Thursday, April 30, 2015

Our Ghost (Home) Town for Day Five Photo Challenge

Ghost towns are a great subject for black and white photos. When one thinks of a ghost town, images of old saloons and boardwalks and jails come to mind. You think of gun-slingers and pioneer women and large families of bare-foot children.  A time long gone.

The town where I went to high school, where Bill lived from fifth grade through graduation, is a ghost town. Complete with tumbleweeds and building ruins.

At one time the town of Eagle Mountain, CA, was a very active community of Kaiser Steel employees, those who ran the support businesses like grocery store, café and gas station, medical and school personnel, and all their families. When the mine closed in 1985 the population moved away and the ghosts started moving in.

Metropolitan Water District has five pumping stations between the Colorado River and Riverside, CA. My father worked at the Iron Mountain station about 45 miles away and I rode the bus to Eagle Mountain for school. Still, Eagle Mountain was the closest thing I had to a "home town", and it's demise impacts me as much as those who lived there.

In some ways I think it's better that the ghosts of our time have taken it over, rather than it being turned into some place completely different by others. Selfishly, I'm okay with the deteriorating high school lockers around the senior quad and the single goal post standing watch over a flat piece of desert where Bill once set high school football records. Even in it's absence, it is OUR school, OUR town.

There are fences and locks and other layers of security surrounding the mine and its town, but occasionally one or some of "us" are granted access.

These photos are from a couple of those visits. They seem appropriate in black and white, and wrap up the B&W photo challenge for me.

No more lawns and trees and tricycles

No more events at the school amphitheater

No more scores in the gym

No more field or bleachers or games

Regardless of its current state, we will always remember our home town in full and living color.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dearly Departed Desert Dogs

Two of them weren't desert dogs at all, and the others only spent a couple years there, but when trying to find a good spot for playing in the afterlife, I decided the wide open space of Joshua Tree, CA, was a pretty sweet spot.

We took a day trip to the high desert north of Palm Springs yesterday to mark another item off our pre-launch list. We needed to spread the ashes of four sweet and wonderful doggies who passed over the last few years. Don't ask why I waited so long on a couple of them. When it's not the right time, it's not the right time. Definitely don't ask about my mom.......

My boys and I lived in Joshua Tree for a couple years with our two dogs, Squeakie and Nokomis. We'd had Squeakie for years and Nokomis was only a year old. Although we had three fenced acres of desert at the house, the exact same desert on the other side was much better and the two of them were always digging out. They would spend a few hours doing dog stuff, and always return. Our property was at the end of a dirt road with lots and lots of room to run in all directions.

When we moved to the city I rescued two older German Shepherds, Max and Murphy, who lived their last happy and spoiled years with us. We never took them to play in the desert but I'm sure they would have loved it.

We lost Nokomis in November of 2012, just before I retired.

I have kept their ashes and dog collars with me, but downsizing moved the decision of where to "leave" them to the list of must-dos. One day it dawned on me that Squeakie and Nokomis would love the miles of open desert, and those old boys would have a ball chasing them around.

My old house is still there, and it's still the last one at the end of the dirt road. Nothing but desert for miles, with views of snow on San Gorgonio and the ruggedness of the mountains bordering Joshua Tree National Park. We drove the Jeep off the road a bit to find a spot.

After spreading them in the wind and burying a little of each of them together with their collars by a bush so they would always be able to find one another, I knew this was the perfect place. Never felt sad, just remembered all their silly faces and said good-bye.

So much room to play

Meet back here
With our mission accomplished we headed over to check out the Joshua Tree Lake RV Park. Lake? I definitely didn't remember that. Sure enough, there's a cute little park out Sunfair Road with FHUs and a pond (lake is truly an exaggeration). Very clean, large spaces, great views - it would be a great place to spend a week for those whose rig won't fit in the national park campgrounds (like us).  We just may be back to share the area with the pups!

We also checked out the boondocking location on the big dry lake. Pretty rough access road, but definitely lots of hard, flat desert to camp on for free.

After a yummy lunch in Yucca Valley we headed for home. In the morning we had noticed lots of RVs headed West, like dozens and dozens of motorhomes and 5ers fighting the high winds. There was actually "traffic" with one or two lanes going very slow. Bill thought maybe the music event, Stagecoach, had been last weekend. On our return trip they were all gone, but we passed a van with "Stagecoach carpool caravan" on the window and Bill's guess was confirmed. We were lucky to miss the earlier jam and made it home without any delays.

So the doggies have their forever place now, and I can already close my eyes and see the four of them chasing around the greasewood and scaring up a lizard or two, having a grand ol' time.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What Happened to the Trucker Love and Day Four Photo Challenge

I learned to drive on a two-lane road. Narrow, soft sand on both sides, no passing lanes, dips and poorly marked curves.  It was critical to pay attention. Not only to your own driving, but to others on the road as well. A main tributary between Interstate 10 and the Colorado River, there were always big rigs and vehicles towing trailers. Always in a hurry. I learned to leave space in front of me for those passing, and to always blink my headlights as soon as it was safe to return to the right lane. This was always acknowledged with a return blink of their lights.

Traveling on the Interstates was different, but the practice of using headlights to "let" others over was common. So was the acknowledgement. 

Always the right thing to do

I've driven campers and towed different trailers with a pickup or SUV for many years, and continued the mutual language of courtesy lights on the road. I flashed to let the passing truck over, and they did the little "blip" of thank you. 90% of the time.

Until I started driving the motorhome. I still blink to let them over. No acknowledgement. Seriously. Less than 10% of truckers give the return blink of the lights. In four states, same thing. I even checked to be sure my lights work.

Aren't we still pals?

What is up with the lack of trucker love? Do they hate all motorhomes? Is there some treaty that was broken? Is there a new signal and I missed the memo? What????

On Day Four of the photo challenge I invite Lisa of Metamorphosis Road to join the fun :-).

Galeta Meadows outdoor sculptures in Borrego Springs is a favorite place of many fellow travelers. The dinosaurs are some of our favorites, and I love this big claw.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reuniting in the Desert and Day Three Photo Challenge

As my profile blurb says, Bill and I were high school sweethearts. He took me to my senior prom (he was a junior), and after staying in touch for a couple years of college we lost track of each other.

So young :-)

In 1993 I was working in Sacramento and learned through mutual friends that Bill and his family were living there. I reached out and we immediately got caught up with the last twenty years of our lives. Marriages, kids, jobs, life stuff.

We stayed in touch, visited occasionally, and saw each other at a couple reunions. Either one or both of us were always in a relationship. When we both weren't (2008), our good friend Michelle pointed out to him that the two of us should have always been together, and there was no good reason why he shouldn't make that happen now.

So he did. And we've been back together ever since. Married the end of 2012, and happier than we've ever been.

This little stroll down my memory lane leads to why it is especially wonderful for us to get together with friends from high school each year. Because they're "our" friends. All those crazy things in high school - the sports victories, the scandals, the couples' dramas, the teachers you loved and hated, the bus trips - all of them are shared memories for us, and that is just so much fun!

Like back in high school there are a few special people we spend most of our time with every year. Some of them are the same ones from 40+ years ago, and some are those we've gotten to know better in our "older" years. Some other couples are also both from high school, either married right after graduation or finding each other later (none waited quite as long as we did). Several spouses not from the same town have become part of the family over  many years, and we love seeing them just as much as our classmates.

Sharing laughs and pictures from home

The reunions are in Laughlin, NV, for a couple reasons. First, our town no longer exists.  Eagle Mountain, CA., is a ghost town. Once home to the very productive Kaiser Steel Mine, the town died when the mine closed in 1983. It was used as a minimum security prison for a few years, and now just down the road is a multi-acre solar farm.  The little community of Lake Tamarisk is still there, and where we've spent a couple nights parked at our friend Coy's. 

Second, a small group started doing an annual motorcycle run at Laughlin that the rest of us sort of invited ourselves to. Since folks are already going there, each class plans their "big" reunions of 30, 40, and 45 years there on the same weekend every year.

Third, although it can still get pretty hot there in April, the climate is always conducive to outdoor gatherings and the motorcycle run.

Finally, a large number of us are within 300 miles of Laughlin, making it drivable. The Las Vegas airport is close enough to make air travel reasonable for most everyone else.

Always love the views from the River Walk

This year we took the rig rather than staying at the casino. The Riverside RV Resort is huge, with terraced levels overlooking the casinos, Colorado River, and the mountains beyond.  It was about half full the three nights we were there, and except for the last night when a group of eight very large rigs arrived together and surrounded us, we had lots of space. They were all fun, nice and quiet neighbors.

Nice separation, not much shade

Ten of the gang came up to see the motorhome "in person" as they've been following us on FB for a while now.  It was very fun sharing it with our lifetime friends, making plans to come see many of them in the near future, and looking forward to when every one of us is retired!

Ate too much food, drank too much beer, laughed so hard it hurt, and can't wait to do it all again next year!!

It's Day Three of the black and white photo challenge. This is the Colorado Belle casino in Laughlin, one of the originals.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Photo Challenge - Day Two

See yesterday's post regarding the photo challenge I'm participating in. Today my challenge is to Renee of R&R On the Road. Although not on the road yet, she finds many fun and unique things to share.

Today's photo was taken in the back yard of the house we sold in December. After several years of drought, falling rain is especially joyful. Enjoying the patio on a rainy afternoon, I took a few pics trying to catch the rain drops. It was just for fun, and I ended up really liking this one.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Photo Challenge - Day One

Debbie of Down the Road invited me to participate in a five day black and white photo challenge. My camera is my IPhone, and I enjoy taking photos just to capture the memories of the moment. Still, it was/is fun finding black and white options that feel more "worthy" of a challenge :-)

Rosamond, CA, is a small town in the Antelope Valley with many older mines.  On a day trip with my son, Jeff, we discovered these wonderful old buildings.

The only rules of the challenge are:
1. On five consecutive days, create a post using a recent or past photograph in black and white.
2. Invite another blogging friend each day to join in the challenge.
Today I challenge Maura of Bucket List or Bust RV Travels who is currently making her way west on a solo journey so I hope she'll have the time to share with us!

Thanks, Debbie :-)

Friday, April 10, 2015

She Said Yes :-))

Love is definitely in the air! Three weddings in the last five weeks and now an engagement :-)

With the oldest now married, our boys are keeping things in perfect order. Yesterday our second oldest, Nick, popped the question to his girlfriend Jillian.

And she said yes.

During their vacation in Montreal, he got down on one knee and proposed in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame. Very romantic :-))

Bill and I adore Jillian and are very excited to welcome her officially to the family. They are still in Canada with dates and plans all pending their return.

Happy, happy, happy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Some Things I Learned

I strongly believe that if you don't learn the lessons put before you, you are destined to be "taught" over and over until you do! 

So what did we learn on our first big adventure?

  • don't trust the IPhone GPS
  • maps are always going to be necessary
  • don't throw the tire pressure monitor out the window - it works after you mess with it
  • unhook the Jeep and scout unknown areas with questionable access
  • small scratches on the rig give it character, it's not in a showroom
  • ducking your head does not lower the height of the rig
  • the Sterling towbar is a great investment
  • move the damn dog bed before opening the slide - seriously, it's Right There!
  • it's a touch screen - if you touch it stuff happens
  • you can see through layers of bugs, but you probably shouldn't - bring the ladder
  • duct tape is still king
  • trust your co-pilot - they can see that side better than you can
  • the lack of garbage disposal is not the big deal you thought it would be
  • the wide extra step for below the stairs is a great investment
  • don't assume the roads leading to a "big rig friendly" park are included in the description
  • the 3" Tempurpedic mattress topper is a great investment
  • laughter remains the best medicine
  • don't underestimate the importance of really liking the person you're traveling with

Given our advanced course in traveling through wind, these were the lessons specific to that lovely experience:

  • you drive with your hands and forearms, don't use every other muscle in your body
  • if you ignore the above, travel with a heating pad and extra Ibuprofen
  • angle/direction is as important as wind velocity
  • direction is subject to change without notice - don't trust it
  • big rigs push the wind ahead and beside them, then pull it from behind
  • the number of big rigs on the road increase with wind velocity - by a lot
  • large RVs coming from the opposite direction give you confidence you can handle what's ahead
  • the complete absence of any other RVs on the road convince you you're going to die

We expect to continue learning new lessons, and hope we have accurately learned the ones already put to us.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Wrapping Up Our First Big Adventure

Thursday, April 2 - Sunday, April 5

As expected, the wind blows all day Thursday. Once all the good-byes are said we spend most of the day indoors. Bill isn't feeling great so he takes advantage of the complete quiet and sleeps most of the day.

Our host is active with the local domestic violence shelter so we make arrangements for all the leftovers, and extra food, to be picked up later in the day. So glad nothing went to waste - and they got some mighty tasty eats!

The sun sets on our last day in Ruidoso
Neighbors stop by to say good-bye

Hey, no hug??

Friday morning the trees are standing tall and the leaves are barely fluttering. We waste no time pulling everything together to head down the mountain by 8:00.  Past the narrow downtown we hook up the Jeep, double check everything, and begin our journey back to SoCal.

Because the original plan was to be back for a wedding on Saturday we were going to make the trip in two days, with one night in Casa Grande, AZ. While I'm bummed we missed the wedding, I am very glad we didn't have to make that drive.

Past Las Cruces the wind returns, but at less than 10 mph it's a nuisance, not a problem. After about two hours the velocity doesn't increase but our "angle" must because it becomes more work to just drive down the highway. I'm no longer having fun. Unacceptable.

Bill finds us a site in Benson, AZ, and after seven hours of driving I'm very happy to pull in and park.  The Benson I-10 RV Park is a bare-bones, very clean, little stop just off the freeway, and looks like heaven. A quick run into town for DEF and drinking water, and we are back in our little home.

Nice desert views through the window

This is the first spot we've had the jacks down. Because they weren't working the last few days. When I called the dealer to make an appointment for the growing number of "items" I asked if there was a reset process for restoring the jacks (all the lights were flashing on the panel, and no worky).  Yes, there is :-)  All of our stops have been nearly level so it hasn't been an issue. Benson was less so, and we're happy to have the levelers now.

Sun rise over Benson, AZ

Saturday is that interesting combination of flat desert and large city driving. It's all Interstate, but goes from two-lane-with-cacti-on-the-side to 6-lane-with-malls-and-international airports-on-the-side and back again.  I've driven it a hundred times but it's all different from "up here". The fuel stop at Picacho Peak just west of Tucson was an easy stop last week, so I pull off there rather than fueling up in CA on Sunday.  Because we already know we're going to make another stop. Because we can.

I lose the rear camera a few miles before the off-ramp. My heart skips a beat as I go from "we lost the Jeep" to "no, we just can't see it" in about 5 seconds.  We have a great tow-bar, a break-away switch, nothing is going to happen just because we can't see it.  Just add it to the dealer list.  It's still weird having absolutely no means of "seeing" it.

We fuel up and continue west.  We'll stop in Blythe, just over the CA border.  Again, Bill finds a great spot with large grass pull-through sites.  It's almost 90 degrees so the 50 amp FHUs are welcome.  The Riviera RV Resort is right on the Colorado River but the only "sites" overlooking the water are park models. Although it's a holiday weekend the park is about half full and we are hopeful it will be fairly quiet. At $44 after our discounts, it's the most expensive place we've stayed, but our average is still way below our budgeted $30/night.

Blythe is home to two of our dear friends - Mike and Rita.  A couple phone calls and yes, they can come over for a couple beers and a short visit. We sit at the picnic table under the awning and enjoy our first official "company" in our new home. We'll see them again at the reunion in two weeks. Hopefully then I'll remember to take pictures!

More beautiful desert just outside the park

We're ready for a restaurant and a couple cocktails. Fortunately the one place with a dog-friendly patio also has wonderful food!  The margaritas are fair but the burritos, sopa and taco are exceptional.  If you're in Blythe, give Garcia's on Hobson Way a try! The weather is perfect, and with the addition of a beautiful sunset it is a perfect final evening on the road (this time).

Sunset, margaritas and love-of-my-life

Easter Sunday morning and we're packing up at 7:30. The night before Bill figured out I had "touched something" that changed the setting on the rear cameras, and when we pull out the Jeep is once again visible on the screen. Sweet.

We both grew up in the area around Desert Center. He at the Kaiser Steel Mine community of Eagle Mountain, and me at the Metropolitan Water District community of Iron Mountain 40 miles north. So we know this section of the trip like our backyard. We love it.  A stop for lunch and ice in Chiraco Summit yields a nice surprise when Bob Chiraco is having a meal with friends in the café. We get caught up quickly and promise to always stop in on our way through.

We're almost back.  We've taken two things off the dealer list (jacks and camera). We've enjoyed a quiet night at a river resort.  We've been good neighbors.  I signal for every rig that passes us when they can move over. There has been minimal cursing when challenged. An uneventful final push is warranted.

But this is the "are-you-sure-you-really-want-to-do-this" trip!  This is the "see-if-your-blood pressure medication-really-works" trip!  Apparently you only get the good karma if you make it back alive.

West of Palm Springs the valley is full of wind turbines. Today they are all spinning, but the wind is light, hitting us from the front, and not an issue. Until it is.

The highway makes a slight turn to the south and bam! It's like being in a tornado as we are getting hit from all sides at once. Bill checks the weather app and utters those calming words "Oh Shit!".  Wind advisory for the area, gusts over 40 mph at 2 PM.  It's almost noon.  The wind doesn't own a watch.

At 45 mph I'm gripping the wheel like rungs on a tall ladder. The rig sways to the left and then to the right. We're either going to share a lane with an 18-wheeler or end up in the ditch. Neither prospect is appealing.  This is the Whitewater Grade and going over the hill, across the bridge, through the small canyon and "out" the other side is the longest 10 miles I've traveled - ever.  I've driven it hundreds of times, even in the wind in a large truck camper. But not in a condo, and not with winds this strong.

You'll have guessed by now that we made it just fine. No lane-sharing. No ditch-landing.  Sore muscles (apparently I drive with my ass), and taxed nerves but unscathed.  Bill says he was never nervous, and since this time he didn't make a bee-line to the loo I believe him :-)

By the time we merge onto I-210 the winds are manageable, and although traffic picks up significantly I'm able to calm down, breathe normally, and once again enjoy the drive.

We hit some stop-and-go along the way, expected on a holiday Sunday.  We head straight to the storage lot rather than by the apartment first because I had pulled everything out of cupboards for off-loading this morning.

The gate is locked. Happy Easter is posted on the gate. We don't have a key or a code. Because they are supposed to email us a code if the gate is going to be locked on a holiday.  No email.

I call and leave a message while Bill unhooks the Jeep.  We off-load at the apartment and return the rig to the PetSmart parking lot where it started out 10 days ago.

So we're back.  We had our first big adventure. We learned a lot about the rig, and the road, and campgrounds. We never argued, never lost our temper or our cool (well maybe I did a little). We now have a list of fixes for the dealer in a couple weeks.

We can't wait to do it again - and for a very long time!

Ready to go again

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Reunion Ends, But We Don't Leave

As an only child who isn't close with her only three cousins, a family reunion with 40+ people is very big, and very cool!  Over the past few years I've had the opportunity to meet many of Bill's extended family, many of whom are very much my family now too. This week I got to meet several of those who live further away, and some who Bill hadn't seen in decades. From 10 months to 90 years old, there were several generations represented.

First Generation Sisters

Second Generation Cousins

The La Junta Guest Ranch above Ruidoso, NM, is a great place for a gathering of this sort. It's older and rough around the edges. Some issues border on safety hazards, and it is not ADA compliant.  However, it had every thing we needed including separate cabins for each family and a large lodge for meals, games, and just gathering to get caught up. There was a spot for the rig with power and water (which turns out to be an even bigger blessing now), and it is remote enough to provide a real feeling of being away from the rest of the world. 

Beautiful vistas

Plenty of housing for everyone

Large gathering hall with kitchen
Lovely sunrises every morning

Some rode the zip line at the ski resort, some went shopping in the quaint downtown, some stayed at the ranch and enjoyed the outdoors and the indoors.  Each morning and evening we were visited by a large herd of "locals" who had the kids scrambling outside with carrots and apples.

Breakfast and dinner were prepared by those who signed up for each day, and we ate like royalty all week.  The last night we celebrated birthdays, including Bill's mom who turned 90 today. 

Different size mountains for different size climbers

California cousins getting caught up in New Mexico

Evening meet-and-greet

Morning coffee with a neighbor

Picnic night

Baby selfies

Time for brothers to hang out

"But he was just a little guy last year!"

Make a wish! (note the little helper in the middle)
This morning was pack-up-and-go-day with folks returning to Missouri, Washington, Utah, Oregon, California and Idaho. Everyone except us.

Overnight the winds started picking up and by sunrise the large pines were bending and the dirt was kicking up.  Checking the weather we saw that the sustained winds were at 30-35 mph with expected gusts of up to 50 mph.  Figuring we had already pushed the limits of safe travel, we didn't hesitate to make arrangements for staying another day. Our gracious host obliged at no charge, with an invitation to stay until it is safe to head out.

So for at least tonight we are staying put, with the rig tucked nicely up against the lodge.  We shall see what tomorrow brings.