Grand Canyon Inversion

OK folks.  Even if you have been blasting by our previous blog posts without reading them, you MUST TAKE THE TIME TO READ THIS ONE!  It will astound.  Really.  I promise.

But, before we get into the ‘astounding part,’ let’s back up just a bit…

Giant cow, probably affected by CIA Area 51 'testing' in the 1950's

Giant cow, over 150 feet tall (you can tell by the scale of our truck and 5th wheel parked below it) probably affected by CIA Area 51 ‘testing’ in the 1950’s

At the end of the last post, our Heroes were departing Death Valley, heading back past Last Vegas, through Searchlight, Nevada (Harry Reid’s home town) to Bullhead City, Arizona.  A long drive, filled with beautiful desert and city views, that took us close by Area 51 (the CIA’s super-secret pre-and-post cold war Money Pit) and the Air Force Base at Indian Springs – no drones visible, but they were there – we have seen them in the past.  Also home to the USAF Thunderbirds.

This is where it all started...and about as close as you can get...they (CIA) still shoot tourists

This is where it all started…and about as close as you can get…they (CIA) still shoot tourists

Strange view, near Area 51 in the Nevada Desert.  CIA-induced clouds.

Strange view, near Area 51 in the Nevada Desert. CIA-induced clouds.

Bullhead City sits across the Colorado River (or what’s left of it…) from Laughlin, Nevada.  What one lacks in glitz and neon, the other lacks in Denny’s, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes Safeway and 15 miles of continuous stoplights.  We had made reservations over the Internet at the Colorado Oasis RV Park, deciding to stay there based on their web site.  Now, we all know that the Internet never – ever – lies.  We knew we were in trouble when we could barely negotiate the entrance.  There were new owners, and their demeanor showed.  Nice, but clueless.  And it got worse.  When we pulled up to our space, our first reaction was ‘No frigg’n way can we get into that.’  Well, we managed it, after about 30 minutes of backing, forwarding, re-backing, dodging buildings, cars, more buildings, etc.  Luckily we had the assistance of 3 other occupants (which can be a blessing or a curse…).  This is a small park, right on the river.  The sandy beach pictured in their web site had long been washed away.  Almost all of the residents were Snowbirds, mainly from Colorado and Idaho, with one or 2 token Canadians.  All super-friendly.  We were immediately welcomed ‘into the flock’ (read: ‘invited to evening cocktail hours’); it was like being with a bunch of old friends.  (And, believe me, this has not always be the case in our travels.)  What a great and unpretentious group!  We were almost sad to leave.

The world famous photographer, John D. Mercer, with one of his most recent pieces

The world famous photographer, John D. Mercer, with one of his most recent pieces

Old restaurant wall mural, Needles, CA

Old restaurant wall mural, Needles, CA

Bob drove down to Needles one day to visit an old ASU graduate school buddy, the world famous John D. Mercer.  John is a very accomplished photographer and a nice guy.  He and Bob worked together for a while, in the mid-1980’s, at Modesto Junior College when Bob was still teaching photography.  It was really great getting together again.

After 3 daze of debauchery in fabulous Bullhead City, we departed, headed up the l-o-o-o-o-ng pull to I-40, Williams and then the 60-mile drive due-north to the Grand Canyon.  Near the top on the long hill out of Bullhead City, our ‘check engine’ light came on.  Since this had happened once before, we were not too alarmed.  We called the Dodge dealer in Prescott and got a service appointment later in the week.  (More on that later.)

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon

We stayed in Trailer Village (what a creative name for a national park campground, ay?)  Sort of a flat-track, with a fair number of  trees and full hookups.  As soon as we got there, Dee Dee took Marshall Dylan, the cat, out for a walk.  Almost immediately, they were visited by Heckle and Jeckle, two of the resident Ravens.  Very smart birds…very smart.  One of them, we think it was Heckle, immediately started taunting the cat, landing 2-3 feet in front of him, hopping around, chortling in Raven-Speak, sideling up to him, and then jumping out of the way – in a carefully-planned nick-of-time dance.  This went on for about 20 minutes, each time both of them getting progressively closer to the other.  What a hoot!  Finally they both got bored and went their separate ways.

It was not as cold as we anticipated, with days in the 40’s and nights in the low 30’s/high 20’s.  Bob got set back a bit by the altitude (about 7500’), but after about 48 hours acclimation begin set it.  Just like the last time we were there, we used the NPS provided free propane-powered buses to get around the South Rim.  The entire loop takes about 60 minutes with frequent, convenient, stops.  We rode it 7-8 times while we were there.

The nice part about visiting the Grand Canyon after Thanksgiving is the distinct lack of crowds.  There were people, but not many; mainly Asians, French and Germans.  Lot’s of ‘selfies’ (jeesh, I hate that obnoxious term) being taken with iPhones stuck on the ends off long poles.  No waiting for anything.  Minimal rudeness (me included.) Viewpoints were uncrowded, as were restaurants, shops and roadways.   Made for a low-stress and pleasurable experience.  Another thing we noticed was the Xantera employees (Xantera is the GC NPS park concessionaire.)  There were all super-friendly and actually seemed to really enjoy their jobs.  The same held for all the NPS employees we met.  Great folks…very much unlike those in Death Valley, where moral was low and many (but not all) employees seem to be suffering through the day.  We love Death Valley…it’s a good thing you do not have to cross paths with staff that often.  (One exception in Death Valley was the golf course pro-shop manager…he was a good guy.)   OK, enough ranting…

 OK…here is the ASTOUNDING PART!

Dee Dee in RED jacket, Yaki Point

Dee Dee in RED jacket, Yaki Point, the day before the rare cloud inversion

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim

An amazing weather phenomenon turned the Grand Canyon into an ocean of ebbing and flowing cloud cover on Thursday, December 11.  This rare scene was caused by a temperature inversion, which involves cold air filling the Canyon while warm air lies above it, trapping the fog in place – since the denser cold air hugs the ground.

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim, just west of Grand Canyon Village

The result is a layer of low-lying clouds that produced a spectacular view that the turned the Canyon into a literal slowly moving sea of clouds that lapped the edges, filling the entire length and breadth to the brim, with only a small portion of the upper walls visible.

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim.

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim, looking toward Grand Canyon Village, South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim.  Same point-of-view as above image, 2 minutes later.

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim. Same point-of-view as above image, just 2 minutes later.

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim

 

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim

Canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, GC South Rim.  The sign in the foreground illustrates what you 'should' be seeing in the background

Canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, GC South Rim. The sign in the foreground illustrates what you ‘should’ be seeing in the background

 

We saw quite a few tourists clustered around these Coke machines at the end of Hermit's Rest Road, clamoring for a view of the 'real' Grand Canyon, during the cloud inversion

We saw quite a few tourists clustered around these Coke machines at the end of Hermit’s Rest Road, clamoring for a view of the ‘real’ Grand Canyon, during the cloud inversion

We were so very fortunate to be there for this infrequent event at the exact time it happened.  The day before, we were graced with clear and relatively haze-free views – those that most visitors enjoy.  But the next day, as we approached the edge about 8:30 in the morning, we had another one of those ‘Oh Shit!’ moments.  The view was beyond spectacular!  And it was something that tourists, such as us, rarely have the opportunity to savor.  As we drove out the Hermit’s Rest Road (closed to cars in summer, but open to private vehicles after December 1), we stopped at every opportunity.  Although we were blown away, it became apparent that many of those folks that we ran into on the paths and trails had absolutely no idea of the rare sight presented to them.   More than once we heard complaining about ‘all the clouds that were blocking the view.’  Whine, whine, whine!  We spent about 3 hours trying to absorb it all, and then headed back for dinner.  By about 3 PM, it was all over, and only a few small clouds remained.  What a total rush.

Rocking chairs, porch of El Tavor Hotel, GC South Rim

Rocking chairs, porch of El Tavor Hotel, GC South Rim

Dee Dee and The Boys, Grand Canyon Visitors Center

Dee Dee and The Boys, Grand Canyon Visitors Center

The squirrels are big and well-fed on the GC  South Rim

The squirrels are big and well-fed on the GC South Rim

We left the Grand Canyon, content in have a truly memorable and enjoyable time, and headed for Prescott on Friday, December 12.  After we checked into Point of Rocks Campground – a place not to be missed if you are spending one night, or longer, in the area.  Google it.  You stay in the middle of spectacular rock formations, about mid-way between Prescott and Prescott Valley.  Very friendly staff and reasonably priced.  30 AMP service, WiFi only near the Registration Office.  Funky but pleasant.  We had a noon appointment for our truck to be checked out at York Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep.  We cannot say enough good things about these folks.  Friendly, courteous and they got us in and out in about 3 hours.  Jake, our Service Advisor, was originally from Temecula, so we had a common ground.  He was a great guy…and we got out of there for $0.00, since repairs were covered under our extended warranty.  For the first 55K miles, this 1-ton diesel pick-up has been virtually trouble free (knock on wood.)

While waiting for our truck to be checked out (it just need to have some ROM re-flashed to new factory specs), we enjoyed a great lunch with some old San Francisco Bay Area fellow boating friends, Russ and Donna Sherwin.  Had a great time and we discussed a (non-mutual) possible trip to Alaska, maybe sometime in the coming 1-2 years.  They had just returned and were totally jazzed.

Prescott is a great town, with lots to do and see.  We plan to be here a few more days, mainly visiting with some really good old friends, Debbie and Gary Paulsen (and their bird, Pepper.)  This post is being made just before we will be sitting down for a post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas turkey dinner.  More on that, with some photographs of the Point of Rocks area and musings about our stay at the Lost Dutchman State Park near Apache Junction.

Try to contain your excitement…

Death Valley

Our new best friends, wish us the best as we leave Las Vegas (look carefully to the right and you will see Dee Dee waving back)

Our new best friends, wishing us the best as we leave Las Vegas (look carefully to the right and you will see Dee Dee waving back…)

So, after 5 days in Sin City, we were really ready to be ‘Leaving Las Vegas.’  We parted friends with the KOA People at Sam’s Town, even though this stay was a mild hassel.  The drive to Furnace Creek in Death Valley was an easy one, with very little traffic.  Better yet, by the time we arrived, the Thanksgiving Crazies had left and the park was quiet and almost empty.  A great time to be here: post-Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas.

We experienced the same heavy rains as many other southwest US areas.  Some roads here were closed due to washouts (Twenty Mule Team Canyon and Titus Canyon), and there was a lot of water flowing across asphalt roadways, flowing down washes and alluvial fans.

I played golf a couple of times at the Furnace Creek Golf Couse, a nice track in good condition with lightning-fast greens; the 2nd time I had the entire course to myself for the first 15 holes.  Dee Dee took several long bike rides and got to know the area around Furnace Creek a lot better.  This was a somewhat off-year for coyotes;  I only saw 2, on the golf course, and Dee Dee did not see any.  Charlie-The-Dog spent a fair amount of time smelling them.  Dylan-the-Cat was kept on-lease; no coyote bait for him.

We rented a jeep one (very rainy) day and explored Hole in the Wall road, Echo Canyon Road to the Inyo Mine, Chloride City and Titus Canyon (our 2nd trip through).  All of the roads required 4WD high-clearance vehicles.  The road to Chloride City got pretty technical.  Lots of big rocks and steep, slippery turns, due to exposed bedrock and the fact it was raining.  That drive was white-knuckle all the way.  (Ted and Mary Ellen, you would have loved it; I would have jumped out, only I was driving.)  We were probably the last vehicle through Titus Canyon.  It was raining hard and the road on both sides of the pass was starting to wash out.  And, we never saw another person.  The parking lot at the end was empty.  This was one of the very best days we have had in our 40+ years and many visits to Death Valley…lots of excitement and we saw new stuff.

Last night (Thursday, December 4th) Dee Dee was outside and saw huge flames and lots of smoke coming from the historic Furnace Creek Inn.  It looked like the whole place was on fire.  This morning (Friday) we drove up there and found that it was the laundry building across the highway that had burned.  Totally gutted and still smoldering; no damage at all to the Inn.  The entire Valley was filled with haze-induce smoke from the fire, that must have taken most of the night to extinguish.  When we got there, about 9:30 AM, it was still smoldering and they were still doing ‘spot-squirts’ on hot areas.  The Park Service had closed Highway 90 in front of the structure and was routing traffic through the Inn’s parking lot.

Of course we had to visit the local saloon and have a beer (or 2) every day.  Our theory is that beer is good for your health, at least in our book. We rode our bikes the mile up and back, so that balances off the beer (and some days French fries and blue cheese dressing dip.)

Tonite we are having dinner with our good friend, Shellye Poster, who was our NPS Ranger Supervisor when we were Campground Hosts at Stove Pipe Wells in 2010.  Shellye has also published a wonderful book, “The Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley.”

OK…enough words…here are some images (and captions) for our latest installment.  (Our next stops will be Bullhead City, AZ, the Grand Canyon, Prescott (where we are visiting our friends Gary and Debbie), and then Apache Junction (where we will meet up with long-time friend, Neil, who I met in graduate school at ASU, in the early 1970’s.)

(Sherry, this post is dedicated to you…not many words, lots of pictures, just the way you like it…)

Storm clouds over the Funeral Range

Storm clouds over the Funeral Range

Creosote bushes, Echo Canyon Road

Creosote bushes, Echo Canyon Road

Dee Dee and Charlie at the Inyo Mine

Dee Dee and Charlie, Echo Canyon Road, at the Inyo Mine

Old mining equipment at the abandoned Inyo Mine, Echo Canyon Road

Old mining equipment at the abandoned Inyo Mine, Echo Canyon Road

Table at the Inyo Mine where travelers put stuff they found (rather than stealing it)

Table at the Inyo Mine where travelers put stuff they found (rather than stealing it)

Creosote bushes

Creosote bushes

The Bush and The Bob, Echo Canyon Road

The Barrel Cactus and The Bob, Echo Canyon Road

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon Road

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon Road

Exfoliating stone, at the end of Hole in the Wall Road

Exfoliating stone, at the end of Hole in the Wall Road

Mysterious symbol found at the end of Hole in the Wall Road, probably left by Aliens

Mysterious symbol found at the end of Hole in the Wall Road, probably left by Aliens

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall

Round the turn at the top of the pass, dropping into Titus Canyon.  We call this "Oh Shit Corner," because that what you say when you get there.  Although can't tell, it's an abrupt 180 degree turn going down a steep slope.

Rounding the turn at the top of the pass, dropping into Titus Canyon. We call this “Oh Shit Corner,” because that’s what you say when you reach this point. Although you can’t really tell from this image, it’s an abrupt 180 degree turn going down a steep slope.

Looking down, from top of pass, into Titus Canyon.  You had to be there to experience the sheer vastness of this scene

Looking down, from top of pass, into Titus Canyon. You had to be there to experience the sheer vastness of this scene

Beginning of Titus Canyon Road washing out

Beginning of Titus Canyon Road washing out

Charlie leaving his mark at Leadfield (on the Titus Canyon Road)

Charlie leaving his mark at Leadfield (on the Titus Canyon Road)

Entering the Narrows, Titus Canyon

Entering the Narrows, Titus Canyon

Sine wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash

Arterial wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash

Furnace Creek Wash

Furnace Creek Wash

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn Laundry Building

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn Laundry Building

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn laundry building (across Highway 90 from the Inn)

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn laundry building (across Highway 190 from the Inn)

Dead mesquite trees, NPS Furnace Creek Campground

Dead mesquite trees, NPS Furnace Creek Campground

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash, about 4 miles above Furnace Creek

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash, about 4 miles above Furnace Creek

'Exploding Bush,' Echo Canyon Road

‘Exploding Creosote Bush,’ Echo Canyon Road

 

 

Viva Las Vegas!

This chapter of our blog starts off with our heroes still in Modesto, living the good life, visiting with all our old friends.  We had a great time during dinner at Verona’s Restaurant with our old buddies Jim and Linda Johnson, and Steve and Linda Collins.  As usual, too much wine (thanks to Steve) and a high dinner bill, but what the hell, right?

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Dinner with old Modesto friends

Dee Dee spent more time walking old walking places (the ‘Giacomo’s Coffee Circuit’) with her buddy Dorlene.  And Charlie-the-dog certainly enjoyed his time away from the RV…poor guy is used to free-roaming on our 7.5 acres at home…now he is confined a lot of the time to about 150 square feet.  He is a really patient doggy.  More golf with Steve and Big Al out Jack Tone Golf.  Bob’s game still sucks, but it’s the camaraderie that’s important…plus winning about $12.

One of the greatest times we have had in a l-o-n-g time was a get-together with a bunch of old, (old) MJC friends on Sunday afternoon. Kim Gyuran and Anne Shanto organized and it was a hoot!  It was wonderful to see Kim and Anne, as well as Jim and Linda Johnson, Todd Guy, Eileen Hibbard (Olhson), Wes and Barbie Page, Larry and Muggs Zable, John Chappell, Derek Waring, Steve and Linda Collins and Dorlene Salazar.  I got so caught up in visiting with everyone that I neglected to take a single picture.  Bad Bob!

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Good friends Al and Linda Cover

 

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Getting ready to depart Big Al’s RV Park and Sheep Ranch, in Modesto

 

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One of Big Al’s work benches

We said our good-byes to our good friends Al and Linda Cover, who were gracious enough to allow to once again stay at what we fondly call ‘Big Al’s RV Park and Sheep Ranch.’  As an (important) aside, Al (whose demeanor exudes ‘calm’) has become a community activist in the fight with the (scoundrels) in City of Modesto Government, and the Chamber of Commerce, to annex an area known as Wood Colony.  The proposal is to build business parks, a four-lane freeway overpass, etc.  (Back in the early 1980’s, this same crap was going on under the guise of ‘re-development’, which destroyed part of the historical heart and soul of downtown Modesto.  I was somewhat involved in the fight to stop this, but we lost.)

Wood Colony is a historical agricultural area that he and many other farmers have called ‘home’ for over 100 years.  (Al’s family goes back 4 generations, and is not dissimilar to other families in the surrounding area.)  And the proposed Wood Colony annexation has not escaped national attention.  Al was interview by a New York Times reporter, and his picture was featured as part of the story.  (For more on all of this, you can go to here to read the article and see Big Al’s picture.)

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Lunch at Peggy Sue’s, near Yermo, CA

 

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The ‘Original’ Peggy Sue and Dee Dee

We had uneventful drive down the remainder of the Central Valley to Bakersfield, where we stayed at the Orange Grove RV Park.  On Tuesday, we made the long drive over to Las Vegas.  On the way there, we made our traditional stop at Peggy Sue’s Dinner, on Interstate 15 near Yermo, CA.   Always a great time, lots of funky 1950’s stuff to see and great food.  And this time, we met and talked to the REAL Peggy Sue!  She is a delightful lady – so cordial and friendly.  She spent 5 minutes with us and we felt very welcome.  So cool!

After leaving Peggy Sue’s Diner, we made the l-o-o-o-n-g pull up The 15 to Las Vegas.  At one point our fuel consumption indicator was registering under 5 MPG.  By the time we rolled in, we are sucking fumes.

We had originally planned to stay at the Main Street Station RV Park, near Fremont Street, but at the last-minute changed our plans and headed for Sam’s Town, near Henderson.  We figured we had seen Fremont Street enough, and the RV park is pretty tight, not to mention the 3 block walk to Fremont Street, which can be somewhat scary at night.  And, a pretty crappy dog run as well.  Charlie was not happy when we stayed there.

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Sam’s Town entrance at night

 

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Sam’s Town RV Park, restrooms at night

We have stayed at Sam’s Town at least 6 times in the past.  The RV park is about ½ block from the casino, which is pretty nice, with lots to see and do (indoor waterfall, movie theatres, liberal slots and plenty of blackjack tables.)  However, we discovered things had changed since our last visit.  KOA had recently taken over management of both the transient (near the casino) and the long-term (not near the casino) parks.  In the past, transient travelers (like us) could not stay in the long-term park.  But, since KOA took over, they started putting transients in the long-term park…which is pretty much like a ghetto and a long walk, crossing a very busy 6-lane street (Flamingo) to get to the far side of the casino.

You guessed it…they stuck us in the ghetto.  It was bad.  After registering several (very vociferous) complaints with the office staff (all of whom were new and not at all well-trained), we finally got moved back into the park where we had always stayed in the past.  But it took some doing, and only after we were pretty much forced to stay in the crappy park for one night.  What did we learn?  ASK where you are going to be when you make a reservation; NORTH = BAD, SOUTH = GOOD.  On the good side, KOA has done a nice job in cleaning up the park, they are very friendly and they did not crank up the rates (yet.)

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Part of the buffet at Sam’s Town

We got some good deals for breakfast and lunch in the excellent buffet, gambled (up at the slots, down at the tables, for break even.)  We went to see ‘Gone Girl.’  Without giving away the ending, if you see it (which we recommend), get ready for twists and turns and a weird ending.

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Light show at Mystic Falls, indoor water feature at Sam’s Town

We headed down to Lake Mead one day to take Charlie swimming and wear him out.  The poor guy has been very patient.  Marshall Dylan enjoyed walk along the lake shore.  As expected, the level of the lake is pretty low – further down than we have ever seen it in the years we have been going there.

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Dee Dee and Charlie at Lake Mead

 

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Charlie and tennis ball, Lake Mead

Several months ago we got tickets to see ‘Rock of Ages,’ an 80’s-era musical playing at the Venetian.  Thanksgiving night found us at the show.  WOW!  HOLY CRAP, BATMAN!!  Our seats were not bad; (ahem…) 4th row center.  You could almost touch the stage.  And the music brought back memories (…at least what we can remember…) of the ‘80’s:  Styx, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Journey, Pat Benetar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane/Starship.)  High energy, incredible backup band (featuring some of the original members of Whitesnake).  Great choreography.  The last trip through Las Vegas we saw ‘Jersey Boys’ and were blown away.  Well, ‘Rock of Ages’ topped that!  This is a show that will get you totally jazzed – not to be missed if you get to Las Vegas.

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Rocker and Dee Dee, as we were leaving ‘Rock of Ages’ performance, Venetian Hotel/Casino, Las Vegas

Oh yeah.  Almost forgot to mention our Thanksgiving dinner before the show at a restaurant called the ‘Public House,’ inside the Venetian.  It was billed to feature a huge variety of  beers.  (The beer list was given to you on an iPad…pretty cool.)  But, prices were $10-$15/glass; as a benchmark, they wanted $10 for a 12 oz. Heineken.  We opted for the house wine with dinner…$54/bottle.  The turkey dinners were actually pretty good, $28, and about the cheapest thing on the menu (except $20 for a hamburger.)  Oh well, it’s only $$$ and you only live once, right?

We are in Las Vegas for a couple of more days (with maybe one day of golf), and then we head to one of our most favorite places, Death Valley, where we have been many, many times before.  (We worked 3 months for the National Park Service as Campground Hosts, back in 2010.)  There may be at least a week-long void in the blog, unless we can find Wi-Fi in Furnace Creek.

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.

Bio-Diesel, Food Poisoning, Etc…

 

Mo's Restaurant in Florence

Mo’s Restaurant in Florence

Red if Fred's illegitimate son

Red is Fred’s illegitimate son

The beginning of installment #2 of documenting our travels to Florida (and back…) finds us in Florence, Oregon.  After getting settled into our campground, about 7 miles north of town, we headed in to fuel our truck and us.  First stop was Mo’s – a restaurant that sits right on the Siuslaw River and near the beginning of the expansive Oregon Dunes area.  We had been here a couple of times before so pretty much knew what to expect.  We did take a bit of a risk; the last time we ate here the food sucked (clam fritters that were more filler than clam.)  But, this time dinner was actually pretty good.  Seating is essentially a bunch of picnic tables and (hard) wooden benches.  Dinner was pretty good – and the clam chowder was excellent.  The fish tacos were pretty good, at least by Oregon/Mexican food standards.  Not exactly like traditional fish tacos, but close enough.

Leave detail

Leaf detail

Tree detail

Tree detail

Next, we headed off to the Safeway gas station to top off our tank and use our Rewards Points to get a 20-cent-per-gallon discount.  As I was BS-ing with the gas-pumper-guy, he asked me if I REALLY wanted to use bio-diesel which, according to him, was regular diesel cut with 15% used restaurant cooking oil – the discards of the stuff used to make things like French fry’s.  He said that they had received numerous customer complaints about loss of power, diminished mileage and clogged fuel filters (which in our truck cost about $100 to replace – parts and labor.)  He actually suggested we go down the road to Fred Meyer and get some ‘real’ dieseI – for 2 cents less per gallon (before our discount.) But, we took a risk and had him top off the tank to the tune of adding only about 10 gallons.

Turns out his observations seemed to be correct.  The next day as we headed back inland to Seven Feather, near Canyonville, I noticed a slight decrease in pulling power up hills, as well as about a 10-15% decrease in mileage.  So, we learned something…no more bio-diesel for us.  In the future, we will be careful to use only ULSD (ultra low sulfur diesel).  As a footnote, after we filled up again at Seven Feathers, things seem to return to normal.  Lesson learned.

Not the same as the movie...except for the 'gluttony' part...

Not the same as the movie…except for the ‘gluttony’ part…

Dee Dee getting The Bird, or is The Bird getting Dee Dee

Dee Dee getting The Bird, or is The Bird getting Dee Dee

Tree and fence, Seven Feathers

Tree and fence, Seven Feathers

We decided to have dinner at the Seven Feathers Casino (I made enough at the tables earlier to pay for it.)  Everything seemed OK – until about 1 AM when I awoke from a very weird dream with severe stomach cramps.  I spent most of the remainder of the night/early morning in the head.  (Dee Dee was fine, probably because she had a different dinner than I did.)

Topping the Siskiyou Summit

Topping the Siskiyou Summit

Next stop was about 260 miles down The Five freeway to Corning, CA, to the Rolling Hills Casino.  On the way there we crested the Siskiyou Summit and battled high cross-winds from Yreka to Weed.  Made for some tense driving.  Friends had told up about the campground there (at Rolling Hills) and said it was a pretty good deal.  Turned out to be excellent advice.  Friendly staff, inexpensive ($28) and well maintained.  Only issue happened that evening – after dark – when I was out walking Charlie on the perimeter of the park, where there was a lot of open space.  It was raining, and he was running off-leash.  This woman who was walking down the road (let’s call her ‘The Dog Nazi’) started giving me a load of crap.  “That dog is supposed to be on a leash!”  I restrained myself and did not say everything I felt like saying, but still got my point across to her regarding what I felt about her remarks.  She walked away mumbling.  At first I thought she was a campground employee, but it turns out she was just a nosey, busy-body who was just staying the night.

At the Oasis Grill, just north of Woodland, one of the best breakfast places we have ever been to

At the Oasis Grill, just north of Woodland, one of the best breakfast places we have ever been to

We are now in Modesto, after surviving the ‘highway construction gauntlet’ between North Stockton and Modesto – what a mess, and fairly stressful when you are pulling a 5th-wheel, competing with big-ass semi-trucks for road space.  We are lucky to have Al and Linda Cover as good friends; we are staying at their place in the country…we call it ‘Big Al’s Sheep Ranch and Campground.’

Steve, Big Al, Bob and Bud, long-time golf partners

Steve, Big Al, Bob and Bud, long-time golf partners (We all missed you, Bill, and wish you a swift and full recovery.)

Dennis, one of my very best Modesto friends

Dennis, one of my very best Modesto friends

Having a great time visiting many old friends, playing golf and reminiscing about ‘the good old days.’  I really was disappointed not being able to see my really good buddy, Bill, who has been quite ill as of late.

It has been pretty much non-stop stuff-to-do since we got here, and a lot of fun.  We really miss living in this great, friendly, community.   It’s amazing how Modesto has grown – from under 55,000 when we moved here in 1974 to over 203,000 today.  The sprawl is incredible.  And the College (MJC) has also experienced explosive growth, with many new facilities since I left in 2002.  The West Campus in particular has grown by leaps and bounds.  Dee Dee has really enjoyed seeing the several folks she worked with at the Frito Lay plant, and hanging out with her buddy, Dorlene.

(There are a few more things to relate about Modesto, but I will include those in the next installment, as this one is starting to get pretty wordy.)

We are here for a couple of more days, then we will be heading off to Bakersfield, Dagget (where there is a free catch-and-release pond in the campground) and then Las Vegas, where we will be for 4 days, over Thanksgiving, staying near Fremont Street – our favorite Las Vegas place-to-be.

But that’s the next installment…

And Away We Go…

And Away We Go…

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Finally.  We are on the road to Florida, with many stops planned before we get there in February.

We got the house closed up (well, except for leaving Bert and Ernie, our loyal pit bulls, on the premises…) and departed Silver Lake at 9 AM in 27 degree F, clear and sunny weather.  As usual, we hit the first major obstacle, getting out of our driveway, within the first 20 seconds of the trip.  We made it up the first try, which sometimes does not happen.  Dylan and Charlie were settled into the back seat and ready for their next big adventure.  We just had to be careful not to say ‘beach’ or ‘ball’ in front of Charlie.

jet crop comp

We took The 5 thru Portland and eventually connected with Highway 18, which we followed all the way into Lincoln City.   As a side note, as we were cruising down 18 just SW of McMinnville, we were startled (I mean STARTLED!) to see a Boeing 747 parked in the middle of a plowed field.  Closer inspection revealed it was ‘parked’ in front of the Evergreen Air Museum, a large and impressive place.  If you are an aircraft aficionado, then this place would be like dying and going to heaven.  IT’S HUGE.  And believe me, that 747, along with another one sitting on the roof of one of several museum buildings, will definitely get your attention.

deedee sign

deedee comp

After a brief stop, we continued on to the Logan Road RV Park in Lincoln City.  This place is affiliated with the Chinook Winds Casino, owned by the Confederate Tribes of Siletz Indians.  The RV park advertises itself as being ‘adjacent’ to the Casino.  (As Dee Dee says, ‘adjacent’ is the operative word.)  As soon as we pulled into the place, I knew it was not going to be (anything) like we had envisioned.  All concrete, narrow spaces.  But, clean and a HUMONGO dog run that pleased Charlie to no ‘end.’  And, Norman, the campground host was one of the friendliest guys you would want to meet.  The Wi-Fi in the parked was pretty much non-existent as the many long-term renters all seemed to be streaming movies from Netflix all at one time.  We just gave up on it. They do have a free shuttle that will take you back and forth.  We tried it once and it was actually pretty good.  They will also take you out to the Tribe-operated golf course for free…but Bob skipped it…too COLD to play.

casino mirror comp

bob casino comp

The Chinook Winds Casino is huge and not too bad.  Very nice bar overlooking the ocean, with decent food.  (If you want to sit near the windows, you have to order food with your drink.  Even though there were 20+ window tables and only 2 were occupied.  And, the drinks are watered…so if you want any kind a buzz, order a double.  Our first waitress (we ate lunch there 2 times) was pretty snarky, but the 2nd time our new waitress was great.  The Casino is 19 years old and beginning to show its age, but it’s still in pretty good shape.   And, they do bring in some big name entertainment (Willie Nelson and Foreigner, for example) at very reasonable ticket prices.  If you are into slots (we’re not), there are only about a billion machines there.  As well as an ample supply of blackjack and crap tables.  I had a blackjack dealer who was ranked as one of America’s Biggest Jerks – total butt-head.  Even so, I walked away relatively unscathed after only about 45 minutes of play.  Dee Dee’s favorite thing was the free Pepsi and chocolate cake.

charlie beach

crab comp

Charlie ran his ass off on the beach…we took him down 3 times and at the end of each session his tongue was dragging on the ground.  That dog will chase a tennis ball until he has a coronary.

We explored Lincoln City a bit; Dee Dee picked up an ‘authentic’ glass Japanese fishing ball.  BTW, Lincoln City has a cool tourist thing going where they deposit – above the high-tide line – glass balls, and other artifacts, made by local artists.  We did not see any.  Sigh…

Lincoln City, along with most other towns on the northern Oregon Coast, is an incredible compression of humanity and traffic congestion.  If you are looking for not-too-many-people-and-no-traffic, head further south, at least past Newport.

Florence Beach comp

After 2 days, we continued south on Highway 101 to Florence, Oregon, a delightful down, far less-congested than Lincoln City (which we will skip – with no regret – the next trip.)  There are many, many Oregon State Parks on the way to Florence from Lincoln City.  Next time we will do more careful checking and try to stay at one, or more, of them.

So here we now sit, at the Hecata Beach RV Park, as I type.  This is a wonderful place; friendly office staff, lots of trees, very quiet, and only about .2 of a mile from beach access – and it’s a very nice, very dog friendly, beach.  Charlie met several new friends…or should I say they met him.  He was pretty much fixated on his tennis ball.

I will mention again that the Wi-Fi at the Logan Road RV Park more than sucked.  Not the case here in Florence.  Good, strong signal.  (Hence the 3-day delay in our first blog installment.)

Tomorrow we turn away from the Oregon Coast had head overland for The 5, and then south to Canyonville to the Seven Feathers RV Park, one of our favorite places.  Nice casino, too.  After that, off to someplace in Northern California, with maybe a brief stop in Ashland, Oregon, to see an old friend.

Stay tuned…

(As a side note:  our posts to this Blog depend on our ability to connect to the Internet.  Crappy WiFi = No Communication.  So, we may go a few days between posts, either because there was not that much to report, or we could not get online to make a post.  So, please be patient.)

 

More Old Friends

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The scanning of transparencies from the early 1980’s continues; it’s great to re-visit this stuff.  And, I continue to find images that I by-passed for printing back then.  I am not exactly too sure why that is, but perhaps it had something to do with being overly-picky about what I chose to print, given the complexity of the whole process.  But now, with the advent of Lightroom CC 5 and Photoshop CC 5, post-processing (everything that happens after the initial image is made) has certainly expanded my technical range of image-making.  Not to mention allowing me to render photographs in ways I never could before.

(You can view all the newly scanned images in the ‘Images‘ section of my blog.)

Visiting Some Old Friends

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Decomposing Raptor, Mono Lake. From scanned 4X5 Polaroid transparency

I spent most of the afternoon today visiting some old friends.

After rummaging through several boxes out in my new way-cool studio in the garage, I found what I was looking for:  Polaroid transparencies I made in the early 1980’s.

Back then, I had established a good working relationship with one of the local camera stores (The Camera Center on 9th Street in Modesto, CA – sadly no longer there).  Jack Broome staked me to about 100 sheets (four 25-sheet boxes) of 4X5 Polaroid Transparency film.  In return I had to provide several finished prints to the Polaroid Corporation, via their regional rep.

After calibrating my spot meter to the paper exposure, it allowed me to use the same exposure for the transparency film.  No sheet film holders needed, as each piece of film came with it’s own enveloped/holder.  (But you did need to lug around a not-so-light Polaroid back.)  The transparency stock had to be processed via Kodak chemistry.  The advantage of all this relative complexity was that you had a pretty good idea of your exposure with the paper print.  (all of which I still have today, albeit they are somewhat the worse for wear – but surprisingly not as much as one might think – after 30+ years of storage.)

I am still boggled that these images were made over 30 years ago.  After scanning them, and then bringing them into Lightroom CC 5 for importing and general retouching, and then re-working them over again in Photoshop CC 5, I was both depressed and amazed.

Depressed because I recall the hours spent in the darkroom – processing, proofing, contrast masking (a given with ‘Chromes) and finally the pains-taking exposure and Cibachrome printing process.

Amazed because today I was able to post-process these very same images, from the raw transparencies, in a fraction of the time…and with notably better results!

Skunk Cabbage,  Lyell Fork of the Merced River, Yosemite. From scanned 4X5 Polaroid transparency

Skunk Cabbage, Lyell Fork of the Merced River, Yosemite. From scanned 4X5 Polaroid transparency

I still have a lot to learn about optimizing the scanning process to suck the most quality out of the film stock, and more-than-I-can-imagine about post-processing in Lightroom 5 CC and Photoshop 5 CC, but it’s one of those journeys that I am delighted to travel.

Reflection, Lyell Fork of the Merced River, Yosemite National Park;  From scanned 4X5 Polaroid transparency

Reflection, Lyell Fork of the Merced River, Yosemite National Park; From scanned 4X5 Polaroid transparency

(For a more comprehensive look at what I have done so far, please visit the ‘Images‘ area of this blog.)

Noble Firs

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Shopping for a Christmas tree?  Want to buy something that was sacrificed by being cut down, then use it for a few weeks and then toss it to the curb?  Well, if you are considering a NOBLE FIR, don’t assume it grew for a few years on a Christmas tree farm and was harvested while young.  Think again…

Yesterday, Dee Dee and I took a ride on the Harley up to Mt. St. Helen’s (to Johnston Observatory).  About 15 miles from the end of Highway 504, there are acres and acres and acres of noble firs.  Probably planted after the Mountain blew back in the early 1980’s, so they must be about 30 years old, or so.  And most were 30-50 feet high.  There we encountered an amazing, disturbing site.

We came across an area where almost every noble fir in sight – hundreds of them, had the top 10-15 feet whacked off.  Like someone had taken a giant pair of plant nippers to them.  Or a lawn mower.  And they were all destined for Christmas tree lots, because there were several big transport trailers parked for loading.  Off in the distance was a giant machine, obviously designed to make quick work of any tree it encountered.  When first seeing this, we both said simultaneously (in the helmet headsets), “Holy shit!  What the hell happened here?”  It was apparent that the carnage was just a few days old.

Sure, the trees will probably grow new tops (but will look like crap for the next several years.)  So much for positive visual aesthetics on the way to the Mountain.

So, when you visit that Christmas tree lot, to buy that dying tree, think about where it might have come from…

Sneaker Waves

The Moment of Impact by a Sneaker Wave
The moment of impact by the sneaker wave

Sneaker waves.

Waves that sneak up on you, generally during or just after a big storm.

Frankly, I did not pay too much attention to the Ranger’s warning.  I figured that no way was I going to get smacked by one of these waves…after all, I would be careful and vigilant when walking the beach.

Well, until Sunday, October 12, that is.  My wife, Dee Dee, and our dog, Charlie, had been walking up and down the beach for a couple of hours and had seen a few come in…we almost got hit a few times, but managed the scurry out-of-the-way (the dog was not as lucky.)  No big deal, really.

However, later in the afternoon I was out back on the beach, by myself, carrying my camera on a tripod.  Attached to the camera was an electronic cable release (see caption under photograph.)  I had on my well-worn favorite baseball hat and a hooded sweatshirt, the kind with the hand-warmer pouch in the front.  In the pouch was an adjustable neutral density filter and my 25-year-old Honeywell spot meter.  My phone was in my right-hand pants pocket.

What happened next brought me about as close to drowning as I can remember.

The tide was on the way in, with a big storm still raging out at sea.  There was a lot of surge and foam, great stuff for some maybe-good images.    I was walking high on the beach, near lots of huge logs and stumps.  And I was watching out for sneakers.  I never turned my back on the ocean.  Never.  Never say never, I guess, for suddenly this 2′ high wave came ROARING in…before I had any time to get out-of-the-way.  It washed over my tripod, on its way to dislodge almost every log on the beach above me.    The force this thing carried was immense.  I managed to stay standing for a couple of seconds, but then another, bigger, wave hit me above the knees and knocked me against the now-floating logs, some of them more than 18″ in diameter.

Then, I went down – hard – on my left side.   I held my tripod and camera up in the air, just as one the big logs started slowly rolling towards me and then knocked me into the surf.  Picture some guy on his back in the waves with a camera and tripod stiff-armed up in the air.  I hit so hard that my favorite hat flew off and vanished in the waves and foam…gone forever.  For a second I was sure the log was going to roll on top of me when the wave went eventually receded – I really thought it was over because the beach was virtually empty – there was no one around if that log came over me.  There is a very good chance I would have been pinned, and maybe crushed.  It was so immense I doubt that 10 big guys could have lifted it off.  (The images that fly through your mind at times like this are amazing.)

But, I managed to push-off from the log (I was still floating in the surf) and get my stiff, old and tired, body up and vertical again just as the wave was at it’s peak and stuff was surging around me.  I was pretty much soaked, but my camera, tripod, phone, spot meter and the filter survived.  (Unbeknownst to me at the time, I managed to pull every muscle in my lower abdomen and was very sore the next 5 days.)

I am sure that the whole event did not last more that 60 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.

But maybe the worst part was having to make the walk-of-shame back to our camp.  Fortunately, I only passed one old couple who, upon seeing my physical state, just turned and looked the other way.

No wait…the worst part was loosing my favorite hat when I went down.

No, wait, wait.  The very WORST part was the scolding I took from Dee Dee when I straggled back in…