Friday, February 27, 2009

Palm Desert - A Jewel in the Mojave

It’s 3:20 pm and I’m watching the ducks waddle down the Golf Course. The shadows are just starting to lengthen over the manicured fairway in front of the patio. The weather is spectacular; the people are friendly. I’ve had a refreshing swim and a mid-afternoon snack to tide me over until we go out for hors d’oeuvres and drinks at 5 pm. We’re watching the Scotties Tournament of Hearts beamed to us via satellite from Victoria. In the morning we watch the early morning news from Calgary. Such is life at the Oasis Golf and Country Club in Palm Desert. I could spend winters here in a heartbeat.

Al and Shirley are gracious and welcoming hosts. Shirley and I are going to Joshua Tree National Monument on Sunday and now I plan to leave on Monday.

There are a lot of Calgarians here, too. In fact, when I stopped to pick up flowers and wine on my to Al and Shirley’s, standing behind me at the cashier’s line up was Ron Liepert, a man I worked with at Telus and who is now Alberta’s Health Minister. At the last RV Park my next door neighbours were from Braseside, about a ten minute drive from my home in Calgary. It is, indeed, a small world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now this is more like it...

I’m back to dressing like it's summer: capris, sandals, tank top. The high today is somewhere between 77 and 81 Fahrenheit, slightly overcast and humid. And I’m still in the desert, for goodness sake!

After I left Lake Havasu, I drove south to Yuma to spend the night there. As I drove south, I noticed veritable RV villages sitting in the middle of the desert. I discovered later that not only can you park there, some of these places charge a $5.00 per day fee and have people come in with trucks to vacuum out holding tanks and fill propane tanks.

As I drove into Yuma the landscape turned green! They irrigate heavily there and as I headed to the Escapee Co-op RV Park, I passed warehouses emblazoned with Dole and Sunkist. A large tractor-trailer loaded with oranges and lemons drove by. The RV park was surrounded by orange groves. Ahhh, yes, it was lovely after almost a month in desert country. And it was warm, too.

The next day I left Yuma and entered California which is just a few miles down the road. The first landscape I saw was, of course, more desert. This desert, however, was comprised of sand dunes and there were RV villages there, too. It was also a haven for ATVs. They appeared mostly to be driven by prepubescent boys (or maybe by those who wished they were) running them up and down the dunes.

Usually just across any state line, there is a large tourist information centre. I’ve gotten used to stopping there to pick up maps and brochures of things to see and do. But I’m beginning to think there are no information centres in California! When I checked in at the Indian Wells RV Park in Indio last night, I commented on the fact that I hadn’t seen one info centre in California. The women at the check in counter couldn’t remember seeing any and didn’t know of any in Indio either. So tomorrow I will check to see if there’s an AAA centre and pick up info there. Today I did run into another woman at PEP Boys Automotive (I was getting a new deep cycle Marine/RV battery as mine has died) and she gave me a 1-800 number that you can phone for information. She was travelling on her own, too and was driving a big motor home and pulling a horse trailer. She says she calls the 1-800 number and asks for the number of the Chamber of Commerce of the city she’s headed to and then calls them to find out where to stay – a little trickier with a horse!

Indio really the first small city you come to when you enter the Coachella Valley – another green visual delight! My next door neighbours here (fellow Calgarians) stopped by for a chat and one of things they told me is that Indio sits over one of North America’s largest aquifers. It is spectacularly lush here: lots of palms, deciduous trees that are in full leaf, bright flowers. And unlike Florida, there are no bugs! Just a few miles up the valley are Palm Desert and Palm Springs.

I also had another woman stop to say “Welcome”. She’s from BC and travels alone in a van the size of mine. She spends five months a year here living in her van – with her dog. As she says, you put out a table and some comfy chairs outside and you’re hardly in the van except to sleep.
So, I’m booked into this park tonight and tomorrow night. So many possibilities to think about.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

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Hi...I've adjusted my comment settings to allow people who aren't registered with Google to leave if your earlier comment didn't post, please try again. Elizabeth

Oatman, AZ

Oatman is an old gold mining town about an hour north of Lake Havasu. When it was abandoned, the miners turned out their burros and they stayed around and kept breeding. Now they wander around the town begging for carrots and other treats from the tourists.
The old buildings now house souvenir shops and the like but are fun to poke around in. And the desert scenery on the way in and out of the town is spectacular. Several times I spotted a lone RV parked out on the desert. You can camp anywhere on the Arizona desert unless there is a sign posted stating the contrary.
I'm still in Lake Havasu but will head south to Yuma tomorrow. Next week I'll be in California. Soon the long west coast drive north will begin.

Monday, February 16, 2009

London Bridge is NOT falling down....

Yesterday I drove over London Bridge, the honest-to-goodness bridge that served the city of London, England. Here’s what some of Lake Havasu’s tourist information says about it.

"For more than 140 years, London Bridge served as a crossing over the River Thames in London, England. It survived both world wars and a terrorist attack in 1884. So why did London want to remove such a significant landmark? And how did the London Bridge end up in Lake Havasu City, Arizona?

The London Bridge had survived many historic events, but not nature's sinking forces. The Bridge began to sink into the River Thames and in 1968, the city of London decided to sell it for 2.5 million dollars to Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City.

It took 3 years and another 7 million dollars to dismantle, ship and rebuild the bridge. Today, the London Bridge connects Lake Havasu City with an island in the lake. Its massive body of stone brings the essence of England to Arizona."

Lake Havesu is tourist town. I went to the swap meet downtown yesterday and there were three or four out-of-state license plates for every Arizona plate. When I go for groceries or on a shopping expedition most of the people are older than I am – something I don’t experience very often. I always thought of snowbirds as being Canadian but I’ve discovered on this trip that those of us who flock to the south in the winter also come from Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and other snowy, cold winter states. I can’t help but be a bit envious that these folks don’t have to leave their own country to find a warm spot to nest for the winter. No exchange rate on their money, no extra health insurance – and not as far to go.

Yesterday I went to the Winter Blast 2009, an annual gathering of pyrotechs who get together for a convention as put on spectacular fireworks displays (usually choreographed to music). The manufacturers are there and put on displays but there are lots of amateurs who are there to learn how to build various types of fireworks. I hadn’t realized how much chemistry is involved to get the proper elevation, the right colours, etc.

I was warned that people start arriving at Sara State Park at 3:30 pm for a show that doesn’t begin until 8:00 pm. So I figured I’d go early. I splurged (calories, that is) on some butterfly chips and sat down at a picnic table. The woman next to me was also eating some. We got talking and it turned out that she had her husband, both retired school teachers, were from Calgary! Mavis and her husband Don were visiting a friend of theirs (a pyrotechnic expert) who was at the event to give a lecture and catch up on what was new. So we all sat together and got a running commentary on what was behind the spectacular display. What a nice bonus for me.

I’m checking out campgrounds here and checked into my second one last night. Prospectors RV Park is a much nicer than the first place, Campbell Cove RV Park. Campbell Cover had very small sites and nondescript, smallish shower facilities, small clubhouse, etc. They charged extra for internet coverage. On the other hand, Prospectors has large sites covered with a lovely gravel mix that keeps the sand from tracking into the vehicle, cement paved roadways, a new large clubhouse complete with a well equipped fitness room. Their TV room is large and comfortable. Yesterday in the huge clubhouse part, people gathered together to watch the Daytona 500. People brought finger foods and the park supplied beer!

WiFi and cable TV are free and the laundry facilities are clean and large. All this for $30.00 per night including taxes. (Campbell Cove was $38.00 plus taxes.) This would be a nice place to spend the winter – if I could get used to the desert. My soul craves lushness and I haven’t found it here yet. There is a lovely spot on the water just south of Lake Havasu that looks like it has lots of trees and I will try that next.

I plan to stay in this area for a week or so then head into California.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What was I thinking?

Good Heavens! I do know the first commandment of RVing – walk around your vehicle before pulling away from your campsite. But this morning I was distracted. Maybe it was the thought of the Tanger Outlet Mall up the street. Or maybe it was the prediction of a day when the high was going to crack 65. Who knows? But in any event I didn’t walk around my vehicle and by the time I thought about it, I was on the other side of the campground. So I looked in my side mirror and saw what I really didn’t want to see: I was dragging my electrical cord and water hose behind me. Yikes! I jumped out and stowed the hose (with its broken pressure regulator still attached) and the electrical cord with the bent prongs. Then I headed back to my campsite to check out the damage. As I approached I spotted a geyser that would have sent Old Faithful into a fit of jealousy. My puny attempts at shutting it down by turning off the faucet failed miserably so I headed to the campground office where I ran in, fessed up and asked for help.

I was very lucky that the woman behind the counter was totally non-plussed by my fervent “I’m soooo sorry". She said not to worry about it. Evidently my neighbour had already called them and help had been dispatched. Then the genial campground host told me about the time she had done the same thing – sort of. She had driven away from the gas station with the hose still in her gas tank. “Boy, you should have seen that mess,” she told me. So I allowed that maybe the water hose mishap wasn’t so bad after all – at least it was water and not gasoline!

So I left the campground and consoled myself at the Tanger Outlet Mall. I bought a nice Liz Clairborn black and white top to go with the black pants I was wearing (Presidents Day sale - $11.00!) and headed down the road to Salome. The sign as you enter town says: Salome – where she danced.

I booked into the Desert Gem RV Campground that I found in my Passport America listings. According to the listings this place was supposed to have WiFi and cable TV. Not so. Actually, there is WiFi but it is not free. Nope, you have to pay. Well, OK, I told myself, I can wait until tomorrow to use the internet. Then, as I went to plug my cord into the cable TV connection, the manager walks by and tells me that there isn’t any cable TV. “We used to try to bring it on satellite but that really didn’t work so we took it down.”

“Oh, well,” I replied, “I get really good reception on my antenna.”

“Good luck,” he replied. “You can’t get anything here with just an antenna.” I tried anyway. He was right. And this is Grey’s Anatomy night.

So I paid for the internet connection thinking I could watch TV over the internet. I have discovered much to my delight that in the US you can watch full episodes of your favourite TV show for free on the internet. The networks actually supply them on their websites. So I paid up for the internet connection only to discover that the connection is too slow to watch TV.

As I write this, the floor under my feet just started to vibrate – there’s a train passing by. I think I am between the highway and the train tracks. Did I say that today just wasn’t my day? I think I’ll just go to bed!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Snow in Tucson

I know this is Tucson, Arizona but when I got up this morning there was snow on the ground! I’d been trying to find someplace where I might escape the winter weather but alas it caught up with me. Mind you there was only an inch or so on the ground but it was enough to snarl traffic and keep schools from opening on time so I decided to book in for another night and spend a quiet day reading, writing and walking. As I write this, the sun is shining and the snow is almost all gone.

I still plan to go to Sedona and the Grand Canyon but right now they are buried in 18” of snow with temperatures well below freezing overnight. So I will head for Lake Havasu and wait for the weather to clear farther north.

As I was driving across yet more desert yesterday, I realized that I am getting quite ready to be back home in Calgary. I want to spend time with my family and friends, and I have several projects around the house that I want to finally tackle. While I still love the freedom of travelling and living small, I am also beginning to feel the pull towards “nesting” again. How richly blessed I am.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Albuquerque Again!

We had problems finding reliable WiFi sites the last couple of days but now we're safely ensconced at our campsite in Albuquerque with a strong WiFi signal.

We left Carlsbad and headed to White Sands via the back road from Artesia and were treated to a beautiful drive through the Lincoln National Forest: lots of mountainous hills, trees and even a small ski hill. Such a treat after miles and more miles of desert. As we started down the last decline to a wide plain there lay 275 square miles of white sand dunes. We passed through Alamagordo and drove on to the explore White Sands. This wonder is comprised of gypsum sand that the wind has carved into huge sand dunes that can move as much as three feet per year. We stopped for a one mile walk. On our way through the 8.5 mile loop road, we passed a grader plowing the white sand off the highway!

From White Sands it was on to Las Cruces and our campground for the night. Yesterday, we drove from Las Cruces to Albuquerque. After checking in at the campground, we went to Garcia's for some authentic New Mexican food - the best we've had on this trip.

Today, we've taken a "down" day: doing laundry, cleaning, and Annette did her packing. She leaves tomorrow at 10:15 am headed back to the snows of the Canadian winter. Meantime, there is a winter weather advisory in Albuquerque for the next couple of days so after I drop Annette at the airport at 8 a.m. I'm heading back down to Las Cruces and the number 10 highway into Arizona. I'll have to stay south for a couple of days until the rain and cooler weather has passed. Then it's on to Sedona, followed by Lake Havasu. It will be strange to be travelling alone again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Carlsbad, New Mexico

After we left Taos, Annette and I headed for Santa Fe. Santa Fe is such a gorgeous place one could spend many days poking around in its historical buildings, museums, art galleries and shops. We settled for a trip to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Cathedral, the Indian merchants along the Plaza, some of the many shops and galleries that line the quaint, narrow streets downtown. We stopped for a great lunch at the Plaza CafĂ©. We topped off meal with a taste of the apple pie that we bought to take back to the campground with us. The deserts were so inspiring that Annette actually asked for permission to go behind the counter to photograph them! This naturally resulted in our pieces of pie being somewhat more generous than normal. Now this was no ordinary apple pie: this apple pie was laced with pecans and a generous measure of cinnamon, topped with a wonderful caramel concoction. Then it was back to the campground to regroup for our trip down south to Carlsbad and warmer weather - and to eat the rest of our pie.

As we were leaving Santa Fe, we stopped at a Victoria’s Secret – and I survived Annette’s bra shopping expedition. (Her daughters will know what I mean!) New undies in hand, we started down route 285. Route 285 between Santa Fe and Carlsbad can only be described as desert and more desert. As we neared Carlsbad, I exclaimed to Annette, “Look, there’s a tree” which had us erupting in gales of laughter when we realized that sighting a tree was actually an event!

Yesterday we explored Carlsbad Caverns’ easily accessible “big room”. There are no words that I can use to describe the beauty of this awe-inspiring place. On the way down the 850 foot (75 storey) elevator ride from the visitor centre, the attendant called the cavern “nature’s Cathedral”. This was clearly an understatement. We took lots of pictures but, alas, I can’t seem to download either Annette’s photos or my own into the computer. Last night I spent a couple of hours reinstalling the software and actually reading the instructions all to no avail. I will try again in a couple of days when the urge to reject all modern technology leaves me.

As we left the Carlsbad Caverns we took a 9.5 mile loop tour of the desert. The desert can be a very beautiful place and certainly this drive showed it off to its advantage. Some of the cacti were beginning to bloom. It was warm enough to drive with the windows open. It was a lovely way to end our exploring day.

Back in Carlsbad we stopped at a restaurant that was recommended in the AAA Tour Book. We had what can only be described as the worst meal I have ever eaten. In fact, we did not eat much of it at all. Our server was very gracious and agreed that the food was overcooked, tasteless and poorly presented. She sent in the restaurant manager to see us. He was clearly not pleased to see what had come out of his kitchen. We told him that while out server was great, we were very disappointed with the quality of the meal. He took a look at what remained on our plates, assured us that this was not “how we run our business”, promptly picked up our tab and headed for the kitchen. After we finished our tea (we were afraid to try their desserts), we picked up some groceries and headed back to the campground.

Today we are driving north and west to White Sands, an area of pure white sand dunes made of gypsum sand. We’ll spend the night somewhere near there and begin the leisurely northward trek back to Albuquerque tomorrow. Sadly, Annette leaves from Calgary on Sunday.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pictures from our weekend in Taos

Annette and Grandmother Jean

Tara, Terri (one of our genial hosts), Elizabeth

Tara, Ron, Laurel

Dario and Elizabeth

Laurel and Andre

Bob (one of our genial hosts)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Taos and Taos Ski Valley

Annette and I have spent the last couple of days in Taos and Taos Ski Valley wrapped in the warm hospitality of Terri and Bob, friends of Annette’s from Calgary. Terri and Bob have a lovely home in Taos Ski Valley just steps away from the ski hill. We were guests number six and seven as five other Calgarians had flown down with Terri and Bob for skiing and the wine festival. The other guests (Ron and Tara, Dario, Andre and Laurel) proved to be a lively and congenial group. We had some great conversations and many laughs while we were there despite the fact that Annette and I did not join them for skiing and wine tasting.

So what did we do, you might wonder if we passed on such wonderful activities as skiing and wine tasting? Well, we started out exploring the historic part of Taos – and then we met Grandmother Jean, a tenth generation Cherokee Medicine Woman.

When Annette arrived in New Mexico she was interested in meeting a native healer but how do you go about that? In the end, Grandmother Jean came to us. As we sat in a coffee shop on the old historic plaza yesterday morning, we got chatting with Jennifer the woman who works behind the counter. Jennifer was giving us lots of information about things to do when Annette asked her whether there were any native healers around. She left for a minute and came back with Frank who said he had done some work with Grandmother Jean. He said she was a wonderful wise woman and he offered to phone her to see if she would meet us. To our surprise, Grandmother Jean was less than a block away when she answered her cell phone and she drove to the coffee shop. She told us about the old Cherokee traditions and healing work that she does. We decided to go home with her for a cleansing ceremony. It was an honour to be part of another culture’s sacred ritual.

I’m not going to go into the details of this sacred Cherokee ceremony but you can check out Grandmother Jean’s website at Yes, even old Medicine Women have cell phones and websites in our modern world.

This morning we said goodbye to Terri and Bob and the rest of the crew and headed back into Taos for one last visit with Grandmother Jean. Tonight we’re back in Santa Fe. We plan to poke around Santa Fe tomorrow then we will head south to Carlsbad to see the caverns there. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be 47 F as a high in Santa Fe; in Carlsbad the high tomorrow will be in the 70s. Carlsbad is calling!