Thursday, February 28, 2013

Discovering Arizona


We enjoyed our time in Tucson, especially the Tucson Mountain Park. The city of Tucson set aside about 20,000 acres for the park and the National Park Service added about the same when it created the Saguaro National Park adjacent to it. Early the first morning, we joined a guided walk hosted by a park volunteer. He taught us the names of the different plants we were seeing and how they have adapted to this harsh environment. It really opened our minds to understand this beautiful forest we were experiencing. The next day, we hiked the six mile Brown Mountain Trail. It gave us great views of the Sonoran desert. I was surprised to find lichen growing in the desert. I have always thought of lichen as an alpine plant, yet here was a species thriving in the desert.
Colorful lichen on the rocks of Brown Mountain, Tucson Mountain Park
Our campsite at Tucson Mountain Park
Next up on our itinerary was Mesa, Arizona. We have an aunt and cousin who live in the Phoenix metropolitan area and we wanted to spend some time with our family. Also, my mother was joining us for a couple weeks of fun in the sun, a way to make her New England winter a little shorter. We made our home at Monte Vista Resort in Mesa. The resort is mostly double wide mobile homes permanently located in the park with a few locations available for transients like us. There are many similar resorts in the area, but this one stands out for a number of reasons. For Sarah, the overwhelming benefits were the metalworking and lapidary studios. She was in her element. Sarah quickly made friends and even taught a workshop in bezel making.

Sarah, Mom and Aunt Arlene at Fountain of the Sun

Harley and Sarah in the lapidary studio





Well designed and equipped woodworking shop


Sarah and I made the trip into downtown Phoenix to visit the Heard Museum. This is a must stop for anyone visiting Phoenix. The Heard family have assembled a wonderful collection of Native American art and displays it in an informative exhibition. Some of the exhibits are very poignant. They tell the story of Native American children being take from their homes and sent to boarding schools in the eastern U.S. where they were "civilized". 

After visiting the museum, we stopped for a glass of wine and a snack at Durant's, a venerable establishment in downtown Phoenix. We enjoyed the Dungeness Crab salad very much.











At Durant's


Another bonus for us in the Phoenix area was the ability to visit with my old friend, Bob. Bob's son Christopher, with his wife Stacy and their three adorable sons, live in Scottsdale. It happened that Bob and his wife, Christine, were in town to visit the kids and grand kids. Sarah and I spent an enjoyable afternoon with our old friends.
Grandpa, Bob, giving drum lessons.
We spent some time in Phoenix when my mom arrived so we could visit with my aunt and cousin. We also visited the Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force Museum http://azcaf.org/
The planes and exhibits were well worth the effort to see. I enjoyed having the opportunity to see two of the most important planes in history, the B17, Flying Fortress and to see a fully restored P-47B. These two planes rang the death bell for Germany's Luftwaffe.
B-17
Mom wandering around the Air Museum
Together with my aunt, we visited the Japanese Friendship Garden in downtown Phoenix. The garden is compact, but it is beautifully designed to create a sense of peace and tranquility in a busy urban environment.
At the Japanese Friendship Garden.
Next, we headed south for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Just a few mile from the US/Mexican border, we had reservations about traveling here. But, we had information from other Airstreamers that the area was safe and that Border Patrol was keeping the area secure. We have learned that any place designated as a National Monument is, by definition, a beautiful place to be. Organ Pipe National Monument proved to be no exception. We hoped to take one of the guided tours that is run by the National Park Service. But, we had not made reservations. The tours are so popular that they fill up a week before the trip. However, we drove the alternative 22 mile loop road into the Ajo mountain area. We did this on the day of the Phoenix Blizzard. We had mostly cloudy skies accompanied by some sleet/freezing rain. It was a perfect day and the dramatic light on the mountains could not have been better.

The morning of the Phoenix "blizzard' at Organ Pipe National Monument
Organ Pipe National Monument

Double Stone Arches at Organ Pipe National Monument

Organ Pipe National Monument near Diablo Canyon
The next morning, Sarah and I hiked the Victoria Mine Trail http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/organ_pipe/victoria-mine-trail.html
This 4.4 mile round trip hike is over gently rolling hills that give great vistas to the south and the town of Sonoyta, Mexico which is just a few miles away.


From Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument we headed for Yuma. I wanted to visit Yuma, but thought it was just a bit "out of the way" for this trip. But, Sarah found out that some colleagues/friends were attending a conference there. So, we made the detour. I was astounded at the number of RV resorts in the Yuma area. We arrived at the Mesa Verde RV park after the office closed, but there was a list of available transient sites posted in the office lobby. We took one that was on a corner lot to give us a little more room (like most RV resorts, there is very little space between the permanent mobile homes). We learned the next morning, that we would have to move because the space we were in was reserved for the coming week.

 While Sarah attended the conference my mom and I toured the Territorial Prison at Yuma. We arrived just as a guided tour was starting. We learned about advanced attitudes of incarceration that were developed here, such as a prison library and hospital. There were no cells to hold the first prisoners sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison, they had to dig into the hillside to make the cells that would incarcerate them. We got a taste of what conditions must have been like for the prisoners. While the day was cool and breezy, the bright sun made the temperature within the enclosed compound very warm. The heat on a hot desert day must have been unbearable.
Prison cells and courtyard at Yuma Territorial Prison
Close by to the prison is the bridge across the Colorado River that, when completed in 1915, it provided the shortest Coast to Coast route by automobile. During the Great Depression it was a place that California State Police stopped people trying to enter California if they could not provide proof of employment or means of support. I call it the DoReMi bridge after the song by Woody Guthrie. Here is Woody's original:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46mO7jx3JEw
But John Mellenkamp did a fine job with his cover: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=john+mellencamp+doremi&oq=joh&gs_l=youtube-reduced.1.0.35i39l2j0l2.45617.46040.0.47993.3.3.0.0.0.0.74.202.3.3.0...0.0...1ac.1.Ar1VW9ElZQ4

Coast to Coast Bridge is behind the darker railroad bridge in the foreground

 We hoped to boondock in the Sonoran Desert National Monument on our way back to Phoenix. But, all the side roads were closed. This forced us to return to the Phoenix metro area. A call to Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, just outside Phoenix, informed us that there were a few spots left in the "over flow" area and they were first come, first served. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to secure site no.94. It was perfect. Our backyard had an unobstructed view of the Superstition Mountains. From our camp site, we drove east into the mountains and canyons. We were amazed by the geological formations as well as the lichen that covered the rocks. Sarah and I have decided that we must study geology to gain an appreciation for what we are seeing.

Our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, AZ

Moonrise at Lost Dutchman State Park
Hoping to find a site to boondock, we drove east on Arizona 88, Apache Trail, past Roosevelt lake to Fish Creek Canyon. While we failed to find any place we would like to boondock, we found amazing vistas at Fish Creek Canyon. This canyon, while not as immense as the Grand Canyon, rivals the Grand Canyon with its color and beauty.
Fish Creek Canyon
Sarah on the edge of Fish Creek Canyon

 We returned to Monte Vista where I left Sarah while my mother and I flew back to Massachusetts.

 Stay tuned, more to come.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

First time in Tucson


After Carlsbad, we set our sites on Tucson, Arizona. We were apprehensive about finding a place to stay because the Gem Show was in full swing. We thought we would be lucky to find a place to put the Mary Joan anywhere close to the city. As has happened so many times, we found that not to be a problem at all. We rolled into the Tucson Mountain Park's Gilbert Ray Campground shortly after 2 PM and found that there were many camping sites available.

Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson Mountain Park

The Tucson Mountain Park occupies roughly 20,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert adjacent to another 20,000 acres of the Saguaro National Park. Needless to say, this vast expanse of protected desert is spectacularly beautiful. The campsites are large and well separated from one another. Since this is the desert, the only utility available at the campsites was electricity. Water was available from a few hydrants throughout the campground.

The morning after our arrival, we joined a ranger guided walk through the desert and learned a great deal about the ecology of the Sonoran desert. We found that the fragrance of the desert during the rain came from the Creosote bush. When the leaves of the bush become wet, they release a pungent aroma that is the signature fragrance of the desert in the rain.
Fruit of the Fish Hook Barrel Cactus. Quite tart, otherwise, a nice flavor.
Our ranger showed us what an important role “nurse” plants play in the growth of the majestic saguaro. It happens that the Saguaro sets thousand of seeds each season, but germination only occurs when and where many conditions of moisture and temperature are met. When these conditions occur, the place is usually under a Palo Verde tree. The tree acts as a 'nurse' or shelter for the young and fragile cactus. The nurse plant protects the young Saguaro from the sun until it is large enough to stand on its own. Eventually, the Saguaro outlives its nurse plant and stands on its own. Another interesting observation was the Saguaro's need for a particular set of circumstances to germinate. Once our guide pointed it out, it should have been obvious. Because conditions for successful germination and growth only happen every several years, the size of the Saguaro is not a smooth continuum, reflecting an annual succession of older plants. Rather, it was apparent that there were gaps in that continuum, years when no Saguaro were propagated. Our ranger called the Saguaro of similar age, cohorts.
A juvenile saguaro growing beneath its nurse tree, a palo verde. 

At Gilbert Ray Campground we met another Airstream couple, Tim and Amanda Watson. Tim and Amanda are from Vermont and are full timing in their aluminum abode. They have a very nice website here: http://www.watsonswander.com/

The must do hike from the campground is the Brown Mountain trail. It is about a 6 mile loop through the Sonoran desert. The first 2 miles climb about 500 feet with a drop of about 200 feet then back up 150 feet before descending back to the start. Surprisingly, we discovered lichen on rocks at the higher elevations.
I was surprised to find lichen in the desert.

Sarah and I spent some time at a couple venues of the Gem Show that was ongoing in Tucson. It is the largest gem show in the nation. We saw amazing geodes, some as large as a bathtub. Sarah found some rubies for a ring she is designing. After seeing some of the gem show, we sought our El Charro Mexican restaurant. It is the oldest continually operation family restaurant in Tucson. We were told that the tamales were the best anywhere. We agree, the tamales were the best we had ever had.

Phoenix is next down the road. Stay tuned.



Friday, February 8, 2013

Southern Arizona


After exploring Carlsbad caverns, we returned to the town of Carlsbad. Sarah did laundry while I ran some errands and scouted out a place to watch the Super Bowl. We had cable TV at the RV park, but we thought it would be more fun to watch the game with other people. The first place I checked out was the one suggested by our host at the campground. It is a bar connected with a motel. It smelled bad and only had two televisions, one old rear projection big screen monster and a 32” LCD at the end of the bar that only a few people would be able to see.

In the grocery store, the check-out clerk suggested the local Chili's restaurant. However, he looked at his watch and said “you pretty much need to be there now if you want a seat”. It was only 1:30 PM and the game wasn't scheduled to start until 4:30 PM local time (we are in mountain time here). He also suggested Lucy's Mexican restaurant might have the game on. He gave me directions that sounded odd. He said that there were two Lucy's Mexican restaurants, directly opposite each other on the same street. He wasn't sure which one would have the game on. The first Lucy's I went into has a typical restaurant layout, a dining room with tables and chairs on one side and a separate bar on the other. Both the restaurant side and bar side had one small LCD television each. I asked one of the waiters if they were going to have the game on. He wasn't sure, but he would ask his manager. The very friendly manager told me that she believed the Lucy's across the street would be the better place because they were going to have drink and food specials for the game. She also told me that both restaurants were owned by the same person.

The Lucy's across the street wasn't open yet, but as I was pulling out of the parking lot, James Lopes came out to put some cardboard into the dumpster. I asked him what time he was opening and how early he opened and what time my wife and I need to get here to watch the game. He said there would be plenty of room if we got there by 4PM. I thanked him and told him we would see him later.

The Lucy's we returned to in order to watch the Super Bowl is much different than the one on the opposite side of the street. The first Lucy's I went into is an upscale, finely decorated Mexican restaurant. It is brightly lit and nicely decorated. This Lucy's is much darker. The furnishings and d├ęcor have seen better days. But what this Lucy's lacks in fine furnishings, it more than makes up for it with the friendly atmosphere. This Lucy's is clearly a local gathering spot, for many of the other diners seemed to know one another and their seemed to be almost equal cheering for both teams on the part of those present. The family seated in front of Sarah and I were wearing the colors and t-shirts for the 49ers, and took our cheering for the Ravens in a very sportsmanlike mannner.


The energetic desire on the part of the entire staff, especially James, to make us feel comfortable and welcomed cannot be overstated. Everyone of the wait staff shared responsibility for each and every table.

In another Tex-Mex restaurant in Texas, we had ordered margaritas that were far too sweet and made with a low grade mix. So, here at Lucy's, Sarah asked the bar tender if she could make a margarita using Sarah's recipe. The bartender gladly stated that she would be happy to make it any way Sarah wanted. It was perfect. Typical of most Mexican restaurants salsa and warm tortilla chips soon arrived. The salsa was good and didn't need any extra hot sauce, coming from me that means it was plenty spicy.

At the start of the game we ordered our appetizer of fried green chilies. We don't usually eat fried foods, but this was the Super Bowl. They were delicious. When we had half finished with the chilies, Each of us ordered our main course, chicken fajitas, just before half time. Lucy had some items on her menu that I had never tasted before. In most restaurants I usually order dishes that I have never had the opportunity to try before, especially in ethnic restaurants. However, seeing so many other patrons ordering the fajitas, and smelling the aroma of that dish caused me to go with what seemed to be very popular. Both Sarah and I were delighted with the fajitas. The chicken was moist and tender and had clearly been marinated in a perfect blend of spices. The chicken was accompanied by perfectly pan roasted peppers and onions.
Sarah and our gracious hostess, Lucy

When the lights went out at the Super Bowl stadium, I asked the woman whom I heard people call Lucy and who seemed to be the person in charge, if this was her restaurant. She replied that it was. I asked her to tell me why there are two Lucy's. She said that this was the first Lucy's and it was intended to be more of a cantina than a restaurant. When it became successful, she opened the more up-scale Lucy's across the street. She said that she also has another Lucy's restaurant in the town of Ruidoso. Lucy introduced us to her lovely granddaughter, Lean, who was one of the other very personable and hard working wait staff. With food as good as we ate and staff as friendly as we met, it is no wonder she is successful. Lucy's is the real deal in Tucson.

To get to our next stop on our way to Arizona, White Sands National Monument, we had to cross the Mountains. As we ascended into the mountains the temperature slowly began to drop. Approaching Alamo Pass we began to see small patches of snow. In the town of Cloudcroft, 8,600 feet above sea level, the mid-day the temperature was 45 degrees and there was lots of snow everywhere. As we descended into Alamogordo, we caught a glimpse of brilliant white in the far off distance. At first I was panicked. Was the next valley high enough that we were going to encounter snow? I thought I had done my homework, and with the exception of the high passes we had to traverse, I was keeping the Mary Joan away from that stuff. Then I realized we were seeing the dunes of the White Sands National Monument and Missile Site.
Advancing Dunes at White Sands National Monument



When we arrived at the monument, Sarah finally got her lifetime national parks pass. For a one time fee of $10, we now have lifetime admittance to any national park, monument or historic site. There are some benefits to getting older. For us, that will be a great savings because it also gets us a discount of 50% off our camping fees on federal lands.

Sarah and I drove into the White Sands Monument area and hiked the mile long loop trail into the dunes. Formed of pure white gypsum, the dunes were nearly blinding. Certainly, without good sunglasses, we would have been very uncomfortable. Besides being an amazing vista, they are an complex ecosystem, aspects of which were very surprising to learn about. For instance, the dunes are not stationary, they actually move across the desert as if each dune were a formation of soldiers advancing on a battle field, covering anything in its path. We discovered cottonwood trees that send roots deep enough to tap the water that is just three feet below this otherwise waterless desert. Remarkably, these large trees can survive the rising tide of sand as long as enough of its limbs are out of the sand and can bear leaves. We also learned that some of the small mammals that live here do not drink water. Instead, they live off metabolic water. Metabolic water is what is released when food is converted into energy leaving water and carbon dioxide bi-products.
These trees survive as long as some of the branches can bear leaves above the sand.
Frequently, we don't make reservations at campgrounds because we like the flexibility it gives us. The next place we wanted to stay was Rock Hound State Park near the town of Deming, New Mexico. It is 10-15 miles off the route we intended to take on our way to Arizona so we decided to call and make sure there was a campsite available but it was a first come first served site. The attendant told us there was one left but there were RV parks in Deming should someone get there before us. We arrived at 4 PM and was able to get the last spot with electricity. That is important because it does get cold at night here in the desert.
The two days we spent at Rock Hound State Park were very relaxing. The weather was perfect and although we didn't find any geodes, we enjoyed our stay.


This post is being written at Tucson Mountain Park, adjacent to Saguaro National Park. I'll update soon, stay tuned.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Waltzing From Louisiana Through Texas


There is some beautiful scenery in Northern Louisiana. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of poverty. The “homes” that some people live in can best be described as derelict. The pride in home ownership too often accompanies the lack of financial well being. We avoid interstate highways whenever time and routing makes it possible. This allows us to drive through the small towns that make up rural America. These roads cut through the towns like a knife through marble cake and reveal both the wealthy and poor sections. In Louisiana the contrast was greater than any we have seen elsewhere. To be fair, I have seen an occasional front yard in Maine littered with more junk than one could believe possible. But, the frequency with which we saw such homesteads surprised me as we drove through Louisiana. We weren't surprised that one town proclaimed itself to be the cleanest town in Louisiana.

Claiborne State Park was our home for just one night. The park is situated on a good size lake that is popular with fishermen this time of year. The park offers special rates for fishermen spending extended periods during this season. The brochure called it yo-yo fishing season. That is a term I have never heard. Luckily, we weren't long at the campsite before I found out what yo-yo fishing is. We had barely got the trailer leveled, the electric and water connected and set about starting a campfire when Skipper, from a campsite just down the lane, arrived and offered some extra firewood he didn't need. Skipper is about 70 years old, tall, face wrinkled more than typical for a man of his years due to the lack of dentition. He wore farmer winter coveralls and a bright red knitted cap. We exchanged the usual pleasantries such as where we were from, how he handled the extreme weather of the previous night, etc. When asked, he said he was not a fisherman and was not here for the yo-yo fishing, but he could tell me what it is. With such a term, I had imagined all sorts of interesting possibilities. However, yo-yo fishing is a method whereby, a baited line is lowered into the water from a spring loaded reel that is wound like a YO-YO. The line and reel is hung from the branch of a tree. When a fish strikes, the yo-yo allows line to play out until the fish tires. Then it reels the fish back in. Many lakes and bayous have dead trees standing in the water from which these can be attached. In Louisiana a fisherman can have up to 30 of them deployed at one time. They can be left overnight and checked in the morning. Catfish seem to be the preferred catch. It is an ingenious system, but I was a little disappointed that it wasn't something more exotic.

In Louisiana, Claiborne State Park was our home for just one night. The park is situated on a good size lake that is popular with fishermen this time of year. The park offers special rates for fishermen spending extended periods during this season. The brochure called it yo-yo fishing season. That is a term I have never heard. Luckily, it wasn't long at the campsite before I found out what yo-yo fishing is. We had barely got the trailer leveled, the electric and water connected and set about starting a campfire when Skipper, from a campsite just down the lane, arrived and offered some extra firewood he didn't need. Skipper is about 70 years old, tall, face wrinkled more than typical a man of his years due to the lack of dentition. He wore farmer winter coveralls and a bright red knitted cap. We exchanged the usual pleasantries such as where we were from, how he handled the extreme weather of the previous night, etc. When asked, he said he was not a fisherman and was not here for the yo-yo fishing, but he could tell me what it is. With such a term, I had imagined all sorts of interesting possibilities. However, yo-yo fishing is a method whereby, a baited line is lowered into the water from a spring loaded reel that is wound like a YO-YO. The line and reel is hung from the branch of a tree. When a fish strikes, the yo-yo allows line to play out until the fish tires. Then it reels the fish back in. Many lakes and bayous have dead trees standing in the water from which these can be attached. In Louisiana a fisherman can have up to 30 of them deployed ad one time. They can be left overnight and checked in the morning. Catfish seem to be the preferred catch. It is an ingenious system, but I was a little disappointed that it was not as exotic as I expected. Here is a Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSAhgsmUUv4

Leaving Louisiana we faced crossing the big state of Texas. Graciously, the Lone Star State provides many state parks along the popular highways. We had a number to choose from and had no trouble finding one that was one day's driving distance to suit our liking. That park was Fort Richardson State Park in Jacksonboro, TX. Built in 1867, Fort Richardson was used as base to prosecute the war against Native Americans. It appeared that the government spared no expense in building this outpost. The sandstone buildings, still standing and in excellent condition, are not only functional, but beautiful. As usual when trying to make distance, we arrived late in the afternoon. So, the buildings were closed. But, on the positive side, the light of the lowering sun accentuated the golden hues of the brown sandstone.


The Hospital

The Bakery in the distance, where better than 200 loaves of bread were baked a day. Records tell that one person died of heat exhaustion there.

The officer's quarters

Enlisted men's quarters. Officers never entered because of the stench.

The following photos were taken on Rt. 180 as we passed through Albany, Texas.

I remember when gas stations looked like this


We got som pretty good cupcakes at this classic Airstream


No doubt about it, this is Longhorn country. And they like things big.

Sarah and I are very happy that we made the decision to push on to Carlsbad. Sarah visited the caves when
she was about 5 – 7 years old. Re-visiting the caverns brought back lots of memories, but she believes more paths have been added. Whether that's true or not, we both were fascinated with both the enormity of the 'rooms' but also the quantity and variety of 'decorations' they contained. Everywhere one looks are marvelous forms of stalactites, stalagmites, ribbons, flows, columns and 'popcorn'. The Big Room is nearly a quarter mile from end to end. The winding path requires nearly an hour to walk the perimeter. In all, we spent nearly three hours exploring this majestic work of nature.



We're not sure where our next stop will be except for Lucy's here in Carlsbad, New Mexico to watch the Super Bowl. But, stay tuned.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Miles and miles of Texas


There is some beautiful scenery in Northern Louisiana. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of poverty. The “homes” that some people live in can best be described as derelict. Accompanying the poverty of finance,  too often is the poverty of pride in one's abode. We avoid interstate highways whenever time and routing makes it possible. This allows us to drive through the small towns that make up rural America. These roads cut through the towns like a knife through a layer cake to reveal both the wealthy and poor sections. In Louisiana the contrast was greater than any we have seen elsewhere. To be fair, I have seen an occasional front yard in Maine littered with more junk than one could believe possible. But, the frequency with which we saw such homesteads here surprised me.

In Louisiana, Claiborne State Park was our home for just one night. The park is situated on a good size lake that is popular with fishermen this time of year. The park offers special rates for fishermen spending extended periods during this fishing season. The brochure called it yo-yo fishing season. That is a term I have never heard. Luckily, it wasn't long at the campsite before I found out what yo-yo fishing is. We had barely got the trailer leveled, the electric and water connected and set about starting a campfire when Skipper, from a campsite just down the lane, arrived and offered some extra firewood he didn't need. Skipper is about 70 years old, tall, face wrinkled more than usual for a man of his years due to the lack of dentition. He wore farmer's winter coveralls and a bright red knitted cap. We exchanged the usual pleasantries such as where we were from, how he handled the extreme weather of the previous night, etc. When asked, he said he was not a fisherman and was not here for the yo-yo fishing, but he could tell me what it is. With such a term, I had imagined all sorts of interesting possibilities. However, yo-yo fishing is a method whereby, a baited line is lowered into the water from a spring loaded reel that is wound like a YO-YO. The line and reel is hung from the branch of a tree. When a fish strikes, the yo-yo allows line to play out until the fish tires. Then it reels the fish back in. Many lakes and bayous have dead trees standing in the water to which these can be attached. In Louisiana a fisherman can have up to 30 of them deployed ad one time. They can be left overnight and checked in the morning. Catfish seem to be the preferred catch. It is an ingenious system, but I was a little disappointed that it was not as exotic as I expected. Here is a Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSAhgsmUUv4

Leaving Louisiana we faced crossing the big state of Texas. Graciously, the Lone Star State provides many state parks along the popular highways. We had a number to choose from and had no trouble finding one that was one day's driving distance to suit our liking. That park was Fort Richardson State Park in Jacksonboro, TX. Built in 1867, Fort Richardson was used as base to prosecute the war against Native Americans. It appeared that the government spared no expense in building this outpost. The sandstone buildings, still standing and in excellent condition, are not only functional, but beautiful. As usual when trying to make distance, we arrived late in the afternoon. So, the buildings were closed. But, on the positive side, the light of the lowering sun accentuated the golden hues of the brown sandstone.

Our welcoming committee upon our arrival at Fort Richardson

The Hospital Building and to the right of the tree the death house/morgue.


View from the hospital to the bakery. At the bakery, 600 - 800 loaves of bread were baked in a day.
One baker died of heat exhaustion

We pushed on with a long day on the road and arrived at Carlsbad, New Mexico in the late afternoon. This was possible because the speed limit was 75mph. We didn't drive the speed limit, but at times we reached it when running down a long steep slope. We will spend two nights here so that we can tour the caverns and watch the super bowl. Sarah and I both want the Ravens to win since they were the team that knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs.

We enjoy the bright sunshine and the 67 degree temperature.

Stay tuned.


Friday, February 1, 2013

On the road again

It has been a while and the Mary Joan has languished in the driveway. Now, however, she is back on the road and she is taking us to more beautiful places.

The current journey began both much later and much earlier than planned. The weather was probably the most important factor that affected the change of our itinerary. I promised a friend that I would help him get his new sail boat from Maine to the Bahamas in the early fall. The plan was for him to get the boat to Massachusetts late in October. However, hurricane Sandy forced him to delay his departure from Maine for a week. We met in Buzzards Bay and took the boat to Point Judith, Rhode Island. Then, a major Nor' Easter came up the coast that forced us to stay put for another three days. After waiting out the storm, we sailed south along the coast to Norfolk, Virginia then entered the Intracoastal Waterway to avoid the dangers of Cape Hatteras. We made good time, but when we reached Beaufort, NC the weather would not allow us to leave for a full week. The winds were out of the North East and crossing the Gulf Stream would have been uncomfortable at best and extremely dangerous at worst. We spent Thanksgiving in Beaufort rather than in the Mary Joan in Louisville, Kentucky as we had planned. Louisville was our favored spot because our son John is stationed at Ft. Knox and it is just below the latitude that snow regularly occurs.

The Mary Joan suffered the cold and snow of late December in Massachusetts. The weather forecast for the week following New Years was for cold clear weather for the entire distance between Massachusetts and Kentucky. This provided an opportunity to move her south without exposing her to a thousand miles of salty slush on the highways. On the morning of our departure, we awoke to -7F. With the truck and trailer hitched the previous day, I went out at 8AM to start out journey. The truck would not start. I instantly knew that the problem was frozen diesel fuel. The last time I put fuel in the truck was during our last trip in the early fall before the fuel companies begin putting anti-gel compounds into the diesel fuel. I used a tarp to enclose the motor and under-carriage and placed an electric heater beneath the motor to warm it and the fuel filter. After three hours, the truck finally started.

We made quick time to Louisville and left the trailer at Grandma's RV park where we had been before. John was able to join us for dinner on Sonday evening. Then, it was a quick trip back to Massachusetts. We planned to return in early to mid February to start our trip to Arizona. But, John asked us if we could come earlier and tow a U-Haul with his and his bride's, Becca, household belongings. (They were married right after Christmas and Becca was moving to Kentucky).

Sarah and I completed the delivery, picked up the Mary Joan and headed south on January 28th. Another Airstream owner told me about the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Natchez Trace is an old 'highway' that connects Natchez, Mississippi with Nashville, Tennessee. It was an important conduit from the 18th until the 20th century. The trace was the perfect route to get us further south before heading west. It is a smooth two line highway with extremely limited access. This made driving very relaxing because we didn't have to constantly be alert to other vehicles entering or exiting the highway. Also, it is restricted to non-commercial traffic. So, no semi-trailers to deal with.

One of the most intriguing features of the trace are the mounds built by ancient North American inhabitants. These "Indians" constructed both burial and ceremonial mounds out of earth. We found our first mound at Bear Creek. It is an impressive mound that was built for purely ceremonial purposes. 

Bear Creek Mound
This ceremonial mound measured about 70' by 70' on the top. It is perfectly square.


Further along we came upon the Pharr Mounds. These mounds were used as burial mounds as early as 1 - 200 AD. 


We left the trace and stayed at David Crockett State Park. At about 3AM my cell phone weather alert awakened me. I grabbed the phone and saw that we were in a tornado warning zone. Sarah and I quickly dressed and went to the bath house that is constructed of concrete block, believing it to be the safest place should a tornado strike. The wind raged for nearly an hour and we could hear trees crashing down in the forest nearby. Thankfully, no tornado appeared and in the deluge that followed the wind we ran back to the Mary Joan and slept until 9AM.

In the morning, we returned to the trace and continued our journey south. We saw numerous trees that had fallen across the road during the storm the previous night. Fortunately, they had all been cleared before we came upon them. We stopped in Tupelo for lunch at great Mexican restaurant, D Casa Mexicn Grill. Along the way we paused at Meriwether Lewis' death and grave site. Sarah believes he killed himself because he foresaw the genocide that was forthcoming after his exploration of the west.

Roosevelt State Park in Mississippi was our home for the next night. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the small lake. Sarah met a young man who is walking across the United States to promote world peace. We invited him to dinner to learn about his mission. His name is Javier Janik. Javier joined us for dinner and we had a wonderful time learning about him and his endeavor. See more about him here: https://www.facebook.com/WalkingAcrossAmericaFromAfghanistanToZimbabwe
Javier is also a standup comic (search for him on Youtube).

Early in the morning we returned to the parkway to visit the Mississippi Craft Museum in Jackson. There were many artists and media represented. However, one artist caught our attention. Harold Miller of Brandon, Mississippi is a wonderful artist. If we could have safely transported one of his sculptures we would have bought it. http://www.haroldwmiller.com/

Our next stop was at Poverty Point National Monument: http://www.nps.gov/popo/index.htm

What was unknown and we couldn't learn in American history when I was a child,  is that about 4,000 years ago native Americans had a highly organized civilization that built some monumental structures. These people traded with other native peoples over great distances and built ceremonial mounds whose efforts and communal skills rivaled that of ancient Egypt in the building of the pyramids.Most astoundingly, they were able to achieve an organized effort without having first become an agrarian society. At the time these massive projects were coordinated, these people were still, primarily, hunter gatherers. This was only possible due to the abundance of flora and fauna in the southern portions of North America. Along the trace were many mounds, the Bear Creek Mound is a fine example of the effort that ancient North American people put into building them.



The scale of the work done at Poverty Point is a remarkable achievement of these ancient people. It is estimated that it took over 5 million man hours to move the soil required to construct this impressive monument.
Image copied from:
http://www.crt.state.la.us/archaeology/virtualbooks/poverpoi/culture.htm
The mound below is what remains of the prominent mound at the apex of the semi-circle of lower raised mounds.

Erosion has greatly diminished this elaborate mound.
It was a perfect day, clear blue skies and 65F. Sarah and I had hoped to reach Shreveport, Louisiana but fell short and have now settled in at beautiful Claiborne State Park.