<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 41
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: Pushing the Season

March 22, 2006

Winter seems to have been around for a long time. There was snow on the ground when we left Bend in early January, there was snow on the ground when we returned in early March. Unlike the heavy stuff I grew up with in the Seattle area, this snow is light and fluffy, and easy to shovel, but it's still snow. I'm waiting, none too patiently, for Spring. I'm waiting for the golf course to open, for the return of the many birds that call Bend their summer home. We've put out a couple of bird feeders, but they haven't been discovered yet. The ice is still thick on the pond just beyond our deck, and every morning, a couple of Canada geese fly by, honking noisily. I'm sure they're discussing the fact that they cannot land and swim around quite yet.

However snowy it may be where we live, Bend itself, just 500 feet lower, is snow free. Saturday was bright and sunny, and I decided to have my studded snow tires removed. After all, I reasoned, April 1st is the date when the State of Oregon mandates their removal, and then there is a rush to get the tires off. Every tire store in town does a landoffice business and you must get your car in early or not at all. What harm could there be in removing them a few days early? And, while you're at it, how about a nice wash to get the winter grime off the car?

Perhaps it was cabin fever, but Sunday's clear weather and warm-ish temperatures gave us the feeling that, perhaps, Spring was going to come after all. Time for a drive, time to explore, time for a trip to Lake Billy Chinook. We'd take my car and test its non-studded tires.

This lake is located about 8 miles south and west of Madras, about 35 miles north of Bend. It was formed when Portland General Electric constructed the Round Butte Dam to generate electricity for the Portland metropolitan area. Three rivers, the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolious, flow through the lake, and it is kept within the top one foot of full throughout the summer season -- June 15 to September 15. It has 72 miles of shoreline and a surface area of 4,000 acres. Good thing it's that large, for it is extremely popular with the fishing/camping/ waterskiing crowd of Central Oregon, seeking to escape the heat of the high desert. Even today, mid-March, we saw dozens of empty boat trailers in the parking lots near the boat launch.

The area has two campgrounds, the Cove Palisades, Crooked River and the Cove Palisades, Deschutes. A few of the Crooked River sites were open today but there were only two takers, and one was the camp host. Rigs to about 36 feet would have no trouble with most of the sites, widely spaced with fire rings, water and electric. It's about 2 miles downhill from this campground to the reservoir. The much larger Deschutes park was still closed for the winter. It has 87 full hookup sites and a 94 site tent area. While not yet open for the season, the area also has a restaurant and full service marina. You can stay in a "deluxe log cabin", or rent a houseboat.

We followed the road south along the edge of the reservoir and crossed a one lane bridge over the Deschutes River Arm. Here the road climbs steeply up to an area called "the Island". The Island is an isolated 200 acre plateau, one of the few remaining bit of the "West as it was". No introduced grasses, no destroyed areas from over grazing or ATV riding. In 1997, due to a noticeable decline in its ecological well-being, the area was closed to recreational use and casual visits. Now the only way to see The Island is by getting a permit to hike the Tam-a-lau trail.

This trail gets its name from a Native American phrase meaning, "place of big rocks on the ground", and the crooked River Petroglyph, a huge boulder covered in Native American carvings, marks the Tam-a-lau trailhead. The trail itself is 7 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 600 feet. At the top, the trail makes a 3 1/2 mile loop around "The Peninsula", with views of the reservoir, the Cascade mountains and the canyons. Today, melting snow had made even the first part of the trail too muddy to walk, but once Spring really gets here...

Next stop on our adventure, was deciding which road to take back home. We'd driven as far as we could along the shores of the lake; more exploration could only be done by boat. Our choices were simple, retrace our steps to Bend, or see where the road ahead led. I made the "mistake" of telling Tom of a drive I'd taken several years ago -- from Sisters along a road that supposedly led to this very Lake. Of course, it was July, and feeling I might get lost any moment, I hadn't come all the way. But if this road did go to Sisters, what an interesting circle trip to take. Also, there were several cars coming from that direction -- therefore it must be passable, mustn't it?

We never did figure out where the cars were coming from -- they certainly hadn't driven the road we took to Sisters. Ms Garmin was no help, she kept telling us to "make a U-Turn". But the first few miles were uneventful. We passed an interesting looking enclave, the Three Rivers Recreation Area, an area where several RVs were parked on designated lots throughout the sagebrush. There was no one at the entrance office, and the gate was locked, so that area remains a mystery to be solved at a later date.

For the first 10 miles or so, the road was paved, bare and straight. We kept passing small lakes formed from winter snow melt, but didn't see so much as a patch of the white stuff. Then we came upon two small signs right together. One read, "road closed by snow, 6 miles ahead", the other, with a directional arrow pointing left, "25 miles to Sisters, road not maintained". We had come to the end of the pavement.

Now the road narrowed and became a washboard, gravel path, climbing into the mountains through a large burned area. Still no snow, however, and no reason to wish we'd left the snow tires on the car. No traffic, either, until we crested the first hill and found a dirty, (did I mention I'd just washed the car?), 4WD pickup with very high clearance coming our way. There was a rifle in the rack behind the driver; perhaps they were after spring bear.

Over the summit, we found ourselves going downhill on the first of what would turn out to be several north facing slopes. North facing slopes are the last to lose their snow each season, and we were going to be surprised with quite a bit of snow to cross. At first, it wasn't too tough a drive; the patches of snow were short and had tracks leading through them. Tom was able to stay out of the muddy ruts and on top of the snow banks surrounding them -- he was trying to save my car wash job. These snowy spots were interspersed with long stretches of dry road -- at one point I noticed some movement in a mound of dirt at the side of the road. We didn't stop to check it out however; the movement came from a striped skunk.

We'd hoped that we'd find the watershed of the Metolious when we reached the bottom of the hill, and follow it to Highway 20 the road to Sisters. Instead, what we found was another hill. Now we'd get to traverse the snowy patches, (which were getting longer), uphill, without snow tires! I started figuring whether it would be shorter to walk out going forward or retracing our steps back, and was pleased it was shorter going forward. It was still a full 5 mile hike, however.

Just then, we got some company. A Ford Bronco, huge tires, 4WD, and every conceivable type of off road equipment was coming up from behind. Tom pulled over and the Ford raced past, through the snow ahead and out of sight around a turn.

The patches continued to grow and get deeper. In a couple of places we could hear the snow scraping the bottom of the car as we ploughed through the drifts. The ruts grew deeper, keeping the wheels firmly in place. Driving on top was no longer an option, and we splashed through the dirty ruts, throwing black water all over my formerly white car. Tom didn't dare stop; we just pushed through. The last patch was the deepest and longest -- over a mile of deep slushy snow. Suddenly we noticed turnaround tracks -- obviously wiser folks than we had approached from the other end and opted not to drive this road.

Then suddenly it was over. We bounced out of the snow and up onto bare pavement. Snowplows and sunny weather had combined to clear the rest of the road of virtually every trace of snow. The gravel road through the mountains was gone, and we followed the asphalt the last 4 miles to Highway 20. Then we headed back toward Sisters and on to Bend. We'll probably take that road again, in a season when we can thoroughly enjoy it, when white knuckle driving (and passengering) won't be necessary, when we don't push the season quite so hard. Perhaps August?

Postcard: Our Last Day

March 6, 2006

Part of the fun of RVing is constantly making new friends, and having new experiences. Both of these often seem to be the result of pure, unadulterated chance. Such was the case on our last day at Emerald Desert, when Tom met with another RVer who "just happens" to be in the business of producing a TV show called "RVTV". This show airs on the Outdoor Channel in the US, and on several different channels in Canada. Executive Producer Rob Engman traded stories with Tom about his work filming segments about RVing while they enjoy extended timing in their motorhome; and Tom shared some of his tales about putting together our website. Rob's appointment for a tennis lesson cut short their conversation, and Tom invited Rob and his wife Karla to stop by and see our double slide Host camper later that afternoon.

Tom mentioned they might be coming over, but I thought this would be just a casual conversation with two new friends. We were both somewhat surprised when they arrived with all their camera equipment and asked if we could do an interview for a future segment of their TV series. I'd just returned from a few laps at the pool, and wasn't exactly "dressed for the occasion". But time was short as the sun would soon set and they needed the daylight for their pictures -- so, and if this segment does indeed air at a future date, what you sees is what you gets.... Nothing "rehearsed" about this one!

It was great fun. Rob is an easy going, down-to-earth "regular" RVer, inspiring confidence in those he interviews even when they're caught as relatively flat-footed as we found ourselves. Karla, an engaging personality in her own right, does a great job of "managing the scene". At the request of the TV network, she's recently upgraded her equipment, and now does all her filming in high definition TV. I was surprised at the relatively small size of the new video camera. And the absence of tripods, rows of lights and all the other stuff one normally associates with creating a TV production -- making the whole process much less intimidating. It was interesting to meet two individuals with such an extraordinary lifestyle, mixing RVing and business -- assuming one can legitimately call the fun times they have capturing, editing, and producing stories about RVers and the RV lifestyle a "business". They make an excellent team, with Rob doing the on-camera interviews, and Karla doing the technical and camera work.

When the "interview" per se was finished, Karla requested some additional pictures. One of the segments she shot was inside our camper, with the camera trained on both Tom and me as we scanned our laptops. While Tom apparently opened his to the top page of our website, I wasn't sure exactly what folder to open. (I certainly didn't want to open my Games folder -- and thus disclose all sorts of solitaire and mahjong games. I wanted to at least appear more computer savvy than that!) So I chose a recent folder that contained a number of geocache locations I'd recently downloaded. When Karla and Rob asked what "geocaching" was about, I knew we'd struck on a subject they'd find of interest -- and they certainly did. We explained the basics of geocaching, and why we think it's a perfect activity for RVers -- always traveling to new places. As we explained the concept, we could see a growing awareness -- then enthusiasm -- for the notion that "geocaching" + "RVing" is not only a great combination, but a super topic for a future segment of their show. We don't know how long it will take them to get their first hand-held GPS unit -- but they certainly were geared up to spend some time researching the geocaching.com website that same evening.

That may have been our last evening, ever, in Emerald Desert. On April 12, about 3 weeks earlier than originally planned, 2/3 of the park will be closed forever, to make room for another walled and gated community -- more "affordable" Palm Springs housing. This is proving a bit inconvenient for some of the seasonal RVers. Should you have a reservation that runs through that April 12th date, you'll have to move your rig to another site to finish your stay -- assuming one might be available. Next year, a revamped and smaller Emerald Desert will reserve spots first for those same seasonal RVers . Tom & I, perennial short termers, would probably have difficulty finding a site there at all, so this was a sort of last hurrah.

This morning as we left the park we noticed a brand new large sign at the corner above and partially obscuring the once-attractive Emerald Desert directional sign. It read in part, " Coming soon. Homes and condos to 2190 square feet, from the $300's. " Another RV park "bites the dust" to make room for more what's anticipated to be a more profitable (to the landowner) use of the real estate.

Postcard: Doing our Research

February 22, 2006

One of the courses we'll be presenting at the Life on Wheels conference this summer provides a "pictorial tour of different categories of RV parks and campgrounds", ranging from boondocking areas to RV resorts. This year, we'll include several new parks in our talk. This project required "research"; the sort that would take us to new and interesting places and provide an excuse for some "discovery trips".

Leaving Voyagers early one morning we headed to the extreme southeastern corner of Arizona, to Caballos de Las Estrellas, a unique RV resort and equestrian center at the eastern base of the Chiricahua Mountains (actually the AZ/NM state line runs right through this very large property). These rugged mountains were, for some 15 years, the home and stronghold of the famed Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise.  Cochise and about 1,000 of his followers based their operations high in these hills, where they could easily spot their enemies in the valley below.  No man, woman or child within a hundred miles was safe from these attacks. Driving through these historic mountains, it's easy to imagine yourself back in those times; easy to picture the Indians swooping out of the hills to attack white ranchers.

According to our AAA map, the shortest route would have taken us cross country, leaving Interstate 10 about 9 miles before the New Mexico border, heading for the ghost town of Paradise, then on to Rodeo, NM. We chose to take the route recommended by Ms Garmin and an ad in TrailerLife, and were glad we had when we later learned the "short cut " route was virtually impassible -- 20 + miles of dusty washboard. About 5 miles into New Mexico, we reached the intersection of Highway 80 angling south and west toward Douglas, cutting through rolling terrain which resembles parts of Wyoming as much as Arizona.

A statue of a rearing horse marks the entrance to the RV resort. The site layout here is a bit unusual; each is a pull through, most with side by side hookups but with a full 1/4 acre at each site. The office is right out of a western magazine -- white adobe walls and rough hewn columns. When we went into the office, I noticed a small basket of eggs sitting on the counter. "They're free for anyone who wants a fresh egg for breakfast", the Bourays, (owners) explained, "we get fresh ones from our hen house every day". In season, they also provide free produce from their vegetable garden! A collection of Southwestern Indian masks hanging from the walls tempted me -- if our camper had more storage space, I'd probably have come home with one of them.

The park is a perfect jump-off spot for exploring the nearby Chiricahua Mountains by horseback, ATV or mountain bike. Horse owners can board their animals in a covered run or barn, and there's a large arena for exercising. The park's ads state they're VERY pet friendly, and the owners have quite a collection, in addition to their dogs I saw one parrot, one rabbit and two cages of exotic finches.

As soon as the Bourays realized we were driving a Jeep Wrangler and not a larger car or RV, they suggested an alternate route back to Tucson, through Willcox via Portal (the gateway to the mountains) and then up, up -- over the crest of the Chiricahua Mountains.

Portal, is a tiny community of mainly vacation homes snuggled at the base of the mountains. We knew the route wasn't for motorhomes; we didn't realize we'd be glad we hadn't even brought the camper. The first warning sign read, "This road not recommended for vehicles over 40 feet". The next sign read, "This road not recommended for vehicles over 28 feet". I was glad the length restrictions stopped there!

A beautiful trip. Over the tops of the cottonwood trees, we glimpsed the sculpted peaks of the Chiricahuas backed by the brilliant blue of an Arizona winter sky. What would have been a "white-knuckler" in many cars was a "piece of cake" for the little Wrangler. Tom opted to use 4WD a couple of times as we skittered along the narrow, steep and dusty washboard road climbing from 4000 to over 7000 feet in 15 miles. We stopped for lunch at Onion Saddle, the point where the road forked. One branch led down toward Willcox, the other climbed another 3 miles (and 2,000 feet) to the Rustler Park recreation area. Signs indicated a campground there; I wondered what rigs would brave that road.

This was the day Tom's computer fell gravely ill, and nothing would help it but an emergency trip to the Apple doctor in Houston, TX. First, however, we needed to transfer the documents on his computer to mine. That required the purchase of something called a "firewire cable", and necessitated a trip to the local Apple Store in Tucson. That simple name doesn't begin to describe the most high tech store I've ever seen. For example, when you enter, you sign in with the "concierge", found on any nearby computer, and your name and wait time is automatically entered on a marquis above the "Genius Bar" (the help center, but you don't feel like quite such a dummy). They give weekly classes to assist people with special MacIntosh features, such as ITunes and burning DVDs. Guessing it would take a week from the time we left the computer, until it was shipped to Texas, fixed, and returned, we'd made a reservation at Emerald Desert, and alerted them that we'd have a package shipped there. Now we had a week for further "research". (As it turned out, the computer was on its way back west in just under 48 hours!)

In our years of RVing, Tom and I have stayed in just about every type of park. We've camped in national parks, state and county parks. We've enjoyed the amenities of luxury parks, and looked forward to returning to certain favorites. We've yet to overnight at a Wal-mart or truck stop, and have only visited the LTVAs, the Long Term Visitor Areas of the desert southwest.

This time was no different. Hidden Shores RV Village is located just above the Imperial Dam on the Colorado River just 20 miles north of Yuma. A large park of over 577 spaces, Hidden Shores can best be described as a combination RV and park model resort. The RV sites occupy the first 5 or 6 rows above the river and two long rows of identical park models look out over the RVs. The daily rate at Hidden Shores is quite high; the monthly rate is much more reasonable, so many of the RV sites are "rented" by the month or longer. Interestingly, you can rent an RV site and leave your rig there for as long as you want, but you will only be able to use it for 150 days. The BLM doesn't want people becoming "residents".

This is a beautiful spot; the water above the dam is a narrow, brushy waterway lined with reeds and filled with shorebirds. Look over the water, across the reeds to the low hills on the western horizon, and the view resembles a giant diorama of eons past. All the scene needs is a mastodon, a sabre-toothed tiger or perhaps a Neanderthal hunter to be a candidate for the Smithsonian. Look a bit further out into the hills, and you'll spot dozens of white dots -- RVs dry camped in the Imperial Dam LTVA.

People camp in small communities here, communities with names like Quail Ridge, Skunk Hollow, (near the wastewater treatment area), and Lonely Hill. If you choose to camp here, you must get a permit at the office in the easily found South Mesa area. Then pick your area and set up. Be aware, however, that you may be asked to move. RVers return to their "own" particular spots year after year. They decorate those spots with plants, lawn ornaments, and entry mats. They make friends with other RVers who also return to the same spot each year. If you choose a spot that someone has had for a long time, you may be told something like, "that's Jim's place. He'll be down next week".

How do we know? Mark told us. We'd driven into Quail Ridge, the closest boondocking community to Hidden Shores to get a few pictures for our presentation, and one rig fairly begged to have its picture taken. The owners had gone to a great deal of trouble to make their "front yard" special, ringing the whole area with small solar lights. Four wind ornaments hung from an acacia, while underneath was a small American flag and blue hydrangeas. In another area, they had piled decorative rocks, added more flowers and a large cutout of a donkey. In front of their door was a blue and white mat, more solar lights and two potted plants.

I was so engrossed in taking pictures of this LTVA campsite that I didn't notice the man striding toward me. He was dressed in blue coveralls, with a red shirt underneath. He had a short beard, slippers and a frown on his face. "Why are you taking pictures", he asked.

I didn't know if taking photos was against some sort of unwritten LTVA law. "I just love the decorations they've done here. Is this your rig?"

"No", he responded, "but these folks aren't home, and we look out for each other here."

By this time, Tom had joined us and we introduced ourselves. Mark, (our new friend after he convinced himself we weren't "casing the joint"), proved a wealth of information about LTVAs. He told us about their weekly auctions -- done by CB radio -- where people sell their unwanted stuff; and their Wednesday four wheel and ATV rides. He told us about life here; how people don't feel a need to lock their rigs when they're gone for short periods. He told us that 911 coverage is quite poor out in the desert, and it takes the Yuma paramedics a long time to respond. If you're in trouble use your CB radio -- or yell!

Since Yuma assistance can be slow in arriving, the Imperial Dam LTVA campers have an alternate source of help -- the firefighters and paramedics from the nearby military ordinance installation, the Yuma Proving Ground, (better known as the "YPG"). Each camper is given an Emergency Procedure sheet when he checks into the LTVA detailing what he should do in an emergency. The base is located within easy reach of the LTVA, and the commander feels helping out in this manner is good practice for his men. In return, each year the LTVA sponsors a cookie bake, taking the cookies to the base firefighters and paramedics.

Like most of the other campers here, Mark has solar panels on the top of his rig. He also has a wind driven generator, good for the not uncommon windy desert days, and he and Tom had a great time discussing the merits of each. By the time we headed back to Hidden Shores, we knew we'd met someone unique -- someone I'll ask first before I take any more pictures! But the pictures and stories will make a nice addition for our summer presentation.

The next morning, an email from Apple in Houston informed us Tom's computer was on its way to Emerald Desert. He was anxious to get it back; while using my old one he'd finally realized why I'd been griping about its slowness. So guess what: I now have a new one!

Postcard: Arizona Ramblings

February 11, 2006

We extended our stay at Voyagers for three days. Each afternoon around 2 P.M., I'd show up at the reception desk to request another night. The third time, one of the gals behind the reception desk told me, "don't try this again tomorrow! We really will be out of room". (The Tucson gem show was just getting underway.) That was fine with us; we knew exactly where we'd go.

Only 30 miles east of Voyagers is the small town of Benson. With Tucson so close, it's likely that many RVers bypass this town and head for the "big city" . In doing so, they miss Kartchner Caverns. These caverns were discovered in 1974 by two cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts. They kept their discovery secret, even naming their find "Xanadu", after the mythical land in the Coleridge poem. Even in public, they could discuss Xanadu and not worry about giving away their secret. In 1978 they revealed their find to the landowners, James and Lois Kartchner, but no one else knew of the caves' existence for another 10 years, when the land was purchased by Arizona State Parks and development began.

Unlike most caves that are open for public viewing, Kartchner is alive -- that is, its formations are still growing. The only way to visit the caverns is to take a tour -- one led by a ranger accompanied by a volunteer. The caves are entered through two sealed doors, the first opened to let the group in and then closed before the next is opened. The rules for visiting are quite strict. Only small groups are allowed. No cameras, no strollers or baby backpacks; no food or drink, gum or tobacco, and no touching of anything, in order to keep the caves as pristine as possible. Only low lighting is used, turned on when the group reaches a point of interest, and off when the group leaves, restoring the cave to its natural darkness. Recently, an additional preservation tactic has been added. While you are "between doors", you go through a gentle, misty shower -- so that any clothing lint will stay on you, and not come off on the caves. There are two available tours, each approximately 1/2 mile long and lasting about 1 1/2 hours. The "Throne Room" tour includes views of the discoverers' original trail, an underground "sea", (Coleridge's "sunless sea"), and the largest column in Arizona, "Kubla Khan".

We had toured the Throne Room before and were delighted to find a couple of extra spaces this time on the other, newer tour -- the "Big Room" tour. The sights on this tour include the world's most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk, a small white stalagmite with a milky center -- very like a yolkless egg. While we watched, a drop of water fell from an overhead stalactite and hit the stalagmite, dead center. At one point along the route, I was surprised to see a couple of cigarette butts lying on the otherwise pristine cave floor. I took aside Pete, the volunteer for our group, and asked what they were. He laughed and assured me I wasn't the first to ask that question; they certainly weren't cigarettes, but only pieces of stalactite which had fallen from the roof. A bit embarrassed, I was glad I hadn't asked my question of the group as a whole! In several places we could see piles what looked like rich dirt. Not dirt, but bat guano -- the Big Room is home to over 1,000 female cave myotis bats, who use it as a nursery each spring. To protect the bats, the Big Room is closed from April to October.

If you look in TrailerLife, you'll find no mention of the RV park that adjoins the Caverns. Look up Kartchner on the Internet, and there'll be no mention of this well kept secret either. But what a great place to stay. There are about 60 asphalt sites, many large enough for any size rig, each with water and electric hookup. (A sewer dump is just outside the campground entrance). From the campground, it's an easy walk to the Visitor Center, and several hiking trails begin at the campground and lead out into the desert. Camp here, and find yourself far from the noise of the Interstate or the lights of any town, with coyote music at dusk and a night sky simply crammed with stars.

It's always interesting to visit the local Chamber of Commerce, and the one in Benson is no exception, located in the historic old Southern Pacific Train station. Bob Hilman, longtime resident of Benson and volunteer at the Chamber, proved himself a virtual Benson area guidebook -- full of interesting facts about the area, canyons to drive and old ruins to explore. He told us that Benson is a conservative little town; residents enjoy their lifestyle here and are not much ready for change. The closest thing to an Internet cafe in town is the city library!

That may soon change, however. The neverending Arizona growth has finally arrived in Benson. New housing developments are underway with even more planned. Each year when we come to this state I wonder where the Arizona planners think they're going to find the water necessary for all these new arrivals. A recent article in the Tucson paper stated that even though a recent agreement among the 5 Colorado River states favored Arizona, the agreement would only postpone the coming water shortage.

While we were tempted to stay at Kartchner State Park for several more days, the one thing the campground didn't have was TV reception capable of picking up the Superbowl. We headed north to the Fiesta Grande RV park in Casa Grande.

Years ago, our first stop at Festa Grande was because of truck trouble. The park hosts were very helpful, recommending a mechanic, and even offering to drive us to the shop. The friendly atmosphere hasn't changed; you feel welcomed as soon as you walk in to register. We had called to add an additional night to our reservation, and been assured this would be fine. When I came in the office, however, I found that a problem with our reservation had come up. But instead of telling us we'd have to change sites, or that they couldn't accommodate us, the gal behind the desk simply smiled and said, "I have some choices for you". She had taken the time to check the whole park and circle several available sites on the map. We could take our pick. What a difference from other, often seemingly indifferent, park personnel we've met over the years.

A winter trip in Arizona wouldn't be the same without a stay at Usery Mountain. Drive along Highway 60, also known as the Superstition Mountain Freeway, and look at the hills to the north. When you spot a directional arrow and the word "Phoenix" painted on one hill, get off the freeway and head toward it. [Ellsworth off ramp] Only 6 miles from the congestion of Mesa, and you're in a different world.

Similar in set-up to Kartchner, this park has about 70 widely spaced desert sites, complete with concrete table and benches, barbeques and fire rings. Even in this time of extreme drought, (over 100 days without rain), campfires are still permitted. And, while daytime temperatures have been in the low 80s, evenings get cool -- a fire is very welcome. Usery is a popular park and we expected to spend a day in overflow before a site would open, but we were lucky this time, 8 sites were available.

We spent one afternoon re-visiting another old favorite, McDowell Mountain county park. This is a "twin" park to Usery Mountain park. It's located about 5 miles north of Fountain Hills, north of Phoenix, and is ringed by spectacular hills. A disastrous wildfire in 1995 wiped out much of the desert growth there, and desert plants take many years to return to their former states. But McDowell is slowly returning. While the stands of cholla and saguaro are noticeably thinner, the undergrowth of jojoba and creosote bush is back covering many of the scars left from the fire. The campers are returning also. The "new" section, (larger restrooms and slightly wider sites) was full, but there were at least 10 free sites in the older section.

So far on our winter's trip we've had little trouble finding vacancies. A couple of parks, Desert Trails in El Centro, Voyagers, (during the gem show), in Tucson, were almost full, but had space for overnighters such as we. But we're seeing a couple of trends. Some of the parks, like Emerald Desert in Palm Desert, are going out of business; it's simply too unprofitable to keep an RV park as is, when you can turn your acreage into homes that start, as the billboards say, "from the low $$$". Other parks, like Fiesta Grande, are adding park models and attracting people who enjoy returning, year after year, to the same place and same people. Some RVers are keeping their RVs, but storing them at the winter parks, using them as seasonal homes. This way, they have neither the hassle nor the fuel expense of traveling between their winter and summer homes. Of course, they don't have the delight of just being on the road, and they've essentially traded the traditional RVing lifestyle for the location-based park model lifestyle.

We've spent the last 10 days exploring and re-exploring our favorite Arizona haunts. During that time, Tom got a call from Peggy Waterman, the coordinator of Life On Wheels, an annual RVers educational conference. We'll be presenting some seminars again at the University of Idaho in July. Participating in this conference is always an intriguing challenge, one which leads us to consider how our RVing experiences now might relate to what we'll talk about then. But that's an enjoyable part of the experience. It means we'll have to curtail our summer travels to Alaska a bit, but we always look forward to the unique level of enthusiasm we find among RVers and instructors at this annual Conference.

Postcard: 30 Hours to Mexico

January 31, 2000

Off to Mexico. We had our insurance papers in hand, a supply of traveler's checks stuffed in my purse, and our trusty "Guide to Mexican Camping" at the ready. We'd read and re-read those sections on crossing the border.

We could have spent the night before crossing at an RV park in Nogales, but for several reasons, we prefer the DeAnza Trails RV resort in Amado. It's only a few kilometers further north, and while there's only a small market, we didn't need groceries this time. The park has 82 gravel sites, a swimming pool and nice laundry facilities, and we'd arranged to store our tow jeep there while we were gone. We'd have to pay for a month's storage, but the rate was quite reasonable, and who knows! we might be gone that long. An extra attraction for me -- this park is only 10 kilometers from Tubac. This artist town is a wonderful collection of galleries and restaurants. Studios showcase everything from furniture to clothing. You can find wrought iron statuary or outdoor furniture, sparkling silver jewelry and glassworks. I might have been tempted by the clever and colorful Mexican figures, but since we're traveling in a camper with limited space, and were about to enter Mexico anyway, I spent a couple of pleasurable hours just window shopping.

We'd planned a gradual immersion into Mexico. Our first few nights would be spent in San Carlos, a beach town about 250 miles below the border. San Carlos is only 15 miles from the larger town of Guaymas, and we figured we'd spend a day or so exploring here as well. We'd explore the waterfront, and walk the beaches of San Carlos and Miramar. By initially planning on spending only a week in the Mexican state of Sonora, we could take advantage of a new plan -- "Solo Sonora" ["Sonora only"]. If you're only going to Sonora for up to 7 days, you can bring in your car, bond free. Should you later decide to explore other Mexican states, you drive to the nearby town of Empalme to get the necessary additional documents to extend your stay and to travel further south. At this point we'd need to pay the usual fees, and to purchase additional Mexican liability insurance. We were planning on making that decision after spending a few days in the San Carlos area.

We came to the first border crossing and were waved right through. At Km 21 the book warned we'd have to stop, present our tourist card applications, get them stamped and do whatever necessary to "import" the truck and camper. According to the brochure we'd received from the "Solo Sonora" office in Tucson, we'd get all the necessary documentation that travelers going further south receive; we'd just not have to pay for them as long as we stayed in the state for not longer than seven days.

However, the folks at KM 21 didn't seem to know a lot about the Solo Sonora program. We arrived at the checkpoint about 9 a.m., and were delighted to see it wasn't jammed with south-bound caravans. In fact, there were only two other couples waiting to cross into Mexico. We'd already filled out our visa applications, and swiftly got our tourist cards. Then we went to the nearby Banjercito to get the car documentation. However, we were not asked for any documentation at all concerning either our truck or camper. We said, "Solo Sonora", and were just waved through. We received no hologram for the car, thus no hologram was returned when we came back through. That was just as well, as on our return we completely missed the small sign indicating where north bound travelers should hand in their documentation. Tom had to pull off the road while I ran back to the office. Since we had no vehicle hologram, I just turned in the tourist cards and hoped that would be enough.

I vividly remember traveling through the Km 21 checkpoint when we traveled south with Adventure Caravans 6 years ago. We spent at least an hour here, as each member of the caravan was checked and re-checked, and even at that two caravan members had to return for additional paperwork. Having the place almost to ourselves was delightful. We made mental notes for our next trip -- check the online schedules of the big caravans, and plan NOT cross the border at the same time as they do.

The road from Nogales to Guaymas/San Carlos can best be described as having two parts -- the road to Hermosillo, about 160 miles long, and the shorter segment into San Carlos . We were prepared for toll roads; there'd be three toll booths going south. We hadn't changed any money so far, so we paid our tolls in dollars, receiving pesos as change. We were glad to have some pesos, especially when one toll taker explained he could only take that currency.

For the first 60+ miles of the trip, from Nogales to Magdalena and Santa Ana, the road was 2 lane and somewhat undulating. This was a bit unnerving, first because we were just getting used to Mexican roads and secondly because there was no shoulder at all. Obviously, just getting used to driving here took some time, but this section is fairly slow going anyway, as it led us through several small towns, where we renewed our acquaintance with "Topes", those notorious Mexican speed bumps which slow every driver. You must stop and crawl over them or risk an exceptionally hard bounce. Even the Mexican drivers, often a bit daring, come to complete stops before driving over topes.

As we traveled south from Santa Ana, the road improved to 4 lanes. South of Estacion Llano, we noticed a road block on the north bound side of the road. For several miles, trucks were slowed, either just crawling along, or actually stopped. However, cars and RVs seemed to be getting by on the outside lane, so, at that time, we didn't think too much about it.

Our "Mexican Camping" book was invaluable when we got to Hermosillo. The Churches point out that this large city doesn't yet have a good bypass route, so they take the traveler through town marking distances and turns by various Pemex stations. "Turn right at Pemex #7765", etc. The route worked perfectly; the numbers on the stations were large enough that you ran no risk of missing one. As it turned out, the route didn't work quite as well northbound because of a new detour.

From Hermosillo to the turnoff for Guaymas is a distance of about 90 miles, and we arrived at the El Mirador RV park a bit after 3 p.m. It took a while to get parked in our site -- mainly because it took a while to find Roberto, who was supposed to check in new arrivals. He finally returned from the Marina where he'd been talking with some of the local fishermen. OK, this is Mexico, no one's in a hurry here. We were assigned a nice site next to the pool and spa and not too close to the Fantasy Caravan celebrating their last night in Mexico.

What I didn't realize as we pulled into our site was that our first night in Mexico would also be our last night here. Tom, exhibiting that peculiarly male characteristic, stoicism, had neglected to tell me that he'd been experiencing chest pains since Hermosillo. While we would eventually learn it was not symptomatic of anything serious, we had no way to know that at the time. We pondered the options for dealing with the situation locally, but without much enthusiasm for doing so. It was too late to return that evening. And when the symptoms were still there the next morning, we made the only logical decision we could: we cut short our trip and headed back to Tucson.

When we reached the main road north toward Hermosillo, I took the wheel. A bit trepid at first, I was surprised how quickly I became used to the roads. They didn't seem as bumpy today, partly because I had become somewhat accustomed to them and was no longer comparing them to US roads, partly because I was driving the easiest segment. Easiest that is, until Hermosillo.

20 miles up the road, we caught up with the tail end of the Fantasy Caravan from San Carlos. The road was straight and fairly wide at this point, and each RV was following one of the cardinal rules of caravaning -- keep enough distance between RVs to let faster vehicles pass and pull into your lane. By this time, we were closing in on Hermosillo, and our "bible", so good on traversing the city headed south, was quiet on how to get through going north. Tom had been driving going south, so I'd had a chance to look around as we passed through the city, and I remembered one section that looked quite rough for the north bound vehicles. So, instead of passing the caravan, we joined it. They could lead us through town.

What a good idea. While most of the route was a repeat of the southbound trek, about a mile of it was not. The road, once a wide boulevard, suddenly made a sharp right turn and wound through residential areas, on a wet and muddy former railroad right of way. I was very glad to be following the tailgunner, the staff member responsible for the well being of the RVs in front of him. If I could stay close behind him, we'd be fine.

It worked perfectly. We were off the detour, and back on familiar roads before a red light cut me off from the caravan. Several miles north of the city, we stopped at a large Pemex to change drivers, and found "our" caravan. They had stopped for a last good bye before the border. We waved a thank you to the tailgunner, Tom took over the driving, and we headed for the border.

All went smoothly until we neared Estacion Llano, where we found that road block we'd vaguely noted as we drove south. We passed a miles long column of trucks, some going very slowly, others completely stopped, some drivers talking on cell phones, others taking the opportunity to wash their windows. We passed slowly, glad to be moving at all, and came to a Mexican army check station. Several trucks were going through arms and drug inspection, their cargo doors open while they waited. We pulled into the auto section; Tom opened the camper for one soldier while I opened the truck's back seat section for another. They were very thorough. The soldier who checked the back seat of the truck opened our box of orange plastic leveling blocks. He pulled out the first couple, then ran his hand down the sides of the nylon holding bag. Next he re-zipped the bag and turned it over to be sure it had blocks all the way through.

Next he went around to examine our infrared barbeque. I tried to explain what this large, heavy square was, and, worried he'd drop and break it, I managed to persuade him not to pull it out of the truck. I wondered about our two propane containers, but they passed, and we were on our way again. We figured the waiting trucks would have a minimum of a 2 hour wait before they'd get rolling again.

We turned in our tourist cards and headed to the Nogales border crossing, a bit concerned to be crossing on a Friday afternoon. It was extremely busy, and our lane was wedged between 18 wheelers and an unyielding wall. I was glad Tom was driving as he managed to ooze through without hitting anything on either side of the camper. We had a bit of a problem with American customs. Some of the food we had with us, steaks, bacon and avocado, shouldn't have been allowed back in the country. But the customs agent was most understanding of our short trip to San Carlos, and let us through. It was 30 hours almost to the minute since we'd cleared Km 21 heading south.

A trip to the urgent care facility at a Tucson hospital showed Tom had somehow developed a touch of pneumonia -- and a comprehensive battery of tests showed all else was fine. The prescription was for an antibiotic and a few days of "taking it easy". We complied by finding a space at Voyagers RV resort for a few days of R&R, with emphasis on lying in the sun and soaking in one of their several spas. We'll spend the next several days somewhere in the general area, ensuring TV reception for next Sunday's Superbowl. Ideas of Baja have already occurred to us, but for now mainland Mexico will probably have to wait.

Postcard: Trial Run

January 24, 2006

On our annual Southwest winter sojourns, Tom and I have explored RV parks from San Diego to Lafayette (LA), and traveled from Redding to Bisbee (AZ). We've taken a couple of trips down the Baja California peninsula, and once joined an Adventure Caravan Tour to Mexico's Copper Canyon. But except for that caravan trip, we've never "RVed" in mainland Mexico. To be sure, in our college days, we drove straight through from Berkeley, CA to Mazatlan for a spring break trip once or twice, but that was in a car, not an RV. This trip, we're planning a solo trip south, just us and our camper, we're unsure just how far. We'll be first-timers.

To alleviate any first timing jitters, we did two things. First, we got a copy of the "Mexican Camping" book by Mike and Teri Church. It was recommended to us by David Eidell, who has written so many of the helpful and informative articles about RVing in Mexico for our site. For a couple of days, Tom read those parts of the book concerned with border crossings and the areas we might want to visit. Next, we planned a two day trip to Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco), a Mexican town 60 miles below the Arizona border. For many RVers, Rocky Point doesn't really count as Mexico. It's only a short distance south on a well maintained road. Rocky Point is located in an area called the Sonoran Free Zone, and you don't need a tourist card. The RV parks there are full of Americans and Canadians. Over the years, we've visited the town several times, always as a day trip, leaving our larger rig in Ajo or Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We'd buy one day's insurance, have lunch at one of the many excellent restaurants in town, and stop at the fish market for shrimp, fish and asparagus. We'd drive through one of the many RV parks sitting right on the beach, and let the dog run in the sand. Then we'd head back to the U.S.

And that was what we were going to do again, the morning of our first trial run. We were staying in Ajo, a small town 40 miles above the border at Shadow Ridge RV park. (They now have free WiFi; Tom was delighted). The older sites in the park, those in the first few rows, are more suited for smaller rigs, but the back sites have been developed for larger ones, and are often quite full. Not so this year, however. As in many other parks where we've stopped this season, we saw many empty sites, perhaps due to fuel prices. We're finding that destination parks, where people come year after year to be with their friends are still crowded. A good example is Desert Trails in El Centro, where park models and RVs parked like park models, with skirts around their wheels and porches added, take up a good percentage of the available sites with few left for the overnighter.

We were eating a late breakfast when Tom suggested a day trip south. We'd not spend the night -- indeed, we didn't know if there would be any room -- the RVers have to be somewhere -- just do our usual lunch thing, grab some camarones (shrimp), and head back. Sounded good, we finished quickly and headed for Mexico.

We soon found we'd headed south way too quickly. We'd passed though Ajo, and were headed to Why (there's really a town called Why, it's across the street from Why Not), when I suddenly realized I'd forgotten our collapsible cooler. Well, I rationalized, the guys at the fish market always put the shrimp in plastic bags with ice. That would have to do. Several miles further down the road, Tom remarked he'd forgotten his sunglasses. Oops. 10 miles further on, I realized we'd left the passports behind. We'd not really need them, but we'd feel much more comfortable with if we had them along. We both realized that perhaps today's trial run would be better made to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We'd try again for Mexico tomorrow.

That afternoon back in Ajo, we purchased Mexico insurance for three days, called Playa Bonita RV park and were told "we've plenty of room, come on down", and got ready for a leisurely trip south.

Next morning, we tackled the border. If we'd been in the Wrangler instead of the camper, we'd probably not have been stopped at all. As it was, a very polite young man asked us to open the rig walked in, looked around and walked out. No drawers were opened, no documents requested. It took less than 5 minutes to cross into Mexico.

It takes a bit longer to get through the border town of Sonoyita. The streets are quite narrow, and the stop ("ALTO") signs can be easy to miss. The ever present speed bumps -- ("TOPES") -- require very slow transiting. Hit one going too fast, your car bounces, hard and high, and you won't do it again. But the town is quite small, and in a couple of miles we were out in the countryside on a two lane, wide shouldered road with fewer than 60 miles to our destination.

Every time we come toward Rocky Point we notice more new construction. Billboards advertise luxury hotels along the beach, time share condos and new golf courses. Before we got to town, we passed three or four RV parks, most almost empty, a couple open last visit, and now closed, and one looking about half full. But we wanted to be on the beach and continued on into town.

Even though we'd been to Playa Bonita RV park before, we followed the Church's instructions when we arrived in Rocky Point, and found those instructions perfect. We drove through the park's bright pink arches, noticed the familiar signs, those forbidding riding "ATCs" or shooting fireworks in the park, and quickly checked in. Like many other parks in the area, the sites at Playa are small, close together and the access roads quite narrow. But on this visit their many vacancies made each site seem larger. The waterfront sites were full, but the interior sites were less than half occupied.

We only used the electric hookup, but many other rigs used the water and sewer as well. Tom met one man from Grants Pass, Oregon who opined that the water was perfectly fine, but had a bit of a chlorine flavor. He also recommended we purchase our camarones from Armando, a guy who drives through the park each morning, and directed us to La Curva for lunch or dinner meals. Playa Bonita now offers free WiFi and although the service was a bit spotty, it did let us swap some stories with our kids.

I could hardly wait to get to the beach. Sandy Beach is well named, sandy with fascinating shells and rock formations. As I examined the rocks, I could see they were formed of compacted sand and shell. I was tempted to find a sample to take home with me, but all the rocks I was able to pry out of the sand crumbled in my fingers.

Right next door to the RV park is the hotel Playa Bonita, a popular, ornate yellow structure with swimming pool, restaurant and patio bar. Each evening, hotel guests and RVers gather on a covered patio overlooking the beach for "Happy Hour". It makes a most colorful picture. A singer serenades the group, and 20 or so beach vendadores stand on the sand in front of the patio, hawking their wares -- jewelry, brightly painted pots and paper flowers. Tom and I went down to watch the festivities and noticed that it was indeed happy hour -- for everyone, including a large bunch of sparrows who were grabbing tortilla chips from a big bowl standing unnoticed on a table in one corner. The tortilla chips weighed about as much as the birds, and it was amusing to watch these small creatures grab one and fly off with it, only to find it was to heavy to carry. The sparrow would drop the chip, and a waiting seagull would swoop in and carry it off. After eating the chip, the seagull would become thirsty and fly over to the hotel pool for a drink and a swim.

We spent one afternoon driving down Sandy Beach, past the hotel construction toward Choya Bay, a rapidly growing community on the Rocky Point for which the whole town is named. Sprinkled between the modest older homes, is a growing number of large and beautiful new ones. Some extended almost out over the water, and an apparent sign of the changes coming to this part of Mexico.

Friday night, we got a taste of Rocky Point weekends. Quite a few RVers, mainly from Phoenix and Tucson, store their RVs here for the winter. When they decide they want to come south, they merely call and make a reservation. One of the maintenance men gets their rig from storage, puts it in a site and hooks it up. When the RVers arrive, everything is ready. The border crossing, never hard, is even easier, and all they have to bring with them are their toys, their kayaks, ATVs and bicycles. One couple told me they seldom have trouble finding a spot at Playa Bonita -- except in March -- spring break. Then the park's completely full.

When you buy insurance for driving in Mexico, it runs in 24 hour increments. Our insurance had become effective at 9:30 am Thursday morning, and would expire at 9:30 on Sunday. If we'd extended another night, and left Sunday morning, we'd have found ourselves leaving early, hoping not to run into any impediments to our trip back. By leaving after only two nights, we had time for a leisurely breakfast, a walk on the beach before we left, and no push to get back to the border.

Of course, we encountered no delays on our return trip, those only happen when you're in a hurry. Crossing back into the US posed no difficulty either. There was no line at customs and the official didn't even bother to look in our camper. She merely asked us if we had anything to declare, looked at our passports, handed them back and told us to "have a good day." We decided to spend this night at Organ Pipe and the next back at Shadow Ridge to catch up on our email and watch the football playoffs. Then we'd head to Tucson to make preparations for our next Mexican adventure. Our trial run was over.

Postcard: Actors on the Desert Stage

January 18, 2006

The humans of this world don't have a monopoly on personalities; the bird world has them too. Just watch our feathered "friends". Some will seem placid seed eaters, others are proud singers, and still others tend to be aggressive bullies. You'll find a complete cast of players, complete with heroes and heroines -- and most certainly villains. Scatter some seed around your campground, wait, and watch.

After a few days lap lizarding, (our description of a few energetic laps in the pool, followed by a "well earned" lounge in the sun with a book), at Emerald Desert, we headed south to Borrego Springs. When we were here in mid-December, Palm Canyon Campground state park was practically empty. Now more campers had arrived, but we still had no trouble finding one of our "preferred" sites. To be fair, all the sites here are "desert interesting", with natural landscaping -- creosote, lavender and indigo bushes, palo verde and palm trees. The palms have been left in their natural state -- no one has clipped the dead fronds. These hang like shaggy beards from each tree, making them natural apartments for the desert birds and animals. Ground squirrels and rabbits inhabit the ground floors of these apartments, cactus wrens, sparrows and finches take the penthouses. The dry fronds make quite a bit of noise, whether rustled by the wind or a tiny bird. When a cactus wren heads home at day's end and follows a tortuous path through the dry maze of palm fronds, the amount of noise that generates makes you sure there's something at least as big as a mountain lion in that tree.

When we have a choice, we prefer camping in the hookup section, in either of the first two rows, sites 30 to 48. These are the only sites with palms, although feeders can be hung from bushes, or seed scattered around in many of the other sites as well. This time, we found what we thought would be the perfect spot -- a site with a shaggy palm tree giving the birds and animals a secure place to hide if anything disturbed them. There was a place to scatter seed, out of the way of passing cars and people and their pets. We could set our chairs so that we'd have a view of the action, but not intrude.

Our stage, the area where I scattered the seeds, was about 3 feet square -- small, but easily big enough for the birds. We settled back in the sun for an afternoon of reading -- and then Tom noticed that we were missing the show -- a continuous performance limited only by how often I wanted to put out more food.

The only downside to our site was the presence of the neighbor's feeders across the street. Every conceivable type of bird feeder graced their campsite. A specially crafted stand stood near the fire ring. From one side swung a large red apple hummingbird feeder; on the other was a multi-tiered seed holder. Suet cakes were fixed to the thorns of a nearby creosote bush, and a thistle sack feeder was tied to another. Remnants of orange and grapefruit were placed to tempt birds like the cactus wren, who aren't much into seed. It was a 5 star bird restaurant, with dozens of customers, and our few sunflower seed offerings paled in comparison.

However, it seemed that the birds didn't mind. The first to find our seeds were white crowned sparrows, and their chirpings brought other birds -- finches, doves and quail. The ground squirrels came running across the street and stopped to stuff their pouches. The ruckus also brought the villain of this melodrama onto the stage -- a Northern Mockingbird.

My bird book states that Northern Mockingbirds are "aggressively territorial" and they "may attack any intruder", but this bird was extraordinary. First, he didn't just dive out of the palm tree to defend his home; he flew in from a site well down the road. (Perhaps he considered all of Palm Canyon campground his own special bailiwick!) He didn't seem in the least inclined to eat any of the seeds I'd put out, but he surely didn't want any other bird to have them either. The sparrows and finches were pecking at the seeds, hopping around and eating them faster than I could put them out, when this bird dived into the middle of the throng and gave an angry, rasping noise that sounded something like "check". He accompanied the noise with a lunge toward the nearest bird and a stabbing motion with his sharp beak, effectively clearing the area. He paraded through the seeds, turning one or another over with his bill, but not eating any. Then he left.

Back came the birds. Back came the mockingbird. He even threatened the ground squirrels, forcing them to retreat to the safety of their holes at the base of the palm. He was more than merely threatening; at one point, I went over to look at this "stage" and found a number of freshly detached feathers scattered around. A couple of times, I shooed him away from the seeds, but that only deterred him for a short while. Finally, I decided not to interfere in the action, and let nature do her thing. After all, the other birds did have the 5 star place across the street; the mockingbird didn't seem to bother them there.

When the sun went down, the birds went to their places in the palm trees, and the rustling of fronds was, for a time, quite noisy. Then the evening show began. The acrobats of the stage took their places and began their dances. The Kangaroo rats had arrived.

It's easy to see why these large eyed, small rats are so named. They have large hind feet and small front ones. They use their long tails to help them balance. They are lightning fast, appearing to move instantly from one spot to the next. We watched them jump around, kick boxing other rats as they competed for the sunflower seeds left over from the daytime crew. We used a flashlight to track the rats, and they didn't seem particularly afraid of the light, but an infrared one would be perfect.

Perhaps the most famous of the actors on the desert stage of Borrego Springs are the borregos themselves. These desert bighorns are endangered, and you may not see one -- unless you hike up Palm Canyon toward the palm oasis. Tom and I got particularly lucky on this visit. We spotted a herd of 20 climbing the steep canyon walls on one of our semi-early, (7 AM-ish) morning walks. No antics here, they just ambled along, but one of the largest herds we've seen in the park.

Two days at Palm Canyon campground and I had run out of birdseed. Time to go. We spent one night at the new resort in town, the Springs of Borrego. It's a beautiful resort, large level sites, an intriguing looking golf course (with special rates for RVers!), and a spacious clubhouse. The clubhouse is shaped in a semi-circle, sheltering a patio with swimming pool and three mineral spas. The spas are quite small and private, about 2 person size, and I had the luxury of testing each one -- no one else was using them.

We enjoyed our box seats for the antics on the desert stage. Borrego Springs and Palm Canyon campground remain one of my favorite spots. It's unfortunate that some of the campground has been closed to camping, but the constant threat of another flash flood in the area remains real. We noted that the campground has not been maintained as well as in previous years -- undoubtedly due to budget cuts as is the case in other states. But I look forward to many return trips, and other days and nights watching the actors on the desert stage.

Postcard: Launching a New Adventure

January 10, 2006

Christmas was over, the few decorations I'd put up in our townhome taken down and boxed up, waiting for next year. We'd toasted each other on New Year's Eve, and watched the clock come down in Times Square (we watched the west coast celebrations on TV the next morning!). Now only 4 small details were keeping us from a southward departure -- 4 details better known as the "BCS", the Bowl Championship Series. Watching football games is not one of my favorite pastimes, but it ranks very high on Tom's list. The last game was Wednesday evening, so we planned on a Thursday morning departure, and were off, heading south, well before breakfast.

The outcome of these bowl games was the subject of another game, one played annually by our family. All sorts of convoluted, semi-mathematical "guesses" center around the outcome of these 4 games, and this morning, we needed to find post office in order to mail the results to each of the kids. La Pine, the first town south of Bend, had hidden its PO so well that we couldn't find it. Only a few miles down the road, however, was Gilchrist, a dot on the map, a town comprised mainly of one miniature mall. But in the mall was a deli, a restaurant, a movie theater and -- a Post Office!

I hurried in and looked over the counter. I could hear noises just out of my view, so I knew the postalperson was working in the back, but the only thing I could actually see was a large yellow dog. He came over, tail at the wag, and looked up at me. "Hullo, dog," I said. "Are you in charge this morning?" About now, I noticed the mail worker coming toward me, but I kept my gaze fixed firmly on the dog. "I'd like to buy two 37 cent stamps, please".

Only in a little town would someone have the time to play my game, and this guy was great. Keeping a perfectly straight face, he asked, "Would you like these pre-licked? He, (meaning the dog), is in charge of that."

The sun was out, the day was clear, and the road was a nicely cleared ice rink bordered by snowbank about 4 feet high on either side. We passed one semi wedged deeply into the snow at an impossible angle. Two cars, one with a trailer, were also waiting for help and several suspicious, car shaped "dents" in the snowbanks on the sides of the roads were firmly imprinted where others had slid into the drifts. But by the time we reached Klamath Falls, the roads had become bare and dry. Winter was behind us.

It's a bit different when we're traveling with neither camper nor coach. The good news is that we cover more miles, and I get treated to meals out; the bad news is that we don't know where we're going to stay. I could list many of the campgrounds between Bend and Palm Desert, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you about the motels in the same areas. And I find myself thinking solely in terms of campgrounds. "Oh, we can stay here", but we can't. We don't have our "house" with us. We spent the first night in Williams, about 75 miles south of Red Bluff, at a motel right next to Granzellas Italian restaurant, (delicious dinner!), got up early the next morning and headed straight for Palm Desert. Down I-5, through Sacramento and Stockton, past the feed lots of Kettleman City, toward Bakersfield and into the fog.

We've read about the famous fogs of the San Joaquin Valley, and tales of multi-car pileups seemed very real as cars whizzed past us, some with lights, others, astonishingly enough, without. However, as we climbed up the "Grapevine", that winding section of road between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, the fog disappeared, and the only thing left to face was the traffic of San Bernardino. By 4:30 that afternoon, we were back in Emerald Desert RV resort, had redeemed the camper from storage, and were set up in a new site.

It's great to return to the warm variety of sun, (Bend has lots of sun, but it's often fighting very cold temperatures at this time of year), and we're looking forward to a few days at Emerald Desert before we head out again. Our plans call for a stop in Borrego Springs, and then we'll head east toward Arizona, and possibly south to Mexico. Unbeknownst to me, Tom ordered "A Traveler's Guide to Mexican Camping" by Mike and Terri Church, recommended by some of our readers for those embarking solo into Mexico. He's also been seen looking at the web pages of several spots in the San Carlos area, and just today, remarked he'd read of a geocache there that only its owner had been able to find. Sounds wonderful, but should we amend our plans, a few days at Organ Pipe Cactus NM, with a side trip to Rocky Point for shrimp, is also inviting.

Whatever happens, I'm glad to be out of the rain and snow for awhile. The current weather forecasts for the Bend area include 6 inches of snow, to be followed by a warm rain. Only a few weeks ago, under similar circumstances, we discovered that Bend, a high desert town, doesn't have the drain system needed for that sort of weather. We needed a boat instead of a car.

Now we're looking forward to some brand new experiences. Bring on the warm and sunny southern climes.

Postcard: Where have all the People Gone?

December 14, 2005

It wasn't so much the snow; while we have about 18 inches on the ground at our townhome, it hasn't been actively snowing for several days. It wasn't so much the rain or freezing fog, stuff that creeps up on a motorist and coats his windshield with a thin layer of opaque ice before he can turn on his defroster. It wasn't even the cold, highs in the 20s and lows in the single digits. It was the remembrance of other, warmer climes, of places we've called home during these winter months for the past many years. We had no appointments or other obligations for 10 days. Time to go south -- time to go back to the desert.

We left town on one of its patented beautiful afternoons; cold but clear and sunny. (Bend gets a reported 320 days of sun each year.) Highway 97 south was clear of snow and ice, a perfect day to start a trip south. It was just too good to be true, and the weather pulled a fast one as we neared Klamath Lake. A thick curtain of fog hung over the lake and the road. Tom slowed, but as the road crept below the fog bank, visibility sank to near zero, and the temperature plummeted. An instant layer of ice coated our windshield, and, I imagine, the road as well. We were lucky we were only 20 miles from our evening's destination.

The fog was still with us the next morning, but in about 15 miles we'd left it behind. Mr. Shasta gleamed invitingly in the morning sunshine, and as we climbed along its flank, we encountered a temperature inversion; the higher we drove, the warmer the air became. Good bye to the sub-freezing country behind us, at least until we choose to return north.

Getting back to the camper made us all the more anxious to head south. One last night at JGW, and it was time to go. No wind in the Sacramento Valley, no remnants of rainstorms to be hurled at us by passing 18 wheelers, and we made good enough time to wonder where we'd spend the night. We were too early to stop in Patterson and the Kit Fox RV park, and too late to make it to Bakersfield before dark. Sommerville's Almond Tree RV park is conveniently located for travelers in this predicament, in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, about 100 miles from Bakersfield. However, the last time we tried to find a spot here, not being members of one particular club, we'd been brusquely turned away. Not so today. They had plenty of room and welcomed us with open arms. In retrospect, this may have been our first taste of a new RVing trend in southern California -- plenty of space. Whether due to the price of fuel, prices charged by various parks and resorts or whether we're just too early and most folks are still home readying for Christmas, RVers don't seem to be out in the numbers we'd expected.

We were headed for Emerald Desert RV Resort, located in Palm Desert, just west of Palm Springs. We've been coming here, off and on, for more years than we can count. About 2 years ago, the resort was expanded to 760 sites. Each of the new sites was long enough to accommodate the largest rig. A large new clubhouse was added, complete with pool and spa. The existing golf course was revamped; one hole turned into RV sites, and that hole replaced by carving two short holes out of another. After all this reconstruction, we figured that the face of Emerald Desert would remain the same for many years to come. Not so.

The rumors started flying about a year ago. The most often heard rumor was that Emerald Desert would be closing at the end of the 2006 season. It would be razed and turned into "affordable" housing, (something of an oxymoron for the Palm Springs area). With all this uncertainty about the future of the park, and given that it is still very early in the season, we felt fairly comfortable arriving without a reservation, something we wouldn't have considered in prior years. This time, however, the occupancy rate is very low and we had no trouble finding a spot -- one in the area we requested.

As is the case with most rumors, this one was only partially true. Now that we're here, we've heard what really is about to happen. Emerald Desert will be closed from June, 2006 to September, 2006, and reopen in a new, slimmer size at that time. It will "shrink" from its current size to 245 sites. The sites lost will become apartments and condos, serving the expanding Cal State, located right next door. There will be a dividing wall and green belt belt between the new housing and the remaining park. This latter will include the "old" section, and sites around the main clubhouse. This solution is only guaranteed for one additional season -- until May 2007. Then the chance remains that Emerald Desert will indeed close forever -- and be totally replaced by new housing.

Where have all the regulars gone, those RVers who come in December and stay until May? Emerald Desert's partial closing has been good news for Outdoor Resorts, the luxury motorhome parks. There are three of them in the greater Palm springs area, and each has seen its sales skyrocket as motorhome owners scramble for places to park their rigs for the next year and beyond.

But Tom and I are not the sort of RVers who are content to stay in one spot for long. Its unusual for us to stay as long as three or four nights in any park. So, after a couple of nights here, we were off to one of our favorite desert haunts, Borrego Springs. It can often be difficult to get a spot at Borrego Palm Canyon State Park, so we decided to arrive around noon on a Sunday -- a time when weekend RVers would have headed home. For all we knew, Borrego Springs might have been discovered by many of the RVers who were no longer at Emerald Desert.

It's only 75 miles from Emerald Desert to Borrego Palm Canyon. Just a few miles east on I -10, then 30 miles down S86, and a make a right turn on the Borrego Salton Sea Highway. As we drove south, on our right was grove after grove of date palms, each dripping with honey colored dates, waiting to be harvested as the 2006 crop. To our left was the Salton Sea. As we turned west on the Borrego-Salton Sea road, we noticed something very new to this area. Where last year there were only a few "rustic" houses and a derelict golf course, now there are three new subdivisions being built, each with about 75 homes. "Progress" is coming to even this part of the desert landscape.

But not to Borrego Springs. Wherever the people have gone, they don't seem to have come here. The town was extremely quiet for a December weekend. We passed the sign indicating the turn to the campground, and were relieved that the "Campground Full" addition was not appended. The campground itself was still operating under the self registration method. In the 52 site, full hookup area -- that area we'd been so concerned about that we'd timed our arrival -- there were only 7 other campers! We had our choice of spots; all our favorites were empty. Wonderful, if a bit puzzling.

One of our fellow campers thought it was gas prices. He told us he'd paid $2.10 in Yuma, while in Borrego Springs, the cost was $2.50 -- (Borrego is not the place you'd ever go to get a good deal on fuel -- diesel tops the charts at $3.35!). Perhaps it was the price you now pay to camp here -- at $29, it's close to the rate at many fully developed RV parks. A year or so ago, a state park ranger at a northern California park told me that raising the camping fees would drive away campers from the state park system. Perhaps it has had some effect; perhaps we were just early, and after the New Year, the park will be once again completely full. Whatever the reason, today it was virtually empty.

Empty of people, not of wildlife. Jackrabbits still jump out from under creosote bushes as we take our morning desert walks. The finches, gold and house, have arrived. I always delight in hearing the rasping call of the cactus wren, native to this area. A hike up the canyon to the palm oases is practically mandatory when you camp here -- in one of my favorite winter spots.

When you visit Borrego Springs, one place you shouldn't miss is the park Visitor Center. This year, it's undergone a complete transformation. We spent an hour examining the new exhibits, fresh dioramas, and admiring the colorful surroundings. It's a marked improvement over its rather drab, office-like appearance of past years.

When we were here last year, a new RV resort, "The Springs at Borrego Golf and RV Resort" was still in the planning stages. While it's now open, it's still a work in progress; the swimming pool walls have yet to be plastered (that's promised in time for the New Year). In addition to the pool, there are 3 small spas, two of which will be mineral water spas. 90 sites have been developed, each long and level, each landscaped in desert fashion with cactus and bougainvillea, and plans call for another 200. The clubhouse has a state of the art, professional kitchen with huge refrigerator and 6 burner propane stove. One tennis court has been finished and a hole dug for another court which will be surrounded with grandstands. Around the whole resort is an 18 hole golf course. While there were only a handful of RVers here today; we learned that they'll be full for New Years Eve. This is a park that will be a fun discovery for RVers that enjoy a serene desert surrounding.

The cause, or causes of the decline in RV populations is still a mystery. It's quite possible that many people are still home, doing their last minute Christmas shopping, and planning for festive New Year's parties. We head back north tomorrow, to Yakima and our daughter's house for Christmas. New Year's day will find us in Bend; one of us especially enjoys the end of season football games. Then we head south again. Who knows where January will find us.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season and the happiest of New Years.

Postcard: High Desert Winter

November 28, 2005

So far, our plan of a short trip to the coast hasn't materialized -- too many other things had priority. I had forgotten that moving in doesn't end when you've emptied the last box. Tom looked around the cluttered garage, and took off to the nearest Lowes (home improvement store) for garage organizers. I looked around the kitchen and began rearranging drawers. (Just because the forks and knives are in one drawer in the morning, doesn't mean they'll still be there that afternoon). So, even though the fall temperatures were balmy, and the lure of the coast strong, we found ourselves being homebodies.

During the first several weeks we experienced a typical Indian summer. I felt a bit "put upon" as I worked around the new house and envied the passing golfers. But the almost limitless list of things that needed doing kept us otherwise occupied. As soon as we finished one project, another cropped up. I spent a couple of days sealing the tile grout in three bathrooms, the kitchen and hallway. We stained and sealed our deck and outside stairs against the coming winter weather.

"Just wait for November", we were warned when we raved about the balmy late October weather. And, right on schedule, the weather got colder, we had a couple of rain storms, and then came the snow! Great for the skiers and snowboarders at Mount Bachelor, but something new for these two transplants from the Pacific coast. Our townhome is located at 4,000 feet, just high enough to get snow whenever the mountain does. We're only a few miles from the ski area, so it's not surprising that we share its snowfall. (We'll also share the cooler temperatures come next summer). Now our project list added shades for our windows, both to protect against the quickly forgotten heat of the summer sun, and to keep in the heat on these frosty winter evenings. We were told that we'd have to plug some of the vent holes in our foundation. Lowes was doing a land-office business selling little white styrofoam blocks which just fit these foundation holes. And the forecasts predict an exceptionally snowy next few months.

But "all work and no play" is certainly not a description of your average RVer, let alone of Tom and me. We couldn't resist the lure of an overnight trip south to Klamath Falls. (We're learning the "lingo" of our new area, and now call it K-Falls). We'd so enjoyed Lava Beds National Monument last summer, that we simply had to try a late fall excursion. This was not the best idea we'd ever had. We headed into the mountains of northern California, and found that, while fall was technically far from over, in the mountains, winter had already begun. I'd thought there'd be no snow in the areas of full winter sun, but had forgotten we were headed up over 7,000 feet. We drove very cautiously through about 12 inches of fresh snow (no other vehicle tracks), on a narrow, hilly track, with vistas straight down. As we descended a fairly steep slope along the side of a mountain, Tom casually remarked that he hoped we could get back up it again. (So did I). The views were spectacular, but the birding was non-existent, and the scenery was glacial. Were we ever glad to get back to the main road again. We'll try again next summer.

Last year, the Pacific Northwest experienced a perfectly horrible winter -- snow wise. Lack of snow kept the ski areas from opening until late in the season, and shortened the available days for enjoying winter sports. Lack of snow also contributed to the ongoing drought in this area. So far, this year shows promise, with Mount Bachelor anticipating an early opening. We'll see, as I'm told that winter sports lovers are incurable optimists. Just a few flakes, and they are ready for the winter to end all winters. The people in Bend are more cautious. The first snowfall, which lasted less than a morning and melted by afternoon, brought out thousands of citizens for an annual celebration -- getting their winter tires installed. In Oregon, you have several choices for winter tires. You can do nothing and trust to your experience driving in snow to get you through the winter storms. You can get tires with winter tread. You can do something called "siping". Or you can get studded tires. It's been years since I did any real winter driving, so I went with the latter.

Getting winter tires installed isn't as easy a task as one might imagine. Bend's population tops 65,000, and this doesn't count those who, like us, live just outside the city limits. Tire stores open early, around 6:30 am, and on the day you select to get your tires, you'd better arrive at the store within a half hour of opening. After that, a sign goes up in the driveway -- "Sorry, full for the day". It took us several tries before we finally managed to get a new set of tires on my Grand Cherokee. As I drove home, I was surprised at the noise they made. Everyone who hears studded tire sounds hears a different noise -- ground glass, potato chips, and corn flakes being only a few examples. Whichever, we now sound just like most of the other cars in town. Of course, there hasn't been as much as a flake of snow since I got the tires installed, -- but I'm ready.

If getting the tires installed was a bit of a chore, another task was a lot more fun. We needed to take the truck and camper south. It simply gets too cold to leave a vehicle in an uncovered storage area here, and we'd rather not drive the camper south through a snowstorm. We took off one morning to the JGW RV park in Anderson, CA. This is a beautiful little park, right on the Sacramento River and just far enough south to usually be beyond the snow range of the Siskiyou Mountains. It's an easy and spectacular drive south from Bend, following highway 97 through the tiny towns of Gilchrist, Crescent and Chemult, each approaching 5,000 feet, each with a substantial snow build up, each seeing its fair share of winter driving accidents, and further convincing us it was time to head south. After Chemult, the road descends down to the Williamson River, and winds along the shores of upper Klamath Lake. For the next 70 miles, Mount Shasta, today freshly dusted with snow, dominates the skyline. Once into California, we joined Interstate 5, and headed toward Redding, following the shores of Lake Shasta. Today was sunny, warm and windless and the Lake was dotted with fishermen. Just the sort of day which makes RVers think of going on and on -- heading south. Our turn will come.

This time, however, we spent the evening at JGW, left the camper and headed back north, back to our high desert home, back to winter.

Bend is an incredibly "outdoors-y" town. In summer, the golf courses (I've lost track of the number), are crowded with golfers of every ability, and there are miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Several companies offer white-water rafting trips, and the bicycle lanes are full. Now it's winter. The ski season at Mount Bachelor started right on schedule on November 18. Every morning, we see a steady stream of cars heading up the road, carrying skis, sleds and snowboards, or towing trailers loaded with snowmobiles. A nearby resort adds ice skating to the mix-- all the winter sports one could possibly want.

But Tom and I have found another wintertime activity -- animal tracking. Even the slightest snowfall shows the tracks of the animals that share this (5 miles out of town) area with us. On morning walks, we find signs of animals we seldom actually see -- raccoon, mouse, squirrel and rabbit. The adjacent golf course is home to nocturnal herds of deer and elk; not only do we see their prints but they leave behind other, more visible signs of their presence. On one morning walk, we noticed prints resembling those of a dog, but without any accompanying human prints. This puzzled me for a time, until I saw a coyote run across the fairway. Most interesting of all, we've had visits from a small bobcat. We watched him squirrel hunting in the grass under the nearby pines. We watched him circle the water hazard just west of our house. Next thing we knew, he was walking across our deck as if it weren't even there! This was his territory; after all, he'd been patrolling here long before our townhouse was built .

We took full advantage of all these winter activities over this past Thanksgiving weekend. For a few days before the holiday, we had grandparent duties, -- taking care of our 6 year old granddaughter and her 10 year old brother while their parents celebrated our son-in-law's 40th birthday golfing on the Oregon coast. With all the available wintertime activities, entertainment was no problem. Kids in tow, we sampled everything from sliding in the snow at Mt. Bachelor to ice skating in Sun River, 15 miles south of town. But the most unusual activity was our visit to the finals of the Columbia River Circuit Rodeo.

I've always thought of rodeo as a summer sport, but with temperatures hovering at the freezing mark, sitting outside to watch the cowboys wouldn't have drawn many spectators. This rodeo was held in the large indoor arena of the Deschutes County fairground. The kids, (and their grandmother), loved watching the bareback riding, steer wrestling and roping. Calleigh especially enjoyed the barrel racing -- all the contestants were girls! Along with the rest of the crowd, we laughed at the rodeo clowns and gasped when a cowboy was tossed from the back of a bucking bull.

As I write this, Thanksgiving is over, Our children have returned to their daily lives, work and school, and the townhouse is unusually quiet. I've washed all the sheets and towels, and collected the usual residue of forgotten items. We have only a few remaining household tasks to complete. Christmas is almost a month away. The camper sits ready and waiting in the warmth of Redding, California. We now have some intriguing choices to make.

Postcard: Coming up for Air

October 18, 2005

We closed on our new townhome three weeks ago, and I've had no time to "think outside the box" ever since. Actually , I've been spending more time inside of boxes than out, getting my daily workout by leaning over, grabbing something, unwrapping it and trying to find the perfect place to put it.

The movers arrived at 7:30 Saturday morning and presented me with a sheaf of papers listing each and every item in the van -- whether ours or not! I attempted to unwrap a few boxes so they could be taken away with the men, and the first thing I unwrapped was a sign reading "John Dickson, DMD". Whoops! That was the only wrong box, however; although it took some time to find everything we thought we'd moved.

My job was to mark each item off the sheet as it was brought into the house. There were two colors, orange and blue, and each color had identical numbers listed under it. I had to be careful not to cross orange number 10 off a sheet when the movers had said blue 10. Sometimes an item had more than one number, and the mover would call out "orange 348, and 349". Sometimes the numbers had come off in moving, making the task a bit more challenging. Sometimes the men would call out numbers at the same time; sometimes I couldn't find the number (looking under orange when they called out blue).

Tom's job was to tell the movers where an item belonged -- easy when the box read "master bedroom linens", harder when he had to decide where a large piece of furniture should be placed. Our new home is on three levels, with 30 stairs between the garage and the upper floor, and we didn't want to be moving heavy articles up and down after the movers had gone.

And go they did. In about 4 hours, all the items had been brought into the house, and we were faced with a sea of boxes, pictures and area rugs. Suddenly the townhome seemed a lot smaller than I'd thought. Where would everything go? For that matter, where was everything? Could the movers have forgotten a box or two? I couldn't find a set of beer glasses we got in Germany (later found neatly packed with some other glasses). Surely they'd forgotten the box with the silverware. (That turned up, strangely enough, in the bottom of the box marked, "Grill Parts"). However, bit by bit and piece by piece, everything came together, and as I looked at our house several days later, I could actually see through the mess to the kitchen floor. (The garage, however, is still filled with empty boxes, awaiting the return of the movers to pick them up).

Just in time. We'd had a call from our daughter asking if we were ready for company. They were heading to a football game in Eugene, and Bend is only a couple of hours away. Next we got a message from our son and family. There was a rocketry event just east of town, and while it was going to be nice here they were forecasting rain for Seattle. They'd love to see our new "digs".

We had a wonderful weekend. Cathy and Greg took off for Eugene and the game; daughter-in-law Ellen and I took all the kids to a pumpkin festival, while Tom watched the Saturday college games, and son Tom took off on his Kawasaki for a ride in the mountains. Roads around here have odd names if you're as new to the area as I am; many are market roads. Among many, I'm learning where to find Reed Market, Butler Market and Deschutes Market roads. To get to the festival we had to find a farm on Couch Market road. We drove out into the pasture to park, and the kids were fascinated by the parking volunteers. It was the first time they'd ever seen a parking lot attendant on horseback!

First order of business was to pick out a pumpkin. The girls found theirs easily; the boys took longer, roaming around checking out every pumpkin in the field -- and there were 4,000 to choose among. That accomplished, and pumpkins loaded in the car, it was time to see the rest of the festival. Time to get our faces painted, time to eat caramel apples and popcorn, time for a pony ride, time for a scavenger hunt.

It was on the scavenger hunt that the boys picked up an advertisement for another harvest festival. This one featured a corn maze and a pumpkin shoot. We were already half way there, why not add this festival to our list?

We were an intrepid party of 6 when we entered the maze. This maze had an Egyptian theme, and some hay artist had built a Sphinx out of hay bales. His head consisted bales covered with a canvas tarp on which his features were painted. It looked very much like the real thing, except that children could crawl into his body, climb around on the bales, and come out down a slide. We entered the maze, and were given a map with directions to find our way about. It looked most confusing, but the kids were unawed, and I was glad I had company on my very first maze walk.

Just inside the entrance, we were faced with our first choice, turn left for the short maze, or right for the longer one. Unanimously, the choice was for the latter. As we walked along, following the squiggly lines on our maps, my 15 year old grandson, who had been angling for a trip through on his own, suddenly disappeared. The rest of us continued on, found King Tut's Tomb, two bridges (thoughtfully placed so you could see out over the maze and get some idea of where you were), and, eventually, the exit.

While we waited for grandson Tom to re-appear, we wandered over to the pumpkin shoot. You bought a pumpkin, got in line to fire it at a target set out across a field. Each person sat next to the muzzle of a cannon to sight where he wanted the pumpkin to go. When he was ready, he pulled a large lever, and whoosh! off went the gourd. The target, a large "smiley face", towed by an old car, was located several hundred yards away across a field. I hope the car had been old to begin with, because it got hit much more frequently than did the target. You'd hear a boom, a pumpkin would fly across the field, smash into either the car, ground, or less frequently the target, and a great cheer would come up from the onlookers.

All this walking, watching and cheering had helped develop appetites, and there were some delicious aromas coming from the food stand area. Time for pumpkin pie all around. We retrieved Tom, heard his a-maze-ing tales, and then headed for home and an evening of pumpkin carving. Ellen had a pumpkin kit -- the type where you trace a design over the side of a freshly scooped out gourd. Although there was a bit of complaining that this was "too hard", everyone succeeded in making the first Jack O' Lanterns of the Halloween season.

In moving to Bend, we've tried to bring with us memories of the Island, and it appears we've largely succeeded. "I remember those chairs, I used to sit in them", cried 6 year old Calleigh. "There are the ghosts", her brother Ty remarked, looking at 4 shells and one piece of Island driftwood -- all resembling those haunts. They'd occupied a place of honor on the Island mantlepiece; now they're framed and hanging on a living room wall. The same carpets, the same sofa, the same pictures -- all the Island memories transported to a new clime. Tom and I look forward to making many new memories here.

But wait -- we're resurfacing, our wanderlust is bubbling up once again. On our way to the rocket shoot the next morning, Tom remarked that it had been some time since we'd been on the road. Our camper is due for a short stay at the factory this week, and it shouldn't be too long before it's back, ready to roll. While we'll be hosting another Thanksgiving dinner, my calendar tells me there are several weeks between this day and that. The coast is calling. Bet we'll be off again soon.

Postcard: "Off "

September 17, 2005

Many years ago, Tom's mother sent us a remarkable anniversary card. A frumpy looking couple is walking down a pathway, approaching a signpost. One part of the sign points to "the beaten path" and is being traversed by several other couples. This couple, however, has just turned in the opposite direction, following the sign bearing only one word, "Off". The woman is saying to her husband, "I'm not so sure this is a good idea, George". Inside, the message reads simply, "Yes, it was".

explored, that section of highway hugging the coast and running parallel to 101 south and west of Tillamook. It's a short road, only about 35 miles long, winding from Cape Meares in the north to Pacific City in the south. It's a road that will intrigue almost everyWe've adopted this as our traveling philosophy and today it led us to a part of Oregon we'd heard about from other RVers but never RVer -- whether he wants a bustling city with larger RV parks, and a beach crowded with surfers, (Pacific City) , quiet day use beaches, (Nestucca Bay and Cape Kiwanda), a Forest Service campground (Cape Lookout), or a small, neatly tucked away campground, Netarts Bay.

We'd originally planned to spend an evening at Mallard Creek, a favorite park near Lebanon, and thought that, with summer virtually over, surely they'd have plenty of room. We didn't even bother to call, and were startled to find the park completely full. In retrospect, we probably shouldn't have been surprised; next week is the Country Coach annual "class reunion", and coaches from all over the country are descending on nearby Eugene. They arrive several days early and fill the area parks, staging impromptu mini pre-rallies, while they wait for the big event.

The crowds didn't extend as far north as Albany, however, and we found space at the Blue Ox RV park. This park is one of our regular stop-over parks, with level sites, nice restrooms, conveniently located next to groceries, gas stations and restaurants. Best of all, there's usually space for an evening. Just be sure you don't drive under the office overhang. Its clearance marked in large letters, "eleven feet, one inch", but occasionally someone either doesn't notice the sign, or figures that he can too make it under, and the overhang has been repaired more than once. The next morning, we found a parking spot for the camper in the nearby Fred Meyer lot, and took off in the Wrangler for the coast.

Of all the routes to the Oregon coast we've previously followed, highway 22 from Salem is the straightest, with few of those shoulderless, hairpin curves where you hope not to encounter another RV. Of course, you do have to navigate the traffic of Oregon's capitol city, but this Sunday morning, we sailed through town, barely missing a stoplight. The road cuts across open country, green fields interspersed with small wooded patches. Next trip we'll be sure to stop at the Basket Slough National Wildlife Refuge; this time, we could only wonder what those binocular toting hikers along the waterway might be seeing.

Once over the summit of the Pacific Coast Range (not much of a challenge, as the summit is only 672 feet), the road winds through forests of oak and maple toward its junction with Highway 101 at the small town of Hebo. Here we stopped for a break right next to the bright red Hebo Elementary School. As we walked around the car I heard a "baa-aaa" from two pigmy goats doing yard work, (eating grass), in the school's side yard. Each wore a collar -- one red, the other blue, color coordinated to two tethers on the outside of the fence. They were friendly little beggars, obviously used to having the children find good things for them to eat.

West from Tillamook and headed toward the coast. In a short 13 miles we arrived in Netarts and discovered what has lured so many RVers to this spot. Netarts is a picture perfect place. The town sits on a fairly high bluff overlooking the bay, with a long, broad peninsula protecting it from the ocean waves. Today, at the height of crab season, there were a dozen or so boats out on the bay with pots and rings, and we learned that, at proper tide, the shores are crowded with clam diggers.

About a mile south we could see the Netarts Bay RV park and marina. As we drove in, I watched a young couple unload their morning's crab catch -- well over a dozen Dungeness with a few large Red Rock crab thrown in. If you bring a boat, you can dock it at their small marina, well protected from the winds, with easy bay access. If you come boatless, without crab pots or ways in which to cook your catch, the marina rents boats and crab pots and will cook your catch for you when you return. I watched as the crabs were lifted from the pots, measured and tossed into the simmering water, remembering our crab feasts on San Juan Island. Once we get our pots out of storage, we must come back to Netarts, not only for the beach walks, but especially for the crabbing.
The park has 88 level sites, with a dozen pull throughs, some set on the water, others back in the trees. The water sites are set quite close together, but the views more than make up for your proximity to your neighbors. And the draw, of course, are all the ocean activities. More than one RV was flanked with crabbing gear, and I spotted a couple of steaming pots -- they'd have crab for dinner tonight.

It's only a few miles down the coast to another of Oregon's well-kept (from us), secrets, Cape Lookout campground. Nestled on the spit separating the ocean from Netarts Bay, this campground has full hookups sites, electric only sites, and tent sites. If you'd rather, there are 3 cabins and 13 yurts. It's a great spot for hikers and beachcombers, with the beach only a sand dune away, and hikes of all lengths through the trees along the coast. Visit the historic lighthouse at Cape Meares or just walk the sands of Cape Lookout or, further south near the town of Pacific Beach, hike out on Nestucca Spit.

If we'd had the camper with us, I'd surely have tried to persuade Tom to spend at least one more night in this area, and we'll definitely pencil in a longer trip on another date. Back to Albany to get the camper and headed south toward Eugene.

We spent one night at the Premier RV resort, meeting some of our Country Coach friends who were getting ready for the big rally, and the next day slowly headed back toward Bend. We stopped at another favorite, Casey's, east of Eugene, intending to spend a single night there and then head back over the Cascades. However, our plans were interrupted by the Aufderheide.

Casey's RV park is located about 30 miles from Eugene, off Highway 58 near the historic logging town of Westfir and on the banks of the Willamette River. The park is beautifully landscaped, with a large clubhouse, and an outdoor cabana with popcorn and ice cream maker! It's a great jump off spot for exploring the Aufderheide Drive.

I'd seen signs with that word when we'd been here before, tried my limited German to translate that word, and then forgotten it. This time Tom came back with a brochure describing the Aufderheide as a scenic Byway Auto Tour -- one of those drives you take with a cassette as tour director. The Byway, aka Forest Road 19, and sometimes called the "Box Canyon Road", connects Highway 58 with Highway 126 to the north. Each of these roads are east west routes across the Cascades; you can start on one, and use the Aufderheide to cross to the other. Named after Robert Aufderheide, supervisor of the Willamette National Forest from 1954 to 1959, the road is a 70 mile trip through beautiful oak, fir and madrona covered hills. It follows the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, crosses the pass near the Chucksney Undeveloped Roadless Recreation Area and then descends into the drainage of the McKenzie River. It's a long enough trip to require the better part of a day, especially when you consider the stops you'll make to see the historic points of interest along the way. We put off our return to Bend and extended another night at Casey's. The next morning, I made a picnic lunch and off we went.

We picked up our tape at the nearby Ranger Station, and started our tour at the mining town of Westfir. As we drove through town and started the trip, the tape recorded stories of life in this town in the 1920s and 30s. One woman discussed social life in the fairly impoverished logging town, then a man recounted his experiences as a logger who worked on the Huckleberry Flats.

The Huckleberry Flats was a prime timber parcel located at the top of a nearby mountain; the mill was located downhill and 8 miles away in Westfir. In order to get the logs down to the mill, a unique railroad incline was constructed. It was basically two parallel lines, one up, the other down, over a 72 percent grade! A "donkey snubber" train was used to keep the cars from running wild downhill and depositing the logs in the river below. This system was far from fool proof, and a warning siren was occasionally needed when a car would get away. I hiked partway up the hill. The trail started steep -- and became constantly steeper, and I hadn't yet reached the bottom of the hill. When I did, and looked up, it seemed to be much more than 72 degrees. I decided against continuing my hike.

As we drove along, the taped stories kept us company. How else would we know that Frissell Crossing was named after Big George Frissell, who was such an avid fisherman that he kept fully rigged poles in his back yard. He told folks they were there to catch the Dolly Varden that overran his yard during the McKenzie spring floods. How would we know that Dutch Oven Bridge was named when a burro, packed for a fishing party, fell over a cliff near this point and was killed. The only part of his pack that was undamaged was a carefully wrapped demijohn of whiskey. Even the cast iron Dutch oven was badly broken and the rest of the pack ruined. True or not, these are great stories -- those fishermen certainly had their priorities.

We hiked through the trees of Constitution Grove, dedicated in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, and read the names of the original signers placed on these majestic old growth trees. On the top of the pass, we stopped to see the Landis Cabin, a reconstruction of one built in 1918 for the Forest Service Fire Guard. Just standing in the beautiful meadows surrounding this small cabin, I felt transported back to those days.

We were certainly "off" the beaten track on this drive. There were few cars on the road, and the scattered campgrounds along the route were practically empty. It was well worth the time to take the taped tour; we saw sights along the route which otherwise would certainly have gone unnoticed.

Our "off" time is coming slowly to an end. One of these days, we won't be wondering what trip to take, but which box to unpack. I've largely forgotten what we put in storage, let alone in which box. I'm looking forward to this stage; it'll be a bit like Christmas -- hopefully before December.

Postcard: High Mountain Lakes

September 2, 2005

Highway 138 leaves Roseburg and heads east into the Cascade Mountains and the Umpqua National Forest, following the scenic North Fork of the Umpqua River. This is wilderness country; the Boulder Creek Wilderness to the north, the Rogue-Umpqua Wilderness to the south and the Mount Thielsen Wilderness to the east. We were headed for Diamond Lake, a jewel of a lake nestled in the shadow of Mount Thielsen, a spectacular granite spire and landmark for much of southwestern Oregon.

We'd heard of Diamond Lake before, once several years ago from the managers of a small resort on its shores, and more recently from Tom's cousins, who love the area and enjoy biking the level, 10 mile trail which circles the lake. We spent the first night at a nearby RV park, and the next at the Forest Service campground right at lakeshore. Here we had our choice of sites; while this park is very popular in summer, now Labor Day is right around the corner, and you can virtually feel summer come to an end, especially when you wake in the morning and it's 28.9 degrees outside!

We stopped at the Diamond Lake Resort, a picturesque collection of cabins, motel rooms and lodge. It's open all year, with cross country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, biking, fishing swimming and boating in the summer. Tom noted that the boats and motors were definitely "vintage", and found that the motors were about 15 years old. That was nothing, the boats had been around 40 years. They were all in mint condition, kept that way by a very caring mechanic.

Next year, a big change will take place in this lake. On the wall of the lodge we noticed an orange poster discussing the abundance of a species of fish called a "Tui Chub", which has invaded the lake and is eating all the available food. In addition, it has a fondness for other fish's eggs, and this has led to a radical decline in the populations of native trout and Kokanee. The plan is to lower Diamond Lake by 8 feet this fall, and, next spring and summer, to allow anglers to catch all the fish they possibly can. With the lake at lower levels, the chub will be netted and trapped. Then the lake will be treated with something called Rotenone.

I assumed this was some sort of poison, and wondered what would happen to the grebes, mergansers and osprey, who depend on fish for food. But I was assured that this stuff is not poison, but a substance which removes the oxygen, suffocating the fish. Then the lake will be allowed to refill naturally and be restocked.

We had intended to head down into interior Oregon, toward Bend to explore some of the more northerly Cascade Lakes first thing the next day. Or should we extend our stay at this beautiful lake? We had no plans to return to Bend until the weekend.

It was Tom's brainstorm: Let's spend the morning at Crater Lake. It's fewer than 15 miles to the Park entrance, and with our "Golden Age" passports, we can come and go in any National Park without having to spend a week to get our money's worth. Good idea! We got ready to leave our camping spot by pulling in the slides, (there weren't any hookups to worry about), and left it to wait for the 1 o'clock checkout. Then we hopped in the Wrangler, and off we went.

Our closest entrance was the north entrance. This may be the least traveled entrance; in fact, it's closed in winter, as is the drive around the lake's rim. But still, we were the only car coming through the Ranger station this morning, a long cry from the traffic hordes at Yellowstone, or even in Glacier. As we drove along, we were struck by the sudden change of scenery. Gone were the heavily forested mountains, with the occasional granite peak poking its nose into the sky. The north entrance to Crater Lake is through the Pumice Desert -- a desert that has been here for over 7 thousand years, ever since Mt. Mazama erupted and spewed lava and pumice all over the landscape. While some grasses and a few wildflowers grow here, the trees become twisted and stunted as they try to achieve a foothold in this barren landscape.

You traverse this desert for about ten miles, and then, suddenly, there it is, the rim of Crater Lake. Venture to the edge and peer into the depths of this incredibly blue lake. That may be what most people notice first about Crater Lake; its color. It's so blue that the shadows that occur around its edges appear inky black. From any vantage point, the second thing you will notice is Wizard Island, the volcanic island which was built up after Mr. Mazama collapsed. From here, you get a good view of the small crater that tops Wizard Island, and may even see tourists climbing it. There are daily tour boats that ply Crater Lake, and will drop people off for an hour or so of exploration. Make sure that you can re-board the boat of your choice, however; often unwary visitors have to spend more time on Wizard Island than originally anticipated!

We drove southwest around the rim toward Rim Village, thinking that perhaps our hasty, breakfast-less departure from Diamond Lake had been an error we might now correct. Rim Village, however, is currently under construction, and except for breakfast at the nearby Crater Lake Lodge, (which we missed by mere minutes), the only food to be had was coffee and hot dogs at an outdoor stand. Ah well, there's always lunch.

We were now approximately 1/3 way around the lake. Should we return the way we came or continue on? We opted for the latter, and were very glad we did. Although the road doesn't follow the lake's rim the entire way, each vantage point is different from the one before, and the non-lake views, those out over southeastern Oregon, are equally spectacular to those of the lake. We had a bird's eye views of places we'd recently driven; Upper Klamath and Tule Lakes shone in the sunlight. Looking further east, we could see the Williamson River flowing south to empty itself into the marshy northern sections of Klamath Lake. Northeast we could see the Three Sisters and Broken Top, surprising since we felt very far away from Bend, and these mountains are due west of that city.

But lake views are what we had come for, and we stopped at every vista point. We got some great pictures of the Phantom Ship, rocky remnants of a mountain almost completely submerged in the lake. At another point, a sign recounted some of the local Indian legends. The lake was held sacred by the resident tribes, so that even mentioning its existence could bring death, and it was years before any outsider found it. The lake was believed to be inhabited by monsters; one, a giant crayfish, could reach out of the depths of the lake and pull unwary visitors to their watery graves. In addition, there were the legends concerning Skell and Llao.

Skell and Llao were gods who were at constant war with each other. In one battle, Llao captured Skell and cut out his heart, but Skell's followers retrieved the body and Skell came back to life. In the last battle, Llao was captured. Skell's followers cut off his arms and legs and fed them to the demons of the lake. Skell's men fooled the lake demons, followers of Llao, by telling them that what they were eating were actually the arms and legs of Skell. The men went too far, however, when they tried that trick with Llao's head. The monsters recognized their leader and refused to eat his head. Instead, it became what is now called Wizard Island.

Just before the end of our Crater rim loop trip, we passed the upper part of the Cleetwood Trail. This 1 mile trail is the only access to the Lake and to the boats that circle the inside of the caldera, giving visitors close up views of Wizard Island and the Phantom ship. There weren't too many passengers today, probably due to the lateness of the season, but possibly also because there's a 750 foot hike down to the lake. Brochures warn that climbing back up is like climbing 65 sets of stairs!

All too soon, we reached the end of our rim trip and were headed back to get the camper and start our return trip to Bend. We had planned on spending a couple of days in some of the lower lakes of central Oregon, checking out available hiking trails, fishing lakes and streams. We didn't plan on finally having something substantive happen with our new townhouse. There have been rumblings about such things as "final inspections". Maybe, just maybe, we won't spend the rest of our year in a camper. It won't happen tomorrow, but finally there's a light at the end of the tunnel. It will be nice to have a home base again, but, knowing us, it won't be long before we get the yen to take off once more.

If it's true that a picture is worth 1,000 words, I'll spare you the next 18,000 words. Click here for our collection of pictures from Crater Lake National Park. They illustrate the story of our time here far better than my words.

Postcard: Coast-ing North

August 27, 2005

We're beginning to learn that when it's hot in the interior valleys, it's cool and often foggy on the coast. We'd had enough of the interior heat for a time, and the idea of trading shorts and T-shirts for long pants and a sweatshirt sounded very refreshing, so we headed west. We'd stop at some of the many coastal towns located at the mouths of rivers, spend evenings at RV parks there, and days exploring upriver.

Look at a map of Oregon, and you'll notice two towns located so far south they're practically in California -- Brookings and Harbor. Brookings is the larger of the two, has larger grocery stores, Fred Meyer and Rays, and a main street crammed with fascinating shops. Harbor is just what it says it is, the harbor district. Here, at the mouth of the Chetco River, you'll find docks, loaded at this time of year with empty crab pots, and signs saying "closed for the season". Here too, are tempting seafood restaurants and a small selection of boutique shops. This is where you'll find our RV park of choice, the Driftwood, located right across the street from the beach. It's always interesting to come to Driftwood; you find out what's going on in town, as the park's owners are very active in Chamber of Commerce activities. They enter the Christmas decoration competition each year, (and often win). Today on the front lawn was an aluminum fishing boat with a sign over it, "Win Me". The Labor Day weekend will have a fishing competition, with this boat as first prize. Trust Driftwood to have the boat as a show piece.

But the salmon derby will be an ocean event. We were interested in fishing in the Chetco River, but when we asked we were told there were no fish in the river. No fish? What kind of river has no fish? Answer: a shallow, warm summer river. In the fall and winter, conditions change.

Too warm now for fish, perhaps, but certainly not for people. Driving upriver that afternoon, every few miles we saw gravel bars extending into, and in some cases almost across, the river. People drive right out onto the gravel and spend days, nights and weekends here. We saw tent campers, small 5th wheels, truck campers, and a few small motor homes. Dogs were chasing sticks in the river, kids and parents were swimming, other folks were paddling kayaks in the warm, placid waters of the Chetco.

And the weather was certainly warm enough for swimming. In Harbor/Brookings, the temperatures were in the low 60s, but with every mile we drove inland, the thermometer went up several degrees. As it climbed into the 80s, we shed our warm shirts and were glad of our shorts.

We'd intended to make a loop trip out of this excursion. According to our map, as well as a Forest Service listing of various roads in the area, this should have been possible. We'd just drive to the end of the paved road and turn right. But that turn took us right straight up a dirt road which wound up and up into the backroads of the Siskiyou National Forest. After about 8 miles, we found we were driving north, when we should have been going south eastern. Obviously, we had the wrong road. Time to turn around.

Less than 35 miles north of Harbor is Gold Beach, the town at the mouth of the Rogue River. Jet-boating up the Rogue River is a legendary trip, one we were excited about trying. We found ourselves in a "which comes first" situation; we'd need a place to camp for a couple of days, and then we'd hope there was room on the next day's trip. Or should we book the trip first and then look for a campground? We parked the camper in town, and took the Wrangler exploring. About 6 miles upstream, we found the perfect spot. 4 Seasons is a small campground of about 50 sites, some overlooking the Rogue, others neatly tucked back in level grassy sites. An additional bonus is the fact that, if you stay there, you don't have to drive into Gold River to catch the morning boat, as both excursion companies stop at the dock next door.

Two companies have commercial permits for jet boating on the Rogue, Jerry's, the red boats, and Mail Boat, the blue. Colors are about the only difference between them. Each has three daily trips of varying length as well as a dinner "cruise". You can choose the short, calm water, 64 (round trip) mile trip, the intermediate 80 mile trip or go as far as the boats can take you upriver -- 104 miles. Each company charges about the same. How to decide? First we talked to Mail Boat and then to Jerry's. Both companies told us that Donna, the owner of 4 Seasons, could get us a ticket for the next day's trip. The gal at Jerry's also told us to ask Donna which company she'd recommend. They must have known what she'd say, "How long a trip do you want to take"?. "The 104 mile trip". Donna thought a minute and said, " For that trip, I'd take the red boat. I'd take Jerry's." That decision may have been based on the fact that, as the oldest company on the river, Jerry's holds 5 of the 6 commercial permits for daily travel up the Rogue.

Checking into any RV park involves a bit of paperwork. One of the things you will certainly be given is a map of the park, showing where you'll be camped and where the restrooms, laundry and trash receptacles are located. 4 Seasons adds another dimension to its maps. If you're going on a jet boat trip, they draw the route to the dock -- up out of their driveway, and down into the driveway of the Tu Tu Tun resort next door. Then they write in big letters, "Red Boat" or "Blue Boat".. We laughed at that, certain we knew what color boat we'd be taking, but Donna just grinned and said, "I learned the hard way to put the boat color on everyone's map. Just trust me..."

That afternoon, I walked over to Tu Tu Tun (accent on the second "u"), the riverside resort where we'd catch our morning boat. From first glance, I fell in love with this resort. Walking down the driveway, I saw carefully tended rhododendrons on one side, a small pitch "n putt golf course on the other. Wandering up the front steps, I found myself looking across a swimming pool to a green lawn set with large wooden lounge chairs, and down to the river's edge. In the building to my right was a lodge type reception area, a gift shop and a large dining room. (I read the menu -- American plan, it offered fresh salmon or beef as the main course in a three course meal. The desserts sounded fabulous.) On the left, across from the lobby and restaurant were the hotel rooms. What luxury!

We were to catch our boat at 8:15 the next morning (if you boarded in Gold Beach you had a 7:30 departure time). We figured that the boat would be a bit late, after all they had to ticket and board practically a whole boat load and then come upriver about 4 miles. So we were surprised when we walked the last few feet across the lawn and onto the dock, to see a red boat (Jerry's) come near the dock, talk to the handful of people waiting there and then take off. We hurried over and waved, but the captain never looked back. We worried unnecessarily until we found he was headed for a pickup further up the river and our boat would be the next one along.

About 8:30 we hopped aboard a second red boat for our 104 mile adventure on the Rogue River. There were 4 of us getting on at TuTuTun, and the boat, capacity 42, almost completely full. In retrospect, it might have been a good idea to make a reservation. Watching the boats ply the river, I never saw one with discernible vacancies.

Had I been making the reservations, I might have opted for a shorter trip, but I quickly became convinced that Tom had made the best possible choice. If you want the whole white water flavor of a trip up the Rogue, you must take the longest trip. All three trips, from each company, stop both for a morning break and a later lunch break, at Agness, a small community about 30 miles up river. Agness is a two part town, East Agness and West Agness, depending on which side of the river you're on. Each Agness has a store and restaurant. East Agness has an RV park, while West Agness lays claim to a museum and historic town. The boat stops are carefully orchestrated so that each Agness gets a fair share of the traffic. This morning our boat stopped at East Agness for its morning break. That's where Tom disappeared.

We had 20 minutes for our break, and most of the group headed for (1) the restrooms and (2) the little store, which did a brisk business in colas and snacks. I poked around inside the restaurant, examining at some of the old photos hanging on the walls, and when I looked around, Tom was gone. I didn't think too much about it until it became close to time to leave. No Tom. I went down to the boat. No Tom. I walked back up the hill to the store, and was just beginning to wonder if I'd need to stay over in Agness, when he came around the building. He'd been talking to the owner of the little RV park next door. I should have known!

Agness is the turn around spot for the short trip. By this time, we'd seen very little white water, and what we'd seen we'd scooted right over, with only the slightest bumping felt along the bottom of the boat. Now everyone put on life jackets, the rapids began, and the whole trip changed.

We'd been advised to dress in layers for this trip, since we could expect cool weather near the coast and warmer weather inland. I'd add my advice: make sure your layers are composed of light cloth. Don't wear jeans when cotton pants will do. Why? Because, in these open boats, you will get wet, and cotton dries faster than jeans material. You won't get wet from falling out of the boat, you will get wet because those who have taken this trip before expect it and because the captain wants you to.

We had just come up a short rapid chute and were in a fairly quiet pool of water when Captain Jeff swerved slightly left then turned hard right. The engines whined as they spun out of the water and the boat seemed in danger of flipping. In the middle of the turn, Jeff put the boat into reverse and, very like a carnival ride, we spun the rest of the way -- backwards! Those on the right side of the boat got drenched. Then, just to even things out, in the next pool, he reversed his spin. He saved his best trick for last. To get everyone evenly wet, he accelerated through a calm stretch of water, then hit reverse. The nose of the boat went under water sending a huge spray over everyone in the boat. (Except for Jeff and a Coast Guard official, who were somewhat protected in the small cabin).

Even those in the middle seats in the back get wet when that happens. However, the water is warm, and the sun dries everything out rapidly. Even the smallest children loved it, and called for more.

We passed the spot where the 80 mile trip would turn around and started climbing a series of formidable looking rapids, but with great dexterity behind the wheel and years of prior experience, Jeff managed to squeeze the boat between rocks and over shallow sandbars. (I later found that, at 30 mph, the boat draws only 3 inches of water!). Just about the time I was sure we could go no further, Jeff pulled over and told us that, indeed, this was the end of the line. There was no way he could take a boat 12 feet wide and 32 feet long any further upriver. I was sorry to know that our trip was half over.

Back to Agness for lunch, and then it was time to head downriver again. While there had been no sudden bow plunging stops and no spins on our trip up, now that we knew what to expect, we experienced both on our trip back. Wet and happy, we hopped off at the TuTuTun dock, and waved to our fellow travelers as they took off again for Gold Beach.

Tomorrow we'll have another long day's drive (30 miles) to Bandon and Bullards Beach State park, then we'll head north to Charleston, a delightful little town about 6 miles west of Coos Bay. We're remembering a county park there, Bastendorff Beach, which sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Its 40+ RV sites have electric and water hookups, there are 25 tent sites and a great playground for kids. Best of all, it's only a short distance to the beach.

That will be the end of our ocean sojourn for now, but before we return to Bend we plan to wait out more warm weather from high in the Cascades. Many unexplored mountain lakes are waiting for us.