Saturday, March 24, 2018

Terrific Time on the Town – Tucson, AZ (Casino Del Sol, Sabino Canyon, Gammons Gulch, Pima Air and Space Museum)

We departed from Quartzsite a bit later in the morning than anticipated, but Mom was in charge of putting the solar panels down, hitching up, dumping, and water filling.  Need I say more?  I also was a bit distressed, learning my poor cousin Gordon the Glutton has departed this world.  His body was found dead, laying near the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) LaPosa South garbage dumpsters.  All I can say is that based on the amount of refuse present and overflowing trash receptacles (a total disgrace by human standards), he was in pack rat heaven!

Our first stop was outside Phoenix to give Big Boomer and our 5th wheel a nice cleaning, only to find the Blue Beacon Truck Wash had to cease operations for the rest of the day.  Seems their retention basin was full and their runoff was getting into the City water system.  So we hit up the next Blue Beacon outside Tucson.  A good deal and great job for only $100, which included RainEx, tire dressing, AND a hand dry!

We arrived in Tuscon, and set up “camp”.  We were dry-docking at Casino Del Sol, a lovely tribal-owned and operated hotel and casino (inside which smoking is still permitted), golf course, and outdoor concert venue on Valencia Road, a main drag off of Route 10 within Tucson.  They have a HUGE, secure, well-maintained parking area where RVers are welcome, free of charge, except when there are concert or tribal events.  The area serves as a Park and Ride as well, so you could take mass transportation into downtown Tucson if you preferred not to disconnect your tow or towed vehicle.  We unloaded the motorcycles as our mode of transportation.

Tucson is a terrific, diverse town, with loads to do, from hiking, biking, arts and cultural events, missions, and artisan restaurants and breweries.  Tucson was one of our stops on our way to Alaska in 2016, during which time we visited Catalina Mountains, Biosphere 2, Mission St. Xavior, the Sonoran Desert Museum, and Mt. Lemmon (see Blog of April 18, 2016).  Time constraints precluded us from visiting some of the other places on our “to do” list.  So our first order of business this trip was to visit Sabino Canyon within Coronado National Forest, at which we could use our inter-agency access pass for free admission.  The park opens officially at 8 a.m., and although we arrived by 8:15, it was busy and bustling already.  It was very chilly riding in, but the experience was well worth it.  The roadway within the Canyon is not open to private vehicles.  It may only be accessed via foot, bicycle, or a hop-on, hop-off tram ride at a cost of $10/person, which is what most of the guests during our visit opted to do.   Rather than hike along a paved road or sit on a tram for 25 minutes, we chose to hike up Phoneline Trail, 4.7 miles of spectacular views of the Valley, a vast array of desert flora and cacti, signs of wildlife (like coyote or bobcat poop) and a hummingbird near her nest.  Best of all, we encountered very few people on the trail!  The trail, reaching an elevation of 3,000+ feet, was originally blazed in the early 1900s for access to a proposed dam that never did get built.  The morning chill was giving way to warmer temperatures, offering us perfect weather for our trek.  I always marvel at how nature protects its existence.  Like trees hanging off cliff ledges, their roots striving to maintain a hold, entangled within the rock formations.  The cacti all seem to have thorns or pricks, their self-defense and survival mechanisms against wildlife stripping them of their precious water supply and nutrients.

Can you see the hummingbird enjoying the ocotillo bloom?

Some funky saguaro, notice the arms growing down on several of them.

This rock formation looked to me like a duck swimming in water.

Since we were due to meet friends for lunch in an hour, we didn't have enough time to hike back down Phoneline Trail.  So we forked over the $10/person for the return tram ride.  We were in the back “car”, which was towed like a travel trailer.  Holy, moly!  No wonder it is said not to leave pets or people in a trailer when you are towing.  With the sudden, jerking motion (there were very narrow roadways/bridges and the driver had to maneuver around bicyclists and pedestrians), it was like being on the Whip, that old-school amusement park ride!  Thank goodness, I held on for dear life, otherwise I would have fallen out on more than one occasion!  Needless to say, picture-taking was a real challenge.  Miraculously, I did get a few nice shots!

The deer actually enjoy eating these blooms off young saguaro trees.

Local lizard lying in the sun...

Surveillance duty for this little ground squirrel.

Meep, Meep! This roadrunner tries very hard to avoid Wyle E Coyote.

Time to meet up with Dad's former work associate, Dan, and his wife, Lisa, at the Barrio Brewing Company.  This is a really cool off-the-beaten-path place, with some good craft beer blends as well as a surprisingly varied food menu, even for non-meat eaters!  We opted for vegetable paninis. Sautéed eggplant, fire-roasted red peppers, onions, spinach, pesto aioli, and even Havarti cheese on mine and Mom’s (Dad stuck to his meal plan and did not partake of the cheese).  Scrum-D-Lish-Us!  And definitely fun times.  These two hard-working couples truly are enjoying retirement!

We parted ways and headed back to the Casino—or so we thought.  But Dad got us a little lost and we ended up in the gorgeous, affluent area of Starr Pass.  Magnificent panoramas and great motorcycling, with hills, curves, and pig-tail turns.  A wonderful unexpected “side trip”.    

The next day, we headed to Benson.  We wanted to check out the Escapees Saguaro Co-Op Park for future use.  Fellow Amazonians George and Linda, lease a lot there.  They invited us over in early January, but conflicts in our travel plans/schedules precluded us from getting together at that time.  Finally, the stars aligned and we had an opportunity to visit.  So good to see them, and we wish them well as they renovate their casita!  

Always maximizing our time and efforts, we did some sightseeing.  Mind you, there is not much to do or see within Benson, but we found two really unique experiences.  First, we visited the Benson Visitor Center, which once served as a train depot for the Union Pacific Railroad.  When you enter the building, overhead is a G-gauge train traveling along an elevated track.  Nothing unusual in itself.  But what is really cool is that you can run the train personally, and by viewing it through the train’s built-in camera on a large-screen monitor, you are seeing it from the perspective of a train engineer. Through a grant bestowed by Union Pacific Railroad, Docent Bob designed and hand-built the entire control panel, complete with brakes, speed control, and horn (designed with plumbing equipment), replicating all the components within an actual train!  Bob was a wealth of train knowledge, too.  He even taught me train horn signals:  1 toot = stop, 2 toots = going forward, 3 toots = backing up!  Woot, Woot!  I passed the “test”, receiving a certificate stating I successfully operated Locomotive #9837!  A “must do” for children of all ages.

We also visited Gammons Gulch Old West Movie Set and Museum in Benson.  Similar to Tombstone or Old Tucson, but a Mom-and-Pop outfit on approximately 25 acres, where owners Jay and Joanne Gammons live right on site and give you a personalized tour!  Jay is a real hoot!  He is like a Vaudeville act: an eclectic mix of music, comedy, and Old West grit.  He has a repertoire of one-liner jokes (“My ex-wife was so ugly, I took her to the beach and the tide wouldn’t even come in”), and musical performances (he strums the Banjo, playing a great “Deliverance",  and he even tickles the piano ivories).  Like his personality, his antiques and collections are quite distinctive.  For example, he has several classic cars stored on site (most inside the set buildings), like a 1929 Ford he has owned for 43 years that still runs.  People call him Grandpa Walton, since this vehicle is reminiscent of what the Waltons used in that oldie-but-goodie TV series.  As another example of his humor, Jay imparts that this car doesn’t have disc brakes, but instead has “P and P” brakes—push and pray they work!   More than 40 lesser-known movies, television shows and series have been filmed here, as well as music videos and commercials.   Additionally, many of Jay’s collectibles have been loaned out to give movie sets authenticity.  For example, the 1879 push-button lamp within the saloon was used in the movie “The Quick and the Dead”.  As evidenced by his wall of commemorative photos, Jay is no stranger to show-biz, having worked with many big-name stars (John Wayne, Brian Keith, John Huston) on well-known movies during his childhood.  As an adult, he has played bit parts in movies/TV shows filmed on his location, including portraying a telegraph operator in the series “Dead Man”.  Brother-in-law Ted is also available during tours, wearing his “Deputy Sheriff” badge, answering questions, and giving insights to the Barber Shop building, which he restored personally.  I didn’t know that a barber did everything back in the day.  In addition to shaving facial hair, he acted as a surgeon; he would be the person you visited to get your tooth pulled.  Hence the reasoning behind the red and white stripes used on barber poles:  red represented blood, white represented gauge and bandages.  Or so Ted tells us.  Some may consider Gammons Gulch a bit cheesy for $8/adult (though not paid until the tour is over.  Jay says if you don’t like it, you don’t pay for it!).  But to me, it is true Americana and the spirit of entrepreneurship at its best.

Jay, the Piano Man

Jay, getting ready to play "Deliverance"

Even Jay's felines smooze and entertain the audience.

Jay sharing his show biz secrets!

Waltons' Wheels, 1929 Ford that still runs!

The set building in which Jay, his wife, and feline friends live.

Lamp used in the movie "The Quick and the Dead" (Sharon Stone/Gene Hackman)

Replica mining town

Our final Tucson tourist attraction was the Pima Air and Space Museum.  Founded in 1976, it is the world’s largest privately-funded, non-government museum dedicated to aerospace, with more than 300 aircraft on display.  The place is huge, with several hangars, not to mention all the planes parked outside in the lots.  They have a tram, but we opted to walk from hangar to hangar.  Narrated tours are offered, all included in your ticket price of $16.50/adult.  Tours are performed by volunteers, of which they have 390!  Our guide was Bill Sproull, a Navy Seaplane Pilot during the Korean War.  Needless to say, he was a fountain of knowledge regarding military aircraft, and quite proud to speak of flying a Martin PBM 5-A Mariner Seaplane like the one exhibited at the museum, which, interestingly, is the ONLY one intact of the 1,500 built.  We journeyed with Bill through aviation history, starting with the replica of the plane used by the Wright Brothers for their flight in Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903 (The original plane is in the Smithsonian).  Then to an example of the Lockheed Electra plane used by Amelia Earhart on her fateful round-the-world flight.  We went on to the various bombers and aircraft used during World War II (including an example of the aircraft used by Japanese Kamikaze), to the F4 (of which 7,000 were used in the Vietnam War), to a Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog” (the aircraft used during the Iraqi invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.)  It was cool to see an F14 up close, the fighter plane depicted in the Tom Cruise movie “Top Gun”.  From 1939 to 1945, nearly 300,000 military aircraft were built, many by the likes of “Rosie the Riveter”, since women represented nearly 40% of the U.S. workforce during that time!  I had no concept just how GINORMOUS some of these aircraft are/were (they look so tiny when flying high above the clouds in the sky!).  Of all the aircraft on display, however, my absolute favorite was the Bumble Bee!  Built by Robert Starr specifically to get into the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest plane ever flown, it achieved its mission in 1984 (though his record was surpassed that same year, albeit with a monoplane.  Guinness revised Starr’s record to specify smallest biplane ever flown.) The original Bumble Bee (later Starr went on to build Bumble Bee II and broke his own biplane record) was a mere 4’1” high with only a 6.5’ wingspan!  Really cool stuff!

Replica of Wright Brothers' plane

Example of Lockheed Electra plane used by Amelia Earhart.

Example of Japanese Kamikaze plane.

My personal favorite--The Bumble Bee!

It was time to spend some money to reciprocate the Casino for letting us stay in their lot.  I gotta tell ya, my folks and I do not gamble normally.  But I was feelin’ lucky, especially after our complimentary Players’ Card awarded us $25 in “free play” for slots (Could have been as low as $5, $10, or 20, but I got $25!).  To activate the “free play” though, you have to insert your own money.  I reluctantly broke my cheese bank and pulled out a $10 bill.  There were so many slot machines to choose from.  But everything I know about gambling, I learned from my Aunt Laurie, Ruby Level V.I.P. at Turning Stone Casino in NY!  After careful consideration, I picked a slot machine featuring someone quite like myself, Ted, a stuffed animal with human personality flaws and traits.  Ted came through for me--I netted a whopping $76.10, quite a substantial pot for a stuffed rat!   Little did I know that while I was cashing in my chips, Mom and Dad were in the Paradiso Bar tearing up the dance floor! The 80z All Stars were performing, a Southern California cover band that played great “New Wave” songs by DeVo, Romantics, Billy Idol, Cindi Lauper, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, B-52s, and the like.  They even showed original recording artist MTV video clips.    So I guess my parents got a bit carried away reliving their dating days and reminiscing of King’s Court and the Meadowbrook dance clubs.  From hearing several people compliment them on their dancing, I guess they still have a knack for it.  I think we don’t have to worry about the results of Dad taking that stress test next month—with the moves he was making, I think he already passed it!       

Ted was a real pal, helping me net $76.10 for my cheese fund!

80z All Stars Band!

Well, our time in Tucson has come to an end.  It sure was a blast sharing it with you.  Next stop is New Mexico.  Talk to you soon!

We would like to thank some amazing organizations for all they do for the RVin

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

March Madness - Quartzsite Style!

Hope everyone enjoyed Leprechaun Day yesterday!  I didn’t find any blarney stones, but I did see a rainbow!

We all are a little Irish on March 17th, and everyone dons their green attire.  In my case, however, I did not wear green.  Instead I turned green, trying to eat Mom’s concoction of stuffed peppers with tempeh!  This plant-based good-for-you madness is killing me, although Dad seems to enjoy Mom’s creations.

Most people associate March Madness with college basketball.  But in Quartzsite and surrounding areas, March Madness refers to a huge line-dancing party organized by our Quartzsite Improvement Authority (QIA) dance instructor Vernine Adkins.  Women and men (and one stuffed rat, of course) of all ages (we even have teenage participants), from Parker, Salome, Blythe, even from as far as Sun City, Ajo, and Lake Havasu City, come to Quartzsite just to participate in this fun-filled, inexpensive ($1 donation to QIA) full day of dance!

March Madness, Quartzsite Style

It’s a small world, too.   Ronda, one of our work associates from Grand Canyon Association who winters in Brenda, was at the party and reconnected with us!

Ronda, our work associate at Grand Canyon Association

For those of us who attend dance classes at the QIA (a bargain at $4/person/day), March Madness presents an opportunity to showcase what we have learned!  Many of our classmates are like us and attend multiple levels of dance.  Some attend Level II and Level III dance classes, while we attend Beginner and Level II classes.  We are remedial students, having attended Beginner classes four years in a row!  (In fairness though, we never put to practical use anything we learn.  We go to Beginner class once a week for 8 weeks max, leave Quartzsite, forget everything, and relearn it the next year.   I’m happy to report though that as we complete Year 4, we think we can actually graduate out of Beginner permanently!)  We had some terrific new folks as classmates (like Beth and Dottie who was a real hoot), and had the chance to renew acquaintances with people from prior years like Gayle, Pam, and Gretchen.  Our instructor Vernine and her assistant Maggie are the absolute best, always so kind, caring, and nurturing.  And they have the patience of Mother Teresa!  Vernine’s only classroom rule is “have fun”, and we all comply!  We’ve tried to participate in dance lessons at other places, but the instructors just didn’t measure up, and no one made us feel quite as welcome and as comfortable as here at the QIA.  If your future includes a visit to Quartzsite, consider participating in these line dance lessons. Even if your two left feet preclude you from dancing, you can always participate in Spanish lessons, yoga classes, Zumba classes, or a variety of other fun, low-cost activities offered by the QIA.

Beginner Class (for the 4th time for us, 2nd and third time for some of our classmates, too!)

Level II Dance Class - Island Day

THE BEST dance instructors a stuffed rat could have, Maggie and Vernine!

March has finally brought seasonal temperatures our way, and has offered some dramatic sunsets, making our evening dinner parties with friends at our desert abode even more enjoyable.

Rodger and Susan, wonderful friends with whom we worked  and resided as neighbors in the same campground for two peak seasons with Amazon, came up from Yuma to spend a few days in Q before they headed to Texas.  We cooked up some salmon and scallops, which we knew they would enjoy.  Always so great to shoot the breeze with them.  Mom loves to pick their brains, too—they are a wealth of tax law knowledge, having work-camped in a variety of positions within multiple states over a 10+ year period.  You see, my Mom is very analytical.  She investigates and considers ALL aspects of an employment opportunity, including travel costs to the job location and tax ramifications.  We have found that accepting less compensation in a state with no income tax can be more cost effective than earning a higher wage in a state in which you must pay income tax.  We don’t mind working hard, but we don’t like to work stupid.  So our goal until my parents are old enough to claim their 401(k)/IRAs without incurring early withdrawal penalties is to net the most to supplement our savings accounts, preferably earning wages and incurring a reduction in expenses (getting a free or minimal cost RV site), all accomplished in the shortest period of time.  Amazon is a great example of what we call a “trifecta”:  Yes, you do work very, very hard.  But you earn $3-$4 over minimum wage, get a free RV site, including all electric costs, and work a mere 10 weeks.  A completion bonus of $1/hour worked and built in gym/weight loss program are just icing on an already sweet cake.

Rodger and Susan

Jack and Jerry, also from our days at Amazon, invited us over for a visit to Sunflower Resort in Surprise, where they are work-camping for a second season (and are trying to recruit my parents to join them next year).  It was so wonderful to see them again and to meet Miss Finley Ann, an adogable lass that they adopted this past year. I brought her some doggie biscuits, hoping to secure her friendship.  She snubbed my dog cookies and took a shine to Dad instead!  Not one to accept rejection, I took back my biscuits and set out to win over Charlie, the King Charles Cavalier, who lived next door.  Mission accomplished!  He liked me AND my doggie treats! Sunflower is an absolutely gorgeous resort, with nicely-sized RV spots, beautiful landscaping, and every amenity you can possibly imagine.  And unlike Roberts Pueblo El Mirage, no jets flying overhead every 5 minutes.  They have loads of activities and special events (like the Oscar Party they were holding later that evening), and drinks are only $1/each from 2-4 pm in the Tiki Bar!  We enjoyed some grub, the sounds of the band (who covered Buddy Holly, Elvis, and other 50's artists), and the companionship of these terrific folks.  While in the Surprise area, we did some healthy-eating shopping, too.  Our first stop was Sprouts, which we discovered in Flagstaff has good quality, reasonable-priced traditional and organic produce.  We also visited Trader Joe’s for the first time.  Although we did not like their produce, they had some unique things like canned jack fruit (it is a fruit grown in India that is used as a meat substitute) for Mom to use in her petri-dish experiments.  

The Pierces with The Parents

See the turtles sunning themselves in the right foreground?

Ms. Finley Ann, taking a shine to my Dad

Charlie, the King Charles Cavalier that I befriended

After their participation in the RV Dreams Boondocking Rally, we planned a dinner party to reconnect with Kelly/Bill and Linda/Steve, who, like us, were part of RVillage Class of 2016 North to Alaska.  The affair grew from a party of 6 to a party of 13 to include RV Dreamers Steve/Dianne, Harry/Vickie, Pam/Red and Stan, a friend of theirs they asked to bring along. This might present a problem for many people, but not for Mom.  Being of Italian descent, the quantity of food Mom cooks for 6 people can feed more than 16 anyway.  (It is a disease.  She knows nothing about portion control!).   We served the last of the carnivore delights from our freezer:  sausage and peppers, roast beef, and pork roast, which were accompanied by stuffing, potatoes, veggies, salad, sourdough bread, and artichoke/spinach/cheese dip.  Needless to say, no one left hungry.  And so Dad did not feel deprived, she adapted one of her chicken recipes to plant-based, sauteéing cubes of tempeh in garlic and other spices, then covering it with spinach, tomato sauce, and melted vegan mozzarella cheese (fake cheese is better than no cheese in this rat's book.  So IMHO Tempeh Florentine is hands down the winner in tastiness among all these plant-based dishes I've eaten thus far.)  The blazing campfire, fabulous sunset, and great companionship made a wonderful evening and the perfect end-of-season gathering.

Hey, who cut me out of the photo!

Mom's Italian Tempeh Florentine

Even a little hummingbird enjoys Mom's dinner party and a table with a view!

The Monsons meandered over to our place recently.  They were only in Q for one night, passing through from California to Benson, but wanted to stop to give Mom a present, an absolutely beautiful hand-made quilt!  Mom was so touched!  You see, Mom is usually the giver, not the receiver!  And as someone who cannot even sew on a button, she is keenly aware of the time, effort and skill that is required in quilting.  It is such a labor of love.   We all will treasure the gift, just as we treasure Carol and David’s genuineness and friendship!

We all needed some new clothes, especially Dad because of his weight loss, so we visited Yuma for the first time this season.  I noticed as we passed the vast farmlands that some farmers have not fully harvested their winter crops, while others are tilling their fields already for spring plantings.  I am always amazed at the contrast of the barren, earthen lands to the lush, fertile fields of green.  We stopped at “Pause, Rest, Worship”, a teeny-tiny (especially next to Big Boomer), non-denominational chapel, complete with stained glass windows and pews, nestled in a field off of Highway 95.  It was built originally in 1995 by a farmer in loving memory of his deceased wife.  Reconstruction was required in 2011, after sustaining severe damage from a microburst.    I felt so peaceful and serene, taking a minute to thank the Creator for giving us all such a beautiful day.  We also saw the “Bridge to No Where” in the background, but since we had somewhere to go, we didn’t pursue this route.

The towers of the "Bridge to No Where" are in the right background.  And can you see the little bird on the rooftop who joined me to pause, rest, and worship?

After doing some shopping, we researched options for a late lunch.  Unfortunately, by this time we were on the opposite side of town from the Thai restaurant where we know we could find plant-based meals.  We decided Black Bear Diner might be the best alternate, since it touts having super salads and vegetarian options.  Unfortunately, all their salads included meat, cheese, or dairy.  They did have a small side salad for $4.99.  Mom asked could it be made into an entrée size salad and was refused this request.  What?  What kind of diner is this?  In the Northeast, there is NOTHING you can’t get at a diner!  And usually there is no customization that they can’t or won’t accommodate, especially something as simplistic as using all the same ingredients, just giving us more of them and charging us more accordingly.  Geez, Louise!  While the place was cute with lots of bear statues on the ground, don’t bother going if you are looking for plant-based foods.    We ate our puny bowls of rabbit food and continued with the last of our errands.  

Before heading home, we stopped at Mittry Lake, an absolutely wonderful boondocking find, albeit with a 10-day limit.  Most of the RV sites were spacious enough to fit our set-up.  The sites along the waterfront offered both privacy AND spectacular views.  And we timed it perfectly—seeing sunset on the Lake.  Homeward bound, just ¼ mile from the entrance to La Posa South, we spotted a 10-point buck eating alongside Highway 95!  He wasn’t very big, but that doesn’t surprise me, based on what little vegetation is available to eat.  (Hope he’s not looking for the antler I picked up in the wash last week!)

We took one last UTV ride and hike before putting Rat Patrol into "transport" position.  We witnessed another magnificent sunrise, caught a lizard lounging, and found a few creosote bushes and one lone cactus in bloom (amazing what a contrast to last year, when we experienced a super bloom!)  And I made yet another rock art self portrait in these desert lands.    That evening, I even spotted my first scorpion!  By the way, Dad uploaded my video (finally!) of our UTV adventures onto my youtube channel. 

Mom is thrilled with Dad’s completed paint job on her motorcycle.  What do you think?  Speaking of motorcycles, catch my video which shows how we transport them.

Transition complete, from boring, blend-me-in black to you-can't-miss-me yellow

Well, our time at Quartzsite has come to an end—we hit the road tomorrow morning!  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my last day in Q than by visiting Celia’s Rainbow Garden and attending the 23rd Annual Garden Party, where there is music, food, and fellowship, all in remembrance of Celia, the only child of Joanne and Paul Winer (AKA the Naked Bookseller).  Celia, who died at age 8 1/2, would have celebrated her 32nd birthday on March 28.  As evidenced by the outpouring of love, shared laughter, and cherished memories I witnessed today, Celia is still very much alive—in the hearts, minds, and souls of her family, friends, and neighbors.

Paul Winer performing a tribute song to Celia

We would like to thank some amazing organizations for all they do for the RVing community:

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