<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 31
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: Fire and Ice

November 21, 2002

We had grandkid duties last weekend. Our daughter and son-in-law went to the football game -- Washington Huskies vs. Oregon Ducks, and we held down the Yakima fort. We enjoyed our small grandkids, and their parents enjoyed the weekend away, and the football game (Huskies won). Then we came home, arriving late Monday evening.

I unlocked the back door and was greeted by the smell of ashes. Not too pungent at first, but not a smell to be ignored either. My first thought was that a strong wind (a frequent visitor in the winter months) had stirred the fireplace ashes, and, without thinking more about it, I began to unload the car. When it came time to put groceries away in the pantry, however, I was in for a surprise. The pantry lights didn't work. Off I went to the fuse box, flipped circuit breaker switch "on" -- and it snapped back into the "off" position. Something was definitely wrong here...

That something turned out to be an electrical fire in the free standing, under counter ice maker. Pursuing the odd odor more carefully, we opened the icemaker door. There was still plenty of partially melted ice in the bin, but it was coated with a slimy black film. With the aid of a flash light we could see that the entire cabinet space the icemaker was in was coated with black soot. The appliance had fried itself, and only thanks to a circuit breaker that performed as intended, had we been saved from a much more serious disaster.

We tried to pull the machine out from its home under the counter. It moved about 4 inches and stopped. The water lines would need to be disconnected before we could move this smelly, dirty thing. I lay flat on the floor (also sooty), and unscrewed two exterior panels. Tom went to his tool box and found the appropriate sized wrench to disconnect the water line and drain. Then, and only then, could we wriggle the box out from under the counter, out the back door and onto the deck.

Having it gone only increased the smell. We found that by closing the door to the rest of the house and opening the outside door, we could cut down on the unpleasant odor, but it continued to linger throughout the evening. Our kitchen counters were dusted with fine black soot, and when I tried to clean them, the result was a fine black smear. At that time, however, it didn't appear to us that the fire had done damage in any more than a couple of rooms. I just didn't realize what problems even a small fire could create.

First thing next morning, Tom was on the phone with Pat at USAA, our insurance carrier, who was extremely helpful in organizing all the things that would be needed to get things back to normal. She lined up a cleaning service; and recommended a contractor, since it appeared both the cabinet interior and counter top were in need of some repair. We also had an electrician come and ascertain that it was the icemaker, not our house wiring that was at fault. Everyone was extremely helpful.

Early Thursday, we were greeted by Marisa and her crew of five cleaners. Now we would learn what damage had actually been done. Much more was involved here than I had imagined.

Any box of anything that had been open near the icemaker unit when the fire occurred had to be thrown away. Unfortunately the cabinets directly above the unit are a primary storage area for us. So....dump all the cereal in our cupboards, get rid of all the sugar and raisins. Any open paper product should be tossed as well. That meant a large accumulation of paper Christmas plates, napkins, paper cups and other holiday items would go. Opened bags of plastic cups joined the "trash it" list. I had recently purchased a three month supply of paper napkins from the local warehouse store, Costco, and unfortunately had just opened the package. Into the garbage the remaining napkins went. Could I keep the large, open box of plastic spoons, knives and forks, used for entertaining small grandchildren? Nope, toss 'em.

Once all these items were bagged in large trash bags, the cleaners started to work. Marissa sampled the walls and ceilings in every room to determine how far the soot had spread. Using a specially treated sponge on a long pole, she swiped each room upstairs and down, and found evidence of soot in all but one. It seems the stuff had been spread through our heat pump ducting system -- which meant even the ducting is now on the list for a cleaning. While she swiped, one of the crew began to wash, by hand, every non-paper dish in the house. Another started in on the pantry area, removing and cleaning all the cans and bottles, wiping down the shelves, replacing them and neatly rearranging their contents. Two began washing our walls with a special cleaner, removing pictures, cleaning them and rehanging them. Another was assigned floors, vacuuming and mopping. It was as if a highly skilled army of cleaning experts had completely taken over. As they finished the rooms closest to the source of the fire, they removed the window shades, and rolled up our oriental carpets. These were destined to go to the mainland where a cleaner awaited.

Marisa and crew worked, practically non-stop, until early evening. They are a great group, full of laughter, jokes and songs. Obviously they have been together doing this kind of cleaning for quite some time. They told me stories of fires where the whole interior of the house had been blackened, and they not only had to clean the damage caused by flames, but also the damage caused by the firemen in putting out the fire. I don't have any idea how long it would take to clean up after that serious a fire, as it will take them a return visit just to finish our relatively modest one. We can expect to see them again right after the Thanksgiving holiday.

They left us an odd looking machine with explicit instructions on how and when to use it. It's an "ozone" machine -- which somehow changes ordinary room air into a dangerous but cleansing gas. We are to enclose it in the pantry, put a towel under the door to keep the ozone out of the rest of the house, and turn it on for 24 hours. During this time, we, and Missy, must be absent. (Do I see a post holiday overnight coming?) When we return, we, (Tom, not me), must hold his breath, enter the pantry and turn off the machine. In 15 minutes, the air should be breathable again, and the smoky smell gone for good.

So now we are home, in a relatively smoke-free house, with no rugs or window blinds. We resurrected one old rug from the storage area under the house, and found another to use in the entry way. Our footfalls echo as we walk across the hardwood floors, and these echoes will only grow louder as we add kids and grandkids for Thanksgiving. But we were lucky; we still have our home, which we will fill with the sounds of holiday laughter and cheer. And a roasting turkey smells more delicious in a home with no rugs or window treatments anyway, doesn't it?

Our best to all for a Happy Thanksgiving.

Postcard: Geocaching the Desert

November 9, 2002

The end of the trail for now -- Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert, CA. A week in the desert before we take the jeep back north for the holidays. Time for a bit of golf, a few laps in the pool, a little collegiate football, and a lot of desert exploration.

We washed off the dust and accumulated travel grime from the coach and the jeep, stocked up on groceries and headed for Borrego Springs, 75 miles south. The road is almost all freeway now, we just drive east on Interstate 10 to Highway 86 and get off on the Borrego-Salton Sea Seaway. From there it's only 30 miles to Borrego and Palm Canyon campground. One word of caution, however. Whether due to seismic activity or just the age of the road, the first three miles of the Seaway is an undulating rollercoaster. Cars have little trouble with this stretch of the road; however, a longer wheelbase and you bounce like a rubber ball. 15 to 20 miles per hour, max. When the roadway changes color, it also smooths out -- but be careful on this first part.

Borrego Springs is undergoing one of its sporadic growth spurts. New buildings are going up around the Borrego Springs and Roadrunner golf courses. At the same time, the only feed and seed store has closed, as have several other small businesses. This seems Borrego's way; growth in one sector, shrinkage in another. Since the town is completely surrounded by the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, it can only change within its limits -- it cannot spread. That's one of its many charms.

We had heard that the Palm Canyon campground was no longer accepting reservations, and were cautiously delighted. Given our nomadic ways, we seldom know when we'll arrive anywhere, and the need for reservations can cause us some trouble. When we got to the gate, we found this rumor was both right and wrong. The bathrooms in the hookup area have been torn down and are in the process of being rebuilt, rendering the area restroom and showerless. While this process is going on, there will be no reservations. Next season, reservations will once again be accepted, and, since this area is so popular, recommended.

One of our favorite pastimes in the Borrego area is driving some of the many roads leading out into the desert. I take out my favorite tour book, "The Anza Borrego Desert Region", written by Lowell and Diana Lindsay. It contains detailed descriptions of various desert trips paved trips, unpaved trips and, "you darn well better have a 4WD vehicle" trips. A bulletin board in the Visitor Center carries a daily road condition report; check there to see whether the road is sandy or rutted, if you can use a standard car or need a jeep.

Combining the book, the bulletin and the fact that it had been years since we first drove Coyote Canyon, we decided to drive out through Desert Gardens to the First Crossing of Coyote Creek. Several years back, we drove our Samurai right up the creek; since that time, the area has been closed to protect the wildlife. This year, there is no water in the creek, at least in its lower reaches . It has been a very dry season in the California desert -- only seventeen one-hundredths (.17) inch of rain since July 1. The ocotillo resemble dead sticks as they wait for the next rainfall. Some of them have given up altogether and collapsed onto the sand. The lower branches of the teddy bear cholla have turned a blackish brown color, and it's hard to imagine them greening up. Yet I know they will, as soon as the rains arrive. The stone picnic tables at Desert Gardens were empty -- everyone's waiting for rain.

The Borrego Springs library has moved into what used to be a bank. The main book section is now housed in the vault, complete with comfy chairs for reading. The library now has 8 new computers, 6 available for hourly Internet browsing, one set aside for quick email access (15 minutes) only, and one connected for library information. We were after desert geocaches.

We have become geocaching aficionados. We love finding these caches of "treasures", which seem to exist everywhere. Here, in the sandy deserts surrounding town, 8 -10 caches were listed. One was located somewhere near Font's Point, an area described in my book as "one of the most popular places to get stuck in the sand". (The Visitor Center board today claimed that a standard car could drive it, and a group of German tourists even managed to get an RV out there). The Point overlooks the Borrego Badlands, a deeply eroded, wonderfully eerie area, and one where vertebrate fossils may be found. (Not kept, since they are protected, just found). Next we looked up the caches in and around Palm Springs. 25 sites sprang to life on the screen, some located in spots requiring strenuous hikes. Two turned out to be only 4.94 miles from our site #718 at Emerald Desert. We opted to return to Palm Desert and continue our geocache mania from there.

The weather was threatening change. Los Angeles TV stations were broadcasting "storm warnings". A major storm was due to come ashore in 36 hours. We'd try to find the Ladder Canyon Cache before any rain could work its way as far east as Palm Desert. Having hiked Ladder Canyon twice before, we knew it requires some hiking between very narrow canyon walls, and along arroyos -- no place to be in a desert storm. Off we went on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, one eye on the clock, one eye on the sky.

20 miles southeast of Palm Desert, on the northern edge of the Salton Sea, Mecca is the jump off point for Painted Canyon. Drive about 5 miles on a dusty road to the end of Painted Canyon, and you are at the entrance to Ladder Canyon. Park and walk up the arroyo about 1/3 mile to a small, easily missed sign reading "Ladder Canyon". At first you think the sign must be in the wrong place, that there cannot possibly be any canyon entrance in what looks like an impenetrable wall. Follow the footprints, though, and you will see a narrow trail leading between two huge boulders. We were there.

We climbed up between the rocks, down the first ladder and up the second one. As we squeezed between the canyon walls, so narrow we had to walk single file, I found myself hoping that (a) it wouldn't rain, and (b) this was not the due date for a California earthquake. Up the third ladder we scrambled and headed for the ridge. (We noticed that the first ladder, an aluminum one, is in need of some welding on three of its steps, and the third has no top step. Care is needed when you explore here.)

The pictures found on the Ladder Canyon geocache page proved very helpful. There are two ways to get to the top of the ridge, and by taking the right fork, we shortened the route substantially, even though making the climb much steeper. And when we got to the top, we could see where the cache simply had to be. Getting to it was more difficult, requiring scrambling across a fairly steep slope on loose desert rock.

We took a treasure, left a treasure, and headed back. By now we were hiking fairly rapidly, as the afternoon sun headed toward the cloudy horizon. Down a ladder, through the crevices, down another ladder, down again, up the last ladder, down to the sandy arroyo to the car, all in record time (for us). No need for worry, no rain fell. It looks like the rain is going to stay bottled up in the Los Angeles basin.

We had two more caches to find, and set out the next morning for the Coachella Nature Preserve. Today's walk would be on level ground, something for which we were quite thankful. After Ladder Canyon, our muscles welcomed the smooth, flat terrain here. There was one cache titled, "San Andreas" and another "Frog Pond" -- and both were in the Preserve. The first was quite easy to find, even without a hint or picture. Just a bit off the beaten track, right where the co-ordinates said it should be. I found a mystery I hadn't read before and left a deck of cards I found in a cache in Oregon. Those "treasures" can travel all over the country.

En route to the second cache, we met a couple of young men out enjoying the Preserve. They had never heard of this "sport", but were most intrigued with its clue, "look for the unnatural frond", and joined us in our search for a few minutes. I was way off base on this cache, and was quite far afield looking (cautiously, as I wanted to find a cache, not a snake or scorpion), through some California palms, when Tom announced he had found it. The "unnatural" frond had to do with its appearance, not its location vis a vis the tree.

Since he found the cache, Tom got to choose the treasure. Wouldn't you know it, he chose a large rubber, black orange and yellow scorpion! And for this we traded a miniature guitar.

Tomorrow we will head north to join friends and family for the holidays. The coach is going to storage here in the desert, and we will be back in late December. We'll spend a week or so here, and then head east toward Arizona. At least, that's our plan at this point...`

Postcard: Death Valley Day

November 4, 2002

When we arrive at an RV park, we seem to fall into a set routine. We park the rig and level it. We plug into the electricity, and extend the slide. Tom finishes the hooking-up process and goes to get the email. I get in the jeep and go to the nearest town. It was no different when we got to Lone Pine, the southernmost town in the Owens Valley, and the closest one to Death Valley. As soon as the slide was fully extended, Tom looked at me and remarked, "Don't tell me -- you're ready to go now." Since it was after 4 pm, I headed for the Visitor Center first. Groceries could wait.

It must have been a slow day at the Center. The attendant plied me with all sorts of brochures. I got the newspaper, "Visitor's Guide to Death Valley", as well as four additional pages describing day trips in the surrounding area. Lone Pine prides itself on its movie history; many movies, (mainly Westerns) have been filmed in the nearby Alabama Hills, chocolate colored hills nestling up against the Sierras. The volunteer could hardly wait to give me the handout containing a detailed map of nearby movie locations. You can drive to such places as the Lone Ranger Canyon, Hopalong Cassidy's (ambush) Rock, and both Gary Cooper's and Gene Autry's Rocks. A final handout was a map of the Mount Whitney area, showing the various hikes we could take into the high mountains. What to do first? We decided on Death Valley.

We almost didn't get away. There were quite a few attractions at Boulder Creek RV Resort. The park contains 55 sites, each landscaped to add a sense of privacy, a swimming pool and spa. Their clubhouse features Roy Rogers and Dale Evans memorabilia -- a huge ceramic boot on the stone fireplace and pictures of wildlife add to the western motif. Each morning, they serve fresh coffee and muffins!

Outside is a large cage with 4 white goats; we arrived just in time to watch them being fed. The handler put a little food on the narrow ledge on one side of the cage, and one goat jumped up to get at it. More food on top of a large wooden spool, and another goat jumped up. They weren't quiet either; the ba-a-as sounded loudly as they waited for their turns. Another goat kept butting the handler, who explained that he had to be extra careful around him. In another area of the grounds, 3 large California desert tortoises were being fed their dinner of lettuce, carrots and other veggies. After dinner, the tortoises were brought into the clubhouse, where they were put in cardboard boxes filled with shredded paper, so they could snugly hide from people and any cold weather. In another smaller cage, there was a baby tortoise. The manager told us his (or her, the tortoise is to young to tell), story of this baby. There had been several unsuccessful attempts to incubate the tortoise eggs, and one year, the manager was pregnant at the same time as the female tortoise. She really didn't feel like going through all the work included with incubation, so she left the tortoises alone. You guessed it! One of the campers called her to say that a tiny tortoise was crawling across the lawn (they immediately leave their parents). Now the baby has its own cage, its own shredded paper and its own place to hide. At one year (born the day after the manager's child), the tortoise is still very small -- no more than 5 inches long.

But we tore ourselves away from this interesting menagerie, and took off to Death Valley. Several years ago, we had visited the eastern part of the Valley, but had never come in from the west. We were off to the Panamint Springs Valley and Stovepipe Wells.

The road left Lone Pine and traveled east across a Joshua Tree studded plain towards some low hills. As we drove along, I noticed a small sign at the side of the road, "Cerro Gordo Mine Road". Reaching into the back seat, I extracted the descriptive page for the mines and the Ghost townsite. (I'm sure I got one of everything at the Visitor Center) The article began," The famous old Cerro Gordo Ghost townsite is now available by reservation". You can reserve a part or the whole of the 1868 townsite, including the 1871 hotel or the 1904 bunkhouse. Take pictures or collect rocks. The site contains "several hundred thousand tons of dump materials" from the mines. As we drove along, I attempted to read to Tom the names of some of the various rocks and minerals for which the site is famous. I stumbled on such words as bindheimite, cermrgyite and tetrajymite, prompting him to remark that all these minerals sounded like "things that would render Superman powerless".

About 30 miles further east, we got our first glimpse into the Panamint Valley. The road passed "Rainbow Canyon", where exposed rock walls of blue and black are interspersed with red and red/orange streaks. Short brittle grasses growing along the canyon rim created a rusty orange color, while the surrounding rocks are shaded -- pink through red to purple. We stopped at the Father Crowley Vista, and looked down to the valley floor. I was reminded of the islands of Mono Lake, but here sand had created the water effect, and a black "island" protruded, floating on the sandy sea. Indeed, when we finally got to the floor, the mirage convinced me that there really was water here, and that some of the many black rocks lining the sand were actually ducks. I got a well deserved ribbing for that -- but, from eye level, it really did look like water, and the rocks did resemble ducks. But as we climbed out on the eastern side of the valley, I looked back. There was nothing there but sand and small black rocks.

I had always considered Death Valley, just that -- a valley. In reality, the road crosses rugged mountains as it traverses the Park. The highest elevation is over 11,000 feet, and is located only 15 miles from the lowest point, Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. I was surprised to see a couple of signs warning that chains might be necessary -- in Death Valley? The Jeep's outside temperature sensor was all over the place; at one time reading 80, and then dropping back to the 60s as we changed elevations.

Stovepipe Wells Village was our destination this trip. There is a small campground here, one section with hookups, the other, larger area, is dry camping only. As we found in Rio Grande Village, Big Bend, TX, the hookup area is a modified parking lot, with rigs parked very close together, while the non-hookup area is more spacious. A well stocked store, and, across the street, a motel, comprise all there is to the Village.

Why do people come? At the Wells, you are virtually in the middle of Death Valley. Just 28 miles south is Furnace Creek, where there are two campgrounds, a luxury hotel, a museum and a scenic drive through vibrantly colored rock formations. 40 miles north takes you to the Scotty's Castle area, where you can tour the "castle", drive to the 600 foot deep Ubehebe Crater or view the Eureka Dunes. If you choose to stay and explore the Stovepipe Wells area, you can walk Mosaic Canyon.

We drove up the 2 mile gravel access road, parked and walked into the canyon. It quickly becomes a very narrow walk, single file only, with some clambering over smooth rocks. I felt I was climbing stairs in someone's beautiful home -- the steps were marble. The marble was formed when the area was part of the Pacific Ocean. Limestone was buried to great depths and subjected to such pressure and temperature that it altered into marble. We were walking on pinks, pale blue and cream colored steps and walls.

The Canyon walk is only 1/2 mile long, with very little altitude gain. You can then continue another 11/2 mile until, according to the brochure, the "way is blocked by a dry waterfall". But we were in the desert on a fairly warm day, and we were concerned about leaving Missy in the car too long -- so we turned back before reaching the trail's end. Also, the afternoon was passing and we still had 80 miles to go to get back to Lone Pine. We probably will not stay another day; the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney hikes will have to wait for another trip. We've managed to avoid anything resembling the California Highway system thus far, but there is no way to get to Palm Desert or Borrego Springs without driving some Interstate. So, I'll drive the rest of 395 tomorrow on the nearly truck-free quiet byways, and let Tom do I-10 through downtown San Bernardino. That's fair, isn't it?

Postcard: Taking the Scenic Route

November 1, 2002

We spent a long weekend in Eugene, one night at the Cummins dealership, and two at Deer Park, one of our favorite parks conveniently located just south of town. Our Friday appointment lapped over into Monday morning, so while Tom watched the Saturday football games, I went shopping. My favorite farmer's market still had "Bodaceous corn", and delicious grape tomatoes. I enjoyed Christmas "looking" in the shops at the Valley Center Mall, and headed to my a favorite Albertsons. However, I had not figured on the football mania of the Eugene Duck fans.

I found myself far too close to (the University of Oregon's) Autzen Stadium just as the game was getting out. Hundreds of fans, all wearing green and yellow, crowded each traffic intersection. In the grocery store, every single cashier wore a green or yellow T-shirt. Green and yellow helium balloons crowded each aisle. And in the parking lot -- green cars with a yellow "O" in the window, green cars with Oregon ducks flags attached to their antennae, green cars with the O, and the flag and yellow pom poms hanging off their antennas. Eugene car owners must account for a hefty percentage of all the green cars sold --anywhere.

Spending the weekend in Eugene, we had ample opportunity to plot our route south. Each winter we have headed down Interstate 5 to Bakersfield, and then east on 58 to the desert. But we have driven that route dozens of times. Wasn't there some other way? We remembered meeting one Canadian RVer who always took Highway 395. This time we decided it was time that we give it a try. Highway 395 would take us through the small towns of southeastern Oregon, northeastern California and Western Nevada, through Reno and Carson City, past Mono Lake, and Lone Pine. A new route -- and a new adventure!

We crossed the Oregon Cascades just outside of Eugene, and headed south toward California and Eagle's Nest RV park. This is a charming place, 24 miles south of Tulelake, CA., and two miles off highway 139 at the southernmost entrance to Lava Beds National Monument. 20 grassy sites, with an open field in front and a rocky forested hill behind, owned and run by two delightful women. Emma Wyatt, the manager, greets each arrival as a long lost friend, and never fails to wave goodbye when you leave. Rumor has it that she once served coffee and rolls to a couple who arrived at the park without food, not realizing that it's almost 30 miles to the nearest grocery. A long time resident of this area, she can tell you where to find the purest obsidian, and where to go "caving". Not to be outdone, Gail Calloway, park owner and naturalist, will help you identify the birds of the area -- this morning, I saw my first Townsend's Solitaire. This is our third trip to this delightful park; it surely will not be our last.

30 miles south on highway 139, we faced our first decision -- stay on 139, or head east to Alturas and join 395. We opted to follow 139. This route was 27 miles shorter, and 139 had been such a good road, we assumed it would remain so. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The road became so narrow that our speed was necessarily reduced, and the longer route, through Alturas, might have taken less time. The good news was that there was little traffic (everyone else was on 395!), and the scenery was breathtaking.

We drove slowly through Adin, a small town straight out of Norman Rockwell. There is one main street, lined with golden leafed aspen, and flanked by small homes. The Historical Feed and Supply store proclaims its age with a sign, "since 1906." Standing in front of the steepled church, a golden haired young mom and small daughter completed this idyllic picture. Shades of the Saturday Evening Post.

Adin was thoroughly prepared for Halloween. Most homes had pumpkins on their porches, and decorations in their windows, but the town went one better. On each corner there were scarecrows, mother scarecrows, father scarecrows and at the school bus stop, three small kid scarecrows waiting for the bus. At the southern edge of town, another scarecrow was standing next to a cow; a cow made completely of cans of various sizes, painted white with black spots.

139 climbed over a ridge and descended down to Eagle Lake, a large turquoise lake laced with silver -- thanks to the sun on the small surface waves. Several homes and two RV parks are here, all at the north end, the deep end, of the lake. The southern end is rushy and shallow. Fishermen were trying their luck in the deep waters, while several small camouflaged boats appeared to be duck hunting among the reeds. The lake is a popular destination. Even on this midweek day we passed several cars towing boats headed for the lake.

As we approached Susanville, on the south end of 139, we were surprised by a sign reading "trucks measuring 30' or longer kingpin to rear axle not advised on this route". There were only a few miles left before we would rejoin 395, and our rig isn't that long anyway -- but CalTrans had left its warning a bit late. The reason for the warning became apparent as we approached the steep grade into town.

The map's black lines became thicker as we rejoined highway 395, and as we neared Reno, the road became a smooth, 4 lane, divided highway. We sailed through Reno and headed south to Carson City. The road still goes straight through the middle of that town, and the city fathers have devised a way to de-synchronize each stoplight, but eventually we cleared Carson and headed on to Minden. Our destination this evening was Silver City RV Resort, a great park for an overnight stop just a few miles south of town. This part of 395 had tested widths, tomorrow we would test altitude. Three passes at or over 7,000' loomed ahead of us; Devil's Gate at 7,519, Conway Summit at 8,158 and Sherwin Summit at 7,000. What the map did not show is how beautiful this drive would be.

Next morning, as we crossed the Nevada/California border, we passed a small jewel of a lake, Topaz Lake. Their Good Sam ad says it best, " The RV park with a casino on the side". The park looked most attractive from the roadway, and I could see trails leading along the lake edge -- just right for a hike. Time permitting, next trip we'll stay here.

We followed the Walker River for 20 miles as we climbed into the Sierras. A small stream, it nontheless has cut a deep canyon through which the road winds. Here too, the colors of autumn were at their height, golden cottonwoods and aspen lined the stream banks. As we climbed, I made a mental comparison -- had we been on Interstate 5, we would have been driving 60+ m.p.h. Today we were driving about 40 as we wound up the canyon. Had we been on I-5, there would have been no golden trees or silver rivers to catch our attention, and we would have been driving far too fast to appreciate them anyway. On 5 the destination is the important thing; on 395, it's the journey. We would have multiple chances to remember that as the day progressed. The first snow of the season had dusted the higher peaks around us, reminding us that winter would soon make an appearance. While this would be a spectacular winter drive, we have no chains for the RV, and no plans to get them unless absolutely necessary. We'll leave the winter driving to others.

Up over Devil's Gate and Conway Passes we climbed. Each time there was a pass, there was a passing lane, and with very little traffic, we encountered no problems, except for an occasional case of gapers bloc, when we slowed to take in the scenery. After Conway Pass, the road descended steeply into the Mono Basin. We stopped at the scenic view and looked down at Mono Lake. What a vista!

Covering around 60 square miles, this ancient (more than a million years old), lake lies between the Sierras on the west and the lower desert stretching away to the horizon on the east. To the south rise the Mono craters, the youngest mountain range in North America. In the middle of the lake, two volcanic islands are visible, Negit, the smaller, appears black, while Pahoa Island is white. On the southern lakeshore are some eerie formations I first thought were "hoodos" or "goblins", similar to those I learned about while traveling through the Nevada deserts. They are actually Tufa formations, created when calcium bearing freshwater springs well up through alkaline lake water, rich in carbonates. This happens only in the lake, under water. When the water level drops, the formations are exposed. At that point they cease to grow. In season, you can take a ranger guided tufa walk through those south shore formations.

Unfortunately, the lake level has dropped, precipitously. Unlike other lakes, several streams feed into it, but none come out. The lake levels were kept relatively constant for thousands of years -- evaporation stayed even with the stream's inflow. But, in 1941, Los Angeles began diverting the intake water for city usage, and the water level fell. Not until 1994 did the State Water Resources Control Board issue an order protecting the lake by raising its level 17 feet, to a target elevation of 6,392 feet. It is estimated it will take 20 years to reach this level.

We stopped at the Mono Basin Visitor Center to view their informative film "Of Fire and Ice". While I once thought of this lake as a "dead" lake, I learned that it is very much alive. While it is too salty for many animals to tolerate, it is full of algae. Brine shrimp and a specially adapted fly, the alkali fly, eat the algae. Thousands of migratory birds, phalaropes, grebes and California gulls seasonally feast on the shrimp and the flies.

After an hour at the Center and a leisurely lunch, we continued down the road -- about 10 miles. Suddenly Tom pulled over into a "put chains on here" sign, and we detached the Jeep for a loop drive through June, Silver and Grant Lakes. At this time of year, the campgrounds lining these small lakes are almost deserted, but we could tell from the number of campsites how they must appear in season. Indeed, we later talked to a man who manages three of the campgrounds in this area and he told us he had gone 54 straight nights with no vacancy. We could certainly believe it once we'd seen the deep blue chain of high mountain lakes surrounded by towering granite peaks.

The final pass on our trip was a "mere" 7,000 feet and then the road sloped gently down into the Owens Valley to the towns of Bishop, Independence and Lone Pine. Our destination tonight is Boulder Creek RV Resort just south of Lone Pine. It is only a short trip from here into Death Valley; who know, perhaps we'll spend a day or so before traveling further south. We have enjoyed our trek on 395, enjoyed the time to stop and explore the area, enjoyed the lack of truck traffic so prevalent on Interstate 5. We'll take this route again.

Postcard: Starting in the Center

October 25, 2002

We are headed south -- but slowly. We're actually taking the coach south, and will store it somewhere in California for a few weeks. We'll be driving the toad back for the holidays. But first we stopped in Bellevue, spending 5 days with our grandkids, Tommy, age 12 and Jessie, 11, while their parents were in Chicago on business. This first weekend was a perfect time to visit some of Seattle's big city attractions.

While we enjoy our peaceful Island life, it is hard to get to the "big city". An hour on the ferry to the mainland, then an 80 mile drive each way (in "big city traffic"), makes such a long day that we seldom make this trip. But now from Bellevue we could drive just a few miles and explore. Should we go to the Aquarium? Walk the waterfront? How about the zoo? We decided to start by taking the kids to the Pacific Science Center. It is easy to get to -- just drive toward the Space Needle. You can't miss it. The Science Center is part of the huge complex known as the Seattle Center. It stretches over several square blocks, and, in addition to the Science Center houses such disparate attractions as a planetarium, music "museum" and Key Arena, home to the Seattle's professional basketball team, the Supersonics. Over all of this towers the Emerald City's most famous landmark, the Space Needle.

The Science Center is contained in 5 separate buildings surrounding a courtyard. Kid interest was piqued even before we got to the main entrance. Two facing large concave dishes set in concrete about 200 feet apart flanked the entryway. Speak softly into one, and you will be clearly heard by a person listening at the other. There was a mandatory stop so they could whisper, talk and finally call to each other. While we paid the admission fee, the kids were examining another exhibit -- this one a large weight with pulley attached, and a rope at the opposite end. This weight was easy to loft with the rope at one setting; as you changed the setting, it became harder. We could hardly get them to leave this exhibit long enough to get their hands stamped for any return visit.

On the second floor, Tommy went to play tic-tac-toe with a giant, ten foot tall robot, while Jessie found an exhibit where she put on earphones to hear a mystery, "Search for the Source of Sound". On her insistence, I tried this. I put on the earphones, closed my eyes, and jumped. Someone was whispering in my ear. The sound effects were behind me, on either side of me, in front and above me. This demonstratred something about "diurnal sound" -- but whatever it was, it was incredibly "real".

Another area, aptly titled "Body Works", was devoted to the human body. Can you squeeze a handgrip hard enough to light up a string of lights 25 feet high? I couldn't; Tom could. Are you color blind? Take a test and see. What's your blood pressure? What sort of food do you/should you eat?

Once assured of our health, we were off to see the dinosaur exhibits. Or we thought we were headed in that direction. One of the problems of the Science Center, it turns out, is, "how to corral the kids". As soon we found one child, the other disappeared. Jessie and I went in one direction, while Tom waited for Tommy to appear. We stopped at the bubble machine. She lowered a six foot long horizontal pole into soapy water and slowly reeled it up. As it came, it dragged a gigantic sheet of soapy film. Jessie blew on this sheet ever so softly, and created huge soap bubbles. Just try to remove a child of any age (63 included) from this exhibit. Finally, all reunited, we went to the dinosaur room.

It was like traveling back to the Mesozoic Era. Seven moving, roaring, robotic actual size dinosaurs are doing their dinosaur "things", tearing apart an unfortunate fellow dinosaur, or grazing along the shores of a large lake. A Tyrannosaurus Rex bellows from above your head, while less ferocious ones placidly munch on leaves, stopping long enough to move their heads and look at you. In several places, placards question your dinosaur knowledge. Did they co-exist with humans? Movies to the contrary, the answer is no. Were they all male? While only one dinosaur is referred to as a "she", of course there were females. In one area, a dino nest was hatching. Several eggs had tiny dinos emerging, while other eggs were wriggling expectantly. One dino skeleton had various levers attached, and there was a line of kids waiting to make it move its head and open or close its jaws.

The current star of the Science Center, in Seattle on a nationwide tour, is Sue. The most complete dinosaur skeleton ever assembled, T-Rex Sue is 42 feet long,13' high, weighs 3,500 pounds and takes up fully half of a large exhibit hall. Various exhibits show how her bones were found and assembled. In a corner of the room, a sand pit had been filled with dino "bones", and children were busily unearthing them.

On the floor above Sue, an "activities" room had attracted a group of kids. In one area, you could play "virtual soccer". You are the goalie, standing in front of a large TV screen, keeping soccer balls out of the goal. The audience watches you on smaller TV screens that show the goalie, the goal and a barrage of soccer balls flying at the goalie. Of course, the more balls you return, the faster other ones come at you. Each would-be goalie appeared to become entirely emersed in this obviously realistic (to them) exercise, as the darted from side to side and leaped high to block the incoming balls. Don't tell the kids it wasn't "real"! Other activities included an "echo tunnel" (clap your hands into this 50' long tube and each clap sounds like a gun shot) and a climbing wall.

Once both Tom & Jessie had played soccer, and clapped their hands into the tube, we headed for the outdoor courtyard. The exit corridor is painted and lighted to resemble the street of an old western town, with barbershop, doctor's office and railroad station. But all of the structures are depicted on such a slant that you feel as if you are walking down a very steep street. The feeling that you might fall over at any moment is inescapable -- but the "street" you are walking on is actually almost level.

By this time, Grandma and Grandpa were beginning to entertain thoughts of home, but we had yet to experience the Center's outdoor courtyard. Completely enclosed by the various buildings of the Center, the courtyard has several water fountains each with special features. One stream shoots some 50 feet into the air, but you can make it seem to dance. As the water reaches its zenith, shut it off. As the water descends, turn the fountain back on and the "new" water meets the old in mid-air. Another fountain's water can be directed against metal plates, causing them to spin quickly, while others rise and fall. Walk in a giant water wheel, making it turn, pretending you are a giant hamster. These are so popular that "taking turns" is a must. No one wants to stop.

But all good times must come to an end, especially if you have school the next morning. But Tom & I weren't finished exploring by any means. After the kids left the next morning, we returned to the Center-- but this time to the Experimental Music Project ("EMP"). Established by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, this project is a museum to musical diversity. And the outer appearance of this building has caused some strong difference of opinion in the Seattle community. Just looking at it is an event. When we drove by on the way to the Science Center I thought it looked like a jumble of huge pop cans, each painted a different metallic color -- silver, gold, blue and red. The kids thought it looked like a giant hand. Intriguing.

The inside more than lives up to this image. "EMP is dedicated to capturing and reflecting the essence of rock 'n' roll, from its roots in jazz, soul, gospel, country and the blues, to its influence on hip hop, punk and other more recent genres." Paul Allen's early passion for Jimi Hendrix led to his amassing of the world's largest collection of Hendrix memorabilia, and the museum just grew from there. Rhythm and blues, jazz, hip-hop, funk, punk, country or rock ‘n’ roll, here you'll find something about each. But it is much more than a museum where you walk about and look at pictures, listent to different music forms, or read biographical sketches of various performers. Here you can actually hear persons discuss the various influences each musician has had on the music world, and hear original recordings of their music. This "magic" is accomplished by use of a Museum Exhibit Guide (MEG). A MEG is a pocketbook sized computer worn slung on a strap from your shoulder. Earphones on your head, a small wireless device pointed at each exhibit, a simple click and you can listen to music, hear audio clips about exhibit items, read rock 'n' roll stories or "bookmark" a list of personal favorites you can later look up on their website (www.emplive.com) by just entering the nine digit number on your entrance ticket.

The Special Exhibits gallery is set aside for traveling collections. Currently it is featuring (Un)Common Objects, a wide array of artifacts worn by various stars during their shows. We saw the famous gold bustier worn by Madonna, a plaid shirt worn by Bruce Springsteen, and the spangled jacket and glove that helped turn Michael Jackson into a Top-40 wizard. The Guitar gallery is devoted to the evolution of the electric guitar, from Hawaiian ukuleles to the very un-guitar looking modern guitars. The "Milestones" gallery "illustrates how music movements often start on the fringes of mainstream culture". Here are the songs of some of the musicians from my teenage years and later -- Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin. Climb the stairs to the Sound Lab, where you can play a guitar or a keyboard -- even if you don't know how. Use the special lights on the keyboard and follow basic strumming instructions on the guitar, and you feel ready for the concert stage. They even provide small but very soundproof studios where you can become that musical star, by playing the drums, strumming an instrument, or even testing your voice. All of this is of course professionally "sound mixed" and broadcast right back at you -- giving a very real feeling of being "on stage".

One memorable highlight was the Artist's Journey, a three part trip into Funk music. We were first ushered into a small theater (done in small groups of perhaps 30), back to back bench seating, where we watched a short film concerning a reunion of black funk artists, who were discussing the dynamics -- the beat -- of this previously unknown, (to me), type of music. Next we walked up a circular ramp which put each of us at a different location surrounding a strange looking "statue", one resembling a wildly colored tornado. Standing on the ramp, we watched another film clip -- this time concerning two young musicians who want to learn about funk music, but feel they already know everything. After all, they "have a band" -- so what else is there for them to know?. They learn that musicians need to take chances if they are to be successful, and taking that chance, jump into a whirling vortex of brilliant colors. (So that's what the statue was!).

With the group moving once again, the final stop on the Artist's Journey found us in a most unusual theater. We sat down and were instructed to put all our belongings on the floor and pull a safety bar down across our laps. I felt a bit like I going on a carnival ride, but I've never been on one like this. The room went dark, and I could feel the whole bank of seats sliding forward. Then the vortex which we'd been introduced to in the preceding segment appeared in front of me, with the shadows of the two aspiring musicians falling into it. Then our seats seemed to fall into the vortex. Whirling lights were now all around us, the whole theater tilted and jerked, and even though I knew I was sitting securely in a seat, in a theater, all my senses screamed I was falling, whirling down the vortex. Then we came out at the bottom. ( Like a thrilling movie, I'm not going to give away the ending).

We spent several hours at EMP, and could have spent more. But the kids were due home from school, and it was time to go back to the real world. We will definitely return to both the Science Center and EMP on our next grandparenting trip. But for now it's time to continue our trip south...