Saturday, December 19, 2009

Off to the North Ranch and Wickenburg

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I’ve got this THING now – whenever I need to do laundry and we’re heading to an Escapees Park, I will put it off for a few days or even buy more underwear to stall til we get there. If there is such a thing as a good laundromat, it can usually be found at an Escapees RV Park. It happened again as we headed to ‘North Ranch’ near Wickenburg, AZ.

We took a different route to get there from Laughlin and went up through Kingman on Highway 40 and then south along highway 93. Fred calls that the kind of road that helps clean out the holding tanks as we went up and down and around through the hilly country between the Hualapai and Aquarius Mountains. Lots of Pinion Pine trees, Mesquite, and Palo Verde and still the Saguaro Cacti sticking out above the bush throughout the hills (are we not impressed that after nine years, I am finally remembering the names of the various trees and plants?).

Now, every Escapees Park is different but they usually have a few things in common like the afternoon social (or happy hour); the Sunday ice cream get-together; and laundries that are reasonably priced, clean and well maintained. ‘North Ranch’ turned out to be a bit different. Yeh, they had the happy hour but nobody came (as far as I know); there was no ice cream on Sunday; BUT the laundry was clean and well maintained.

Besides the laundry, we did manage to explore an area we had never visited before as well as re-connect and enjoy the company of a couple (Dianne & Andy) we met at the Escapees Park in Pahrump.

We went out to an old mine (the Vulture Mine) that supposedly was started by Wickenburg (the town was named after him) and were very disappointed by the guy who wanted you to pay, pay, pay to look at a bunch of junk and get your picture taken with a donkey. BUT the area around was hilly and speckled with Saguaro.

Fred is not one to like museums but even he will tell you that the Cowboy Museum in Wickenburg was fantastic. It has a lot of exhibits of the old days in Wickenburg and you can actually touch them.

Most impressive was the art work and sculptures . . . a great collection, mostly donated by one family.

Parked next to us at North Ranch was Steve. Now Steve was an interesting character. I would say he was just barely old enough to stay at a 55+ park. He had taught most of his working life seemingly with students who needed to be led through every step of every activity they ever did. What made him so fascinating was that his hobby was astronomy and he carried a humongous telescope – all automatic. All day long, Steve locked himself in his Motorhome with the windows covered and at night, he brought out the telescope and showed us all the wonders of the various celestial bodies . . . the craters on the moon; Jupiter; twin stars in the Milky Way.

We stayed at North Ranch over the USA Thanksgiving and then headed over to Quartzsite but not before I discovered Trader Joes. Gotta go there again!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Old Friends – New Friends

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The best thing about revisiting places you been to before is often revisiting with folks you have shared time with before. The dry-camping area at the Tropicana Express in Laughlin, NV is one such meeting place.

Mya – that gal we met at Avi eight or nine years ago who traded me a book for a Tin Man last year – was there and had phoned to see when we would be arriving; the two sisters – Julie (from Alaska) and Nellie (from Georgia) and their spouses (Bill and Joe) were already there; George and Gay from Ontario were there and Chuck and Sheila would be arriving any time. It was good to see everyone again and find out how the summer had gone.

Unfortunately (for us) the Casinos have tightened up considerably – no more Comp rooms; penny machines that take a minimum of 45 cents for each spin and watching $20.00 go poof in five minutes. It wasn’t quite the fun time it has been other years.

As someone said, “Parking isn’t free; you spend twice as much in the Casinos.”

But the food is good and you can still get a Prime Rib dinner for $7.99 (up a dollar from last year).

But there are usually new friends and when Don and Jan moved in beside us, it didn’t take long for Jan to whoosh me off to the mall to find a new jacket and Fred and Don to solve all the problems of the RV world.

Sallee and John came up from Yuma for a couple of days and we all went off to see what progress had been made on the Hoover Dam Bypass. The Dam was both the world's largest hydroelectric power generating station and the world's largest concrete structure when it was completed in 1936 more than two years ahead of schedule and supposedly under budget.
After 9-11 traffic over the Dam was severely restricted and construction on the Bypass was started in January 2005.

The Colorado River Bridge, nearly 2,000 feet long, is the central portion of the Hoover Dam Bypass. It will span the Black Canyon (about 1,600 feet south of the Hoover Dam), connecting the Arizona and Nevada approach highways nearly 900-feet above the Colorado River.
Needless to say, it is impressive and they expect to have it completed by 2011.

As we travelled along, we happened to notice this strange array of something off to the west so we went off to investigate. What we discovered was a complete field of solar panels and a few more being worked on. It turns out that what we saw is called Nevada Solar One. It is a 64 MW commercial-scale solar energy plant. They expect it will eventually have 19,000 receivers (panels) that cover 350 square acres. Unlike the solar panels we are used to, these are curved. Two panels face each other to create a trough that seems to extend for miles. There were hundreds of troughs in this one field.
This system collects the powerful desert sunlight and converts it into 750-degree F thermal energy, which can then be used to create steam for electrical power generation. The receivers are filled with a special synthetic oil that can withstand the intensity of the daytime heat as well as the much lower temperatures at night and still protect the sensitive glass/metal seals of the receivers.

They say the p
ower produced is a little more expensive than wind power but is more reliable and can be built closer to where it is needed. Interesting, eh?!

Well, that’s our stay in Laughlin. We usually stay longer than the two weeks we stayed this year but it just doesn’t seem to be as much fun as it used to.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

To Revisit or Not To Revisit

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I have a lot of uncertainty about going back to places we’ve already been. I never did want to disrupt the memories I had of New Orleans by revisiting after Katrina. At Mesquite there just wasn’t the energy and excitement there used to be. The Oasis RV Park was just the overflow. The Oasis is like a ghost casino with five lit slot machines sitting in the middle of a slot machine cemetery with no visitors – eerie! Not a place we wanted to stay very long.

But then some things change so slowly you don’t notice them – places like Overton or the Valley of Fire. It took how many millions of years to create these anomalies? They’re not bound to change very quickly (unless Man gets involved).

Even if geology isn’t your thing, you can’t look out there and not question how it could have ever got that way. For miles there are areas that look like dirty, lumpy mashed potatoes with the mountains in the background. Great crevices in the earth reveal layer upon layer of different rock formations. Each stratum represents eons of geological time of rain, wind and erosion and here we stand on the edge of the cliff wondering if we have clean clothes for tomorrow – ludicrous, isn’t it?

We took a day-trip to the Valley of Fire. It got its name from the colour of formations and the earth – again how did they get that way?

Back to our reality – we parked right on the edge of the cliff at Overton – and the winds started! As we sat there looking out over this vast moon-like terrain, we were just a-rocking in the wind. I looked out of the window and realized, in fact, we were VERY, very close to the edge. It was then I turned to Fred and told him, “I think we need to move back before we get blown right over the edge.”

“It’s only 600 feet to the bottom,” he said. Overton 006.JPG

Later he told me that he had to hang onto the front of the motor home to get around to the driver’s side. Enough of this wind and dust, we went off to Pahrump, NV to start our revisit of Death Valley.

Death Valley

If nothing else, I love the sound of the word Pahrump – Pahrump, Pahrump, Pahrump, pump, pump. We stayed at the Escapees Park there and did daytrips into Death Valley. Again, the question of revisiting places: we revisited Death Valley Junction – the place with the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House; the Badwater Salt Flats; and the Artists’ Drive.

The highlight was our trip up to Scott’s Castle. We missed it last time we were here because Fred refused to believe the compass and took a wrong turn. Mind you, that was the time we found Amargosa and figured that was a great find.

The Amargosa Hotel and the Opera House haven’t change much except they changed to chairs in the alcove and there are new café owners from Colorado. (We’ve run into a few people this year who have come from away to open businesses).



Marta, the woman who opened the Opera House in the 60's has been doing performances there at least weekly. She is now over 85 but is hospitalized with broken leg, arm, etc after a severe fall so the performances have been suspended. Apparently there was going to be a wedding there that weekend.

The majority of the valleys in this Great Basin region have been formed from debris sliding down the sides of the mountain ranges that surround them. What few streams there are flow into enclosed basins such as Death Valley. The Badwater Salt Flats are 252 feet below sea level. Even though it seldom rains, pools of water dot the salt white land and tiny salt-resistant pupfish flourish in the water.

The Artist Drive is a one-way trail that winds in and out through the lava and sedimentary rock. The Artist Palette gives a fascinating view of the layers created from the movement and folding of the earth’s crust.

This raven was the local attraction. He must have had his picture taken a dozen times just while we sat there.

Scotty’s Castle is Death Valley’s greatest SCAM. It is a home build way-y-y out in the middle of nowhere (or so it seems now but we were told there had been a railroad) in the Grapevine Canyon and well worth visiting.

Scotty (Walter Scott) was the scam artist who convinced an Eastern millionaire (Albert Johnson) and his wife to build this magnificent mansion. He told visitors that he had financed it with money he made from a secret gold mine (presumably under the house) that never really existed. According to the story, even with all Scotty’s yarns and stories, there was an extraordinary bond of friendship between Scott and Johnson. Johnson enjoyed Scott’s tall tales and engaged him to entertain both themselves and their visitors.

The springs of Grapevine Canyon provided the water supply for the ranch, and were used to generate electricity. The springs were located at an elevation about 300 feet (91 m) higher than the villa, and there was enough water flow and pressure to turn a water turbine, which ran a generator to generate the villa's electricity.

Death Valley has been great – next stop – Laughlin – dry-camping at the Tropicana and the chance to meet up with old and new friends.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Start of a New Season

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The weather in September was the best for the whole year – we had temperatures up to the 30’s C – but then we all knew THAT wasn’t going to last. Change it did – come October and the cold, cold, cold. We got our flu shots, finished packing and got going – frozen shampoo and all.
I did manage to do a couple of articles for RV West (one on the Connections we’ve made over the years and the other on Travel Medical Insurance) and at least one should be in the November issue and they will both be on my e-column .

We were told that the border crossings had tightening up and it was strange! They never asked us where we were coming from or if we were Canadian citizens or anything like they usually did but he did ask if we had tobacco, alcohol or firearms (I never could figure out why they would ask Canadians if they were bringing firearms into the States - da) and where we were going. We told him we were going to Death Valley. Then came the question we really didn’t expect “what are you going to do in Death Valley.” We looked at each other – it was so-o tempting - but we both restrained ourselves and did not say DIE.
Then he asked us how much money we were taking down - we'd never been asked that before and had a tough time figuring it out. They’d always asked us if we had over $10,000. Finally we just told him we use our credit cards - that seemed to satisfy him. Then they asked us if we packed the Motor Home ourselves – so who else would have packed it? Anyway, all questions answered and we were on our way.
Again we were reminded how bad the roads and traffic is around Salt Lake City – narrow, narrow lanes, road work signs all over and drivers who always want the spot on the road where you are and get really pissed-off when you won’t give it to them. Again we say – never again – there are better roads we can take.

The way over to Death Valley turned out to have a few stops and detours. We got side-tracked into Zion National Park for a couple of days. Zion is particularly significance for us. On our first trip south, we had to forego our visit to the park to get back to work in Calgary. We decided that if we didn’t start our traveling soon, we may not be able to – thus the beginning of this great adventure we’ve been on.
Zion is in Utah north-west of the Grand Canyon and 2009 marked its 100th year as a National Park. The Grand Canyon is absolutely awesome . . . Zion Canyon feels more intimate . . . up-close and personal. Rather than the spectacular view from the rims of the Canyon (like the Grand Canyon), in Zion, you are in the Canyon looking up at the rims. The Virgin River is to Zion Canyon what the Colorado River is to the Grand Canyon. Again you are reminded of the millions of years of wind, rain and erosion that created the every changing texture from the white lime layers through the multi-coloured Navajo Sandstone strata and at least seven other stratifications down to the Virgin River.
When we were first here (in 2001), we drove up the Canyon road and along the switch back highway towards Mount Carmel. Because of the high volume of traffic, private vehicles are no longer allowed along the Canyon and they have introduced a shuttle bus.
We just happened to have a shuttle driver who was incredibly passionate about the park and shared his knowledge and views with us. The shuttle moves slowly up the canyon stopping at the Human History Museum; various trail heads; and any other special attractions or wildlife the driver deems interesting. At each stop you can get out, explore the area, take a hike or whatever and then catch another shuttle to take you further or back to the visitor center.

Climbing is one of the favourite activities (No, we didn't try!!) and the hiking trails are everywhere. People actually climb mountains like this . . . straight up!

The Court of the Patriarchs are three massive peaks that are just one example of the Mormon influence in the Park.

They saw the canyons as temples where man could worship in safety. The Park was renamed Zion (a Hebrew word) from Mukunuweap National Monument to reflect that perceived sanctity.

Besides the campgrounds, the only place to stay or eat is at the Zion Lodge – a facility built in the 20’s – that also is the trail head for a number of hiking and horse trails.
Each stop offers something special
The varnished walls;

The waterfalls;

The Narrows along the River Walk at the far end of the Temple of Sinawava Shuttle stop.

Our next stop has been Mesquite, NV. Time to dump, get water, Fred has to make bread and then off westwards towards Overton.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Summer of 2009 - the Highs and the Lows

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The Highlights

The highlights, of course, are anything new and different – the sights and people we spent time with. Waterton (always a highlight); Heritage Days; the trips to Wetaskiwin and Sparwood; celebrating the 100th year of Lethbridge’s high level bridge and last, but not least, celebrating my brother’s 70th birthday.

We visited Waterton early with my old school buddy and his wife. We were so early in the season that the Prince of Wales Hotel wasn’t even open yet but we did get our

classic pictures of Cameron Falls and Cameron Lake.

Heritage Days just reminds me how much Lethbridge has grown and changed since I grew up here a zillion years ago. There must have been over a couple of dozen cultures represented in costumes; presentations; or food (or all three) – I love it!!


The plan was to get up to Wetaskiwin to visit with Chuck and Sheila then go west to the Columbia Parkway and Jasper and down to Cranbrook to drop in on Ina and Alan (RV'ers from Nanaimo).

Just like we always did with Chuck and Sheila we went exploring the area. Lord, it was cold and rainy but we did get up to explore an oil rig on show at Leduc.

We’ve never been along the road between Rocky Mountain House and the Columbia Parkway so figured it would be a great trip. The weather was horrid – so cold and rainy – what a big sissy I am and besides I got a horrid cold – Long story short – we ended up coming back to Lethbridge so I could recuperate. We never did get to Jasper or to see Ina and Alan but Ina and Alan did come to see us.

Going along Highway #3 past Pincher Creek, through the Crowsnest Pass to Sparwood has turned out to be one of our favourite summer excursions. More and more windmills stretch across the ridge across from Cowley and single Windmills dot the landscape from Fort MacLeod right through the Pass.

The campground we stay at in Sparwood (Mountain Shadows) has good sized sites; good facilities (and WiFi); some wildlife; and is reasonably priced (a plus for BC). We always seem to find lots of side trips emanating out of Sparwood and this year were pleasantly surprised to be joined by neighbours from the Condo we live in.

The Sky – the Wind mill – the old grain elevator near Pincher Creek

A local electrician put lights up to celebrate the 100th Year of Lethbridge’s High Level Bridge that turned out to be incredibly spectacular.

And last but not least was the celebration of my brother Stan’s 70th birthday

and presumably his retirement. It was a great party – in fact the whole weekend was terrific. All his kids and their spouses were there; the grandchildren and a couple of cousins – Dianne (daughter of Mom’s older sister) and Marty (son of Mom’s younger sister). Patty did such an incredible job at the open house on Saturday and then the brunch at an interesting little place (Reading’s Rock Garden Café) on Sunday.

The Lowlights

This was the first summer that I really am a Senior. I’m not sure what that means except that some of my dental and optical expenses are now covered. There have been times when I feel much more like a mushroom – you know – in the dark and dirt thrown on you.

The first incident was when I took some of our old eyeglasses into the ophthalmologist’s office to be recycled.

A very haughty little receptionist told me, “We don’t have anything to do with eyeglasses.” And she had no idea what to do with them (I think she would have liked to tell me what I could do with them – but she generously resisted the temptation).

Okay, chalk that one up to her arrogance.

As you might know, the technician actually does all the testing and the doctor comes in to confirm what s/he did – so he can justify his fee. As I do every year before we leave, I asked for a new prescription. It was exactly the same as last years (and the year before and the year before, etc) and I was painfully aware my vision has changed so I told them that and asked them about that.

“Oh,” said the doctor, “we don’t check your vision, we just do medical and surgical procedures –and we don’t do anything regarding eyeglasses.” (Now I know where the receptionist got her attitude). Needless to say I was a little annoyed (pissed-off would actually describe it better) not that they only dealt with medical and surgical issues but that they didn’t tell me. So I picked up my records from him and went off to find another eye doctor.

The next incident was with the dentist. I knew we are eligible for dental subsidy and getting my teeth clean should be completely covered. I went and did! Yes I made an appointment and the gal did a great job – never saw the dentist, which was just the way I wanted it.

Then I get a phone call from the dentist’s office saying that “yes, the cleaning was completely covered but there was a Professional Fee from the dentist that was not covered.”

What – I didn’t even see the dentist! What is the fee for?

No rational answer – the usual – That’s what we do!

So again my dander gets up. So I phoned the Insurance people and the Dental Association and still got no answer.

Welcome to the Land of taking advantage of the pensioners or just the time of the extra fees for anything and everything!