Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sunny? Yuma

The RV park after the storm. We were glad to be on a high spot.
Joan and Dick Morgan
Dave & Kathy Bennet and Nanc
The happy baker. It was delicious!!!
Yuma Territorial Prison
Top; Guard Tower and Main Gate
Bottom; Model & Cell Block
A prisoner in a cell and getting his mug shot.
Yes, even women were housed here.

We are spending two weeks at the River Front RV Park in Yuma, AZ, a city that holds the record for having the most sunny days a year at over 325. With that in mind, we were shocked to find that the El Nino weather pattern delivered a real drenching our first week here with more than two inches of rain falling in a day and a half. That was well over half their annual precipitation and, since they don't have storm sewers, the water just floods the streets. We did not venture out but we did become concerned when we realized we were by the Colorado River, in the floodplain and on the wrong side of the levee. There was so much rain that school was cancelled and the start of the weekend Lettuce Festival was delayed a day. All that said, we managed to survive and were happy we had vacated the boondocking site at Quartzite before the storm blew through. Other than those couple days of rain, the area has lived up to expectations with warm, sunny skies and nighttime temps that are perfect for sleeping.

Our main reason for coming to Yuma was to see Dick Morgan, who Nanc worked with over 30 years ago at Mobay, and his wife Joan. We have kept in touch mainly with Christmas cards over the years but have not seen them since they left the Pittsburgh area after Dick retired. We got together for lunch and dinner and reminisced about the great times we had with all the people who worked and "partied" together back then. We also made plans to get together a couple more times before we leave. We also had lunch and exchanged travel tales with 07 mates, Dave and Kathy Bennet, who are wintering here. As usual, getting to meet up with new and old friends on the road is one of the best things about this lifestyle.

We did attend Lettuce Days, a festival that celebrates Yuma's contribution to America's salad bowls. For anyone who really knows Nanc, I have had a hard time keeping her out of those fields of leafy greens:) The festival had some great vendors with most selling more arts than crafts. They had Yuma's largest salad bar and a booth selling local produce. They grow most of the country's lettuce here with the year round farming. It is enlightening to see how labor intensive the picking is for the field hands doing this physically demanding job from dawn to dusk.

We took advantage of our free time to do a few chores around the rig. We tried to get the Quartzite dust off the inside and outside and Nanc did some spring cleaning of cabinets. Though it is hard to tell when to do "spring" cleaning when your goal is to be where it is perpetually spring like. Nanc also did a second round of her new endeavor of baking sour dough bread. I must say the results have been fantastic thanks to the help of our good friend, Richard Freyer, who got her started.

We toured the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park the old prison made famous in the movie 3:10 to Yuma and other old Westerns. The prison was used from 1876 until 1909 when it became so overcrowded a new one was built in Florence because there was no room on Prison Hill to expand. Even though the prison was very modern for its time, including a library and an electric generator for lights and ventilation, it was still known as the "Hell Hole of the West". Over 3000 criminals, including 39 women, from murderers to Mormon polygamists were imprisoned there. We found it interesting that most did not serve complete terms since pardons were so easy to obtain. Most of the original walls and buildings are gone except for the main gate, guard tower and cell block that was constructed with stone and reinforced steel. There is a museum with many artifacts and stories about the inmates. After the prison closed the buildings were used for the local school resulting in the unusual mascot name they still use today, the Criminals. Unfortunately, the park is scheduled to close because of the states budget problems. Another example of governmental shortsightedness in a town with almost 25% unemployment. If it is still open, this is a neat spot to take a walk back into the wild west.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Desert and Boondocking

The dust and the signs you encounter on your way to the Nellie E Saloon.
The Desert Bar; The towers are used for natural cooling and the church is one of the art works.
Marty, Nancy and I enjoy a drink and the warm Arizona weather at the bar.
The band rocks on.
Even the bathrooms were unique.
Our boondocking site in the Arizona desert.
Nick doing a SKP fix on the generator.
Nancy, Marty and Nancy enjoy the fire.
The line of traffic as we leave Q and Nanc on the midway by the Big Tent.

We continued our stay in the desert with a visit to the Nellie E. Saloon, aka The Desert Bar, near Parker with 07 mate Marty and his friend Nancy who we met last summer when we had lunch in Coupeville, Washington. The saloon is an off the grid business that is only open Saturdays and Sundays from high noon to sunset from Labor Day to Memorial Day. While it is "near" Parker, that word is relative in the wide open west as you must get off the pavement and drive five miles of dusty dirt road. Every type of transportation you can imagine, from horses to motorcycles and ATVs to the Jag and Mercedes we drove in with, were in the packed parking lot. The place is a work in progress as additional rooms, patios and objects of art have been added over the years. The menu is simple; chili, dogs, burgers (NO CHEESE EVER) in a number of combinations with canned beer, boxed wine and mixed drinks in plastic cups. The solar powered band was very good and the whole thing could be summed up by paraphrasing an old quote; "Isn't wonderful that a bunch of "old" people can get together and have a good time and nothing but a good time." It was a fun stop that we would suggest everyone add to their to do list if you are in Southwest Arizona.

On our return to the rig we discovered the generator was not generating properly, but, as with any SKP gathering there was someone there who got it up and running properly. Our neighbor Nick, a retired electrical engineer, did a quick fix that evening and then worked on it the next day to correct the problem. It turns out we had overloaded it and the breaker popped and needed to be coaxed into resetting. Add this to the list of what we learned while boondocking. This is why we wanted to do this with a group of SKPs. They are always willing to help and share their extensive knowledge. While we knew boondocking would not be the same as staying in a park with hook ups, we were not really sure how different it would be being in the full conservation mode for a week. Some of the big differences were making coffee on the stove the old fashion way and then not being able to run water until it was hot so you could warm up your cup. When showering we collected the cold water in a wash basin to save to do dishes later and then took a Navy bath by getting wet, turning off the water, soaping down, followed by a quick rinse. Another big difference was making sure we only used one light at a time and going to bed very early. Of course, a big plus was having a campfire under the stars and going to bed with almost total quiet (unless you go to bed to early then you hear the gentle roar of the generators) and darkness to the point you literally could not see your hand in front of your face. We feel we did pretty good with all the conservation as we still had half a tank of fresh water and the gray (sink & shower waste) tank was at one quarter and the black (potty and dishwashing basin waste) tank was at three quarters. That did show we were dumping to much in the black tank but we will know better the next time. With all that in mind, Q and boondocking is definitely something we will do again in the future. The few inconveniences are trumped by the nature and social interactions of the experience. If you are an RVer you must "Do the Q".

On our last afternoon we went to the Big Tent that was filled with every imaginable RVing item you could ever want or need. There was of course much more that you would never want or need. We did purchase a couple of things and run into a few people we knew. One more thing to give you an idea of the number of people at Q was the traffic as we headed south to Yuma on Monday morning. It was backed up two miles and this is in the desert in a town with 3650 residences.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Q -- This Land is Our Land

The road to Boomerville. Dust in the wind!!
SKP Happy Hour
Waiting for the show.
Nanc and Paul -- Someone is way over dressed.
Hi Jolly Monument

We knew from the directions, when pavement ends go south on dirt road for a mile and a half, that we were in for a different experience. We have "dry camped" in national parks and forests a couple of times but we have never done a week in the desert (no electricity, no water, no potty) other than what we have in the rig. We arrived at Quartzite, Arizona staying in Boomerville on BLM land with a bunch of boondocking SKPs and there is no better way to learn how to live off the grid. Some people here have been on the road for over 15 years and one couple had just started fulltiming last month. Another couple did 240 days in the wilderness last year and for others like us it is their first time. Because a screw in the tire of the CRV (we were saved from disaster by our Pressure Pro) delayed us, we did not arrive until dusk. Our 07 mates, Marty, Bill & Leslie and Jim & Bobbie, were there waiting to help us pick a good spot. You can park just about anywhere but you do want to avoid the washes, the rattlesnakes and sandy ground. The next day dawned with the usual SKP socialization and introductions to many new friends. That afternoon we went to the Escapees' happy hour and found several people we had just met on the Rose Parade HOP as well as Mark Nemeth and Denis Hill, two of the instructors from RV Boot Camp. As is always the case, there was food, friends and entertainment. It was then back to the Boomer happy hour for more of the same. These people know how to have a good time anywhere. Boomerville is not just about the socialization and fun, they have daily group sessions on many topics of interest like solar power, boondocking, traveling and geocaching.

The town of Quartzite is a small burg (3650) in the middle of the desert along I-10. In January and February the population swells to over 50,000 as thousands of RVs from tent campers to Prevost buses descend on the campgrounds and BLM land that surrounds the town. There are continually changing events, from a gem show to the sport, vacation and RV show to the Bluegrass Festival and many more throughout the winter. Snowbirds from all over North America come to enjoy the activities and the warm desert weather. Traffic on Main Street can be as crazy as any big city as shoppers look for big bargains cruising the various "permanent" vendors who stay the whole season. The desert and the surrounding mountains are an attraction in their own right. The sunrises (you go to bed and get up early when you can't waste your batteries) and the sunsets have been spectacular. The first evening as we were sitting and watching when a man came by and asked, "Waiting for the show?" and he was right it is quite a show. At night (no electricity) the stars seem like you can just reach up and touch them. The Milky Way was spectacular. So far, this time in the desert has been great despite a "little" dust and some wind.

One Q must do is a stop at Reader's Oasis Books owned by Paul Winer who has been running a store here for 16 years. Paul is quite an interesting character who, as a Goddard College grad, has taught, been a poet, singer-songwriter, sign painter and cartoonist. Paul has done all of this sans clothes and as a result has been in court 64 times, winning all the cases. We spent a few minutes talking and as you can see Nanc got the obligatory picture. The store has a great selection of books, videos and Cd's that range from old and nearly new. We even bought one of his Cd's from the 70's when he performed blues boogie music as Sweet Pie. Don't miss a chance to check out this little desert oasis.

Another must see is the Hi Jolly Monument in the Quartzite cemetery which pays tribute to Hadji Ali who was brought here from Syria as part of the US Army's failed attempt to use camels in the desert Southwest. After the experiment ended, Ali stayed in Q prospecting and doing other jobs. The old cemetery is also well worth a visit.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More San James

Part of the Pacific Beach hike and bike way.
What you do in sunny San Diego in January.
Look at those surfers!!
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
San Diego from Point Loma
US Navy submarine base.
The Gaslamp Quarter

We continued to enjoy the warm San Diego weather and the sights of this beautiful city. We drove a portion of the 59 Mile Scenic Drive to see the surfers, the beach and the Torrey Pines that are unique to this area. The drive took us through several neat little beach communities like La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach before arriving at Point Loma. The point, offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, as well as, the huge harbor and Navy facilities. The Cabrillo National Monument at the end of the point honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who, in September 1542, was the first European to explore this area. The national monument has a restored lighthouse, old military coastal installations and a tidal pool area to explore. We went to the Gaslamp Quarter, an area of neatly restored old buildings with many shops and restaurants. At The Field, an Irish Pub, we listened to San Diego style Irish music with a group that included a great nine year old and a Japanese American playing the fiddle. They were great. Another day we took advantage of the area's extensive bicycling routes and rode out to the ocean and along the beach. We did take a drive through Balboa Park and put it on the list of spots we want to visit when we return to this beautiful area. When we do return, we will not be staying at the Santa Fe RV Park. Read the review to find out why. This was are last stop in California as we will be heading to Quartzite, AZ. We really, really enjoyed our stay in California. It has such a great diversity of things to do and see, from it's awesome natural beauty to the huge cities and quirky small towns.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's All Happening at the Zoo

Taking the double-decker bus is a great way to plan what you want to see at the zoo.
The Skyfari gives you a wonderful overview of the entire zoo.
Birds swooping over our heads at the Take Flight show.
The crow happily accepts donations.
The tar pit exhibit is excellent.
Up close and personal with the hippo.

We have moved on from LA and for the next week will be staying at the Santa Fe RV Park in San Diego. We worked on updating the blog and did some chores the first couple of days. The "chores" included taking advantage of the warm temps with a dip in the pool and hot tub. Ah, Life is Good!! High on the list of San Diego things to do was the world famous zoo. It did not disappoint. We started with a narrated tour aboard one of the double-decker buses that hit all the highlights and made recommendations for further exploration. This is a good way to start since the zoo is huge and nearly impossible to cover entirely in one day. We then walked through several areas including Lost Forest, Panda Canyon, Asian Passage, Africa Rocks, Outback and Urban Jungle to get a closer look at the animals. There are also the options of the Skyfari Aerial Tram or on and off buses that stop at key locations. There were so many animals and we can't remember which is which but we have an uncaptioned web album with a few pics here.

There are several animal encounter shows throughout the day and we really loved the one with the birds, Take Flight which featured birds zooming directly over our heads. They had a crow trained to collect donations which are used, in part, for the California Condor recovery program that was started here. We loved seeing these giants in the wild at the Grand Canyon that are a result of this program. Another interesting exhibit is a life size model of a tar pit like the one we saw at La Brea in LA that cycles through the goo stuff receding to reveal the fossils and then fills up to repeat the process. This gave us a better understanding of what they were doing at La Brea. The close encounter with the hippos when they are in the water and only three inches away is a neat happening. It is hard to pick a favorite animal but who can resist the cuddly pandas and koalas, the fierce stare of the big cats, the beauty of the birds, the gracefulness of the giraffes or the playfulness of the monkeys and meerkats. There is something about a zoo that makes you feel like a kid again and this was a great visit.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Sun Sets on Our LA Stay with a Whale of an Experience

After a long day at The Getty on Sunday, we decided we would take Monday to pack for our Tuesday departure. BUT that evening the local news reported several large fin and gray whales had been spotted off the coast near Santa Catalina Island. We called Valerie and Richard and, after an Internet search, they found a whale watching trip out of Redondo Beach for only $15. Oh well, it really does not take us that long to pack and since we were only traveling to San Diego we decided to go for it. We just love the flexibility of this lifestyle.

Monday dawned with partly cloudy skies and warm temps. We boarded the Voyager with much anticipation and as we sailed out of the harbor the guides pointed out the usual assortment of seals, sea lions and birds. Next, was the largest pod of dolphins we have ever seen who jumped, porpoised, and surfed in the water while being pushed along by the boat. Real nice but we have seen lots of dolphins over the years and thought we were in for a disappointing trip as the boat circled.
Nanc and Val on the Pacific looking for whales with the s**w covered mountains in the far background. On shore the temperature was warm but being on the water made it feel a lot cooler.
Three dolphins enjoy a ride at the bow of the boat. The water was so clear you could see them below the surface.
Suddenly, off in the distance toward Santa Catalina Island a "small" dark form broke the surface.
As we moved closer it became apparent that this was the biggest creature we have ever seen.
It was not possible to capture the entire whale in one picture. It would first announce its presence with the sound of blowing air. (See Video below)
The front would then disappear and the fin would break the surface. The tail never came out of the water but everyone agreed it was between 50 and 60 feet. The guides identified it as a fin whale, the second largest in the whale family. Here is a site with info on the fin whale. Notice how far it is from the blow hole to the fin and then to the fluke. This should help give you an idea of the size of this whale.
At one point, as the boat idled, the whale slowly circled us as if it was giving us the once over. You could clearly see its massive shape. One of the swimming fins was about as long as I am tall. It surfaced less than 25 feet of the boat. People always ask what is the best thing we have done while fulltiming and this day has to be right up there near the top of the list. As a disclaimer, none of these photos have been enlarged beyond the original. We were really close!!!
After seeing the whale we relaxed and enjoyed the other animals on our return to port. This pair of brown pelicans was just gliding along with the boat.
A sea lion on its back basking in the sun.
The sea lions were rocking the buoy so much they were ringing the bell.
After a great day to end our stay in LA LA Land, we celebrated with a drink while watching the sun set into the Pacific. We swear we could hear it sizzle as it dropped into the water :) A wonderful ending to a wonderful stay.
Below is a short video that Richard shot. Listen carefully at the beginning and you can hear the whale's "thar she blows" moment and some woman's comment may sum up what we saw and felt.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Celebrating the Holidays in Sunny SoCal

Celebrating Christmas brunch with the Frayers.
Nanc with the Christmas table and the food for brunch.
Hillbilly Golf
The New Years Eve crowd.
This is how we start the new year in the warm climes.

Even though this is our third holiday season on the road, it is still very strange to celebrate Christmas and New Years in warm weather. That said, we DO NOT miss the cold and s**w. We decorated the motorhome and even purchased a live pine wreath for our door. We had a great Christmas brunch with our friends, Valerie and Richard Frayer, followed by a tournament of hillbilly golf in the warm California sunshine where the girls handily beat the guys :)

Our New Year's celebration with our SKP mates was an early one as we celebrated with the east coast crowd because we had a very early wake up call in order to be on the bus at 6:30 AM to see the Rose Parade. This was a record for us, in bed before midnight in our time zone and getting up at 4:45 AM on New Year's Day. We had a great catered dinner in the RV park club house and celebrated as the ball dropped in Time Square ushering in the New Year at 9 PM. Thanks to all for your holiday good wishes and we send our wishes for a very Happy, Healthy and Safe 2010!!