We headed back to Vancouver via the ferry and were greeted with a hump whale sighting on the way over! Nice to get a freebie along the way. Once we hit the mainland we made our way up to the Cayoosh Campground in Lillooet. The GPS took us on the Transcanada Highway 1 instead of 99. While it was cloudy and rainy, we were greeted with towering peaks that jutted straight up six-thousand feet, they loomed behind breaks in the clouds, making their presence somewhat foreboding vs. the usually breathtaking reaction we have to such dramatic landscapes. We wound through the Fraser Valley where the churning, muddy river cut through gorges that felt more like fjords; thousands of feet of sheer drops into the river below.
We eventually came through the rolling hills to Lillooet through a town called Lytton that had been completely gutted by wildfires. It was looked like a scene from a holocaust; apparently sixty-five structures were consumed within one hour. With much dismay, we saw a fair amount of forest fire damage on our way through. This is one of the reasons we decided to come in the spring, as the fire seasons start earlier and earlier – as we experienced in Oregon over the last few years. We are thankful we did New Mexico when we did – now the places we visited are being ravaged.
We settled into a nice barbecue and campfire as we had sunny weather.
We walked into town and had breakfast. It’s a sleepy town but this is why we don’t mind going a bit off track; we get to experience parts of the country that may not be deemed as popular. Somehow people subsist in these remote areas; you certainly can’t beat the scenery.
Next we headed to the 100 Mile House. There are various towns with the names such as 100 Mile House, 150 Mile House. These designations hark back to the Cariboo Gold Rush (we see the spelling “Cariboo” instead of “Caribou” for the most part).
Besides the leaping deer sign warnings we saw our moose first sign, and also our first frost heave sign (little pyramids warning you of their presence). Then we saw the deer and moose combo sign. I kept my eyes peeled for moose but only saw deer.
We settled in for the night at the Big Country RV Park. They hadn’t been busy in a while and said things were now really starting to pick up. We parked next to some friendly Canadians amongst the aspens (lots of aspens and rolling hills in this region). The showers there we great and really hot – yes! The weather remained clear and we went on a lovely hike in the morning around the rolling pastures.
That afternoon we arrived at the Sintich RV park after surviving a heck of a squall; rain and wind that lashed us to the point we almost pulled over. The park was soaked with huge puddles that we hoped we wouldn’t have to park in. They were covid-obsessed here; the first time masks have been required outside the Navajo nation. The bathrooms and showers were closed; it was a bit much after having experienced better service in Canada so far. The Wi-Fi was decent once we activated the Winegard booster, otherwise another RV park could have been a bit nicer; it was mostly long-term inhabitants surrounded by permanent mobile homes.
We were told this weather is unusual as it’s usually dry, but they have been having a cold spring – oh joy! But it beats wildfires.
We stocked up on supplies in Prince George as we were warned things would start getting more sparse and expensive. We even got haircuts! We are now looking a bit more civilized.
I had purchased a beautiful card in Victoria that I scanned and enlarged and is now on our well. It fits the decor beautifully, is Native American, but is also tragic as it’s about women that have gone missing. In a sense besides being enamored with the art, the deeper meaning behind it makes it that more profound.
After a beautiful and uneventful drive up Highway 16 we stopped at the Fort Telkwa RV park that sits along the river. We were greeted by snow capped mountains on our way in – we are assuming this is our first taste of the landscapes we will be experiencing along the Stewart Cassiar Highway that we will be hitting today!
After ten days back on the mainland we are embarking on the first leg of our five month trip through Canada to Alaska!
But first we feverishly finished up the prep on our home of twenty-two years and put it on the market on May 10; it sold in two days well over the asking price! The rise in interest rates certainly hasn’t entirely dampened buyer’s appetites.
BigB is now our home for the next five months until we move to France.
We stopped over in Seattle on our way to Canada to have dinner with my brother and sister-in-law whom we had just spent two weeks in Hawaii – and who just happen to live in Redmond – feast or famine!
The next day we arrived in Vancouver B.C. – I didn’t realize that I had to fill out the government required ArriveCAN COVID-19 verification info for presentation at the border; I had been more concerned with what we could bring across the border, I hadn’t checked the requirements for COVID-19 until the last minute! Thankfully the Canadians are not only lovely people, but extremely organized and I was able to complete the requirement online a few hours before arrival.
After overnighting in Vancouver we headed for the Tsawwassen Ferry for our trip to Victoria. I had booked the ferry tickets a week before-hand as you can’t expect to just show up and get on. The boys were super excited, especially Bob Jr (our new minion!) as this was his first trip. The trip over was a lovely sojourn through the surrounding islands. It was 1.5 hours but it went quickly.
After getting settled in at the Fort Victoria RV Park, we spent the following day drifting around Victoria which is a lovely city; there is definitely an English tea culture here, that, and the English sweets that were in proliferation, really excited Bob.
We stopped by Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley, enchanting remnants of the Chinese culture that helped build the city, then made our way through downtown to the Empress Hotel and waterfront.
We discovered these darling water taxis, and though we would have loved to have taken a harbor tour it didn’t fit into our schedule. Victoria is one of those historic and infinitely walkable cities. As the day was cold we were glad to drop into the occasional cozy coffee shop for a pick-me-up.
The real treat was the Butchart Gardens that we had planned for the next day as the weather was expected to be good – and it certainly lived up to the hype! We spent four delirious hours touring a riot of tulips, rhododendrons, azaleas, cherry blossoms and the rare and amazing blue poppy.
There was also a species of tulip I had never seen – it looked more like a peony.
Peony or Tulip?
All of this blooming magnificence on unapologetic display; it was sheer luck that we had planned our trip to this utopia when the Canadian spring was in full swing.
By far, my favorite was the not-of-this-earth “Sunken Garden.” It had been an old quarry that slowly morphed from an oasis of imagination. It was difficult for me to catch my breath. We left with our love of gardening ignited, pining for the day we would be settled in France and sinking our fingers and minds into the rich soil of the Dordogne Valley.
This post is about a journey that started over 80 years ago that ferried my father from a remote farm in North Dakota to the tropical paradise island of Oahu as a U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band Member, Musician 2nd class. Having been deprived of his connection throughout most of my childhood, I have been like a stubborn orphan seeking a familial connection denied me, and through his letters I have joined him on his journey through the tumult of World War II. I never flinched at the intergenerational trauma because, as a cult survivor, I have developed an unusual taste for the uncomfortable.
Covid had put a damper on our trip to Hawaii that had originally been planned for 2020, this change of plan allowed me more time to explore what has turned out to be a legacy that has found its final resting place at Pearl Harbor.
I have spent years, off and on, pulling together his letters, pictures, ancient negatives and periphenalia. I recently contacted members of the US Navy Pacific Fleet Band to find a suitable home for these precious artifacts that laid dormant in a closet after his death in 1996. I had the pleasure of connecting with the vibrant and dynamic Lt. Luslaida Barbosa, the Navy Pacific Fleet Bandmaster: She has an impressive resume – she is not only one of the few female US Navy Bandmasters, she is also a woman of color (Puerto Rican) and the only one who moved up the ranks while raising children. I’m honored to know her and make the aquaintance of such a trailblazer.
She met us briefly at the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, but as we were boarding the ferry to the memorial our conversation was cut short. So I asked to meet up with her again the following week. She has also been assisting me with finding a home for my father’s trombone that he played during the war – it is now destined for the Naval School of Music in Little Creek, Virginia.
She also advised me there was a memorial ceremony at the USS Utah site for a musician from the Enterprise – Lt. Barbosa thought it was related to us – it was simply a fantastical coincidence amongst so many it seems.
On the ferry, I was accommpanied by boat-load of strangers who were oblivious to my father’s history, feeling a lack of intimacy that I had hoped for as we were shuffled around the memorial for the short time allowed. The Arizona Memorial isn’t simply a place of rememberance, but an underwater cemetery of the most profound kind; you come here to pay your respects to all those who died a ghastly death as it was sunk with precision by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. When I contemplate this gargantuan, rusting tomb emitting its black tears, I hope those surrounding me also consider all that happened that day and how a slight turn of events could have changed the course of history for the U.S. When I look up, the Mighty Mo stands guard in the distance, a sentinel, proud, defiant – unchallenged. She is all that remains of battleship row – her brethren either submerged or eventually scrapped. The power of the symbology becomes apparent: Testimonies to the beginning and the end of one of the most devastating wars in history. #neverforget #neversurrender
I left with my mental notes to contemplate the wreckage and what my father would have witnessed as the USS Enterprise steamed into the harbor the day after the attack; the sky black with smoke, the massive hulks of mangled ships, the bodies of the unrecovered, flames – layers of carnage that would be forever fused in his mind. If the Enterprise has been moored in the harbor on December 7th, I probably wouldn’t be alive – writing this blog.
Ten days later, after a lovely respite on the North Shore, my husband and I returned to Honolulu and spent our final day back at Pearl Harbor; our first stop was the USS Missouri – the Mighty Mo.
The scale and power of this battleship gave me perspective on what my father would have experienced during his service on the USS W. Virginia. The guns must have been as deafening as the emotional toll on its inhabitants.
I’m always in awe at how mankind can accomplish such feats of engineering.
There is a dent on the side of the Mo where a Kamakaze (aka Divine Wind) clipped the ship with its wing – and miraculously a ship photographer captured the exact moment of the crash. It was a failed attempt but a fitting scar; these pilots gave their lives by the thousands. My father wrote of them attacking the USS West Virginia. They did massive damage to the pacific fleet and were a force to be reckoned with.
The slow unveiling of my father’s history is like the maze of a great battleship, you can easily get lost in the corridors, trip, bang your head on the low ceilings, bump into the narrow passage ways. You pass the fortified and impregnable bulk heads thinking there is no way out, then you stumble across the engine room, the crew quarters and the mess hall. You contemplate the inception of massive turrets that hold the outer world at bay. Then you some how find your way out of the darkness into the museum level and the #neverforget history of the ship itself.
When you emerge, back on deck, you face the Arizona Memorial, the three immortal gun turrets saluting all those who perished and praising the grit of all those who survived.
I’m now standing still in the spot where the Japanese surrendered on September 2nd, 1945 that ended the war. I welled up a bit as my father was so close to being at that very spot: It would have been his final performance for the Navy. He decided to return home instead; he had survived too many conflicts and whatever twists of fate, while so many of his comrades perished – the toll of war left him devoid of any further adventure. I wonder in hindsight if he wished he had been part of such a significant, historical event.
After our mesmerizing tour of the Mighty Mo, we went to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to meet up with Lt. Barbosa at the Pacific Fleet Band base. It turned out Bob could not join me, as he did not have his passport and is a dual citizen. It was such a disappointment but you don’t argue with the Navy.
She took me through the building that had been housing the fleet bands since the 1940’s. I imagined my father walked these halls at some point. There are no longer bands assigned to ships so this is now the hub that holds all their offices, where they rehearse for events; I met so many of the young band members in their fatigues – their respectability was refreshing and their fascination with my father’s history utterly endearing.
Lt. Barbosa kindly drove me back to the visitor center to meet back up with Bob. Bidding my farewell, I realized I had done the right thing to cement my father’s legacy for future generations. So many I talk to, do not know what to do with their old letters and artifacts from wars gone past: All I did was contact and see who could help me – the result has been beyond what I could have ever anticipated.
We visited the WW II Aviation Museum, rode in a simulator, observed the relics of planes and bullet holes, and wandered through the hangers made familiar by Hollywood movies – but what happened here was far from Hollywood.
The Pearl Harbor Memorial not-so-gently reminds us of what we must never forget. People visit in droves and I hope they internalize the sacrifices and suffering that too many endured for our freedoms. These are not trite words, the Greatest Generation was born of tragedy and resiliency. It’s ok to exceed your comfort zone as they did.
I have felt both empowered and desolate – not like those who lost loved ones to the war – but to a memory I never had the chance to fully understand. I understand better now. Having had no scattering of ashes, I instead decided to have a burial at sea, submerging his memory into the harbor itself where his time capsule rests like a pearl, in peace amongst the ghosts of his comrades. The glass of the capsule will remain but the cap will eventually rust – the sand will drift and the photo will deteriorate. It may surface someday as beach glass – beach glass of a special kind that maybe will transfer its magic to an aspiring sailor or musician. Or if it surfaces intact there is a message there for anyone who will listen.
As the spirit world has suggested, perhaps it’s as much closure for him as it is for me.
RIP W.A Bender – you have now come full circle; the glass did not shatter, like the delicate resiliency of a human life, but it will meet its fate, as all things do, as the seal turns to rust. Ashes and dust have no place here and disappear with the wind, but the sea, in its mighty wisdom….will always remember its own.
Today is my birthday and we are heading back to Honolulu after ten fabulous days on the North Shore of Oahu. I can’t think of a better way to spend it than here on this beautiful island with family.
We had a “High Surf Advisory” Sunday and here that means one thing – surfing! We headed out to a lovely lagoon next to Shark’s Cove located just up from the “Pipeline.”
The tide was seriously surging and it turned out to be a beautiful day; the rain decided to hold off while we spent hours snorkeling, soaking up the vibes and watching the mesmerizing surf.
The fish action was great and they acted as if we didn’t exist – I was literally swimming through large pools of them.
To top off our stay, we dined at Haleiwa Joe’s overlooking the harbor; nothing beats an authentic Mai Tai, tropical breezes and good company. It seems that cocktail mixers like to be more creative though I prefer to stick with the standards indigenous to the Island’s to include Pina Colada’s and the infamous Volcano.
We bid farewell to my brother and sister-in-law, the local turtles who kept us thoroughly entertained, and headed back to Honolulu by way of Kaneohe.
My father had been stationed at the Kaneohe Air Base after the bombing of Pearl Harbor for a short while before he was redeployed to the mainland. The scenery was astounding – lush with valleys of jungles and skyrocketing escarpments that screamed tropical exotic. It’s no wonder so many movies are filmed here. I can imagine that during my father’s day it must have been utterly unspoiled.
We decided to drop into Kualoa Ranch where they filmed Jurassic Park. We skipped the tour but enjoyed the kitsch all the same.
As it was my birthday we needed to top off the day with an authentic Pina Colada and we really scored at the “Lava Tube” in Honolulu where they serve them in pineapples!
What a great a way to top of a memorable birthday with some Hawaiian flare!
Every morning the alarm goes off which is actually a cacophony of birds, set to a backdrop of a swaying surf that complements your morning coffee. No need to keep track of time here.
Our humble cottage is tucked onto a public beach virtually devoid of human activity. This place is a bit of a dead-end as further up the road is the wildlife sanctuary and there are no resorts along this drive; there are private residences only, some that need updating and others that have been lavished on by their owners, but no McMansions – mostly plantation style abodes. The indigenous inhabitants are the lovely Green Sea Turtles who come to forage the kelp near the shore; you easily become ensconced by the feeding habits of turtles as they float effortlessly with the tides. Sometimes they travel alone, but mostly they come in a group of three or four accompanied by the vast schools of colorful fish swimming along the coral reefs. Occasional crabs sidewind out of your way.
It’s truly a fusion of sea, sand and zen.
The weather has been good but we are occasionally driven in by the wind and rain but if that is to be our greatest challenge here, and should I complain then I have grown as soft as a tropical breeze.
The North Shore itself throws a bohemian vibe along with an ocean of surfers coming to challenge some of the greatest wave action in the world. It’s off season but they don’t care – the swells are large enough to entertain this ambitious crowd.
Cars are jammed into every available space along the highway as you approach the beach of the renowned Bonsai Pipeline, and even those who just wish to swim worm their way into spots that defy physics.
Nearby Haleiwa is the small-town surfer hub and is also a fun tourist destination – there is enough island kitsch, with an undertow of surfer dude culture, to keep the curious shopper entertained. Some of the stores, it appears, did not survive the pandemic and have shuttered, but with the tourist crowd virtually bursting at the seams again you can only hope there will be a revival.
Further east is the lovely Waimea Valley where you find some fantastic botanic specimens that, upon further inspection, prove to be real. Exotic flowers are an essential ingredient to the elixir of paradise and these luscious babies make you want to stop and linger with a Mai Tai in hand to enhance the experience. But at the gardens you can only observe and settle for a respite of coconut ice cream.
The valley itself is a stronghold of ancient Hawaiian heritage and like the Arizona Memorial, one comes here to pay their respects, strolling through the winding paths of massive, twisting, ficus trees that guard the ancient burial sites.
Most tourists come to swim at the waterfall, missing the side paths that take you into the jungle, where the flora and quietude gives pause to the outside world. The music here is delivered by exotic birds that refuse to reveal themselves even though you try and talk them down from their perch.
Despite the crowds, these shores remain static as if to push those that it can’t accommodate back to Waikiki. If not for the private residences, this area would have been overrun by resorts and who knows what the fate of the turtle might have been.
It’s like a dirty little secret since it’s public the beach isn’t easily accessible, so the turtles remain virtually undisturbed except for the occasional, curious snorkeler that they pay little heed to; drifting free, the envy of those who can only leave footprints that are soon wiped away but the evening tide.
After making it back home to Portland, Oregon we had to hit the deck running as we needed to pack up the house for our eventual move to France and…we were leaving for Hawaii to join family in Oahu on the 14th; this trip had been cancelled two years prior due to Covid, and since then I had spent time scanning my father’s WWII letters from his service in the Pacific. This will turn out to be a seminal experience as we will be meeting with the Pacific Fleet Band Master as part of our tour of the Arizona Memorial. My father served as a Musician 2nd Class (eventually 1st Class) in the Navy aboard the Enterprise and W. Virginia and his letters ranging from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay captured a rare glimpse into the life of a musician during the war.
When we arrived back in Portland it of course decided to snow! The movers were coming the next day and we prayed the weather would clear, not just with the packing and moving, but making it to the airport for our flight.
I’ve had far worse stressors in my life, but still, it was a lot and we both started to blow out some brain cells with all the details.
Thankfully, we made it to the plane without incident, worn and a bit shattered from the last few days, convinced we forgot to bring necessary items only to find them shoved here and there in our luggage.
Upon arrival I took a deep breath instead of a sigh of relief; I wanted to inhale the islands themselves. We were greeted by the trade winds scented with plumeria as we explored the legendary Royal Hawaiian Resort, then we soaked our feet in the tropical blue surf of Waikiki Beach. Much has changed since my father sunbathed in front of this princess-pink landmark; it sits there defiant amongst the modern high rises – its place in history never to be questioned. And shopping mall laden Honolulu is no longer the quaint meandering village it was back in the 1940’s as described in his letters – more to come on this later after we meet with the US Navy Pacific Fleet Bandmaster on the 20th at Pearl Harbor; this subject deserves a special place in my blog.
We dined at the Mai Tai Bar and I had the Vic’s 44 cocktail – a throwback to the Trader Vic’s Tiki Lounge that was founded back before the war. I still have my father’s certificate. Trader Vic’s is now all over the world except here in Honolulu which really escapes me as to why that is. The “International Market” is mostly box stores with a few galleries thrown in.
Give me some authentic Hawaiian crafts please!!!
After passing out from a long day we woke up at 4:00 a.m. —— just couldn’t get back to sleep.
We decided to attend the Hiuwai Morning Ritual on the Royal Hawaiian Beachfront that started at 5:45 a.m.
We were met by Kehaulani Kam, the Director of Cultural Services for the Marriott team in Hawaii, who introduced us to a traditional Hawaiian sunrise ritual that involved chants and baptizing ourselves in the ocean. We weren’t prepared to swim but I decided to chuck formalities and go in mostly clothed. This ritual involves the concept of rebirthing through the healing waters of Waikiki – which means “spouting fresh waters.” The waters from the interior meld with the ocean creating an alchemy worshipped by the Hawaiians.
What a great way to start our adventure as we are essentially going through a rebirth on this new chapter in our lives.
Bob and I came out soaked and refreshed by the experience, glad to have immersed ourselves in this lovely tradition. Kehaulani had explained the importance of their ancestors and carrying on these traditions – to never allow their heritage to disappear. I let her know about my father’s legacy including the vintage photographs of Waikiki and sunbathing in front of the Royal Hawaiian and she was excited to know more.
As it turns out, I made this unexpected connection during this rebirthing ritual, resulting in my father’s legacy being introduced as part of the Royal Hawaiian historical collection that is destined for the display case in the lower lobby of the hotel!!!!!
She was so excited to see what I had and to read his letters from his time in the Navy. This is an ongoing development that I will continue to blog about – and I can’t wrap my head around the significance of what has emerged since our arrival.
Despite the swarm of people and the overwhelming commercialism surrounding the resorts, when my feet touch these sands, I feel that I am cocooned in a special place and time – even though I share it, I cannot adequately interpret what the spirits are playing at. I am grateful that I have been swept onto these shores, to convey this oceanic history and solidify my father’s legacy, that like this hotel, has withstood the test of time.
We headed back to Santa Rosa to mooch-dock and visit our friend Peter; the weather was glorious and dry and we shared some fabulous dinners together.
Bob had purchased a couple of bicycles from him to be packed and shipped back to Portland and it turned out the boxes were bigger than anticipated – along with the costs, so we shipped one back and have managed to wedge the other one into the RV. Fortunately it’s just for a few nights.
We made a pit stop on our way to the Oregon Coast at the Founder’s Grove in the Redwood National Forest. What a great tea time we had – it was so rejuvenating revisiting this place and tree bathing amongst these magnificent giants once again. #spoiled.
We finally arrived at the Turtle Rock RV Resort in Gold Beach and its stunning coastline – it was a long day of driving and being buffeted by the wind so instead of fixing dinner we dove into the local Mexican restaurant for a margarita and some nice chow. Heck, it was Friday night!
I enjoyed the chorus of frogs that lulled me to sleep. The weather was clear but really windy in the morning and we struggled a bit with our beach walk (literally getting a sand facial) and decided to pack up for less windy climes.
Our next destination was Heceta Beach RV Resort outside of Florence, Oregon. This area has special meaning to me as generations of my family and friends have met up at nearby Mercer Lake over the 4th of July; many have passed on and it is time to bid a final farewell to this unspoiled paradise. The resort had held out for so long but recently sold to a developer – it will not be the same.
Such is the sad passing of things.
We stopped and strolled through our regular haunts in old-town Florence and picked up a few tokens – thankful for the beautiful weather; a fitting farewell.
Reflecting back on the last seven weeks I cannot choose a favorite place because they are all so magnificent in their own distinct way. While we had a challenges with the weather, and the added stresses inherent to being in an RV during freezing weather, I have to confess that the beauty of snowfall made up for it. And we had all the gear to manage any conditions mother nature threw at us.
I’ve pulled together some impromptu highlights that made this trip even more memorable:
❤️Dim Sum in Chinatown, San Francisco
❤️Sunset Happy Hour at White Sands National Park
❤️Elevenses at Mirror Lake in the shadow of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
❤️Barbecuing amongst the orange blossoms outside Bakersfield
❤️Snow in the Grand Canyon
❤️Impromptu balcony lunch at the Creekside Cafe in Sedona with a fabulous view of the surrounding buttes while they played “Stairway to Heaven” in the background – a perfect storm of pleasure
❤️Meeting up with National Geographic photographer Nevada Wier in Santa Fe at the Obscura Gallery – I hope to join her on a photo tour someday
❤️Getting a tour of a traditional Navajo hogan at Canyon de Chelly
❤️Enjoying a peaceful sunrise breakfast at the Needles Overlook in Canyonlands Rim Recreation area
❤️The zen of Windwhistle Campground
❤️Watching the sunrise over Monument Valley after the snowfall
❤️Tea time at the Founders Grove, Redwoods National Park
❤️❤️The hospitality of the Navajo Nation….
I couldn’t have asked for a better overall experience and feel so blessed to have made the decision to embark on this adventure.
We arrive back in Portland after seven weeks on the road: We are packing our house up for international shipping for our eventual relocation to France – and then we will sell in May.
Our trip to Hawaii that was disrupted by the pandemic was rescheduled for April, so we will enjoy a couple of weeks being spoiled by tropical trade winds and hanging with my brother and sister-in-law on the North Shore of Oahu. We will be visiting the Arizona Memorial in honor of my father’s memory who served on the Enterprise when Pearl Harbor was bombed and am hoping to catch up with the Pacific Navy Fleet Bandmaster to connect the past with the present. It should prove to be an interesting blog considering his history during WWII.
It didn’t really register to me that it was spring until we got to Bakersfield and saw various bulbs and even roses blooming. Add the orange blossoms and I felt like we discovered a slice of paradise after being plagued by snow, hail and high deserts devoid of blossoms.
We accidentally took the long route to get to Yosemite though it turned out to be quite beautiful with farmlands with blooming flowers and green fields. As we gained elevation there was the welcome site of pine trees, mostly Ponderosa pines. When you are from the Pacific Northwest, making the transition back to the “green belt” is a welcoming event. I was in need of some serious tree bathing.
The rock here is like a seafoam colored granite with some sparkly bits that was quite beautiful. The roads were hairpin with little or no gaurdrails, though the views made up for it. The alpine lupines were blooming and there were occasional fields of wildflowers sprayed across the meadows.
After a while, we lost signal thinking it would pick up again as we approached the park. Civilization was starting to emerge so it was quite surprising when we got to the Lake Yosemite RV Park, while quite popular, was devoid of any signal. We were fortunately blessed with lovely weather and a spot on the river, though the park was quite crowded and somewhat noisy and you had to pay for wifi.
We had several deer sightings and almost ran into Bambi on our way out of the RV Park. All around Yosemite the deer tend to wander onto the roads.
Upon entering Yosemite we had expected more of a “slow reveal” of the wonders of the park. Instead we came face-to-face with El Capitan – trying to reconcile what we were looking at…then the realization came. The sheer scale of it emerging from the valley floor is incomparable to anything else we have witnessed. Then came Horsetail Falls and all of its thundering glory. The surrounding cliffs are like a supporting cast save for Half Dome that demands its own audience.
As we were pretty early, and even then the park was getting busy, we snagged a parking spot at one of the campground trailheads. Thankfully BigB is only 24 feet, anything bigger would have had a hard time. Some of the roads into the trail heads has serious pot holes, not something you would expect in a major park such as this. We trekked a couple of miles to Mirror Lake and were blessed with a gorgeous view down the valley with the monoliths reflecting in the water. We stopped for a snack and to contemplate the scenery.
The day was getting warmer than we had anticipated and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was hard to imagine it had snowed about a week before and the weather can be touch and go in April. We wandered around the now packed visitor center, wondering what it must be like in the height of summer. We are so fortunate to be doing this now as the National Parks are starting to require reservations and shuttle service to manage the increasing crowds.
We left the park via “Tunnel View,” even though the parking was limited we managed to squeeze BigB into a couple of spaces – we were only going to be there for a little while.
The name does not even begin to describe the sheer scale of what you are witnessing – this particular view is the one made famous by Ansel Adams; his renditions are magical though you need to see it in person – there are no substitutes for the real thing (sorry Ansel but I’m sure you understand). You don’t embrace this view, it embraces you as if to say “thank you for preserving me – this is how I give back to those who will protect me for generations to come.”
The immensity of this gesture subdues you into a heavenly state of awe.
We were thankfully reserved at Indian Cove Campground outside of Twentynine Palms, Ca several months ago – it is in high demand and we almost didn’t get a spot. We bypassed Phoenix on the way, but stopped briefly to view the Saguaro cactus indigenous to the area. They were nothing really new to me but more novel to Bob and Grogu. It’s fascinating that these forests stop just as abruptly as the start; why was this part of the desert conducive to their existence vs say Joshua Tree?
The same proved true for the Joshua trees – they suddenly appear and then drop off save for a few rebellious stragglers.
The California desert proved to be more desolate than the New Mexico high desert; we went miles with no signs of life – not even structures. Grogu wondered if we were on Tattooine or in the middle of a David Lynch movie. The landscape is very monochrome and doesn’t appear to support much fauna; I doubt many humans have set foot in most of it.
When we approached Twentynine Palms we saw more buildings though there was an abundance of abandoned structures, more so than anywhere else we had been. It’s as though much of this region was settled in fits and starts.
The main attraction in this area is Joshua Tree National Park and Indian Cove Campground.
Much like the Alabama Hills, these massive clusters of boulders appear out of nowhere. Indian Cove has about a hundred campsites tucked amongst them; I felt like I was in an episode of the Flintstones. The weather was in the 80’s and we settled in and went for a hike along the nature trail. It was a great space to stretch our legs after such a long drive.
The fire pit beckoned as our happy hour blended into the evening, set against the massive boulders housing curious lizards and iguanas.
This was the first fire we’ve had where we weren’t plagued by high winds or dipping temperatures. We sat and watched the stars come out. This is a Dark Sky region but there was too much haze which muted the intensity of the night sky. The rising moon hung low in a lovely crescent making for a perfect ending to the day. We wish we could have stayed longer but we have to get back to Portland in the next week.
We departed eventually arriving at the Orange Grove RV Park late in the afternoon of the 3rd, surrounded by an unexpected paradise of orange blossoms that wafted through the RV at a balmy 80 degrees – bliss! As the evening cooled the scent became more intense – we will have nature’s aromatherapy to lull us to sleep.
We drove down 89A from Holbrook; I had been to Sedona a few times over thirty years ago when I lived in Scottsdale, but never came down through Flagstaff route. We had beautiful weather as we meandered through the stunning red rocks that make you feel as though you down in the Grand Canyon, but lush with blue-green junipers, pine, brush and unspoiled alpine air. The red rocks enhance the springtime flora; the lantana and cactus were blooming giving the land a deep sense of renewal. It was so nice to be warm, but not hot.
We arrived at the Rancho Sedona RV Park that sits on Oak Creek with views of the surrounding buttes. The park was emaculate with large sycamore trees that gave our surroundings an ethereal feel. A heron flew by adding to my increasing sense of euphoria; they were nesting in a nearby tree.
We were walking distance to the galleries and also to trailheads that sent us a bit off the beaten track. It was quiet as we were pushed out just enough from the main hub with the creek displacing any road noise.
Sedona certainly is not the laid back town I remember, but like so much “progress,” they too are being hammered with tourists; the traffic was thick and I was glad we didn’t have to park anywhere to visit the galleries.
We lucked out at the Creekside Restaurant with a seat outside and a lovely view of the surrounding buttes.
The town has kept it’s beauty and you actually sense they fight for it – there aren’t really any big box stores here with most of the popular lines being curated by the local mom and pop shops – I love that. The gas stations and grocery stores etc. are on the main drag out of town so as not do disrupt the center.
Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village was especially lovely with the rustic southwestern-style shops built around the giant sycamores and skirting Oak Creek. The weather was in the 70’s – it was simply bucolic. Despite the surge of humanity it felt well-kept and restrained.
We saw the new age proprietors around town but they weren’t as pronounced as the galleries and boutiques. I suppose I can understand the new age thing as the ether of this place has a very meditative quality to it; but simply embracing it is enough for me – I don’t need a psychic reading to appreciate my surroundings and life is a mystery to explore anyway.
We had the added pleasure of catching up with the several Leisure Travel Van owners that had congregated creating our own vortex! We bonded, drank wine, swapped stories, experiences and suggestions. It was great to meet fellow nomads who just maybe will also visit us in France😍.
We curated art from some of the galleries, glad to find pieces within our budget as some of the art was well out of our range – it will be fun to unpack these gems in France and find them a permanent home.
Goodbye Sedona, you masterpiece on so many different levels. We are up early to Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park – 350 some odd miles!
This is actually a two for one since the petrified wood is scattered all over the Painted Desert. The area is a vast and diverse geological pocket located in dinosaur territory – hence the large scale models of dino’s at the tourist stops along Route 66.
It’s mind boggling to think this forest dates back 217 million years; dinosaurs roamed these woods and became part of the archeological landscape in the same manner as the trees. Now desert, you see broken and shattered fragments all over the park in what was once a dense forest teaming with gargantuan wildlife.
Even more intriguing is the beauty of the buttes and hills where the tree fragments are now on display. Mother Nature, I guess, decided that she needed a more dramatic backdrop as part of her “preservation diorama.”
We parked up by the TeePee mountains and discovered a trail that wasn’t marked on the map – and what a lucky find that was! It was unspoiled with only a few other adventurous souls on their way back to the parking lot.
The sun was at our back while the storm boiled in front of us with the wind kicking up – all of this making the hike more intense. As we walked along the top of these hills, varying landscapes revealed themselves at every turn.
We meandered through layers of oranges and blues that looked like they had been deposited by machines in some quarry, with eruptions of occasional hoodoos balanced by smooth clamshell-like formations.
The storms looming on the horizon added to the drama; we were really hoping we wouldn’t get drenched on our hike since hail had been part of the earlier downpours.
We left unscathed by the weather and stopped by the ancient ruins of long-abandoned villages and explored the many petroglyphs dotted throughout the park.
When we reached Blue Mesa the wind kicked up and we started getting pelted by hail. It was so intense I had real difficulty getting the passenger door to close and the inside of BigB was getting drenched. Though we didn’t really get to hike the Blue Mesa, which is lovingly paved by the National Park Service, we certainly got a dose of it on our earlier hike. I felt bad for the people that were on the trail getting blasted with high winds and hail – it stung the bare skin.
The squall eventually dissipated as we left to explore the rest of the park and BigB got a good wash and dry in the process! Days of bug scum melted off the windshield.
We ended the day picking up a piece of polished petrified wood to use as a bookend. This is a reminder of where we fit in the grand scheme of things; touching the smooth surface of an artifact that is over two hundred million years old. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it as we go through our daily lives.
On a side note, we left Wilson-the-volleyball at the Carlsbad KOA recreation center; he needs to move around and he’s difficult to carry around on hikes – I’m sure he’ll be happier there playing with the kids.
We headed out to boondock at the Tumbleweed diner in Magdalena through our Harvest Host membership (pretty much out in the middle of nowhere).
But first we decided to make a stop in Roswell to check out what all the hype was about. We decided to tour the International UFO and Research Center. Despite the kitsch most of us associate with Roswell, this center was well put together with extensive research on the Roswell incident and the ensuing cover up. It’s fascinating that this incident needed to be covered up – I mean really – it wasn’t War of the Worlds and if aliens landed and were just checking us out why all the fear?
The research and witnesses lent a lot of credibility to what happened and as far as we know it’s probably happened elsewhere. Otherwise it was a fun adventure along with an entertaining mock up – a lot of effort went into all of this!
We also decided to stop for a Sunday brunch at the Cowboy Cafe – if you are ever in town check it out – they also have dishes with my local favorite – you got it…..green chili! My choice with the “Alien Omelette.”
We proceeded to our final destination through more high plains still wanting to know what people did out in this rather desolate land. When we got to Magdalena and the Tumbleweeds Diner it certainly turned out to be a bright spot with it’s fantastic murals (note the spaceship that is ditched in the desert!). It’s about twenty miles from the Very Large Array (those big satellite dishes made famous by Hollywood) but unfortunately the visit center was closed so we decided to skip it.
We overnighted in the diner parking area which is pretty much just an extension of the surrounding desert, it was super peaceful and we were streaming the Oscars but even that connection gave up after a while and all you could hear was the breeze. In the morning we headed for Albuquerque and the Enchanted Trails RV park on Route 66. It was close to the I-40 but it didn’t affect our sleep – you will find that is the case with most of Route 66 which is basically the I-40 anymore.
We headed out early to get to the Petrified Forest with a stop in Gallup along the way. I wanted to check out the Perry Null Trading Post as it has authentic art and I know the Navajo work and help run the place. I found a lovely turquoise pendant to add to my collection; the piece is inlaid with beautiful silver work and stamped with the artist’s initials and authenticity. I wound up paying half price – I probably didn’t notice the sale sign. Collecting authentic pieces gets the funds back to the Navajo. I’ve gone into these other “trading posts” and have found southwest-themed merchandise made in India and China – no thank you!!
After two weeks touring New Mexico and all of its wonders we bid farewell. We have seen so much of this enchanting state and it certainly delivered. My only complaint would be the vast empty plains and the accompanying wind that was unrelenting, but the other endearing qualities along with the people certainly made up for it.
Thank you Santa Fe, White Sands National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, Shiprock, Bisti Badlands, and the Tumbleweed Diner for all the great memories.
We left White Sands and travelled through the Lincoln National Forest up to an elevation of 8500 feet (which explained the terrible mileage on BigB), then came to the endless plains that reminded us of “High Plains Drifter.” I can’t imagine who put up all that fencing that goes on forever. And as Bob commented, “that needs to be maintained.”
We stopped by a quirky ranch known as Runyon Ranch, we bought some lemon lime roasted pistachios and marveled at the pet zoo; it turned out to be a cross between and ranch and circus – there were billy goats, donkies, sheep, a zebra, water buffalo and a camel. We could only speculate how they came in possession of the exotic beasts.
What was equally entertaining was the cacophony of animal sounds that ensued during feeding time – it was a bit of a cross-cultural experience. It’s a place you must stop by if you’re in the hood.
We reached the Carlsbad KOA to settle in for the night. We had reserved our time at the caverns that is now required by the National Parks. It was already in the high 70’s pushing to the mid to high 80’s so the cavern was actually welcoming at a comfortable and humid 55 degrees (my sinuses were appreciative as they had been protesting against the high desert dryness).
To say that the cavern is massive is an understatement – pictures barely convey the scale of this cavernous masterpiece. The lighting is subdued and does not overcompensate thus enhancing the scale and mood. The cavern is 750 feet below the surface and you take the winding path down, and down… and down as the wonderment reveals itself.
There is something about caves, regardless of the size, that give you comfort and you can envision setting up shop here; possibly a primordial need for safety from man-eating dinosaurs.
As a tourist you are only getting a nibble of the expanse that goes on for miles. The path is well-paved though somewhat dim and thankfully there are railings to guide the way.
It’s akin to a massive geode but without the bling factor. The stalactites and stalagmites are truly massive. There are ante rooms that look like they could be doll houses with it’s own cast of alien characters.
I continually swirled around in awe – you need to look behind as much as forward. If you decide to climb back out of the caverns be prepared for a workout; we opted for the elevator instead. My thighs certainly got a workout on the downhill trek.
Bless the souls who preserve these masterpieces to maintain our sense of wonder and awe.
We revelled in the warm weather – the temperature was destined to reach the low seventies and we were able to spill out of the rig and get some much needed house cleaning done. Then off to the International Space Hall of Fame.
Grogu was certainly in his element and the space museum is a must-see when coming to Alamogordo – which, by the way, is a clean and well-structured city, probably due to all the military and government space-related activities there. We spent more time than anticipated enthralled by the displays and history.
Once inside the White Sands National Park, BigB felt more like a lunar module as we transitioned from pavement to hard-packed sand surrounded by voluminous white dunes on each side. The dunes are made from gypsum, blinding in the sun, shifting with the light and the wind. We parked at the Backcountry Trail as that is where you find the massive display of undulating fields, much of it devoid of vegetation. The gypsum has a better grip than sand, and is less tiring to hike on. A slight breeze would catch us, a cooling contrast against the blinding landscape.
Save for wandering footprints I have not experienced a more pristine environment, we had happened upon the perfect day to explore; any hotter and it would have detracted from the experience.
The afternoon sun tilted, throwing shadows that crept along the basins, softening the harsh blows of light; it felt more like an awakening as the sensuality of the dunes came into full display – like deep sighs of relief after being long choked by the sun.
We ended the day with what Bob describes as a tipple as we watched the shifting display of shadows.
Surprisingly, it felt like the humidity began to rise along with the scent of sage as the sun set, bathing the inhabitants of the white sands in gold and pink.
We arrived at the Santa Fe skies RV Park which turned out to be a lovely location and facility. We could have stayed a few days more but were looking forward to our stay at the Hilton in the historic plaza. This was our chance to get some elbow room after a month on the road and tour the beautiful offerings of this magical city.
As has been our luck it snowed the next day as we ventured out. The locals call it “corn snow” which is more like hail. We thought it would pass but it started coming down in heavier flakes! It was relatively quiet as many of the galleries and museums were closed on Monday. Regardless, we browsed the shops and galleries and had some warm soup for lunch as the snow turned to slush.
We decided to have dinner at La Plazuela restaurant in the La Fonda – the beautiful historic hotel right on the plaza. The adobe style structure lends itself beautifully to the substance of the downtown area with its inviting curves and warm stucco. Our meal was fabulous; I had the green chili enchilada which did not disappoint – I had been waiting a long time to get a Hatch green chili fix on!
The next day we woke up to an inch of snow – it was set to warm up and melt off but still….we could use some warm sunshine! Well New Mexico delivered as the skies cleared and the warm sun beckoned us outside, eventually melting and evaporating into the high desert air.
We ventured to the Canyon Road art district with some outstanding sculptures and paintings. The whole area had a distinct aesthetic that spilled into the streets; fireplaces were emitting a lovely pinion fragrance and the stone and adobe studios blended into the artwork itself.
I picked up a vibrant watercolor print of a buffalo; I liked the boldness of lines and blending of the palette and the artist was busy working on this next painting. He processed my purchase with paint smudged hands.
The real treat for the day was meeting up with Nevada Wier, National Geographic photographer and member of the Explorer’s Club. She is exhibiting at the Obscura Gallery which also houses some original Ansel Adams which was an eye-opener! Nevada’s infrared photography is extraordinary. I had attended her photo workshops in the 90’s and she has always been an inspiration to me; it was great to come full circle and bond as artists. I picked up a signed limited edition print and we committed to catching up in the future and I’m excited by the prospect!
I have collected some pieces that will always remind me of Santa Fe with its curved, timeless structures that hug the winding streets, much like exploring back alleys on the hunt for treasure.
We had one last happy hour and I slumbered easily after walking 18000 steps. Then….we woke up to several inches of snow which shut down Route 66 due to an icy pile up: Suffice it to say we are ready for White Sands National Park – white but warm!
As we left Santa Fe the sun burst through and illuminated the snow giving the city a magical glow. Highway 54 eventually opened up into a vista of endless beauty as the clouds created their own snow angels across the sugar-coated adobe homes and high desert fauna. What started off as dismay and worry about driving in icy conditions unfolded into another mesmerizing leg in the Land of Enchantment.
We arrived at the Cottonwood Campground outside of Canyon de Chelly – it was seriously windy when we left Farmington – gusts up to 55 miles per hour and then came the dust storms. This we endured for about two hours and when we turned south in Arizona the winds died down and we entered a landscape much like Monument Valley meets the Canyonlands. We stopped in Rock Point, still in Navajo territory, to get something to drink. As we drove through we were amazed at the formations in this otherwise nondescript area. I suppose because it was still the Navajo Nation and they respectfully and quietly walk in beauty in their surroundings not wanting invaders to disrupt the balance. Many of the homes are built in the traditional hogan shape – octagonal, some with modern doors on them – in honor of their traditions while flexing to modernization. There are no McMansions here, mostly converted double wides, some with corrals and livestock.
We entered Chinle as the wind picked up again and stopped at Basha Dine’ – the Navajo version of Safeway – there are no grocery chain stores here – just the usual fast food joints.
We arrived at the nearly deserted campground and found a sunny site. After so many days of getting up early and hiking to catch the sunrises it was nice that we were going to be stationary for a few days.
It’s still considered winter here and the trees are bare and I’m sure it’s prettier in the spring and summer as we are surrounded by cottonwoods. The campground has flush toilets and sinks which is very convenient for a campground.
As the day went on the campground started to fill up – another Leisure Travel Unity arrived and we had a nice chat! The first one we’ve encountered at a site.
The next day we had a leisurely day walking up to the Visitor Center and talking to the local ranger who gave us tour of the hogan they have on site. It was great to be in one that was made out of traditional materials with its east facing entrance.
We booked a Jeep tour of the canyon (tsegi in Navajo) with Bobbie VanWinkle who was born in Spider Rock since you can only go into the canyon proper with a guide.
Despite the Dutch name, Bobbie is Navajo and explained there are many mixed race families who live there, but you have to be married within a clan to reside in the valley. The ride was definitely four wheel drive terrain; through washes and up muddy inclines. The towering rock faces did not disappoint – they looked as though they had been cut out by a carving knife; they were so sheer and flat with reds and maroon veins washing down the sides. The floor is peppered with cottonwoods though they are not indigenous and the canyon should be populated by pinion and juniper much like the canyonlands.
We quickly came across the petroglyph and paintings that were done in some cases a thousand years ago by the Pueblo tribes. They are now Hopi and what the Navajo refer to as the Anasazi – the Ancient Ones.
Kiva recessed in the cliffs
We stood witness to these ancient impressions that had survived the elements for centuries. Then the ruins surfaced on the cliff sides – the kivas and food storage with more rock paintings protected by the sheer mesa cliffs. These dwellings are scattered throughout the canyon, most inaccessible except for the archeologists who frequent the area. The canyon itself has worn away leaving the dwellings out of climbing distance. The most accessible are the White House and Antelope ruins that are closer to the valley floor and fenced off to keep the usual miscreants from vandalizing the sites. The White House ruins are named due to the white plaster that reflects the sun. We noticed graffiti carved into the face of the ruins and upon closer inspection, one of the carvings was dated 1873! So it was the earlier settlers defacing the ruins….
As we meandered our way through the mesa, I pondered the generations of seedlings now germinating, the shifting landscape providing glimpses into lifestyles still farmed by the Navajo in the same manner they have been doing for hundreds of years; wool still spun from weathered hands that tend the sheep. The tribes could exist now as they had a millennia ago – clinging to the lost art of the land.
The canyon remains a pristine outback not easily disabused by modernization – the vendor at the Antelope Ruins has no cell service and works on faith that you will Venmo her the money for the pottery you just bought.
Stubborn to evolve or worried they could lose the thread of culture and place they have fought so hard to preserve?
A perfect day mingling with the ancients – under the same blue skies and mesas they embraced so long ago.
When we initially crossed into New Mexico I felt like I was in an alien landscape. It’s quite barren save for Shiprock which in it’s stately demeanor says “untouchable,” and means it. We got settled in our RV Park on the outskirts of Farmington which is one of the larger cities in New Mexico, so we were able to stock up on some necessary items. While I’m not a fan of Walmart due to their employment practices, I need to get over it as they are the only consistent chain where we can get what we need for BigB.
We had a pleasantly quiet morning along with a hot shower and set out to the Bisti Badlands.
Bisti is off a service road about 35 miles south of Farmington. To get there we had to drive a three mile gravelled road to the BLM parking area. While not full of potholes, it was a bit washerboard and we could only go five miles per hour – the going was rough. Even though it took twenty minutes it seemed like forever. People haul their RVs down that road all the time but it isn’t much fun.
When we reached the parking there was nothing to see except desert and some distant mounds. The lot was fairly full with another RV parked there – we couldn’t see any signs of life though.
There really isn’t a trail to the hoodoo’s or what I view as stone mutations. You follow a wash but there are cataracts of washes so it isn’t entirely clear; if you see other people you follow on faith but they might not know where they are going either. We stumbled across the first “forest” which turned out to be a fun playground of exploration.
The hoodoos look fragile, but are actually quite solid having been molded by a millennia of sun and wind. They are formed from sandstone, but not really petrified, except for the fallen trees that date back to the Stone Age. It is here where they discovered the “Bisti Beast,” a smaller version of T Rex.
If these forms were whipped together by spirits or aliens we couldn’t find them – they did a good job of hiding in the many nooks and crannies: It’s a place that equally shifts and is frozen in time when no one is looking – a space/time continuum thing.
The table tops are even more fantastical as they somehow remain propped up by one of the spirits that refuses to reveal itself.
Walking a mile further we found larger hoodoos and also a bit of a debris field of curious formations created by a lot of mischief.
Otherwise the landscape is desolate and reminded me of those westerns where people slowly die of thirst as they wander nowhere – hence the name ”badlands” I suppose. Add the wind that started to whip up and the clouds on the horizon, we decided to turn back. It’s always a great workout fighting headwind on a hike – but not the “Lady in the Wind” experience I had hoped for.
We had a nice afternoon tea in BigB to regroup and warm up.
Once back on the main highway, and after checking whether our teeth were still intact from the service road maze, we realized there were similar formations on the side of the road. I suspect what we had just hiked was simply a tease designed by those shape-shifting spirits who have bargained with the folks at BLM to toy with us humans.
We had been to Moab nearly ten years ago and had missed the Delicate Arch as it was closed due to severe road damage. This time was stayed at the KOA in Moab and scheduled to bug out at 6:00 to beat the crowds. The Arches entrance is open 24/7 and we drove right through followed by a few cars. The starry skies were interrupted by foreboding towers as we snaked through the legendary landscape in the twilight. We reached the parking area and were thankful that it was only partially full. It was in the 30’s and we had a 1.5 mile hike to get to the arch for sunrise. I have Renauds (really cold fingers) and had my USB hand warmer in my pocket which proved to be invaluable.
We did not realize what an uphill slog this would be and at elevation it proved to be quite a work out. Bob went ahead as he has better capacity than me to get up the escarpment. I somehow passed people and found myself alone; some of the poles were missing the trail signs so I took up tracking footprints in what sand there was.
It’s not a place accommodating to people who fear heights or have physical impairments. After nearly an hour I turned the corner and was blinded by the sun; I felt my way along the narrow trail and reached the viewpoint. There were at least a hundred people sitting along the rocky outcrop and people were already leaving. The problem was the sun comes up over the back of the butte and takes a while to light up the arch. More people came in and many climbed down to the arch itself for look-at-me photo ops.
This is where I had a problem: It’s dangerous to be climbing around the arch and then people kept going out there for selfies and photo ops to the point that those at the viewpoint started yelling at the people to stop so the rest of us could enjoy and photograph from a respectable distance. You can easily get a good picture from the viewpoint including the obsessive me, me, me selfies.
In my opinion, while they are starting to restrict access to the parks anyway, I think they should fence off access to the arch itself – there is no reason to climb on it or deface it. People notoriously deface monuments to the point the Navajo started restricting bags into the slot canyons as they caught a couple chisling away pieces of the canyon for souvenirs.
“Bilagaana” is the term the Navajo use for white man or white man ways and the accompanying greed and egos that create imbalance – this concept now extends to any race that does not respect the boundaries of the land where they are visitors.
We are all just passing through, no one is going to remember most of us in a hundred years but they will remember all the crap we leave.
I got my token I-was-there shot of the arch though there was no moment of zen to listen to the wind and take in the landscape or remind me of a profound moment; instead there was the scolding of children, the insistence on photographing themselves instead of really appreciating the arch, the cavalier climbing along the rock face and in one case almost slipping off, topped off with an overbearing tour guide who wouldn’t stop talking about himself…and it was cold.
My universe shrunk and I felt small – but it wasn’t because I was assessing my existence against a vast galaxy of stars.
We decided to do this trip because the overcrowding is such that even though we visit, we may not really get a chance to truly enjoy these monumental landscapes for much longer.
We hiked back down and on occasion were blocked by people who stood at the narrow passages with little concept that other people were trying to get by.
When we got to the bottom we broke off to see the petroglyphs that certainly didn’t garner as much attention or selfies.
When we reached the parking lot around 9:00 it was full; people parking in RV spaces where they weren’t supposed to, people driving the wrong way in the lot trying to hijack available spots as they opened up (I almost got run over by an SUV). There was a line at the toilets. It was like being in a shopping mall at Christmas.
We stopped off for breakfast at the viewpoint to the Devil’s Garden where it was clear and beautiful and only a few other people. While our experience at Delicate Arch was a disappointment – the landscape was not; another incredible palette conjured up by an imagination I can only sell my soul to the devil to possess.
We stopped by the visitor center for our fridge magnet. Unfortunately the magnet board came unhinged from the wall and we’re having to come up a way to secure it better.
We left waving to the mile long line of cars trying to get into the park. On the way we passed by Wilson’s Arch and of course Wilson was excited.
We headed out over the high altitude farmlands of Colorado to the Four Corners, then onto Farmington by way of Shiprock. We had gone through four states!
Bob was wondering why there wasn’t more signage or accessibility to the rock itself; because it is sacred and we are back in Navajo country – it is an abomination to climb or deface it as it would risk bad mojo to the Dine’ so they don’t want Bilagaana coming in and messing things up. Lord knows rock climbing associations have been trying for years to gain access. We went down a paved service road to get closer and turned onto a dirt roundabout for a better view.
There was garbage everywhere; empty bottles and cans against the backdrop of a sacred monument.
We headed for the high altitude Canyonlands Rim Recreation area, home of the Needles Outlook and Windwhistle Campground. We explored the Outlook with it’s sheer precipes akin to the Grand Canyon, though the lighting was a bit harsh and the landscape was less defined as a result. We decided viewing would be better in the morning.
We went off the grid for a few days with barely any signal and definitely no Wi-Fi. We are so attached to our devices that we wondered how we coped back in the day when we camped and had no signal. That’s where having a good book, editing photos and journaling really come into play.
On the way back from the outlook we saw a volleyball on the side of the road, that like Dave, must have done a runner. Realize that there is no trash on the sides of the roads here – it’s completely pristine so it really stood out. We picked it up and it turned out to be a Wilson! So Wilson became part of the family to keep Grogu company. I’m sure the family misses Wilson but he has found a good home so we are sending out positive vibes.
We went to the campground with it’s smooth rounded sandstone backdrop and found a level site. There are no sharp edges here as if the wind decided it wanted to define a different pallet from other areas of the Southwest. The shaded areas were still protecting the snow that was slowly melting as the pressure system that had been plaguing us finally decided to move on. There were only two other campers around out of the fifteen sites and even they eventually siphoned off leaving Bob and I alone in this little slice of Paradise. The quiet is what I craved after all the stresses of noise pollution, and I sat and contemplated this level of emptiness thinking my surroundings had done fine without me for thousands of years. There were occasional birds and the tracks of deer but otherwise you could meditate virtually undisturbed for quite a while.
The emptiness is helping me reboot and I’m re-wiring myself to slow down. The physical problems (knots) with the shoulders and my arm are finally subsiding. I’m starting to lose track of the days which is both a curse and blessing.
The weather remained clear though there was the occasional gusts of wind. When the wind died down and the sun came out it was warm and pleasant.
The morning jaunt along the Needles Outlook turned out to be the best bet. Though it was thirty degrees out with the wind making it even chillier, it soon heated up. As we we are a contained unit we sat in solitary bliss and had our coffee and breakfast against the magnificent backdrop of the Canyonlands without another soul around. We switched on the local radio station which was playing Native American music. Otherwise all you could hear was the wind and the indian chants drifting faintly from the RV.
For a moment I felt like the “Lady in the Wind.” There was no rush, just nature and all the beauty that erupted from the vast Canyonlands of Utah for those who wish to partake.
Later that day we hiked the nature trail around the campground and learned about the fauna and flora; the twisted juniper and their edible berries, the sage and other plants used for medicinal purposes by the Navajo.
BLM has done an incredible job of installing and maintaining this area considering how little it appears to be used.
Otherwise we relaxed, enjoying the view until the wind kicked up. Bob dug out the barbecue and we had “Willamette Valley” chicken breasts wrapped in bacon (from the local market no less) with wild rice and steamed carrots topped off with a nice Warr King Rose’ from by brother and frozen Mochi for desert. This was the first major meal we cooked in the RV while being on the road. Glamping at it’s best!
It was Sunday and four other campers showed up which we found interesting as the weekend was winding down. They settled in, one was strumming on the guitar that drifted through the canyon along with the smell of campfires.
We saw a weather system coming in and heard rain on our roof later that night but woke up to the sun and warm coming over the indelible sandstone features of the Moab area.
The weather system that continued to blow through the Southwest followed us to Monument Valley and we found ourselves snowed in the first day with the visitor center closed; it was basically a white out and we were stuck indoors with limited wi fi. It’s rare thing to see Monument Valley in the snow; we had been here before nearly ten years ago, though seeing it again after so long brought the grandeur of the place back into the mind’s eye.
By late morning, the buttes were hugged by cloud cover that dissipated as the day went on, releasing blue sky that encouraged the melt. As soon as the roads became passable we decided to visit the Goulding Trading Post and the flurries picked up again as we made our way back to the RV park. We extended our stay an extra day as we had a horseback ride booked but that wasn’t going to happen so we rescheduled.
Based on weather forecasts during our planning phase, we hadn’t planned to be in such frigid temps. We had picked up antifreeze in Page as a backup plan and were certainly were glad we did. We poured antifreeze in the tanks and set a warming lamp by the fresh water and water pump but despite our efforts, including running faucets in the middle of the night, our pipes feeding the freshwater froze; the temperatures plunged into the teens. In the morning we turned the rig around to get the now blazing sun against the water intake side to heat things up.
We eventually ventured to the MV Visitor Center which was virtually deserted and poked around the shop and picked up a Navajo medicine man carving, our standard magnet, and a book on the Dine’ as I am forever fascinated by the culture.
When we got back to BigB we coaxed the water through the pipes and were relieved when they started flowing again.
We decided to drive up to Mexican Hat and encountered the site immortalized by Forrest Gump – the scene where he’s running through Monument Valley and decided he didn’t want to run anymore; people were standing in the road trying to get selfies, even though you’re not supposed to stop in the road they of course slowed down traffic. It was the wrong time of day to get a photograph anyway.
We decided to lunch in Mexican Hat at the same restaurant we ate at nearly ten years before. Another Navajo Taco..
We got back for our scheduled horseback ride. It had gotten up into the low forties and was sunny. The KOA (a chain of RV parks) we were staying at had a horse stable attached to it. We met Guy who was the older Navajo gentleman in charge along with Priscilla and Harrison. Harrison was set to be our guide for the day. He was 26 years old and his family owned a large chunk of land in the valley. He was a mechanic who also specialized in training horses.
We set out to ride along the mesa that skirted the buttes.
It was great having a conversation with Harrison – I was more interested in what he had to say than the ride as the day was getting increasingly cold and was starting to chill my bones.
The struggle with the younger Navajo generation as they want to see progress but the elders are concerned that they will go the “white man” way. Meaning they would lose their balance, and when this happens they suffer afflications that need to be healed by their medicine men and ceremonies. I had noticed the large branches stacked up like tee pees and suspect those were the sweat lodges they used for purification and healing.
There is also a conundrum of availability of basic staples closer to them instead of having to drive all the way to Page to get their shopping done at reasonable prices. If they shop at Goulding they are paying exhorbinant prices for basic goods.
Navajo country is such a spiritual and profound place and it could easily be overrun with opportunistic developers destroying what is dearly sacred (they have already experienced this creep with the Uranium mining). We rode through the ancient mesas, their recesses still covered in spits of snow.
We finished the day feeding the horses carrots and I was glad to stretch my aching knees and looking forward to a glass of wine. Fortunately BigB wasn’t far away, set in the backdrop of the valley.
As I watched the day fade, the pink hues of twilight softened the deep magenta sandstone, the brushstokes of evening blended with the landscape growing deeper as the stars began to rise.
It’s fascinating to think that this place used to be oceanic and these buttes were part of a watery underworld. With the way things are going it might once again reclaim that heritage.
This landscape is not a national park, it is part of the Navajo Nation. The massive red buttes stand guard in a sacred bond; a testimony to the endurance and beauty of the the Dine’.
The warm and welcoming curvatures of Antelope Valley’s Slot Canyons inspire you with a sensuality molded through centuries of monsoonal heat and floods. The Navajo refer to the formations in the region as Navajo Sandstone; the reddish-orange volcanic sand mixed with water and baked by the sun is what they Navajo also use to build their tradition homes known as hogans.
While part of the Navajo Nation, these canyons were never inhabited by the tribe due to the violent flash floods; species such as snakes and scorpions are some of the unfortunate victims that get swept into the slots. Local guides collect them as they clear the canyons of the debris; diamond backs that have been stranded in the upper reaches have been known known to drop onto the canyon floor.
One of the more striking formations is the “Lady in the Wind.” She is nature’s version of Michaelangelo’s Slaves; figures emerging from the marble that are housed at the entrance of the Academia in Florence where his famous statue of David resides. But the Lady in the Wind is not part of any human construct; she is force of nature, forged from elemental earth and water: The Lady becomes one with the storm.
The fluctuating light plays with the sloping crescents and arches throwing shades of red, yellow, orange while refracting hints of bluish black on some of the sharper edges.
The Navajo insist on wearing masks; the tribe took a terrible hit during the pandemic so no smiling faces in the photo which is a minor sacrifice in respect for the Dine’.
After a rough weather day of being pummeled by sleet, buffeting wind, and massive tumbleweeds that we thought would eat our rig, we reached the Grand Canyon Trailer Village worrying about our pipes freezing as the snow began to fall. We hooked up the utility lamp to heat up the fresh water tank area and stuffed towels in the bay. We ran the taps in the middle of the night – so far so good. By morning we awoke to a carpet of snow and for a moment our worries were swept away by the crystal reflections that accompanied the melt as the sun shot through the blue sky.
The park does a great job with the shuttle service and we walked from our site to the bus stop arriving at Mather Point within a few minutes. My mind and heart are simply not big enough to embrace this epic visage of a place. It stuns you into submission at every turn. The cold and the infinite landscape dissipated the usual burn of a long walk.
The trees were covered with a dusting of snow and you would see on occasion an old and twisted juniper standing guard; a rebel against the elements.
The conditions were slushy with a dash of ice and if you weren’t careful you could have a nasty spill. I’m surprised more people don’t actually plummet to their deaths with their cavalier selfies at the cliff’s edge. We stuck with safer options.
Sadly, our dear companion Dave-the-Minion did a runner on the trail. We tried to find him but came up empty handed with no response from lost and found yet. We can only hope he has been retrieved by a loving family. We’ve had him for years and he has been with us on so many journeys. I hope he didn’t take offense to no longer being the “only one” since we brought baby Yoda (Grogu) into the fold.
Cold, tired and equally exhilarated, we had a nice late lunch at the El Tovar Lodge dining room, I had a Navajo Taco which was really satisfying with Indian bread as a base. We picked up a few souvenirs along the way including a book on Navajo rugs as I want to understand the underlying meaning of the designs.
I managed to squeeze in a few pictures on my dad’s 1977 Pentax; I will be taking BW 35mm Ilford film images as we move around the national parks; I hope to capture those places he never got a chance to get to. It will be exciting to see the end result!
We woke up to freezing temps with worse weather on the way. We decided to go to Yaki point which was spectacular with the new snow and the shifting cotton ball clouds, but we could see the weather system coming in and got caught in it on our way to the visitor center from the Pipe Creek Vista. It was horizontal snow pelting us as we made our way back to Big B. We decided the weather was too harsh and socked in to enjoy the rest of our stay so packed up and meandered are way carefully through the park roads.
We left by way of Williams and Flagstaff and drove in blizzard-like conditions along Route 66 until we turned off to Page. The weather finally broke and ice started peeling off the rig. The landscape along the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument made for an eye-popping end of the day. The sky was clear and we thawed out at the Lake Powell Campground – winding down with a classic southwest sunset. Tomorrow will be a rest day and a chance to give the rig a desperately needed clean.
Forged from massive tectonic disruptions, most of Death Valley sprawls like the crust from a loaf of rustic multigrain bread (think Dave’s Killer bread), it’s design carved by flash floods vs the smooth, endless sands of Lawrence of Arabia lore (save for the occasional dunes). What stands out are the mineral deposits of the Artist’s Palette off of Badwater Basin road: Chloride and varying mineral deposits mix with rarified storms to create a swirl of watercolor that seems displaced in such a stark landscape like some sort of cruel tease.
Further down Badwater Basin road is well – Badwater Basin; a salt flat fed by an equally salty acquifer.
This is a place of mirages and cauldrons, blinding light and mineral nightmares that burst at the seams more so than any other place on the planet.
We did not encounter any skeletal remains like you see on the post cards because most animals, save humans, know this isn’t exactly paradise.
We drove through endless terrain with no cell signal on our way to Kingman, AZ. You drive through here on faith that you don’t break down because there wasn’t a lot of traffic heading our way and no reception that we could rely on.
We will be going from below sea level to 7000 feet at the Grand Canyon with the possibility of snow. Bracing for the extremes.
We bid farewell to Santa Rosa but didn’t go across the Golden Gate and headed for San Jose instead to connect with the 101. It took us a couple of hours to get through the Bay Area traffic and were glad when the 101 finally narrowed. Otherwise the road was pretty non-descript except for the endless miles of agriculture and vines – this must be a place that supplies grapes to places like Gallo (I’m making that assumption as it looks like a mass production vs carefully cultivated vintages). We stopped for lunch in Monterey Bay (whipping up a salad and tea in the RV) in the Fort Ord area. Another beautiful day – we have been so lucky. We reached Morro Bay about 4:30 – it was warm and we are practically on the beach with a massive haystack rock right on the ocean known as Morro Rock. It’s really quite something. I put on my sandals, finally releasing my feet from their winter bondage. I had to peel down into a blouse as the weather was in the high 70’s; I couldn’t remember the last time I was in warm weather like that! We went for a sunset walk and then sat by the fire with a shot of whiskey – the temperature dropped quickly so we cozied back into the RV to read and further reflect on the day.
We woke up to a view of the beach and Morro Rock. As we had a long drive that day to Alabama Hills in Lone Pine we got it together early. We met up with one of Bob’s friends from his Adidas days and had a nice walk along the waterfront and paused to watch the sea otters lounging by the shore. It got warm quickly and I changed into my fair weather clothing. We drove the route to Bakersfield through endless commercial wineries and agricultural area. We heard on the radio that San Luis Obispo had the highest gas prices in the country as we realized when we took a few sips at $5.29 per gallon until we could find cheaper prices! We stopped off for (cheaper) gas on Highway 46 where the fatal crash that killed James Dean is memorialized. California had just lifted the mask mandate and it appeared most everyone got the message. The station had a large shop with “frogs balls” and Route 66 memorabilia even though we weren’t on Route 66…
We stopped in a ghost town called Bodfish and they had a USS Arizona memorial of all things with actual artifacts from the ship! I will be there in April to commemorate my father’s service so was rather excited to discover this gem in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know what possessed such a remote location to put these artifacts on display – which made it all the more impressive.
We reached the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway with it’s basalt rocks tossed all over the valley and cones that could easily be mistaken for recent volcanic activity. It was barren and we couldn’t figure out what people did for a living outside of working at the power plants or China Lake. Then the Sierra’s started peaking out as we neared Lone Pine and we got excited when we spotted the first outcroppings of the Alabama Hills while driving along Whitney Portal Road.
We paid $8.00 per night for the Tuttle Creek Campground. There were not that many people around us. The place is clean and well organized with pit toilets and a camp host. The lovely creek was behind us and was the only sound as we watched the sun go down behind the Sierra’s. We are in a new moon phase and I got up around 2:00 a.m. to see if I could see the Milky Way but there was some cloud cover on the horizon. Otherwise the night skies were clear and I was blessed with a shooting star.
Then we woke up to this view.
What I love about BigB is we can switch on the 12v heater and as soon as the sun comes up the battery starts charging up again from our solar panels. We had filled up our water tank and have our LP for coffee, heat and the refrigerator. We are self-contained in this euphoric glamping world. When dry camping (or boondocking) we read and journal. I can work on my devices (including the internet if we have signal) and juice them up as needed with the inverter; our solar panels keep us well supplied. After two long days of driving we we are in no rush and can poke around the hills at our leisure #lovinthervlife
We are at an elevation of 5000 feet and the hills themselves are in walking distance though the walk back turned out to be a couple of miles of uphill terrain and it felt hot even though it was in the 70’s. The sky was a brilliant blue at this elevation and the sun was equally intense. I thought about the animals the inhabit the region and their solitude.
This place and time was like a dream come true, though no, it was really the beginning of a transcendence into a different reality. The creek by our campsite paid no heed to my toes and ears, yet soothed my ears; the sun was indifferent to my skin – I felt bathed in my entirety by the high Sierra despite the burn.
It was quiet, solitary much like the Redwoods but more distant, higher with thinner air and the absence of shelter except amongst the towering formations rooted beyond my imagination. All this while Russia lays siege to the Ukraine, we weep and pray for the people of the Ukraine; we wish them the same solitude, instead of the ragged remnants of what was normal, brought by unnatural moving thunder.
Inhaling the smoke of our fire, we recede as the sun sets behind the mountain range, exacting and reliable, we can always count on the horizons as if they say at least some things change but are not chaotic.
We finished the day with one of the oranges from Sonoma – a mixture of citrus and smoke like the many fine wines of the region.
Alabama Hills last day.
We stopped by the Gunga Din day use area on our way out of the hills. It has a large plaque dedicated to the movie that was filmed along the trail. Every angle of these formations connects in a different way and beckons exploration. It’s not a long trail unless you go want to go bouldering – then you have infinity at your disposal.
We stopped by the rather touristed Mobius Arch with Mt. Whitney perfectly framed in its portal; was it a chance display by nature or just how we humans interpret it? The trail was nicely laid out with more formations but these ones had caves honed from the sides and the backdrop of Mt. Whitney was clearer. The rocks were rounded as if smoothed by an artisan well versed in geometry.
The boys had to be in the shots of course as they rather liked the Alabama Hills.
We overnighted in Death Valley at Stovepipe (it’s a parking lot with about as much appeal as its name…. complete with generators going). it was 85 degrees and we were thankful we had decided to stay in Alabama Hills an extra night instead of Death Valley. It was warm enough so we turned on the generator for a little while and the AC to cool the cabin down. It was noisy but it worked.
We have certainly had the extremes – with Mt. Whitney being the highest point and Death Valley being the lowest – it is a bit like the circle of life
We bugged out on Thursday and stopped by the Redwoods Founders Grove on the way out. This is an astoundingly ancient place that predates Christ and feels like seeds sprung from something primordial. The fallen trees must have created their own thunder when they fell. The sun crept through just enough to light the way in a lovely diffusion; the paths were lined with years of needles forming a carpeted trail through the woods. Otherwise the grove was left to its natural state – I imagined it hadn’t changed much over the last several hundred years. There is a lot of wisdom there – but they speak a different language from modern civilization; we dare to listen but not to learn.
We continued down the coast to Mendocino County and it’s folk-art rolling green hills dotted with vineyards and arrived in Santa Rosa at our friend’s house (Peter Testie) where we will stay for the next three days.
On Friday I went on a tour with Peter of several Sonoma wineries. It was a beautiful day lounging in the sun tasting wine. We found an excellent wine at Hanna winery called Alchimie that is a mix including grapes from rare vines of which there are only an acre in France, two acres in Australia and one acre owned by Hanna vineyards in Sonoma. I picked up another nice Pinot and Rose’.
“Wine is sunlight, held together by water”
We laid low on Saturday getting the RV organized and cleaned up from beach and forest debris – you almost don’t want to sweep it away as it’s all part of the memories but you can’t get too nostalgic about dirt.
On Sunday we headed to San Francisco – it was a stunner of a morning and we stopped on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge and walked the trails to the Battery Park viewpoints. My father had come through San Francisco during WWII while serving in the Navy – the old bunkers were still there – decommissioned and riddled with graffiti.
It has a great view of the bridge and the bay and all the shipping traffic.
We parked at Ghirardelli Square, had coffee and picked up chocolate and trinkets before heading out to the wharf. There is a great view of Alcatraz from the end of Pier 39. The pier was fun and kitschy with all the smells, eateries and vendors with the carousel at the end.
We were set on getting some Dim Sum in Chinatown and went to the Imperial Palace (Peter’s recommendation). It’s located off Washington and it mostly caters to the locals. It was busy and noisy and reminded me of being back in China. We were the only white people in the whole joint. We had pork steamed buns, fish dumplings, wontons, fried rice and a pineapple custard steamed bun for dessert. It was excellent. If you are looking for the typical western intimate atmosphere this is not the place – it’s authentic – not the Westernized idea of what a Chinese restaurant should be.
After getting our fill of Cantonese delights, we left to find the Dragon Gate, passing the legendary cable cars that were practically empty. Unfortunately the street trolleys along the wharf were not running – probably because we were off season. We may catch them up on our way back up to Portland. We poked around the shops, taking in the atmosphere then headed back to the Ghirardelli square where we shared one of their sundaes and then drove up to the famous winding Lombard street. I don’t know how all those structures were ever built on those steep hills. The end of another fantastic day in the Bay Area – the weather was perfect and the sites did not disappoint!
We got up early to head down to Redwood National Park. The coastline south of Bandon to California is amazing – better than Cannon Beach and rivaling Bandon itself = it seems almost sacrilegious coming from an Oregonian but it’s the truth (for me at least). Except for maybe the thundering scapes of Cape Perpetua – I’ll make that concession.
It was cold but the sun was out and the mist was coming off the road and even swirling off the backs of cows! That sort of backlighting you can only dream about but just add cows. It added to the magic and mystical sense you get when you enter the Redwoods.
We arrived at the Prairie Creek Redwoods National Park Visitor Center – my eyes kept watering – partly from the cold but I think also from my eyes being stretched so wide trying to take it all in. I took my wide-angle lens for which I was thankful.
Bob went ahead to see if he could make it to Fern Canyon which is 9.5 miles round trip along the James Irvine trail (where they filmed Jurassic Park: The Lost World).
The mist was still persisting in some spots but making allowances for the sun to dance among the massive trunks. This created a sense of euphoria; there was no one else on the trail to bear witness – I stood in solitude amongst the giants (one of those zen moments I can now go back to when I meditate). It was so quiet save for light rustling of the wind – or it could have been wood nymphs tracking my progress.
Or, perhaps the trees themselves demanded solitude considering some were hundreds if not thousands of years old. They had certainly earned that right.
The trails were similar to what I have experienced in Forest Park in Portland but naturally you cannot compare as you are less of speck of humanity there than you are amongst the giant Redwood groves.
We headed to our campsite – the Giant Redwoods RV Park in Meyers Flat.
Photo op with the boys in one of the drive through trees.
We found ourselves nestled amongst the Redwoods in a quiet a well-kept RV park. Being off season it was quiet except for the rooster first thing in the morning.
We ended the day with a gin and tonic with a fire to take the edge off the chill and contemplate the stately magnificence of our surroundings.