to have the repaired part reinstalled and have the molding that was attached to the rig painted. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate as it was pouring rain so the caulking was not completely set when we picked up the rig. This required one more trip to the shop but Final Touch scheduled it for the day we were moving to our Rose Parade site at the park so we were again saved an extra move.
This is the "Final Touch" with everything put back together and the painting all done. We were very happy with the work and the way the paint was matched. The whole crew at Final Touch did their best to make the whole thing go as smoothly as possible. An added bonus was Tommie's Castiac Cafe a great little restaurant owed by Joel and his wife where we had breakfast and hung out on the days the rig was in the shop. When I backed into that tree it sure was a bad day but the people at Final Touch did their best to turn a bad day into a great day with a job well done. To Joel, Jonathan, Dave and the crew, we thank you. If you are in this area and need work done you can't go wrong by choosing Final Touch.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Exploring Pasadena

Old Pasadena and some of the Rose Bowl prep.
Richard and Valerie
Desert Garden with a Dr. Seuss-like tree in the middle.
Pavilions in the Chinese Garden.
The Japanese Garden
A few of the incredible bonsai trees.
Bonsai Forests
The rare sight of a perched hummingbird.
Some of the many flowers blooming in December.

Our friends Valerie and Richard Frayer, who are also going to the Rose Parade, have arrived early and we have been exploring the LA area together. One afternoon we drove to Pasadena to explore "Old Pasadena". It is a well preserved downtown with old buildings, many of which are art deco, that are still being used as retail stores. Unfortunately, it is really just an urban mall with all the usual chain stores you find in any mall in America and not the local businesses and antique stores we were expecting. There was one great Christmas store that filled an entire block and was the biggest I have ever seen. All that said, since we only window shopped, we just enjoyed walking the streets and checking things out. As we drove down Colorado Avenue there was quite a lot of evidence of Rose Parade and Bowl Game preparations. It helped increase our excitement as we look forward to attending the parade.

What really made the trip to Pasadena worthwhile was the visit to The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The Huntington is on the property of railroad tycoon Henry Huntington. The hours of operation are from noon to 4:30 which is not nearly enough time to see it all so we chose to spend our time in the gardens and it was well worth it. We toured several of the fourteen theme gardens starting with the Desert garden where they have dry climate plants from around the world. Seeing them all in one place gives you a real appreciation of natures diversity. Many times we commented on feeling like we were in prehistoric times or in the land of Dr. Seuss because some of the plants were so huge and strange looking. We were not able to see the Australian Garden because it was being used as a movie set. The Huntington has become a popular site for filming with scenes from Anger Management, Serenity, CSI:NY and The West Wing being shot there. We could see the set in the distance but did not see any stars. The Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Liu Fang Yuan, is a Chinese garden which has the traditional natural sylvan of undisturbed woods as a background that surrounds the lake, bridges, pavilions, courts and plants. The pavilions represent freshwater, jade, lotus, the three friends and washing away thoughts. The bridges are named Verdant Mist, Jade Ribbon, Joy of Fish and Strolling in the Moonlight. The Camellia and Rose gardens have a large number of blooming plants which filled the air with a wonderful aroma as we strolled the paths. A highlight for us was the Japanese Garden which is one of the oldest in America. It has a traditional home, pagodas, a rock and stone courtyard and water running among the plants. The high point was the bonsai exhibit with tiny evergreens and deciduous trees arranged in displays of individual trees and forests. Many years ago we "tried" to grow a small bonsai and could just never seem to keep it alive so we have a real appreciation of this ancient art of growing and shaping these beautiful plants. We enjoyed the gardens because as native Pennsylvanians we are not used to seeing gardens in bloom in the winter months. This was a real treat.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Settling in for the Month in SoCal

The view from behind the rig.
You can almost see that pot of gold and you can see the s__w in the mountains.
Rose Parade banner along Colorado Boulevard.

We have moved to SoCal and are staying at the Valencia Travel Village in Castaic and will remain here until after the first of the year. We are looking forward to going to the Rose Parade and to several related activities with a group of Escapees. Richard and Valerie Frayer, fellow fulltimers whom we have hooked up with several times, are also coming in early and we will be exploring the LA area and celebrating Christmas together. The drive here on I-5 was along the edge of the central valley farmland where there were almost no towns and only a few gas stations. Although there was a lot of traffic, it rolled right along. At the south end of the valley the road climbs to 4144 feet going over "The Grapevine" and it felt like a scene from the song Hot Rod Lincoln as the Dutch Star was passing 18 wheelers like they were standing still. Of course what goes up must come down and those big rigs were passing us as we crept down the other side.

The reason we came here early was to get the rig repaired at Final Touch Coachworks which is only a couple of miles from the park. An update on the work will be in the next blog. We have not done much sightseeing as we have been running around and doing some last minute Christmas things. We did drive to Pasadena to scope out the parade route and drove through downtown LA to Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier. We didn't stop because it was getting late and due to the cooler weather we couldn't do much people watching (i.e. girls in bikinis) so we plan to return when the weather warms. The motorhome is decorated and the gifts and cards have been sent so we are looking forward to a relaxing holiday season. There has been a little bit of every kind of weather. The first few days it was sunny and warm and then a series of Pacific storms started moving through so there has been a mix of rain and sun here with s__w on the surrounding mountains. We have seen quite a few rainbows and are sure we came very close to that pot of gold.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Looking into the kelp forest.
The Outer Bay Exhibit
The secret lives of seahorses
Scenes from Cannery Row and John Steinbeck.
Fisherman's Wharf and the harbor
The happy couple, Lone Cypress and crashing surf along the 17 Mile Drive.
The Lodge, the 18th hole and Bing Crosby at Pebble Beach.
The Pacific Coast Highway between Carmel and Big Sur.
One of the fabulous sunsets we enjoyed.

We spent a week at the Betabel (sugarbeet) RV Park in San Juan Bautista, CA while we explored the coast around the Monterey Peninsula. In addition to sugarbeets, nearby Gilroy is famous for its garlic and Castroville for artichokes. It is amazing driving through California seeing the vast amount of farmland and the big variety of food grown here. That said, they are really suffering from the two plus years of drought.

We enjoyed Monterey and explored the shops along Cannery Row. This place, made famous by John Steinbeck, is in many ways another sad example of an American industrial area that had fallen into disrepair then was turned into a line of bars and stores that sell cheap imported junque to lure the tourists. It is a good thing they preserve these places but they don't really provide the kinds of jobs they once did. On Thanksgiving we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium which has a wonderful display of the many unique species found in the bay. The bay is unusual because of the depth of the water so near the coast. Scientists from the aquarium can do day trips into the deep where they have discovered many new species and be home in time to have dinner with their families each evening. There are exhibits of the kelp forest, splash zone, tidal pool and outer bay. The splash and tidal displays have both inside and outside areas. There are special areas for coastal birds, seahorses, jellies, octopus and the very popular sea otters. A new exhibit featuring pink flamingos will open in the spring. The aquarium offers excellent information on endangered wildlife and guidelines about which fish are safe to eat and which should be avoided because of their chemical levels or over fishing. This is a great aquarium and the visit is well worth the price of admission.

While here we both celebrated our birthdays and had a nontraditional Thanksgiving dinner of seafood at Isabella's, a nice a restaurant overlooking the harbor at Fisherman's Wharf. The closest we came to tradition was the pumpkin tiramisu they gave us for dessert when they learned it was my birthday. This was our first holiday since being on the road where it was just the two of us without family or friends. On Nanc's birthday we drove the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur and much of 17 Mile Drive through Pebble Beach Resorts. 17 Mile Drive, which travels along the coast, through the forest and five golf courses, has spectacular views of nature and many fabulous homes. At the Pebble Beach Golf Links we went to The Lodge, the first tee and putting green and got to see the famous 18th hole. There is also a wall with all the names of the winners of the Bing Crosby Pro-Am. The 2010 US Open is here so we will have to watch since we have visited. It was all really impressive but the prices in the shops and the Rolls Royce parked out front made us realize we were in way over our heads. I love to look at real estate prices at the places we visit and we found a home with a view of the Pacific across the 18th fairway for $35,000,000. (we passed:) WHO LIVES IN THESE PLACES???? We then drove into Carmel and down Highway 1 to Big Sur. The surf was up and the crashing waves were great. We stopped at Rocky Point to have a snack and watch the sunset. As we watched I swear you could hear the sun sizzling as it sunk into the Pacific on the horizon. We returned to Carmel and had dinner at Clint Eastwood's Hogs Breath Inn. Unfortunately, Clint did not "make my day" by showing up.