<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 8
Little Log


Stephanie is one of those persons who is always mailing postcards back to family and friends. Somehow, by writing in very small scribble, and filling not only the intended message area, but with sideways writing, arrows, and otherwise using virtually every available area on the postcard, she can get an awful lot of information onto a very small space. She'll be reporting in here from time to time on our travels, experiences, impressions and general state of mind.

Postcard Postscript: A Shakedown Cruise to the Sunshine Coast

March 26, 1998

"Home Again" didn't last very long. It has been drizzling steadily since we got back. We have a new slide-in camper which we're anxious to test. All the mail, both e and snail, had been read and answered. And we have a lunch date with some folks in Powell River, BC -- the Sunshine Coast. Who could resist some sunshine? We planned to make this a two day Canadian Adventure.

Traveling in a 10 foot slide in camper is an experience we haven't had since our children were small. When they got large enough that they couldn't share a bunk without the one on the outside ending up on the floor, we "graduated" -- getting larger and larger rigs. Now we are "graduating" back...

Predictably, we found it a trifle cramped compared with our 5th wheel. But, it also gives us far more freedom. Now the range of campsites we can use has increased tremendously. Narrow lanes have lost some of their concern for me. We can access most gas stations with no worry about leaving them. We are still cautious; it's just easier. We have no intention of giving up the big rig, but the camper opens some new vistas.

Love the Canadian ferries! They load swiftly, on multiple levels, accommodating large rigs on the lower and passenger cars on the upper levels. They have restaurants, children's play areas, and book and magazine stores.And they are large enough to accommodate most of their customers most of the time -- if you get to the dock before sailing, you should get on the boat. During summer weekends, there are some overloads, but on this cool March morning, there was plenty of space.

It takes two ferries to get from North Vancouver to Powell River. The first takes you to the small town of Langdale on the south peninsula. The weather was cooperating beautifully and views of the snowy ski areas at Whistler Mountain, the blue of the inlet and waterfalls cascading down the hillsides were simply spectacular.

Madeira Park campground would have been impossible for the 5th wheel. The entrance road was narrow and extremely steep. No problem now. Our campsite was a grassy terrace, overlooking a picturesque little marina. We drove in and turned around to position ourselves exactly as we wished. The Sunshine Coast was living up to its name, the evening was sunny and reasonably warm, and the sunset a spectacular red/orange, reflecting off the the still waters of the cove.

The predicted rain did not materialize, and in cool, but sunny weather, we boarded our next ferry at 8:30 the next morning. We were on a much smaller boat for this leg of the trip, but still one with a restaurant and several lounge areas. On the top deck we found a solarium, enclosed in glass, chairs around the sides, and an incredible view. We were crossing Jervis Inlet from Earl's Cove to Saltery Bay, to the north peninsula. There were only 6 vehicles on board the boat this morning. Quite a different story from August, when the water will be full of pleasure craft headed toward Princess Louisa Inlet, a very popular summer boating retreat, and the possibility of overloading looms large. Now there was solitude, dolphins, eagles, and a beautiful stretch of water.

This is fjord country. The boats travel through and around islands rising steeply out of the water, and covered with fir and cedar. You often spot Bald Eagles. California and Western Gulls follow the boats, looking for a handout. Harbor seals and porpoises show their heads as they swim along. Occasionally there are small cabins along the shore, usually connected with fish farming. I had a magazine to read as we went along; I didn't read a word.

Powell River is at the north end of the Sunshine Coast. With its near neighbor, Lund, it is a jump off point for a nearby area incorrectly named Desolation Sound. The sound is anything but desolate. Because of its beautiful scenery and warm (for this area), water, the area gets lots of summer visitors.

At a view point overlooking the beach there were several plaques describing the town and its history. We learned that the local pulp mill gets its water power from a dam on the world's second shortest river. This same mill is ringed with the hulks of WW II boats. Another sign stated that 97% of the homes in this town were built before 1940. You can visit an island with beaches to rival Hawaii, or ferry to a much more industrialized one. Another is completely uninhabited; owned by the Indian tribe of this area.

Lunch over, we retraced our steps -- back to the ferry and another gorgeous ride. This time I saw two smaller boats heading down the inlet. It's fun to speculate where they are going -- home, perhaps. Tomorrow, we will recross the border, and be back in our home, also. But we won't let much time pass before we visit the Sunshine Coast again.

Postcard: Northward Migrations

March 20, 1998

California said good by to us in typical California style -- with a small earthquake! We were visiting Tom's mother who lives in an old winery, long ago converted into a home. Even through the thick stone walls the whole house shook. It was over in seconds, and was probably a very small quake. Still, between that and El Nino...

The benefits of El Nino. I have never seen Northern California look quite so lovely. The fields are lush with grasses and wildflowers. The trees are budding; pinks and whites contrast beautifully with the velvet ground . The sun is out this morning, and forecasters are promising fair weather for the next few days. We travel from one lovely peak to the next -- Mount Lassen, Mount Shasta, and just over the Oregon line, Mount Ashland. All the creeks which should have water in them -- do. The Sacramento and Shasta rivers show signs of the recent flooding, but today all is calm, clear and spectacular. Tonight we will stay in at the Red Bluff RV Park, tomorrow's destination is the Blue Ox in Albany, Oregon. Thursday should see us in Anacortes, and Friday -- home.

Heading north. For several nights, we have heard the honking of the northward migrating geese. During the days, we have been in a flock of northward migrating RVers. License plates all read Oregon, Washington or British Columbia. The number of one-nighters in the parks is way up. Some of the permanent residents seem sorry to see us leave. Leaving Albany, I was asked if we weren't "staying" for a couple more days. But no, like the geese, we're going home.

We have been lucky this trip. We avoided most of the rain visited upon California and Arizona. Our rainfall came mainly at night, or on days when we planned travel. A rainstorm doesn't last as long when it is headed east and you are headed west! We had "shorts and swimsuit" weather in much of Arizona, all of Texas and in the southern California area. We are going home feeling we fully savored the wonders of the desert -- sun, citrus, and spectacular scenery.

A beautiful Northwest day greeted us on Thursday. Northern mountains; Mount Hood, Adams, St. Helens, Rainier and Baker all welcoming us back. Today we are on the ferry to our island home. Our next planned trip is late May, when we take the Alaska State Ferry to Skagway. But there are a lot of weeks between today and May 29th....

Postcard: Headed North: Joshua Tree National Park

March 13, 1998

We are starting our Northward trek. But no one ever said we had to do it in a hurry -- on in a straight line. So, this morning, we chose to drive all the way to Joshua Tree National Park. A full 59 miles.

We tried a new route. The only other time we had been tempted with this road, it was closed due to flooding. What would it be like after the rain this area has had? Deciding that it really hadn't rained all that much recently, we gave our new road a try.

One mile north of Oasis, we took off on Highway 195. About 6 miles north we found the road to Mecca. That was the only way we could tell we were on the right road, as it's otherwise unmarked. The road follows a canyon between the Mecca and Coccupia Hills areas. The wildflowers are gorgeous; the blue desert lupine guards the roadside, while the canyon is carpeted with poppies, sun cups, and dune primroses. This is BLM country. There are several primitive camping areas, and trails for hiking or off road driving. We stopped at one trailhead, called, not surprisingly, "The Meccacopia Trail".

The sign at the bottom of the canyon read, "flash flood area, look for debris on the road". This would make me a nervous overnight camper, but I can hardly wait to explore it on foot or by bike. It often happens that we find an area such as this; one that begs discovery, just as we are leaving for another destination. So we will put this area down as a "we'll be back next year".

At the end of the canyon road, you run right into Joshua Tree National Park. No Interstate driving, merely cross the bridge. Wildflowers everywhere. Here are acres of chia, a small ground flower so blue it appears almost black. Interspersed with this are brilliant blue Canterbury bells, apricot mallow and low growing purple mat.

There seems to be some competition among the wildflower areas in this area. Stopping at the Visitor Center, I commented on this beautiful display of flowers, noting we had been in Borrego Springs and how different the colors had been. The volunteer at the desk told me, "Their season has passed its peak; we are just peaking now. We get a wider variety of color here."

Leaving the Visitor Center (elevation 3,000), the road climbs 800 feet to White Tank campground. All of the Park campgrounds are dry camping and often for rigs smaller than ours. At White Tank, there was only one (of 14) sites which would fit our 5th wheel. It was vacant! Of course, it was only 10:30 am. We had a beautiful site, with the large boulders offset by the velvet green desert. And at 2pm, there was a ranger "geology walk" which started right at our campground.

Dar Spearing was our ranger leader. Dar, as he explained, is short for Darwin, a name he hated while a child, but was able to use to his advantage when it came to college Biology classes. "I only had to show up to be guaranteed a B".

Each two "students" shared a small magnifying glass. With this, we examined the gravelly surface of the trail, and compared it to the surface of the surrounding rocks. It looked exactly the same. The gradual crumbling of the surrounding hills and boulders formed the very ground we walked upon. Dar's scientific explanation of what we were seeing is "this is a place that is falling apart".

For an hour, we hiked between and scrambled over the large boulders. At one point we passed the remnants of a dam -- built to collect water for the cattle which grazed in this desert area until the late 1950s. In virtually all the desert areas we have visited, overgrazing has badly hurt the delicate desert. It takes years for the grasses and native plants to recover.

Around 5, a park ranger came through to check the occupancy, (100%), of the campground. Then he proceeded to put up the "campground full" sign at the entrance. This did not have the result I had expected. Late arrivals either did not read the sign or chose not to believe it. The campground could have filled twice over with those campers who came in after the sign was up.

As the afternoon passed, the clouds came in and the temperature dropped. The expected front was upon us. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain, but we will be headed through it (our favorite direction) to Bakersfield. Then, if the forecasts hold true, we should have smooth driving weather for our trip home. That is, unless we choose to stay somewhere along the way for a while.

We never can tell...

Postcard: On the Other Side of the Fence

March 9, 1998

Today we are camped in Northridge (ground zero for earthquakes!), attending a seminar in Burbank. This seminar is sponsored by the CTPA -- California Travel Parks Association. We are seeing RVing from a completely different perspective, that of the park owner. Not just California park owners, either. Montana, Idaho and Nevada owners are also attending.

This is a four day convention, five if you count the Thursday Board meeting. Seminars are given on Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday is reserved for attendees to visit the trade show and have lunch with the various vendors. The vendors are a fascinating bunch. Talking with a man who sells and services the coin operated showers found in many state parks, I learned these showers were the brain child of the former owner of a car wash! Other vendors were showing park barbecues, brochures and site maps -- all sorts of RV accessories and camping supplies -- in bulk, for the park owner. Tom enjoyed talking with the Rogers, who design and maintain the National RV Park and Campground Association ("ARVC") web site!

Seminar topics cover a wide variety of subjects -- one was on the importance of landscaping and color at an RV park. This is quite a science. Did you know that yellow will attract customers? Another topic was "Dealing with Difficult Customers". Embarrassing to think that RVers can be rude or even abusive! We have often stressed the importance of park owners being friendly to the RVer; it seems that the shoe is sometimes on the other foot!

RVers Online's gave a seminar on being modem friendly; how easy this can be for the park owner and how appreciated it is by the RVer. We started with a skit. I walked in to the "office" to get a site for a night, followed by Tom. Computer in hand, his first question always is, "Is your park modem friendly?" All too often, this question is met with a blank stare. Sometimes, the park qualifies as modem friendly and doesn't even know it. Tom and Sharan Wendel from Benbow RV Resort handled the many questions from a full house of interested park owners. From the questions they asked, they really seemed to "get it"...

Education. It seems these park owners cannot get enough of it. The National RV Park Institute puts on a management training school twice a year. Held in operating California parks, it nontheless attracts owners from all over the country. It is an opportunity for new and experienced park owners, employees and managers, to learn and refresh operating and maintenance skills.

ARVC takes a more formal approach. This school's classes include personnel management, budgeting/finance and financial statements, as well as campground maintenance and expansion. There is even a final test and graduation ceremony!

By attending certain educational sessions and receiving enough credits, the campground operator becomes a "Certified Park Operator". This came as a surprise, as I cannot remember ever seeing a CPO plaque or scroll on the desk or wall of any operator in any park. Just knowing the park operator cares about improving his business is impressive and could make a difference in our staying there.

It was quite an experience, viewing the RVing world from the operator's side of the fence. Bottom line: I'm pleased there are so many park owners and managers who care about their profession and its future -- taking care of us "customers". From now on when I see "CPTA" or "ARVC" in an RV park office (especially a "CPO" designation), I'll have a new sense that these folks really care about being good hosts for RVers.

Postcard: Bayside Camping

March 3, 1998

I have always prided myself on liking the "natural" style of camping. I tell myself that I do not need fancy RV parks with full amenities and planned activities. If there is no swimming pool, that's just fine. But this "no frills" spot is really a first!

Gale Banks Engineering is in an industrial park wedged between West Azusa and East Irwindale, CA. Between noon today and mid-afternoon tomorrow, we will be camped here -- in a truck bay! Our outside door just clears the cement wall which marks the edge of the bay. There is another RV in with us, and our slider barely fits. Instead of mockingbird songs, we hear unknown industrial noises -- a wide array of tones and notes which seem to result from pounding on different types of metal. Just down Gladstone Street is the Transit Mixed Concrete Company. All day and most of the night, the trucks roar by.

We are here to get our truck fitted with a new Banks power package called the Stinger Plus. This is intended to make the truck more powerful, both increasing our towing capacity and fuel economy. And that is the sum total of my understanding. I am still very shaky on the differences between torque and horsepower!

This is the Gale Banks factory. Not only do they ship the Powerpak kits from here, but another crew outfits one truck and two motorhomes per day. Busy place. Noisy, too. The first crew gets to work at 5 am; the last crew leaves at midnight. Many of the employees have obviously installed a Powerpak on their cars. When they leave work , you can hear the " civil, but authoritative growl" associated with the various power upgrade products.

Gale Banks provided a delightful tour of the 7 different buildings which make up the Banks "campus". Gale is an extremely friendly and personable individual who seems to know more about what makes vehicles go faster than anyone I'm sure I'll ever meet. One of the buildings has walls which are lined with glossy magazine and book covers laminated on wood plaques. Turbo Magazine, Bonneville Racing, Auto Week, Pressure Perfect, Engines, Car and Driver -- all featuring the many racing cars which have carried the Banks name over the years. Not only the streamlined Daytona 500 type car, but also trucks and boats, all polished and powered.

The Banks folks are constantly testing, both their products and those of their competitors. We saw a prototype racing car, which seems so light that I think they should be worried about it becoming airborne. There is one area where they do nothing but design "things" which are apparently related to how to make cars and trucks go faster. There are warehouse areas where they cut and twist seemingly endless lengths of pipe -- for exhaust systems. They have what seems to me a lifetime supply of pipe. I'm sure it is not, however; this is the area where they start work at 5 a.m.

This is a fascinating place, and I look forward to noting the differences in our truck -- once we are on the highway and headed toward some quieter, more rural spot.

Postcard: The Camp Site Game

February 27, 1998

We returned to Borrego Springs yesterday to replenish our grapefruit supply and view the wildflowers. This year there has been 8.9 inches of rain. This is more than 4 times the amount of rain of the last two years and half again the yearly average. The wildflower show is bound be spectacular. Also, the last time we were here, the Palm Canyon campground here was without a reservation system.We thought there would be space available.

Uh! Oh! Turns out that there is a new reservation system in place, and the San Diego Union Tribune has been featuring articles on the desert wildflower display.

Thursday night. -- no problem. But Friday and Saturday are a different story. Persons who have called in a reservation, get priority. If you haven't made a reservation you wait until 9 am to find out if there are any left over sites. This morning, by 7 am, people were already lined up to extend an extra day !

We guessed that we would not be able to stay in the full hook up area, drove through the non-hookup areas, and selected a couple of alternate sites. Thus, when asked, we said "Site 73, please". Fine, we're in. A couple ahead of me were allowed a spot, but they did not know which specific site they wanted, and had to go check. By the time they returned, site 73 was no longer available! Lesson: Do your homework for the Camping Game!

The group of people waiting made a very congenial group. Stories about the never-perfect reservation systems of other parks were being told. Camping tales, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Alaska were recited, only to be topped by another's story about bears in Glacier. I was only in line about 40 minutes, and thoroughly enjoyed the tales.

The flowers are incredible this year. There are pink/purple mats of sand verbena, large spreading clumps of blue phaecella, white evening primroses, and yellow sand daisies. If you look carefully, there are miniature sand flowers everywhere. The grasses, invisible most years, are thick and lush, and full of rabbits! The creosote bushes are just starting to show their flowers, as is the chuparosa (the hummingbird plant). This is as spectacular as any tulip or daffodil display I have seen in our Skagit Valley. And much more natural. Mother Nature is a master landscape architect!

The people are incredible this year, also. They are everywhere. The Visitor Center is jammed, and the volunteers are constantly marking maps to show where are the best viewing areas. There are people wandering all around the desert, painting and photographing the flowers. Each is armed with the pamphlet "Wildflowers of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park", and most are checking with each other about which flower is which. Great camaraderie among total strangers! Anza Borrego during wildflower season.

In the end, though, it was the sheer numbers of people who made us decide to cut our stay here short. The campground is overrun -- with ten and twelve campers per site. The campers are very well behaved, but there are too many. The Palm Canyon trail parking lot is full to overflowing. And there are three Trailways type busses, all marked VIP, in the Visitor Center parking lot. As much as we love Borrego Springs and the surrounding area, right now it is too crowded. We will be back some week day when we can enjoy the desert in peace.

Postcard: Cholla Bay: Pelicans and Pangas

Feb. 24, 1998

A return to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument meant a return to Puerto Penasco, Mexico for shrimp, fresh fish and asparagus. This time we explored an area new to us, Cholla Bay.

Turn off the main road where the sign says, "JJ's Cantina, 10 km". Drive about two miles down the dirt road, across the railroad tracks, and pass through, (or stop and shop in), a 1/4 mile of Mexican curio shops.. You can buy fireworks, T-shirts, pottery, furniture; anything you want. About 1/2 mile further on the beach takes over. The road is hard packed sand, and runs straight for 4 miles through sand dunes. Watch for occasional coyotes racing across the road. From here you can see the small group of vacation beach homes which comprise Cholla Bay.

This town is situated in a spectacular area. On one side of town is open Gulf, on the other the placid waters of the Bay. All the homes have a spectacular view of the low flying pelican squadrons which cruise by looking for unwary fish. You can tell there are lots of fish by the number of pelicans, and also from the number of pangas plying the water. A panga looks like a 16 foot long rowboat, which is now, or once was, colorfully painted. I've never seen one being rowed; they all have motors. I've also never seen one going slowly. The panga operators prefer full power, and usually are seen bouncing crazily over the waves.

Launching these, or any boat, is done by one of the most unusual pieces of machinery. Imagine a ladder set up with four wheels on the bottom. Add a seat and motor at the top of the ladder. This contraption can push a boat down the beach and into the water. It also doubles as a race car, proved by one operator we dodged.

If you don't have a panga or a panga launcher, the ATV is the car of choice. The area is sandy beach and sandy dunes, and a perfect place for these machines. I almost wanted a ride myself.

Cholla Bay seems to have grown in a very haphazard manner. Houses are scattered along the bay, and the sand streets wind between them. Here and there, right in the middle of the street, you will see a lot for sale sign. When this lot is purchased, the street will have to go somewhere else!

Just outside this settlement, is a sign reading "Sandy Beach, a gated community". This sentiment is more hope than reality, as there are no homes or gates here -- yet. There is an RV park, however. Dry camping, right on the beach for three dollars a night. Long, white sand beaches contrast with black rocks -- the landing pads for gulls, cormorants and pelicans. Beautiful! Where the 25 or so RVs were parked was on very firm sand (the man at the entrance called it the "road"), so getting stuck didn't seem to be a problem.

This spot would be our choice for camping in the Puerto Penasco area. The typical RV park here is incredibly crowded, and the sites are so small that you really wonder how those rigs got into them -- or what would happen if someone unexpectedly wanted to leave. No such problem at Sandy Beach. The guard here did mention that avoiding weekends and college spring break is advisable, unless you really like noise. But today the sun is out, the kids are either home or in town attending the Penasco Carnival, and Sandy Beach beckons us for a week day stop on our next trip.

Exploring new areas, we bypassed our usual lunch stop, the Friendly Dolphin, and visited La Cuerva. It is not located on the water,and so there are few tourists here. They were quite busy, however; many Penascans were enjoying their Sunday dinners. Tom's taco salad and my chimichangas were both delicious. The service was fine until it came time to leave. Our bill was "held hostage", when the waitress and two of her friends started up what became a very long conversation. But she finally remembered us and we were off to the fish market.

Puerto Penasco is celebrating Mardi Gras this week. Today, the main street was blocked off for carnival rides, and a stage set up for the crowning of the king and queen of Carnival. The main church was just getting out; very nicely dressed Mexicans were exiting one door, and a large group of very casually dressed "gringos" was about to enter another. Both groups were attending Mass; first in Spanish, then in English.

The fish market is a series of stalls along the waterfront street. As soon as you are spotted, you are besieged by sellers, each claiming his shrimp and fish are the best and freshest. We found our friend Michelangelo at Pedro's fish market, got our snapper, shrimp and asparagus and were off to return to Organ Pipe. A wonderful day, some interesting new places explored, and garlic shrimp for dinner. What could be better?

Postcard: Usery Mountain: The Camping Game

Feb 16, 1998

We expected to have to wait to get into this most popular park, especially when we arrived in the middle of President's Day weekend. But we figured that, if we arrived on the Sunday, by the Monday, many of the campers would have to go back to work. Correct. One night in the overflow area, and here we are. We had scouted the campground, and knew what site we preferred; one on the outside loop. But there are no poor sites here. They are all large and level with lots of room between you and your neighbors. Each is a small niche carved out of the desert. Ours has a Palo Verde tree, a three foot barrel cactus and lots of brittlebush. Other sites have ocotillo and saguaro cactus. The birds are singing, the sun is out, and the many hikes of this area beckon.

This afternoon, we tackled the Wind Caves hike. While not a very long hike, about 1.6 miles each way, the elevation gain is substantial, and the views are magnificent. We could see the communities of Fountain Hills to the Northwest, Apache Junction to the Southeast, and due west, there was Phoenix. Since it is a holiday, there are many Arizonans hiking this trail, or having picnics at the tables at the foot of the hill. This area has had its portion of El Nino, and everyone seems happy to get outdoors while the sun is out.

What do you do in Phoenix when the sun is not out? El Nino paid Arizona a return visit last night, and this morning the sky is overcast and the temperature very cool -- for Arizona. A perfect day for a trip to the Mesa Southwest Museum. I had been to the Heard Museum in Phoenix before and enjoyed it thoroughly -- I wanted to see this museum also.

It is a very interesting museum, especially for school children. The museum has several dinosaur displays; the bones of a Tyrannosaurus bataar (a new animal for me) are being assembled in one area. There is a noisy confrontation between a T Rex and Triceratops going on in another. Mammoth bones stalk along yet another wall. Children can handle dinosaur bones in the assemble- a - bone section or compare their footprints to those of a dinosaur. And the kids love every exhibit!

In one section of the museum, you can walk the streets of old Mesa. Here there are storefronts depicting life here around the turn of the century. A pharmacy, with "old time" medicines, a dentist office and a meat market. In the windows of this last, right between the hanging chickens and the eggs, is a sign which reads, "The citizens of Mesa are very intelligent. This is because they eat meat... plenty of it.... a brain developer"!

My favorite section of the museum was the jail. This is actually a portion of the real jail, built in 1883 and used from 1937 until 1975. There were no escapes from this jail during this period; indeed, once a prisoner was put into a cell, the door was never opened again until he was moved or released. His meals were slipped through a slot in a door.

A most interesting way to spend a couple of hours on a chilly Arizona morning. And -- when I came out, so had the sun!

Postcard: Exploring Big Bend

Feb. 10, 1998

This is going to be a very hard postcard to write. This park offers diverse vistas everywhere you look or drive -- everything from river to mountain to desert. And it has the best birding yet. Right now, a Vermilion flycatcher is hard at work above my head and I have difficulty putting down the binoculars long enough to look at the keyboard.

This is an enormous park. The ranger stations report not only the high and low temperatures of the previous day, they also cite visibility. The average visibility is 85 miles. On breezy days, visibility increases to 110 miles or more. You can see forever, and almost all of it is in this National Park!

We entered the park at the north entrance Persimmon Gap. It's a drive of 26 miles from there to the ranger station at Panther Junction. From the road runs east and west. We drove east 20 more miles to the Rio Grande Village campground. There were plenty of vacancies! We bypassed the full hook up area for the grassy, treed hookup-less area. In one portion of this campground, generators are permitted; in another portion they are not. Your choice. The generator hours are long; from 9 am to 7 pm. This is not a problem; no one seems to need a 12 hour generator run. In other parks with limited generator hours, all the generators are going full bore for all the permitted time.

Rio Grande Village is our choice for camping in our 29 foot Alpenlite. There are other campgrounds, Castollon, at the opposite end of the park (and some 70 miles away), and at Chisos basin, but both of these are more suitable for smaller rigs.

We are right on the Rio Grande river. Across the river, is the small Mexican village of Boquillas. The villagers are more than happy (for a small fee), to row you across so that you may explore their village. And maybe get a beer while you're there! There is an "in camp" hike here -- an easy climb to an overlook where you can see the campground, Boquillas, the river and at your back, the spectacular pink and black mesas and cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen mountains . Each evening here, we are visited by a small herd of Javalinas, strolling through the campground, looking for handouts, getting their pictures taken and driving all the dogs crazy.

A trip to the Chisos Mountain area is a must when exploring Big Bend. 3 miles west of Panther Junction, you will find the signs to the Basin. The signs also caution against taking big rigs up there, since it sports a 10% grade and is very winding in places. The altitude change is enormous! In 7 miles you climb 2000 feet. The scenery changes from the creosote bush and cactus desert floor to pinyon pines and juniper. Gone are the black throated sparrows and roadrunners; here there are jays and ash-throated flycatchers, as well as squirrels, deer, and reportedly bear and cougar. Chisos Lodge has overnight accommodations, a post office, small grocery store and a view that will not stop. Called "The Window", it is a wide Vee in the mountains allowing a view of the westernmost portions of the park -- a breathtaking scene. The campground is at an elevation of 5400 feet, it can get quite cool at night.

At any visitor center, you can purchase one or all of a series of small pamphlets. One is for the improved roads of the area, one for the unimproved roads, and one for hikes of any length or difficulty. Each booklet lists the sights by milepost; each also cautions checking with the park ranger to see current situation of any trails or unimproved roads.

Perhaps we should have followed that advice, but we had driven to Ernst tinaja before, so we didn't bother. The good new is we got there and back. But the road was extremely rough and so narrow at one point that our dually just barely fit. And then there was that washed out hill!

But when you get there, the tinajas are well worth exploring. They are a series of seemingly bottomless holes in the rocks where water collects. In 1903, Max Ernst established a store and a school here. In 1913, the U.S.Army camped here. They put a metal ring in the side of the largest tinaja and attached a rope to it. This way they could pull themselves out of the water after a swim. And of course, the wildlife comes in the mornings and evenings to drink.

Just outside the park boundary at the extreme western edge of the park, is the town of Study (pronounced Stoody) Butte, the ghost town of Terlingua, and the community of Lajitas. In Lajitas, there is an RV park with golf course, a beautiful period hotel, and boardwalk with small stores and two restaurants. This is the site of the Chihuahuan Desert Challenge, a 30 to 40 mile mountain bike race rated as one of the top 25 in the world. 700 riders will trek down to the Rio Grande, up to and around the mesas and back to Lajitas.

It seems there is an unending list of "things to do" in Big Bend. We could go river rafting. There are several companies who will take you on a half day, full day or even longer, float of the Rio Grande. There are stables to rent horses for day rides or overnights. There are many hikes of varying lengths. There is birding. This morning, I took a 2 hour walk with about 25 birders from all over the country. Given the location of Big Bend, at the western limit for the eastern birds, at the eastern limit for western birds, and right on the central flyway, it is obvious that this walk is one of the premier ones. We were not disappointed this morning.

As usual, our stay will not let us do everything. This afternoon, we are off to Alpine again. This time we plan on exploring the Fort Davis area. That is, of course, unless we change our minds at the last minute!...

Postcard: Big Bend Bound

Feb. 7, 1998

From Tucson, Arizona to Big Bend National Park, Texas seems a longer journey on the map than on the road. We opted to take 2 easy days to cover the approximately 550 miles, aiming for a mid-morning Sunday arrival at the park. We are hoping that most of the Sunday departures will have gone, and we will be ahead of most of the arrivals.

Our first stop, as usual, is Las Cruces, New Mexico. Las Cruces is only 250 miles down the Interstate from Tucson. Here you can find large grocery stores, several RV parks, and the town of Mesilla. We were early enough for a bicycle tour of Mesilla.

Mesilla has been described as "Santa Fe 35 years ago". There is a charming square with a lovely old church on one end, many art galleries, upscale clothing stores, furniture stores, and all sorts of restaurants. We usually opt for a Mexican restaurant called "El Patio". If you enter El Patio through its bar , you might be tempted to eat elsewhere. Just keep going. The restaurant is charming and the food is delicious.

Tonight, however, we were tempted by a newcomer to Mesilla, the Brass Cactus Bistro. You can get everything from Cioppino to a New Mexican Cowboy Steak. Tom chose smoked prime rib with garlic green chile mashed potatoes. His taste runs less to "hot" than mine, and he found the potatoes a bit too spicy for his tamer tastes. I thought they were delicious. I had spicy Cajun pasta with creole sauce. It was equally wonderful.

Stephen Meeks, the chef, has an unusual collection artfully displayed around the restaurant, his "bottles". The 150 bottles are grouped into sections. One is of the patriots of the Revolutionary War such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Others are the "Plainsmen" and "Gunfighters". You can see the Shootout at the OK Corral and Custers Last Stand. We were admiring these, and our waitress brought over the "Madam". She (the bottle) was a hard boiled looking gal, with black eye patch, flaming orange hair and stern expression.

This is definitely a "return to" restaurant in a "return to" city. But next we were off to Alpine, Texas.

Arriving in Alpine, we were early enough for a bicycle tour of the town. The city park is absolutely huge, with many play areas for children, a large baseball field, and connecting golf course. We found a great RV park, the Lost Alaskan, so called because the owners have recently come to Texas from that state. We were immediately invited to a potluck that night, and, while we were unable to attend, many of those camped here did. Alpine is only 25 miles from Fort Davis where the observatory gives nightly programs. It is 30 miles from Marathon Texas, and 110 miles from Big Bend National Park headquarters. According to a sign painted on the side of a bookstore, the town was established in 1883, the population is 5686, the elevation is 4500, and the zip code is 79830. The sign then gives you the total, 91,899!

The short distance from Alpine to Marathon means breakfast at the historical Gage Hotel. Even if you don't eat there, it is worth a stop just to see the cowboy decor -- chaps hung on pegs, saddles thrown over bannisters, the heads of elk and deer in the courtyard, and the head of a white cow over the fireplace. The food is excellent. But if we were to test our arrival theory, it was time to head south to Big Bend.

Postcard: Touring Tubac: The Tubac Art Festival

Feb. 6, 1998

South of Tucson is the resort and retirement town of Green Valley. Dotted with homes nestling around golf courses, the main street of town does not have a bicycle lane, but does have a golf cart lane. South of Green Valley, you leave retirement Arizona and enter a more rural, less developed, Arizona before reaching Nogales and the Mexican border. Here you will find the small towns of Tubac and Tumacacori.

During most of the year, Tubac is a relatively quiet spot. It is a young town, founded in 1948, which almost immediately became a gathering spot for artists. Painters, sculptors, weavers all migrated to Tubac.

For a brief period in early February, however, Tubac is anything but quiet. This is the time of its annual artist festival. Then the tour busses line the parking lots, and the local Rotary Club makes a profit by selling parking places in a nearby field. The festival itself is free.

And what an interesting show it is. Special exhibits are found by noticing the color of large paint brushes -- each color designating ceramics and glass, fine art, jewelry, sculpture or Native American art. In addition to the many artisan shops, small tents are set up along all the 5 streets of Tubac. Tie dyed shirts, jewelry, and pottery tents vie for tourist attention with tents showing silk apparel, glass blowing and carving and woodcrafts. Handcrafted wooden knives, tile tables and benches, and metal southwestern motif sculptures are for sale. One tent featured salsas. You buy the dry ingredients, add tomatoes and refrigerate for an hour. .As a salsa lover, I can attest that the hot salsa is exactly that! I was especially taken with the tent featuring carved wooden animals from Oaxaca, Mexico. One small snake, with a large personality, is now traveling with us.

If you were hungry there was Indian fry bread, Mexican carne asada, Greek gyros, Italian sausages and fried ice cream. There were several restaurants for those wishing to sit down while eating.

We had other plans for lunch, however. Just down the road a couple of miles is the tiny town of Tumacacori. Here was our goal,Wisdom restaurant.

To find this restaurant, simply drive south from Tubac on the frontage road until you come to a small building with two 5 foot ceramic chickens in the front. You can also recognize it from the large number of cars parked in front. We had heard wonderful things about the place; it seems that we were among the last to have visited it.

Inside the restaurant, I was struck by how roomy it was. There are several dining areas. All are liberally papered with antiques, pictures of the owners, flags and posters. In one corner, there were some grinning Dia de los Muertos skeletons. You could spend several hours just looking at all the artifacts on the walls and ceilings of the various rooms. But we were here for lunch.

Wisdom has a complete menu, with two specialities -- chimichangas and fruit burritos. Since this was our first visit, we opted for two chimichangas, one beef, one turkey, and to split a fruit burrito for dessert. The chimichangas are deep fried flour tortillas, stuffed with the filling of your choice, lettuce and tomatoes. They were hot and spicy; even more so if you use their selection of house salsas. The fruit burrito is a thin, flaky tortilla, sprinkled with sugar and wrapped around the filling of your choice -- apple, cherry, berry or peach. Even though we were sharing one dessert, we each got a liberal scoop of real vanilla ice cream to go along with our portion. The whole lunch was delicious. I recommend Wisdom if you are in Tumacacori, Arizona, or anywhere near it, at meal time.

Tomorrow we are off for Big Bend National Park in Texas. We haven't visited this area in several years and are looking forward to exploring it again.


Postcard: El Nino's Nip

Feb. 3, 1998

We have come to The Voyagers RV Park in Tucson for several reasons. We love to visit the Arizona - Sonora Desert Museum. Both the west and east sections of the Saguaro National Park deserve attention and attendance. And, last, but certainly not least, we have been watching weather forecasts. The weatherman has been saying that the current wave of storms pounding California will make it all the way into southern Arizona. We figure that we will weather the weather better in this large park than dry camped out somewhere in the desert.

As we waited for El Nino to hit, we made our annual pilgrimage to the Desert Museum. This year, there has been an addition to this combination zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden. The Arizona Upland, an extended nature trail, now houses the Javelinas in such a natural setting that they can be hard to see. The coyotes will move in next. Both these exhibits appear as if the animals could easily walk right out onto the people trail. It isn't until you look carefully that you can see the almost invisible fencing which keeps them in.

Cat Canyon, where the ocelots and similar western exotic cats are enclosed, has also been moved to this area. The cats have large canyon like cage areas which are quite tall -- great for climbing!

How long does it take to visit? You will never see everything in one trip. As always, we lost track of time strolling this wonderful museum. I love to visit the walk-in aviary, a large enclosure where several hundred species of birds co-exist. No hawks or eagles here. A docent was identifying the hummingbirds in their area. Nesting season is starting for the hummers, and you wear a red hat at your peril. The Desert Grasslands have a comical collection of prairie dogs, who are usually out looking at the comical collection of people looking at them. The Desert Garden exhibits the cacti and other desert flora of Arizona. In the cave and mineral gallery, you'll find a dioramat of the geological development of the Arizona area -- what it was like millions of years ago and how it has changed throught the millenia.

We visited the eastern (Rincon) section of the Saguaro National Park. Smaller than the western part, it also gets fewer visitors. A short, 8 mile, circular drive gives you a glimpse of the area. But the day hiker and overnight backpacker will gain a better understanding of this special part of the desert.

El Nino. We knew it was coming. All around us, campers put up their awnings, stored away their chairs, and put anything they didn't want we. Wise choices. It can really rain in the desert. While the total, around one inch, isn't much by standards of other parts of the country, here it turns the desert to mud and the roads to rivers. And it seems to take a long time to get the water to evaporate. Even today, the park dog walk is still under water.

Tomorrow we are off to Tubac, a town 50 miles south of Tucson, to visit the annual art festival. We have been in the Tubac area before the fest and after it; this time it is going on while we visit. The expected attendance is in the 50,000 range. We hope to go early and avoid the rush.

Postcard: Extending -- Organ Pipe Cactus NM

Jan 30, 1998

We are camped in the middle of the Sonoran desert. Around our particular campsite, there are creosote bushes, chain-fruit chollas, beavertail and hedgehog cactus, and brittle bush. We are in a campground, but the desert is in here with us. We are wakened every morning by the dual alarm clocks of curve-billed thrasher and cactus wren. Each evening, the coyote chorus serenades us. Truly this is a desert paradise.

And because it is, we have never been here without "extending". We sign up for two nights, and then decide it is so peaceful we will stay longer. This has happened before, and we have extended three and even four nights. We shall see what happens this time.

The ranger program here is outstanding. Each day there is at least one desert hike, and two patio programs. A desert walk takes about two hours and each talk lasts about 30 minutes. Rangers discuss the birds of Organ Pipe and the scorpions and snakes of this region. Their talks cover everything from the lives of the native O'odham people to plans for managing the future of the Monument. Each weekend, you can take a free van trip over the Ajo Mountain road. This road circles through the Ajo mountains with various stops described by a small booklet. It covers the flora, fauna and history of the mountains.and is available in the Visitor Center. In several places along the route, there are hiking trails. Another, longer drive circles to the west of the visitor center. Called Puerto Blanco Drive, is is more of a flat desert drive. A main attraction on this drive is Quitobaquito Oasis, where there is great birding.

And just 65 miles down the road is Puerto Penasco -- Rocky Point. This small Mexican town is located in the "free" zone, which means with only vehicle registration, a drivers license or other proof of citizenship, and Mexican car insurance, you can be off on an easy day's trip "south of the border". The road has been improved every year and now is a wide, two lane, easy drive down to the Gulf. We love to make a day's trip; eat lunch at the Friendly Dolphin, buy fish, shrimp and asparagus at the waterside market, and then back. The whole trip takes about 6 hours.

This year's trip had an added bonus -- wildflowers. Yellow desert sunflower, lavender sand verbena, orange desert mallow and white dune evening primrose forming an oriental carpet of flowers. Spectacular.

Extension -- Number one. One extra day for a hike to the old Victoria mine. This is a two mile (each way), fairly level walk across the desert to the ruins of an old store, and several mine shafts. There are still old pieces of pottery and glass from the mining era.

Extension -- Number two. Another extra day for Saturday morning"cowboy coffee". Here you meet the rangers, campground volunteers, and fellow campers, and get to drink coffee boiled with eggshells to keep the grounds from permeating the brew. Sometimes the coffee is filled with grounds, other times not. You don't know from pot to pot which kind will be poured into your mug!

This morning, we were treated to two talks from the Monument volunteers. Janice told us the story of the creation of the world, according to the O'odham legends. The story is as follows: Earthmaker took a small ball of earth and shaped it, patted it and pulled it to make the world. Then he made the first people. But he was disappointed in these first people -- they were flawed. So he caused a flood to sweep them away. Earthmaker, Eloy and Coyote hid underground until the waters had receded. Then they started over, making a new people -- the O'odham.

Next we heard cowboy stories. Dan, a volunteer, dressed in boots, spurs, jeans, kerchief, hat and six shooter, told stories about the old timers; the rustlers, miners and cattlemen of the time. A rough bunch they were, not at all adverse to killing those who got in their way.

This afternoon we drove around the Ajo Mountain loop. Part way around, there is a great arch several hundred feet up the mountain. There is a trail which appears to lead to the arch, and in previous years we have seen people standing in it. We carefully followed the narrow trail for a mile, threading our way between cholla and cats claw, until we came to a place where it crossed the side of a mountain, on the rock. Here we decided we were just not well equipped enough to continue what looked to be a difficult climb. Maybe next year.

This will be the last of our extensions this time at Organ Pipe. It's a fascinating place; one which commands you to stay and explore it. We never tire of returning.

Postcard: The Road to Ajo

Jan. 26, 1998

Leaving Borrego Springs en route to El Centro. We have a reservation at the Desert Trails RV Resort. It is a very attractive (and popular) place just off the Interstate, with a pool, spa and short golf course. One of its greatest draws, for us, is its location. It is just up the street from a Dodge/GM service center and just down the road from Costco, Wal-Mart and grocery stores. The park laundry is great for those mundane and necessary travelling chores. If these folks weren't so doggedly anti-modem friendly, they'd likely make our "favorites" list.

Leaving El Centro en route to Gila Bend. Interstate 8 can often be straight, long and slightly boring. Not today. I have been counting the Super Bowl returnees. Four vans with writing all over their sides and windows, proclaiming "Go, Broncos", or "Go Packers". (If I were riding in the latter, I might try to convince the driver to wash his vehicle)! At least 12 brightly painted charter busses. I cannot see inside, but they must be full of fans as well.

All through this part of the desert are the boondockers. These folks find parts of the countryside which appeal to them, drive off the road, and spend the night, the week, or even longer. Here they can drive off road ATVs or motorcycles, or just sit in the sun and relax. What some of the places lack in beauty, (in my eyes), they more than make up for in creative names. You can find Pegleg Sam's, Gilbert's Well, Dateland Oasis and Wellton, in addition to the larger and better known places such as The Slabs at Niland and Quartzsite. In the area around the road to the Mexican "medicine" town of Algodones, boondocking areas, all full of boondockers, abound.

Leaving Gila Bend en route to Ajo. The road becomes much more scenic. Hills stand out against the clear Arizona sky and it seems you can count the needles on the cactus or the leaves on the creosote bushes. Passing through the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, we were treated to several jets flying patterns. One after the other, they roared across the highway, powered straight up, banked sharply, powered straight down and flew off in a large circle, only to repeat the maneuver a minute later.

We will spend a couple of days in Ajo, and then go on to Organ Pipe. This year we have joined the ranks of bicycle enthusiasts, junior grade, and are looking forward to testing our legs on some of the hills of the area. It's amazing how big a small hill can appear when you approach it on a bike!

Postcard: Palm Canyon Morning -- Borrego Springs

Jan. 18, 1998

The notice said, "Birdwalk at 7 am. Meet at the Palm Canyon trailhead." How could I resist?

The sun was not yet up, but the desert sky was streaked pink and yellow, and it was already warm when four intrepid hikers and a guide started up the three mile trail to the oasis in Palm Canyon. There was a couple from Vancouver, WA, snowbirding in the desert while waiting to see if a job in Sri Lanka would materialize. There was a college student from Germany on spring break from classes at San Francisco State University. Then there was Stephanie -- the always- ready- for- a- birdwalk woman from San Juan Island.

Our guide, Karyn, from the California State Park system, was more of a botanist than a birder.
We identified several species of desert plants already in bloom and were introduced to desert sage and jimson weed (datura) as well as the ever present creosote bush, ocotillo, cholla and other cactii of the area. This year Borrego Springs has already received more than twice the amount of rainfall as last year, and the wildflower shows of March and April should be spectacular.

We had only hiked about 1/2 mile when we saw something that many persons who come here never see -- borregos! There were 15 desert bighorn sheep, young ones, ewes and three rams. Some of the young rams were showing off, butting each other's horns, and the sound echoed up the trail. The youngest ones were playing "king of the rock" on a large boulder. The adult rams were simply majestic, looking down, with expressions bordering on contempt, at the insignificant humans who were staring up at them.

The trek up the canyon winds through desert sagebrush, over boulders, and always follows Palm Canyon Creek, which this year is flowing rapidly, spilling small waterfalls and creating quiet pools, where, in some seasons, there is no water at all. It takes about 1 1/2 hours of slow strolling to reach the desert oasis.

Palm Canyon Oasis is a small pool of year-round water, ringed with palms. The parks department is attempting to remedy some years of misuse, and there are several "off-limits" areas set up to protect the small growing palms. It is a quiet and lovely spot. You feel like whispering here.

Our return trip was a wonderful birding experience. I found it odd that there were more birds in evidence at 9:15 than there had been at 7:15, but now we saw warblers, gnatcatchers, wrens (Canyon and Cactus), towhees, and white crowned and black-chinned sparrows.

The sheep had dispersed while we were walking, and now only a couple could be seen. One handsome ram gazed down at us from his resting spot atop a large boulder, while a nearby ewe had found a significantly smaller rock for her mid-morning snooze.

Today we are off for San Diego, and the Chula Vista RV Resort. We will be on the shores of Mission Bay, and only a few miles from Tijuana shopping. Here we will stock up on groceries, do the necessary housekeeping chores, and plan the next leg of our trip. Out will come the maps, and careful consideration will be placed on weather reports. Then, suddenly, one place will look just perfect, and off we will go.

Postcard: The Citrus Corridor

January 14, 1998

We left the rain and wind of Northern California and finally feel like we have started our sun seeking odyssey. In celebration of this, we followed our usual route -- to stock up on the wonderful citrus fruit of Southern California.

Our first stop is always the Orange Grove RV park, about 10 miles east of Bakersfield.
You camp under the orange trees, and may use orange "pickers", small pronged baskets on long poles with which you can pull the fruit from the trees. Pick all the oranges you want !.

Tonight we are in the Oasis Palms RV park. This is a wonderful new discovery. We are camped on the shores of a small pond, which is teeming with orange and gold fish. There is a very pleasant pool and a spa. We are surrounded by grapefruit, orange and lemon trees, and the management has a "please help yourself" philosophy. If dates or other fruits tempt you, there are highway stands scattered on Route 86 south from Coachella. Birding is excellent, with Hummers, Vermilion Flycatchers and Black Phoebes in abundance.

Gourmet items and recipes abounded today when we went grocery shopping. While in the Coachella Vons store, we found a bin in which what looked to be two large chunks of palm tree. The name, Mescal, was familiar, but we were stymied until an extremely helpful Latino shopper explained that this is what goes into Tequila. It can also be cooked as a vegetable, but her expression made it clear that this was not her favorite food, so we decided to do without. We also got directions to the local Tortillaria, for fresh flour or corn tortillas, and home made salsa. Tomorrow, when we visit Indio, we shall give it a try.

Not to be outdone, our checker gave us her recipes for cooking chilies. Cut slits in the sides to allow the steam to escape, baste them with olive oil, and broil them on the barbeque. Tom tried it, but I think he cooked them too long. After peeling them, I had something like chile mush. Not bad, but somehow I think we missed the real thing. Oh well, we'll give it another try...

Tomorrow we will visit one of our favorite spots -- a must stop when following the citrus corridor -- Borrego Springs. I can hardly wait to go to Seeley Ranch for a sack of their wonderful grapefruit. Borrego Springs has other attractions -- the golf, hiking and birding are also excellent, but the lure of the citrus is specially strong for this still slightly damp Northerner.

Postcard: Heading South -- Salem, Oregon

Jan. 6, 1998

Today I wore my sunglasses for the first time in several months. We emerged from the never ending damp cloud which has made our Northwest county quite gloomy for the past several weeks. The sun was brilliant and, though the windshield of the truck, even warm!!

It seemed as if all the world had changed. The barrel forms of sheep, heavy with winter wool and impending lambs, seemed whiter than normal. The first cattle egrets, harbingers of the California sun to come, fairly gleamed. The fenceposts were dotted with red-tail hawks, each examining his special territory for any unwary mouse. I even spotted several sandhill cranes who seemed to have decided that this was the place to stop on their southward migrations. After all, they said to each other, "it's sunny here!"

I do love our small corner of the world. But in the winter months, when light is a visitor for only a few hours of the day, the snowbird in me gets "hitch-itch" for the southland.

So, off we go. Tomorrow, California, to visit family for the weekend. Thence, wherever the road takes us. This year, we have no definite spot waiting for us, but will be true Gypsies, and stop wherever we wish, for as long as we want and are able, in this era of reservations.