Saturday, March 30, 2013
After the wonderful time in the desert near Ajo and Why, AZ with our birder-friends Judy and Terry, a dark cloud descended on both of us – not really knowing where we wanted to go next; the noise in the motor; the sense of being vulnerable in a foreign country 1500 miles from home – Fred seemed to be tired of driving and I felt like we were travelling the same old trails and doing the same old things – nothing really new or exciting.
As Sheila would say, “We’ve seen too much.”
It’s been a dozen years since I told Fred, “I’m not having fun any more!” and we started planning this magnificent adventure of learning and discovery. Now, the fun times seem wider apart and further away. The Motor Home seems smaller and we seem less congenial – it certainly could be time to move onto something else.
The journey back to Lethbridge was much like an exercise in putting in time hoping winter would turn to spring so we could travel north in hospitable weather . . . snow-free roads and no wind.
We spent a couple of days in Quartzsite with Deb and her family (Jer had taken a load of rocks back to their home near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico). They are a card-playing family and we spent many hours involved in various games, especially Wizard.
Deb is an artist and a collector. Her Mom is more of collector than she is. For years Deb has been telling me that her Mom has this incredible collection of gum (sticks and in wrappers) that she started collecting when she was six years old.
I would do an “Oh Yeh” thing and go on talking about something else. Well, we were now a captive audience and I couldn’t believe what I saw.
The Gum Museum (in Quartzsite, AZ) is housed in a building that must be 20’x30’. Inside are rows and rows of display cases with chewing gum paraphernalia dating back beyond the turn of the 20th Century. I couldn’t believe what I saw!
Apparently, the Smithsonian is interested in the collection – it’s that extensive.
After a few days, we were concerned about overstaying our welcome and started moving slowly northward. In an effort to stave off the inevitable bad roads and bad weather, we checked into an Escapee Discount RV Park in Kingman. It was still Air Conditioner weather so we stayed there for a few days. That gave us a chance to get the window covers re-strung and revisit sights along Route 66.
The Hackberry General Store is still there and still my favourite place. It’s grown some since our first visit in 2001 . . . more memorabilia . . . more old vehicles . . . same cowboy-shit sign – a little worn but then, aren’t we all?
A new attraction for us was the "Keeper's of the Wild Nature Park", along Route 66 in Valentine, AZ (http://www.keepersofthewild.org/). One of the work-campers at the RV Park recommended it. I’m not sure what we were expecting but it wasn’t what we experienced. The only other Wildlife Park we have visited was around San Diego many years ago. There, we were in an enclosed tram that wandered throughout the area while the animals ran free. In this Park, the animals definitely were in enclosures. Mind you the enclosures are very large and natural but it felt more like a zoo than a Natural Park.
The Keeper’s Park grew out of the founder’s (Jonathan Kraft) realization that the performing animals in Las Vegas were being mistreated and abused. He started by rescuing one lion . . . and that started a chain of events that snowballing into the rescue of a wide variety of exotic animals from all over the world.
We didn’t take the safari tour and maybe we should have. We were there mid-day and the animals seemed very lethargic and inactive. There were a lot of chain-linked fences and protective space between the animals and the visitors. The only interaction we observed was one staff feed on of the moneys. That made it difficult to even see some of the animals let alone get any good photos but here are a few we managed to capture.
Someone suggested the best time to see them is during feedings – makes sense.
Well, we thought there was a break in the weather – who were we kidding?
It started getting down-right cold!
After Kingman, we went up through Nevada and parked at the Nevada Hotel in Ely, NV and then we plugged in at Cactus Pete’s in Wells, NV. Fred managed to do his usual “Win enough to pay for the RV site” and I did my usual “leave with less than I came with”.
Onto Dillon, MT and we planned to spend our last night on-the-road in Great Falls, MT before we crossed the border.
What is it they say, the best laid plans . . . ?
We went into the Truck Stop to get gas and I was going in to give them my card and fill the coffee thermos. KerBANG - I slipped on some ice that was covered with water that was being generated by a leaking tap - no salt - no sign - no barrier.
I landed on my chest, knee and hand - don't ask me how – Needless to say, we came right home!
I am very sore and went to Emergency Monday night. They took x-rays - nothing broken - It feels like a sprained ankle in my side, chest and back. The doctor at Emergency said sprained muscles and pulled ligaments but I’ll check with my doctor after the weekend.
Good thing I am well padded!
I’ve been sleeping sitting up because it hurts to lie down.
Fred’s been bring in all the stuff from the Motorhome and I’ve been working on putting it all away . . . slowly!
How did we ever get that much stuff in the Motorhome in the first place.
What are the changes going to be – when??
That is such a good question!!
Friday, March 1, 2013
I look out the window on one side of the Motor Home and I am transported to a place where the white crowned sparrows; the house finches; the Verdins; the Doves; the Quail; and even the Gila Woodpeckers flit around – chase each other off – ward off intruders and then totally abandon the whole area for a time and then come back. It is mating time and even the Doves get involved protecting their territory. I never think of Doves as being aggressive but this fellow defies that myth as he wards off four other males!
Some of them talk to each other, but not many. Mostly they mingle around the water bowls, eat the feed we put out for them and peck at the grapefruit and oranges mounted on the shrubs but when they take off – they all take off together.
Oh, look, there are three Gila Woodpeckers trying to eat the grapefruit – come on, guys, there’s only room for one!
The new visitors are the Mockingbirds and the Cardinals.
We’ve seen the Cardinals before but not in the numbers we’ve seen this year. We have never seen the Mockingbirds here before.
The Gila Woodpeckers have taken over the hummingbird feeder but the hummingbirds seem to have abandoned us but that’s okay, they probably have far more important things to do.
Behind the shrubs and bushes that act as sanctuaries of protection for the birds, there is what they call down here, a wash. Now to me it looks like a wide dry river bed that once may have carried a flood of fast moving water. Now it is all but forsaken and taken over by smaller versions of the vegetation that lines the banks.
Wandering and exploring the wash is a favourite past-time for most folks who spend much time here. There always seem to be something you may have missed last time or are seeing for the very first time.
Just out in the wash from us here, is an old dilapidated bicycle that is considered an abandoned Mexican bicycle (meaning it would be a bicycle used by a Mexican to jump the border – we are very close to Mexico – and then just left there). Heaven know if that is the truth but it’s a good story anyway.
Further down the wash is a Crown of Thorns plant that we have looked for and not seen since the first year we were here.
Now, if you go to the other side of the Motor Home, you are immediately struck by a panorama of the desert. Not what you usually think of as desert, but a vast array of vegetation that stops only when it meet the mountains of the Sonora Desert.
This time of year, the plants start to shed their lifeless grey hue as a green tinge creeps over the landscape. Here and there Saguaros Cactus pop up from the sandy green mat: a few of the Saguaros look like single poles reaching for the sky but others have an array of arms stretching out, then up, then down . . . you never know what direction they will go.
Just behind the Motor Home is that perfect cactus that must pose for every picture we see of a desert cactus. Surrounded by the creosote bushes that protected and nursed it as it grew, it now towers high above its protectorates and has become the home for those who nest within.
Four perfect arms encircle the solid green trunk. Right now the cactus are heavy with moisture and the bristle-laden veins that extend the length of its height and surround the stock in wide pleats.
Half a dozen round, scarred holes are scattered down the top section. Gila Woodpeckers come and go often visiting one hole after another but as yet, there is no sign of any baby birds.
The sun is warm, but not hot. We sit out on our desert patio surveying our kingdom, reading or just talking and greet hikers or walkers who pass by. Many of the passers-by are Canadian. Being Canadian, we engage in the most Canadian thing to do . . . we talk about the weather back home . . . as if we need an excuse . . . but it seems to rationalize why we are down here.
Everyone has a story . . . especially about where they have been and the different things they have done or seen while spending time in the desert. You are never sure if the stories are even true or when it all happened, but it doesn’t matter . . . it is their story. Often, I can’t remember the people, but I remember their stories.
This weekend we will leave this spot. We will be back again next year – God willing and the creek don’t rise!
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Since I have given up editing the Penwheels Newsletter I seem to have so much more time for writing and have veered off in different directions. Just like when I began writing ‘Jacob's Tails’, I want to writing about certain incidents but am concerned about unintentionally hurting someone’s feeling – no, I will not wait until they are all dead, this time – but it sure is tempting to write a novel, instead of my “Creative Non-fiction”, so far I have resisted the temptation..
To Start with, the Escapees Magazine finally (more than a year after it was submitted) printed the article on My Cotton Story;
RV West has been great about continuing the Snowbirding 101 column and has printed the Relationships piece; the piece on Canadians Volunteering, the piece on the Aviation Boneyard and the Solar Farms in Arizona
RV Lifestyle Magazine out of Ontario want a couple more pieces for next year and have promised to print the Magical Mystery Tour
A different direction This has been such a different travel year for us:
- not straight down Interstate 15 but east towards Wyoming, Colorado, and south through New Mexico;
- staying at more RV Parks than we usually do;
- fun visit with friends at their home; and
- little time boon-docking in the desert.
We spend a lot of time around Tucson and enjoyed touring around there and a few weeks in Yuma but have missed the freedom and quiet of the desert.
Back to the old routine again - Hi Jolly BLM at Quartzsite. We wanted to wait until after all the people left after the BIG TENT RV Show but there were more people than we expected.
I have my favourite spot where we set up the feed and water for the birds and squirrels and fill the hummingbird feeder that sits on the window next to where I do my writing.
It doesn’t take them long to find us and establish their routine (just like we do ours). The hummingbirds are the first we see in the morning. As usual the Annas outnumber any other hummers we entertain. There seem to be two male and a female. The males are very aggressive swooping down on each other to protect their spot on the feeder. We have noticed one sitting on the feeder all puffed up in his attempt to keep the others away. They even try to intimidate us if we interrupt their business.
A couple Gila Woodpeckers have joined the hummers to eat at the feeder. They are about 10X the size of the hummers and balance themselves with their tails as they try to suck the nectar from the tiny yellow flowers.
This year the Quail are here en-mass (literally). First thing in the morning a dozen or so of them strut in single file to check out the feeding grounds. They scratch around throwing dirt every where.
If the feed is plentiful, another contingent join them (they seem to signal each other).
Sometimes one of the larger Quail will sit up on the bush while the others feed but mostly they all just scratch and feed. Every so often Doves or smaller birds will wander in while the Quail are still there but they get run off to wait their turns.
The next group is the Doves – some Morning Doves and some Ring Necked. Their cooing is so mournful.
Since I no long need to dredge up pieces for the newsletter, I’ve started writing some other stuff like The Awesome Adventure of the Extra Special Denim Shirt – fun stuff!
We always seem to approach each year like it may be our last year to come down – who knows! We did see a Motor Home that was terrific but then, is that what we want to spend our money on – they wanted a fair amount for it but didn’t want to give us anything for ours – if we get something else, I think I would get it in Canada and avoid all the export/ import paperwork.
In the meantime, Fred keeps totally occupied keeping old Betsy here running and in good shape.
We’re back in Casa Grande now for a week or so and then will meet our bird-watching friends down in Why. Judy and Terry are great birders and I learn so much from them
The good thing about getting older is that you can spend eons learning all about the birds and wild flowers . . . go home for the summer . . . and then relearn it all again next year.
Friday, January 25, 2013
On the other side of the Frito Lay buildings, there were rows and rows of solar panels. A high chain-link fence protected them from wandering explorers like ourselves.
I never thought of Arizona as being particularly environmentally friendly so the sight of this solar array surprised me. But it makes sense – Arizona boasts that it is the State with the highest number of sunny days each year – and heaven knows there is ample flat desert space to establish a solar farm.
Frito Lay (part of PepsiCo) in Casa Grande has instituted what they call their “near net zero” vision. They aspire to “be as far off the grid as possible and run primarily on renewable energy sources and recycled water, while producing nearly zero landfill waste.” http://www.fritolay.com/about-us/press-release-20111005.html
Over 18,000 solar panels sit on over 36 acres and can produce in excess of 10 million kilowatt-hours of electrical power. These are what they call photovoltaic (PV) systems - meaning that solar radiation is collected through the panels and converted directly into current electricity. Frito Lay’s system is multi-directional meaning it runs on both dual and single track axes.
We sat and watched all those panels move in unison as they followed the sun across the sky.
According to Frito Lay, they chose the Casa Grande location because it is big enough to be effective and small enough to be manageable. The goal is to use 90% less water, 80% less natural gas 90% less electricity, and keep 99% of the waste out of the landfill. In Casa Grande, they partner with the local utility Arizona Public Service. Casa Grande is an environmental learning lab. Thus far, they claim that the Casa Grande facility has achieved 85% reduction in electricity load.
The Agua Caliente Solar Project
Sometimes you just have to take the Interstate highway like Interstate 8 from Casa Grande to Yuma. But this time it turned out okay.
About 65 miles east of Yuma (around Dateland) there is another even more massive array of solar panels. This field is called the Agua Caliente Solar Project and now has the capacity to provide electricity to over 100,000 homes every year. It takes up about 2,400 acres of land in one of the most consistently sunny areas in the USA and is close to existing electrical transmission lines.
The panels, themselves, are different from the ones we saw in Casa Grande – they are concave rather than the conventional flat and are considered to be significantly more efficient. (According to the Japanese Journal of Physics a concave panel can generate output with a conversion efficiency of 16.3%; while a conventional panel generates an output of about 14.3%)
The project is expected to be completed in 2014, when it will reach a capacity of 397 Megawatts and will be enough to service more than 225,000 homes.
Incredible the things you see and learn along the road!!
Saturday, January 12, 2013
The Boneyard is actually separate from the Museum. You don’t need to pay to get into the Museum to tour the Boneyard, but you do need to access the tickets through the cashier there.
There is no doubt – the USA is totally into their military. And the AMARC (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center) – The Boneyard – is a major facility attached to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. There aircraft is stored, maintained and rejuvenated for all branches of the military.
Not interested in old airplanes?
I didn’t think I was either but this was different.
We toured around the 2600 acres (with over 4200 aircraft) on a bus with a veteran guide with an intimate knowledge and interest in many of the aircraft. Every year between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors tour the "Boneyard."
In 1946, a place was needed to store the old planes and bombers out of WWII. Tucson was the perfect place to store the equipment – it’s dry and the ground can support the weight of some of these monstrous mechanical birds.
The yard extends as far as you can see against a backdrop of Arizona mountains and deep blue sky.
When an aircraft is brought in for storage:
• All guns, ejection seat charges, and classified hardware are removed.
• The fuel system is drained, refilled with lightweight oil, and then draining it again (for protection).
• It is sealed by a variety of materials from simple garbage bags to high tech vinyl plastic spray to protect it from dust, sunlight, and high temperatures. It is then towed to its designated "storage" position.
There are four categories of storage:
• Long Term – Aircraft are kept intact for future use
• Parts Reclamation – Aircraft are kept, picked apart and used for spare parts
• Flying Hold – Aircraft are kept intact for shorter stays than Long Term
• Excess of Department of Defence needs – Aircraft are sold off whole or in parts
Not being particularly aircraft-savvy, I did catch some of the names mentioned by our Guide including the YC-14, a prototype cargo plane designed to replace the C-130 Hercules, and the F-100 Super Sabre, the first U.S. Air Force aircraft to break the sound barrier and the F-4 Phantom, the most numerous American military supersonic built (5195). They were used from 1960 to the mid 90’s.
There are all kinds of aircraft and equipment stored there:
Big and Small
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
We’re still here at the Escapees Park (Rovers Roost) in Casa Grande for the month (leaving date Jan. 5th). I wanted to catch up on my writing and it usually is nice to share the Holiday Season with the folks here.
It wasn’t until I started working on the article about the Tucson Botanical Gardens that I realized the fantastic photographs that Fred has captured.
I want to share a few of the flower photos he took at the Gardens.
If you know the names for any of these flowers, please let us know.
Click on Photos to Enlarge!!