Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tucson, AZ

Tucson has always been a city we’ve liked, which is fortunate, since we’ll be here longer than we had planned. We drove by the big Cardinal RV dealer/service center to see about the tire replacement and repairs. It turns out they are closed for the entire holiday – until January 4th.

One of our favorite places in Tucson is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a combination zoo, botanical garden and geology exhibit, with specimens from the Sonora Desert Tucson 026 (where the museum is located) in Arizona, Mexico and similar areas. In addition to the animal and botanical environments and a cave/geology exhibit added since the last time we visited, they now have a raptor free flight demonstration that was absolutely breathtaking.

Tucson 041 A group of Harris hawks have made the museum home, and through conditioning which started when they were very young birds, they do a close encounter with visitors and the staff. The attraction for the hawks is the food they get when they land on the staff member’s gloved arm. It’s quite amazing to have those big birds fly right over your head during the demonstration. We saw several Harris hawks in the wild along the roads during our travels, but not up close and personal as in the museum demonstration. Tucson 046 These hawks are completely free, but they have made the museum their territory, and let’s face it, handouts from museum staff are easier meals than the mice and other small animals they normally have to hunt for.

At the other extreme of bird life  is the museum’s hummingbird enclosure, in which visitors mingle with the little hummers. The first one we saw was hanging around outside the exhibit, which lent credence to the sign asking visitors to be careful with the door since the hummingbirds are accomplished escape artists.Tucson 018

We also visited Biosphere 2 (biosphere 1 is Earth) which is located about 20 miles north of Tucson. DSC_0327 The big glass enclosed environment was built in the ‘90s as a very large experiment to see if a self-sustaining environment could be developed – sort of like a mini earth ecosystem. The plan was for 8 “biospherians”to spend two years with no physical contact with the outside world. They produced their own food, the plants converted carbon dioxide to oxygen, they recycled waste water, etc. It was a grand idea, but it didn’t  work. The plants didn’t produce enough oxygen, the food supply was inadequate, and there were other problems as well. They did complete the 2 years, and a year later another group did 6 months. Science did learn a lot of technical stuff, not the least of which is that whenever humans try to set up a self-sustaining environment on the moon or other planets, it’s not going to be easy.

Today Biosphere 2 is operated by the University of Arizona for all kinds of environmental and life-science research, and it’s open to the public for tours. No more biospherians, but the place does provide controlled environments for the research.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Trouble on the Road

Have you ever been driving along an interstate highway and noticed tire treads lying on the shoulder or even in the middle of the road? Well, if you happen to be on I-10 about 100 miles east of Tucson, AZ the tread you see may be ours. We were tooling along the interstate at around 65 mph and bang, one of the trailer tires came apart. I managed to get onto the narrow shoulder, barely out of the traffic lane. Unfortunately, the tire that blew was on the left side, so anyone trying to change it would have his butt sticking out into 75 mph traffic.

The good news was that there was a good cell signal, so I first called 911, and then called Good Sam’s Emergency Road Service. The other good news was that we were midway between two exits only about two miles apart. On other sections of that interstate, some exits are 20 miles or more apart. Penny and I got our lawn chairs out of the trailer, opened them up in the desert away from the trailer, and waited for help. I’m sure drivers passing by were wondering why these two old people were sitting in the desert on lawn chairs.

First, an Arizona Highway Patrol Officer stopped and suggested that when the technician got there, he should look at the tire and decide whether it would be safe to drive it on the shoulder to the next exit, where it would be much safer to do the work. If the tech thought it would be too dangerous to move, he would come back and control traffic while the tire was being changed. He gave me a phone number to call so he could be sent back if needed, and said he would stay in the area to check on us. He actually did pass by at least once.

The road service guy showed up after about 45 minutes, which is faster than any AAA response I’ve ever had in New Jersey. He agreed that the tire was sound enough to get us off the highway, at low speed on the shoulder. So that’s what we did. He put on the spare, and after examining the other tires, suggested that we replace all of them. Also, when the tire came apart, it destroyed a fender skirt, and damaged one of the side panels on the trailer, so our first order of business on Monday will be to get to an RV shop for new tires and repairs.

BTW, the RV park in Tucson, Voyager RV Resort, is a small city. It has 1600 spaces, a bar, a restaurant, several pools, and since it’s an adults-only RV park, it has a bunch of shuffleboard courts. More on the Tucson experience in future dispatches.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in Las Cruces, NM

Driving from Lajitas, TX to Las Cruces, NM we passed through a vicious wind storm, rain and snow. The snow looked cool in the desert, but it didn’t stay on the ground too long. The temperature last night was 29 degrees, but the trailer stayed reasonably comfortable with a couple of electric space heaters running. Christmas KittyWe have a Christmas tree with an occasional cat under it, and an e-fireplace, so the holiday spirit is alive and well on the road.  We’ll stay here Christmas day and move on to Tucson, AZ the day after.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Big Bend

We spent the day yesterday touring Big Bend National Park, which is on the Rio Grande, a stone’s throw from Mexico. (BTW, the Mexican food here is really good!) Big Bend 026 Big Bend 046 This is a desert with mountains. It’s beautiful and grand in it’s own way, but very different than the national parks in the Rockies and in the northwest. We’ve seen several defunct ranches many of which were started in the early 1900s, then abandoned in the ‘40s.Big Bend 045

Some of the rock formations are a bit similar to what we saw in Utah,and some are very different. The geology in this area is mostly volcanic (nothing recent), and soft rock formed from volcanic ash millions of years ago erodes in wacky shapes.Big Bend 056

I have two recurrent thoughts when I look at the landscape and see ranches and farms here: 1) of all the places in the country where there is a reasonable amount of water, why would anyone pick this area to try to ranch or farm? And 2} illegal immigrants must REALLY want to come to the US to try to cross the border here. The river itself is shallow and narrow, but there are hundreds of miles of barren desert and rough mountain terrain on both sides of the border. This visit has really helped me understand the desperation of those folks who come into the country through areas like this.

The town east of where we are, Lajitas, is Terlingua, which is partly a ghost town. There are a couple of small stores and gas stations, a bank , a post office and a couple of cafes. A Texan we chatted with on the way here said “where you’re going isn’t the end of the world, but if you stand on the roof of your camper, you’ll see it.”

And I should mention the traffic. There is none. If cars through here are more frequent than an average of one car per minute, I’d be surprised. Not much traffic in the National Park either. Nothing like Yellowstone or Yosemite.

But the people are very friendly and it is very quiet. This last image is of what I think is a private home (a trailer with some unusual yard decorations). I don’t know which prompted me to take the picture – the sailing ship, the submarine conning tower, the Statue of Liberty, or the name of the place, but I just couldn’t pass it by. (If the sign is too small to be read, it’s “Passing Wind.”)Big Bend 058

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Deep in Heart of Texas

Very deep, in fact. We’re at neat “resort” RV park in Lajitas, TX, which is on the Rio Grande, about 200 miles east of El Paso. We’re west of the Pecos River and Langtry, where Judge Roy Bean presided. Lots of Border Patrol officers on the way here, and today we saw one suspicious character hanging out in a picnic grove right on the river – so I assumed he was a “coyote” waiting for his next load of immigrants.

Speaking of coyotes, one of the 4-legged type crossed the road in front of us a while ago and a road runner (meep-meep) crossed the road a short time later. Who knew road runners could fly? I guess they only do it  when they have to.

Even with some of the very remote areas we travelled through this summer, this area is by far the remotest.  Very few towns, and most of those in the area aren’t much more than a small store and a couple of houses or trailers, We’re told the closest Wal-Mart is more than 100 miles away. Now that’s remote!

This Maverick RV Park is part of the Lajitas Resort and Spa – a rustic, but luxurious hotel complex across the road. We’ll try the restaurant while we’re here. Big Bend 002 The resort is a neat place in the middle of nowhere, designed to look like an old west town, with a wooden boardwalk as a sidewalk. And speaking of coyotes again, we’ve been told that a pack of 3 hang out in the RV park at night. People with dogs are being warned to keep them inside their RVs, lest they become coyote snacks. We’ve been threatening the cats with letting them spend the night outside if they don’t behave.

The Rio Grande and the mountains around here are quite beautiful. Incidentally, this is the area in which the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa did a lot of his raids in the  1800’s. I can’t imagine there was much around here to steal – I mean, no Wal-Mart for 100 miles.Big Bend 011 Big Bend 016

A couple of miles from Lajitas we came across an old movie set now part of a state park. A half-dozen or so westerns were filmed here, and the buildings were all constructed for the films. Big Bend 009 Probably the biggest film shot there was “Streets of Laredo”with James Garner, Sam Sheppard, and Sissy Spacek. Penny was not in the movie.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Panacea and Frosty

Our next planned stop was Tallahassee, FL, but we didn’t want to stay close to the capitol city, so we found a campground on the water (a bay near the Gulf) in a town called Panacea. I don’t know who named it, but the nice weather at the time it was named may have led to the idea that it cured whatever ailed him or her. The first hurricane probably was cause for reconsideration, but Panacea it is.Panacea FL 2 They do have nice sunsets.





The next stop was Pensacola, FL, and a few nights at a pretty little campground on a cute little bayou populated with pelicans and, in warmer weather, alligators.  No alligators while we were there, but we were forced to share our campsite with a giant snowman.


Speaking of weather, we’ve had a lot of rain and temps at night in the 40’s. Better than what’s been happening in northern areas, but wet just the same. We’re now in Houston and have been using the heater every day. Tomorrow the temp is supposed to be 70, and we’ll be moving on to San Antonio. The River Walk is really nice this time of year.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Chia Gators, Jacksonville & Ocala, FL

We had a great Thanksgiving with Mimi and Jon at their home in Orange Park, near Jacksonville. The next day we visited the Jacksonville Zoo where we saw the Chia Gator in the photo.  Some of the zoo’s gators were covered with a tiny aquatic plant the zoo uses to keep the water clean.

It looks just like a Chia Pet. except for the big teeth. Jax, Ocala 008

We had a nice visit with Penny’s sister Ann, who lives in Oxford, FL, which is a small town near Ocala that no one has heard of.

Today we spent the morning at the Florida Carriage Museum and Resort, which is a really neat place owned by Gloria Austin, a woman who competes in carriage driving competitions around the world. She drives four-in-hand, which means big carriages and coaches pulled by 4 horses. She started out with a 10 acre farm, and has bought the surrounding property over the years, so now her place is over 400 acres. The museum is said to be the largest privately owned collection of horse-drawn vehicles in the country.  The royal carriage in the photo was owned by Franz Josef of Austria and was a wreck prior to being restored.Jax, Ocala 043 In addition to the museum, the place has lodging for visitors and their horses, and also has an area for RVs. There’s an education center and library, and many activities such as clinics, horse shows and special events are held there throughout the year.