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Archive for March, 2007

The Conductor & the Lighthouse Keeper

I needed to spend the day in the trailer working, which required considerable discipline since it has been an absolutely beautiful day outside. Best I could do was open all the windows and let the warm desert breezes fly through the trailer. Eleanor and Emma at least got out a bit, heading into town to do laundry and talk to some of the locals.

Anza truck trailer.jpg

While working, I got the following email note:

Hey there, Rich, Greetings from the Komfort 5th wheel across from you! We’ve been using your WiFi since last night, so thought I’d better pipe up and say thanks. My husband Geno and I RV about 7 months out of the year. He’s cycling up Montezuma Pass right now. Instead of working, I’ve been enjoying your site, the IIM site, the Digital RV forum, etc. If it’s OK, we’ll plan to stop by to meet you this afternoon. Thanks again, Pat

It’s strange to meet people as a result of providing free wi-fi, but hey, whatever works. Pat and Geno popped over after lunch and turned out to be very nice folks. Wish I’d had more time to chat but work still needed to be done, and even now (at 10 pm) there’s more to be done.

Anza Sam Mike.jpg

This afternoon we got another visit, from Mike and Sam. We last saw them in Salem, OR at the International Rally. Their wives were unavailable today so the guys drove nearly 2 hours over the mountains from San Diego just to hang out for a couple of hours with us. And they brought us a Dutch Apple pie from Julian Pie Company, which pretty much puts them on our “A List”.

Anza keeper show.jpg

At 5 pm, Bill put on his lighthouse-keeper’s uniform. He does docent work at Cabrillo National Monument, recreating the persona of Capt. Robert Decatur Israel, who managed the Old Point Loma Lighthouse from 1871 to 1891. Since he also looks a lot like the conductor from “The Polar Express”, he did a little routine for Emma based on that story. Between him and Emma it was hilarious. At the end, he presented Emma with a copy of the book and a little silver bell. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you’ll know what the bell symbolizes.

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Arriving in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Our month at the park in Tucson is up, and rather than extend we’ve decided to head west to California for a few days. We’ll go back to Tucson later, after I finish the magazine and take a littlIt e vacation time.

Buying a month at a time in a campground is a new experience to us. Generally when you do that, the campground charges extra for electricity. We used about 384 kwH in the past month, which came out to $45 for the month. I was a bit surprised it was even that much, since we were gone for about 12 days. Still, it was less than our deposit, so I got $5 back upon departure.

It was a long pull along I-8 to Borrego Springs, CA, 386 miles in total. Much of I-8 has little to recommend it, but there are bits of scenic beauty to be found, especially as the route heads into California. Our route took us into the heart of the Imperial Valley, where incredible amounts of vegetables are grown in the desert courtesy of massive irrigation projects and canals. Brawley is a small city in the center of this farming valley, which looks like a decent place but seemed to have a constant smell of cow manure.

Around 5 pm we pulled into Borrego Springs, a town surrounded by the very large Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This is one of our favorite places. You can see our blog entries from last January for more information about the park; just scroll down to the Archives in the left column and click “January 2006″.

Rich C is here, as well as our friends Bill and Larry in their new 23-foot Safari, and a few other folks in Airstreams. We had a quick bike ride through the park, and then a very mellow get-settled dinner courtesy of Larry this evening, and wrapped up by sitting outside watching the stars. The air is very clear here, and the stars are bright. Emma spotted Orion’s Belt instantly, and then the Big Dipper, and I showed her the Milky Way — something the folks in Palm Springs or San Diego probably never see due to light pollution in those cities. Anza-Borrego is a special place for us and it’s great to be back.

Hiking with Zoe the cat

Work was going so well this morning until Bert showed up around 11 and said, “Let’s go for a hike!” It was a beautiful day, heading into the 80s, and my resolve was weak. So Emma and Zoe the stuffed cat and I threw on our boots and joined Bert & Janie on the Douglas Spring Trail of Saguaro National Park.

(For background, you should know that Zoe the cat comes with Emma on every major hike. She rides in Emma’s backpack with her head sticking out. Zoe has seen more national parks than some national park rangers. She’s a very lucky orange stuffed animal.)

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Saguaro forest and the Santa Catalina mountains

Douglas Spring Trail to our destination is 5.2 miles roundtrip, with 1100 feet of elevation gain, “strenuous and rocky,” according to the official park guide. At the trailhead someone warned us that people had spotted “snakes on the trail” this morning, to which we all grinned and thought, “Bonus!” We’ve been hoping to spot a rattlesnake from a safe distance, but thought it was too early in the season to have much of a chance.

So I reminded Emma of what to do if a snake appears or is heard (more likely), and we headed up the rocky trail. No snakes, but plenty of saguaro forest, early desert flowers, and heat. Our greatest challenge was making sure we were all well covered with sunscreen. It was a long slow slog up the slope and I was glad I’d brought a pair of water bottles for each of us.

Tucson Saguaro Emma water.jpg

Ultimately it reached 85 degrees in blazing sun, but of course with the extreme aridity the sweat would dry on our bodies in seconds. We found a shady spot by a tiny bit of water with cool rocks and made that our turnaround point for the hike. Sitting on the rocks was enough to make me extremely comfortable, but Emma went the extra mile and dipped her shirt and hat in the water, wrung them out, and put them back on. Her cotton shirt was dry before we got back to the truck.

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Charlie, Lynn, Janie and Bert outside our trailer

While were gone we found that Mike & Tracy had come by, but we missed them. (Eleanor was out grocery shopping.) But not long after we arrived back at camp, our friends Dr. C and Lynn showed up, and so we gathered up Bert & Janie and went out for dinner.

I was particularly happy about this fortuitous meeting because Dr. C and Bert have both been contributors to Airstream Life since the very beginning of the magazine, and I had not until now had the chance to introduce them to each other. We’re all leaving Tucson this week, so this was our only chance to hang out together. Dr. C and Lynn are heading back to their home in the frozen north on Friday, and Bert & Janie are heading down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where we will see them on Monday.

To see Bert’s recent blog entries about our hikes in Saguaro, see www.gildartphoto.com/weblog

Hiking Saguaro NP

E&E are back in the Airstream, and that means the fun begins anew!

We all tried to sleep in this morning, since their flight was a little late, and we ended up getting home around 12:45 a.m. But with the ladies on Eastern Time, “early” was earlier than I would have chosen. Oh well, at least my bed was warmer than it has been in weeks.

The “bad” OPD valve on our propane tank that I mentioned yesterday turned out not to be bad at all. Too bad I had to drive across town 30 minutes to find out. I was given bad information in Texas by another propane man, apparently. Now the tank is full and mounted back on the trailer, so we’re ready to head out into some very quiet places in the desert for a little vacation, starting Wednesday.

Tucson Saguaro.jpg

Today we had a warm-up, hiking in Saguaro National Park (east side) with Bert & Janie. (Eleanor, still afflicted with a cold, stayed home.) For the past 36 hours we’ve been whipped by very dry winds, with the relative humidity dropping into the single digits, but finally they calmed and the sky became the sort of stunning blue that the desert is known for. We grabbed the cameras and headed out.

Tucson Saguaro Bert landscape.jpg

Our two short hikes weren’t long, since we started around 4 pm and paused frequently to check things along the way (cactus, birds, washes, views). Hiking like this, you often discover things about your friends. Conversation seems to flow easily when hiking. Today, for example, I discovered that Bert was carting around a sample of alligator poop in his camera bag, a souvenir of Shark Valley in the Everglades. Apparently he’s something of an amateur scatologist. The sample will be used for some sort of naturalist “Show & Tell” later. I wish I could be there to see the faces of Bert’s audience.

Coming home

I have been thinking about whether Eleanor and Emma will make it back tonight. I woke up at 6:15 a.m., before the sun rose, and since I was up I decided to head right to the computer and get some work done. The next thing I knew, it was 12:30 and I was starving, thirsty, and still wearing my pajamas. Sometimes that happens when I get absorbed in work.

But at least I got a lot done on the Summer magazine, and being busy, I hadn’t been fretting all morning about the flight tonight. For the past day my concern has been whether Eleanor and Emma were sufficiently recovered from their colds to fly. Emma seemed OK but it’s hard to tell with her. Eleanor is definitely still sick but could equalize her ears with a Valsalva Maneuver this morning, so I knew she’d be OK on the airplane. Even still, I’ve been apprehensive, probably because we’ve had such rotten luck flying lately.

By 2:30 I was done working and finally emerged from the trailer, dressed and ready to tackle a few other tasks. One of our propane tanks needs a new OPD valve, and so we’ve been unable refill it. The other tank ran out of gas in the middle of the night, which meant no hot water until I got it filled again. That was the first outside errand. I’ll get the bad tank valve replaced on Monday.

I got a few other things done too, and then Bert & Janie arrived. It’s great to see them again, and we’ve already made some interesting plans for the next week. We went out for some groceries and spent the evening catching up on things, especially their recent trip to New Orleans to survey the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

As I write this, Eleanor and Emma’s plane is running late. I’ll be heading to the airport at 11 p.m. to pick them up. The wind has been howling all day here, and the trailer is rocking in the gusts. It seems a fierce night to be going out anywhere, but it will be well worth the effort to finally get them back home.

Counting the days

I’m counting down the days until Eleanor and Emma are back, and now there’s only one day left … I hope. Eleanor is still not completely clear of her cold. If she’s not ready to fly Sunday, we’ll have to reschedule their flights AGAIN. Needless to say, none of us are happy about this. We’ll be thinking long and hard the next time we schedule air travel in the winter cold & flu season.

Tucson Bill H.jpg

This morning I met up with a fellow Airstreamer (and blog reader) at his encampment just a few miles from our site. Bill and his wife are parked in a slick 2005 International CCD 28 amongst the mesquite trees and creosote bushes near the Tanque Verde wash. We killed a couple of hours talking about Tucson and the area, and then I had to head out to go look at more houses.

Since I’m on my own, I am free to roam around and go do “guy stuff”. On the way back to the campground I spotted the Pima County Fairgrounds and decided to go check it out. The fairgrounds have hundreds of hookup sites and apparently large rallies are held there. But more interesting was the nearby racetrack. I wouldn’t have spotted it except for the sound of roaring engines.

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With a little investigating it became apparent the races were free & open to the public, so I put the long lens on the Nikon and climbed up into the stands. There were virtually no spectators other than the participants themselves.

Just about every sort of thing you can imagine was racing there: drag cars, motorcycles, stock cars, jalopies, trucks, and some wheeled things that defied categorization. Many were (apparently) street legal cars that people just took out for a quick sprint. I saw some pretty mismatched races too, such as the VW Beetle versus the Chevy Camaro. Everyone was just out to have some fun on a typical clear winter day in southern Arizona.

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This Airstream was not racing. In fact, it wasn’t even open for business. I’ve been seeing so many converted Airstreams selling food & coffee lately that I’ve stopped taking pictures of most of them. I used to think there were only a few in the country, but really there are dozens if not hundreds. I’ve spotted three in Tucson alone so far.

Having time to myself has been fun but I am looking forward to being reunited and getting on with our adventures. Cross your fingers for us!

Monotony of the right sort

It does not look like this in Tucson.

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That’s Lake Champlain, with the ice breaking up. In the middle foreground you can see a row of Adirondack chairs and a set of stair down to the beach. On the horizon is New York state. This is the view Eleanor and Emma had today, as they nursed their colds.

Out of mercy to them I am not posting a photo of what it looked like in Tucson today, but you can probably guess. Endless sunshine, dry air, cactus and hillside. I suppose it might get boring but just when it does a little bit of weather comes through.

I think any place would get monotonous to us, after the ever-changing scenery of travel, so if I have to pick a sort of monotony I will happily pick the sunny kind.

I am getting to know my way around this town better every day. Hunting for houses will do that to you. I am forced to cruise from neighborhood to neighborhood as I follow the GPS’s directions. Already I find myself spotting handy shortcuts. Today’s list of house “drive-bys” was seven addresses long.

As if this blog weren’t enough, I accepted an offer from Gather.com to be a twice-monthly contributor on the subject of “travel with family.” I’ll be digging through my archives from the past 17 months of this blog to find some of the most relevant posts, and revising them specifically for the Gather audience. You can find those posts at http://travel.gather.com around the 10th and 24th of each month.

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