Bill and Kit’s 2015 Excellent Adventure, Journal #11

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

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You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.

Yogi Berra

 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015:  Up early to clear sunny skies and warm temperatures.  After a leisurely breakfast and some time on the computers, Kit and I are back on the road heading easterly.  Not sure where we are going today or where we will stay the night…..normally we would head straight into Tucson and visit Dewey and Bea but they are still on an RV adventure of their own.  So a quick discussion and vote amongst the members of the Bill and Kit Adventure Team brought a unanimous decision to visit organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (OPCNM).

Pulling onto I-8 we drove east for a few hours until we left the boring ribbon of asphalt and headed south toward the tiny town of Ajo by way of US-85.

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But, alas…..the long lonely stretch of desert two-lane was just way too exciting for Kit.

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If you’ll notice her reflection in the truck window, that book she is holding is a US Atlas.  Kit refers to it frequently in order to tell me where to go……which is surprising to me as I didn’t know Hades was even listed in a US Atlas?!?!

Just as Kit was coming back to life we entered the National Monument and she informed me that there was a stop sign ahead at the park gate.

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Good thing she woke up…..I might have run that poor US Park Ranger plum over!

Our first stop was at the nicely maintained and managed Visitors Center where we enjoyed a short film on the area, picked up some maps and information, then toured the museum where I found the home of one of my childhood pets.

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Yep, when I was younger, my Uncle Dewey visited us and brought me a Desert Tortoise from his home state of Arizona.  Back in those days there were not that many unusual pets in our San Diego neighborhood, so a turtle was the height of cooldum!  Unfortunately, Speedy Gonzales, as I named him, was speedier than I thought and he wandered away from my backyard never to be seen again.

Leaving the visitors center and pulling into the sparsely populated campground, we were able to select a very nice site with incredible views.

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Kit and I have known about Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for years, but it never seemed to be worth the detour to visit…..boy, were we wrong!

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This incredible park is named after the unique cactus that populates the Sonoran Desert in extreme Southern Arizona.

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Being at the northern range of its region, this is the only place in America where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows naturally.  The unusual name was given by early settlers because they thought the branches resembled the pipes of a church organ.  They were a pious bunch since almost everything here could hurt them badly, including the native folks that had been peacefully living on this harsh land for decades.  Speaking of which, the Tohono O’odham call this succulent, “Pitaya Dulce”…..a much more melodic word than Organ Pipe!

The land for OPCNM was donated by the Arizona state legislature to the federal government during prohibition.  The wily desert politician’s knew that the feds would improve the only road into the area which would then make contraband alcohol easier to import from Mexico.

Kit and I had originally planned to just stay the night, but the area intrigued us.  It is so serene and peaceful here we decided to extended our visit.

 

Thursday, February 26 through Saturday, February 28, 2015:  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (OPCNM):  The campground is large and very well designed…..there are many sites that provide privacy and nice views.  Since there are no hookups, we are totally dependent on our camper systems for water, electricity and waste water.  This will mark our first experience dry camping with the new camper.

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One device we’ve acquired since last year is an external battery pack that is capable of charging a depleted cell phone battery up to five times.

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You may remember last year in the piney woods of Flagstaff, Arizona I was using my iPhone as a Geocache GPS and the battery wore down before I could ascertain my way back to the campsite?  Fortunately a Good Samaritan happened along with a functioning GPS and set me on the right course.  I vowed to never let that happen again!

A pleasant surprise awaited Kit and I as we took a walk around the neighborhood.  After many month of seeing many RV’s from many other states but Maine…..we happen to be camped right next door to a couple from our home state!

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Tom and Sharon are Yarmouth residents but active in Brunswick town doings.  Tom, a retired Bowdoin College professor, is very involved in the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and owns a farm that raises the unique Katahdin Sheep.  Tom and Sharon are knowledgeable on many topics…..it was very enjoyable to meet them and hear about their lives.

If one thinks that the desert southwest is devoid of color…..one would be wrong.  During the spring rains and warm temperatures, many species of flowers, shrubbery (no Monty Python intended), and cacti exhibit their finest……such as this flowering Jojoba

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Even the ubiquitous Saguaro Cactus gets in the act with the spring growth at its head displaying a reddish hue.

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And, not to be outdone, the colorfully (no pun intended) named Pink Featherduster gets into the act!

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Even the soft green flesh and ivory colored spines of the Cholla possess a beauty all their own.

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And as a punctuation point, Mother Nature frequently provides a colorful display each evening.

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So, what’s the difference between a National Park and a National Monument?  Actually, very little as they are both managed by the National Park Service and have the same basic charter.  However, National Parks can only be created by an act of congress whereas the US President can designate an area for protection by declaring it a National Monument.  I’m guessing, due to the dysfunctional nature of the US Congress, we may never see another National Park created again.

OPCNM features a number of “jeep trails” that allow the visitor to reach the far corner of the park with suitably equipped vehicles.  Anxious to test the new truck on some of these unimproved roads, Kit and I set off.

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The 21 mile Ajo Mountain Loop took us deep into the desert and across many dry creek beds known as arroyo, or washes……these vulnerable crossings were hardened with concrete to prevent excessive erosion.

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During spring rains and summer monsoons, the natural swales in desert terrain fill rapidly with runoff from the mountains.  Many times during wet weather the entire roadway in these areas will be under a few feet of water!

The road led to many interesting features including this natural bridge made by the forces of nature on the softer underlying strata.

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Other than a few washboards, and the occasional rut, the Ajo Mountain loop trail was easy to drive……even for a big one-ton truck!

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However, Kit and I came across these folks who were doing the trip under their own power.

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Jeff and Ann are from the tiny town of Yellow Pine, Idaho.  They travel in a small class B motorhome and use their very capable mountain bikes for alternative transportation.  Jeff is a retired ranger from the US Forest Service and Ann a former nurse….in addition she was a multiyear National Champion in the unique sport of Supermoto, which is motorcycle racing on pavement and dirt.

There are many hiking trails that crisscross the 517 square miles of the monument, most lead to an area of historical significance or to ruins from earlier inhabitants.  Early one morning, I set off on the Victoria Mine Trail into the foothills of the Puerto Blanco Mountains.

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The well-marked hiking path meandered through the cool early morning desert and crossed many dry washes along the way.

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The hike affords an opportunity to immerse oneself into the desert environment.  However, getting up close and personal to the iconic Saguaro Cactus is a bit intimidating!

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These giants of the desert can reach seventy feet in height and 150 years of age!  The Saguaro’s image is frequently used as a symbol of the southwest, even though the cactus only grows natively in a relatively small region of Arizona and California.  Historically, the native peoples of the Sonoran Desert used many parts of the Saguaro Cactus…..however this threatened cactus is now protected by Arizona and California State Law.

Also growing in profusion on the Sonoran Desert is the Ocotillo, which is not a cactus but a spiny bush.

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For much of the year, the Ocotillo appears to have died off…..however during the wet season the spindly branches of the plant sprouts bright green leaves tipped by brilliant red-orange blossoms.

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The Ocotillo plant reaches skyward and sways in the warm desert breeze while waiting for hummingbirds to perpetuate the plants survival.  Early settlers used the stalks of the Ocotillo as fencing where they often took root forming a living structure.

As a youngster visiting the desert southwest I was intrigued by the Cholla.

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For two reasons, actually…..one is that I was always told by my Uncle Dewey, the original “Desert Rat”, that the cactus was called Jumping Cholla and that I needed to steer clear.  The second being that I loved to harvest the “bones” of dead Cholla because I thought they looked so cool.

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I still have some examples of Cholla Bones in my woodshop back home!  Not sure I’ll ever do anything with them but they are fun to have around.

Many birds that migrate here for the winter (the original snowbirds) make their nest in the protective arms of cactus.

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It is a rare predator that would go after a meal protected by the cactus.

At the trail intersection that led to Victoria Mine I came upon this unsettling image.

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Looking about, I was the only gringo for miles.  Reaching for my cell phone showed low signal strength with a message that read…..“Welcome to Mexico!  International calling fees will apply, please contact Verizon for additional information or to modify your plan”.  Fortunately I was only a quarter mile from the mine so I decided to “keep calm and hike on”.   In about fifteen minutes I came to the Victoria Mine site.

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The prospectors that claimed this area were looking for Copper, Silver and Gold in the ancient granite hills.

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The stone cottage that housed the miner and his family was a great place to relax and enjoy a trail snack before heading back to camp.

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The builders were diligent about sighting their home to maximize heating and cooling while enjoying some incredible views.

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The hike back to the campground was uneventful as I retraced my steps.  I did see a number of hikers heading up the trail however…..my getting an early start was beneficial as I had the trail to myself for most of the morning!

In addition to hiking, Organ Pipe is a great biking venue as well.  However none of the trails were open to bicycles so I had to stay on the park roads.

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Most of the roads off the main park drive were lightly travelled and the rolling hillside made for a fun afternoon bike ride.

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While out and about on my bike, I came across this sign that, for some reason, I could relate too.

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Um…..not sure just why?

The southern border of OPCNM is, well…..the border.  An agreement of reciprocity amongst the US and Mexican critters affords them free and unencumbered travel back and forth across this heavily patrolled area.

Where most of the International Border is blocked by a 21 foot high steel fence, the border along Organ Pipe’s southern flank is nothing more than a vehicle barrier.

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The trucks you see in the background are on Mexico Highway 2…..a major east-west thoroughfare.  Also in the photo is El Pinacate………..the sister park of OPCNM.  The US and Mexican park service work across political boundaries to monitor wildlife migration and control the impact of humans in both parks.

There is a road on the US side as well…..The South Puerto Blanco Drive that we took to see what there was to see.

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As it turned out…..not much, the only thing we saw were scads of Border Patrol folks hiding in the bushes.

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Apparently, Kit and I didn’t match the profile of a Mexican Cartel gang member so they just gave us a casual glance as we rumbled by.

The final evening in OPCNM we were treated to a spectacular display of the setting sun illuminating the distant mountains…

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…as Kit and I took one last stroll around the campground.

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Well, tomorrow we continue our trip easterly.  What awaits our bungling sojourner’s?  Stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s: Much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Organ Pipe!  Bill had talked about it for years and I couldn’t imagine I would have any interest in it.  So glad we took the time to check it out and I would love to go back again.  Talking about the Cholla cactus, many years ago, while visiting with Nana and Uncle Dewey, we all took a walk in the desert and lo and behold, Kimber was attacked by a jumping cactus!  Naturally, at about 9 years old, she was frightened.  Nana got all the stickers out of her pants and calmed her down.  I think she still remembers this incident.  Also, we still have in our cellar specimens of Cholla bones.  We used to encourage the kids to take them for “show and tell” at school.  When they were younger, they would but, as they got a little older, they said “no way”!   In addition, we have some bleached cow bones, which were found by Bill many years ago in the desert.  These made their rounds at “show and tell” too.  Bill has such a knack for picking up the sweetest things to share with us.  First, it was the desert tortoise, which I thought was a bouquet of flowers, then all these bones.  All my hints about flowers and See’s Candies fell on deaf ears!  What can I say, ya gotta love his high style!

Bill and Kit’s 2015 Excellent Adventure, Journal # 10

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

50th Logo

Travelers have better sense of living then Scholars

Sunil Pratap Singh

 

Saturday, February 21, 2015: Up to beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures at Palm Oasis RV Park in El Centro, California.  Not being in a hurry, it will be a perfect morning to tackle our pile of laundry…..wish I could help!  Sadly, I’m not allowed anywhere near washing machines since the great laundromat disaster or 2009.  So as Miss Kit sat aside the whirring and burbling machines I took a walk about the RV Park.

Unlike normal neighborhoods, campgrounds seem to bring folks out of doors far more often…..there are the morning dog walkers, the health conscience fast walkers, and even folks using walkers.  There is always someone in the neighborhood to say good morning to and frequently they are up for some conversation.  Kit and I have met some interesting characters in campgrounds from all walks of life and have formed lasting friendships with some.  I envision it to the way life was in a simpler time before Facebook supplanted the neighborhood sidewalks and backyard fences of America.

We are in no hurry today as the travel distance to our next layover is less than sixty miles.  So, after ensuring our late departure was not going to inconvenience an inbound RV’r, Kit and I lounged about until finally hitting the dusty trail at one-thirty.

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Jumping on I-8 heading east, we skirted the US-Mexican border until arriving at one of many Sothern California snowbird enclaves aptly named Winterhaven.  Located adjacent to Yuma, Arizona and bordering the Colorado River, Winterhaven is the most southeastern settlement in California with a population that hovers around 1,000 souls…..mostly retirees from away.

Pulling into Rivers Edge RV Park Kit and I set up in a rather tight fitting, but very pleasant, campsite.

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The photo above is deceiving as there was no one camped in the site next to us.  There was a very narrow space between the concrete patio and the utility pedestal, coupled with the narrow camp road and combined with my inexperience in backing a fifth-wheel trailer created a real circus performance……you know, the ones where the trained lions eat the clowns?  Fortunately all the nearby residents were napping so missed the spectacle……and, unfortunately all the nearby residents were napping so were not available to move their vehicles out of the road!

So why did we travel only 58 miles today and stop in a dusty little border town?  Well, Kit and I have arranged a special rendezvous with a Maine couple that is heading westerly on their own RV adventure.  Jeff and Cathy are close friends and fellow square dancers who have embarked on their maiden RV voyage in a class B motorhome.  Being that we were on opposing trajectories and coming in from separate time zones, neither of the couples knew when the other was going to reach the campground.  Turns out we did by a mere 30 minutes…..which was great as my parking fiasco was unobserved by them so the illusion that I know my way around RV’ing was preserved!

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It was really great to see Cathy and Jeff and hear about their trip across the US, which we did over Mexican food and cocktails long into the evening.

 

Sunday, February 22 through Tuesday February 24, 2015-Winterhaven, California:  Kit and I originally thought of staying a day or two, but ended up extending the visit as we were thoroughly enjoying the company and there was much to see and do.

Like…..The Yuma Territorial Prison!

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Turns out that this historic facility had significant regional significance and was well worth the time to explore by folks that have little prison experience.

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Yuma Territorial Prison was constructed by the forced labor of convicted near-do-wells.  These inmates were housed in tents along the Colorado River because there wasn’t yet a proper prison to house them in.  Prisoners were told that if they tried to escape their tent-prison that the surrounding quicksand or the hostile Indians would lead to their demise…..so few tried to walk away in the middle of the night.  So let’s see, criminals building a facility that will someday incarcerate them…..what could possible go wrong?

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Turns out that some of the incarcerated laborers added features to the prison that were not specified in the original building plans.  These “enhancements” caused a few jailbreaks from the newly completed prison.  In addition, one of the inmates, R.L. McDonald, an accountant by trade, was sent to the Yuma prison for embezzlement and was assigned as bookkeeper of prisoner accounts…..Yep, he stole $137.00, a fair sum in those days, which wasn’t discovered until after his release.

The cells housed six to a room, with a chamber pot in the middle of the floor for “sanitation” purposes.

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I’m guessing that in the 115 degree heat of summer, it got a might ripe in there!  The iron ring cemented in the floor was used to constrain any unruly inmates…..like the meanest contrarian of them all…..Mild Bill Hiccup!

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Viewing the artifacts and historical documents in the museum, I was struck by the similarities between prison inmates and those of us who volunteered to serve in the military.  There was information in the museum that described a prisoner’s introduction to the facility, to wit: “The first day for a prisoner was a busy one.  He would be assigned a number, have his vital statistics taken, his head shaved, then photographed and issued a uniform”……the same thing happened to me on day one of boot camp!

The US military even uses the same dinnerware as prisoners!

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Yuma Territorial Prison and all the personal stories concerning guards and inmates were very interesting…..glad we took the time to visit after many years of blowing right through the area!

Another interesting factoid about the region, is that in the mid 1800’s Yuma became the prime location for crossing the then raging Colorado River.  There were convenient granite outcroppings on adjacent shores and the river narrowed substantially at this point.  Later the railroad built the only bridge for 1000 miles and it became known as Yuma Crossing.  This provided a convenient, safe and easy way across the river during the US westward migration.  Jeff, a railroading buff, spent time explaining the mechanics and workings of the railroad engine on display at Yuma Crossing National Historic Landmark Park.

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There is a lot to keep track (no pun intended) of by a train conductor!  Just because they don’t need to worry about steering doesn’t mean that the job is a piece of cake!

In addition to railroading, Jeff and Cathy are accomplished ocean sailors.  So seeing the hull of a large sailing vessel sitting high and dry some 170 miles from the nearest ocean was a sight worthy of a closer look!

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The hull is made of steel and features a large keel and rudder, one that could easily be used in the open ocean!  No sign of life was anywhere near the beleaguered vessel…..in fact the only sign was one that proclaimed “Private Property-No Trespassing”.  Like many anomalies sighted along the road, this too shall remain a mystery.

Date Farms are a common sight in this area.  When we mentioned this, Jeff said that a date farm sounded like a teenage boy’s fantasy!  But, in reality, it is nothing more fanciful than a farm that harvests dates from palm trees.

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And one of the largest in the vicinity is the Imperial Date Garden.

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Kit and I have been here in the past, and wanted to share with Jeff and Cathy the specialty of the place…..Date Shakes!  In addition to the sweet and refreshing goodness of the Date Shake, we also stocked up on Raisins, Date Rolls and the delicious Fancy Medjool Dates.

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We learned a great deal about cultivating and harvesting the date……there is even a job position on the farm known as the “Date Pollinator”!  Yea, my inner teenage boy brain giggled as well.

The park we are camping in, River’s Edge RV Resort is, well…..on the river’s edge!  The Colorado River parallel’s the campground and there is a nice river walk the length of the park.

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And if chlorinated water is more your style there is a pool and two hot tub’s available.

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The river bank technically belongs to the US Bureau of Reclamation…..however the residents of Rivers Edge RV Resort have “improved” the steep and muddy shoreline by installing patios and landings along the river to enhance access and recreation opportunities.

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Along the riverbank at this time of the year, many wildflowers and cacti are in bloom like this Prickly Pear.

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We got wind (no pun intended) of an unusual bit of aviation history displayed in the lobby of Yuma City Hall.

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This Aeronca Sedan set an endurance record back in 1949 by staying aloft for forty-seven consecutive days.

City of Yuma Endurance Flight

Why was this feat of daring was even attempted?  Well, I’ll tell you…..the government had just closed the Yuma Army Air Field which triggered a downturn in the local economy.  So city fathers (and mother, I assume) hatched a plan to promote Yuma’s perfect flying weather by going after the existing aircraft endurance record of 42 days set earlier that year.  Breaking the record, and then some, the little plane set down on October 10, 1947 after flying 89,920 miles…..in circles.  Even though the aircraft had a two way radio, much of the ground to air communication was conducted via Morse code using flashlights.  Great plan; however the folks of Yuma watching the aircraft day and night got excited by the flashing light from the aircraft and grabbed their own flashlights to flash the pilot back.  Mucked up the whole operation!

The support vehicle for the effort was a brand new Buick convertible retrofitted with platforms and rails to enable the ground crew to hand up fuel, oil, food and other necessities to the low flying aircraft.

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Well, the stunt worked as the US Government reopened the airfield and it is now used by the US Marine Corps as an AV-8 Harrier base.  As the USMC retires the Harrier “Jump Jet” the Yuma Air Station is being repurposed as a base for the USMC variant of the F-35 Lightening, a Lockheed product keeping my pension out of the red!  Ironically the two flyers were Navy combat pilots from WWII.

Back at the campground, Jeff and I met our neighbor…..a retired diesel mechanic from Alberta, Canada.  Jim has installed a number of innovative accessories to his truck and fifth wheel…..most of which he designed and built himself!  Like the dual Honda 2000 generators that are phase synced without the use of the expensive Honda parallel cable.

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Jim can run one or if needed both generators from their stored position.  He also designed and built an auxiliary diesel tank to extend his driving range which also featured an integrated gasoline tank for the generators…..pretty clever!

Jeff, I and the girls were out exploring the backroads every day.

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On one jaunt we ended up at the Cloud Museum.

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John Cloud has been collecting for the past 16 years, basically anything that strikes his fancy!

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An old car nut, most of the collection is made up of, what else, old cars!

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Being kindred old car nuts ourselves, Jeff and I had a blast poking around the old iron……even the girls got into the spirit traipsing about in the many dusty barns on the property.

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Some of Johnny’s collection had been restored.

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Some, not so much.

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But, according to Johnny, all arrived here under their own power.  Of particular interest to Jeff, was the collection of Model A’s as he is the proud owner of one of these venerable Ford’s.

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It appears that old Johnny possess an example of every Model A body style Henry ever made!

Of particular interest to me was an old motorhome.

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This 1930 Model A “House Car” was purchased by Johnny’s father from an old school teacher in the area and used by the Cloud family for vacation trips.

In addition, there were many other pieces of unusual machinery like this contraption.

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Any of you gear-heads know what it is?

Also, here’s a bit of family motoring nostalgia.

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As a kid, whenever we traveled across the desert to see family and friends in Arizona we traveled at night and always had a Desert Water Bag hanging from the front grill of the car.  The evaporative cooling of the canvas bag kept the water cool enough to tolerate…..barely.

It was fascinating to walk the grounds of the Cloud Museum and catch a glimpse of rusty iron of a bygone age.

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Usually, after a long day of exploration, we would stop at a local eating establishment.

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This mom and pop place had some excellent home cooking and an incredible pie selection.

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Well, alas, Cathy and Jeff needed to motor on, so we bid them fair winds and following seas as they pulled out to continue their trek toward the setting sun.

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Safe travels friends…..thanks for taking time to camp with us…..see you back in Maine this summer!

Other longtime friends we try and see when passing through are John Roger and Karen, who escape their home in Bend, Oregon this time every year.

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They winter over at the LTVA on BLM land (Long Term Visitors Area on Bureau of Land Management land)…..and have for many years.  They were one of the reasons we selected the fifth wheel that we did as they have an older version of this trailer and like it very much.  It was a blast to see them and catch up on what was new in all our lives.  We enjoyed a great meal at Tacos Mi Ranchito and equally nice conversation.  An excellent end to our stay in Winterhaven, California and an equally nice sunset on our return trip to the campground.

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Next stop for Bill and Kit?  Stay tuned!

Oh…..that yellow machine referenced earlier?  It is a radial engine air compressor made by the Ingersoll-Rand company for use by the railroads.  Every other cylinder of the six barrel machine contains a piston that is part of a gasoline engine…..the remaining three alternating barrels contain pistons that compress the air…..pretty neat rig!

Kit’s Bit’s: We had a great time in Winterhaven, CA/Yuma, AZ!  Of particular interest was the prison tour.  Back in Feb. of 1976, we had stopped at a roadside rest to stay overnight in our first trailer with all 3 kids.  We only stayed a few hours and never really got out to see what was around the area.  That was our very first “non-campground” stop ever!  We were on our way to Norfolk, VA and, of course, taking the “scenic route”.  It was nice to finally see what the place was all about.  Great to catch up with Cathy & Jeff!  We were able to compare notes and do some sightseeing around the area.  Often, people who live in greener parts of our country are fascinated by all the desert has to offer.  The desert is particularly nice during the winter.  Also great to catch up with John Roger and Karen!  They are experts in the ways of BLM camping!

Bill and Kit’s 2015 Excellent Adventure, Journal # 9

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015 50th Logo

 I tramp a perpetual journey

Walt Whitman

Sunday, February 15, 2015:  This morning the sun rises over beautiful Del Mar Beach as we reluctantly prepare to depart our oceanfront camping paradise…..however we are excitedly looking forward to our next adventure.

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Yea, ya got me!  We are on the left coast and the image above actually shows last night’s sun setting over the Pacific.  I‘m shameless when it comes to inserting sunset photos into this journal.  It is simply not possible to take a bad photo of the sun setting over a body of water.  Whereas many of my other snapshots barely reach the level of mediocrity, sunset photos always seem to come out stunningly.

The weather is California perfect as we pull out of Oceanside and hop on The Five heading south where we immediately come to a slow crawl!

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It’s ten AM folks…..don’t you have to be at work or in school?  Oh, it’s Sunday…..as a retiree it is so easy to forget days of the week, or time of the day, or to put your pants on.

We finally increase to a gentle trot and meander south.  From The Five, we follow The Seventy-Eight to The Fifteen which leads us to The Fifty-Two and on into the Santee valley, where the traffic moderates somewhat.

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No one out here refers to any highway by their given names, like “Interstate Five” or “California Highway Fifty-Two” it’s always The Five or The Fifty-Two……The Californians can be a bit unusual!

After a bit more than an hour on the road, we return to our newest favorite San Diego area camping facility….. Santee Lakes Regional Park and Campground.  This time around, Kit and I are looking forward to an important event and an opportunity to camp with my bruzzin, Dewey and sister-in-law, Bea and our mutual brother Dan.

 

Monday, February 16 through Thursday February 19, 2015-Santee Lakes RV Park, California:  It is getting into prime RV season for folks in this neck of the scrub brush and we couldn’t score any of our favorite sites due to the park being near capacity…..however we did select the nicest of what was available.

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And it was right next door to the site that Dewey and Bea selected and soon they arrived from Tucson, Arizona with their camper in tow.

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Our other brother Dan also drove in from Tucson and stayed with us in our camper.  After enjoying a meal, drinks and conversation we finalized preparations for our mother’s Military Memorial ceremony.

Mom passed in March of last year.  Over the past eleven months, she has traveled with us to visit her place of birth, then to our home in Maine, back to her beloved Arizona and finally to her eternal place of rest in the family’s hometown of San Diego.  Mom has visited more areas of the country since her passing than many folks visit in their lifetime…..sad but true.

On Ash Wednesday, west coast friends and family gathered at beautiful Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery located on Point Loma in San Diego, California.  It was a typical coastal California winter day, plenty of sunshine with a gentle onshore breeze.

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I cobbled together some words highlighting mom’s remarkable life followed by a few symbolic spiritual quotes and concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.  It was with great love and humility that these words were read as a few of America’s finest stood at respectful attention.

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Next a bugler played the haunting melody of Taps as we all stood and rendered the appropriate honors.

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The family chose our brother Dan to receive the burial flag…..this is a traditional symbol of the nation’s gratitude to mom for serving her country during time of war.

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Many of the West Coast family were in attendance as well as a few old friends.  Following the Military Honors, we strolled to the Columbarium Wall to view mom’s niche and pay final respects before gathering at a local tavern for food and fellowship.

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Then, as the evening wound down we were treated to a spectacular sunset!

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Thanks mom!  And thanks to Dewey and his son Kevin for taking some great photos that I can share with family in the far flung corners of our nation!

Also while in the area, Kit and I were able to meet some friends from my days of work at Lockheed.

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Scott and Marie now live in San Diego while Scott manages the Navy’s Aegis Modernization Project for the region.  He and I worked at the Bath Iron Works before Scott had the good sense to accept an assignment in beautiful San Diego.  We met at The Lazy Dog Restaurant and enjoyed some of the best hamburgers and micro brews in the area.

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Later on Dave, another Maine expatriate, joined us and the story telling continued.

The LM Maine Gang

We had a great time reconnecting with old friends and catching up on each other’s news…..thanks guys, hope to see you again next year!

Along the highways of Southern California, we have come to expect various high end and exotic automobiles moving about.  In addition there appears to be more antique and modified cars than anywhere else in the country.  However seeing an antique Corvette being pulled by a U-Haul trailer is a rare sight!

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Yea, I know…..for those of us at a certain age, the terms “antique” and “Corvette” do not seem to go together!  A mid 1950’s Classic worth upwards of $100,000.00 being hauled by a rental truck seemed odd…..if the fellow could afford a nice collector car, he should be able to get someone to move him!?!?

With our new rig, carrying my bike was an issue.  Previously it rode in the bed under a truck cap…..however with the fifth wheel configuration that is no longer possible.  So I picked up a bike rack that attaches to the trailers two inch receiver.

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Time will tell whether this is an acceptable solution……I may have to raise the rack some in order to provide better ground clearance.   Oh, and the sharp eyed reader may notice that particular bike is one I “rescued” from the desert last year and have since restored.

Speaking of bikes, Santee Lakes is a great place to ride.

Santee Lakes Path

There are trails that wind through the property including one that encircles the chain of lakes.

Now a quick note about the tonneau cover I selected for the truck.  When we last left our analytical (Kit would say the correct spelling of that word leaves off the last six letters) truck owner he was investigating the best truck bed cover that would work with the fifth wheel configuration and protect the truck beds contents when the camper is disconnected.  Well, he made a pilgrimage to the factory of Truck Covers USA and received ample information from a highly motivated and knowledgeable employee who turned out to be the CEO!  Here is the result.

Truck Cover's USA

It is a quality retractable segmented aluminum cover with a secure lock.  If you’re interested in a tonneau cover, I highly recommend this product…..check it out at:

http://www.truckcoversusa.com/

Our final evening consisted of the family getting together with our friend Rodney and his wife Gloria who reside in Tecate, Mexico.  We enjoyed a nice barbeque, great conversation and some quality cerveza!

Here is a picture of Rodney, or friend JoAnne, Kit and I that was snapped up at Fort Rosecrans…..it was the first time the four of us has been together since 1963!

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And, we haven’t aged a bit!

 

Friday, February 20, 2015:  Underway at 1130 from Santee, California under partly sunny skies and a temperature of 75 degrees.  Our goal was to spend a few days at Anza Borrego State Park in the California desert…..however it’s Friday.  And the desert wildflowers are blooming.  And, as usual, we didn’t plan ahead and make reservations.  And the weekend forecast is for perfect weather.  And we lose!  Yep, all 149 camp sites are reserved!  So off to plan B, annnd we don’t have a Plan B…..will have to figure it all out later in the day.

Kit and I decided to take CA-67…..a far more scenic route which winds through Sycamore Canyon before climbing into the Santa Rosa Mountains.

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It then traverses the Cleveland National Forest on its way to the town of Ramona.  After a brief stop for groceries, we join CA-78 and continue easterly toward the town of Julian.

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Topping out at 4,275 feet we begin to lose altitude as we drop into Grapevine Canyon.

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Being a Friday, there are a lot of RV’s on the road…..many pulling four-wheelers and dune buggies heading for the Ocotillo Wells SVRA (State Vehicle Recreation Area).

Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Nearing our self-imposed quitting time (300/300), Kit researches a few camping opportunities in the area but nothing suitable pops up, so we continue east toward the Salton Sea.

What does 300/300 mean?  Well ever since the 2008 Excellent Adventure some seven years ago, we found the need to establish a policy on when to stop for the day.  Back then I was a bit manic as I wanted to see as much as possible and not squander any daylight.  This mode of travel resulted in long tiring days, late night arrivals, and a bit of marital disharmony.  I’ve mellowed a lot as I have aged and now our daily travel routine is to be off the road when we have traveled 300 miles or when the time reaches 3:00 PM.

Skirting the southwestern shore of the Salton Sea Kit kept searching for a nice place to stop for the evening…..but alas there is nothing available.  As we drove through the town of Brawley and jumped on CA-86 heading south, she noticed we were approaching El Centro and a possible camping opportunity at the Naval Air Station.  Calling the base we were a bit relieved to learn of a few sites available so that bit of good news caused our speed, as well as our mood, to increase.

It was 1540 as we pulled into The Palm Oasis RV Park at El Centro Naval Air Field…..which is also the winter training facility for the US Navy’s famed flight demonstration team, The Blue Angels.

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As if on cue, “The Blues” returning from a training flight, performed a mini air show for anyone lucky enough to be in the area.

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The unexpected treat of aerial ballet caused folks all over the base to crane their necks skyward and shield their eyes while becoming mesmerized by the precision flying of the world’s finest combat pilots.

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Our friend Dan recently e-mailed a link to a cool video that shows a pilot’s view during an air show performance…..check it out at:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/u4D0yx4DvBk?rel=0

Thanks, Dan.

Following that brief and enjoyable interlude, we retired to the camper and got caught up on e-mail and the news of the day.

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Palm Oasis RV Park has doubled the number of its camp sites since our last visit and has embarked on a major remodeling project.  We scored a site in the newer and nicer portion of the park in close proximity to the very much needed laundry.

El Centro is el centro to California’s Imperial Valley and the self-described nation’s salad bowel.

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This neo-verdant and extremely productive portion of the Sonoran Desert is sustained by a massive irrigation project called the All-American Canal System.

All American Canal from 2014

This 80 mile long aqueduct diverts water from the Colorado River to the fields of the Imperial Valley, one of the driest places on earth with an annual rainfall of less than three inches a year.  The near perfect weather combined with a year round growing season and plentiful Colorado River water sustains 630,000 acres of highly productive crop land.

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So, how did the All American Canal come by its name?  Well, when the aqueduct was dug back in the early 1900’s it was called The Alamo Canal and part of it flowed through Mexico.   Due to canal breeches by los agricultores, much of the water was diverted before it ever reached its intended destination.  So in the 1930’s a new canal was dug, wholly within the United States and called…..care to guess?

While at The Palm Oasis RV Park, Kit and I visited with a neighboring couple who had just taken the Farm to Feast Agricultural Tour.  They learned that the bag of mixed salad greens found in many modern supermarkets is grown and harvested utilizing a special procedure.  The farmers intersperse seed of the desired mix within the same row, then when mature a cultivator chops off the upper two thirds of the plants.  The periodic harvesting can be accomplished three times before the crop must be plowed under.  Can’t vouch for the veracity of her story, but we did notice a large field growing the plastic bags the produce is packaged in!

These same folks have a small farm in La Grande, Oregon…..the home of Northwood Manufacturing, maker of our Arctic Fox.

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They encouraged us to come up for a visit, tour the factory, and stay in one of their full hook up sites they installed on the farm.  Thanks, Mary and Gary……don’t be surprised if we show up next to the barn at some point!

Using the Find Friends App Kit and I learned that we may be able to connect with some good friends who are on their own RV adventure.  Jeff and Cathy are within striking distance for a meet up sometime today if we continue east.  They have extensive touring experience on their beautiful 40 foot sailboat but are on their maiden voyage in a Class B Motorhome.  Leaving Maine in mid-January, Jeff and Cathy have already seen a significant amount as they trekked their way west.  As their vehicle, they selected a Winnebago Motorhome based on the new Sprinter/Mercedes diesel chassis.  It is a great unit and can attain an unbelievable 22 MPG…..incredible for any self-contained RV!

We all decided the best rendezvous point would be near the California and Arizona border.  Researching possible camping opportunities Kit and I discover what appears to be a nice and convenient park…..Rivers Edge RV Resort in the aptly named town of Winterhaven!  I booked two sites for two days and nodded off thinking of the fun times to come!

Kit’s Bit’s: Our time in San Diego this trip has been great!!!  We could have easily stayed on another couple of weeks but, alas, we had to move on.  Our tribute to Nana turned out beautiful!  The weather was perfect, we had very special people with us and everyone had kind words about her.  She was a great lady and she would have loved such a nice send off!  Our childhood friends, Rodney and JoAnne both remembered her when she worked at Rexall Drug in our local shopping center, which takes us all back to age 12 or so.  Our families had fond memories of her when we were young and growing up.  Class act, Bill!  You did a wonderful service for Nana!  Of course, she is still with us in spirit; we see signs of her presence nearly every day.  Love you!

Bill and Kit’s 2015 Excellent Adventure, Journal #8

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

 

50th Logo

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Monday, February 2, 2015:  Today Kit and I will make the thirty two mile trek from Mission Valley in San Diego to the coastal town of Oceanside.  It’s also time for our oceanfront camping fix and Del Mar Beach is one of our favorite beach camping venues.

After hooking up truck to camper, we delayed our departure so I could use the large and relatively empty parking lot at Admiral Baker Field to take some measurements with the rig in extreme turning maneuverers.  We (I) are (am) in the market for a retractable tonneau cover to help protect the contents stored in the truck bed.  The two covers I’m considering (researching) have frames that intrude into the bed area of the truck, and may present clearance issues between the trucks bed rail and the underside of campers pin box during a tight radius turn.  Or, as Kit would phrase it; blah, blah, blah, blah.  Glad I took the time to check, as one brand is superior in construction to the other, presents the least risk of the damage in extreme maneuvering and as a bonus, it is manufactured right here in San Diego!

Kit and I got on the road at 1110 under bright sunny skies and warm temperatures.  Today will mark the longest drive to date with the new fifth wheel and one that will mark its first experience on the Interstate Freeway System.  I have always heard that fifth wheel trailers tow like a dream…..now I can confirm that statement.  At 13,400 pounds (GVWR) I definitely knew there was a significant tow astern, however this new rig felt smoother and more stable than our previous one.

Within an hour we were rolling into Oceanside and on our way to the US Marine Corps Recreation Facility, Del Mar Beach Resort and Campground.  Selecting a nice spot on the quieter northern end of the park we set up for a two week stay.

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Parking our rig right on the sand is one of our favorite camping experiences in California.  We love the broad sandy beach, the fragrant salt air and being lulled to asleep by the sound of waves crashing on the shore.

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Del Mar park features five rows of campsites.  The ones closest to the water are more expensive and “weekenders” reserve these prime sites months in advance.  Those of us who spend a few weeks here are effectively locked out of the prime spots…..unless you want to move every weekend.

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However our row two site becomes one with an ocean view come Sunday afternoon as the weekend folks clear out.  We then have the view, without the extra $10.00 a day upcharge of the premium sites!  A $140.00 savings over the course of our stay!!

Del Mar rents beachfront cottages as well and the entire facility has undergone extensive remodeling.  An added feature since we last visited is the Casa at Del Mar.

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In addition to a convenience store and surfboard rental shop, there are function rooms and a great Mexican place called Ramone’s Cantina where one can enjoy frosty adult beverages out of their signature Red Solo Cups.

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Yea, I had the Toby Keith song swirling around in my brain as well…..sorry!  We dined with old Al Fresco a few times at Ramone’s and the meals were consistently outstanding.

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One just had to watch out for the seagull banditos.

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Speaking of birds, one of these fellows would visit our camper roof most mornings.

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I’m sure they didn’t have a clue we were watching him through the skylight.

On one day during our stay, Kit and her sister Char made plans to drive up the coast and visit their parents who are interned at Riverside National Cemetery.

Davies Memorial Marker

Kit reports they had a nice time visiting the cemetery and enjoying a meal on the way back south.

I took that opportunity to explore the town of Oceanside.  Strolling through the weekly farmers market I was amazed at all the items for sale.

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Including an incredible assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Since it was nearing lunchtime, I ordered some Lumpia from a Filipino Food Vender in attendance.

Lumpia

It was the best I’ve enjoyed outside the Philippines…..just needed to see some Jeepney’s and swig a few bottles of San Miguel and I would have been transported back to 1969!

Next, I visited the California Surf Museum to see what was new since last year.

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There was an interesting display on the history of body-surfing and a profile of Boomer Beach in La Jolla and the infamous Wedge of Newport Beach.

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The above photo, which I grabbed off the internet, is a great example of the power contained in the shore break at The Wedge.  The wave closes out in mere feet of water so quickness is needed in order to prevent auguring into the bottom.  Many years ago a bunch of us drove to Newport Beach to see and try to conquer The Wedge…..we lost!

One of the permanent displays at the museum is an incredible exhibit of boards along with the history of surfing and the California beach culture.  The collection took me back to the days I was a kid surfing the shore breaks of San Diego County.

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The third board from the left in the photo above was similar to the one I learned to surf on.  It was made of plywood over a wood frame…..it also leaked!  Every half hour or so, I would have to unscrew the brass plug and drain the thing.  It weighed close to forty pounds dry, so with some water weight it was a bit unwieldy.

I thoroughly enjoyed walking the streets and strolling the beaches of Oceanside; the place has changed quite a bit over the years but is still a nice coastal town with a quirky vibe.  However, like most towns, it does have its ups and downs!

Ups and Downs

That evening, Kit and I walked along the shore of Del Mar Beach and enjoyed yet another spectacular sunset before turning in for the evening.

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Camping on a beach that is also an active Marine Corps training facility provides loads of entertaining sights out ones camper window.

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Every weekday morning at O’dark thirty, as Kit and I sat in our jammies drinking coffee, the Marines were out on maneuvers.

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Of particular interest were the tracked vehicles called Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV).

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The AAV’s rumbled through the campground as they made their way down the beach…..

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…..to rendezvous with the Navy Landing Craft waiting just off shore.

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You might wonder about the effect of salt water on all that machinery?  Well fear not tax paying citizens….the USMC has you covered!

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Yep, a “drive through tank wash”…..I wonder how many quarters that thing takes?

This spectacle of military might brought out all the old retired guys to talk story of their own glory days…..

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…..as the sun set over the blue Pacific while backlighting a UH-60 Blackhawk on its way to join the exercise.

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Speaking of flight, Del Mar Beach is a world class kite flying venue.

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The winds were perfect and the north end of the wide beach was devoid of sunbathers, or as kite flyers refer to them, “targets”.  I flew kites every day we were camped on the beach and on some days I was able to work my way through the quiver of kites I now possess…..changing them out as the wind, or my mood, dictated.

After an afternoon of flying, I was generally parched and wind burned so I usually sought a medicinal potion to regain some vigor and vitality.

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Salty Dog IPA is the signature brew of Brother Sam David…..IMO; he should change his label to “Brother Sam David’s Monastic Medicine” as it is truly a religious experience.  Of his many other talents is his exquisite home brew artistry and he was kind enough to share his bounty with Kit and I!  The full bodied aroma mixed with a hoppy head danced on my palate as its refreshing carbonated elixir refreshed my soul…..unfortunately it also produced a bit of flatulence.

Speaking of Sam David, while in the “North County” we gathered at his Rancho Bernardo for yet another great meal…..this time it was barbeque grilled to incredible culinary perfection.

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Sam David, the grill-master, did the voodoo that he do so well…..and, in the process, let the “secret ingredient” slip out.

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Well, that and his precise attention to temperature control utilizing the “slow and low” ethos.  The six full rack-o-ribs slow cooked during the consumption of eight barley-pops.  The guzzling of seven would have resulted in an underdone rack and nine would have resulted in overcooking as a nap would have surely been involved.  However, all went well and we enjoyed a perfectly cooked meal.

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Thanks Sam David, Anne and Chelsea!

The beaches of Southern California have embraced the sport of tow-In surfing that had been perfected on the North Shore of Hawaii.  This method of dropping into a swell utilizes a personal watercraft (PWC) to tow the surfer onto a wave long before he could catch it using the traditional paddle method.  To ensure the surfer doesn’t have all the fun, the PWC drivers use the face of the wave as a “launch pad” to do flip’s and other tricks on their way back out through the surf.

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The beach in front of our camper was perfect for the launching and retrieval of the watercraft and when the break was perfect, for the sport of tow-in surfing.

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The whole spectacle was, well…..pretty spectacular!  My, how surfing has changed since I was kid!!

When not otherwise goofing off, I like to do some constructive beachcombing…

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…accompanied by a few of my bird brained friends.

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Usually I only stumble across piles of kelp, literally!

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But occasionally discover other treasures.

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Also, as a bonus, at twilight there is always another beautiful sunset to enjoy.

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Notice how I seem to sneak in another sunset photo…..the sad thing is that many more never hit the journal and are destined to live out their lives on a long forgotten corner of my hard drive.

One of the nice things about the camping lifestyle is meeting and getting to know your neighbors.  At Del Mar Beach we had the good fortune to camp next to a young family living life to the fullest by living full time in their RV.

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Lester and his family had recently left the Air Force and decided to travel the US in a motorhome for a spell.  They are road-schooling their two children as they move about experiencing Gods creation…..a great family on a memorable adventure!

Well, our time camping on the beach has come to an end…..but not before enjoying another spectacular sunset…..

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…and an equally stunning moon rising in the East over our humble abode.

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Goodnight, all!

Kit’s Bit’s: We love our stays at Del Mar Beach.  It (sort of) brings us back to our days at Pacific Beach when we were teenagers.  It’s a bit different though, Bill used to spend the entire day out in the water surfing while I “baked” in the sun.  Now, he watches the tanks, flies kites, and jaws with all the old guys.  I spend my time relaxing in the shade and chatting with the other old ladies.  We also enjoy our jaunts into Oceanside to run errands.  I always try to eke out a couple of hours at their beautiful library, as well.  All in all, it’s always a great stay at Del Mar Beach!