Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Last Leg

Someone lost a boot
in Cheyenne!
The last leg of our trip was pretty uneventful.  This leg took us through Cheyenne, Wyoming then on to Lincoln, Nebraska and finally home.  We had taken this route to avoid the snow on the southern routes and that strategy worked pretty well.  However, as we traveled eastward we knew that we were following in the storm’s footsteps.

In Central Nebraska we started seeing huge flocks of birds flying north.  Not only that, we were seeing huge flocks of large birds on land.  Thousands and thousands of large gray birds.  Turkeys?  No….not dark enough.  Geese?  Maybe, but we could see flocks of geese and these birds didn’t have any white on them.  Finally, we couldn’t take the mystery any more.  Mona pulled the car onto an exit and I jumped out with the camera.  I startled the birds and they stood up.  Much to my surprise they were almost 4 feet tall…..cranes!  BIG cranes!

You can barely see the cranes.  (I've got to get a new camera and go back!)
Just down the road we pulled into the parking lot of The Crane Trust.  In there we learned that these birds are sandhill cranes and there are about 150,000 of them in the Central Nebraska area right now, with about 500,000 more on the way.  This happens every year as the cranes migrate from the tropics to the far north.  This has been happening for thousands, if not millions of years.  And here we just found out about it!  (Here’s a link to more information:

LOTS of birds!
Also, we learned that Nebraska is a great place for bird-watching in general.  It’s on the migration path for whooping cranes, 36 species of shorebirds, eagles, hawks and lots of other birds.  Over 450 species of birds have been identified in Nebraska over the four seasons, making it one of the best bird-watching spots in this part of the world.  I’m ready to go back!  Just need a little better camera next time….still need to get that Olympus that Pete recommended!!!!

Soon after we visited the cranes we started seeing lots of snow….and lots of cars in the ditches….some of them in pieces.  We were now on the heels of the snow storm.   We stayed the night in Lincoln, Nebraska, hoping to let the storm get ahead of us.  The parking lots and roads of Lincoln still needed plowing making this the first place on this trip where we had to slog through snow.    (Even though there was 4 feet of snow in Tahoe, it had already been plowed.)  (Oops, forgot about Oklahoma on the way out!)

The next day was the last segment of our drive.  Again, there were lots of cars and trucks in the ditches…most had been there a day or two.  We drove on with a keen eye on the weather map and doing a good job of lagging behind the storm.  We had a few spots of flurries, but nothing significant until Clinton, Illinois.  There we encountered fierce blizzard conditions….snow blowing horizontally and near white-out conditions.  Luckily, that lasted only five minutes and we were in the clear once again!

We got home Tuesday evening having logged about 5500 miles.  Now, it’s time to stay home and catch up with everyone.  The flowers are starting to push through the snow and I can’t wait to see the new blooms!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Road Stories

We had planned on visiting the Redwood National Park, but at the last minute changed our plans and spent a little extra time in Monterey.  Pretty sure the Redwoods will hang around another year or so for us to visit.

100 Miles of Fruit Trees
We took Route 156/152 across country to catch I 5.  Along the way we saw some strange cows….turned and looked a little closer and discovered they were elk standing beside the road and apparently counting cars.  Speaking of cows… Mona observed that cows seldom run.  She asked if I knew why.  “No…do you?”  “Of course I do,” she said, “It’s because they run so funny and everyone laughs when they do.”  Can’t argue with that!

At Lake Tahoe
We soon entered the Joaquin Valley….this is home to huge farms and orchards.  There is mile after mile of blooming trees of different shades of pinks and whites.  I've never seen so many fruit trees.  At a rest area we learned that this area provides 25% of America’s produce....amazing!

A few hours later we were in Lake Tahoe.  Beautiful aqua blue lake surrounded by mountains and snow.  There seemed to be thousands of skiers in the area…most walking along the road.  Not sure where their skis went! After Tahoe we cruised through Reno for a while and grabbed a bite before tackling the rest of Nevada.

Nevada's I 80
Nevada goes a long long long way on I 80 with basically the same scenery: mountains, snow, scrub and the same things again.  The nice thing is the speed limit is 75.  The bad thing was we had a stalker….in a blue Dodge pickup.  He’d pull up alongside us, cruise there for a few miles….then back off a few miles.  A little while later he’d zoom back up and pull up beside us.  That cycle repeated for over 150 miles.   Made me wish we had brought a little more firepower than a walking stick.  Finally, he pulled off the highway about 100 miles before our turnoff.  Big Relief!!!

Did you know that on I 80 in Nevada there is a town named Oreana?  And just a ways further down the road is Argenta.  Did not know that till this drive.

Mona and I were talking about the sights in Nevada…she said, “They were far and few between.”  Profound!  (You get a little loopy on I 80 so everything seems funny….too bad we didn’t see any cows running!)

Driving across a portion of The Great Salt Lake
At last, we reached the Bonneville Flats and then the Great Salt Lake.  Finally, different scenery!  Then after Salt Lake City we turned into the mountains.  Saw two bald eagles almost immediately and soon after started seeing elk, wild horses, antelope and deer.  Hundreds of antelope and deer!

Landed in Rawlins, Wyoming for the night.  Did a little geocaching and found two very unusual cemetery caches.  The first was at an old prison cemetery.  Here are the graves of the “Unclaimed”, prisoners whose families didn’t claim them.  All that is there are some simple stones with just names on them and a board outside showing their birthdays and the date they died or were executed. 

If you look closely you can see the deer deck.
While heading to the second cache we startled eight deer in the cemetery.  They crossed the street in front of us and went to a yard where three of them got up on the house’s deck.  Too funny!

The second cache took you to two gravestones and asked you how these people came to be here.  We read the stones and found that both had been killed while pursuing train robbers on August 19, 1978.  From this cache we learned about Big Nose George Parrot, the Outlaw Who Grew to Be A Shoe. ( It’s amazing what you see/learn from geocaching!

More driving tomorrow…..can’t wait to see what’s on the road ahead!

Friday, March 8, 2013


Frankly, this trip has been a little disappointing when it comes to wildlife.  Yes, we've seen a couple of golden eagles, plenty of hawks and lots of lizards, but we haven’t seen anything new, nor any of the “special” animals.  Can’t tell you how many hikes we took trying to find bighorns, desert turtles or even a mountain lion or two. Nothing. However, today was targeted to be the day that changed all that.

Deer Crossing
We started our day by climbing on some rocks at the beach near Cannery Row.  There, our luck started to change as we spotted six or seven sea otters about 200 feet off shore.  Neither of us has ever seen one of these and we were thrilled to watch them float on their backs and break open their shellfish.  Although they were at binocular distance we could still clearly see what they were doing.

It was getting close to time to depart for our whale watching cruise so we tore ourselves away from the otters and headed to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We found a place to turn around and all of a sudden two deer were right there at our car!  They were grazing on the flowers in a yard in an ocean-side home.  They were a bit startled to see us and ran off down the road.  Our wildlife was beginning to turn!

Sea Lions
We checked in for our three-hour whale cruise.  They have been seeing whales every day this week and they guaranteed we’d see them today.  Woo hoo!!!!  We pushed off from the dock and immediately we saw hundreds, if not thousands of sea lions.  They were lining the jetty and were sunning on every rock and buoy in the harbor.  (More woo hoos!)

About 15 minutes into the cruise we started seeing dolphins.  Ten, twenty, a hundred, hundreds!!!!  They were everywhere, darting, diving, and even some were jumping totally out of the water!  So  awesome!  The captain said there were well over a thousand dolphins in that pod!  We stayed with them for over a half hour and every person on board that boat was full of smiles!

I was standing on the front of the boat near the captain’s window.  I asked him if the dolphins were a good sign that we were going to see whales.  He said that it didn’t look good for whales because the weather was getting rough.   He said he was still going to try to get us out far enough to see whales, but things were pretty iffy.

Sure enough, the weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was tossed!  It really was a wild ride as we plowed through the 6 and 7 foot waves.  We’d hit a trough and could see the water above the boat.  Then the boat would crash to the top of the wave and it looked like we were thirty feet above the sea.  The captain made us all sit down and hold on.  He didn’t need to tell us twice!

After about thirty minutes the captain called it quits….we were heading back with no whale siting.  Oh well, better to be safe…right?  Well anyway, they followed up on their guarantee by giving us rain checks that never expire.  That means we have to come back!!!! 

We got our land legs back and decided to head to Moss Landing.  We heard that was a good place to see otters.  It’s about a twenty minute drive north of Monterey, but it’s worth it!  There were about 18 – 20 otters eating and playing in the channel.  One of them stayed about 15 feet away from us….showing off I think!  Mona named him “Otto” and tried to coax him into our car.  Thankfully, without success!  We must have taken a hundred pictures of otters and Otto….lucky for you we’ll only post a couple.

17 Mile Road
Last up for the day was the 17 Mile Road…mile after mile of beautiful coastline and incredible views.  We ended up at the Pebble Beach Lodge where we had a glass of wine while watching golfers finish up on the 18th hole.  You know watching golf is our thing!

We definitely had a great wildlife day.  Over a thousand dolphins, hundreds of sea lions, probably a hundred seals and about 30 sea otters.  Not to mention the seagulls, pelicans, and oyster-divers.  Love days like this!

P.S.  Thanks MNA for your Monterey recommendations!

Big Sur

Male seal and some of his females

Thursday morning we headed north towards Monterey.  Just an hour after we left Palm Springs we started encountering LA traffic.  And….that traffic continued for the next four hours as we wove our way through downtown LA, past Hollywood and on to Oxnard.  Sometimes going slow through LA isn’t bad as there are lots of sights to see!

Finally, we broke through and made our way to San Luis Obispo.  From there we quickly got on Highway 1 and headed north along the coast.  Shortly after we got started we had to stop….saw this sign that said, “Elephant Seal Viewing Area” and we couldn’t pass that by!  Before we got to the seals we first had to deal with a couple of aggressive squirrels.  They were cute, but they were insistent that we give them food, money or something!

Mona enjoys the view with a friend
Finally made our way to the cliff and looked down.  There were hundreds of huge seals!  The females weigh in at 1600 pounds and the males top 5000 pounds!  They come to shore twice a year…once to breed and once to birth.  This was the birthing season, but we didn't see any little ones.  Just seal after seal after seal…..laying on the beach and enjoying the sounds of the surf.

The Road Ahead
Big Sur is about 90 miles of rocks, trees, surf and twisting roads.  It seems as though every mile has yet another breath-taking view.  Mona drove the entire stretch so I could take pictures….and I couldn’t take enough! Couldn't tell you how many times we pulled over to check out the views.  We'd pull over, hop out, and do our "ooos" and "ahhhhs" and then hop back in and continue north.  It takes a long time to drive this highway just because of all the stops.  

Not everything is pretty on Big Sur!
One bit of advice for anyone taking this route:  Fill up your tank before you get on Highway 1.  

Finally, the wild and fun ride had to end and we pulled into Monterey.   Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mustang Mona

Mona is a car person., that’s why she drives a Lexus.  When she’s in the valley, she remains a car person but one who is fixated on convertibles.  That’s why I was scanning the internet looking for a deal on renting a convertible…a Mustang preferably.  Most of the “deals” were hundreds of dollars for a couple of days.  I love Mona, but there is a limit!  Finally, I found a real deal…well within my price range and located at the Palm Springs Airport!

Our tail wind doubled the electrical output!
There she goes again!
So, for the past couple of days Mona has been driving a black 2013 Ford Mustang…and loving it! She's had the radio cranked up to the max, listening to all the old car songs, "Little Deuce Coupe",  "Hot Rod Lincoln", "Little Old Lady From Pasadena" (Thanks, Steve), "G.T.O." and of course, "Mustang Sally"...over and and over again!

 We've driven to both ends of the valley at speeds I shudder to recall.  And of course, she had to drive up into the Santa Rosa mountains on Route 74…trying to double the posted limit on the hairpin curves.  My fingers are still cramped from clinging to the dashboard!

We did manage to park the car now and again.  We got some geocaching in….The Marilyn Monroe cache is quite memorable; and we got some hiking in.  Did the 1000 Palms hike and saw a few lizards, but once again no rattlesnakes.  Whew/darn!  And we slowed down enough to link up to have drinks with friends.  Turns out, a friend of ours from IP days (Virginia) is staying here at Shadow Ridge, too.  We linked up with her at The Cork Tree for drinks.  She brought along two of her friends, Betty and Ken, and we had a great evening sharing stories and talking about railroad nails.  (I may have a new hobby!)

Mona is still sleeping at this point, but I think I can hear her Mustang quietly revving up.  I think I should hide the keys!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Polo Day

Usually, we have a hummingbird that visits us every morning.  But this year no hummer.  But we do have an egret that is here each morning.  He’s not quite as cute, but he’ll have to do!  We also have lots of ducks and geese…Mona’s favorite.  Mona likes to sleep till 7:30, nothing wrong with that.  But the geese get up at 7:00 and have quite the conversation outside our unit.    Makes for an “interesting” conversation when Mona grudgingly gets up before her time!

Empire Polo Club From the Field
Sunday was polo day for us.  We had a field-side breakfast at the Eldorado Polo Club.  You get a great meal, awesome bloody Mary’s, a mountain/palm tree view and the horses are within feet of your table.  What a great way to spend a couple of hours on a warm Sunday morning.

Just before noon we headed for the Empire Polo Club.  Here we had reserved seats which were also field-side, but up about ten feet so we could see the entire field.  They were also shaded, which is great in the 85 degree heat, and we had table service. 

I'd come out of retirement for a divot-stomping job!
Here we watched two games of six chukkers (periods) each.  Did you know that each polo player goes through about six ponies in a game?  Also, the vast majority of these ponies are either a thoroughbred/quarter horse mix or thoroughbreds that have been retrained for polo.   These horses hit 35 mph on the field and can stop and turn on a dime. 

One of our favorite things to do is the divot stomp.  They have several during the afternoon, but our absolute favorite is the champagne divot stomp….where you’re handed a glass of champagne and then you stomp divots.  What’s not to love about this sport?!?!

After polo we headed home.  Time to grill some steaks and relax….and watch Walking Dead!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hummers and Rattlers

Morning View

Our first morning in Palm Springs was warm and beautiful.  It was 65 degrees when we went out on the balcony to enjoy our coffee and watch the wildlife.  It’s really peaceful here in the mornings. 
At Least 3 Hummers In this Pcs

One of our “must-dos” in Palm Springs is visiting the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons.  We first like to go up to the Trading Post to visit the hummingbirds and check on local conditions.  You can see six different species of hummingbirds here in the Coachella Valley, none of which can been found back home.  And, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird from back home is never found here.

Now that we’ve learned about energy vortexes in Sedona, we’re convinced that Andreas Canyon must also be a vortex.  It’s been visited by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for about 2000 years and long been considered a spiritual center by them.   Maybe that’s why we like to climb out on a rock in the mountain stream and just “be”.  (If you know me, I can’t just “be”….that’s what Mona does…I read a book.)  Anyway, that’s what we did….climbed out on a rock and spent a couple of hours there.  Then we hiked Murray Canyon.  Feels like home here.

Trailhead Sign at Indian Canyon
One things we love about this area are the different animals here.  We love watching the hummingbirds, lizards, ducks, herons and roadrunners.  One thing you have to keep in mind is that there is a heavy concentration of rattlesnakes in this area.  However, we've been hiking these trails since 1998 and have seen only one rattlesnake....and would have missed it had not Monte said, "What's that?!?!"  (BTW....don't poke them with a stick!)  We don't worry about the snakes, but we do have them in mind as we hike.

Luckily, no rattlesnakes on this visit...just hummingbirds and lizards.  Hoping we'll see a few more critters through the week.  And, we actually wouldn't mind seeing a rattlesnake, provided it's at least five or six feet away!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jerome and Beyond

We finally found a good WiFi spot…at the home of the turquoise arches.  Golden arches didn't fit into Sedona’s color palette so they had to go with turquoise.  It’s very odd!

We began Wednesday with a trip to Jerome.  Jerome is a ghost town clinging to the side of a mountain on the south side of the Verde Canyon.  In its heyday, Jerome had 15,000 residents and was the third largest city in Arizona.  Now, it’s home to 400 people, primarily artists, craftsmen and those who cater to tourists.

Looking 1900 feet down a mine shaft
 Our first stop was an abandoned headframe….the structure which is erected over the mine shaft and which is used to lower miners down the shaft and hoist ore and miners back up.  There was a grate over the shaft allowing us to peer down 1900 feet…or at least as far as one could see.  Can’t imagine being lowered in a cage down into that abyss!
How would you like to go down 1900
feet in this cage..every day?

Next up was a visit to Jerome Historic State Park which is housed in one of the world’s largest adobe structures.  In here is a collection of ores, photos and memorabilia of the mine’s past glories.  Here you learn that over 500 billion tons of ore were removed from these mines, resulting in over one billion dollars worth of copper, gold, silver and zinc.  They also show a very cool movie of the town’s history, narrated by a ghost in a strange looking cemetery.

Copper Ore
The ghost town now has twenty or so shops selling souvenirs and minerals, along with several restaurants, including the Asylum which is a part of the Jerome Grand Hotel.  The hotel is actually a converted hospital which had a mental ward.  They routinely have ghost hunts here….and they find them.  What gave me the most goosebumps was the journal at the front desk.  In this book, guests write down their nighttime “experiences”.  In just the past few weeks:  a woman saw a floating head in her room; another woman had experiences “which persuaded” her and she asked for a different room; several heard voices….and on and on.  We want to go back and spend a couple of nights in that hotel!
Jerome Cemetery

On our way out of town we decided to find a geocache at the cemetery featured in the movie from the State Park.  From this cemetery you could see the mountains at Flagstaff over 50 miles away…beautiful view, but the graves were very, very different.  Each was enclosed with an iron “fence” and had stones piled on the grave.  Some of the fences looked like bed frames, but others were very ornate...but still with the stones.

Mona at her Vortex Tree
We finished up the day with a climb to the top of a butte near the Sedona airport.  This butte is considered to be another vortex spot and Mona quickly found her vortex tree to sit beside.  Views from up here were incredible!  And for the record, Mona climbs up these rocks like a mountain goat!  Me…not.  Could be because of my fall off that dam so many years ago but more likely, because of the three falls I’ve had these past twelve months!  I haven’t broken any bones in almost 36 months and I want to keep it that way!

Mona Sketching at Oak Creek
Thursday, we decided to revisit our favorite spot below Cathedral Rock.  We packed a picnic lunch and wine and set out down the trail.  After a couple of miles we came to our spot on Oak Creek Canyon and much to our surprise our little Buddha stack was still there!  We spread a blanket alongside the creek and dined al fresco.  We spent several hours here…listening to the rushing water, Mona sketching, and me…just soaking up the vortex energy.  (I needed the recharge since I was the one carrying the pack!)  It struck our minds that we could have been working…nah….this was what we were meant to do!

Back to the International Film Festival for the evening.  We were surprised to find out that a short film was to be presented before the film we had paid for.  Turns out, we were attending a world premiere of a movie short titled “Remember to Breathe” starring Lee Meriwether and Susan Blakely.  After the movie they had a panel discussion with the producer, director, Lee Meriwether and Susan Blakely.  So cool!  On top of that, they presented Lee Meriwether with a surprise lifetime achievement award.  She got a standing ovation.  Now we’re going to have to watch the original Batman movie to see Lee Meriwether as Catwoman.

We Love Cathedral Rock!
Our last film from the festival was “Woman from the 5th”.  This one was set in Paris and starred Ethan Hawke.  Mixture of French, English and Polish…murder, sexual intrigue, insanity…it was the perfect movie for an international film festival!

Friday, we headed for Palm Springs.  It was just six hours from Sedona, but a climate or two away.  We left Sedona at 34 degrees and arrived in Palm Springs at 89 degrees!  Our first stop, of course, was Blue Coyote.  It’s been a year since we’ve had their incredible margaritas.  Once again I asked for their recipe but as always, the bartender pleaded ignorance.  Also, as usual, Mona couldn't drive after only one.

We enjoyed an evening stroll to the clubhouse to see an illusionist show.  Then strolled back to enjoy a star-filled sky.  Beautifully warm!

Best of all, we now have high speed WiFi and 4G everywhere we go.  Mona is happy…thus, I am happy!