Stephanie is one of those persons who can fit a lot of words onto a standard size postcard -- usually by writing sideways, around corners, and even upside down if she can find some extra space. Most of these go to family and friends. But some of them -- those which document our RV adventures -- find their way onto this portion of our website...
Postcard: Bridges, Bayous and Beaches
January 24, 1999
We decided to spend another day here, and take a circle tour through Port Arthur Texas, across the Sabine River at Sabine Pass State Park and along the Gulf to the Cameron Prairie Nature Preserve. Then our tour would take us north to Lake Charles, and back to the KOA. We had a wonderful day.
South from Orange, TX about 12 miles is the town of Bridge City. My guess is that the name derives from the incredibly high bridge spanning the Neches River here. The bridge appears higher since the land is so flat here, but still our altimeter showed that at the apex we were up 200 vertical feet. However, this was not the only such span. After we managed to skirt (thanks to our Lake Charles/Vinton KOA host, Mr. Dupre') Port Arthur, there was another, longer bridge, just as high, crossing the Sabine River.
Once across the bridge, we found a nice county RV park, where there were partial hookups,and cabins to rent. The park had a great view of (1) the river, (2) an unending stream of oil tankers going upstream and down, and (3) oil refineries. This is oil refinery country. The flatness of the terrain is broken only by telephone poles and refineries. But after you cross from Texas back into Louisiana, the refineries largely disappear, and the rural feeling of the land returns.
Just before you leave Texas, you come upon the Walter Umphrey State Park. Here are several electricity only sites for those RVers who just love Texas fishing. The park was about a third full -- lots of people love Texas fishing. There is a pier to fish from, lighted for night fishing, and a boardwalk leading around the grassy park area. At one end is an observation platform, high enough for a great view of the rivers and bayous and the surrounding countryside.
The road narrowed as we crossed into Louisiana, and the refineries largely disappeared. The ground on the left side of the car seemed to be higher and dryer than the land on the right. On the left were homes built on "legs" to keep them off the surface of the ground. On the right was marsh, with tiny lakes and rivulets. Slowly the road swung right toward the Gulf, until it ran right along it. The beaches here have names like Gulf Breeze, Constance, and Holly. The sand is hard packed and used as a street for 4wd vehicles. Looking out in the gulf, you can see the horizon pocked with offshore drilling platforms. In closer, at about 200 yards, there are periodic rock piles -- bulkheads against beach erosion. Homes here again have legs, either for view or as protection against high tides and storms. It wouldn't take much to flood this flat, flat country.
We crossed into Cameron, LA on a ferry. Shades of home! This trip only took a few minutes, though, not the hour plus we are accustomed to. Cameron's economy is cased on a combination of offshore oil repair and shrimping. We saw several large vessels with incredibly tall steel "poles" sticking straight up! These are the support columns for the offshore platforms.They barge new stanchions out, and bring back old ones for repair.
Bayous. These mysterious waterways wind through all this area. The water is brown and brackish, but their names are beautiful -- Bienvenue, Lacassine, and my favorite, Queue des Tortues (which my high school French translates to line of turtles?).
The road turned north a bit past Cameron, and we entered the Cameron Prairie Preserve. We stopped at the Pintail Wildlife Drive, a 3 mile gravel road which loops out into the marshy area. Along this drive were several exhibits concerning what you could see in this preserve. And each time something was discussed, we saw it. The first exhibit was on Snow and White Fronted geese -- where they nested, how they traveled together, why they were in this preserve. Looking out into the fields, there they were. Hundreds of geese of both species.
The next exhibit concerned ducks. Species were listed, pictures shown, and there in the ponds, were the ducks. Uncanny.
But the oddest of all was what we saw after we read the alligator exhibit. Yup. Two alligators, quite large, one floating in some green algae, the other on a bank in the sun.
The Cameron Prairie Visitor Center was closed on this Sunday, but we did get to see the turtle filled ponds in front and the observation platform to the rear of the building. It would have been informative to go inside, but we had seen a great deal of this country on our tour.
Our plan is to go East tomorrow. We are Looking forward to exploring the Creole and Cajun parts of Louisiana, meeting the people and sampling some jambalaya, crawfish, etouffe' and all the local cuisine we have heard about. This is fascinating country, and we look forward to seeing more of it.
Postcard: The Creole Nature Trail
January 23, 1999
We are staying tonight in Vinton, LA at a wonderfully friendly KOA. When we arrived around noon, there was a sign on the door telling us to find a place to park and pay later. But we had barely pulled into our chosen site when the owner came by to welcome us and tell us what we needed to know about the area. We might have found the Creole Nature trail by ourselves; it is certain that we wouldn't have known as much about it without the help of Donald Dupre'. He unlocked the office, got us a map of the area and told us where to go and what to look for. I now know that you can tell the size of an alligator by measuring (!) his head -- the inches between the tip of his nose and the middle of his eye will equal the lenght of the 'gator.
We unhooked the fiver, loaded the dog into the truck and took off on our adventure to the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. This is a must drive if you are in the area. South of Vinton on La 108 to La 27, and head due south. Just before you get to the small fishing town of Hackberry, you cross the Intracoastal Waterway. There is a small parish (remember, we are in Louisiana) park here, where you could camp -- they have electric and water hook ups -- and is a wonderful place to watch the working boats on the waterway.
The land is extremely flat here, so even from a low bridge you can see forever. What you see is grass and water stretching to the horizon in every direction. Very few trees and no hills to break up the flatness.
After we left Hackberry, we saw a sign to Hog Island Gully. Just off the road, there is a small parking area. In the shallow waters nearby, we saw our first Roseate Spoonbills busily looking for lunch. In still shallower areas were Black Necked Stilts. The birds and the scenery are as different as can be from the Pacific Northwest, but fishermen are the same everywhere. The one we spoke to was after redfish. His bait was a good sized shrimp -- easily as large as those we had for dinner last night. And he was convinced that the fish had stopped biting just before he started fishing!
Next we were off to the Wildlife Refuge Nature Center. The Center is nestled under some great old trees festooned with Spanish Moss, and looks like something from a tale of the old South. Inside, you can view exhibits of the wildlife of the area, as well as pick up bird and animal lists. The main diorama features a man, seated on a bench, with a fishing pole next to him. Under his seat is a snake. Around him are various birds of the area. In the water is a redfish. Against the bank is an alligator. Push a button, and this ol' codger (wax) gets up from his comfortable seat, and gives you a talk on the area.
Then we were off the 4 miles south to the Marsh Trail. This trail is only one and a half miles into a refuge of 124,511 acres, the largest waterfowl refuge on the Gulf Coast, but what a sampler! We had just started our walk, when Tom pointed out a pile of sticks on the other side of a small creek. Looking at them more carefully, the eyes, tails and bodies of the baby alligators (about 6) could be seen. I never did see Mommy.The birding was absolutely fantastic. Great Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Common Moorhens, Coots, Pintails, Teals and Shovelers. Overhead a Northern Harrier looked for an unwary meal. I didn't even try to identify the smaller ones, except for one yellow rumped warbler.
We debated continuing on the fifteen or so miles to the Gulf, but decided to return to Vinton. We have some extra days on our schedule, and more beaches and bayous to explore.
Postcard: Biscuit Bake and Barbeque
January 20, 1999
We decided to stay in Bandera, TX when we drove through this charming town. Calling itself the "Cowboy Capitol of the World" it really lives up to its name. At one point, driving on one of the back streets, I passed the Cowboy Bar, with old boots hanging as decoration from the front porch. When I returned later in the afternoon, there was a horse tied to the front railing as well!
Even before we saw the town, we wereintrigued. Tom had received an email from an RVing friend from Bandera. To get on line,we tried two RV parks and a computer cafe, all to no avail. And even though the folks at Skyline Ranch RV park were most cordial, and their park extremely nice, the park is not modem friendly, and has no intention of becoming so.
That aside, as soon as we signed in, we were invited to a "biscuit bake". A what? You get a piece of doweling and secure a tube of stainless steel around one end. Then you buy a can (or more, depending on the crowd), of inexpensive biscuit makings. The more expensive ones don't stick. While a fire is getting ready, wrap several of the biscuits around the stainless steel, forming them with your fingers. Cook this over the coals. When done, and cool enough to remove, do so. Fill the hole (where the tube was) with any one of a number of fillings. Eat.
The RVers had brought all sorts of fillings. There were spicy sausages. There were several kinds of chili. I saw sausage gravy. For those who had missed breakfast, there were scrambled eggs with ham. Or if your sweet tooth was acting up, the sweet cherry filling and white chocolate pudding would be perfect. We are tempted to try a biscuit bake when we join our family at the end of February. It certainly was enjoyed by the park inhabitants.
Barbeque. Bandera is the home of Busbee's Barbeque. Owned by Joe and Virginia Davis, and featuring slow (16 hours) cooked, oak smoked, beef brisket, sausage or chicken, this is a great place for a first taste of Texas barbeque. You can eat there or get your dinner to-go. We opted for the latter, and came home with the brisket and sausage, Boracho beans and cole slaw. And of course, some of their oh-so-secret sauce. What a treat.
This morning, we tried the Old Spanish Trail Cafe (aka OST). This cafe is a candidate for Special Cafes. Its Western motif includes a counter of saddles along one wall. There was one absolutely enchanted young man trying out this kind of breakfast seating. There is a display of spurs along another wall, and the overhead lights hang from wagon wheels. There are two rooms, one of which is the John Wayne room. All sorts of pictures of the Duke taken from his many movies decorate these walls. Their lunch buffet was going to be set out in a chuckwagon.
After the size of the dinner I ate last night, I was not very hungry, but got one breakfast taco (wheat tortilla, scrambled eggs with one added ingredient) for $1.00. It was delicious and just the right size. There is a full menu for those who are hungrier. A definite "return to" place.
Now we are off toward Austin, Houston and Louisiana. Who know where we'll be tomorrow...
Postcard: Texas Trails: A Hill Country Loop
January 18, 1999
Every time we come to Texas, we head for the nearest Visitor Center. Here we get a state map and visitor book. The book contains information on the state -- everything from state parks to city descriptions. Invaluable. This book divides Texas into regions, and shows that we entered the Hill Country only a few miles east of Del Rio. The landscape didn't change that fast however. It took quite a few miles before the scrub desert gradually changed to chaparral, then juniper and oak trees.
It was a relief to see water again. Del Rio is on the banks of the Amistad Reservoir, but when I say water, I mean the kind that flows without man's assistance. As we followed the Texas Pecos trail, we gradually encountered creeks with water in them! Slowly the land "greened" and small farms became more abundant. The soil here is almost black, and looks like a seed would grow as you watched.
As we neared Brackettville, (the home of the family recreation center and movie set for John Wayne's "The Alamo"), I noticed a large ranch set flush along the road. The surrounding fence was extremely high. Set out in the brush were several "lookout stations" platforms built 8 -10 feet above the ground and painted camouflage green. A game hunting preserve? They do exist here. Ranchers breed exotic animals, and sell them for hunting.
Uvalde was our destination, and as it was only about 100 miles from Del Rio, we got to the Quail Springs RV Park before noon. This is a nice park, though not modem friendly. Tall oak trees are scattered around the park, and make home to lots of squirrels (Missy was delighted). Tearing her away from her rapt watching, there was time for a Texas Hill loop trip in the afternoon.
We followed the Texas Hill Country Trail north from Uvalde on Highway 83. We climbed only slightly, but we were in a different climate. Rocky rolling hills, scattered with juniper, oak and beavertail cactus. The ranches here raise goats, and sheep and advertise woolen products.
Near the town of Concan, about 35 miles up the road, we explored Garner State Park, (the ranger let us drive around without paying). Here are 500+ sites, with cabins and both enclosed and open shelters. There is a good sized visitor center, and in season, a Cowboy Theater gives productions. But there is no feeling of being cramped; the park has 1400 acres! The Rio Frio runs through it. this river is gorgeous, not deep, but a sparkling turquoise color unlike any river I can remember seeing before.
At the little town of Leakey (pronounced Lake-y), we turned west to finish our loop trip. The road became narrower, climbed up and wound along the crests of the hills. More ranches with high fences. More "outlook" stations for what can only be hunting. Driving along, Tom spotted an animal I have only seen in zoos -- some sort of African deer with two twisted horns sticking straight up from his head. He was extremely spooky, and bounded away quickly.
There were many flash flood markers as we drove along -- indeed, each dip in the road seemed to have a warning sign as well as a depth marker. This country is flash flood prone, and the signs warn against entering, telling the motorist just to wait a few hours, and the water will recede!
All to soon we were back in Uvalde. Our Texas loop was a wonderful taste of hill country, and we look forward to more such excursions.
Postcard: Big Bend Desert School
January 16, 1999
This morning, 20 "students" met with Park Ranger Gary Luce for a desert hike. This was no ordinary class, as this "instructor" was committed to much more than discharging asigned responsibilities. He was armed with extensive knowledge of his topic, and intent on making certain each of the participants would see this "subject" through the eyes of those who inhabited these lands so many years ago. Our "lesson" today was The Rainbow Seekers -- the story of mining in this area.
In 1890, two important discoveries were made here -- silver and lead deposits in Mexico near the east end of the park; and, almost simultaneously, mercury, in the western side of the park. The events which followed dramatically changed the area -- socially, economically, and ecologically.
In their heyday, there were four mines in Big Bend, silver at Boquillas, MX and mercury mines at Terlingua, Chisos, Marischal and Castillon in the National park. The remnants of these mines can be seen on various drives through the park. From 1912, until their closure in the 40s,the mines employed around 5000 people, either actually mining or as support persons (storekeepers, freight haulers, etc.). Today the permanent residents number around 2000.
The life of the mercury miner, as Ranger Luce described it, was harsh in the extreme. The mines were no more than shafts, with the men having to carry out the ore on their backs. For their efforts, the men were paid between 50 cents and $1.50 per day, often in the form of scrip, which could only be redeemed at the company store.
Unaware that mercury is poisonous, those miners who had to handle it experienced terrible health problems.They lost their teeth and suffered uncontrollable drooling due to its effect on their nervous systems. Possibly worse was the effect of second hand exposure on their families. At one time, it was thought that the soothing waters of the nearby hot springs would cure these men, and the daughter of the owner of the springs described the children as "vegetable children".
The ecological effects on the area were also drastic. The mercury was extracted from the rocks through a coal and wood fired process. This led to the eradication of many of the cottonwood trees of the area, and resultant loss of topsoil and erosion. There have been some attempts at reforestation, and some new trees are beginning to be seen along several creeks in the park, but the process is extremely slow.
At the end of our class, Ranger Luce showed another side of his desert knowledge. He pointed out some tiny cacti growing in the area, cacti new to me. I had never seen an eagle's claw cactus before, and certainly never a living rock cactus. This latter resembles an intricate circle of rocks flush to the ground. It has a beautiful pink blossom in season, and is one I will look for on subsequent trips here.
We are camped tonight at Rio Grande Village, on the eastern edge of the park. We are under a canopy of towering cottonwood trees. We get frequent visits from a small herd of Javalinas and a couple of curious coyotes. The birds are glorious -- including golden fronted woodpeckers and vermilion flycatchers. Roadrunners are everywhere; I almost hit one while biking around the campground. All this, plus the in depth look at the history of this area. As the Ranger Luce said, we are all "rainbow seekers"; my personal rainbow is the wealth of experiences gained from our travels.
Postcard: Traveling Texas Trails: The Texas Mountain Trail
January 14, 1999
After spending a couple of days at Voyagers RV Resort in Tucson, stocking up on groceries and recharging our batteries after three days in Organ Pipe, we headed toward Texas. One night in Las Cruces, to visit Mesilla and have dinner at the Brass Cactus Bistro, and off we go.
El Paso is not one of my favorite cities to drive (or in this case, be driven) through. Even though you travel on Interstate 10, it seems to take forever to cross town. I have never been here when the air was particularly clear, courtesy Cuidad Juarez. Put me down as a Pacific Northwest air-quality purist. But today was a relatively smooth trip.
On the other side of El Paso, we found ourselves on the Texas Mountain Trail, a much more romantic name for Interstate 10. For the first 100 miles, the "trail" crosses flat West Texas country, with only a few hills punctuating the landscape. As is true all over the Southwest, these hills appear to rise straight out of the desert, with no foothills at all.
There are few mileage signs here. When you enter Texas through El Paso, one of the first signs you see is one telling you that it is 565 miles to San Antonio. Then nothing more for 50 miles or more. My theory is that distances are so long in this state, that the Texans don't want to discourage visitors with the huge mileages. No news is good news.
At Van Horn, the Texas Mountain Trail turns south on Highway 90 toward Big Bend National Park. Now the road runs straight for an additional 100 miles between the Van Horn and Sierra Vieja Mountains on the west and the White and Davis mountains on the east. First you pass pecan orchards on one side of the road and Texas ranchlands on the other. 38 miles down the trail is the town of Valentine, population 217. The basic attraction here is the post office. If you want to mail valentines, this is the place to do it. Every year, packs of valentines are sent from all over the world to be postmarked Valentine TX. Competitions are held to see who can invent the most flowery postage cancellation stamp with the most hearts and flowers.
Now the road takes you through a land of scrub acacia and sparse grasses stretching out forever. The mountains recede into the background and eventually disappear. The land becomes drier, if this is possible. In this flat, dry landscape ghost windmills marki sites of phantom ranches. The road continues straight SE toward Marfa.This town is home to the Mystery Lights,lights which appear on some evenings. First reported by settlers in 1883, their origin is still unknown. Nine miles east of town is a viewing area, and often on clear evenings, people gather to see if the lights will appear.
Now the road starts its climb to Alpine. Here we leave the land of agave, yucca and scrub grasses, and climb into a more lush country of juniper trees. We are back in the "mountains", and will stay among these rocky hills most of the way to Big Bend. The Texas Mountain trail is living up to its name.
Postcard: Desert School at Organ Pipe
January 11, 1999
I sent our third-grade grandson, Tommy, a "snail mail" postcard today. In it, I explained that Grandma and Grandpa were not merely wandering around the desert southwest, but were actually going to school. And this is true. The rangers in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument give very informative "classes" on desert plants, animals and survival in this harsh climate. And what a campus!
Organ Pipe Campground has 208 level, paved sites set in the desert. Each site has natural landscaping of saguaro, organ pipe cactus and cholla. There are palo verde and ironwood trees at many of the sites. Around the "back" side of the campground, is a ring of low hills, all with hiking trails. In the "front yard", the desert slopes down into a lovely valley, with the Mexican border and the small town of Sonoyta, MX, only 7 miles away. You can get to the visitor center, where most of the ranger talks and walks take place, either by driving 1 and 1/2 miles down the campground access road, or by hiking the same distance on a desert trail.
Yesterday's class was on the kangaroo rat. This small mammal never drinks water, but is able to survive due to its physical makeup. It is able to condense water from the air, excretes little if any fluid, and is active only at night, when the weather is cool. One evening in Borrego Springs we were treated to novel evening entertainment from these cute little animals. They have long back legs and use them just like their namesakes. On this evening, they were after some bird seed, and would hop out of the bushes delivering karate kicks to one another. Then the winner would rush to the seed and cram his cheek pouches full before another rat could deliver a kick.
This morning, the class covered the plants of the desert and how they are able to survive with uncertain water. We hiked down a desert wash quite near the visitor center, and examined those plants, the ones most dependent on water, which live here. Ironwood, palo verde, and screw bean mesquite presented almost impenetrable fences along each side of the gully. Finding a way out, without getting quite badly scratched, proved a bit of a challenge. Finally, a service road appeared, and out we went into the flat desert. Here we examined the differences between the organ pipe and senita cactus, tasted the fruit of the barrel cactus, (somewhat citrus - like, but a bit astringent), and got into a conversation about the water problems of the southwest. Will Phoenix and Tucson get water from the Pacific Northwest? Will Dallas get water from the Great Lakes? Many of the lessons learned in this outdoor classroom are learned from your fellow students, who are from all over the country and often from many other countries.
Classes are conducted three or four times a day, and you can "go to school" for several days before one repeats. It is a great way to learn about this Sonoran Desert, its plants, animals and peoples, and makes for a much more informed stay at a wonderful spot.
Postcard: The Sentenac Cienaga
January 4, 1999
When we arrived in the Palm Canyon campground at Borrego Springs this morning, one of my first stops was the campground restroom. Not what you're thinking, but because this is where the weekly activity schedule is posted. Here you can find the current ranger walks and talks and the nighttime campfire get-togethers. What would happen Sunday, Jan. 3?
Was I ever in luck. At 8am, at Tamarisk Grove, a campground some 12 miles from Palm Canyon, was a bi-monthly bird walk. We would meet at Tamarisk, and then go to the newly acquired region known as the Sentenac Cienaga.
Last May, the Anza Borrego Foundation, with the help of its members and various $ grants, acquired 1,421 acres of desert. Once purchased, they were able to buy more land, the latter a circumstance where the seller sold a certain number of acres, and then threw in an additional number. Originally homesteaded by the Sentenac brothers and containing a large marsh, ("Cienaga"), it is know as the Sentenac Cienaga.
There were five of us; Joe and Donna from Borrego Springs, Carol from Portland, myself and Ranger Bob Theriault. Arriving at the gate to this property, we found signs indicting that it was closed to the public. Until various archeological groups finish surveying the land and collecting any pertinent artifacts, it will remain closed. Further, the State of California requires that potential hazards, (nails protruding from boards, open uncapped wells, etc), be removed or "fixed" before opening the land to the general public. And there are other considerations. Where should nature trails be placed so to minimize the impact of the native plants and animals? Where should visitor parking be located? Where should restrooms and visitor kiosks be sited? This new section of park is slated to open in the fall of 1999.
But Ranger Bob had permission to lead his 5 intrepid adventurers on an adventure into the new piece of park. The area was originally settled by the Sentenac brothers, Paul and Pierre, from France. It sits ringed by mountains, the Grapevine, Sentenac, and Granite. A cattle ranch dating from the late 1800s, you can still see corrals, animal pens, and several wells. You can find brush mounds, bulldozed to allow the cattle access to desert grazing. There is good water here; San Felipe Creek runs through this property, so there are many acres of riparian wetlands which attract myriad birds and animals.There is a great view of a portion of the Pacific Crest trail, right where it winds down into Shelter Valley. Shelter Valley has a story of its own. It is called "Shelter" by the real estate agents of the area, but to the locals, and on the maps, it is known as "Earthquake Valley".The Valley sits smack on the Elsinore Fault, a branch of the (in)famous San Andreas Fault. San Felipe Creek runs from the mountains and, in part underground, travels clear to the Salton Sea. The tamarisk trees found along its banks are not native, but were introduced into this area and are such water lovers that their roots drain ground water from any source. Thus these trees are slated for destruction, and while this will cause a short term "bulldozed" effect,, the future of the marsh will be much more secure. Indeed, there are expectations of a larger water area.
We were headed for Sentenac Hill, the hill upon which the Sentenac brothers had built their home. The trail passed through an alkaline area in which I would have expected to find nothing but salt grass. But here can be found alligator lizards, and today several Meadowlarks, a Says Phoebe, and one very friendly American Pipit -- a new bird for me, showed up.
We wandered up a small incline into areas of mesquite and creosote bush. Here were Song, Lincoln and Whitecrowned sparrows. We found scrub jays, a verdin and black-capped gnatcatcher flitting among the rocks and shrubs. A Virginia Rail called from the marsh. We arrived at the hill, and noticed the careful placement of rocks forming walls around the house (which has disappeared). Several Indian "morteros", holes where the early people ground acorns and other nuts into flour, gave the impression that this area has been inhabited for a very long time. From this vantage point you can see a lot of this land acquisition -- and you can see the road leading out of Borrego Springs. Today the vista included a very long line of cars returning to the San Diego area; school starts tomorrow, and they must return home.
We had to return too -- our 2 1/2 hour walk was looking more like a four hour tour. But I would not have missed a second of it. The birding had been very good, but the chance to see this new land acquisition before many other folks do, is one I wouldn't have missed for the world.
Postcard: RV'n Daddy's Day
December 31, 1998
We are spending the New Year's Eve and Day at Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert, CA. We had contemplated several possible spots for this last holiday of the old year and first one of the new, but this place seemed just right. The weather is beautiful, with highs in the upper 70s. There are swimming pools and spas for exercise, as well as a short golf course. Bike riding on concrete through the park and on the surrounding paths is right at our stamina level. But the overriding reason for staying here is that this is a great place to spend "Daddy's Day".
In our house, January 1 is celebrated as Daddy's Day. This celebration occurs because I am married to a football fanatic. Tom greatly enjoys watching almost any (college) game, and this first day of January is filled with football. So, many years ago, I decided that, rather than complain, I would make a ritual out of the day. Early on this morning, we turn on the first of the many parades. When the last band has marched in the last parade, we tune the TV to pick up every possible game, all day long. We have sometimes spent Daddy's Day at home or with relatives, where multiple TVs pick up multiple games. In our fiver, we have only(!) two sets, and here at Emerald Desert, we will use cable for one set, and satellite dish reception for the other. We will have our traditional huge holiday breakfast (the only meal until dinner), and watch football. And if I should get a bit tired of this, (which has been know to happen) I may play a bit of golf, take a swim or enjoy a bike ride. But that aside, we are ready. Bring on the New Year and its football games. Happy Daddy's Day!
January 2, we will leave Emerald Desert and head south. We will probably stop in Borrego Springs for grapefruit and some desert hiking, and then be off again, ready to see what 1999 brings for us.
Best wishes to everyone for a Happy RV'n New Year!
Postcard: Running the Gauntlet
December 27, 1998
We spent Christmas in Yakima, WA. The weather was "typical" Yakima for this time of year -- freezing rain. There is possibly no winter weather worse than this. At around 32 degrees, it isn't really cold (by Yakima standards), but the roads are sheet ice. Parking lots take on a blue-grayish ice rink tinge and traffic, what there is of it, crawls along. We are very glad we opted to store our fiver in Red Bluff, CA, so we don 't have to tow. Time to head south. But which way to go?
Last year, traveling in similar conditions, we chose to drive to Portland and then go south on Interstate 5. We wound up in a slow convoy of cars for 150 miles. This trip, we decided that snow covered roads would be better than ice covered ones, and decided to stay on US 97 through Oregon. This decision was prompted in part by road reports. We get these, by state, from the Internet. Washington's were useful. Listed by highway, the reports tell you if traction tires are required or advised, or if you must use chains. (We don't have any chains). Oregon has opted for live pictures of its mountain passes in addition to the road reports. These pictures take a long time to download, and don't seem necessary. We will take their word that the pass requires chains, we don't need to see it.
So, off we went. Over every hill we expected snow floors or ice patches or cars off in snowy ditches. But after we were out of the Yakima Valley, we found bare, dry pavement. No ice, no snow. We climbed to the summit of Satus Pass. No ice, no snow. We entered Oregon and started south for Bend. Not only no ice nor snow, but the temperatures soared to 50!
It wasn't that the weather wasn't trying. We could see the weather front attempting to cross the Cascade Mountains, creating fanciful shapes from the beautiful and familiar peaks of Central Oregon. But the only problems we encountered on our trip south were those in our imaginations. No ice nor snow anywhere on 97 through Oregon. None even where the Highway climbs to over 5000' as it crosses the flank of Mount Shasta in Northern California.
We spent the night in Mount Shasta City at the Tree House motel. Here we were told that, while snowstorms had been predicted, none had arrived for several days. Bad for the Christmas time skiers -- but good for the many southbound RVers.
Today we are in Red Bluff. We have bailed our RV out of the storage lot, washed the accumulated road grit from the truck, and provisioned ourselves with groceries. We are at the Red Bluff RV Park, one of our favorites. Nice level spaces, mostly pull - throughs, and of course it is modem friendly! The winter road conditions should be behind us now. Tomorrow we'll really be rolling south, with the guantlet of wintry obstacles -- real and imagined -- now behind us.
Postcard: Pictures -- and an Exhibition
November 16, 1998
Victoria, BC is 15 miles (for crows) from our home on San Juan Island. The city is one of our favorite spots to shop, eat, walk and generally enjoy. Currently, it is one of only two places in North America, (along with Boston), where one can experience an exhibition of the works of Leonardo da Vinci, scientist, inventor and artist. A perfect reason for a trip. Off we went.
I'm a shopper, and this city fills the bill. It really is a "a bit of England". There are shops featuring Irish linen, shops displaying Scottish tartans, shops which invite you in with tantalizing aromas of English chocolate. You can buy, (or just window shop), in stores which carry the finest English china. When you are tired of this, or it starts to rain, you can duck into the Empress Hotel for afternoon high tea served in a lobby set aside specifically for that purpose. Or you can tour the Parliament buildings, with its stone walls and verdigris towers, and feel that you are in London.
Even if you cannot stand shopping and the idea of high tea isn't "your cuppa", you will enjoy the Royal British Columbia Museum. It is located right between the Empress and parliament. Two of its three permanent galleries showcase the human and natural history of the province. A special favorite of mine is the First Peoples gallery, where you can see replicas of a ceremonial Big House, totem poles, and masks. The third gallery area features special exhibits at the moment, and until February 28, 1999, the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.
The exhibition occupies three large rooms. As you enter the first room, you note a mural portraying the daily life of an artist's apprentice. The younger boys are mixing the paint, the older ones filling in some of the background detail as they learn from the master artist. Leonardo began as an apprentice, learned all that his master could teach, and then surpassed his teacher. He was intensely interested in everything around him, and paid great attention to detail. The swirls of a stream are reflected in the swirls of a woman's hair. The musculature of animal's legs and human legs are apparent in his portraits. He drew human faces in such caricature that they appear animal-like. He became a master of "chiarascuro", a blending of lights and darks that softened the edges of his portraits and made them seem more alive than many of his contemporaries'. Since only 12 pieces of Leonardo's work still exist, most of the pieces here are reproductions. That aside, they are beautifully done, and give a detailed insight of the man, his time and various interests.
In the second room, there are many paintings and sculptures -- some "of the (da Vinci's) school of ", others copies of his more notable works, including the Gothenburg Mona Lisa. There is a bust of Christ as a young man, which may be an original Leonardo. You will find originals -- of other artists copying Leonardo. Since copying was considered to be the best way to learn the artist trade, this quite a compliment.
In his painting and sculpture, Leonardo was a master of observing and portraying life. However, he considered himself a scientist first, then an inventor. In an application for a position with the French Court, "artist" was listed 10th on his list of accomplishments. First on his list came military engineer, then architect and monument builder. A peaceful man living in a wartime era, he designed tanks, machine guns, siege ladders and covered rolling walkways to be used for scaling walls. More peaceful drawings include plans for a two level bridge, a pile driver and windmeter. His fascination with clocks is shown in the large display of cogs, wheels and time implements. In the third room, there are 25 models made using his drawings so you can "see" the working inventions. Several of these are "hands on"; the children at this exhibit loved to compare Leonardo's parachute with today's model to see which would fall the more slowly. (Today's model does, but only barely).
We spent 3 intense hours exploring the Renaissance world of Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibit does not allow for reentry, and we wanted to see as much as we could absorb. It was an thoroughly engaging experience -- one I would recommend to anyone visiting the Victoria area in the next few months.