Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Arizona and California – here I come!

Saturday, Aug. 26

Twenty years from now, you’ll probably be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Explore. Dream.
– Mark Twain

My lists are checked and double-checked – clothes, people food, cat food, etc, etc. Cat is on board, house is locked, and maps are at hand. We’re ready to head out for another adventure! We left Rio Rancho about 10 a.m. after a stop at Discount Tire for a tire pressure check. Technician discovered that the valve extension on my driver-side inside dual back tire was disconnected from the tire’s valve. This necessitated removal of the outside tire, re-attach the valve extender and re-install the outside tire.

I was nearing San Antonio (New Mexico) about noon – how convenient that my favorite café for green chile cheeseburgers is nearby. I figure that unless I cook my own, it will be the last of these tasty burgers until I get back in New Mexico.

My route took me through downtown Hatch – the community that was evacuated a couple of weeks ago due to a breech in a levee that caused flooding. With Hatch’s annual Chile Festival just a week away, residents were hustling to get the town back in order. There were piles of debris along the road awaiting pickup. Folks were shoveling, sweeping, and removing sandbags. No one was sitting and waiting for the government to do it for them!
As soon as I turned south on Main Street in Deming, it was obvious that something was going on – it was the annual Deming Duck Races that feature real, live ducks. The town’s park was mobbed with people and vendor tents, and nearby were the carnival rides. I had missed the mid-day parade – bummer!

I continued driving south to Pancho Villa State Park in the border town of Columbus; two miles north of the small Mexican border town of Palomas. It was 4 p.m.

It felt good to drive into the RV Park – I’ve been here several times in both winter and summer. Only about a half-dozen of the 52 campsites were occupied – guess folks think it is too hot to camp or they are concerned about rain and flooding. I settled into site #50 – only needed 3/4-inch plywood under the left side of Jeremiah to level.

Cat waited inside patiently while I got set up. It was about 4 p.m. and already starting to cool off. I let Cat outside to explore while I stowed things and did some organizing. When Cat came back in, I went out to walk and meet the two campground hosts.

Pancho Villa is the State Park that I’ve applied to for some volunteer “work” this winter. In visiting with Lou, a campground host who with her husband has been there nearly one year, I found out that the Ranger in charge of volunteers was helping in the Columbus-Pancho Villa booth in Deming.

The bugs were out and biting so I didn’t linger too long before heading back to Jeremiah for the evening to enjoy my “arrived at my first destination” celebratory glass of champagne.

Sunday, Aug 27
I slept well and awoke – wondering ‘what day is it?’ Then I remembered my friend Hilda telling me about a retired friend of hers who solved the ‘what day is this’ dilemma. He said, “When the fat newspaper arrives, it is Sunday!” And it’s Friday morning when I get my weekly phone call from my friend Hilda. – That leaves only 5 days to figure out!

Cat and I took advantage of the cool morning and headed outside. Cat explored and I cleaned up the outside of Jeremiah. My motorhome got its annual wash/wax just a few days ago, making dried, smashed bug removal an easy job. I also cleaned windows inside and outside. After putting Cat back inside, I walked to the new park museum that features memorabilia and artifacts from Pancho Villa’s invasion of Columbus in the early 1916.

The displays are extremely well done and interesting. I was about halfway through when I heard my name called – it was Ranger Brian. Lou had told him of my interest in volunteering. Brian’s big need for volunteers is to keep the museum staffed – and would I be interested in that. You bet I would. Brian will contact me as he works on schedules. In return for 24 hours of “work” I would get a camping site, and the opportunity to meet lots of people in an enjoyable setting.

The rest of the day – during the hot time – I started reading through a large stack of magazines that had arrived while I was traveling in the Midwest, watched birds through the windows, and planned my Monday travel.

In today’s reading, I came upon this quote attributed to Christina Lund, a passenger of JetBlue Flight 292 that made an emergency landing in December 2002:

“I’m more focused now. I want the people in my life to know I care about them. And I don’t want to waste any more time messing around. I want to take advantage of every day.”

Monday, Aug. 28
With a hot day ahead, driving into southern Arizona on Interstate 10, I got an early start. My goal for the day was Picacho Peak State Park just north of Tucson. I took “detours” through the tiny downtowns of Lordsburg, Bowie, Willcox and Benson.

Just west of Benson, I could see lots of flashing lights – and soon discovered that there had been a big rig accident on eastbound I-10. Because it is a divided highway at this point, it was difficult to determine much about the event. But for the next 10 miles, traffic coming out of Tucson was standing still. I turned up the volume on my CB and heard one trucker say he had been waiting 2 hours. I continued to be “entertained” by CB chatter as I neared Tucson.

The portion of I-10 that goes through Tucson and north toward Phoenix is everything I dislike in a highway – big truck after big truck barreling along. It was a huge relief to finally arrive at the Picacho Peak exit. When I got out to register at the state park – whew! it was hot! The Ranger gave me a map to the RV sites and said, “take your pick; you’ll probably be the only one here tonight.” And then she added, “It’s been cooling off nicely in the evening.”

Jeremiah is facing north when we park, meaning the sun is beating down on the side – and my outside thermometer (in the shade) reads 126 degrees.

Thank goodness for air conditioning! I’m in the midst of desert vegetation including mesquite and saguaro cacti, and nestled in the area between Picacho Peak, elevation 3,374 feet, and a smaller peak the ranger called “Black Mountain.” There are several interesting trails on the park map, but it’s too hot for that. I’m content to stay inside.

Tuesday, Aug. 29
It “cooled off” – got down to 92-degrees after the sun went down, and was 82-degrees at 4 a.m. this morning. Yes, I was up a little after 4, after Cat hopped up on the bed to greet me. Seems she is still on Mountain Time, not Arizona time. Also I had neglected to adjust my bedside clock.

At 7 a.m., we were heading toward the Arizona-California border – a 210-mile driving day, mostly on I-8. With very little traffic, it is a restful drive. My plan was to stop in Yuma for gas and groceries.

You’ll recall I got a new Verizon phone – one with a “navigation” feature. I hadn’t been able to figure out how to use it – and neither have three different Verizon stores. But the last store gave me the tech help phone number. I called, got it working, and am looking forward to using it.

I settled in at Rivers Edge RV Resort on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. This park has 276 RV sites that are full in the winter. I’m parked under some nice shade trees about 100 yards from the river. It was 112-degrees outside when I arrived. It’s a good time to stay inside to read and get some writing work done.

When it cooled off – well, it got down to 92 degrees – I explored the river and the RV park, and visited with a few interesting people.

Tomorrow I continue west – through the Imperial Valley, over the mountains and down into to El Cajon, California. It will be a short drive – only about 150 miles.

Wednesday, August 30
Now Cat’s clock is off in the other direction – I slept in to 6 a.m. At 8 a.m. we were ready to go. Surprisingly there is not a lot of truck traffic. The wind-sculpted sand dunes between Yuma and El Centro were not marred by off-road adventurers. They were beautiful, but alas, no good place to pull off the highway to take photos.

Yea! My “talking navigation phone” did its job and I was able to go directly to the Oak Creek RV Resort! My assigned site was not level – and after a few attempts, I got help because I was getting frustrated. Once leveled, I was deserving of a cold beer!

I arranged to have a rental car for Thursday and Friday. Jeremiah and Cat will stay here at the RV park will I tend to medical checkups, appointments with my financial advisor and CPA, a haircut and lunch with some friends.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Last day of my Midwest Adventure

Aug. 16, 2006

What a difference in temperature! For the first time since arriving in Kansas – seems like a long time ago – I was actually chilly last night. No break from humidity, though, because of the rain. Today I have been cleaning house, working on my To-Do List once I get home, and getting some writing done.

I like being on the road – Jeremiah is easy to drive and I get to see lots of interesting things, but a non-travel day is surely welcome from time to time.

And I’ve been reading. My current book is “The Old Man’s Letters” by Michael Reisig, letters from Jake Strider to his son. One letter tells about a way to get rid of skunk odor. This caught my attention as a result of Larry’s son’s episode. So Larry if it happens again – or if any of my reader friends need to know – here’s the recipe for neutralizing skunk odor:
Take one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and one teaspoon of liquid soap. Blend well and soak all affected areas, then rinse. You may need to multiply the formula several times to cover a large dog or a person, but it virtually extinguishes the odor. Warning: this cannot be bottled or it will explode.

My To-Do list is pretty long, and with an Aug. 25 travel date, I’ve decided to head home a day early. There’s not much to do here at Conchas. The sky is darkening and the Ranger says there will be thundershowers again this evening. Cat was adventuring outside earlier and now is content to nap. I’ve put the celebratory “home again” champagne in the refrigerator to enjoy tomorrow evening.

The storm clouds danced around the area, but rain never materialized. Dinner is over, I’m settled in to finish reading my book – it is well worth reading. God has furnished an awesome sunset to end the day and my trip. It's been 3,900 miles and I've been traveling for 8 weeks. What an adventure!

I’ll end this blog adventure with a quote by Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh:

This writing business.
Pencils and whatnot.
Overrated if you ask me.
Silly stuff.
Nothing in it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Driving, navigating and seeing the sites – quite a challenge, and sometimes impossible!

  • Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006

    Somewhere I read that:
    “Determination all but erases the fine line between impossible and the possible.”

    My chosen travel routes zig-zag through the countryside; often the highway changes direction and/or shares the road with another numbered road. When it does change direction, this usually occurs in the town or city, making it a challenge, and sometimes impossible, to be the driver, navigator and tourist at the same time.

    It’s a good thing I have determination – and the ability to laugh at my mistake while finding a place to turn around and try again.

    I’m sure Lake Thunderbird is an interesting place, but rain kept me cooped up all evening. Cat was delighted, though. After a rainy night at Thunderbird, I got an early start, continuing west on Highway 62. Caprock State Park in Texas is about 280 miles away – a longer driving day than I prefer.

    More observations along the way:
  • Toot and Tell is the name of a former drive-in restaurant.
  • Wag a Bag – name of another 7-11-type store.
  • Back-Scratcher Nail Salon sits alongside the highway in a tiny town.
  • I just missed the Black-Eyed Peas Festival in Hollis, Oklahoma; it was the past weekend.
  • Practically every state I’ve been in has Sonic Drive-Ins.
  • Western Oklahoma is pretty flat. Ditto the Texas panhandle.
  • In Texas I drive through Crowell, Paducah, Matador, Whiteflat and Turkey.
  • Turkey Texas is the home of Bob Wills. All down main street are cowboy cutouts.
  • As I cross into northeastern Texas, it looks like I’ll be driving into rainstorms!

    It is 2 p.m. when Caprock State Park is only a dozen or so miles away – and the sky continues to threaten rain. The terrain isn’t all that interesting and I don’t know anything about this park except its location. As I drive along I have a conversation with myself:

    “Do I want to sit in Jeremiah all afternoon and evening in rainy weather?”
    “If I go to Caprock and the rain stops, will there be interesting things to see? Will it be a muddy mess?”
    “Should I just keep driving and find a regular commercial RV park for the night?”
    “What about Palo Duro Canyon State Park?”

    No response from either Cat or Jeremiah. No one to make the decision for me. That’s good and that’s also not-so-good at times. I check my weatherband radio. The entire area to the west and north is either having rain or expecting it. Palo Duro area has flash flood warnings.

    I drive on. I’m about halfway across the panhandle. The drive west Highway 86 takes me through Quitaque, Silverton, Tulia, Lakeview, Nazareth and Dimmitt. The sky was very dark at Dimmitt, and just after seeing the sign that said “Hereford next right” the rain poured down. Visibility near zero – I was able to see well enough to turn onto a side street and stop. Whew!

    When it let up, I found the Hereford turn and headed north. Perhaps there would be an RV park there or maybe a WalMart where I could park for the night. Along the 20 miles to Hereford (beef capital) I got the notion to keep driving to Conchas Lake State Park in Northern New Mexico. Why not? I wondered. Just past Hereford, I found a place to stop and consult my map. It would be about 100 more miles, it was only 4 p.m., and even stopping for breaks, gas and dinner I could be at Conchas before dark. Go for it, lady!

    Well, just barely. Tucumcari had a major road project going, the detour through town was slow and the last 34 miles to the park were also slow. And I was racing some more storm clouds. I found the RV sites at the park to be mostly vacant, and pulled into the first level-looking one that had an electrical outlet. Got out, plugged in, and soon the rain was pouring down. I’ll deal with checking-in in the morning. I had a glass of wine, read a bit and went to bed listening to the rain on the roof. It was a LONG driving day and I was pooped.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Oklahoma – Native American State

Monday, Aug. 14, 2006

One should never count the years – one should count one’s interests.
I have kept young trying never to lose my childhood sense of wonderment.
I am glad I still have vivid curiosity about the world I live in.
-- Helen Keller

After my morning at Queen Wilhelmina, I headed west into Oklahoma on highway 270. I chose Lake Thunderbird State Park, about midway through the state, to spend the night.

Observations along the way:

· The first Oklahoma town I drove through was Heavener. It’s slogan is “Home of the Rhinestone.” There’s a little 7-11-type store named “Tote a Poke.”
· I drove across the top of Wister Dam that was built in 1948 and alongside Wister State Park.
· A store in Wister advertised baby chicks, ducks and eggs for sale.
· Local politicians – Mr. Corn is running for state senate, Mr. Fry is running for assembly.
· There’s a “private club” named “Charlotte’s Web.” Hmmm!
· Driving through the small town of Krebs shortly about 1 p.m., I noticed that the U.S. flag was flying upside down! What??? I was past it by the time the fact sunk in, and no easy way to turn around to find out why.
· The next town was McAlester’s slogan – “Home Italians and Cowboys!”
· Their Italian festival is over Memorial weekend, and the “Prison Rodeo” on Labor Day weekend. Perhaps learning rodeo skills is part of the prison’s rehabilitation efforts.
· The McAlester post office was right off the main street/hwy 270 route and there was a convenient place to park. So I went in to ask about Krebs’ flag. The clerk shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess he wasn’t paying attention this morning when he put it up.” I then asked if he could call the post office and let them know, “It doesn’t look good,” I said. I don’t know what time the Krebs post office opened, but it seems strange that this obviously went unnoticed!
· Drove past a very old, two-story stone building that is the headquarters for “Rainbow Girls.”
· Gas prices on this trip so far have ranged from $2.79 to $3.09.
· Oklahoma is definitely ranching country. The state is in need of rain, and from the looks of the sky and clouds, it will rain today before too long.
· Sign on one ranch: (horse name) at stud at Circle T Ranch. My translation: “available to do studly things at Circle T Ranch.
· Crossed the Canadian River – from the looks of the riverbed it has been a big, wide river. However today it has hardly any water in it.

Zap/Boom! A moment to remember

“We do not remember days; we remember moments.”
--Cesare Pavese

The clouds gathered and darkened. I expected to be driving through normal rain. No such luck. The skies opened up and dumped buckets-full. And I’m near, but not yet at Lake Thunderbird. Fortunately the highway shoulder is wide enough to get completely off while I wait for the rain to subside.

When it was safe to continue – normal rain – I soon came to the state park entrance and stopped for camping information. It had practically stopped raining. Just as I got out of Jeremiah and pushed the “lock” button, there was a huge Zap/Boom from lightning and thunder. Whew, that must have been close.

I got a park map and drove to the RV area. I had just turned in and stopped briefly to look at the map. I was looking up when there was another simultaneous Zap/Boom. I didn’t see the lightning flash, but about 150 feet from me I saw a cloud of dust rise between some scrubby trees. Yikes! My heart was pounding. This is a moment to remember!

Oh, my gosh! Do I really want to be in this park? I decided I was just as safe – or perhaps safer – here in the park than back out on the highway.

When the storm subsided, I found a place to park for the night - #46, a pull-through site.

Tomorrow I’ll continue west into Texas and spend the night at Caprock State Park.

Another amazing Arkansas State Park

August 13 and 14, 2006

Here’s what the brochure has to say about Queen Wilhelmina State Park:
“High atop Arkansas's second tallest peak, this cloud-capped hideaway reigns above the Ouachita Mountains. Located on the Talimena Scenic Drive, the park is as rich in history as in scenery. In the late 1800s, a resort lodge was built on Rich Mountain by the Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Gulf Railroad. It was named Queen Wilhelmina Inn in honor of the Queen of the Netherlands. Two inns have replaced the original "Castle in the Sky"--the latest is this park's focal point. The lodge offers 38 guest rooms including two Queen's Rooms with wood-burning fireplaces, two Regent's Rooms with spa tubs, and the Stilwell Room with a king-size bed and sitting area. Enjoy shopping in the Queen's Treasury gift shop and dining on delicious Southern cuisine in the Queen's Restaurant.”

Rich Mountain is the second highest mountain in Arkansas – 3,000 feet.

The drive up highway 88 was steep and winding – and a motorcyclist’s dream ride. (Note to Bonnie and friends on Palomar Mountain: perhaps you should put the word out about highway 88 in western Arkansas so those nuisance riders on SR6 and SR7 go elsewhere!)

It is such an amazing place I wish I could stay longer. The RV sites are less spacious, but there’s a lot to see and do. About noon today I’ll head west into Oklahoma, but first there are things to see and do.

The lodge was built at the turn of the century, restored by the state of Arkansas in 1962, and then rebuilt again after a devastating fire in 1975. The view from right outside the lodge was spectacular.

There’s also the Rich Mountain Scenic Railroad that started in 1960. The engine is painted the same color as the original Southern Belle of the Kansas City Southern Railroad. I was at the station at 9 a.m. and asked the engineer when the first ride would be. He answered “Whenever someone wants to ride.” “Here I am!” I said. For $3 I was the only passenger for the two-mile ride around part of the park.

Another interesting feature of this state park is the zoo/refuge that takes in injured wildlife for treatment and rehabilitation. It’s a home-grown operation run by a local man on a non-profit basis. All the money from donations and entrance fees ($4/person) go towards the animals’ upkeep and medical bills. The man and his wife both have regular jobs to support themselves. I was there at morning feeding time and had a blast watching the animals. Among the collection are a few fawns, three orphaned ones that are still being bottle-fed.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Yea, Razorbacks! Go Hogs!

Aug. 11 – 13, 2006

“There’s a difference between living and living well!”
– lyrics in an unnamed country/western song, heard on the radio.

College football is alive and well here and there’s Razorback fever in Arkansas! You can even buy a replacement toilet seat that has the Razorback logo on the lid!

On the advice of Brenda, I headed south on Arkansas highway 1, through charming small towns; the only city of size was Jonesboro. I stopped at Walmart for a few groceries and gas. Along the way I drove by “Latham’s Grocery” (Hey, Jesse, I didn’t know you had a store in Arkansas!).

The Highway to Heaven?
What an interesting drive along these two-lane country roads. When I had gone as far on Highway 1 as I could and turned onto Highway 165, it looked like the road was rising in the air – not the countryside around it, just the road. What? I had forgotten that my route would cross the Arkansas River, and it was the bridge ahead. It is a very tall two-lane, no-shoulder bridge across this wide river that serves as a cargo waterway. I so much wanted to spend time looking at the river, but my better judgment said to keep my eyes on the road.

Almost immediately I saw Highway 212, turned and found myself on a tall, very, very narrow winding two-lane road with tiny shoulders. Good grief! There was water on the right and fields on the left. A glance in my side-view mirrors told me that Jeremiah fit the lane with hardly an inch to spare. It finally occurred to me that I was on a levee road. Thankfully this part of 212 was only a few miles long and soon I had shoulders that appeared wider because the road was level with the surrounding fields.

Observations about Arkansas along the way
· This is definitely catfish country. Practically all restaurants advertise this speciality.
· There are churches all along the way; it seems like most of them are Baptist.
· I’ve been traveling with ‘talk radio’ on – hoping to get acclimated to the Arkansas ‘twang.’ For instance, “fish” is pronounced “feesh” (short ‘i’ becomes long ‘e’). Good thing I figured this out – we had catfeesh for dinner.
· Arkansas food specialties include fried catfish, fried okra, cornbread dressing, purple-pod peas, and others I’ve forgotten. When you ask for ‘tea’ you get sweetened iced tea.
· The corn meal of choice is the white, self-rising version.
· There don’t appear to be any Dairy Queens in this state. I did see a Daisy Queen and a Dairy Treat.
· Zillions of chickens are raised in Arkansas for Tyson.
· Farmers grow rice.

Brenda Branch and her husband Ralph got home from work not too long after I arrived at Newton’s Store in Cornerville, Arkansas. The Newton’s have deep roots in Cornerville – both Brenda’s mom and dad and their parents were raised in this small town.

Brenda’s mom, Joy Newton, has run Newton Store for more than 40 years. Brenda’s dad had a logging company. When Brenda’s dad died, Brenda and her brother Doug took over the logging business. The company cuts down trees, removed the tops and strips the branches until just the trunk is left. The trunk is loaded and taken away either on trucks or barges. Huge machines that are operated by the workers do all this.

Now before you think that Brenda just sits behind a desk, think again. She operates the huge machine that loads the tree trunks onto trucks. Brenda is an anomaly in the all-man logging business. I asked her what was the most challenging part of logging as a female and a boss, and she said, “Going to the bathroom in the woods without some man popping up unexpectedly.”

Doug, Brenda and their crew of workers, which includes Brenda’s husband, are well respected in this industry. They operate as an independent business that contracts with huge lumber and pulp mills. Their current contract is to cut timber on a large island in the Mississippi River – about a 90-minute commute each way, making for very long days.

PHOTO of Brenda and her mom inside Newton’s Store.

The Newton Store is a gathering place for locals. One local, a young man named Marty, raises chickens for Tyson. He said he has 88,000 chickens at a time. Tyson delivers them when they are one day old and weigh less than one ounce each. In seven-and-and-half weeks they weigh close to 3 pounds. The chickens are picked up by Tyson and taken to the processing plant. And another batch of newborns are delivered. Tyson also provides all the food – obviously well fortified with hormones to speed up growth.

On Sunday morning I went to church with Brenda and her mom, and afterwards Joy prepared a typical southern Sunday noon meal. We had chicken and cornbread dressing, fried okra, butter beans, candied yams, cornbread, and tea. What a treat for me.

My time was up way too fast and I was backing out of Brenda and Ralph’s driveway to head west. I had a grand time. And I can see why folks from Arkansas like to stay there.

I left about 1 p.m. and headed west. My destination was Queen Wilhelmina State Park near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. I’ll write about this park tomorrow.

My chigger bites still itch!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Arkansas – ‘The Natural State’

Aug. 10, 2006

I’ve only seen a bit of Arkansas, but so far it is a beautiful and green state. Arkansas has 52 State Parks, and if they are all as good as Old Davidsonville, I’ll be wishing I had set aside more time here.

The countryside changed from flat farms to hilly dense forests as I got closer to the Missouri-Arkansas border. My first stop in Arkansas was the Visitors Center where a helpful, friendly woman gathered maps and brochures for me.

The Old Davidsonville State Park preserves the site of the small town of Davidsonville. It sits alongside the Black River and used to serve trade and travel. In 1815, the founders of the town had big dream. Rather than a random collection of houses, the town was laid out according to a surveyed plan. Eight blocks surrounded a large public square, each containing six lots. The streets were 57 ¾ feet wide (I wonder why that measurement: not 57, not 58?). The town had a two-story courthouse, two cemeteries, and the first post office in Arkansas. Fifteen years later it was abandoned when the Southwest Trail was rerouted. Today there is little evidence of the town above ground. It has been the site of archeologists’ exploration. The town site is one feature of the state park.

When I arrived yesterday, I had my pick of the RV sites that sit among the wooded area – I was the only one there! “It’s hot and the mosquitoes are bad in the evening and early morning,” the park lady said apologetically. “The cost is $12 a night for sites with electricity and water,” she added.

Yes it was hot and the sky looked a bit stormy. Not a problem. What a beautiful park. This is my kind of park – large, pretty level motorhome parking areas, the cleanest state park shower rooms I’ve ever seen, and of course, lots of shade from the huge, tall trees. Sweet!

In spite of the heat, I’ve enjoyed hiking the trails, lounging along the riverbank, strolling through the old town site, and watching birds and squirrels. And I saw a strange-looking dragonfly.

I only have one complaint about the park – there are chiggers. Local folks call them “red bugs.” I read about the “Arkansas Chigger Dance” – take one step forward and scratch your ankle, take two steps back and scratch again.

When I got back from hiking one afternoon, I changed into sandals and went out to take pictures around the campgrounds. So now I have a few angry, red bumps on my ankles that itch like mad.

Tomorrow I’m continuing south and will arrive in the Star City area for some visiting with family friend, Brenda Branch. It’s been 14 years since I’ve seen her. I’m expecting a fantastic time getting caught up.

We look for inspiration in those who do not fear living life
as if it were a great adventure.
– Stan Herd

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More about St. Louis

  • Wednesday, Aug. 9

    Life will be your treasure box, filled with the sparkle of laughter,
    the gleam of adventure the shine of discovery, the flash of magic.”
    --Author Nora Roberts

    They say ‘timing is everything’ and more often than not it proves right. For instance, if mid-July’s raging rainstorm that left parts of St. Louis without electricity for up to a week, or if the USPCA Conference had been scheduled a couple weeks earlier, what a disaster that could have been. Not just the electricity factor, but also the disrupted transportation system, damaged homes and buildings and fallen trees. The RV park where I stayed was filled with insurance casualty inspectors, and the city’s maintenance crews were still cleaning up debris.

    While I was sorting and organizing things for today’s drive, I found some notes I took on my bus rides:
  • On weekdays, the buses on route #97 ran every 15 minutes; on the weekends it was every 30 minutes. This was a convenient way for me to get around.
  • The RV Park is in the “Locust Business District” that is made up of mostly abandoned buildings along trash littered streets. There are signs of redevelopment, though. AT&T and Edwards occupy two large high-rise buildings and several abandoned buildings advertise: “coming soon loft apartments.”
  • A woman on the bus had a t-shirt that said: ‘I’m strange, maybe even crazy; but there’s never a dull moment.’
  • The bus passed quite a few Baptist churches and the Salvation Army building.
  • A drug delivery? One young man dropped a small package under the seat as he left the bus and another man boarded the bus and picked the package up. Hmmm!
  • I was often the only Anglo on the bus. With just a couple exceptions, no one responded to my cheerful smile and ‘hello.’ In fact, even people who seemed to be traveling together did not smile and/or talk to each other.
  • In the older parts of the city, nearly all homes were made of red brick.

    Today I drove south to Old Davidsonville State Park just inside the Arkansas border. Along the way I stopped at a WalMart for supplies. Now I know that some of you are ‘anti-WalMart’ but if you drove a motorhome you might change your mind. The stores are easy to find (tall, bold sign), I can get in and out of the parking lot without having to back up, there’s plenty of space for me to take up four slots at the empty end of the parking lot, and inside I can find everything I need. Now if they would just add WIFI!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It’s been great, St. Louis!

Tuesday, August 8

“Gateway to Gourmet” – the theme of the 2006 USPCA Conference in St. Louis – was five days of nonstop activity. Nearly 300 personal chefs from around the USA and Canada gathered for seminars and opportunities to network and socialize. Classes included some cooking demos that effectively filled hallways with delicious aromas. Instructors were fellow chefs as well as a few local experts.

Vendors of supplies and services for personal chefs had booths. They included a chefwear company, Maytag Blue Cheese, Watkins products, knives and bamboo cutting boards, an insurance company and Trader Joes. In fact, Trader Joes provided tote bags, hors d'oeurves, and door prizes.

My M/O at chef conferences is to pop in and out of as many seminars as possible, to connect with as many personal chefs as I can, and to keep my eyes and ears open for possible articles for the personal chef magazine and for my newspaper column. And as always, I did have some favorite sessions. They were Cooking with Unusual Ingredients, Cooking with Wine, Matching Entrees and Beers, and Cooking Grains in a Pressure Cooker.

Each day I boarded MetroBus #97 for my adventure to and from the conference. And I continued to smile and give a cheerful “hello” to other bus riders. I did succeed in getting some smiles from them. One rider – an elderly black woman named Donnie – stands out as my favorite – she actually sat next to me and we had a nice conversation. She was on her way from the mall near the conference hotel to the Central Baptist Church that is just a block from the RV park.

Unfortunately the conference events took all my time and left none to do touristy things. But I did learn some interesting things about this historically important city.

  • By the 1820 census, 10,000 slaves lived in Missouri, about a fifth of the state’s population at the time.
  • Lewis & Clark started their expedition here.
  • Famous folks and events from this area include: Musician Scott Joplin, Ike and Tina Turner, Miles Davis, and Chuck Berry; W.C. Handy wrote the “St Louis Blues” while standing on the banks of the Mississippi River; George Poage, the first African American to win a medal in the Olympic games; and tennis great Arthur Ashe graduated from high school in this city.
  • Many of the old buildings and homes are made of red brick.
  • Besides Anheuser-Busch, Schlafly Brewry is a local enterprise.
  • When people talk about “the river” they are referring to the Mississippi even though the Missouri River flows through the city also.
  • There seem to be only three types of radio stations: oldies, Christian and NPR. Sunday morning while getting ready for the day I had some wonderful station choices to hear great Gospel music.
  • When in St. Louis the root beer of choice is the locally produced Fitz’s that was established in the 1940s.
  • A local favorite Italian fare is “toasted ravioli.”
  • The St. Louis Cardinals are not doing well this season – but that didn’t stop them from having a wonderful fireworks event that I could see from Jeremiah.
  • Gateway International Raceway hosts NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck Series plus “the Richard Petty Driving Experience.”
  • Tickets to the “Busch Braggin’ Rights Game – Missouri vs. Illinois – are the hardest-to-get basketball tickets in town.

    It’s time to travel again. In the morning I’ll head south to Arkansas and spend tomorrow night at the Old Davidsonville State Park in northern Arkansas. I’ll stay there a couple of days before continuing south to Star City, Arkansas, to visit family friend Brenda Branch.

    I’m still on schedule to arrive back in Rio Rancho on Saturday, Aug. 19.

    There is so much in the world for us all if we only have the eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves. -- Lucy Maud Montgomery

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jeremiah grumbles about today's drive and the RV park!

Aug. 2, 2006

If Jeremiah could talk, here what’s he would be saying this evening.

“It’s been a tough day today. Even though Carol had carefully figured out the route from Cuivre River State Park into St. Louis, it was sort of a stressful drive once we came to the outskirts of this large city. For starters, there was a lot of traffic, four- and six-lane freeways, and some construction.

“Next Carol spotted a mall from the freeway and decided it might be a good chance to find a Verizon store to get help with her new fancy cell phone. It was one of those, ‘I could see the mall, but getting to it was not simple" situations. Then, there was not a Verizon store there. And it was hot.

“And then we missed the turn to get back on the freeway and had to drive a ways in order to get turned around. Next Carol turned left at a stoplight, expecting to enter a parking lot to do a U-turn to go back to the freeway entrance. But it was no ordinary parking lot – we came face-to-face with an armed gate guard at Pfizer Company. Nice man – he let us go into the lot and turn around. It was hot!

“Back on freeway 40, we continued east – almost all the way into downtown St. Louis. We were headed toward the famous St. Louis Arch when we finally came to the Jefferson St. exit and turned north to find MLK Drive. Our destination was the ‘St. Louis RV Park – The Finest, full-service facility in downtown St. Louis.’ May I also add it probably is the ONLY RV park in downtown area, and it might have been ‘finest’ 30 or 40 years ago. And it is hot.

“One hundred RV spaces are crammed onto a treeless blacktop area. And it is hot!

“Ugh! I much prefer those spacious RV parks that have plenty of tall trees to help keep the sun off! I have to be here for one week, and I won’t like it at all. The temperature outside is about 108 degrees. See, I told you it was hot.!

“Here I am crowded and hot!”

Aug. 3, 2006
Carol’s turn:

Well, hot or not, blacktop and no shade, this is probably the closest and most convenient place to be for the personal chef conference being held at the Clayton Crown Centre hotel. As the crow flies, it is probably about 8 miles; but then buses don’t fly.

My big adventure today was riding the city bus to and from the conference hotel. It was the day before conference, and I knew I could be helpful in getting things ready.

On the advice of the nice lady in the RV park office, I walked about 8 blocks and boarded Bus #52. One hour later, I was getting off the bus about a block from the hotel. A long ride, but it afforded me a nice tour of part of the city. The prettiest part was riding for several blocks alongside picturesque Saint Louis University.

Besides helping with conference preparations, I walked three miles, roundtrip, to the Galleria Mall to the Verizon store. I also decided I was overdue for a haircut and was able to get one at Dillard’s Salon.

Back at the hotel I got some more things done, chatted with some of my chef friends and then headed to the Metro Bus Station for the return to Jeremiah and Cat. At the station, I found out that Bus 97 would be a more direct way to go. And it was. It only took 30 minutes and I only had to walk two blocks to the RV Park.

On both buses, I was pretty much the only Anglo rider among the multitude of blacks. I have decided to ride the bus in the morning, but to take a taxi back after dark.

My New Verizon Cell Phone
After six years of good service, the antenna of my trusty phone broke off. The new one I got has several nifty features – more technology to conquer. It has an “integrated ViGA Camera, speaker phone, Advanced speech recognition, and a Navigation feature. FYI, my cell phone number stays the same.

It was the GPS navigation feature that caught my eye. I haven’t tried it yet, but it is supposed to give “real-time directions, audible turn-by-turn directions, and I can view maps to see where I am.” Also if I ever need to use it to call 911, it will identify my location.

I’ve gotten real good at asking for directions and help. Without the help of others, I’d have gone off in wrong directions several times. When I hesitate to ask, I remind myself of this Chinese Proverb:

"He who asks is a fool for 5 minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Whew! It is hot both inside and outside Jeremiah

Tuesday, August 1

I’m parked in space 11 of Cuivre River State Park just outside Troy, Missouri. (Cuivre rhymes with river). I’m parked under some nice shade trees, and the outside temperature at 3 p.m. is 102-degrees! Inside it is 86-degrees – even with Jeremiah’s air conditioner going full speed! Humidity is 41 percent. I’m content to stay inside; Cat is sleeping.

I had a nice drive today – all interesting back roads that either went through or skirted small towns. In Iowa, the terrain was rolling hills; in northern Missouri it was a lot flatter. I was on Highway 61 that sort of paralleled the Mississippi River.

Cuivre River State Park is the largest of all Missouri State Parks – I think the camp host said it totals about 8,000 acres.

Now that I’m in the Midwest, I’ve been seeing some “new” birds – the Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, and Redheaded Woodpecker.

I’ll leave here in the morning and stop at Walmart in Troy before driving on into St. Louis. I have a week’s reservation at the St. Louis RV Park. I’ll have wireless Internet service there.

It’s too hot to write. Think I’ll just read a book.