Wednesday, 28 January 2015

California Dreamin'

Travelling in the past involved getting a map out, planning stops, routes, timing, it all brought the trip into focus.  Looking at the map made it easy to picture distance and terrain and towns and cities you pass through.  Before GPS I always had grasp of all these things, I knew what direction I was going and what I was in for on a journey.  Technology is great but it can cause you problems especially when you blindly follow it.

We left the Salton Sea headed over to Rancho California in Aguanga,CA for another month of southern sun.  A nice short trip of less than two hours and beautiful sunny day. We had planned on a very easy, relaxing day.  The truck needed fuel at some point on the way, we were to pass through Palm Desert so we planned to stop in the city and fill-up.  Driving through the city we passed up on different stations because they would be difficult to get into with the fifth wheel.  I had thought we would find something easier to get into on the edge of town, well I was wrong, all of a sudden we were out the other side of town and headed up a mountain.  This is when we started to worry, a sign along the road told us we were on a scenic byway, we are all for scenic drives but driving up the side of a mountain pulling a 38' trailer with no fuel in the tank is not a relaxing afternoon drive.  The next sign was a recommendation that trucks with long trailers should not take this route, at this point we couldn't turn around because you could not see far enough up the road to do it safely.  This road while very pretty, was quite a test, cut into the mountain the rock walls were at times just a foot off the asphalt and that meant the trailer was just missing on the right hand turns.  To add to the fun because we were headed up to over 9000' elevation, we were burning what little fuel we did have at probably twice the rate we would normally.  If we ran out we would likely have blocked the road as there were very few spots to get off to the side to allow traffic by.  This run up and over this mountain was the most stress I have felt since we started fulltiming.  Well we did manage to make it to the top and the trip down the other side we had gravity working for us, but if we ran out of fuel I would lose the power steering and the winding road would be very interesting without it.  We did make it to a gas station before we ran out but we were quite frazzled by that time. 

The long and winding road up and over the mountains.
"Yep, the heart is still beating"

Fulltime lesson #5:  Fill up before you hit a 1/4 tank of fuel and a difficult station to get into is much better than no station to get into.

Fulltime lesson #6:  Look at a proper map to see the terrain you'll be covering.  This is something people who live in the mountains pay attention to, but someone like myself who has not spent much time on mountain roads has not learnt the lessons of elevation and twists and turns that go with it.

The highlight of our California stop was to be seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs play against the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks.  We had great seats for the Kings game, right beside the tunnel and just 4 rows from the ice, we fist bumped half the team on the way in and out of the dressing room, it was great! Then the game started and it went down hill from there.  The Kings scored less than a minute into the game and it was all they would need to win, as the Leafs were shut out for the game.

Yes, this is close to the action.

The Goalies

Two nights later we're at the Honda Center for another shot at winning against the Anaheim Ducks.  The Leafs weren't even in this game and failed to score for the second game straight. We didn't have anything to cheer about in either game we attended, but as all Leaf fans we are use to them falling apart in January every year.  I don't know what to do with them but that's a whole different blog subject.

Beautiful, modern train station by the Honda Center in Anaheim
We met many of these fans at the Kings game.  It is very hard and expensive to get Leaf tickets in Toronto, so people travelling catch them when they can.
These were to be the only pucks that went in the net for the Leafs. :(

Detra couldn't wait to get to the flagship Gucci store on Rodeo Drive, she wanted a wallet to go with her purse and watch, but she didn't find one and my thin wallet was much happier for it.  Beverly Hills is much like you would imagine it, high end stores, exotic cars and expensive atmosphere.  What is also here are normal people like us who walk around looking at all the nice stuff and wonder who can afford to live like this.  There are more tourists than shoppers here but it still is interesting to see how the 1%'ers live.  I was more interested in all the Ferrari, Bugatti and Rolls Royce cars that were running around, and there were plenty of them. 

Gucci heaven
The Bugatti that sits outside Bijan store. One of these will set you back $1.5 million used and upwards of $4 mil for the new Super Sport model, and that's U.S. dollars.

We headed towards Hollywood, the round about way, up through the hills and mansions of the stars along with the traffic that plagues the Los Angeles area.  I have to mention the traffic in the Los Angeles, it is bad.  Living around Toronto prepares you for the crush, but this is a whole next level in grid lock.  Driving in and out of the city, day or night, it is always packed with cars.  Driving and parking a duallie truck in the tight confines of  the city is an added bonus we get to enjoy.

Hollywood Blvd. was once a glamorous place, with the walk of fame, the Chinese Theater and I would imagine the odd movie star.  Times have changed and it has lost the glitz and glamour, filled with cheap souvenir shops and tour bus operators mixed with some of the remaining famous theaters and buildings.  This is not what I would want to step off the bus into, seeking my fame and fortune on the silver screen.  The feel is odd and a little on the seedy side, with all the tourist stuff mixed in with the drug dealers and the odd prostitute.  But even with all of that, it is something to behold with the Hollywood sign looking down on you from the hills.

Hollywood Blvd to the Hollywood sign up in the hills.

Once Grauman's, now TCL Chinese Theater
 All this walking had made us hungry so we looked up a Diner's, Drive-in and Dive restaurant and headed for The Oinkster.  This place is a burger, pastrami and pork place, all of them cooked long and slow.  I had the trademark "Oinkster", a huge wrap with pastrami that is the best I've had and is to die for. Detra ordered up a pulled pork sandwich that was also great, but she said she'd get the pastrami next time. Detra doesn't eat pastrami, so I'll leave it to your imagination on just how tasty it was.

The Oinkster, where meat goes to become heavenly.
Soaking up the sunshine in Southern California,

Thursday, 15 January 2015

'merica Oddities

We are heading further west into southern California which is very exciting for us, it is about as far away from our home as we will be in our snowbirding travels.  We have been looking forward to this leg for a couple reasons, the first is meeting a fellow blogger and the second is the Salton Sea area.

Yuma bills itself as the sunniest city in the U.S.  Right on the border with Los Algodones, Mexico, it is has also become the spot for many Americans to go and get cheap dental, vision and drugs.  We didn't go to Mexico but we hear there is quite the system set up.  Park your car in the states, walk across the bridge into Mexico and the first couple of blocks are full of modern offices set up to cater to the masses flowing across the border.  The costs are 10% to 20% for the same dental work as that in the States or Canada, and the quality of work is reportedly up to a high standard. 

We were just passing through Yuma and had planned a two night stopover in one of the many RV resorts that are seemingly everywhere here in Yuma.  Westwind RV and Golf Resort was where we stayed with our Passport America 50% discount.  This is a large resort with plenty of things keep the snowbirds busy through the winter while enjoying all that sunshine.

While here we visited the Arizona Territorial Prison and the downtown area.  The prison opened in 1875 and has a colourful history, including Pearl Hart, a young Canadian woman who committed the last stagecoach robbery in the U.S.  She was born in Lindsay, Ontario, not far from where we spent our summers.

Six men to a cell not bigger than 10' x12'

Wanted... last seen heading west

If you are ever on Main St. in Yuma you have to stop at Lutes' Casino., a restaurant despite the name.  It's an old time eatery with so much going on inside you can't take it all in. 

We knew that fellow blogger Jim and Barb of Jim and Barb's RV Adventures were stopping here to take advantage of the low cost services across the border.  Jim and I have been following each other's blogs for what seems a along time.  It really has been just a year, they started fulltiming a short while after us.  Jim and Barb are much like us in age and interests, after talking through the blogs, I felt we knew them before we ever met.  We drove over to meet them the night before we were heading out to the Salton Sea.  We spent a couple of hours talking about fulltiming and things to do and things we've done.  It was great to finally meet in person and I hope our paths cross in the future.

Jim and Barb with Daisy

Salton Sea was the next stop on our road to the west.  Called the "Accidental Sea" because back in 1905 an engineering mistake caused a dike to be overwhelmed and all of the Colorado River flowed into the Salton Sink for 16 months, creating the current Salton Sea.  There are couple of documentaries about the area, the odd history and people it has attracted.  They are worth seeing along with a few Youtube videos.

We stayed at the Salton Sea Recreation Area State Park.  It is a strangely beautiful place with nice sunsets, water fowl constantly flying by, the shimmering light bouncing off the water.

 In the fifties this was a busy tourist area with boat races, fishing, skiing and plenty of restaurants and attractions.  It all started falling apart with flooding and the fish starting to die from various reasons.

Our campsite looking from the white beach.

Beautiful sunsets
Plenty of pelicans.
The photo ops are endless.

It all looks so pretty, until you look a little closer...

The sea is slowly dying with the salinity rising and killing many species of fish that once lived in the Salton Sea. Water evaporation is the only outlet leaving behind salt and chemicals from the run-off of the area farms. Tilapia still survive in large numbers and is the main food source for the millions of birds who stop by on the way south.  The white beach that you've been walking on is actually the bones of dead fish and the shells of barnacles that have washed ashore.  The decaying marine life on the shore cause an ever present underlying odor that you have to get used to. 

Take a close look... salt, bones and barnacles.


Bombay Beach is a small town that was partially flooded, causing people to leave their homes and many not bothering to come back.  The housing here is mostly mobile homes and for every one that is being lived in it seems there are two that are left derelict.  It has the feel of post-apocalyptic wasteland.  We didn't take many photos because the residents live with people like us gawking at them everyday and it must get very irritating.  It really is a little curious as to why these people stay, as it's miles from anything and can't be an easy way of life, but I guess there something that holds them here.
Crane left to rot.

Little elbow grease and it'll be ready to go.
Dike built to protect what is left of Bombay Beach.
We moved down the road on our tour of the strange and headed over to Salvation Mountain and Slab City., again if you haven't heard these places they are Google worthy time wasters. 
Salvation Mountain is one man's way of  spreading his love of God. It's best to read the explanation below;
Click for larger pic.

Slab City is another strange thing to take in.  A make-shift city with no power or sewers, it is on the site of an old marine training base.   Just the concrete was left behind went it closed and they sold off the buildings, hence the "slab" city name.  There are plenty of snowbirds here in the winter as it is free to live out here, but there are fulltime residents who live off the grid year round.  You will see half million dollar motorhomes parked next to a old beat-up trailer, next to a tent.  The people are as widely varied also, "Hippies", ""Freespirits", the odd drug addict and the people on the fringes of society alongside the retired school teacher or policeman looking for a cheap winter in the sun. 
Slab City from the top of Salvation Mountain

People have been living here for years and most are not community minded, so the trash has built up and is everywhere along with plenty of abandon vehicles, slowly being stripped for parts or art.  There are some very interesting camps set-up with signs and the afore mentioned art, some of which has taken years to build.  It is well worth visit as it really can't be properly explained, I had an idea what we were to see but it is much more interesting and shocking than I had previously thought.
Even with all this death and decay there is a certain beauty to the Salton Sea area.  The weirdness of Slab City or Bombay Beach are things not to be missed if you are down this way, but come with an open mind and might find yourself wanting to stay.
We move on to Aguanga (A-wong-a) next for a month in a very nice park.  We also go and see the Leafs fail to score a goal in two games, so glad the scenery is nice, it makes it harder to be miserable about our team falling apart.
It's knarly Bro'

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Wandering in the West

The desert can take hold of you in an odd way if you are a Canadian seeing it for the first time.  Canadians see green forests and shimmering lakes or snow covered landscapes as beautiful things they grew up with, or maybe mountains if you come from the west coast.  If there is bare dirt it is usually a farmer's fresh plowed field or a construction site and not particularly appealing. 

Out here in Tucson and the surrounding area is a lot of dirt.  Dirt and cactus, dirt and scrub brush, dirt
and the odd tree.  The beauty here is that there are always mountains close by or in the distance, always something drawing your eye off to some interesting peak.  Wildlife is everywhere, you can listen to the coyotes at night, see the roadrunners in the day and not a Looney Tunes cartoon in sight. 

One of the most imposing peaks around Tucson is Mount Lemmon.  There is a 27 mile long winding road to the top and a town called Summerhaven.  At over 9000ft it is an incredible drive with scenic look-outs and fantastic views for miles out across the city.  The week before we drove up they had 10" of snow at the top.

Looking down on the road we just came up.

Jeff and Nancy taking in the view.
It was a Sunday, so the cyclists were for their weekend workout, the 27 mile climb would be very difficult and the trip back they are flying down a winding road with tons of traffic in the way and no shoulder for any mistakes.  It would be a thrilling ride but not for the faint hearted.

Our first Christmas away from family was tough but not as bad as we had imagined.  We Skype'd with everyone and spent Christmas eve and night with Jeff and Nancy and their very nice friends Richard and Jill.  We had a great time talking and playing cards which helped not being home in Canada for Christmas.  The park here at Rincon West supplies ham for a Christmas dinner and then it's potluck for rest and we had a enjoyable meal and conversation with other snowbirds.

I wish I could say everything goes as planned and is rosy with our travels but things don't always turn out for us.  Tucson has been rainy and colder than normal since we have been here, not that we haven't had plenty of sunny, warm days, just not as many as we hoped for.  One day we headed to Bisbee to see the old copper mining town and take a tour of an underground mine.  We arrived at noon and the tours were already sold out for the day and at an almost two hour drive we were not going to make a return trip to fit it in this time through.  We still walked the town, which is mostly art shops and some interesting second hand/ antique stores, but we really wanted to see The Queen Mine Tour.

Detra taking in Bisbee, an interesting place.

 After Bisbee we were to stop in at Tombstone again to see it lit up and watch the gun fights in the streets for the twilight festival.  We arrived early because of missing the mine tour in Bisbee, having already checked out Tombstone on an earlier trip, we had time to kill until it got dark so we went for dinner and afterwards still had time on our hands.  It was cold and we were tired from the day so we thought we would wait for dark sitting in the truck. Now the truck is a very comfy place especially with heated sets when you are cold and tired.  Detra and I both fell asleep in no time.  The next thing I heard was Detra telling me to wake-up or we'd miss the gun fight.  We jumped out of the truck and started up Main St. to where the battle was to be and halfway there we see some flashes, hear some bangs and yelling and it was all over before we could get close to any of it!  We looked dejectedly at one another, turned around and headed for home, tired, cold and beaten. 

There are many things to do around Tucson and we did quite a few;

 The Cold War era Titan II Missiles were based around here and we took a tour of the last remaining one.

Control room, manned 24/7/365 for freedom.

Turn the key for mutual annihilation.

San Xavier Mission just south of Tucson, founded in 1692 although this building was started in 1783.

Tubac is a artist village full of shops for people with more money than most but still worth the visit.

Quaint village feel

Jeff giving an artist some pointers.

There is a very impressive air museum here, The Pima Air Museum.  Here you can also take a tour of the AMARG storage facility as well, which has hundreds of planes lined up and mothballed.  This climate and land is particularly suited for this type of use.  We messed up again when we went and the tour of AMARG was sold out which was very disappointing to me, but Detra was happy she didn't have to look at any more planes unless she was getting on one to go somewhere.  While I enjoyed this place it held no interest for her after she looked at first 50 planes and there are many more than that here.  The highlight for me was the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever and an incredible site to see in person.

SR-71 Blackbird

First Lear jet model.

Big bombers on display outside.
We had a very nice stay in Tucson, thanks to Jeff and Nancy for the good company and the plenty of things to keep you busy here. 
Next up is a long awaited meeting, a place of death and beauty and the arrival at our home for the next month.
Rollin' again,