Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I love surprises!

Feb. 20 – 27, 2007

Wow, this past week featured visiting with family and friends in the Phoenix area – and a huge surprise! Don’t ever underestimate the Ed and Helen Anderson offspring.

But, first I’ll back up to where my last blog entry left off – heading to the Florence/Coolidge (Arizona) Elks Lodge. Thankfully there were a few RV spaces not taken by a Good Sam club and I successfully backed Jeremiah and got set up. The weather was ideal – sunny and in the high 60s. This is an overnight stop for me.

Wednesday (Feb. 21) was a short driving day – just about 40 miles to Apache Junction. My hope was to stay two nights at Sierra del Saguaro RV Resort (a snowbird park) where my Minnesota cousin Gloria winters, and fortunately they had some spaces – narrow ones. This would challenge my back-up skills.

A survey of the space showed a tall palm tree right in front of a raised concrete slab that was intended as a patio. On the other side where my hook-ups are was the sewer drain that had a concrete block protecting it. It was quite narrow between the slab and the sewer and I had to back up.

Now if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you’ll recall that I backed into a mailbox in Kansas on my first Midwestern trip, and Jeremiah has some dings as a result. Could I miss the palm tree and squeeze into the small space?

Thanks to the advice of my friend Jesse, I got out my six orange traffic cones and lined them up in a curve from the sewer to the street – these would be my guides. I’d keep track of the tree using my right side mirror. Amazingly I managed to get into the space on the first try!!! These photos show the tight fit.

Wednesday evening was the monthly potluck at the RV park and afterward we played Progressive Rummy with two other cousins – Alton and Marcella (also from Minnesota).

Friday’s park outing was to Organ Stop Pizza for lunch. Besides delicious buffet-style pizza and salad, the restaurant features a huge, fancy organ that is played by a man who never smiled – just looked bored and unhappy.

My sister Margy (lives in Tempe) called to tell me: “you are strongly encouraged to be here on Friday morning.” She wouldn’t say why. Puzzled and curious, I changed plans to leave Apache Junction on Thursday afternoon, driving to my brother Ed’s home in Tempe. Jeremiah just fits in his driveway. Still no one would tell me anything about what to expect on Friday morning. All I knew was to be ready by 8 a.m.

The surprise? My sister Linda had flown down from Reno to spend the weekend! What a treat! And before the weekend was over, my Prescott Valley sisters – Elaine and Susan – were also there. And before the weekend was over, I had also visited with an aunt, a nephew and three nieces.

On Sunday afternoon I packed up and drove about 40 miles to Goodyear to visit my high school friend Rita who lives in the Estrella Mountain foothills. And on Monday we met two other friends for lunch: Sylvia and Marion. I’m having such a good time reconnecting – after 50 years – with some high school friends.

This morning (Tuesday) I continued west, ending at Mayflower County Park just north of Blythe, California. I’ll be here two nights.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tucson, Arizona

Feb. 17 – 20, 2007

On the road again! My route took me through Texas Canyon, and I was reminded what William Least Heat Moon had to say about this geologically interesting location:

“The highway rose slowly for miles then dropped into wacky Texas Canyon, an abrupt and peculiar piling of boulders, which looked as if hoisted into strange angles and points of balance. Nature in a zany mood had stacked up the rounded rocks in whimsical and impossible ways, trying out new principles of design, experimenting with old laws of gravity, putting theorems of the physicists to the test. But beyond Texas Canyon, the terrain was once more logical and mundane right angles, everything flat or straight up.”

It was only about 90 miles between Willcox and south Tucson, so I arrived at Desert Trails RV Park about noon on Saturday. Here I met up with friends Gwen and Jim Young, two very interesting people I met at Pancho Villa State Park. They have spent the past several winters at this snow-bird park. The park’s activity schedule is packed with a variety of things to keep visitors quite busy.

Jeremiah was crowded in with all the RVs, but he didn’t complain a bit – neither did I.

Saturday night’s entertainment was a “Spring Fashion Show” which Gwen MC’d. She’s a natural at the microphone and never lacked for something clever to say. Among the “fashions” were a “fashionable box coat for chilly Tucson nights” and “a lovely crepe dress for a night on the town.” The evening was hilarious!

Saturday was such a nice, warm day – suitable for short sleeves – I contemplated packing away my turtleneck sweaters and scarves. But when I woke the next morning to temperatures in the high 30’s, I was glad to have warm things to put on!

Other thoughts I had as I tucked in to sleep were about snow-bird RV parks. For those escaping to warm weather for several months and want to just stay put, these parks with a myriad of activities are a great place even if the parking sites are close together.

Sunday was a fairly cool, overcast day for an outing to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This is a zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden – all in one place. The animals and plants are those native to the Sonoran Desert, an area encompassing parts of Arizona and California as well as the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California. Gwen, Jim and I spent several hours there. I especially enjoyed the two walk-in aviaries.

Gwen and Jim knew the artist in residence – Jessa Huebing-Retinger. This talented woman paints larger-than-life insects with amazing detail and color. You can see some of her work at www.projectinsect.com. Her husband James paints insects on the arms of children who watch the process with awe.

We also went to a Rock Shop to browse and also met the brother of the man who maintains the T-Rat.com website about Sonoran Desert natural history. Some of the writing is his, some is by others who “have really given the subject matter a lot of thought, often lifetimes of thought, and pursuit of answers.”

While out and about, Gwen spotted this unusual saguaro.

Here’s what a sign at the desert museum had to say about this phenomenon:
“This unusual young saguaro is just beginning to form a crest, which may eventually grow to more than six feet wide. A crest can develop when the growing point, or meristem (which produces new stems and spies or leaves), elongates into a line. In time the growing line may become greatly convoluted, like a brain. This phenomenon has been observed in nearly all plant species; its cause is generally not known.”

The park’s Sunday program was a hymn sing-a-long. It was a good end to a good week.

Monday morning started out windy. I packed up and headed a few miles to meet up with friend Carol Rayburn and her mother. They were camping at Gilbert-Ray County Park. My plan was to spend the night there and hope for a less-windy drive on Tuesday. I’m back in spacious parking sites.

I leave the Tucson area in the morning, driving north to the Coolidge/Florence area. I’ll end this blog with a quote by Mary Ann Radmacher that I found on a greeting card:

Live with intention
Walk to the edge
Listen hard
Practice wellness
Play with abandon
Choose with no regret
Continue to learn
Appreciate your friends
Do what you love
Live as if this is all there is

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cowboys, Indians and tomatoes - Willcox

Feb. 14 – 16, 2007

On the drive from Pancho Villa State Park to Willcox, Arizona I encountered rain, sleet and wind. The sky would be ominously dark and then in a few miles I’d be back in sunshine. Ahh, the life of a traveling home.

I settled into the RV parking at the Willcox Elks Lodge; nice flat sites with electricity and water. And just a block or so from the well-traveled railroad track. No problem for me – I love trains.

Willcox Elks Lodge

I walked over to the RV parked nearby and met Jim and Barbara from Tennessee. They were headed east to south Texas and I recommended they stay a night or two at PVSP. Then I met another RVing couple staying here and they told me they had heard about this great state park in New Mexico and were headed there next – the park? Pancho Villa! And when I was talking to a local in the Lodge, she said if I was headed east I should definitely swing by PVSP! They had been there recently and were amazed at the spaciousness of the park and the new museum. Wow! Word is getting out.

The Lodge serves dinners on Wednesdays and Fridays. I had some delicious steak fingers, French fries topped with very tasty gravy - definitely not a well-rounded meal. I met some locals who made recommendations for my exploration of the small town.

I went to bed thinking about going to a café for breakfast. What I didn’t consider was what the weather would be like. I awoke to 28-degrees – frost on everything. At 9 a.m. it has warmed up to 30 degrees! Way too cold to walk several blocks hoping to find a promising café.

Today – Thursday – I explored the two “main” streets of town. In its heyday, Willcox had a lumberyard, general store, seven bars/saloons, drug store, hotel, hardware, dry goods, banks, hotels/rooming houses, movie house, jail and Southern Pacific depot. Wyatt Earp’s brother Warren was shot to death at the Headquarters saloon in 1900.

During the 1930s, Willcox was the largest USA rail-shipping center of range cattle

Willcox has Arizona’s only remaining Southern Pacific depot that was built in 1880; it has been restored and now houses City Hall.

Willcox is home to the Arizona Cowboy Rex Allen Museum and the Chiricahua Regional Museum. As I went into and out of various shops, I kept smelling the aroma of coffee and soon discovered an Espresso shop. Perfect for a break. The proprietor was putting a just-baked apple pie out, so my afternoon snack was pie and coffee.

I had considered leaving on Friday, but quickly changed my mind when I found out that the country’s largest tomato-growing facility was nearby – perhaps I could get a tour. After making a phone call and speaking to the marketing manager, I had a 1 p.m. appointment.

Friday morning I took care of some writing and got Jeremiah ready for travel. EuroFresh Farms – “Home of America’s best-tasting tomatoes” – is about 25 miles north of Willcox. In spite of taking a wrong road (about 6 miles of dirt/gravel washboard) I got back on track, drove through flat, farming country almost to the base of the nearby mountains, and soon saw a sea of greenhouses in the distance. Wow!

My tour included two of many huge greenhouse complexes. Each massive complex is self-contained: computerized climate control, growing and packing areas. Here tomatoes are grown hydroponically. They use no herbicides or pesticides, and the tomatoes taste just like tomatoes should. Last stop on my tour was the marketing manager’s office where a large box of tomatoes awaited me. It included all the varieties they grow: cherry, beefsteak, yellow and orange, and the fairly new Compari.

After I returned and re-parked at the Elks Lodge, I met Kathy and Randy Richard from Sierra Vista, Arizona. The three of us walked to the Railroad Car for dinner and then stopped at the Blue House Music and Café (open-mike on Friday nights – we declined) for coffee. Tomorrow I’ll drive to Tucson.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Back to Pancho Villa State Park

February 8 - 13, 2007

It’s a good thing I arrived when I did – on Thursday afternoon because by Friday afternoon the park was completely full.

After I settled in I walked up to the Ranger office to let Ranger Brian know that I was here for five days and available for any projects he might want done. His eyes lit up and he grinned as he said, “The weeds are growing again.” So I collected a hoe and a rake and have been working in some areas that will be used for upcoming Camp Furlong Days. This popular event will be the second weekend in March. A bunch of activities are scheduled, entertainment, vendor booths, etc. A large group of horses/riders – the Cablagata – will arrive from Mexico. There are lots of projects to be completed for this event including building some temporary corrals. I’m sorry I’ll miss this – maybe next year I can be here to help.

I had forgotten that the Pink Store’s annual Mardi Gras party was Friday night. Also I had forgotten that the Border Cities Winnebago/Itasca Club (of which I am a member) had planned their February outing here. And to add to the number of RVs, the Silver City Traveling Elks are here.

I rode to Palomas for the Pink Store shindig with other volunteers. By the time they started serving dinner – free, including drinks – the place was packed. Some of us chose to sit outside in the patio – it was calmer here and easier to have conversations. I met some interesting people, mingled with other campers, along with Deming, Columbus and Palomas residents.

When I arrived, Mr. Miserable, a park regular who is extremely grumpy, was in #47 that is my usual parking site. I didn’t care and quickly settled into #41 across the inner road. But evidently Cat was puzzled. Each time I let her out to explore, I soon found her sitting under his motorhome. And she wasn’t too eager to come back to our rolling home.

Once my bird feeders were up – whole sunflower seeds in one and thistle seeds in another – the bird population discovered them. I haven’t spent much time bird-watching, but have had two interesting birds at the window feeder. One is a house finch that is missing most of its upper beak part. The poor bird has trouble eating. To begin with, she has a hard time picking up a sunflower seed. Then she has difficulty cracking the shell. She works at it, but then often drops it to try another; or perhaps the seed simply falls off her lower beak.

The other unusual bird looks like a house finch, but a few feathers on her “forehead” stick up crew-cut style. I can’t figure this out, and she doesn’t stay very long at the feeder.

I worked on food columns – and Google search is my best friend. And it was a good laugh. One of my columns will be on balsamic vinegar. I had read that Paul Bertolli, the winemaker, started an experimental balsamic-making project in 1999. I wanted updated information so I Googled “Bertolli + balsamic vinegar”. At the top of the results page Google asked, “Did you mean broccoli + balsamic vinegar?”

My current book reading is American Caesar, a biography of Douglas MacArthur. Its copyright is 1978 and was written by William Manchester. The paperback book has nearly 1,000 yellowed pages.

Winter returned on my last day (Tuesday) at Pancho Villa. Scattered cold rain alternated with sunny skies. I joined the LoW RV group at the Pink Store for lunch. Afterward I stopped at Super Memo (grocery store). They have a tortilla-making section and I bought 16 still-warm corn tortillas for 35 cents!

I’m leaving tomorrow (Wednesday) morning; first into Deming for some grocery shopping and then west to Willcox, Arizona. It will be a 140-mile drive. I’ll be parking at the RV area at the Willcox Elks Lodge for two nights. This gives me a day or so to explore this historic town.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Leasburg State Park is just fine!

The drive to Leasburg Dam State Park on Tuesday was longer than I thought – a little more than 60 miles. The park brochure says, “A quiet desert oasis…an ideal spot to camp and picnic beside the Rio Grande…the dark skies are popular with stargazers.” The park, with only 18 electric/water sites, is adjacent to the tiny community of Radium Springs.

I settled into Site #11 at the far west side of the park. I’m on a finger of land that has mini-canyons on each side, and the river in the distance. The concrete slab – thankfully level – is narrow, making it a challenge to get all six wheels on it and have room for my slide to extend. After three tries, I took some of my homemade chocolate chip cookies to the man parked nearby and asked for help. He was appreciative, and so was I.

Cat hopped out and was off exploring before I even got set up. Finally I am in warm weather. It got up to 70 degrees each afternoon, but did drop down near freezing at night.

On Wednesday, after it warmed up, I set out to explore park trails and the river trail. Leasburg has two picnic/day-use areas along the river with a long, tree-covered trail connecting the two.

The river trail ended at Fort Selden Rd, a road that intersects with the park entrance, so rather than reverse my route I walked along the road. Noticing some adobe ruins ahead I saw the historic Fort Selden site and museum beckoning me.

Fort Selden was established in 1865 in an effort to bring peace to the south central region of present day New Mexico. The adobe fort housed units of the U.S. Infantry and Cavalry. Their intent was to protect settlers and travelers in the Mesilla Valley from desperados and Apache Indians. Several of the units stationed at the fort were black troopers, referred to as Buffalo Soldiers. A young Douglas Mac Arthur called the fort home while his father was post commander in the late 1880s.

The exhibits included an entry from the 1896 Manual for Army Cooks:
The presence of wormholes in coffee [beans] should not occasion its rejection unless it is of inferior quality and strength, since they generally indicate age, weigh nothing, and disappear when the coffee is ground.

After wandering the fort grounds and getting back on the road, the next thing of interest was the Ft. Selden General Store.

Aha, maybe I can get a cold drink. I sipped a ginger ale and soon was back to my motorhome. In all, my walk – or should I say stroll – was 2 ½ hours long, and probably covered three or so miles.

Tomorrow I’ll pack up and head to Pancho Villa State Park – about a hundred miles to the southwest.

Tonight I’ll finish reading Max Lucado’s book: “It’s NOT about ME.” Max writes so well, including tidbits that help illustrate his points. Here are portions of one that starts Chapter 9.

Behind him, a trail of tracks.
Beneath him, a pounding stallion.
Before him, miles of trail to cover.
Within him, a flint-rock resolve.
Squinty eyed. Firm jawed. Rawboned. Pony Express riders had one assignment – deliver the message safely and quickly.
Only the sturdy were hired. The young and orphans were preferred. Those selected were given $125 a month, a Colt revolver, a lightweight rifle, a bright red shirt, blue trousers and eight hours to cover eighty miles, six days a week.
Hard work and high pay. But the message was worth it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ahhh! A toast to the start of a 2-month adventure

Friday, February 2, 2007 – Rio Rancho to Elephant Butte Lake

It was an easy 160-mile drive between home and Elephant Butte Lake State Park, just north of Truth or Consequences, NM. Jeremiah is parked in site #92 facing the lake with nothing between except an expanse of sand.

There aren’t many winter campers, but come warmer weather, the park will be filled to overflowing. I’ve learned that this park is the largest and most visited one in the state park system

After getting parked and hooked up – and giving Cat some outdoor time – I took a stroll around the area. When it got dark and cold, I put on my warm pajamas, lit my lavender-scented candle and poured my traditional first-night-out glass of champagne. Cat was on my lap and seemed intrigued by the bubbles in the flute. Life is good; I am blessed.

Once the "what" is decided, the "how" always follows. We must not make the "how" an excuse for not facing and accepting the "what."
---Pearl S. Buck(1892-1973), American novelist

My current “what” is to travel in Jeremiah as much as possible, as often as possible, and to a variety of places. My “how” is JUST DO IT! I haven’t spent any time ruminating on possible problems, inconvenient logistics, or what other people might think. No excuses. Lord willing once I hang up my motorhome keys for good, I’ll have plenty of time to stay put somewhere.

Now about Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Even though I set a goal of visiting all the New Mexico State Parks, I was willing to skip some. And Elephant Butte was one of them. Every time the park and the huge lake formed by a dam made the news it was because of crowds of campers and partying and drunk boaters. Then some park volunteers encouraged me, saying it was a nice place for camping and I should check it out for myself in the off-boating season. That would be now. Any plans were to stay here two nights. I like it so much, tonight will be night #4. Note to myself: don’t pre-judge.

Nights have gotten down below freezing; days have been in the 50s. Cat has been out a bit, but something must have spooked her because even with the door open, she usually decides to stay inside. I haven’t seen any dogs around; just rabbits, quail and some birds that don’t stay still long enough to identify. Also my identification efforts are hampered by the fact that I left my good binoculars at home.

“The Blessing of Bats” was the theme of the Saturday program at the park. Ranger Sal had great slides and an interesting program about the usefulness of bats (pollinating plants, eating mosquitoes and other bugs and providing nutrient-rich fertilizer).

On Sunday I took a long walk along the lake then came back and gave Jeremiah a “spit bath” using a bucket, brush and towel. He shines up real good! That evening I invited Rita, a park volunteer, for dinner (thanks Wendy and Vickie for the lasagnas).

Monday was a loafing day – reading, thinking, watching a couple of my favorite videos (Ken Davis: hilarious Christian comedian), walking, and a bit of housecleaning. Oh, yes, delighting in the clock Santa gave me this past Christmas. Luckily, the service technician at Rocky Mountain RV (where I bought Jeremiah) was able to install a hanger for it. Every hour it plays music and the clock dial moves around. It is amazing and always makes me smile.

Tomorrow I make the short, 20-mile drive to Leasburg Dam State Park. This park sits alongside the Rio Grande.