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September 29th 2020
Published: September 29th 2020
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9-28-2018 (Friday)

3:20 a.m. Rise and shine! We got about 3 hours of sleep. The planning is over and the last minute packing is completed. We have a taxi scheduled for a 4:15 pickup. Where is he? And why is he running late? So, I called him... and again... and again. We just had to leave at 4:45 and drive ourselves to the airport. Will park it; and leave the key in the side pocket. I will call Bethany later and have her retrieve it for me. I certainly don't want to pay for 15 days at the airport parking lot.

We arrived at the airport at 5:00 and have an easy check-in at the American Airlines desk. Plus, we received the TSA Pre-Check ticket. Since we did not have to take off our shoes, security check-in was easy.

I could just tell that something was wrong. Indeed, an announcement was made about a maintenance issue. So we all continued to wait. Finally we boarded the plane for our 6:01 scheduled flight. Our Dallas-Ft. Worth TX flight left at 7:01. Was not expecting a one hour delay. Very glad there was a scheduled 2 hour & 6 minute layover in Texas.

Our pilot flew a little faster than normal. I was happily napping when jolted awake as we landed at DFW at 8:30. We took the Sky-Link to Terminal A. With a gate change, our flight to Tucson changed from 10 until 10:15. There was lots of brown, flat land in west Texas. With a window seat, I enjoyed the mountain scenery in New Mexico and Arizona. Daylight Savings Time is not observed in Arizona, so it is essentially Pacific Time (2 hours behind Central Time). I loved the rugged Rincon Mountain beauty as we approached Tucson. Janet and I have made two previous trips here, to visit her aunt and uncle. Hello Arizona as we landed at 10:15.

Our luggage arrives... a good start in AZ. A shuttle bus takes us 2-3 blocks to the Thrifty Car Rental Center. We have a Nissan Rouge with CA license plates. We drove to a Carl's Jr. for burgers around noon. Now it's time to set the GPS for Saguaro National Park... the East side. Original preservation plans began in 1928. It was designated a national park in 1994. There is an eight-mile loop to slowly travel. I think we stopped at every scenic overlook. We saw lizards, butterflies, birds and what seemed like thousands of the majestic saguaro cactus. In fact, there are 25 different species of cactus in the park. We enjoyed the interpretive signs and markers. I went for a short walk on the Desert Ecology Trail. A sign there said “Welcome to the Neighborhood.” It ended with “please be our guest for this short walk and discover for yourself just how similar our desert community is to your own hometown.” A little ahead was the Cactus Forest Trail. Such beautiful, yet rugged scenery, with the Rincon Mountains in the distance. Finally, at the Visitor Center, we watched an informative 15 minute video. Saw a sign that designated Tucson as the “lightning capital” of the U.S.A. As we left the park, I saw another sign. I had to stop and get a photo of an “Open Range” sign. And we heard cattle mooing nearby.

We check into our Super 8 hotel. Janet called her mom. I called Bethany and she successfully retrieved our car from the airport. Across the street from us was the Kettle Restaurant with a buffet for dinner. Delicious... We watched just a little television and wow, we're in bed by 8:30.

9-29-18 (Saturday)

I woke up about 7:00 and go fetch a cup of coffee for Janet. I then head downstairs for a small breakfast of oatmeal, chocolate milk and apple juice. A Waffle House is located adjacent to the Super 8 and was calling our name. Now it is time to sit down for Texas bacon, egg and cheese melt with hash browns. Hola! I spoke to a 4 year old Hispanic boy behind me. Well, he wanted me to take a photo of him, then tried to pay me with a 50 Peso bill. Ah, the innocence of youth!

Several blocks later, we found a drug store to purchase some cosmetics. Seems like Janet's packed cosmetic bag was left in Mobile. As we drove back on West Star Pass Blvd. there was a walk-a-thon taking place. Hundreds of dedicated walkers. A short while later, we received good directions for our next destination. Today we'll spend most of the day at the Sonoran Desert Museum, located near the west part of Saguaro N.P. Check out

There is some petrified wood near the entrance, roughly 200 millions years old. With Janet having foot surgery next month, she was in need of a wheel chair. There are eleven exhibits in all. This is a world class zoo, botanical garden and natural history museum... It is mostly outdoors with a mile and a-half of paths to be explored. Our first stop was at the Hummingbird Aviary. The Sonoran Desert region is home to more species of hummingbirds than any area in the U.S.A. I tried my best to get a photo of every species of hummingbird in there. I came close. They are so fast, as I try to shoot them with camera and video... but I tried. I smiled when I saw the luxury high-rise bee condos. A sign showed 11 different species of bees that make their homes here. There is a large population of moths, but they are mostly nocturnal.

The Life Underground hall featured a ringtail (from the raccoon family), kit fox (with large ears) and other burrowing animals. Desert animals must retreat from temperature and humidity extremes. The current outside air temperature is now 107 degrees!

An animal show begins at 12:15 and we get good seats. Four of their “star” animals came out, one at a time and entertained a large crowd. There was a snake named Eve; a skunk named Chanel; a grey fox named Jamie; and a vulture named Elvira. A few of us went down front and got to touch the snake... Of course I did.

Next up for us was the Walk-in Aviary. There are 20+ species of native birds here. There are wrens, cardinals, quail, ducks, woodpeckers, doves and my favorite, roadrunners.

As it is now lunchtime, we take our seats at the Ocotillo Cafe. We were able to get a window table with beautiful views of cacti and mountains. This seemed like a perfect place for an appetizer dish of cactus fries. Janet ordered a burger, while I had a Chicken Azteca Bowl.

Our next stop is at the Reptile, Amphibian and Invertebrates Hall. In this climate controlled gallery, we got close to frogs, rattlesnakes, lizards, gila monsters, black scorpion, Hercules beetle, chuckwalla, a Mexican tarantula spider and a rattlesnake with its mouth wide open!

We could view mountains 40 miles in the distance as we went to the Earth Center. There is a replica limestone cave. There is a collection of minerals and Janet was thrilled with the Arizona gemstones.

Ancient Arizona was next. This exhibit helps you explore prehistoric Arizona. And we got to read about the museum's own dinosaur- Sonorasaurus!

The Cat Canyon was next for us. There was a mountain lion, bobcats, a grey fox, and an ocelot... in their natural settings.

Next up was the Desert Grassland. It has a variety of desert grasses and yucca trees. We saw desert shrubs and succulent plants. For our viewing entertainment we saw prairie dogs, road runners, screech owl, vultures, heron and more snakes.

Now we're off to the Mountain Woodland. This Mexican Pine-Oak woodland habitat features mule deer, porcupine, Mexican gray wolves, mountain lion, and pretty parrots. Lucky for us, it was feeding time for the Black bear.

We finished this trip with a visit to the Warden Aquarium. There are two galleries featuring fresh and salt water species, including those from the Gulf of California. We saw frogs, garden eels that sway in the gentle current. It was fascinating to see about 20 of them “standing up” with the tail section buried in the sand. There were also porcupine fish and a moray eel.

The gift shop had a nice selection of souvenirs. As we were leaving, we saw our first crested saguaro cactus. This has been an amazing six hours.

Back to our hotel and I watched some college football. Janet's cousin, Pamela, called and we plan on meeting her tomorrow. I get into my swimsuit and went to the pool. With the temperature reaching 102 degrees today, I'm very surprised that the pool water is so cold. So, I spent most of my time in the hot-tub. For supper I finish the leftover hamburger and cactus fries. I catch up on my travel diary and we're in bed at 9:30.

September 30, 2018 (Sunday)

I woke up a few minutes before the 7:30 wake-up call. I brought some coffee to Janet, then go back for a little breakfast. We check out of our Super 8 hotel and will drive to the Phoenix / Glendale area.

We saw much fewer saguaro cacti on our two hour drive northwards. Today is “family day”. It has been nine years since our last visit with Janet's Uncle Ted and her cousin, Pamela. It feels like I have hit the jackpot: lunch at the Cheesecake Factory! There's chicken pot pie for my wife; while I had parmesan herb crusted chicken w/ mashed potatoes and green beans. Dessert of course... original cheesecake for Janet and the dulce de leche cheesecake for me.

We drove back to the Orchard Pointe senior apartments, where Uncle Ted lives. A few minutes later a one hour worship service began. It was provided by Temple Beit Cadash, which is a Messianic Jewish Synagogue. There was guitar playing, songs and traditional dancing. Very worthwhile. So enjoyable.

Janet and I were able to visit for an hour afterwards, catching up on old times. We have visited him on previous trips in 1989, 1993 and 2009 and then again today.

We left Glendale about 4:30. After 2 and ½ hours on I-10 we pass the California state line. I flew into San Jose 38 years ago, for a four day visit with my father. This is Janet's first trip to the Golden State... and my second.

In the city of Blythe, we stopped for supper. Then 90 minutes later, we reach the Rodeway Inn in Indio, CA. After six hours of driving today, we are ready for some sleep. In bed at 10:30.

October 1, 2018 (Monday)

Up at 7:30 and I go retrieve coffee and a pastry for Janet. I go back to the dining area and have a hard-boiled egg, granola bar and a Capri sun. We checkout and leave the hotel about 9:15. Our trip today takes us to the Joshua Tree National Park.

We drive east about 25 miles on I-10, backtracking from last night. Of course, we took the obligatory photos of the National Park sign. One mile inside the park boundary, we decided to hike on the Bajada Nature Trail. A bajada is a slope at a mountain's base and is formed from eroded sand or gravel. This was a short, maybe half-mile trail. I took photos of the interpretive signs. We are know well informed about brittlebush, creosote, ironwood, ocotillo, palo verde, dry washes, chuparosa, indigo bushes and deadwood. Sitting on a bench, I could see vehicles on Interstate-10, about 8 miles in the distance. Such a different pace, we have now embarked on. One sign about Viewing Desert Life read “When deserts are sought... understanding and appreciation grow.”

After showing my Senior National Park pass at the visitor center, we bought a few shirts, a cap and a souvenir magnet. Here in the south and eastern part of the park, we are in the Colorado Desert. This is the driest and hottest North American Desert. Later we'll drive to the north and western part, which is the Mojave Desert. And soon we park at the entrance to the Cottonwood Springs trail. There was an eye

opening sign: “Don't Die Today... Hike Safely... Drink Plenty of Water.” I walked along the trail for a few minutes. A sign told of two bedrock mortars, created by the Cahuilla Indians. These deep holes were worn away into the granite bedrock. The Indian women pounded mesquite and other seeds into flour, to feed their families.

Our next stop was a desert wash. A “wash” is a river of sand in the midst of a desert flat. Just off the nice paved road was a fork in the road. One led to the Old Dale Mining District; while the other led to Black Eagle Mine. The chase for gold began here in the 1880s. A 4-wheel drive is necessary. I liked a nearby sign called Only A Visitor: From here, for as far as the eye can see is “designated wilderness.” What makes this place so special? Vastness... solitude... wildness... and challenge!

In the Pinto Basin, archaeologists had discovered thousands of artifacts in the 1930s. These 9000 year old pieces of history confirmed the existence of a vanished people – the Pinto Culture.

One of our favorite spots was the Cholla Cactus Garden. There were thousands of cacti here; and were concentrated in a small area. We enjoyed the beautiful ¼ mile hiking trail through this section of cholla.

The Silver Bell Mine ruins were visible from a parking lot. Gold, lead and copper had been mined here. Another sign let us know that two deserts meet here. The higher elevation, cooler Mojave Desert is marked by yuccas, especially the Joshua tree. The lower, hotter Colorado Desert is a subdivision of the Sonoran Desert; and it has creosate, ironwood and ocotillo.

We were quite impressed with jumbo sized rocks. They seem to have been spit out of the earth. And they seemed to be everywhere. Another quick stop was to see the Skull Rock.

The Geology Tour road was up ahead. I had seen several videos of this 18 mile tour road. Rocks are the records geologists read to inform us of the 1.8 billion year history in this park area. Unfortunately, a 4 wheel drive vehicle is required.

Bighorn sheep live in this rocky mountain range. Actually, up to 250 of these desert bighorn sheep live in the area; but we did not see any today. And yes, we stopped at almost every one of the interpretive signs.

We left this amazing park around 4 p.m. About 10 miles down the road, 29 Palms Hwy., we arrived at the America's Best Value Inn in Yucca Valley. After checking in, we walked over to the pool. The walls surrounding the hotel are painted with pretty murals of the local area. And I loved the landscaping with cacti and joshua trees.

Not far down the main street we found El Guero Mexican Restaurant. Janet ordered the chili verde. I had the manyjucety con carne asada. There was beef with cactus strips, cheese, onions and one large green pepper. Very hot... but so good! Back to the hotel and I found the hot tub.

Our dessert (?) tonight was prickly pear honey caramels. Hey, we're on vacation. Janet went to bed early this evening. I went back to the hot tub for a little while, after finishing the daily diary. I chatted with a couple from MN. We're all keeping an eye on the weather, as Pacific Hurricane Rosa could cause flash flooding in southeast CA. Mexican leftovers for supper. In bed by 10:00.

October 2, 2018 (Tuesday)

I'm awake at 7:15. At our breakfast we have pastries, juice, coffee, yogurt, banana, oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. A commercial on t.v. was about earthquake insurance. We don't have commercials like this in Alabama.

After checking out at 9:30 we drive through a few neighborhoods. Most of these houses are perched high atop jumbo rocky lots. It probably is, but the land does not look stable enough for us. We then have a pleasant 90 minute drive through the countryside. Going through mountainous areas, there were houses 2-3 miles off the main road. Just amazed that people lived out there.

We arrive in the city of Barstow about lunchtime. We visit the Red Baron Pizza Parlor, where Janet gets a mini pizza. I ordered the ½ spaghetti and ½ ravioli plate. There will be plenty of leftovers for supper tonight. Leaving town we passed a Walmart, that was landscaped with dozens of palm trees. It was a very pretty setting.

Next up today is a visit to a ghost town: Calico. It was another old west mining town. With 500 mines, it has been restored to its former days.. The little town was born in 1881. There were 1200 residents by 1887. By the time the last mine closed, Calico had produced $45 million in borax and $86 million in silver. Calico was pretty much a ghost town by 1896. It was restored in 1951 by Walter Knott (Knott's Berry Farm). There are over 30 buildings standing today. A railroad car slowly makes its way through the town, visiting outlying mines. Janet and I decided to go down in one of the old mines. Maggie's Mine Tour is the only safe mine for the public to visit. And we could go at our own pace. That was eye-opening. We really do take modern luxuries for granted. We strolled through several shops... and picked up several souvenirs at the Fossils and Minerals store. And for more entertainment (and $3 apiece), we each got to pan for gold. We found about 40 nuggets of fool's gold. Fun! This has been a delightful 3 hours.

Back onto the interstate and we see a sign for: Peggy Sue's 50's Diner. Janet had seen that televised on one of the food channels. We'll just have to come back on another visit. We are on I-15 heading north toward Las Vegas. At Baker we exit into the Mojave Desert Preserve. There are no buildings for 34 miles, until we finally reached the Visitor Center about 5:30. Hey, the sign indicates the center is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. It's located at the train depot, in the old abandoned town of Kelso. Union Pacific closed the Kelso depot in 1985. It wasn't until 2005 that the train depot became the visitor center.

Right before leaving, a train came by. Heading back 34 miles we noticed Cinder Cones and lava beds. We were able to see a beautiful California sunset. Back at Baker there is a light rain. We will be on Hwy. 127 for about 55 miles. We saw only one car behind us the entire time. And only 7 vehicles passed us heading southbound. This is a very desolate road! We arrive at the town of Shoshone. We'll be at the only hotel in town, the Shoshone Inn. The sign: Population 31 got my attention. It needs to be updated to 13... yes, thirteen!

I went swimming in the nearby pool, which is fed by hot springs. The water temperature is 89 degrees year-round. After 5 minutes, I had the pool to myself. After a lot of driving today, this was so relaxing, swimming under the stars.

The famous Crowbar Cafe and Saloon is across the street from our inn. I got turkey noodle soup for Janet. I chose a ravioli and spaghetti combo. In front of the inn is a small park. There is a plaque with a Robert Frost poem upon it. I got to read “The Road Not Taken.” The last stanza concludes with the line “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I'm in bed by 11:15.

October 3, 2018 (Wednesday)

I awake about 6:30 and and walked across the road. I was able to get some great sunrise photos. I saw a rabbit before going to the back side of the inn. There is a Tortoise enclosure. Two ground tortoises were there, just sunning themselves. I got us some juice and do-nuts for breakfast. After we check out, we drive past a wetlands restoration project. A sign indicates there have been 225 species of birds seen in this Shoshone area. Passing by the pool I swam in last night, I look way up at the top of a mountain. White rocks spell out “D V”... for Death Valley. A 30 minute drive takes us to Death Valley Junction. Got to see the location of the Amargosa Opera House. I had seen beautiful refurbished photos of the interior, and hoped it would be open. Alas, it was closed today.

Surprise, there are no gasoline stations here, so we have to drive 7 miles to the state line. Well, now we have another 16 miles to a gasoline station. That won't happen again. Not a total waste of an hour, as I was able to photograph the California and Nevada state signs. There was another photo op at the World's Largest Firecracker at Alamo Fireworks.

Okay, it's time to see Death Valley National Park. Our first stop was Dante's View. Standing on the spine of the Black Mountains, we look across the valley. The Panamint Range is 20 miles away. Wow! I kept repeating the word “amazing” as I looked out upon the vast, salty valley. There were too many clouds today. Otherwise we could have seen the Sierra Nevadas... 100 miles in the distance.

Next for us was to walk around a borax mining site, Old Harmony Borax Works. Borax was described as the White Gold of the Desert. Passed a sign designating we are at Sea Level. Then there was Hell's Gate... a sliver of a pass between two mountains. Then we drove past the Mesquite Sand Dunes. These cover 14 square miles of the wildest part of Death Valley. Hope to walk there tomorrow. At Stovepipe Wells Village we needed a little snack. A sign at the service station caught my eye: Where the Desert Meets the Sky. Zabriskie Point has volcanic badlands and plenty of trails for hikers. Death Valley's most popular trail, the Golden Canyon Trail was next. We took a small stroll through these geologic treasures.

Our upcoming treat was a 9 mile drive through Artist Palette. The colors are just so vibrant, like a kaleidescope! The scenery is so stunning with colors of pink, green, brown, yellow, red, black, etc. We will probably drive thru again tomorrow. Our last stop of the day was at Badwater Basin. There is a small sign on a nearby mountain: SEA LEVEL. Wow, this is the lowest point in North America. It is now dark as we leave the park and travel through Shoshone to Pahrump, NV. In bed about 10 p.m.

October 4, 2018 (Thursday)

I'm up at 6:30 this morning and go get coffee for Janet. Next is a trip to a service station to fill up the gas tank. We're staying for two nights at the Saddle West Casino / Hotel / R.V. Park. We've decided to go downstairs to the Silver Spur. We cannot pass up the All American Breakfast. Buffet. Wonderful!

It is just a 10 mile drive back to the California state line. Then we drove through the Amargosa mountain range again. We entered at the southern edge of the park. Our first stop this morning was the Ashford Mills ruins. Gold ore was brought here from 5 miles away, then crushed. The mill was only in operation for a few years 1914-1915. A local newspaper reported that the Ashland Mill ruins are “conspicuous monuments to disappointment”. Twenty mule team wagons were on display.

A little while later we pass another Sea Level sign. And we are soon walking out upon the salt flats. Crunch, crunch, crunchy! A surveyor mapping this area could not get his mule to drink from this pool. He wrote on his map that the spring had “bad water” and the name stuck. I took a few pictures of the BADWATER BASIN sign. 282 feet below sea level. This is the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere. Some folks must have walked one-half mile out onto the salt flats. Death Valley is also the DRIEST place in North America. Average rainfall is less than two inches each year. Also in July 1913, the hottest temperature in the U.S.A. (possibly the world) was recorded. Hot??? 134 degrees!!!

Passing by Devil's Golf Course, we wanted to get back on Artist Drive. Just loved the rugged beauty of the Artist Palette area. Next up was a trip to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. We bought a few sandwiches and snacks for lunch... plus filled up 4 bottles with cold water. I know that water is the cheapest medicine. But here, water equals life! And the temperature has just reached 100 degrees.

There is a relaxing 40 mile drive north to the Ubehebe Volcanic Crater. It is the largest of many explosion craters in the area. It is right at one-half mile across and 500 feet deep. As we were leaving there was a sign pointing to “The Racetrack.” It is a 2.5 mile long by 0.5 mile wide dry lake-bed. The beauty, silence and solitude of Racetrack Valley is unworldly. It is famous for the mystery of moving stones. Sure wish we had a 4x4 vehicle. I'll just have to watch more Racetrack videos when we get home. Looking up, we saw 2 stealth fighter planes go screaming by! Low flying military aircraft train here daily.

Heading south we stopped at Mesquite Campground, near a stream. I walked down to the mud and saw several tents, but no people. There was a Ranger station a little farther down the road. A sign read “Snake Path Trail”. Janet says we'll pass on that opportunity.

This was our day to take the long road back to Pahrump. There was another ghost town to visit: Rhyolite. As is typical for this area, this was founded as a gold mining town in 1904. The town is named for rhyolite, an igneous rock composed of light colored silicates. It had a population of close to 5000 in 1908. With mines closing, this was pretty much uninhabited by 1920. And then, it became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Very few buildings are left. Still intact, from 1906 is the Bottle House. There are 50,000 glass bottles, held in place by adobe mud. Wow... The former rail station built in 1906 is standing up well. We always enjoy walking around an old ghost town.

As we drove south toward Beatty, a large old sign got our attention: Angel's Ladies Brothel. I had forgotten that prostitution was legal in Nevada. It was located on a 70 acre ranch. Anyway, the business closed down in 2014. I was surprised to see the remains of a small, wrecked airplane at the entrance.

Okay, we've arrived back in Pahrump and decide to visit the Gold Town Casino for dinner... at the Back Porch Cafe. Yum!! We're back in our room by 9 p.m. I head out to the pools. The big one was just too cool for me, in the 72 degree night air. And there were no seats at the jacuzzi. 11 people had squeezed in. I saw 8 stars out there tonight. And I'm in bed by 10:30.

October 5, 2018 (Friday)

I'm up by 7:00 and go get coffee for Janet. And then off to a nearby Walmart. We needed snacks and a camera disc. I've taken lots of photos on this vacation. As I'm packing the car, there are a few German tourists that ask me for directions to Starbucks. I was happy to help them. We left at 9:30 and drive to the stateline. Janet took a few pictures of me at the CA and NV state signs. We drive through Shoshone one last time before passing the DVJ Fine Cannabis Dispensary. We then entered D.V.N.P.

Our first stop this morning was at the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe Indian Reservation. We had a quick visit to the Timbisha Indian Tacos and Hawaiian Shaved Ice shop. A nearby sign read Private Residence beyond this point. There are about 300 people that live on the reservation. It is their ancestral home, so they continue to stay hear.

At the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, I watered 4 shrubs with bottles we had brought from yesterday. I then filled up the bottles with cold water. And picked up a few more snacks. An interesting sign there designated Death Valley as an International Dark Sky Park. We drove past Stovepipe Wells and had to stop at the sand dunes parking lot. Yes, like in Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park, I got to spend a little time here. Then we were in new territory. We crossed a river of sand as we approached the Panamint Mountains.

On the western side of the park is the Father (Padre) Crowley Point. There is a vista overlook area, where we had great views of the Rainbow Canyon. There is black lava, red cinder cones and layer upon layer of volcanic rock. Janet kept talking about how Bethany “needed” to see these mountains.

We finally leave this amazing place and drive south. Up ahead is the ghost town of Ballarat. It was founded in 1897 and named after a city in the heart of gold country in Australia. There is only one business that is open: the Trading Post. Many old buildings in ruins, an abandoned RV park, cars/trucks ruins, disintegrating machinery, and a long forgotten trailer park. There is a catchy sign on an old building: Ballarat Jail-Morgue 1898... And Motel If Vacant. A large sign, set in stone tells the story of this town, that only lived for about 20 years. Also “On Sunday morning at 3 a.m. March 22, 1908, a car in the world's longest race, a Thomas Flyer, arrived in Ballarat. It won the New York to Paris race, covering 13,341 miles in 169 days.” I love the history of these old mining ghost towns. There have now been four ghost towns we saw: Kelso, Calico, Rhyolite and Ballarat. Fun and historic!

It is lunchtime as we arrive in Ridgecrest. Driving around, the name Aloha Hawaiian BBQ and Grill

caught my eye. We got teriyaki steak with rice, macaroni salad, fried fish and sushi. It reminded me that Hawaii is still on the to-do list. As we left, close by was Inyokern. It is touted as the “Sunshine Capitol of America.”

We drove through mountainous country on our way to Bakersfield. We saw acres and acres of solar panels and thousands of giant wind turbines. That looks like the future of our energy production. I kept humming a Dwight Yoakam / Buck Owens song “Streets of Bakersfield.”

The sun has set and we're still driving north. I called our hotel in Three Rivers and arranged to have an envelope with door key left at the office. After driving 7+ hours today, we arrive at the Lazy J Ranch Motel in Three Rivers, California. The room has a fireplace... cute! And there's snacks for supper. In bed by 11:15.

October 6, 2018 (Saturday)

I woke up at 5:30, then woke up Janet. One hour before sunrise, we drove about half-mile down the road. I pulled over and we viewed the stars and constellations. Thousands and thousands of stars in the dark sky. I had never seen Orion in such clarity. Mesmerizing! Then back to bed for a few more hours.

There are 20 rooms at this hotel. And at 8:00 we join several guests for breakfast. There's juice, fruit, coffee, oatmeal, granola bars and pastries. Hey, we're ready to take on the day. There are a few feeders outside the window. And yes, we see a few hummingbirds.

Janet wants to take a quick look at the first five miles of the park. Well, at the lower elevations, we did not view any “trophy” or “treasure” trees. We then drive back out of the park and decided to gas up the vehicle. Wow, $4.05 per gallon. That's the most I've ever paid for gasoline; but this is California. Okay, back to the room for a little while and we're finally ready to see Sequoia National Park!

There must have been 50-60 autos ahead of us. Now it is noon and time to start our adventure. Our first stop is at the Foothills Visitor Center. We then made several overlook stops. At one place, we enjoyed several small waterfalls... by a creek. Janet and I are just in awe over the redwood and sequoia trees. I've never seen such massive trees! And that is why we are here. There are over 8,000 colossal sequoia trees here in the Giant Forest. We're traveling on Generals Highway and our main destination is the General Sherman Tree. It is officially the BIGGEST tree in the world! The tree's girth? 109 feet around, at the ground. It is reported to be 2100 years old and weighs 2.7 million pounds. It is 275 feet high. Hiking down the trail to the General Sherman tree was an humbling experience.

It began to rain on us, before it turned into sleet. And by the time we had retreated to our car, we were covered in small hail, shivering in 38 degree weather. Amazing! Time to head down in elevation to our motel in Three Rivers. It was a pleasant 74 degrees there.

Checking out the motel restaurant directory, we decided upon a trip to the Sequoia Cider Mill. One big hamburger and also an order of enchiladas. And for entertainment, we found an Auburn Tigers vs. Miss. State football game on the television. I was also able to wash one load of clothes at the hotel laundry room. In bed at 10:30.

October 7, 2018 (Sunday)

I awake at 2:20 a.m. and Janet and I drive a short distance to a little roadside pullout. Viewing at least a zillion stars for 20 minutes was mesmerizing! We could see the Milky Way with the naked eye, plus I saw a shooting star! I kept humming a line from the hymn How Great Thou Art... “I see the stars”. Wow, such a treat.

8:00 and we're up again. At the hotel office we grab granola bars and bananas. Stepping outside, I'm pleased to see 5 ruby-throated hummingbirds, with mountains in the background. There is a pasture outback, with several sheep. I chat with a retired firefighter. Her daughter was married in the great outdoors just yesterday. I was able to call my dad in AL.

Today we got in a much longer line for re-entry into the park. The first stop was at Tunnel Rock. The next highlight was hiking back to the General Sherman tree. Once again, this is the largest tree in the world. Wow! Hiking around these ancient sequoia, there was a smell of fresh air all around us. And there was snow on the ground.

A little while later, we stopped at the Lodgepole Visitor Center. I always enjoy watching the short movie. And I bought a few souvenir books. Lunchtime and we got a large hamburger and also a vegan burger. Leaving Sequoia N.P. We now enter the Sequoia National Forest. A sign with mountains, blue sky and trees caught my eye: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” ( Haida Indian saying).

Now we enter another special place on this vacation: Kings Canyon National Park. This is my 24th national park out of 59 total national parks. This was our country's 3rd national park (after Yellowstone and Sequoia). Yes, we plan on seeing many, many more. These past few days have brought us close to magnificent mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, the worlds largest trees and a vast wilderness that is difficult to describe.

Grant Grove was our first stop here. There's a one-half mile loop trail around the General Grant tree. It is one of the top 5 largest trees in the world. We'll come back tomorrow so Janet can hike it with me.

There is a 33 mile drive ahead of us to the Cedar Grove Lodge. We arrived about 6:30. It gets dark in a hurry, after sunset. Opening our room window, after checking in, we hear the roar of the Kings River. This place is awesome! There is a microwave oven in the room and I have teriyaki chicken leftovers from a few days ago. Mucho mango fruit juice and a honey-bun complete my meal. There is no television, no cell phone service, and no internet. We are truly deep in the canyon and forest!!

We go downstairs to the main floor and find snacks and souvenirs. There are two books we need for our collection: Sequoia and Kings Canyon - Nature's Continuing Story and Sequoia and Kings Canyon-The Story Behind the Scenery. They each contain beautiful photos! Scanning through one, Kings Canyon can claim to be the deepest canyon in the U.S.A., at 8200 feet. I catch up on the diary with a cup of hot chocolate and will head to the parking lot for some dark sky viewing. Well, it's just too cloudy to see anything. In bed at 10:00

October 8, 2018 (Monday)

When I awoke at 3 a.m., something inside said to go out to the parking lot again. Wow, the clouds have cleared. This is another dark sky memory to last a lifetime! Just wearing my shorts and a short sleeve tee-shirt, ten minutes was enough viewing time in 45 degree weather.

We got to sleep later today, getting up at 9:30. This is marked for a leisurely day. There are small recycle receptacles in our room. Our daughter will be so pleased. Going outside our lodge, I walk to the end of the parking lot and I'm soon at the rivers edge. Yes, that water is very cold.

At the restaurant / grill, a young woman is wearing an Auburn Tigers sweatshirt. Gotta have a photo. There's a John Muir quote on a plaque at the check-in desk. “The mountains are calling and I must go.” After coffee, hot chocolate and pastries for breakfast, we'll drive to the Road's End. Yes, that is the correct name.

Our first fun activity will be at Zumwalt Meadow. It is about a 2 mile loop trail. An Asian couple told us they had seen a bear. Other hikers we passed said they had seen two cubs and a momma bear. I thought about the can of bear spray at home. We purchased it 16 years ago for hiking excursions inside Glacier National Park. Surprisingly, there's a plaque marking a gravesite. Death dates were 1900 and 1931 (for his wife). I was also intrigued by the size of some of the sugar pine tree cones. One I had found was 12 inches long. The sugar pine produces the longest pine cones in the world.

A well maintained trail soon took us onto a bridge, crossing the King's River. The water looked crystal clear. A boardwalk brought us to the edge of the meadow. At three spots along the hike, there were benches to rest on. Meadow grasses were over 6 feet high, and we saw the familiar cat-tails. We traveled at a leisurely pace, not rushing anywhere today.

Under the shade of several tall trees, we sat and just admired the beauty of the meadow. I kept looking for bears, but never saw any. With magnificent granite mountains in the distance, this was the happy place we had been looking for. I sounded off several lines to Janet. This place has inspired me to write another poem. I'll call it “King's Canyon Oasis”.

It was hard to leave this place. But in a few miles, we had reached Roads End. This looks like the starting point to explore the vast wilderness. There are several hiking trails. Exciting adventures are ahead for hearty hikers and back-packers. There is Sphinx Creek, Mist Falls, Vidette Meadow, the large and lush Junction Meadow, Glen Pass, Middle Rae Lake, Woods Creek Crossing and Middle Paradise Valley. Looks like the longest trail is a little over 31 miles. Welcome to Roads End and let the hiking begin...

As we slowly drive west now, we'll stop at Roaring River Falls. After about 5 minutes, I see a 2-foot long coral snake... just two feet off the trail. Partially hidden behind a tree, I snap a few photos. With forked tongue fluttering, he started to coil. Then he suddenly retreated to safety under a rock. Wow, up close and personal with the wildlife. I returned Janet to our car, to rest her foot.

I showed my snake pictures to a young family. The little boy was as excited to see the snake as his mother. A short distance farther and the short hiking trail ends. The lower one-third of the Roaring River waterfall can be seen here. John Muir described it as “one thundering plunge into a dark pool beneath a glorious mass of rainbow spray.” It was a treat to see.

Next we stop at Knapp's Cabin, built almost 100 years ago. It was used as a storage shed, during summer camping trips. We are driving along a National Forest Scenic Byway. Okay, the restaurant / grill at the Cedar Grove Lodge closed 30 minutes ago. So we'll drive back to the Grant Grove restaurant. Seated near the double-sided fireplace, with its high ceilings and large windows, I could imagine how cozy it would be eating here in the wintertime. There's chicken pot pie, a large hamburger, berry cobbler, a giant chocolate chip cookie with caramel and lots of vanilla ice cream. It was so good and our window table offered great views!

It takes about one hour to return to our lodge. I went down by the river to enjoy listening to the sound of the rushing waters... Very relaxing. I then bring a cup of hot chocolate up to the room for Janet. She is reading from the two new national park magazines. I catch up with the daily diary and then I finish writing my poem. I'm in bed by 9:45.

October 9, 2018 (Tuesday)

We arise about 7:45 and I can see sunlight upon the nearby mountaintops. We have had two glorious nights at this lodge, 30 miles deep inside the forest and canyon. And the place will be closed in less than two weeks, as winter will soon be here, in the high Sierras. A sign in the small store had the daily weather update: Sunny with a high of 60 degrees and a low of 36 degrees. We check-out at 10:30. There are “bear proof” trash receptacles alongside the road.

Our first stop will be at the Grant Grove trail. It is less than one-half mile and winds through a statuesque sequoia grove. There's the historic Gamlin Cabin along the way. Of course, the highlight is seeing the General Grant tree. Standing at 268 feet tall and 107 feet around, it is 1700 years old! It is recognized as the third largest tree in the world. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge designated the General Grant as the Nation's Christmas Tree! From one of the annual gatherings it was spoken: “We are gathered here around a tree that is worthy of representing the spirit of America on Christmas Day. That spirit is best expressed in the plain things of life, the love of the family circle, the simple life of the out-of-doors.”

Next was a stop to see the Centennial Stump. This was once the base of a sequoia that was cut down in 1875. A 16 foot section was sent to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Ladies from a nearby logging camp used to conduct Sunday School services for their children upon the stump.

I saw a huge wasp nest in a tree as we walked to the Fallen Monarch. This giant sequoia fell over 300 years ago. It is a 125 foot walk through the entire tree. It was used as a shelter for horses, from 1890 to 1914. And it was also used as a hotel/saloon.

We finally exit the parks after 4 amazing days. What a wondrous opportunity to relax, recharge and reflect on such a beautiful area. And so we exit Kings Canyon at the Big Stump entrance. It was 38 degrees when we got up this morning. How warm will it get today? Driving west toward Fresno, we take the “orchard route” toward Visalia. Wow, I've never seen so many orange trees!

In the small town of Cutler, we stop at an authentic Mexican restaurant. I'll order the fish while Janet gets a pork plate. So much food and so good too. There was a mural painted on the wall of a Mayan Indian ceremony. It reminded me of a long ago visit to Chichen Itza, in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

In Visalia we find Hwy. 99 south to Bakersfield. We saw thousands of large wind turbines again. Yes, the scenery has certainly changed since we got up. Hwy. 58 had a massive traffic delay... taking 75 minutes to drive about 9 miles. Road work had closed one of two lanes.

We finally arrive at Barstow and check into the beautiful Ayres Hotel. It is a small, but growing chain of hotels, mostly all in the state of California. A little later, I alternated my time between the cool pool and a hot jacuzzi. Seven teens from Kansas join me for an hour or so. They're going to Las Vegas tomorrow. Very relaxing here tonight.

Janet and I ate left-over Mexican food, with a coca-cola for supper. We called and talked to our daughter and received a hurricane update from home. In bed at 11:15.

October 10, 2018 (Wednesday)

We went downstairs for a hot breakfast around 8:30. We went at a slow pace this morning, before a 10:45 check-out. I asked at the front desk for the best directions to our next highway. Well, that wasn't too helpful. We go a little ways on the Historic Route 66. We're finally driving through the high chaparral from Lucerne Valley to Indigo. As we drive through Yucca Valley, we drive right past the hotel on 29 Palms Hwy. where we had stayed 9 days ago.

It is lunchtime as we reach Indio. I had read about the TKB Bakery and Deli as I researched this trip. TKB (The Kids Business) has been on the Top 5 restaurants in the nation list for 5 consecutive years. There is a choice of hot or cold sammies. I had decided, from the cold list, that I would get the Trump Card sandwich. It has turkey, salami, bacon, pepper jack cheese, avocado, mayo, mustard, onion, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno, potato chips, and chipotle on a focaccia roll. From the hot sammies, Janet chose the reuben sandwich. It had hot pastrami, swiss cheese, thousand island dressing and mustard on marble rye bread. Delicious... there was barely enough room for dessert.

With street closures and very few signs, it took a long time to finally find the correct path heading south towards Mecca. On the fourth leg of our journey today, we're thrilled to see the Salton Sea. There is quite a history to California's largest lake/sea. Measuring roughly 525 square miles, it also sits directly on the San Andreas Fault line. Last century this was teaming with fish. But the salinity has become so high, that very few fish can live in it now. Birds have died by the tens of thousands and on one day in the summer of 1999, eight million tilapia fish died. Today this is an eco wasteland. In fact, most of the beach was comprised of pulverized fish bones from the many fish die-offs. This was to be developed as the Salton Riviera... and be as desirable as the French Rivera. With evaporation leading to drops in the water level, there are a few ghost towns along the edges.

We arrived in El Centro, a few minutes after a beautiful orange sunset. The TraveLodge is close to the I-8 ramp. And we check in about 6:30. This is our last night in California. I tried to go swimming, but the water seemed too cold. So I sat in a lounge chair and recalled highlights from this amazing two week vacation. I ate the other half of my Trump sandwich, with a coconut dream bar for supper. Caught up with my diary and then we map our plans for tomorrow. In bed before 11:00.

October 11, 2018 (Thursday)

I'm up with a 6:30 wake-up call then on down for a continental breakfast. Checkout by 8:30. Our first stop is the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. There is a very informative visitor center with dozens of birds on display. More than 400 species of birds have been recorded within the greater Salton Sea ecosystem. There was a sign near a hiking trail: Pacific Flyway, the Bird Highway. We walked a little ways on the Rock Hill Trail. We stop at an observation deck before returning to the car.

We wanted to drive to the Red Rock Marina. We're astounded to see how much the water level has dropped through the years. The boat ramp looks to be about one mile from the sea, now. Driving a little further, I noticed lots of obsidian rock. We did not realize the extent of geothermal energy in southern California. We finally got to see the boiling mud pots and mud mountains... from a safe distance. (On private property... so I did not walk right up to them). I was thrilled to see them, though!

Returning down another dirt road, we found two home areas for bees. There were hundreds of the apiary beehive boxes. In the nearby canals, we saw five huge gray/blue cranes. And in a marsh pond, there were several hundred white pelicans. If we had more time, I wanted to visit Slab City, on the eastern side of the sea. I had seen videos of Salvation Mountain and thought we needed to see this unique, off-the-grid commune.

Our next stop is in Westmorland for a visit at the Date Shake store. The ingredients are on the window: organic medjool dates, vanilla ice cream and 2%!m(MISSING)ilk. Yes, I've been wanting to try a date shake for a few months! We also bought a few bottles of the local honey.

Driving south we reach El Centro and onto Interstate-8 going east. There are large sand dunes just to the south as I can see the black border wall. Yes, we are within one mile of Mexico. We cross over the Colorado River and return to Arizona. We're now in the border city of Yuma. I think back to an old movie called “3:10 to Yuma”. Later we exit onto a state road and finally pass through Ajo. This is where we will stay for the night.

We continue driving through Ajo as we plan to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Yes, there are thousands and thousands of saguaro cacti here. The organ pipe cactus can live for 150 years. The visitor center was about ready to close, so we rushed through the exhibits. One of the greenest and most diverse deserts in the world, the Sonoran Desert abounds with life-- if you know where to look. Everything here is waiting for something-- water, cooler temperatures, pollination.

We then drive south to Lukeville, a port of entry. I get out to take a few pictures of the border and Mexican flag. Sonora is just past the check-point. I thought of the wonderful young Mexican ladies I had met two years ago on a Costa Rica missions trip. Hey, we were in Mexico earlier this year on a cruise to Cozumel.

There was a little time Janet and I could drive along a primitive road (campground ahead). These sites were pretty much in the middle of nowhere. A large sign warned us that smuggling and illegal immigration might be encountered in this area. Okay, make sure the doors are locked. Back on Hwy. 85 heading north, we pass several U.S. Customs and Border Patrol vehicles.

Around 6:30 we're treated to a most beautiful western states sunset. There is orange, yellow and pink... over the mountain tops and mesas. It was gorgeous.

We finally arrive back in Ajo and have a little trouble finding our B and B. One telephone call for directions and we're there within two minutes. We're staying at Dos Casitas. A casita is described as a “little house”. This place has two small living spaces... with a shared kitchen. There is a lovely court- yard and tonight, there are no guests in the other room. Lovely flowers in the garden were fragrant and we were just enchanted by this place.

I made a short trip to a local Pizza Hut for supper. Lasagna and cheese sticks are on the menu for supper. There is a kitchenette next to the bedroom. And for a special treat, there was a hot tub I enjoyed, under the stars. In bed by 10:00.

October 12, 2018 (Friday)

We get a wake-up call at 6:30 and wonder what our host has prepared for breakfast. At 7 a.m. we are served ham and cheese frittatas. There's also a small bowl of colorful fruit, a muffin and fresh squeezed California orange juice. This place is so cute, Janet doesn't want to leave. If we ever come to Ajo again, we will certainly come back here to be pampered.

We drive through the small town of Ajo. It touts itself as the Heart of the Sonoran Desert. We drive by a few sites. It's home to 4,000 people and only one stoplight. We enjoy the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the historic downtown area. One of the (former) largest copper mines in the world is located nearby. Now it's time to drive towards Tucson. Our next big adventure today is a trip to Biosphere 2. (The earth is Biosphere 1). It is called the World's Largest Earth Science Experiment, and is owned and operated by the University of Arizona. This project hoped to demonstrate the feasibility of space colonization by recreating the earth's ecological systems inside of an artificial habitat. The goal was to show that plants, animals and humans could live here indefinitely. Starting in 1991...for 2 years. We take a 45 minute “history of the facility” tour at 1:00. Then at 2 p.m. we had a 75 minute “guided” tour. Eight people were enclosed inside this massive, self sustaining biosphere for 24 months, here in Oracle, AZ.

There are five biomes: a 20,000 sq. ft. rain forest, a 9,100 sq. ft. ocean with a coral reef, 4800 sq. ft. mangrove wetlands, a 14,000 sq. ft. savannah grassland and a 15,000 sq. ft. fog desert. There was also a 27,000 sq. ft. agricultural system. This produced bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes, beets, peanuts, rice, cowpeas and wheat. The final section was a human habitat with living spaces, laboratories and work-shops. Some animals in the agricultural area included: goats, hens, roosters, sows, boar and tilapia fish grown in a rice pond. Another part of the tour brought us to the Landscape Evolution Observatory or LEO. That goal was to investigate how water, energy and carbon move through landscapes. One very interesting section was an aquaponic garden. Instead of soil-based farming, this growing method depends on fish, bacteria and recirculating water. This grows plants at a faster rate and with significant water savings. We visited the basement and were told about the “Lungs”. Air circulation was essential to life here in the Biosphere 2. Last was a walk by a window, giving us a great views of the ocean environment. This has been a wonderful tour. For more info check

We arrive back in Tucson and check in at the Baymont Hotel, near the airport. We're in the room by 5:30 and and now thinking of supper. I get directions for a nearby Mexican restaurant and we have chimichanga and tamale dinners this evening. The gas tank is full and all papers, souvenirs, water bottles, trash, etc. has been removed from the rental car.

I go out to the pool and jacuzzi for a little while and have the place to myself. I kept thinking of all the adventures on this amazing 15 day trip. I'm wondering when we will be “out west” again. We finish packing the suitcases and I placed a wake-up call for 6 a.m. In bed by 10:30. I plan to sleep lightly so I don't miss the wake-up call.

October 13, 2018 (Saturday)

Happy to hear the 6:00 phone call and Janet and I finish packing. By 7 a.m. we're down the hallway for the breakfast bar. The front desk clerk was 30 minutes late today. So I left our door key-cards on the desk, as 5 other guests had already done.

There was only a two block drive to the Thrifty Rental Car center. 3522 miles!! What a trip! There was a small issue of a crack in the windshield. $153 to replace it. Will have to check on the Thrifty car insurance when I get back home. A courtesy van then drove us to the airport, just a few blocks away.

Our first stop was the American Airlines self check-in kiosks. Our luggage tags and boarding passes were printed for us. “Very, very bad weather” in Dallas came an announcement at our boarding gate. We can handle a flight delay, as we have a 3-hour 40-minute layover in Dallas. The 9:40 flight is now 10:40, then 12 noon, then 12:40. Okay, 1:00 and we finally leave Tucson, AZ. We are climbing through the clouds into bright blue skies. I receive a text alert from American Airlines. The DFW flight to Mobile has been canceled. They are working towards re-booking us on another plane. We shall see.

I move our watches up 2 hours to Central Time. Landing in Dallas-Ft. Worth at 4:40 is as close to home as we'll get today. The next flight to Mobile, with room for the two of us is Monday at 1:30. That just won't do. So we accept a flight to Pensacola, Florida. Bethany calls and will pick us up tomorrow at 3:30.

I book a Super 8 hotel reservation and soon, their shuttle van is on the way. We've extended our vacation by a day... staying in Grapevine, TX tonight. We got settled in, then I walked across a busy street to Boomer Jacks Grill and Bar. There are a dozen big screen televisions going strong. College football games are all over the place. Back in the hotel room, we have pork-chops, a brisket sandwich and veggies. We watch a little t.v. and I catch up on my travel diary. In bed at 11:00

October 14, 2018 (Sunday)

After the 8 a.m. wake-up call, we're heading downstairs for breakfast. We watch a little television to catch up with the modern world. With our luggage still at the airport, we slip back into yesterday's clothes. I'm missing my hairspray. The shuttle at 11:00 returns us to the DFW airport.

We like these TSA pre-check boarding passes. We check with the A.A. Desk for our luggage to fly with us to Pensacola, not Mobile, as originally scheduled. And we left right on time at 1:00. With a window seat, I could see the Mississippi River, lots of green flat land, then finally Pensacola and then Escambia Bay. We landed in west Florida about 2:30. So happy to see both suitcases! We are “almost home”. Within 5 minutes, our daughter picks us up. We'll be back in Mobile in about an hour. Now, to talk about the memories. Life is good!


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