<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 23
Little Log


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: In Our Own Backyard -- The Top of the Mountain

December 6, 2000

Home again, home again. Back to the cool, sunny days of winter in the San Juan Islands. Back to friends and family in the Northwest. Back to our house. It's good to be home.

Due to the fact that we took so much "stuff" to our Island thrift shop, I spent less time unpacking than I did when I boxed everything up. Still, I was astounded at how much "stuff" was still left. Had it somehow multiplied during our 13 months of travel? Or perhaps, our trip had taught us how little we actually need and use. Now we have empty drawers and cupboards, but I am noticing that, every day, more and more "stuff" is accumulating there. At this rate, it won't be long until we are right back where we started.

Somehow being away for over a year has stimulated a renewed interest in where our "real" home is. Several hundred islands make up the island group known as "the San Juans". Only the four "main islands" have ferry service, while reaching the others requires a bit more ingenuity. Each island has a different personality. Lopez, the closest to the mainland, is largely farmland, with a small village including some artisan shops, restaurants and a grocery store. Holly B's, the "best bakery on the west coast", according to the local folk, is located here. But be sure to visit in the spring and summer, since the owners are ski buffs, and shut up the shop as soon as the snow flies. Shaw, the smallest with ferry service, is almost entirely residential -- the only store is a small one run by the Franciscan nuns, who also serve as the ferry dock operators. The ferry dock on Orcas, the largest island, is some 10 miles from the main village of Eastsound, with its speciality shops, hardware and grocery stores. Due to its distance from the ferries and their tourist loads, Eastsound retains more of an isolated flavor than does Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island. The "Harbor" is located right above the ferry landing, and teems with tourists in an ever lengthening tourist season. In Friday Harbor, the county seat of San Juan county, are several grocery stores, two theaters, the medical center, and the Whale Museum. In this unique museum are displays of the marine life indigenous to this area. Huge whale skeletons line the walls and hang from the ceiling. There are detailed explanations of whale origins and whale habits. There is a thriving adoption progran, where individuals or tgroups can "adopt" a whale, and learn about the individual and its pod (family unit).

The islands are surrounded by large bodies of water -- Haro Strait to the west, the Straits of Juan de Fuca to the south, Rosario Strait to the east, and the Straits of Georgia to the north and west. We have lived here for a dozen years, and have never fully explored these islands. Indeed we had never done even the most elementary of exploring -- we had never been to the highest point in the islands, Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. Yesterday, we decided to drive up and see what many tourists have already seen -- the view from the top of the mountain.

We caught the Inter island ferry. This ferry follows a route from San Juan to Orcas, Shaw and Lopez and then retraces its route, over and over, every day. In the summer, it is a crowded ferry; in the winter, it is practically empty -- appreciated by those local folk who work on other islands, and enjoy being able to drive right on the boat with no waiting. It was a beautiful day, the cold winter sun made mirror images of the islands on the glassy, calm water. There were no stops between Friday Harbor and Orcas, but the ferry travels slowly, across San Juan Channel, through Wasp Passage and down to the Orcas Ferry Landing. 50 minutes to enjoy the scenery, look for whales and eagles, and notice some of the beautiful waterfront homes as we traveled along.

We drove from the ferry dock through Eastsound, and headed west. Five miles out of town, we passed through Moran State Park. This park requires summertime camping reservations, but today entrance gates with closed signs declared the camping season over. Here the road branched up toward Mount Constitution. We were tempted to drive straight up, but decided to defer until after lunch.

We were headed to the town of Olga, a tiny place, a collection of several houses and one restaurant, The Olga Cafe. The Cafe serves wonderful island food, all home grown and beautifully prepared. Located in the local artists' gallery, it is a popular spot; even though it was a wintry Wednesday, there were only two tables vacant. After eating, we retraced our route into Moran, and made the turn to the mountain.

The San Juan Islands are the last highest mountaintops of a sunken continent, older even than North America. Most of the hills the Islanders call mountains seem little more than gentle grades above the water. But it is 2500 feet up Mount Constitution, the highest spot in the islands, on a narrow, switchbacked blacktop road. At various spots, there are pullout areas where you can stop for picture taking, and the views are certainly spectacular. I have heard that those hardy bikers who make it to the summit of Mount Constitution brag about the fact for days, and I could certainly appreciate that... If I should ever bike up there, I would probably talk about it for the rest of my life! Up we drove, past the False Summit, past fascinating looking hiking trails to the top. Here we walked a short path to the observation platform and looked out over all the Islands.

The 360 degree marine view from the top was, in a word, breathtaking. Looking south, we saw the southern portion of Orcas with several lakes and visible hiking trails. Further south were Shaw and Lopez Islands. We watched a ferry make its way through Thatcher Pass, en route to Anacortes. We looked downsound across the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and could see the shores of Whidbey Island. Further south yet, Mount Rainier, loomed in the distance, seeming far closer than the nearly 100 miles away it actually is. To the west, we could see San Juan Island and Friday Harbor. We picked out the Cape where we live, and some of the smaller islands surrounding San Juan Island. Past the Island, we would have been able to see Vancouver Island, except for a fog bank extending down Haro Strait. To the north, we could see the tops of the Canadian Gulf Islands and the snow capped mountains of British Columbia . To the east, Mount Baker and the North Cascade Mountains shone white in the winter sun. Looking down, we could see -- nothing.

The Straits of Georgia were completely shrouded in fog. Billows of greyish -white hid the water and the few small islands we knew were there. As we watched, fog tendrils curled around the south end of the island and started up toward Eastsound, slowly devouring Orcas Island.

It was time to go while we could still see the road. We descended through a layer of fog and came out under it, into an afternoon of cool cloudiness. Even with a stop for a bit of Christmas shopping in Eastsound, we still had plenty of time to catch the ferry back to Friday Harbor.

We plan to travel south once again just after New Year's Day. But in the meantime, it is great to be able to explore in our own "backyard". We look forward to other trips like this -- right here at home.

Postcard: As the Horse to the Barn

November 5, 2000

The Palm Springs area doesn't yet know that winter is approaching. We spent a week at Emerald Desert, enjoying warm days and balmy evenings, swimming laps in the large, kidney shaped pool (its hard to swim laps in a kidney shaped pool) and bicycling all around the area.

Then it was off to "jail" for Missy while we attended the ARVC meeting in Anaheim. Leaving the coach in Palm Desert proved an excellent idea. There are good RV parks in Orange County, but driving into that urban area is enough to test the mettle of any driver. It's much easier (though still nerve wracking) in a car.

Arriving at Disneyland, we found the whole area under construction. It was just about impossible to get anywhere without detouring through parking lots, or down one way alleys the wrong way dodging trucks and avoiding large mounds of construction debris. All the more reason not to have the coach -- we even decided that, once we were parked in the hotel lot, we wouldn't move the Jeep even one foot until it was time to leave.

We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, complete with statues of Mickey and Minnie, stores selling all sorts of souvenirs and a "real" live Goofy walking around. Goofy has a restaurant here, so spends a lot of time strolling the grounds, smiling at kids, getting his picture taken, and signing autographs -- in fact, doing everything but talking. Nary a peep is allowed.

Three separate towers make up this Hotel. The towers ring a large area of shops, restaurants and two swimming pools. The larger of these is a kid's delight -- you can swim to an "island" where there is a pirate ship to explore (except for the sign reading, "please keep off"), and splash back into the water on a Little Mermaid water slide. When you get hungry, you can choose among Hooks Pointe Restaurant, Croc's Bits and Bites, or Goofy's All You Can Eat Buffet. Everywhere you turn, you see shops selling Disneyland memorabilia. Tom took off to attend a meeting, and I did some early Christmas shopping for the grandkids. Stored my purchases in our room, and then I went to find him.

Easier said than done. His meeting room was on the lower level of the hotel, but I couldn't find the stairs. Ah hah! I'd just ask Goofy, he must know the area very well. Goofy was sitting on a couch being photographed by a group of Japanese tourists, when I approached.

"Goofy, can you show me the stairs down to the lower level?" Goofy scratched his head, then beckoned me to follow. He led, I trailed behind, and we made our way across the lobby, stopping at every child or adult who smiled at him. We got half way across the room, when Goofy looked at me, scratched his head again, and stretched his hands out, palms up, in the manner of one who is completely lost. Then he pointed at a man re-arranging a large bouquet of flowers. I was to ask him where the meeting rooms were. Goofy hadn't the slightest idea. But by now, the meetings were due to be over, so I retraced my steps to the reception area, and very shortly, there came Tom.

Two days in Disneyland sped by, we returned to Emerald Desert and bailed Missy out from jail. We had discussed staying just one more day in the warmth of the desert, but when we awoke the next morning, there was no doubt. We were headed to the barn. We figured we could get to Bakersfield in time to see the second half of the college games, and be on our way. We were so early that we bypassed Bakersfield and went all the way to Tulare before stopping, and still saw our favorite games. And this same pattern has proved the case each day -- up and off early, each day driving 50 to 100 miles further than planned. Tulare, Redding, Albany and Anacortes and -- and finally onto the ferry bound for our very own San Juan Island home.

Home after 389 days on the road. Time to unpack all the stuff I carefully packed up more than a year ago. Time to find the linens, silverware and plates. Time to put the pictures back on the walls and turn the house back into our home. Time to visit with our Island friends and neighbors, to recount our year's adventures. Time to plan holiday "doings" on Island and with our kids. And, probably sooner than we now think possible, time to plan our next RVing adventure.

Postcard: To Red Rock Country

October 19, 2000

We long ago discovered that we are "fair weather" travelers. If the temperatures threaten to dip below freezing, it means we have made an error - an error in direction, and need to head south. If it becomes uncomfortably warm, we head to a higher elevation. Torrential downpours are best handled by either waiting them out or by driving directly into them -- our theory being that you can get to the other side of a rainstorm faster by driving into it. For the last week, we have had all our theories tested.

While we did see a lot of the balloon fiesta, one full night of steady rain turned the parking lot into an adobe mud quagmire. However, the following days were dry and quite cool, and we didn't think we would have any problem pulling out when it was time to leave. Our neighbors on either side pulled out onto the main road without problem. But when it came time for us to go, we rolled forward about 8 inches and sank into the mud. The rain had saturated the ground right under our coach. The helpful Albuquerque contingent was there to dig us out, however, and we were on our way -- headed south.

We had planned on going north to Santa Fe and Taos, then back into southern Utah, but unusually cold temperatures (highs in the 30's) dissuaded us. Now the warmth of Tucson and Phoenix seemed just about perfect. We spent the night at the RV Docks in Las Cruces, and then headed west. Tom drove first as is usual for us, and the weather was fine -- overcast, but dry. When it was my turn, the heavens opened up. Large lakes appeared on the Interstate, and the passing trucks sent up curtains of water, necessitating the fastest speed for the wipers and a reduced one for the coach. About 70 miles of this, and I had had enough. Tom reassumed his place behind the wheel, the sun came out, the pavement dried and we proceeded into Tucson.

Warm and sunny here for 2 days, and then it started getting -- for us -- too hot. (Are we fussy, or what?) We proceeded north to Usury Mountain County Park near Mesa, one of our favorite spots. In the winter months, there can be a wait of a day, sometimes two, to get a campsite in this popular park. Now we had our choice of places, and found a site with a great view of the Superstition Mountains. But the weather was in the high 80s and threatening the mid 90s -- just right for the local folk, too hot for us. Where to go?

North to Sedona. Only 100 miles north of Phoenix, nestled among some of the most spectacular red rock formations anywhere, this charming city has something for everyone. Luxury resorts and small motels, fancy restaurants and the only MacDonalds with teal green arches! We are staying at the Rancho Sedona RV park. Only .3 miles from town, we are nonetheless parked under huge cottonwood and maple trees, right at the edge of Oak Creek. The sites are widely spaced and nicely landscaped, all with gravel parking pads and cement patios. When we checked in, Ros Cady, staffing the office, gave us a list of "things to do and places to see", south, west and north of town. She even shared her favorite lunch spot -- the Sedona Airport Restaurant. My chicken cashew croissant was delicious, and Tom raved about his fajita salad.

After lunch we watched as a couple took a biplane tour of the town and surrounding countryside. The tourists sat in the front compartment of the bright yellow plane, the pilot in the rear. All wore helmets and goggles reminding me of Snoopy, fighting the Red Baron from the top of his doghouse. There are several ways to tour the rock formations in this area. If a biplane is not to your liking, you can take a helicopter tour. If the ground is where you'd rather be, several companies have jeep excursions into nearby spectacular canyons. Or you can drive yourself on one of Sedona's paved scenic drives.

On our way back to the park, we stopped at Airport Mesa, another of Ros' recommendations. At the top of the mesa was a man from Colorado on his annual pilgrimage to the "vortex". He claimed to have touched the elemental power emanating from the earth on a hiking excursion at Cathedral Rocks. He had climbed into Cathedral Rocks and was sitting, eyes closed, when suddenly everything turned brilliant red. This, he explained, is the most basic step of "touching " the power of the vortex. Afterwards, he felt filled with energy, and the leader of his climb was impressed by this much energy in the (then) 57 year old man. While this formation is several miles from where we were standing, he said that this power should also be accessible here.

By this time, there was another couple on top of the mesa with us. The man from Colorado very politely asked all of us if we would mind if he sang a little bit -- something he felt impelled to do just by being atop the mesa. Of course we would not mind, and he chanted a psalm in Hebrew.

This morning, we took our jeep up Schnebly Hill Road. This road is extremely rough, and requires high clearance -- definitely best with 4 WD. About 5 miles up the road, we came upon Merry-Go-Round Rock. Aptly named, this is a huge round rock formation, almost qualifying for hill status. Climbing up, we had a fabulous view of the surrounding area, red rocks towering over green pinyon pines, and back down the valley to Sedona.

After breakfast, we got out our much worn map of Arizona, and decided to loop south on 89A to Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome. About 15 years ago, we drove our Winnebago through Jerome and swore never to do that again -- the streets of this little mining town are steep and impossibly narrow with cars parked on each side of the road, and sharp turns at every corner. But for the Jeep, this was a nice afternoon drive.

West of Cottonwood, en route to Clarkdale, we stopped at the Tuzigoot National Monument. We toured the small museum, and walked through the preserved ruins of a pueblo. From 1125 to the early 1400s, this was the home of the Sinagua people, (Spanish for "without water"). The Sinagua lived in large pueblos, often on hilltops or in cliffs. This must have been a perfect place for these people, cooler than the harsh deserts to the south, warmer and more protected than the mountains to the north, but, sometime in the early 1400s, they simply abandoned the entire valley. No one knows why, perhaps conflict with other tribes, but the survivors were probably absorbed into the northern pueblos.

On we went to Clarkdale, a small mining town now best known as the terminus of the Verde Canyon Railroad. The train runs from Clarkdale to Perkinsville and back -- covering 20 miles, on a 4 hour trip up Arizona's other "grand canyon". There are first class and passenger coaches, as well as adult, child, and senior coaches. Several cars are "open air", partially covered with jaunty blue sunshades. As we walked through the colorful station, busload after busload of tour groups was arriving. I had never heard of the Verde Canyon Railroad before, but obviously, I am among the very few who had not.

Arriving in the historic mining town of Jerome, we found a place to park the car (not an easy task), and walked around a few of its narrow streets. We did note one tour bus, and didn't envy its driver a bit! We saw the Ladies Jail, located in the Cribs area, one of the oldest brothels in the west, and Husbands Alley, the path used by "the town gentlemen who wished to be discreet"! Then we headed back.

While Tom was getting the daily email, I explored some of the shops lining the streets of Sedona. You can buy Navajo rugs, pueblo pottery, and original art work. The stores at Tlaquepaque were exceptional. This is a 35 store market place, which you enter by driving through narrow passageways in the encircling stone wall. I came into the courtyard, parked, and walked through the stores, each one beautifully laid out in three separate colonnades. No T-shirts here, but original art works, jewelry and clothing. There are several restaurants in the market which enticed me to make evening dinner reservations.

Tomorrow, we head west again, in the general direction of Los Angeles and the early November ARVC convention. We have planned where we will stay for the next few days. But since we seldom travel in a straight line, or get anywhere in a hurry, the predicted unsettled weather will no doubt again influence the routes we'll travel.

Postcard: The Balloons Go Up!

October 9, 2000

On to Albuquerque. We had heard that New Mexico road construction was particularly bad on Interstates 25 and 40 -- and where they cross was a particular challenge. So we came in from the northwest, via Farmington, and then down highway 44 to the Albuquerque area. The route showed -- on the map -- that it was a four land road for all of its 185 miles. Piece of cake! Unfortunately, the map did not show that there was construction here also -- for a virtually uninterrupted 121 of those miles. For mile after endless mile there was not even a turn out where we could change drivers or take a break. Just a narrow, shoulderless strip of concrete, just wide enough to accommodate our coach, along which Tom steered the rig. The only real problem came when, with no warning, a truck, seemingly propelled by half a mobile home, came hurtling around a corner, taking up all of his side and a good portion of ours. We came practically to a halt on what shoulder there was, and the truck with his half house whistled on by.

As we approached Albuquerque, it seemed as if half the traffic was other RVs -- all heading in the general direction of the Fiesta. As we neared the balloon launch site, we saw acres of otherwise open fields, but now vitually covered with thousands of RVs, all convened in anticipation of the week's events. We were extremely fortunate to be parked, along with 125 other Country Coaches, in a lot overlooking -- and immediately adjacent to -- the balloon launch field. When not being used for an international balloon fiesta, this area is the New Mexico Golf Academy, a huge grassy area dotted with raised parts which would be practice greens under normal circumstances. What a perfect place for this event!

At dinner last night, Harry Season, the president of this Fiesta, told us a bit about its history and what we might expect to see in the morning. The Fiesta started in 1979 with 13 balloons, and has grown (dare I say ballooned?) into a field of over 1000. Entrants come from all over the US and Europe and from as far away as the Near East and Belarus. There are balloons and balloonists from England, Ireland and France, from Norway and Sweden. There are balloonists from Germany and the United Arab Emirates. This is the biggest ballooning event in the world -- twice as large as its nearest competitor (in France).

The air currents here are such that the balloons can usually take off and land in the same area. They first travel south, using the cool early morning breeze flowing downhill from Santa Fe along the adjacent Rio Grande river. A few miles south the balloons add some heat, rise, and catch the higher generally prevailing northward currents back again. This round trip is locally referred to as flying "in the box". When the conditions are right, a balloonist can leave from, and return to, the same field. This morning however the wind was light and atypically from the west. Most of the balloons went about a half mile and were forced to descend into a nearby vacant field. But it was a show unlike any I have ever seen.

We wanted to be sure to get up in time to see the scheduled 5:45 ascent of the dawn patrol, the first few balloons to fly each morning to test the wind currents. We'd even set an alarm to wake us. That proved completely unnecessary: At 1:41 AM (by Tom's digital watch), a platoon of water trucks came through the massive empty car parking lot immediately behind us, noisily dampening the dusty surface. At precisely 4:00, the crowds began arriving en masse -- again directly behind our line of coaches. We were treated to the sound of parking attendants directing them, "over here", "closer in", and even one attendant shouting to another, "isn't it great telling people where to go!". Doors were slamming every few seconds.

By 4:30, we were irredeemably awake, and there was really no point in remaining in bed. We quietly made some "inverter coffee" and headed down to see the activities. It was still very dark and quite cold; the only lights in the balloon take off area were coming from the many trucks and vans arriving there offloading their contents into their assigned areas. The field had been divided into scores of sections, each holding 5 competitors and their paraphernalia -- a car and trailer for carrying the balloon, its basket and crew, and the varous pieces of equipment used to inflate the balloons. The pilots of the balloons (all of whom are FAA certified), and the drivers of the chase cars (those vehicles which follow the balloon's descent to retrieve it, its basket and passengers) were attending pre-flight meetings, leaving the rest of the crews just standing around. Since they were not busy, these people were happy to chat with us about their ballooning experiences and about what we might expect to see today. The balloons would be leaving in "waves", the ideal being to set a record for balloons aloft in an hour. That sounded a simple goal, until I saw what happened next.

First, the crew had to lay out the balloon -- hundreds of square feet of nylon, with cables in order at the filling end. Then the pilot tested the basket's burners. Next the basket (heavy enough to require several men to move it), was tipped on its side, so that cold air could be blown into the balloon. When all was ready, two crew members opened the bottom end,and the filling process began. When the balloon was partially filled with air, the pilot began adding heat -- shooting jets of flame into the bag. As the air warmed, the balloon began to stand on end and the role of a third crew member became clear. This man had been holding a long rope stretched out beyond the balloon. The rope was be kept as taut as possible against the weight of the balloon. The balloon pull would be far more than a man could hold, but his weight and the length of rope would help insure that the balloon would not topple over in the other direction. I saw one man being pulled along the ground, his tennis shoes skidding helplessly as the balloon, filled with air, began to stand.

At 6:15, the dawn patrol, comprised of 12 balloons, took off to check atmospheric conditions and to stay aloft until sunrise. The pilots alternated short puffs of flame which completely illuminated each of the balloons, bringing brilliant bursts of color and shape to the still dark sky.

At 7:30, the first wave of balloons was ready to ascend. Even though the field is large, when the balloons are filled and ready to fly, many actually touch each other. When that happens while they're airborne, it's called a "balloon kiss". Now the "referees" -- in their distinctly striped uniforms -- came running out onto the field, waving their arms, blowing their whistles, and signalling to the crews of the waiting balloons. To the uninitiated, it looked like mass confusion, but it was all actually carefully orchestrated by the cadre of referees, who managed to get them safely airborne in rapid succession. As each one rose, its ground crews and the surrounding crowd gave a resounding cheer.

There was an incredible array of balloons. Most were the traditional bag variety, brightly decorated and often sporting a sponsoring commercial name or message. Ocean Spray, Chevy, Pontiac, Toyota, Conoco and Gateway Computers were all there. Wells Fargo was flying three this morning. But there were private entries also. One light green one had the eyes of an alien. Another, from Gallup, was decorated with Kachina figures. One plain black balloon had a wide white stripe and black letters, reading "Gen-Air-Ic".

Then there were the shaped balloons. Air Bear, (looking a bit like Yogi), "Off the Wall", (Humpty Dumpty tumbling through the sky), Garfield and Chesty, the Marine Corps bulldog, vied with monsters like the "Purple People Eater" and Norman the dinosaur. One of the largest of these was a huge dairy cow from Creamland dairies, who dwarfed Whooty owl and a rather vicious looking turtle. Standing in the masses of colorful balloons was like being in a forest straight out of "Alice" -- I shouldn't have been surprised to hear one speak. The entry from the United Arab Emirates was a huge tower with crenelated top and picture of an Arab sheik on the side. There was a huge tennis shoe, a Wells Fargo stagecoach and an absolutely enormous bunch of red chilis (which unfortunately was unable to lift off the ground).

Harry Season told me about some of the competitions which will be held this week. One such test could be called "drop the baggie on the X". The balloons will fly to a nearby field, descend as close to the ground as possible, without touching it (cause for disqualification), and drop a baggie filled with birdseed, and marked with a special bar code designating ownership, as close to the center of a large taped X as possible. Another "game", later in the week, involves flying very close to a 35 foot PVC pole. Attached to the top of the pole are the keys to a brand new truck, just the sort one would want for a chase car. Maneuver your balloon close enough to get the keys, keeping your feet on the bottom of the basket, and the truck is yours. But since these balloons are pretty much restricted to going either up or down, being on just the right wind current would seem to be the only way to win that particular prize.

Lined along one side of the field were two seemingly endless rows of concession stands. You could get breakfast, lunch or dinner burritos, baked potatoes, ice cream or chili. Several restaurants were selling soft drinks or wurst and German beer. For the pre-dawn crowds, the favorite fare seemed to come from the numerous stands specializing in breakfast burritos -- each claiming to be "the original". Pin and badge stands were very popular as well. Those '"in the know" line up to buy several and then trade them with each other. I heard one man brag that he had traded pins with the Swedish balloonists. T-shirts, sweat shirts, hats and jackets with the Fiesta 2000 logo were selling briskly to the estimated 150,000 persons crowding the area.

The weather is being less than cooperative. Strong winds, forecast for the morning ascent, fortunately didn't arrive in time to impact the scheduled events. However, they materialized this afternoon and have caused the cancellation of this evening's program. Since it is far from certain that tomorrow will be much better, Tom and I have devised an alternate plan -- we're off to Santa Fe for a day of exploration. By Monday, the forecast is for warmer, less windy and drier weather, and we will be back to enjoy more of the International Balloon Fiesta.

Postcard: Climbing the Grand Staircase

October 3, 2000

Escalante -- the staircase of the giants. A pathway from the Escalante River to the heavens, climbing a series of mesas stretching skyward. That is how it appears as you drive through this newest of national monuments.

We had planned to revisit Capitol Reef National Park, and drove down to the visitor center to get the "lay of the land". Touring the campground, we quickly discovered that we would not fit -- the sites are really most accommodating for slightly smaller rigs. Also, the campground was extremely warm this afternoon -- it is surrounded by red rock walls and the sun had baked the area to a temperature well above the posted 85 degrees. So we returned to Torrey, the small town at the top of the hill, where it was cooler, and more suitable for a 36 foot rig.

We spent two nights in Torrey. We had planned on only one, but the next morning, over coffee, we convinced ourselves to stay another night. Staying over was not an easy decision. We still had over 500 miles to go to Albuquerque. But our arguments, "we haven't visited Escalante yet, and if not now, when?", and, "we really can cover the remaining miles with little trouble" -- convinced us, so we signed up for another night and took off to explore Escalante. A day would allow us only to see a little of this monument, as it covers an area of 1.7 million acres, stretching from Bryce Canyon National Park on the southwest to Capitol Reef National Park and the Glen Canyon National Recreation area in the northeast. But a day was what we had, and we were bound to use it to its fullest.

We drove south from Torrey into the Dixie National Forest on Scenic Byway 12, rated as one of the top ten Scenic Byways in America. The day was glorious, not too hot, with only a slight breeze and full sun. The aspens shimmered gold against the darker green pines. The road climbed up grades of 8 to 14 %, almost to 10,000 feet, as it wound its way into the monument. As we neared the summit, we saw several hunter campsites, and as the day passed we would see the hunters themselves, as well as their quarry.

Over the summit, and down toward Escalante. The road wound south through vast expanses of slickrock, canyons hundreds of yards across. Looking down, (straight down in some places), I could see the canyons become ever more narrow, and the green of the cottonwood trees in the depths showed that there was water at the bottom. Slickrock is unusual looking -- Tom said it looked like a canyon which had been plastered over, the sides were so smooth. But on closer examination, this cream colored rock looked like it had been finished by a master potter -- with swirls and ridges, lines radiating out in all directions. Some formations might have been done by an apprentice baker, appearing as soft topped merangues, listing a bit to one side. In one area the slickrock was a mocha color, other areas were brick red. I named one group of small (6 feet or so) monoliths, "the graduates"; they were topped with squares reminiscent of mortarboards and set at jaunty angles. Other monoliths had lopsided mushrooms tops. Several columns were so close to the road that it was only a short walk to see and touch them.

About 40 miles south of Torrey, the road runs along a ridge barely wider than the roadway itself. On each side of the road were wide, slickrock canyons completely surrounded by mesas. As we drove along, I could only say "oh, my" and "oh, look". But Tom couldn't look -- this section of road sloped steeply (14%) as it descended into Calf Creek Recreation Area. At the bottom of the grade, a small RV park is nestled along the banks of the Escalante River. Too small for us, but being enjoyed by tent campers and small motorhomes.

Backpacking and hiking trails abound in Escalante, and this is considered the best way to experience the Monument. However, there are 9 Scenic Backways, some suitable for passenger cars, some requiring 4 wheel drive, which branch off from the main road through the monument. One Backway leads to Lake Powell, where it joins other roads leading back to the main highway. We chose to drive the Posey Lake Road to its cutoff with the Hell's Backbone Road, passing near the Box Death Hollow Wilderness area. Talk about picturesque names!

The Posey Lake Road leaves Escalante, but once you make the turn, there is no sign to tell you that you are on the right road. 12 miles out we breathed sighs of relief as we saw the sign to Hell's Backbone. Made a hard right turn, and for the next 11 miles, climbed a series of steep switchbacks, up over 9,000 feet. Here we saw the elusive "Hunters' Quarry". Around one bend we frightened a large flock of wild turkeys, all gobbling madly, as they ran into the woods. Shortly after, we saw first two does, then a herd of 6 does and one young (2 point) buck. I pointed out that this was a young buck to have such a harem, and Tom responded, "He's a fast talker"!

At the top of the hills, the road emerged from the forest and crosses Hell' s Backbone Bridge. Wow! On either side of the bridge the terrain drops thousands of feet. We could see the tops of the spires and the ridges of Box Death Hollow. Seen from above, the formations do resemble a backbone. Here Tom stopped so we could walk out on the roadside ridges. There are no fences, walls or warning signs here, and footprints in the area show that many people have walked where I think it would be foolhardy to venture. The only thing keeping one from walking out on the spires themselves is a sense of self preservation -- a very well developed sense in this trepid adventurer!

The road slopes steeply down from the bridge, and in a few miles we were in the farming communities outside of the town of Boulder. Stopping at the Coombs Site Ruins and Visitor Center, we walked around the remains of an Anasazi village, occupied from approximately 1050 to 1175. Excavations from the 1950s uncovered 97 rooms, 10 pit structures and thousands of artifacts. Inside the Center, there is an interesting comparison of the origins of the Anasazi -- one from the religious viewpoint of the Hopi people, the other from the scientific community -- the anthropologists of Utah State.

Back over the mountains to Torrey and the coach. We climbed only a part of the Grand Staircase on this very full day, and look forward to a return visit. I'd like to take the Burr Trail Scenic Backway to Hall's Crossing on Lake Powell. The John Atlantic Burr Ferry waits for us there. Tomorrow, we're off to Albuquerque.

Postcard: Fail-safe Failure -- or -- "We Go Where We're Towed"

September 28, 2000

We had quite an extensive list for the service folks at Country Coach at our scheduled year-end service appointment. Several items were new features that after a year we decided we'd like to add; and one warranty item required the coach to stay overnight in the service bay. That was more than fine with me, as it meant an overnight on the Oregon Coast at Bandon. After 5 1/2 days in service, we were off toward Albuquerque and the Balloon Festival.

We drove from Eugene to Bend and headed east on Highway 20 to Burns. We thought we would stop in Boise and then to drive the Interstate through Utah and into New Mexico. The automap program told us that it was around 1500 miles to Albuquerque, and we had 10 days to get there. At 150 miles a day average, an easy trip. But that computation assumed a consistently southeastward direction, and the fates had something else in store for us.

During our RVing travels, we've noticed tow vehicle license plates and bumper stickers. The plates say everything from "toad" to "me too". One popular bumper sticker reads, "I go where I'm towed". Maybe we need one of those for our coach. When I turned on the coach this morning to activate the slide, I noticed a new warning light on the dash, "Engine Maintenance". The light went out as we drove down the road -- for 7 miles. Then warnings spread across the board "Engine Maintenance" and then, "Stop Engine". We couldn't stop in the middle of the road, and before we could find a place to pull off, the computer shut the engine down. Tom found himself coasting toward the side of this nearly shoulderless two lane highway. On went the emergency flashers on both coach and Jeep. We quickIy disconnected the Jeep, and I drove ahead about 300 yards and found a track leading off the road into a cow pasture. The ground seemed firm enough to hold a coach. Not far, but it took Tom 3 tries to get there. The motor would start, the coach would crawl 50 yards or so, and the computer would shut off the engine again. The computer knows best!

Once off the road, we got out the cell phone (whatever did people do before cell phones?) and called the Affinity RV Emergency Road Service for towing. Tom talked to Jim, dispatcher for road service, located in Camarillo, CA, -- Great Land of the Interstates. We told him we were 7 miles east of Burns, Oregon on highway 20. Jim, the quintessential Southern Californian, had heard of Oregon, but never of Burns, and had a terrible time realizing that we weren't on "Interstate 20". But finally we made him understand where we were. Tom described the scene: "We'll be easy to spot because we can see at least three miles in each direction, and there's nothing here but sagebrush and cattle". Jim apparently began to visualize the scene, and he contacted a towing company in Bend -- now 140 miles behind us, but apparently still the closest city which had a Cummins service center. If we had been 50 miles or so farther east, we would have been towed to Boise, the direction we wanted to go.

Nothing to do but wait for our tow. Jim had told us that it would be 2 hours, but we knew that a 140 mile drive on this decidedly non-Interstate route would take a lot longer. So we spent an hour or two exploring some of the Burns countryside we had missed before. This is incredible country.

South and east of Burns is the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. This is a favorite spot for birders during the migration seasons. The mountains of southeastern Oregon have reportedly terrific hunting, and judging from the number of campers, pickups carrying ATV's, and motorhomes on the road today, it will be a busy season. We stopped by Crystal Crane RV park, situated just outside the reserve. This is an unusual RV park in that it has its own hot spring lake, 100 feet across, 14 feet deep in the center, with a constant temperatures of 100 degrees. The owner of the park recommended an evening float in one of their tubes, enjoying the warm water and watching the stars. Sounds intriguing.

Around noon, down the road came a huge orange truck -- Consolidated Towing to the rescue! With great grins and warm feelings we greeted our rescuer Russ Mahaney, a most cheerful and confident fellow who had obviously done all this before. But there was one immediate problem: We had driven off the road onto a narrow dirt driveway forwards, since there was not enough power to turn around and back in. Now it seemed that, over the past three hours, we had lost even more power. This time, the computer wouldn't let us go more than a few feet without shutting down. Tom was able to back the coach almost to the road -- but no more. In front of the coach there was only about 25' of space between the coach and the pasture's wire fence -- which had one of those traditional ranch style barbed wire gates held closed with a stick and a piece of wire. Undaunted by what seemed at first as an impossible situation, Russ pried the gate to the pasture open, squeezed his large truck around the coach, and drove it in with the cows. Then he backed up, hitched up to the coach and backed the whole combination onto the road. All this while, cars were attempting to pass us. Most were courteous, slowing and driving on the other side of the road, but there are always a few!. One idiot even tried to pass a truck, while it was passing us well over the center line.

Once out on the road, and protected by cones and flashing lights, Russ disconnected the drive shaft, tied up the mud guard at the back of the coach, hooked up a second set of lights, and we were off toward Bend. Between first call to the towing service and our final arrival back in Bend, we'd consumed a bit more than eight hours; but everything had been handled both professionally and as promptly as possible under these rather challenging circumstances. No wonder folks at Cummins recommend Consolidated if you are broken down in this part of the country -- they apparently do all the towing work for Beaver Coaches in Bend, and Russ seemed to know all the tricks of preparing for and towing a 15 ton motorhome.

Cummins Northwest is located right on Highway 97 in the middle of Bend. Conveniently located for this business, but not the best place for spending the night, with trucks roaring past on the highway, and others being hammered on, welded on and generally banged upon by the night shift. But just down the street are several motels, and some very nice restaurants. We felt that we endured enough this day to justify a night out, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

This morning, the rig has been fixed. As we'd suspected, a small piece that looks a bit like a sparkplug and is supposed to send a signal to the engine's computer reporting on the oil pressure had been the culprit. It seemed like such a very small and innocuous part, but it had caused a very large, time consuming, and costly (albeit insured) problem. All this because there's no way to argue with the engine's computer when it believes a serious malfunction has occurred, and the engine needs to be shut down. But I guess the computer hasn't yet learned to argue with that little sensor that's sending it bad information either.

However, that adventure is now behind us, and we are once more driving in the intended direction towards Burns, Boise and points southeast. Off to Albuquerque!

Postcard: Going to the Dogs

September 17, 2000

We wanted to arrive in Junction City at the Country Coach factory on Sunday, to be ready for our scheduled warranty work Monday morning. We had spent a delightful weekend in Sun Valley at a family get-together, then traveled west to Burns. Following highway 20, we continued our westward journey through the towns of Brothers and Bend. At Sisters, we stopped at one of our favorite fish stores to get some fresh finny delicacies for this evening, then proceeded on across the Cascades toward Junction City.

About 20 miles east of Junction City, we passed just south of Brownsville. I got a glimpse of the historic town center, with its gaily painted houses and stores, and resolved to return to explore the town and see some of the covered bridges of this area. I came back far sooner than I expected.

As we left town, we passed a large field in which sheep dog trials were being held. Tom suggested that we detach the tow car right here. He would go on to Junction City, and I could watch the trials. He was concerned that there would not be any remaining room at the Service Center if he stayed. Once hooked up, he assured me that he would be happy to watch the Sunday football games. So Missy & I went to the trials.

These incredible dogs, border collies, seemingly read their handlers' minds . Each dog has to accomplish several separate phases of work. First the dog races 400 yards down the field, coming in behind 5 seemingly bewildered sheep. The dog runs back and forth behind the sheep, herding them in a straight line toward the handler. Using a combination of whistle and voice commands, the handler tells the dog where to herd the sheep -- whether to stop them or turn them, or separate some from the rest of the flock. Points are deducted is there is any swerving, zigzagging or other deviation from the near straight line. The dog must herd the sheep through two sets of gates, back to the handler and into a pen. The pen is only 8 feet by 9 feet -- small enough that the sheep resist entering.

This trial was a local affair, with handlers and audience all seeming to be old friends. At the end of the month, the Sheep Dog Finals will be held in Klamath Falls, for the 50 top dogs in the eight western states. These handlers were hoping that one of their dogs will someday be included in this elite group.

But our Dog Day Sunday was just getting started. Next Missy & I went into Brownsville to explore the little town. As we entered the town limits, I was intrigued by a sign announcing that today was the day for the "Bark in the Park". It took a while to find the town park, but we were rewarded with a super doggy afternoon. Here were the pets, dogs competing in categories such as "Longest Ears" and "Shortest Ears". There were ribbons for dogs catching frisbees, for dogs doing tricks and for dogs with no abilities whatsoever. Many of these pets were so excited about seeing each other that their carefully learned abilities went right out the doghouse door.

Another part of the park was set out for dog athletics. Several volunteers here were assisting the owners in getting their dogs used to the various structures. There were several hurdles of different heights set up for doggy jumps. There was a wooden piece which resembled a roof set on the ground for the dogs to climb over. There was a doggy balance beam about twenty feet long, six inches wide, and three feet above the ground. The dog should walk the length of this without jumping off. And there were the tunnels. These resembled the tunnels that toddlers play in, but heavily reinforced. There were short and long tunnels and one with a sharp turn. I was too late to enter Missy in any of the competitions, but she really enjoyed jumping the hurdles and racing through the tunnels.

Then we were off to Junction City and the Country Coach parking lot, where Tom had snagged one of the last parking spots. We will spend the next few days getting the last of the warranty work done, and then leave for Albuquerque and the balloon festival. It will be interesting to see how long we will be here. The Junction City barber at Kelley's Barber Shop told Tom this morning, (tongue-in-cheek), that he has a contract with Country Coach: No owner's service appointment will be completed until after the second haircut! Hopefully, this will not take that long.

Postcard: While the Cat's Away.....

September 10, 2000

Tom is spending a couple of days in Washington, D.C. attending a "first ever" type conference between and among various RV groups, park owners, and others in the RV industry. Tom's been encouraging these groups to "talk to each other" for some time, and I look forward to hearing about the discussions when he returns. But while he will only be gone 40 hours, (most of that time spent getting there and back), I have these hours to do "my thing". The cat is away and it's time for mouse play. What shall I do? Drive through the countryside? Visit historical areas? Go shopping? All of the above?

I started in Kelso, WA, yesterday, attending the annual "Highland Games" at Tam-O-Shanter county park. For this event, the park was divided into three sections -- one set aside for sports, another for dance and music and the third for clan activities. It was a cool morning, but even so, all the contestants in the "games" were dressed in kilts. (In deference to the temperature, they topped their kilts with sweatshirts, and it looked a bit odd to see a clan tartan topped with a "Go Big Red" shirt.) Their first competition was to heave a large smooth stone across the field. Turning like discus throwers, they launched the rock from shoulder height. This toss was usually accompanied by loud yells, grunts and "oofs" as the rock was thrown. The men seemed to be quite adept, with a winning toss of more than 40 feet.

They were not so knowledgeable about the second competition. For the first half hour, they experimented throwing a metal ball attached to a short chain. They began with the smaller ball which weighed a mere 28 pounds, then graduated to one weighing 56 pounds. First they spun around several times, and then let go, measuring how far the ball (chain attached) would fly. (Had I attempted this, no one in the park would have been safe!)

Across the park, there was a Scottish dancing competition. Both girls and boys from tall over the Northwest were competing. There would be four dances, danced by kids of similar age and ability. I watched as the 8 and under Beginners group performed the sword dance. Following this group would be the 9-10 Beginners and then the older ones, also Beginners, all doing the same dance to the same bagpipe music. When all the Beginners were finished, the Novice group would begin -- same dance, same music. It reminded me of the countless hours of swim meets I attended when the kids were small -- very interesting if you are the parent of one of the competitors, less so if you are not.

Between the sports and the dancing areas, various clans had set up booths. Each booth had its clan tartan prominently displayed and each had maps showing clan location. Many clans trace their roots to more than one area of Scotland, for example, there are highland Hendersons and lowland Hendersons. Many also listed derivative names -- you do not have to have the name MacIntosh to belong to the MacIntosh clan. One booth had several large books with hundreds of names listed -- find yours and find your clan. After searching, even if you could not claim a clan, they would be happy to make you a crest anyway. This festival was to continue throughout the weekend, but we were off to Portland, where Tom would fly east and I would continue my exploration.

We have driven I -205 around Portland countless times, and each time, we have noticed the building in Oregon City which resembles a covered wagon -- the visitor center at End of the Oregon Trail. Now would finally be the perfect time for me to visit.

I got to the Center, (exit 10, off I-205), and walked up a cement path decorated with footprints of deer, elk, horses and oxen -- the animals of early Oregon. I paused at the stump exhibit. So many trees were cut to clear room for towns that these early settlements were studded with stumps. They simply did not have time to pull the stumps out. When the winter rain turned newly cleared areas to seas of mud, the pioneers just walked over the mess on the stumps of downed trees. Portland has two names, one the "City of Roses", the other, less glamorous, "Stumptown".

This Center does not feature dioramas, as others we have visited, but has annotated programs every 45 minutes. Luckily, I arrived at the visitor booth with only 5 minutes before the next program was to begin, and would recommend knowing the schedule so to avoid a wait. We were ushered into a large room set up as a trading post in Independence, MO, circa 1852. Around the walls were boxes, bags and barrels of the foodstuffs the pioneers would have needed to set out on the trail. Our speaker, Trace, dressed as a pioneer woman, told us various stories of the Oregon Trail. If you had to pack a wagon, "as big as the average hall closet", what would you load for the trip west -- what items could and which could not make the trip? Every few minutes, the screen behind her would show a short film clip -- pioneers discussing their lives, the euphoria of getting ready to start out, the worries of what life would be like outside the "United States".

This part of the show lasted about 30 minutes. Then we were ushered into another hall, where a movie detailed the lives of three pioneers, one a farmer who had lost his farm in Missouri, one an 18 year old girl traveling with her family to join relatives already in Oregon, and one an older woman, wife of a minister, ready to convert the natives and ensure that the Oregon pioneers lived pious lives. From the celebrations at Independence Rock to a thunderstorm in the Oregon Cascades, we followed these three on their trip west.

Leaving the Center, I decided to drive around Oregon City. I explored two historic districts (there may well be more). In McLoughlin, founded in 1844, you can still see the many homes carefully restored and still occupied, painted in period colors, and each with a plaque giving the name of the original owner and the date of the house. Canemah, the "place of the canoe", was so named for the falls of the Willamette River, around which Indian canoes had to be portaged. The falls today give the appearance of being swallowed by the Blue Heron Paper Company, located in the center of old town Oregon City.

When the pioneers got to the Dalles en route to Oregon City, they had two choices of how to proceed. They could float down the Columbia River, a dangerous task before the dams of today calmed the waters, or they could take the Barlow Cutoff. This was shorter, but very hilly. The infamous "Laurel Hill" was so steep that oxen had to be unhitched to prevent their being run over. Then the wagons were tied to trees and slowly lowered by hand down this half mile slope. Just outside the Center, I saw a sign to this Cutoff, and could not pass up the chance to explore. Would it really be so steep?

The Barlow Cutoff begins in the Dalles and follows Highway 197 through Dufur and Tygh Valley, before turning west toward Oregon City, too far for me to drive today. But after 10 miles on this road, I could not imagine traveling it in other than a comfortable car. Steep grades and twisting roads forced me onward. I had no trouble following the main road: for several miles each side road proclaimed itself a dead end. Eventually, I came to the small town of Carver on the Clackamas River. Salmon & steelhead fishing reign here, with fishermen in river boats dotting the water on this Sunday afternoon. The posession limit is two fish and the fishermen were bound and determined not to come home empty-handed.

The other exploring this mouse wanted to do while the cat was away was to go shopping. The staff at the Portland Fairview RV Park, where we are staying, gave me explicit directions to various Malls in the area, and I spent a happy couple of hours, just looking. (The "just buying" part comes later).

Tonight the cat is due home. Knowing him, he will be full of stories of his adventures. I have had a couple of days exploring on my own, with lots of stories of my own to tell. I have had my "playtime", but this is one mouse who will be very happy to see the cat come back!