29 September 2017

Saturday 9 Sept: They're Bigger in Texas

Saturday morning, we left Carlsbad; driving east, we intended to cross Texas and spend that night in Shreveport.  Just before we left New Mexico, we stopped at a gas station and I used the restroom.  I am a big girl and some bathroom stalls tend to be a bit cramped.  So I basically had to back over the toilet, while straddling it, to swing the bathroom door shut.  I guess the rational that not having the door swinging out means that fewer people might get smacked with a door as someone exits the stall using an inconsiderate barreling technique.  Who knows?

When we entered Texas, since I already had a good state map, I wasn't concerned about stopping at the Welcome Center.  So our first stop in Texas was in Sweet Water, where we joined I-20 and also where we stopped for lunch.  It was a lil diner type place that made an awesome steak.  At the end of the meal, I visited the restroom, almost dreading it because restaurants don't make bathroom cleanliness a priority, indeed it seems most public places don't.

I must say, it was HAH-you-jah.  It was like the state's general attitude of being bigger than other states {uhm, pretty damn sure Alaska has ya beat there, at more than twice your size} applies to everything within the state.  I popped into a stall, thought, "dahyum, this is nice and roomy" and then had to hop UP onto the seat.  My feet were dangling and I thought of some comedian's line about how sitting on the jacked up toilet seat in the handicapped stall makes them feel like Shirley Temple waiting for Bob Hope.  Then I thought of Lily Tomlin being Edith Ann on Saturday Night Live, "ain't that the truth?".

Then I thought, "wait....am I in the handicapped stall?"   But no, I was not.  I was in a regular stall, there were four or five just like it.  This meant that I just had to see what the handicapped stall was like.  I would have had to pole vault onto the seat.  But the acoustics were amazing.

Texas, well, I didn't take any pix of the landscape but I will say that traveling along I~20 meant that we went swiftly and steadily through the width of the state and hit Shreveport just slightly after dark.  Our host was great and we loved her lil Ladybug, a pooch with a snaggle tooth that extended out and up from her bottom jaw, on her left, giving her a slight pout that made you want to love on her even more.

Sunday, we drove from Shreveport, LA to Starkville, MS.  We stopped in the Jackson area, at Steak Escape in Flowood, for lunch.  But that's another story, for another day.

25 September 2017

Some pix from Carlsbad Caverns


{{most of the flowers pictured in the previous post were outside our Carlsbad airbnb; of special interest to me were the reddish orange ones that appear to be one flower and then upon closer examination, you realize that they are made up of many tiny flowers clustered together to complete the optical illusion}}

Carlsbad was a lovely little town with many areas of interest:  an old aqueduct, a lake, beaches, the surrounding desert, parks, paths, and about half an hour to the south, the Carlsbad Caverns.  The caverns were the main reason for our visit to the area, so we set off Friday morning in the daylight.  First, we stopped at Church Street Grill, a walk up/drive thru food stand that had the best breakfast burritos ever.  And very cheap too.  I also had the very first shake of the day, it was super thick and lip smacking good.  The best peanut butter shake I've had in quite some time.

We headed south, out of town, into the desert and then turned to the north toward the caverns.  We wound around and up into the mountains, some of the views were so amazing that the drive alone was a destination in itself.  When we pulled into the parking lot for the caverns, we saw what could have been a village of adobe style homes.   The ranger told us that most of them are residences for various forms of law enforcement and fellow rangers, temporary and permanent.

Altho I had seen lots of cactus and yucca, I had not seen this type of cactus before.  This relatively thin, spiny segmented cactus was completely unfamiliar.  Prior to this trip, I'd seen some of the flatter, smoother kind with more oval type appendages.   But still, cactus is not something I see so often in my daily surroundings that I've grown immune to its strange beauty.

When we first went into the building, which sits perched atop a very steep peak, we saw the elevators that take you down into the depths of the caverns.  There are many write ups on the 120+ rooms of the Carlsbad Caverns, here's just one.

Not all of the rooms or caves are open to the public, but enough so that I doubt many complain.  Toward dusk, in the evening, the rangers do a good presentation on the many bats who take to the skies and mill about, swooping and frolicking about in their lil bat ways.

In the next post, I'll share some pix of the caverns themselves.  Jerry and I both were having some congestion, so I stayed up in the gift shop, museum, book store, and cafe.  But Jerry took some tablets and armed himself with the camera and ventured forth.

About an hour and half later, he came up to join me in the cafe.  He gulped down a few pints of water, while rubbing his knee.  I knew the temperatures below, in the caves, might get a bit chilly for him; so did he, so he wore long pants and socks with sneakers and a long sleeved t.

He remarked again, as we'd marveled several times, that it seems folks are always in a rush.  Even in retirement, even on vacation, even on scenic byways that warn you ahead of time that there are lower speed limits and quite possibly twisty, curvy, steep roads ahead.  He took his time, tho he did end up skipping a room or two, simply because there were very loud crying children or crowds within.  He gave me the camera to review his chosen shots and I was glad he'd gone and enjoyed himself, what an opportunity!

We didn't notice til we'd gotten home, unpacked, and washed the above pictured shirt that it indeed is a large, but it's a youth large and so doesn't fit Jerry.  One of the grandkids will get it, I'm sure.  We didn't buy tons of souvenirs, tho he did manage to find ONE V~neck shirt for me.  It's a tad snug tho, so will have to wait til I lose some weight.

Also, we'd bought some fridge magnets featuring the various parks we visited.  And of course, we picked up some post cards.  We both read lots and will probably use them for bookmarks more so than using them to send on to others.  They are always of good views that I wouldn't usually find myself so well placed to capture with my camera.  We were sure to save the brochures and maps we did use, so that we can look back and remember what we saw at various places.

Our trip was soon to come to an end and we had mixed feelings about that.  We were both tired and wanted to sleep in our own bed, be in our own home, and snuggle with our lil dogs.  But we had both been enjoying the trip so much and seeing all the different parts of our country that are so new and unusual to us.  We had paired appropriate audio books with various regions and states, so we felt like we'd gotten that much more from our trip.

Saturday would see us driving the width of Texas, skirting Fort Worth and Dallas, to spend our final night on the road in Shreveport, La.  That's for tomorrow.

OH!  And while in Carlsbad, we did stop to eat at a regional franchise, Blake's Lotaburger.  They're located throughout New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.  They are celebrating their 65th year and are contemplating possibly opening a few stores in Oklahoma.  National Geographic named them as the "World's Best Green Chile Cheeseburger" and after having tried them for ourselves, we agree.  Other than that, all of our eateries were locally owned businesses that were truly unique.  Most of the time, we were not disappointed.

We also were able to drive along Route 66, "Main Street of America".  Our trip through the western part of Arizona captured just a small part of the highway's offerings.  That would be a nostalgic trip, I think, for most anyone wanting to get their kicks on Route 66.

Jerry's Dam Shirt

24 September 2017

Passing on El Paso, winding thru the Guadalupe Mountains, on the way to Carlsbad

That Thursday afternoon, we continued to drive south, as google maps directed us past El Paso and then farther east in order to get to Carlsbad, where we planned to spend the next two nights.  We had been listening to quite a few audiobooks throughout the trip but every once and awhile, we'd enjoy the relative silence of the yaris, sans narrator.  Sometimes we talked, discussion a myriad of topics, some relevant and some not so.  Every once in awhile, we'd tune into a local station.

If we could find one we liked.

Or find one at all.

Somewhere in that stretch of New Mexico, before we crossed into the corner of Texas and hit El Paso's sprawl and congestion, I attempted to tune in a station.  Any station.  I hit the "seek" button on the yaris's radio and it sped thru the low range of 89 to the upper range of 107 and then looped back to the 80s and zoomed up to 108 and the third time through, I switched the radio off.  I'd never been in a location that did not receive FM radio signals.

I might have gotten a little anxious, but I knew that our car had plenty of gas, that it was early in the afternoon, and that we were on a route that would connect to major highways.  I'm not sure why the idea of being lost in the desert, in a place where radio signals didn't reach, would have caused me to freak.  I'm more likely to lose it surrounded by chaotic crowds who are all loudly cheering the home team on, come to think of it.

When we crossed into Texas, I picked up my first state map since entering Arkansas on the first day.  I also stopped at the large bulletin board and gawked at the map posted under the Plexiglas, marked with a red star and the obligatory "you are here" label.  For Jerry, I traced out our upcoming route, east of El Paso, there is a wide open expanse of very little population.  El Paso is the closest I've ever been to the Mexican border, which prompted a discussion of how we really ought to secure our passports, since mine has expired about twenty years ago and Jerry's expired about a year or two ago.  We've no concrete plans to go international, but we might, and it's a good idea to be prepared.

At one point, Jerry and I turned to each other and cracked up laughing, neither remarked on why, but I would bed that it was due the very tall sign post that held a huge yellow billboard sized business sign that proclaimed "Homes for Less".  At the base of the sign grew the scraggly weeds that also covered the fenced in lot.  In the middle of the lot stood a small guard shack, vacated and alone.  They most have sold out of all the homes for less.

We both decided that we have no urge to return to El Paso, and were glad to leave it behind, following along the highway that would gradually arc north back into New Mexico.  But not before we passed many, many ranches.  Quite a few had enormous elaborate entrances.  Rarely did we pass another vehicle or see any other people.

The afternoon was hot and hazy.  Jerry wondered if the fires in Montana could be the cause.  I turned to gaze at him, "well," I said rather slowly, "being that Montana is here, at the northern edge of the US", I waved above my head at the car's roof, "and we are here, at the bottom, literally within spitting distance of Mexico," I waved with the other hand at waist level, "AND there's an entire mountain range called the "Rockies" in between" I glanced back at him, "I really doubt the smoke from the fires in Montana is causing the haze we're experiencing here in New Mexico and Texas.  But, I could be wrong.  After all, a butterfly's wings can cause a tsunami."

Then in the middle of the wide open space, orange traffic cones redirect traffic {one vehicle, us} into a rather large complex along the road.  Jerry wondered why we needed to stop at the weigh station, and I reminded him about the border patrol that was on the map, back at the Texas Welcome Center.  We pulled up to the large STOP sign, allowed the multitude of cameras to scan our vehicle, and then pulled forward when the border patrol guard wearing a bullet proof vest with "BORDER" stamped across the chest {and back} waved us on.  Jerry turned his attention back to the path in front of him and gave a little wave as he picked up some speed. "STOP STOP STOP," I shouted, turning toward him as the BORDER guard reached for his hip holster while using his other hand in the palm out, fingers splayed "stop" gesture.  Jerry tried to apologize to the guard, explaining that he thought he was motioning us to continue and go on.  The guard, having heard this many times before, nodded his head and asked us if we were both born in the USA and were we the only two in the vehicle.  Jerry can be rather hard of hearing at times so when he turned toward me with a questioning look, I answered very loudly from the passenger's seat.  The guard ducked his head down so that he could peer at me through the driver's window space, "there's no one hiding back there?" motioning toward the suitcases, pillows, and cooler.  "Nope," I said.  Then I thought, 'that's like asking if anyone packed your suitcases without your knowledge'; but wisely I kept that thought to myself.  "Well, alright then, go on through," the guard said, stepping back from the vehicle.

I settled back into my seat and we rolled on.  At some point, I realized that my brain was getting fuzzy and my eyes felt gritty, I'd been staring off into the distance, wondering why there were mountain peaks looming out of the sky, just hanging there, perched on nothing.  I remarked on this to Jerry.  I don't think he heard me.  A few hours later, I realized that the lower body of the mountains were blending into the darkening sky while the peaks were a light yellow, almost white.  They were the Guadalupe Mountain Range, the highest point in all of Texas.  Crossing thru the foothills, the highway winding and curving thru the base of several mountains, crossed us back into New Mexico.

Just a bit further down the road was the sign for Carlsbad Caverns and then half an hour later, we were in the town of Carlsbad.  We followed the directions I'd written out the night before, drove through town, and turned off into a subdivision.  The sun had long since set, but we had no problem finding our airbnb for the night.  The small family greeted us and recommended a place for us to eat, a nice Italian restaurant downtown with outdoor courtyard seating.  That sounded great and we turned to the front door and I said, "oh my god, is that a hairless cat?"

Why, yes, it is.  I'd heard of them, seen pictures of them online, but had never actually seen one in person.  But I was hungry and the hairless cat would have to wait.  The various snacks I'd picked up on the other side of El Paso had long since left my stomach.  All of the snacks were by a company called Marinela, these were products of Mexico, but distributed by a company called Bimbo Bakeries USA, in Horsham, Pennsylvania.  I laughed til I cried.

More on Carlsbad, Carlsbad Caverns, the hairless cat, and the rest of our trip tomorrow.

23 September 2017

Gila Cliff Dwellings & The Trail of the Mountain Spirits & It's a BEAR! {{oh my}}

 We'd been very fortunate, weather~wise, for most of the trip and Thursday morning was clear, sunny, and blue skies.  On our way out of town, we stopped at an adobe diner and had a delicious breakfast.  I urged Jerry to get ONE biscuit with gravy rather than a full order, which was two.  At first he regarded me in a not very positive light, then resignedly asked for ONE biscuit and gravy.  After it came, he was glad that he had; as that one biscuit and gravy had two halves {I realize that's par for the course, but often when we are hungry we aren't thinking clearly and overestimate our stomach's capacity}.  It turns out, it was just the right amount for him.

I, on the other hand, ordered stuffed french toast because I can pack away a lot of food and I was hungry.  If you've just read the previous paragraph, you will realize this was perhaps a faux pas in thinking.  But oh no, I really do eat a lot.  I like to eat and I like food, and I like to eat food.  How delightful that can be!

Stuffed french toast was two eggy texas toast slices that were sandwiched around a slab of cream cheese and then topped with warm cherries, whipped cream, and dusted with powered sugar.  Umph, it was so good that just remembering it is causing me to drool all over my keyboard.  There was a group of regulars that were there before we sat down and there when we left.  They were in the next room, at three different tables that were not grouped together.  They were all three elderly, as evidenced by the woman's fluffy white hair that was teased into a gossamer cloud about her head and the gentlemen's lined faces and their stories of years gone by told in exceedingly loud voices.

Our waitress was a gregarious fixture of the establishment, who flitted about filling cups and joining in with the banter that was flying at a pretty fast and furious pace for about fifteen minutes, gaining momentum and volume as until the quips exploded into cackles of mirth that were startling in pitch and sharpness.  For an additional two dollars, our waitress wrapped up my tea mug and sent me on my way with a useful souvenir of our trip.  Not surprisingly, I've forgotten to take a picture of that, altho I did remember to include various pint glasses, postcards, magnets, and other memorabilia.

The night before, I realized that altho Gila Cliff Dwellings is only about 35 miles to the north of Silver City, it would take about two hours to get there.  The drive is part of the Trail of the Mountain of Spirits National Scenic Byway.  The drive, as promised, was truly beautiful.  There were many sharp curves and inclines, revealing broad sweeping views of canyons, clefts, mountains, creeks, rivers, hot springs, and homes tucked here and there.  We were the first visitors of the day, which was nice and peaceful, with a refreshing breeze that set the leaves to rustling.

The ranger at the welcome center had just done a stint in Vicksburg, here in Mississippi.  Then we hopped back in the car and drove a bit farther in, arriving at the small museum and trailhead.  A married couple of rangers awaited us eagerly, pointed the way, voiced warnings and cautions regarding the trail and rattlesnakes, and wished us well.  Jerry took the camera with him and kept his eyes open.  Along the way, he found a lizard sunning himself, striking a pose as tho to say, "this, this is my best side."  When he showed the rangers, they conferred, naming him and pointing out their two dry erase boards of sightings.  One listed various fauna, including the lizard, snake, a few birds, and the dates they were last seen by visitors or rangers.  The other board listed various flora in different scripts, a veritable smorgasbord of wildflowers, trees, grasses, and even a few drawings, one which resembled two stick figures holding hands but was labeled as "{indecipherable squiggle} leaf".

Jerry even saw the rattlesnake, sunning himself on an overhang, his head visible and further down the ledge, his tail draped over the edge.  We didn't get a picture of that, but Jerry described him to the rangers and they remarked that some years, they will only see rattlesnakes at certain times of the month, as the sun sets.  But that this year, all summer long, they saw the rattlers out in numbers, all day, every day, everywhere.  They did say that altho they don't want to alarm their visitors unduly, they do want to caution them to watch their step and heed the "do not leave the path" signs.

There was a cluster of vehicles arriving as we were leaving the park and we thought we had that timed rather well.  As we drove back down part of the Trail of Mountain Spirits, we came around a curve and startled a young black bear crossing the road.  He paused in midstride as Jerry exclaimed "BEAR!" and then the furry guy bolted into the trees and weeds with a speed that surprised Jerry.  It was a treat to catch a glimpse of the beast in his natural habitat.  It gave the day extra sparkle.

We didn't return to Silver City but continued down a different leg of the scenic drive and stopped at a small diner in the back of a convenience store with defunct gas pumps.  The local sheriff was chatting with a lingering group of regulars who were finishing up their specials of the day, of which there were four.  It was a curious mixture of two Mexican dishes and two German dishes.  I had the schnitzel, potato cakes, and potato salad.  They miscalculated and were out of the cabbage, apologizing repeatedly, as tho you simply cannot eat schnitzel and potato cakes without cabbage.  Both cooks came out from the kitchen at one point to visit with the sheriff.  One was the stereotypical pale blonde heavyset germanic woman and the other was the stereotypical dark short compact mexican woman; it was surprising to me that they were sharing a kitchen, as most cooks don't share their domain....of course, that might just be me, stereotyping the profession.

After lunch, we continued on to our next destination, Carlsbad.

22 September 2017

Wednesday 6th Sept {I think}

The next morning, we followed the signs that directed us to the entrance for the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.  I wasn't sure what I expected, but I am pretty sure I was thinking "forest=greenery, a multitude of tall trees", instead of focusing on the "petrified=mineralized remains=takes lots of time=perhaps living forest no longer exists in this location".   So ya might see why I was a bit puzzled when we turned at the brown National Park sign and saw more desert looming ahead.

We covered a lot of desert, the high desert of the northwestern plains and the many deserts thru the southwest.  I must say that my vocabulary was sorely tested and found lacking.  Each desert is so very different.  The rocks, the minerals, the layers, the colors, the vegetation, the terrain, the animals, its all very distinct from every other desert.  But I could not fully capture how this brown rock was different from that brown rock; it was a richness, a hue, that indicated different elements, a different history, each with its own stories to tell.  I was hard pressed to adequately describe how this grass, waist height and densely thatched, was completely different from that sparsely bunched low grass.  I know that various life forms find each habitable, suitable; but I don't know this snake from that, or that lizard from this.  But please know that it is not enough to merely label the terrain as the "desert" and that that word means one uniform sort of thing.  The desert is as varied as the lushness of the Smoky Mountains and the Mississippi pines region.  The desert flows from one sort to another, but there are also abrupt geological shifts that reveal themselves in formations of rock that are completely unlike that surrounding rock, as much as the foothills are different than the bayous.  It would be easy to let this unfamiliar landscape seem to blend into a sameness, but it is none of it alike.

East of the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert stretches across the northern part of Arizona, the southern part of Utah, the northern part of New Mexico, and the southernwestern part of Colorado.  The Painted Desert itself is vast and embodies many distinguishable area.  The part of the Painted Desert that lies to the immediate north of the Petrified Forest is the Black Forest.

Jerry is standing next to an Agate Bridge, a petrified tree that formed a bridge.  The sandstone around it has eroded over time, leaving this mineralized tree trunk acting as a bridge over the gully under it.  The striated rock formations pictured to the right are called "The Tepees", part of the Blue Forest, within the Petrified Forest.  We did take other pictures of both the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, but again, we felt that few of them did justice to the actual views we were looking at.

We did stop at Crystal Forest Museum & Gift Shop and had some very interesting conversations with the staff there.  A young woman showed me some of the various handmade jewelry that the area natives have made, Hopi, Navajo, Apache, Zuni, and Ute.  She talked about some of the stones, the symbols, and the methods.  I was very impressed and tho I don't often wear jewelry, I do have an appreciation of it, especially handcrafted pieces that show skill and have cultural significance.  In the end tho, I was so overwhelmed with the variety that I chose a simple orangish red Jasper necklace that reminded me of so many of the wildflowers that we'd seen along the roadside throughout the trip.  In the southwest, much of the reddish orange we'd seen were squash blossoms.

That afternoon, we drove down thru the Gila Mountains to Silver City, New Mexico.  We spent the night in what had been a convent and then a monastery, and is now Holy Trinity Anglican Church.  It sits in front of the Guadalupe Montessori School.  It was a wonderful evening and felt very peaceful and soothing.  Below is a screenshot of a part of the grounds.

Grand Canyon, South Rim

If the Hoover Dam can be said to be an engineering feat, the Grand Canyon is surely one of the Great Wonders of the Western World.  Well, I mean, it is.  All by itself, the Grand Canyon is utterly awe inspiring.

Originally, when planning this trip, we had thought we would see both the south and the north rim views.  As the crow flies, if it were directly across this huge water-carved canyon, from one rim to the other is a mere ten miles.  However, it takes an estimated four hours to drive around the eastern end, northward and then drop down a bit south to hit the north rim.  That's one way.  Only ten percent of the Grand Canyon's visitors make the trek to the north rim and we'd thought we'd be in that slim selection.

Not to be.

In the effort to maximize our enjoyment while minimizing travel time via vehicle, we decided to forego the north rim views.  In the words of the german husband arguing with his wife, "it's the same view, only backward from there".  I'm not exactly sure that's correct, but the amazing views that we were witnessing from the south side seemed to be enough for us.  In fact, I was perched on one bench for so long that I could have shot a time elapsed shifting of shadows, had I thought of it.

I did take a few videos, with my camera.  As I was videoing the panoramic views, I was providing some commentary, descriptions, dates, etc.  I was being fairly quiet about, but I overheard one woman warn another that she should be careful, that girl is talking to herself.  I didn't bother to correct her, instead I continued talking as I lowered my camera and continued to sit and admire the view.  I discovered that was one way of having the entire bench to myself.  That "unduly embarrassing" filter?  Gone, left it on the desert in Nevada next to the ET Hwy.

I loved seeing the geologic layers of the Grand Canyon, the strata was so clearly distinguishable one from the other.  When reading about the vast coverage of time represented by these layers, it is easy to understand why the 1540 occurrence of  the Hopis guiding the Spanish explorers to the south rim was listed under "recent past".  The visitors' centers do a great job of explaining and demonstrating to their tourists lots and lots about the Grand Canyon, throughout time, its formation and development, the various people who have populated it, the relics found there, the animals and plants that are unique to the canyons, and oh so much more.  There are staff and displays, telescopes set up for viewing, pathways, bike rentals, tour groups, and so forth.  We avoided most of the crowds of the village and stayed focused either on the Canyons themselves or this structure pictured above, which is the south eastern Desert Watch Tower.  The views are amazing and we felt that the pictures we took did no justice to the experience.

That night, we stayed in a cabin in Holbrook.  Jerry bought and made some steaks, potatoes, and salad.  We ate in and enjoyed a quiet evening, away from the restaurant crowds.  I was extremely tired so went to bed early, only to awake a few hours later, having propped myself up on one arm and punched the mattress angrily.  I'd been sleeping quite well on the trip until that point; after that evening, I would have horrible dreams for the remaining nights on our trip, including an episode of sleep paralysis, the first I've experienced in over a year and a half.

Into the Desert

{{By the way, the scenic drive thru the Redwoods is aptly named "Avenue of the Giants"; how cool is that?}}

Sunday evening, we finally escaped California and tootled our way to Tonopah, Nevada.  By tootled, I mean we repeatedly sang, "This Land Is Your Land {this land is my land" and "America, the Beautiful".  If anyone had been with us, they would have been nauseated by our overly dramatically acted out, sweeping arms, loud, off key renditions as we bellowed different ad libbed versions {including a really Really REALLY bad attempt to scat in jazz style; jazz hands I've got, scat I have not}.

Tonopah's accommodations were outstanding; we had a cabin and were able to take long hot steamy showers.  It was my first desert town that I spent any time in and we ventured forth to find a restaurant.  Several places that had been advertised in the office and in our cabin were actually closed.  As in, out of business, not just for the day.  We also passed lots of hotels that were deserted and many other buildings that had not very creative graffiti.  Tonopah had been a mining town and I think when the resources were depleted, the booming economy sounded a sour note and withered into a deflated company condom that was discarded and left behind when the investors moved on.

Monday, Labor Day, Sept 4th, we headed east on Hwy 6 and turned south on Nevada State Route 375, also known as the "Extraterrestrial Highway".  There were signs along the road that warned that cattle may cross the road and that you should watch for this.  There were at least three, possibly even four, ways of phrasing these notices; just to cover all their bases so there was no misunderstanding that yes, the cows roam freely and yes, they may cross the road, and yes, it  is YOUR responsibility to avoid hitting them.  We did pass several herds of cattle, including one exceedingly frisky calf that was feeling his oats and romping about the desert, amongst the sage brush as tho it were on an obstacle course and in training.  It was a rather quiet moment, when we were NOT listening to any audio books and I was watching this energetic calf when Jerry ad libbed, "first we zig, then we zag; then we zigzag quickly".  I'm not sure why I found it absolutely hilarious but I laughed until I suddenly said, "I have to pee."  We'd already left the incredibly kitschy, yet adorable, A'le'Inn Restaurant and there was nothing on the map that I could recall for quite some time.  So after awhile, with the pee urge passing into a more painful territory of "do it!  do it now!", we pulled off the road and I did what I have not done since I was a small child.  I relieved myself behind the passenger door, as tho it were a shield of privacy that would protect me from the gaze of those passers by in the big white extended cab pick up that was crammed full of people.  No traffic for the entire morning, for hours, nothing.  In mid squat, mid stream, a truckful of folks.   The truck actually slowed down, as tho they were going to offer assistance and then rethought that when they clearly saw a rather large white woman squatting next to a small yaris with Mississippi tags.

*sigh*  so much for the "avoid anything unduly embarrassing" pact with myself.

That afternoon, we pulled up to a small ranger's booth standing in the middle of the desert.  I had a flash of the Phantom Tollbooth set up and so missed much of her spiel, catching only "you have a good day now" as we pulled off.  I looked down at the brochure that Jerry handed me and it was for Lake Mead, which I did not realize was a National Recreation Area.  Google maps did not show that to me when I was writing down directions the night before, altho we were on the right road.  So it was really odd for us to have been in the desert for most of the afternoon before and most of that day, then to see this huge body of water nestled down into the rather barren and dry landscape.  It was very beautiful to see the mountains on the other side, which were either dark grey and black or purple and beige.  In a few places, we saw some of the reddish pink layers that were lower to the water level.

Even tho I knew that we were coming up on the Hoover Dam, I mistakenly thought that the actual highway crossed over the dam into Arizona.  So it was a bit of a surprise that there was a new, taller, broader bridge built for traffic, turning the Hoover Dam into a closed loop only approachable at this time from the Nevada side and depositing you back on the Nevada side.  Being that it was Labor Day, it was tremendously crowded, altho I still saw a fair amount of the remarkable features, including the Winged Figures of the Republic, the art deco inspired statues that guard the Hoover Dam.  Also of note were the clocks, one on each side of the bridge, one which announced Nevada time and the other, Arizona time.  Arizona, it should be said, does NOT observe Daylight Savings Time, which I think is an absolutely smart thing to do.  Kudos to them.

That night, we stayed in Kingman, Arizona, in a beautiful cabin and had a great night's sleep in this more than adequately airconditioned place.  The next stop?  Grand Canyon, south rim!

Leaving Portland and heading South

Friday morning, we greeted September and bid Portland b'bye, as we turned the yaris southwest toward the Pacific Coast.  We enjoyed that very much, arriving in Crescent City, California midafternoon.  The airbnb host that evening was a young school teacher with a super sunny disposition.  If I had small children, we'd move to Crescent City just so they could have her for preschool.

We'd gotten there with plenty of daylight, so were able to ride down Pebble Beach Drive and gawk at all the awesome views, including the lighthouse which sat atop its own very large rock {or very small island}, connected to the mainland by a very narrow bridge {one lane if driving a vehicle; but very wide bridge if you are walking}.  We did not go to the lighthouse, we just pulled into the pull off area and viewed it with huge waves crashing up against the rocky base.  It actually was really a house, not just the round tall structure that housed a swiveling light.  Oddly, my hard of hearing husband heard the metronome like tone that sounded all night like.  I did not hear it until my attention was drawn to it, and then I forgot about it again.  So we both slept well.

In the morning, we set off southward thru the Redwoods.  Oh so very impressive.  I could have meandered within their realm for weeks instead of mere hours.  We did not get any pictures of live trees that truly captured their majesty.  I am partial to this shot of a downed section.

We'd stopped at a tourists' gift shop, which we had not done at all the first part of the trip.  It was there that we bought a sapling to bring back with us.  We chatted with the store owner who kept referring to us as northerners {probably heard me speak before he heard Jerry say anything, bless his heart}.  Once we let him know that we live in Mississippi, he heaved a sigh of relief and said, "oh, ok then, that there tree ought to be just fine."  Their shop offered two kinds of trees, one was more hardy than the other.  I think we had gotten the giant sequoia.  The other type was a coastal redwood that is the longest living plants on earth.  I honestly couldn't really tell the difference when I was traveling by the grand beasts, which was which.

Then we took Hwy 1, the North Pacific Coast Highway, almost to San Francisco.  It was Saturday of Labor Day Weekend and as we got closer to the more heavily populated area, more and more vehicles were parked along the road, with crowded beaches far below.  At one point, traffic came to a stand still, it was 6p local time and people were heading home for supper, the sun was setting and temperatures were cooling off.

We turned east, above San Francisco and headed toward Vacaville, where our airbnb for the night was.  I did not have a very good California map, relying on written directions I'd jotted down the night before.  My cell phone is NOT smart and the screen is very small, so connecting easily to the net does not happen, and there is no way to enlarge a map anyway.  Our hosts had left explicit instructions on their airbnb page that check in time was not to exceed 7p.  I texted them to let them know where we were and I thought we'd be there in an hour or so.  Perhaps half an hour late.


Apparently google maps did not take into account that it was Labor Day weekend and we must travel through part of the Napa Valley to reach Vacaville.  I certainly did not even register this and make the appropriate adjustment either.  So after two hours, I texted the hosts again and told them where I THOUGHT we were {no guarantee, tho the cashier at the gas station seemed to be very sure of herself when she said, "but it's shorter if you go this way."} and apologized that we would be later than the 7p check in time.  She texted back, "don't worry, be happy".

I took her at her word.  We pulled into their drive at 9p, opened the door to the car, and stepped out into 110 degree fahrenheit night.  About twenty degrees hotter than it had been on the coast during the day.  Our hosts were great and we loved their big dog, "Moxie".  They seemed to think that Moxie was a blonde lab.  We seemed to think Moxie was a pit mix, but didn't voice our thoughts as he was a sweetie and they were probably hoping we'd agree that yes, Moxie's a very big, broad blonde lab.

{solemnly nodding head}

Sunday found us trying like hell to get out of California only to end up unable to take this road because it was closed, or that pass because it was closed, or this other route because it was closed, or this highway because it was not to be found.  California roads were labeled with very lovely names instead of having route numbers displayed as well.  So instead of looping thru Yosemite and taking the Tioga Pass, we ended up in Lake Tahoe Hell on Labor Day Sunday.

The pretentiousness was heavily scented and I swear I was about ready to break into hives when I overhead the boy at the next table over order two mimosas with casual disdain.  The waitress loudly guffawed and then asked rather incredulously, "champagne?  here?  No, the only alcohol we serve is bud and bud light.  In bottles."  She was shaking her head as she walked away and I felt as tho my world were regaining its balance.  I wanted to reach over and slap the back of the kid's head and then tell the girl that he was with that she could do much better.  But I promised myself before I left for this trip that I would not do anything unduly embarrassing to Jerry and getting myself arrested qualified as unduly embarrassing.  Besides, the girl had that adoring look on her face as tho she was super impressed with this dolt, and ya can't talk reason into a girl who's convinced herself that she is oh so lucky to have this winner around.  Ya just can't.

20 September 2017

Middle Part of Our 3 Week Trip: PORTLAND!

When we got to Portland, it was Friday night, August 25th.  We had enjoyed the previous week's travel, but we were also looking forward to being in one place for longer than a night or two.  But most of all, we wanted to spend some time with Daughter Donna, my husband's adult child whom we did not yet see this summer {if you've been keeping tally, you'll remember we saw all four other kids and grandkids either at their homes in Mississippi or Florida, or they came and spent time with us in Starkville, Mississippi sometime during May to August}.

We greatly enjoyed our visit, complete with me dabbling my toes in the concrete pool and later in the evening, enjoying the home theater experience as we watched the much touted Mayweather and McGregor fight.  I haven't watched boxing in a very long time, like never.  But I surprisingly enjoyed the fight.  Including the various commentary, provided by both the on~air ringside professionals and the in~basement nonprofessionals.  Some of it was quite humorous.  Indeed.

Jerry and I ate out a few times that week, mostly either Mexican or Vietnamese, with some Middle Eastern thrown in for variety.  I'd tried quite a few new dishes, including Poc Chuc, which is a dish from the Yucatan, in southeastern Mexico.  It was pork that had been marinaded in a citrus base, grilled, cut into nice sized chunks, served over rice, with beans and cheese.  The best part of the dish were these pickled purple onions that were very citrusy.  So good.

On Sunday, the 27th, I met with Colby Pfister of Infinity Tattoo on Lombard.  Generally speaking, it's a good idea to visit the shop and meet the artist, so the two of you can discuss the work you want and whether that person wants to do it, when they might be able to fit you into their schedule, and how much it might cost and what sort of time frame it might take to complete.  They often draw up the piece based on your descriptions and you can decide if that works for you.  It's called a consultation and most artists prefer to do it in person.

However, I knew that I was going to be in Portland for about a week, that most artists' schedules book up ahead of time, and that I wanted to have this tattoo done earlier in the week, so I had some time to start the healing process before we got back on the road, traveling through the dusty desert.  I had contacted several artists in the Portland area about six weeks before I planned to be there, described what I had in mind, and we went from there.  Colby set up the appointment and drew up the center piece, the three blooming flowers {carnation, chrysanthemum, and marigold}.  I'd given him a deposit so that he didn't invest the time into the design when he didn't really know if I'd show, as we'd never met, let alone worked together before.

I was a tad late {this never gives a good impression, so I advise against this}, because I had shown up way early, before the shop was open and went next door to kill some time.  The pedicure took more time than I thought, so I was about twenty minutes late, which I apologized immediately upon arrival for.  We got to work right away, discussing a few things like the vinework for the necklace, which he drew on me after he transferred the stencil of flowers onto my chest.  Then I perched in the chair and he fired up his machine and away we went.

There are many impressive things to say about Colby and the piece he did for me, including his method of tattooing.  I have had a few folks work on me over the years and never had I had anyone with a technique quite like his.  The biggest difference for me was that he dabs instead of wipes.  Wiping excess ink {and beads of blood, perhaps} tends to smear the ink and stretch the skin as well as fatiguing the muscles, especially in delicate areas like the upper chest and neck.  Dabbing doesn't irritate the skin as much and seems to actually use less repeated cleaning of the area, at least that's what it felt like to me.  I had never ever even thought of dabbing up excess ink and clearing the area instead of wiping it.  Due to the placement, it's not as tho I could really watch much of what he was doing most of the time, so I couldn't be sure, but it seemed like he was able to adjust his technique so that he had less ink to clean up anyway.

If you've ever had work done on your chest or neck, you might have noticed that you probably have more plasma seepage than a comparable piece on a less sensitive area like your arm or leg.  Since I have had a bit of experience with various locations as well as artists' work, I was not overly alarmed.  But I am very glad that I was able to get the above picture the following day, after I'd cleaned up the area but before it began to slough and shed.  You can see some bruising and swelling, pink, red, and purple areas; again, because it's a fairly delicate and sensitive area.  I can only imagine how much more irritated the area would have been if it had been wiped repeatedly.

I am hugely pleased and would ask Colby to work on me again if I were in the area and in the market for another tattoo.  I love the design, I appreciated his style and technique, and it was a rather enjoyable session.  I'm glad that the shop was a bit slower than usual, so there were not many interruptions; because even with the steady pace we kept, it was over six hours from start to finish.  Well worth it tho, wouldn't you say?

I also got together with a friend of mine from college, some 25 years ago.  It was great catching up with her and spending the evening over a good meal.  It seems like a life time or two has gone by since we first met, so many changes, relationships, births, deaths, etc.  It was a good time to look back on our own lives and decisions too.  The most satisfying part is that we are both good with where we are in our lives, and that's an awesome place to be.

Jerry and I took the bus and the tram several times over the week.  We revisited one of our favorite places:  Powell's City of Books.  A store so large and varied, ya need a map.

Jerry knew exactly where he wanted to go, so he wasted no time making his way to the gold room, on the first level, where the sci~fi, fantasy, mystery, horror, thrillers, and graphic novels are.  The room right next to it is painted in a coffee hue, which is appropriate, since that is the cafe.  I settled in with the few books I'd selected from the pearl area, on the third floor, on knitting and crochet.  My bergamot tea was perfect, as was the peanut butter cookie.  The woman across the table and I struck up a conversation as I was admiring her belt, a wide leather holster she wore low on her hips, with a pouch on either side, one flap was shaped into a leaf while the other was a rose bud.  The pockets were large enough to carry all her essentials, she'd said.  She had taken it off and spread it on the table so I could take a few pix, but my photo skills leave lots to be desired.

Also while in Portland, Jerry and I met with Donna and went out on the Spirit of Portland, a two hour river boat cruise.  There was a Tom Petty tribute band {Petty Fever}, food, drinks, and a few tour groups involved.  Lots of fun!  The people watching alone was rather humorous and I truly hope that I am as energetic as some of those dancing fools when I'm their age.  Tho, come to think of it, I already am some of their age and haven't got nearly that amount of energy.  The tribute band even had at least one tribute groupie.  It was our last afternoon in the area, as we left the next morning to continue our trip, turning southwest to the coast and following it down thru the redwoods.  More on that part of the trip, our third week, coming up!

14 September 2017

Craters of the Moon

Friday morning, 25th August, dawned crisp and clear, with a the Tetons to one side of us and the Snake River to the other.  We drove west on Hwy 26, heading across the smiley plains of Idaho, mountains pressing in from the north and south.  Our next stop was Craters of the Moon.

If you've never been and you're thinking about heading that way, you ought to make a point of stopping at the Visitor's Center for the Craters.  Most rangers and park staff are pretty knowledgeable about their areas, but these folks are passionate.  I'm not sure how long any of their assignments are for, but one gentleman who was holding a group of kids' attention was demonstrating how the craters were formed, I think he was a permanent, not seasonal, employee.

What was really impressive to me is that the same thermal dynamics that brought us this lava landscape eons ago also is what fuels the geysers today, hundreds of miles to the north east.  The fine blackened grit that stretches for miles is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  All sorts of rock formations are accessible off various driveable loops.

I was amazed at the variety of vegetation growing amongst the rocks.  Bright splashes of reds, yellows, and oranges brilliantly were showcased against black mounds.  Altho I didn't see any animal life, I have no doubt that pika, rabbits, and grouse make their homes there.  It was well worth the few hours we spent rambling about.

Then we headed farther west, pushing on into Oregon.  My brain was full of all the sights we'd seen, all the wildflowers, the fields, the plains, the mountains, the red, browns, sand, black, and orange hills.  I thought of all the animals we watched cross roads and valleys and climb mountains, the elk, deer, goats, and tiny quick lil chimunks.  So many birds, from the tiny sparrows to the huge crows.  I was ready for a bit of a rest, to stay in one place for a few days, catch our breath and process the vast variety of the first part of the trip.  In short, I was ready to visit with Daughter Donna for awhile, in Portland, Oregon.

YELLowstone and the Grand Tetons

Hwy 212 arcs up into Montana, down past Red Lodge, and then zigzags thru Devil's Pass into Wyoming.  As you can see from the map's screenshot, the road is full of switchbacks and tight curves.  What you don't see is that the views are breathtaking, because you are going up, and up, and up and then down, and up and up and up, and then down, and then up  and up and oh hey! is that snow and ice in August, why, yes, it is! and up again.  There were a few good spots to pull over and enjoy the view, both going up and up and coming back down on the other side of multiple peaks.  Perhaps this view does more justice to the terrain:

Shortly after navigating all that, we entered the northeastern corner of Yellowstone.  Earlier this summer, Jerry bought a lifetime senior pass for the National Park system for ten dollars, and additional ten as it was bought online.  The price went up to $80 August first, and an additional ten if bought online.  Even at that price, it really is a steal, especially if you plan to see multiple parks with others.  The pass covers Jerry plus three other people, which came in very handy, as we ended up going thru eleven fee entrances for National Parks on this trip alone.

I hardly know where to begin with Yellowstone, it was simply amazing.  Some of the geysers and basins were sending up clouds of white billowing steam.  Others were pretty trippy in glorious multiple layers and swirls of color, from the minerals and sediments reacting with each other in the water and over the stones.  This was one place where I just gawked at everything.

It was sprinkling for awhile, but as the afternoon progressed, the cloudier the sky became.  We didn't care because life goes on and the buffalo roamed about the fields, the meadows, and the middle of the road.  There were young ones who didn't stray too far afield, sticking with their moms; but occasionally, you'd see one dash off, away from the group for a quick sprint and then turn and meander back with a sort of swagger.  There were a few traffic jams, as buffalo always Always ALWAYS have the right of the way, as well they should.  The huge beast can meander as slowly as he wants, take up the whole road, and we all are just awed.  I was watching some of the oncoming drivers as they passed us {because I could no longer see far enough ahead to watch the buffalo} and their grins of delight were contagious.  The picture that we'd taken simply doesn't do any of the sights justice.

Of course, we were able to catch Old Faithful, which was amazing.  Even waiting in the dimming light of dusk during the rain, the anticipation of seeing this for ourselves was thrilling.  At one point, while Ol' Faithful was warming up and spitting lil jets, about three feet high; I glanced to my right and against the dark grey sky, perched above a mountain top, was the most vivid rainbow extending for a good distance into the sky before it began to fade.

By the time we queued up with all the other vehicles leaving the park, it was dark.  Apparently the white SUV behind us was under the mistaken impression that there was plenty of room in front of us and swerved out to pass, directly into the path of oncoming traffic.  There was NO room in front of us, nor now was there any room behind us; but fortunately there is a lower speed set thru out the park and there was also a wide shoulder on the other side of the road.  But the vehicle still ended up going off the road entirely.  Sometimes karma is immediate.

We ended up curving thru the Grand Tetons, heading toward our airbnb for the night in Irwin, Idaho.  If you are ever in that neck of the woods, I highly recommend Buck's Gas & RV.  It is so much more than what you might expect of a gas station or an RV park.   This dude has a lil of everything you might need or want to fully enjoy the Grand Teton's and the Snake River, whether it is a canoe, tube, or bike rental or some snacks for your excursion or a good night's rest in a cute lil cabin for a reasonable price, this dude has you covered.  It's a one man operation, tho he does have a few folk came help him run the register during peak seasons; oh! and his name is not Buck, it's Sean, but he'll answer to Buck, I know because I called him that a time or two.

The place is sandwiched between mountain ranges on one side and the river on the other.  You can't get any closer to both the Tetons and Snake River than that!