22 December 2011

Our New Travelling Companion (Temporary)

As most of you know we are in to geocaching.  We like it becasue it takes us to some new places and it frequently adds to the pleasure of the hiking we are doing, especially in the spectacular West!  Geocaching is a world wide activity with millions of people involved finding millions of caches!  At geocaching.com  you can read more about it (or e-mail me).  One of the parts of this world wide treasure hunt is travel bugs, aka TBs.  A TB is a uniquely numbered device that a person places in a cache and others take it on a journey to other caches.  The orginator of the TB may set a specific goal for the TB or may just have a generic goal.  It might be to see Niagara Falls or more generically "to visit all 50 States". 

The actual TB is usually attached to something to add character to the issue.  For instance we picked up "Buzzy" in WI.  He was a plastic Buz Lightyear character from the movies.  His goal was to travel.  He had been MIA when I found him in a cache because somebody had not properly logged his travels on geocaching.com.  I got him back in the system and dropped him near Davis-Monthan AFB where I thought he might hitch an airplane ride toward the Space Coast in FL, a suitable goal for him.  However, he was subsequently picked up and is now in Colorado Springs.  Maybe he will join the USAF Space Command in Cheyenne Mountain.

Well, we recently picked up another TB the other day! Once he found out we traveled full time he would not leave us alone! We were hiking the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, a small mountain range nearby, and doing some geocaching too when we came upon this TB.  Even though he was in a well stocked cache with plenty of friends and beautiful view he wanted to patrol the roads and he knew we could help.  As I was trying to get away he jumped into my pocket and would not let go. BJ and I deceided to give him a ride, so now there are 3 of us, at least for awhile.  He really lights up when we start talking up our Alaska trip. 
The geocache residents!

The view from the geocache!

Our new traveling companion, Pa-Troll
So we are looking forward to seeing the USA with our new buddy.  He may know my brother, as they both have a pretty extensive background in police work!

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

21 December 2011

Largest State Capitol City in the USA

We did not know until recently that Phoenix is the largest state capitol city in the USA.  Population for the greater metropolitan area is 4.1 million people; about twice the size of Orlando!  It is in a valley formed by mountains around the city.  It appears the valley is about 50 miles wide (north-south) and 75 or so miles long (east-west).  It is approximately 1,100 feet above sea level which makes it and Tucson the lowest (and warmest) major city in Arizona.  
AZ State Capitol Museum
  Arizona has taken the original capitol building built in 1900-1904 and turned it into a state museum that showcases some of the attributes of the Sate.  When it was built it was the main building for the Arizona Territory; Arizona was not made a State until 1912. 

The museum was in the center of a complex housing many other state offices.  The Senate and House of Representatives met in two buildings just to the front left and right of the museum.  Other buildings were across the street, or in some cases, other parts of the city. 

Part of the silver service for the USS Arizona
More of the silver service
The Museum had a section dedicated to the State’s namesake battleship – the USS Arizona and the memorial to it in Hawaii.  They had a piece of the hull as well as some other memorabilia.  One particularly impressive exhibit was the extensive silver set of the battleship.  These first line ships were frequently used for receptions and gala’s when they visited foreign countries representing the US and proper silver service was an essential "tool" of the diplomats of the time!   The Arizona governor was asked by the US Navy when the ship was built about 1915 to provide the silver service.  However, the governor did not think taxpayer money should be used for that purpose.  So the mayor of Nogales formed a committee that raised the $9,000 needed for the set (and that was at a 50% discount provided by an Arizona silversmith company)!    
Shortly after the Japanese attack a rumor started the silver service was lost when the battleship was sunk.  However, subsequently they found out it had been removed from the ship in preparation for its deployment to a possible war zone!

Another interesting exhibit was about the Merci Train – a demonstration of appreciation by the French during the post WW II period.  That is an interesting story we first encountered in Ogden where the Merci train car for UT was displayed.  They did not have the AZ car at this museum but it is in a train museum in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix and we hope to visit it before leaving Phoenix.  
Model of the Merci Car for AZ.
A hand-made wedding dress from the collection
This whole story of the Merci Train and associated information is worth another blog entry and I will put into on my to-do list.  It is worth repeating.  In the meantime here are two pics, one of a handmade dress, one of the many gifts in the train and a picture of a model of the train car that AZ received.  The French called these train cars the Forty and Eight.  I originally thought that was because there were 48 cars, one for each state.  Wrong – the cars held either 40 men or 8 horses when used in the railway system in France. 

In front of the museum was a city block size park dedicated to the veterans and other public service units.   There were statutes comemerating both World Wars, as well as, the Vietnam, Korea and War on Terrorism.  Additionally, there was one of the 20,000 pound anchors from the USS Arizona and it signal mast that was salvaged from the battleship after it was sunk by the Japanese.  The Code Talkers of WWII were recognized as well as other segments of the military effort.  Also, a memorial to AZ peace officers killed in the line of duty and the K-9 corps.   It was well put together park and I was glad to see a lot of young school kids there on a field trip when BJ and I arrived. 
Part of the Vietnam Memorial
Entrance to the Korean War Memorial
A WW II Code Talker

A tribute to the K-9

The final salute to a fallen hero!

My personal tour guide
Always at home no matter where we are!

11 December 2011

Glorious Canyons - Part One

Back in the Fall as we moved south after our Yellowstone tour we spent time in Utah on our way to the Grand Canyon in AZ!  In southern UT there are a number of magnificent canyons.  We tried to see them all but just did not have the time as we didn’t want to be caught by the winter snow while we were still that far north.  We did see Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park plus some lesser known but still spectacular and interesting other parks and facilities around those parks.

When we left Ogden headed south we were still talking about which parks to see!  We were sort of head toward Canyonland National Park in SE UT but as we were traveling east on I-70 we saw an exit (not many of them in this stretch) to Capitol Reef National Park.  On a last minute change of plans we took the exit.  Wow – did we get a ride.  The two lane road was in good condition but it was very winding with lots of steep grades up and down.  We didn’t get any pics of it because I was too busy driving and BJ was holding on with both hands; but, the scenery was beautiful.   We ended up in a private campground about 5 miles short of the Park because it was getting dark and the campground at Capitol Reef was first come, first served and we were concerned about getting a space. 

From on top of the reef after a 1.5 hr hike!
The "reef" from ground level!
Capitol Reef National Park was beautiful.  I had assumed it had reef in the name because scientist had determined it was a reef in the ancient seas that use to cover this part of the continent!  However, according to park literature it was because a lot of the American pioneers had seafaring background and reef was commonly used to describe an impediment to movement, e.g. a ship blocked by a reef!  And, the sheer cliffs and narrow breaks were an impediment to the movement west of the pioneers.  The Capitol comes from a large rock formation that looks like the capitol dome on many of our early American state capitol buildings. 

We managed to get in some hiking in beautiful country as well as some great off-road rides in the Gray Ghost.  There was so much to see.
BJ preparing for a hike!
Sunset turned the clifs various/changing co

Beautiful off-roading areas
The "Capitol" dome that the park was named after!!

More of the "impediment"
One of the few canyons going all the way through

Always at home, no matter where we are!

06 December 2011

Beautiful Sedona

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving week in Sedona AZ with our friends Steve and Lenore.  They have built a beautiful home on the edge of the desert near Sedona.  The lot backs up to public land with very beautiful views of wonderful landscape.  And, when I say the built a home, I mean they built it.  While they subbed out some specific work, e.g. plumbing, electrical, concrete pours; they were on-site and thoroughly involved in the whole project.  The house is very environmentally friendly in all aspects.  Currently they are working on a solar pre-heater for an exceptionally efficient water heater.  They have solar panels on the roof that frequently generate more electricity then they need! 

The view from the backyard; the Needle in the middle
It turns out all the rocks around Sedona have names such as the Bell, the Courthouse, the Chapel, the Needle.  While in Sedona you don’t refer to the surrounding landscape as rocks, mountains, or trails.  You use their Proper Names.  I was mainly breathless. 

The backyard
The Bell
Adult javelinas at edge of yard
BJ and friends in the backyard
A unique of their open back yard was the javelinas which are wild peccaries that are native to the southwest desert. They look sort of like pigs and are sometimes referred to as New World pigs versus the Old World pigs.  They are relatively harmless and roam the land including backyards.  They are vegetarians and will root up plants or tear thru garbage. 

In Sedona there is an organization called Pink Jeep Tours and they take tourist on off-road tours up-close and personal.  With help from Steve and Lenore we took the Grey Ghost on our own tour.  It was 4-wheel drive all the way, steep slopes, deep gulches, and above all, beautiful views.  One particular point was “The Stairwell” a steep hillside that has some steps in it that the jeeps go down.  Steve and Lenore warned us it was steep and as we approached it they offered to get out and take pics of us going down.  About half-way down, as I was wondering when the Grey Ghost was going to go head over heels the rest of the way, it dawned on me they got out, not to take pics, but to avoid the impending accident!!   Well, my concerns were all in vain.  We made it safely down “The Staircase” and rest of the tour including “the Chicken” which was a very small circular stone dome that the jeep used to circle, but it has been blocked off to traffic for safety concerns!
Half-way down The Staricase
At the top of The Staricase
The Chicken, now only for foot traffic

Thanksgiving was wonderful, with great food and friends.  Many of their neighbors came over and shared dessert to top off the day.  Plenty of good food and friends always make Thanksgiving!
Wish you could see the beautiful views from the windows.

Thanksgiving table with beautiful views out the windows!

All-in-all we could not have asked for a more memorable Thanksgiving and we really appreciated being include in Steve and Lenore’s and their friends.

Always at home, no matter where we are.

13 November 2011

Dive Arizona

Well we arrived in Tucson AZ yesterday and are staying at the FamCamp at Davis-Monthan AFB which is known informally as the boneyard as it is the storage place for decommissioned aircraft from all the military services.  I like being across the street from a fleet of B-52's and their supporting KC-135 tankers. And, as we came in we say more C-130 then I knew existed, all mothballed!  

While the general understanding of the boneyard is that these are all worn out and useless aircraft, the fact is that any aircraft here is capable of  being returned to combat status.  They have been prepared for storage in this dry climate by removing some of the electronics, the engines in some cases and sealing up the aircraft as best possible. They all seem to be in amazingly good condition - the B-52's are over 50 years old!

One of the mothballed B-52's at Davis-Monthan AFB

 Also, as some of you know, I have been looking at dive opportunities while we are in AZ for the next 6-7 weeks!  I have come across several dive shops in Tucson and Phoenix.  We will be in Phoenix from after T-day until early Jan.  There are some interesting opportunities in AZ in lakes such as Lake Havasaw and Lake Pleasant, but that is not really what I am interested in.  San Carlos, Mexico about 300 miles south of Tucson is apparently a popular destination, as is Puerto Penasco at northern end of the Gulf of California.

However, reading some of the descriptions of the trips I am not sure I want to get involved.  Driving 300 miles into Mexico is not my idea of a relaxing weekend!  And., the accomaditions and dive boats are still a question mark in my mind.  Following is a direct quote from one from the dive shop websites. 
All this, and a toilet too!
That's right! The Dive shop provides real FLUSH toilets and a shower for your comfort. We supply the heat via a gas water heater; you just need to supply the water for the shower. This is camping in style.
Obviously, I have a different definition of "camping in style" and am concerned about what other differences I might have with their trip descriptions, e.g. easy, enjoyable drive to San Carlos!  San Carlos is 300 miles into Mexico!

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

11 November 2011

Moving On

Today we are moving on west to AZ our final resting place (for this year)!   We stopped for an overnight at Rockhound State Park and that was five nights ago!  We have enjoyed it.  BJ has increased her rock colection significantly and I got in a lot of beautiful hiking in some rugged terrain!

Yesterday I took the Gray Ghost around to the east side of Little FL mountains.  I was about 2 miles from the RV as the crow flies but about 15 road/off-road miles.  We were literally out in the middle of nowhere.  First time I have been somewhere that I had to have 4-wd and several times needed granny level 4-wd to get across some deep gulches and washes in the desert floor.  Several times I just took off across the desert because there was not trail I could find to go where I wanted to go.  Saw several abandoned mines, understand there are plenty of them in the Florida Mountains!

Gray Ghost in the desert!  Note he left Pickle and Banana at home!

An interesting arch on east side of Little FL Mt

An interesting looking abandoned mine.  Was really tempted to explore, but didn't!!

Another mine entrance, not so inviting!

My trusty steed awaits me in the vast wilderness!

BJ and some valuable (to her) rocks!

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

08 November 2011

The Florida Mountains

Little Florida range on left & Big FL range on right
These Florida mountains are in SW NM just south of Deming.  Two relatively small ranges running parallel to each other north to south and about 3 miles apart.  Looks like Big Florida range to the west is about 5 miles long and the other one is a little shorter.

The real story!
We are in Rockhound State Park which is at the base of Little FL range near the north end.  Nice state campground that is apparently a favorite for snowbirds. 
The camp host told us their busy season is just starting! Of course BJ has become a rockhound so this is a great place for her.  There are a number of trails in the mountains and for a change they are not delineated by signs to stay on the trail.  Here you can wonder freely among the rocks!!  And, each person can take up to 15 pounds of rocks with them!!  So if any of you all get a box of rocks from us you will know we have run out of space to store them!!
RV park at base of Little Florida mountains

Big Florida mountains

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

07 November 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes

So this AM abut mid-AM we finished packing up Lucy and the crew to move on west!!  The day was a bit cloudy, but the sky had a number of bright spots and wind was a gentle breeze vs. the gale of yesterday!  (We have been advised that it was not a gale, but be prepared for one!)

We enjoyed most of our stay at Holloman AFB and I got several good days of carving in on my Trikke on some base trails out into the desert!  But, it was time to leave.
Our NATO partner at Holloman AFB

The NATO Strike fighter in training at Holloman AFB

We headed west on US 70 from Holloman AFB, passed White Sands National Monument, then White Sands Missile Test Range Headquarters and finally went up a moderate grade at the south end of the San Andreus Mountain Range and crossed into the next basin and Las Cruses, NM.  Road was good all the way, 4-lane highway with good surface.

In Las Cruses we ran into I-25 and headed south for a short while and exited on University Blvd continuing west.  We stopped at a Jo-Ann Fabric store for BJ to pick up some material for the quilt of valor she is making for a wounded warrior project.  Then we continued west until we got to I-10 and stopped there and parked the RV and took the Jeep south a short way to Messilla, NM which is an old town where they have tried to preserve some of the old New Mexican flavor of a town.  Had some art galleries and a market in the town square.  We enjoyed if for a while and learned from one of the art gallery operators of a restaurant out of the tourist area that served good food.

The market square at Messilla

How right she was.  We had a fabulous lunch at Los Mariachis just south of Messilla on NM 28.  Highly recommended by us!

Then we headed back to Lucy and got back on I-10 headed west.  The sky had cleared and sun was bright and traffic was light!  We decided to head for Rockhound State Park just south of Deming, NM.  Sun was warming us up as we headed west.  Several miles before Deming we turned south for about 5 miles to get to the park which is between the Little Florida and Big Florida mountain ranges!  However, out here they pronounce it Flo-ree' da!
Big Florida Mountain Range!

Little Florida Mountains behind the RV Park!

We are nestled into a nice camping spot at the base of the Little Florida range looking at the Big Florida range across the valley.  Lots of hiking opportunities here and we plan onstaying until Wednesday afternoon 

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

06 November 2011

Is this normal??

It is 9 PM in the Keys and it is 72 degrees!  Here we are in Alamogordo in south NM and wind blowing like hell and the warmest it was today was at sunrise at 63 degrees.

So, we say, lets move, that is why we are in an RV.  We are heading west to AZ for the winter, so we check weather in Tucson, it is colder for the next 4 days there then here!  Well, OK we say Phoenix is warmer, because it is lower.  We have been above 4000 ft, substantially higher much of the time, so have figured that was reason it has been so cool COLD!  Phoenix is barely 1000 ft so we figured it would be warmer - NOT! 

A - Ice fishing hut in southern NM!

B - snapper catching in Mangrove Creek
So we are trying to deceide which of these two places do we belong??
A or B??

The is is the first time in many years we have not spent part of the Winter in the Keys and it may very well be the last time we are not there!!  Alaska is looking less desirable this summer as they probably think this is good weather up there!!

Always at home, no matter where we are!!