Honey, the Ocean is on the Wrong Side

SD  056SD  008After having spent three and a half months crossing this big continent, we’ve finally arrived at our winter destination, San Diego, California. And will stay here for a couple of months.  To think that just last year around this time we were in Fort Lauderdale, Everglades National Park and Key West,  Florida. SD  050

SD  005And having started our westward journey at the northern end of Nova Scotia, it’s really exciting to have reached the opposite side of the U.S.  And we’re so happy to slow down the pace of travel, a welcome change after a lot of shorter stays in recent months.

I was fully prepared for cooler temperatures than we had in South Florida since San Diego’s latitude is close to that of Charleston, South Carolina, but the weather here has actually been warmer than normal for this time of year.  So we are very fortunate, especially in light of the awful weather that the rest of the country has experienced this winter.SD  094

SD  087Warmer days = happy tropical island girl.

And in our first couple of weeks, we’ve settled into the urban lifestyle.  We’ve strolled and biked along nearby beaches and their neighborhoods:  Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, and La Jolla.

The Ocean Beach neighborhood is a standout, parts of it frozen in time in the 60’s, with some rasta flavor added in.

SD  012SD  011SD  014

SD  034At La Jolla, we spent a long time just looking at some adorable seals.  SD  033

And were lucky to catch a glimpse of a mom nursing her new baby underwater.   The lady standing next to us, who seemed to be in the know, informed us that the baby was one day old.SD  032

These guys make lots of funny faces and cute poses.  We could watch them for hours!

SD  086And Pacific and Mission Beaches are just around the corner, so we’ve visited a few times. We watched some beginner and experienced surfers flowboarding at the Wave House, an artificial wave machine where you can watch the action up close.SD  002

And every morning and evening we walk Angel by the shores of Mission Bay right by our RV park.  Angel is happy to be walking on soft grass and sand since some of those desert areas we visited recently were pretty rocky.SD  003SD  004

SD  043SD  045San Diego has lots of dog friendly parks by the water.  Angel visited Fiesta Island across the way from our campground, where doggies can go leashless.  And we went to the dog beach in Ocean Beach.  A really pretty place for dogs and humans.  Alas, the crab huntress found no crabs.SD  051SD  036SD  052SD  042SD  040SD  046SD  038SD  037SD  041

SD  081SD  077We also happened to catch the Chinese New Year Food & Cultural Fair.  It’s a small fair run by the San Diego Chinese Center, which serves as a cultural bridge between Chinese and non-Chinese communities.  The lion dances were especially fun and colorful.

SD  072San Diego also has lots of farmers markets, at least one every day of the week in various neighborhoods. We love farmers markets and visited four of them so far.SD  057

There are some small and some large ones and others that offer more arts and crafts than food.  Our two favorites so far are: the Ocean Beach (most funky) and the Hillcrest (most elaborate) markets.SD  065

And being food lovers, we couldn’t resist all the great ethnic food offerings and have found tasty and inexpensive Middle Eastern, East African, Vietnamese and Indian food, most at the farmers markets. And yes, we also sampled the famous In-N-Out burgers.

SD  092Oh, and Hector and I are taking some group swing dance lessons. We’d been taking ballroom dancing lessons two years ago before we left Denver but had to stop because of my foot surgeries.  So it’s fun to be back in the “swing” of things.

And the beautiful sunsets continue.SD  093

SD  006There is only one minor problem.  Hector, who has an excellent sense of direction, occasionally gets thrown off course because the ocean is on the “wrong” side.  Having lived most of our lives on the East coast, having the ocean on the west gets him turned around.  And I’m no help at all, since I’m directionally challenged no matter where I am.  But he’s getting used to it and becoming quite the California boy.  Could bleached blonde hair be next?SD  068

SD  007We’re having a fabulous time in San Diego.  This is an ideal spot to spend the winter.  Even though the ocean is on the wrong side.

~ Brenda

Beautiful Anza-Borrego

First light

First light

We’ve been in the desert for two months, spending most of December in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico, and January in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and California.

anza   052anza   011And we arrived at what we think is one of the most beautiful deserts we’ve seen so far during our journey, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California, located in the Colorado Desert, one of six  sub-regions of the Sonoran Desert.anza   002

The park is named for Juan Bautista de Anza, who, in 1776, led about 300 people over 1600 miles from New Spain (Mexico) to colonize Alta California (San Francisco) for the Spanish.  Since they started in Nogales, Arizona, it seems that we’ve been crossing their path (actually a 1200 mile National Historic Trail) a number of times since we arrived in Tucson.  And seeing his name many times along the way.

anza   028And borrego is the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.  Rocky slopes just above the desert floor here are habitat for peninsular bighorn sheep, also known as desert bighorn sheep, an endangered species which has declined from human overpopulation encroachment.  Alas, we didn’t see any during our brief stay here.

anza   008anza   055anza   009Boondocking is very popular here, and there are a several areas that allow RVs to boondock for free.  In the state park, the main rule is that the RV needs to be no further than one car length from the nearest road (paved or dirt) although this rule appeared to be subject to multiple interpretations.

And one area is apparently in contention as to whether it’s public or private, and RVs have been boondocking there for a number of years, ignoring a couple of no trespassing signs.

We found a pretty good spot a good distance from most other RV’s and with great views all around.anza   053anza   003anza   056

We noticed that the areas where RVs boondocked had less plants than the rest of the desert.  So it’s important to be mindful of the vegetation; drive on established paths and camp in areas that are already cleared of vegetation so as to minimize impact on the remaining plants.  Many of these “campsites” have fire rings which makes them easier to locate.

We were greeted on our first afternoon with the first of several fabulous sunsets.  Desert sunsets are the best!anza   027

The rest of the desert was rich with plants, although this desert doesn’t have the mighty Saguaros, which we saw throughout Arizona, most notably in Tucson.  anza   012

anza   010Many other plants that we first learned about in Tucson are found here as well.  The most predominant are the creosote bushes, but we also saw palo verde trees, and those other iconic desert plants, the ocotillo and, of course, lots of cacti.

There are lots of cholla cacti here, seven varieties in fact, of which my favorite are the teddybear cholla.  But beware the spines of these adorable cacti.  There is also one type of prickly pear cactus in this region as well as barrel cactus.   And a couple of varieties of short, “clumpy” (my scientific description) cacti known as hedgehog.  And there are others that we’re still learning about.anza   014

anza   015The town of Borrego Springs also has several farms around its perimeter.  A couple are tree farms, with palms growing all around them.  There are a few remaining native palms, which are accessible via short hikes, but we didn’t get a chance to go see them.  And, this being California, there are several citrus farms.anza   016anza   019anza   020anza   018

So we bought fabulous pink grapefruit as well as extra juicy tangelos at a couple of fruit stands.  One of the stands was not manned but had an honor system; you picked up a bag (or more) of grapefruit and left your money in a metal box.  Love it!

anza   017anza   013And we made the most delicious vodka and toronja (spanish for grapefruit) drinks with fresh grapefruit juice, a perfect drink for the desert.  A shout-out to our friend Bob (Bob-A-Lu), who introduced us to vodka and toronja while we were living in Puerto Rico.

As for the animals, we’ve not had much luck spotting animals in these parts, except for some hawks and lots of jackrabbits (to Angel’s delight).   But we’ve heard the coyotes often, many times at dusk, and, in fact, we’ve been hearing them pretty consistently since the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico.anza   031anza   029anza   030anza   047anza   048

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is surrounded by mountains. To the east are the badlands, dry areas with very little vegetation and rocks and soil that have been eroded by wind and water, forming steep slopes and other interesting formations.  If you were trying to cross this area in a wagon or a horse you would certainly describe it as “bad”.

There are many fossils buried here and volunteer paleontologists regularly help to collect and preserve them.

As we drove to the badlands for a hike, we noticed some RVs boondocking near the main road right by the cliffs, an interesting option for those that really want to be in a remote place (except for the slight traffic during the day).

We also noticed the State Vehicle Recreation Area with tons of trails for specialized off-highway vehicles and the Truckhaven 4×4 Training Area, a frightening looking obstacle course for street legal 4x4s.

But we were searching for Palm Slot, a slot canyon we’d read about on Nina’s blog and in the park brochure.  The state park doesn’t get a lot of points for signage, as we missed the turnoff for the trail and had to stop and ask state park staff for directions.

anza   039anza   043What exactly are slot canyons?  They are deep, narrow canyons in areas with low rainfall which are formed by specific patterns of rainfall that create rushing water in particular types of rock, most commonly sandstone and limestone.  There are a number of well-known slot canyons in the Southwestern United States.anza   040anza   041

And we ultimately found the entrance to the four-wheel high clearance road that led to our trail and also happens to access the Calcite Mine trail.  This mine was the only site in the United States where optical-grade calcite crystals were extracted for use in gunsights during World War II – in fact the marker highlighting this was the only way we found the road to Palm Slot.  The mine was later owned by Polaroid.anza   044

anza   042We walked a ways down the road and since signage hadn’t been so great just walked into the first slot that had footprints leading into it.

It was a cloudy day and we were keeping a close eye on the weather, as a slot canyon is not a place you want to be in when it rains.  But the clouds were pretty light and we continued.  I had a nagging feeling that this wasn’t the Palm Slot (it didn’t look like the photos I’d seen).  So we turned back to the road after awhile.anza   046anza   045

Even though it was still cloudy, we walked a bit further down the road and found a sign!  An actual Anza-Borrego Desert State Park sign.  This was the Palm Slot.  We hiked in and it was amazing.  The rock had a pinkish hue and was much smoother than in the previous slot canyon.  But it was getting cloudier so we only hiked for a short while.

Jimmy Durante Rock

Jimmy Durante Rock

anza   034

Neopolitan Rock

Neapolitan Rock

anza   033anza   037These were our first slot canyons, and they won’t be our last.

After the fact I found a pretty good description of how to get to Palm Slot here.anza   032

anza   049

Whale cloud

Whale cloud

As we drove back to our boondocking spot, however, we noticed sand blowing in the distance.  The winds had started up and were blowing some big dust clouds in particular areas of the desert (fortunately not directly over Island Girl).anza   050

anza   023The next day remained windy, and we decided to stow our exterior stuff that morning (we were leaving the following day).  And we took it easy that day and didn’t do much exploring.

That evening, there was a beautiful, stormy sunset, with lots of sand being blown about.anza   022

anza   021The winds continued to blow and increased during the night, so I didn’t exactly get a good night’s sleep (Hector sleeps like a rock no matter what).  Island Girl was shaking around a bit and I wondered about those RVers boondocking by the cliffs in the badlands.

anza   024anza   006

Fortunately, the next morning the winds stopped.  And we left this beautiful place vowing to return again next winter.

~ Brendaanza   025

The Merchants in the Desert

quartzsite  075quartzsite  082We have arrived.

Quartzsite is a tiny town of 3,500 year round residents located between Phoenix and Los Angeles, 20 miles from the California border.  quartzsite  093

It was once a gathering place for pioneers traveling to the gold fields of California as well as other travelers and then agates, limonite cubes, gold and quartz were found nearby, so the town itself became a destination for the “rock hounds”.quartzsite  133quartzsite  081

And nowadays, between November and March each year, known as the season, snowbirds, rock hounds and others converge here to escape the harsh winters elsewhere and to shop at various indoor and outdoor swap meets that began 40 years ago.quartzsite  095

The majority of these swap meets take place during January and February when thousands of merchants also come here to sell their wares.quartzsite  103

quartzsite  024We are here in January and during our ten day stay there are eight of these events in town, including “world famous” gem and mineral shows and the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV show.  January is known here as “the largest gathering of RVers in the world”.

The little white dots are RVs

The little white dots are RVs

quartzsite  007Many of the RVers come to stay in the desert, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands as far as the eye can see.  There are five BLM areas here.  With free camping for fourteen days in one 28 day period.  And there is also a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) that charges $40 for two weeks and $180 for seven months.

quartzsite  060quartzsite  026“Boondocking”.   No electric, no water, no sewer.  Just open land, pick your spot and set up camp. Beautiful sunsets almost every day.  And lots of stars at night.

We are joined by RVers of all stripes; the ATV crowd with their desert toys, the hippies and ex-hippies, the young, the old and the oldest – quite a few of those rocking their mobility scooters and walkers down the dirt and gravel. Hector says of this latter group  – “I admire them, they are still after it”.

And all of those merchants.  We are all here.  quartzsite  037

quartzsite  001So people plan massive get-togethers; members of clubs, small groups of friends, people with common interests, you name it.  They lay claim to an area of land and circle their wagons.quartzsite  008quartzsite  005

quartzsite  009quartzsite  010Others, like us, find a cozy little spot somewhere as far from the crowds as possible.  A place to escape from the crowds and enjoy the desert.  “Our” own little spot, with “gardens” on both sides and a great fire ring.quartzsite  011quartzsite  012

quartzsite  070And we have our very own Saguaro, which now has a circle of white rocks around it that Hector “created”.  And we also “enhanced” the fire ring with additional pinkish/brownish rocks. This rock thing is contagious.

The Travelocity Gnome … campsite protector !

The Travelocity Gnome … campsite protector !


quartzsite  067

quartzsite  015quartzsite  063And with so many people around it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll make some new friends.  RVers form strong communities, and it’s really evident here.   This is a great place to connect with old friends and to make new friends.  And we did both.  Including meeting some fellow bloggers that we’ve gotten to know over time on the internet.

First, we got together with Amanda and Tim, who write the blog Watsons Wander that we’ve been reading for quite awhile.  We figured out they were staying at the same BLM area, Dome Rock, as we were and invited them over for happy hour.  They have a beautiful Airstream that they’ve renovated and polished (I miss Luna … our first RV, also an Airstream).

It’s great to see younger people like Amanda and Tim make the choice to travel while working, they are smart to do that early in their lives, and we admire them for it.  Oh, and their blog is great as well.quartzsite  108quartzsite  035

quartzsite  025Of course, we head to the shows to shop on various days while we’re here.  There is lots to choose from;, some low quality old stuff, even stuff covered with dust.  But as they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  There’s lots of cheap new stuff made in China. And nice vintage stuff and some fun buys.  Something for everyone.

On the high end, there are beautiful gemstones and jewelry and multi-million dollar RVs.  Like I said something for everyone.  For the RVers, there’s a big white tent which houses most of the RV show.  But there are lots and lots of other vendors at other shows in several locations throughout the town.  Rows and rows of vendor stalls all over town.

In spite of attempts at restraint we made quite a few purchases including:

Best bargain – three kitchen knives professionally sharpened for $8

Most fun buy – a metal roadrunner sculpture for $20

Most impulsive buy – a knife with etched petroglyphs on an elk antler handle and a triple flow obsidian blade – this is our official “rock” memento from the “Q” -$45

Biggest buy – A See Level II tank sensor system to monitor holding tank levels. $385 installed – ouch!  

Hector dreaming of installing our new Oxygenics shower head

Hector dreaming of installing our new Oxygenics shower head

Terry, the guy who fixed the boo boo Hector made installing the shower head

Terry, the guy who fixed the boo boo Hector made installing the shower head

Contrary to what some may think, many RV products are not available here and some items are actually more expensive here than online.  Shoppers beware and do your research before making your purchases.

Aside from the buying, for me it’s always fun to see the amazing product sales pitches, these are a reminder of another time.

The whole thing has an air of “only in America”.  And it’s kind of hypnotizing.

quartzsite  056quartzsite  050

And there are lots of interesting characters here.   A historic character is Hadji Ali, who quickly got nicknamed Hi Jolly, a camel driver from Jordan who became a legend around these parts.

quartzsite  052

He came to Arizona in 1856 as the lead camel driver during testing by the U.S. Army for possible use of camels for transporting of supplies across the desert during the Civil War.  About 80 camels were brought to the area and apparently did very well, but this particular strategy ultimately was abandoned.quartzsite  054quartzsite  057

Mr. Ali served for over 30 years in the army, became a U.S. citizen and married a woman from Tucson.  He moved to Quartzsite where he mined and did some work for the U.S. government.  He died here in 1902.

In 1935, a monument was dedicated to him and the Camel Corps at his gravesite, which is now the most visited location in Quartzsite.  As well as the inspiration for naming many town businesses, who use the “Americanized” version of his name,  Hi Jolly.quartzsite  134

And, speaking of characters, there is also a bookstore in town whose owner Paul wears nothing but a sock on his naughty bits on warm days (almost every day).  Reader’s Oasis Books is actually a fine bookstore and an interesting place to visit.

quartzsite  066quartzsite  040We found a few other characters prospecting just across from our campsite; searching for gold.  I don’t think they were finding much, but they seemed to be having fun looking.  I guess it’s the thrill of the search.

Other local characters showed off their classic cars at a local “auto show” in a Shell gas station in town on Saturday night.   Hanging out talking cars and engines and stuff like that for a few hours.

Okay it was no Barrett-Jackson but good community fun (50 cent hot dogs!).

quartzsite  115

The Wheelin It folks.  Nina is on the left, Paul far right. The tall one is Mike from Bear Tracks Blog

quartzsite  111Later in the week, we met Nina and Paul.  Nina writes the blog Wheeling It, by far the best RV blog we’ve read. We’ve been reading it for years and it is a great resource for us and all RVers.   Nina and Paul have a LOT of followers on their blog and arranged the meet and greet to create an opportunity for all of the people that reached out to them in Quartzsite to meet them and each other.

Tim and Amanda were there

Tim and Amanda were there

We had a great time meeting Nina and Paul and some of their many fans, including Mike and Linda, another adventurous couple who write another fun blog that we’ve been reading for awhile, Bear Tracks Blog.

That's W for Watson

That’s W for Watson

Mike and Linda from Bear Tracks

Mike and Linda from Bear Tracks Blog in the center

One night, we joined George, the owner of RV Driving School and my RV driving instructor from last year, and his wife, Valerie at one of their campfire gatherings.  So nice to connect with them again.

quartzsite  119quartzsite  121We ended the week with a potluck dinner with Amanda, Tim, Nina and Paul (Paul is the OTHER Cuban-American full time RVer, I wonder if there is a third out there somewhere) and their sweet dog Polly.   Good food, great conversation, lots of laughs, another big campfire, oh and yes a little rum.quartzsite  132

quartzsite  116Quartzsite may not be for everyone, it can be dusty, crowded and dizzying.  But it’s one of those “you should do it at least once” kinds of events for RVers.  And who knows, the lure of the desert, the rocks, the shopping and, especially, good friends may bring you back again and again.quartzsite  109

As we publish this blog we’ve left Quartzsite.  We had a blast at the “Q” and were sad to leave, knowing that we might never stay at “our” campsite in Quartzsite again.  Or maybe we will.

~ Brendaquartzsite  110

Circling Phoenix

Phoenix  052As much as we’ve traveled, we hadn’t realized how enormous the city of Phoenix is.  It’s the fifth largest city in the U.S. and per the Phoenix Business Journal “the Phoenix metro area’s population surpassed 4.3 million in 2011”.  More than one person we met compared it to Los Angeles minus the ocean.

Phoenix  001So the campground that we chose to stay in, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, although quite pretty turned out not to have been the best choice in terms of getting around this huge and extremely spread out metropolitan area.  On the plus side, it was located in a large county park with lots of trails.Phoenix  002

But our priority was to visit family and friends, so first things first.  Our first visit was to Jon, Hector’s cousin son, who lives in Scottsdale.  And Scottsdale just happened to be the closest town to Fountain Hills where we stayed.

We met in the very trendy Old Scottsdale for some food and drinks.  This area has lots of great restaurants and nightclubs.  And Jon took us to one of those “secret” bars that is not recognizable from the front, this one was accessed through an unmarked door in an alley.  The place had a great mix of people and cool music.  But I cannot divulge its location.

1553243_10201980928497611_358732582_oPhoenix  051The next day there was a Denver Broncos game, and Jon invited us over to his place to watch the game.  So we spent a nice afternoon watching the game in good company.  And, as an added bonus, the Broncos won!

Once again, we really enjoyed spending quality time with one of our family’s younger generation and are really impressed, though not surprised.

In between visits, we hiked and biked a little around the campground.  While with Hector, Angel got a thorn from a cholla cactus in her paw.  Those thorns can be extremely hard to remove, but Hector was able to get it out incurring only slight pain himself. But it served as a reminder to carry a comb and tweezers in the desert.

Phoenix  007Next we visited Hector’s ex-boss and friend, Simon and his wife Janet at their lovely home in Litchfield, a suburb west Phoenix,  very, very far from our campground.  They moved back to the Phoenix area recently from New Jersey and are enjoying the weather tremendously as evidenced by their fabulous yard complete with pool, outdoor barbecue and wood-fired pizza oven.Phoenix  013Phoenix  008

We took Angel who got to run around the house with their two pups.  Dinner included a couple of different pizzas from the wood-fired oven, delicious!Phoenix  011

Phoenix  044Phoenix  017We’d reserved one day for a drive around the area and chose the Apache Trail for our journey.   The trail was originally used by Apache Indians and was later built up as a road to get building materials through the Superstition Mountains to the Roosevelt Dam, which was completed in 1911.Phoenix  039

Phoenix  021The Apache Trail begins on the east side of Phoenix and continues to the town of Globe, covering 48 miles of road, mostly unpaved.  It crosses through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest through mountains covered by desert plants.   The beautiful drive also passes by three man-made lakes.  We stopped at Canyon Lake, a beautiful little spot.Phoenix  022Phoenix  040

Phoenix  023We also stopped at the small town of Tortilla Flat, described as “an authentic remnant of an Old West town”, with a population of six.  It was a stagecoach stop starting in 1904 and still serves as a stop for many of those traveling across the Apache Trail.

And we were happy to become one of those travelers, stopping for a late lunch at the Superstition Saloon and Rest Area.  The place had lots of character, with dollar bills lining the walls, real saddles as bar stools …

and the cutest bathrooms ever!

The unpaved part of the road becomes quite steep and narrow at points, but the views of the cliffs and rocks are well worth it.  Not recommended for RV’s though.Phoenix  041Phoenix  045

Towards the end of the drive we reached Theodore Roosevelt Dam, built of bricks, and still the world’s largest masonry dam at almost 300 feet tall.  An impressive sight.Phoenix  046

Once we passed the dam, the sun started to set and the moon was rising, a pretty sight just a couple of days before the full moon.  But since it was getting dark, we decided to head back on the highway, which was a looong drive.

Phoenix  048

We passed through Miami, Arizona. A faded copper boomtown.

The Apache Trail was truly a stunning place though, and very much worth the long drive.
Phoenix  047

Phoenix  049On our last afternoon in the Phoenix area, I visited my friend Marisol.  We met in Tempe and had a wonderful Lebanese dinner together, catching up on many events that have taken place since we last got together.  So much so, that the restaurant started to turn off the lights while we were there 🙂

Phoenix  053All too soon, it was time to move on, as we were on a bit of a schedule headed to the big RV show in Quartzsite, Arizona.  And as our visit to Phoenix ended, we realized that we never actually set foot inside the actual city limits of Phoenix.  But we really enjoyed circling the town.

~ BrendaPhoenix  050


Cool Cars

cool cars  037Our plan for Phoenix included visits to several people and other activities as time allowed.

cool cars  001cool cars  052But, coincidentally, we arrived in the area at the same time as “The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auction”, produced by Barrett-Jackson, “the world’s leading collector car auction and automotive lifestyle events”.  In addition, our RV campground was in Fountain Hills, very close to the location of the event, Scottsdale.cool cars  007cool cars  017

So we decided to go to the show on its first day, which was also the least expensive option as it was prior to the start of the actual auction.cool cars  028

The locale was just massive, and for us to have been able to see all of the cars would have required at least an entire day.  cool cars  003cool cars  046cool cars  002

cool cars  006But Hector and I spent a few hours there and focused on the classic collector cars in the main tent area. Even though there were several tents we never even entered, we still saw a dizzying array of autos.cool cars  045

Although I don’t know a lot about collector cars, I do know what I like.  I like antique cars, and I liked a lot of the cars we saw. There were some truly artistic people designing automobiles in the United States years ago.  They paid such attention to little details, many of which are still standouts.cool cars  035

The colors were truly amazing, the brightest colors I’d ever seen on autos.  And, of course, all of the cars had tons of clear coats applied on top of the paint to make them ultra-shiny.

cool cars  054


cool cars  026There were tons of people cruising through the show, but Hector still managed to get some cool photographs.  One really fun area was full of old automotive memorabilia.

Since I am a simple girl at heart, I selected a simple white little roundish number as my favorite.  cool cars  018But there were some bright colored beauties that could have won me over as well.

cool cars  010


cool cars  034

cool cars  036This was definitely a spontaneous choice by us, and not something we expected to do, but we figured we might never coincide with The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auction again.  And it was a really fun afternoon.

~ Brendacool cars  011

Earthy Sedona

sedona  014sedona  009Sedona is a unique place, when we visited several years ago we really loved the look of and the new-agey feel of the place.  Sedona offers luminous shamanic healing, detoxification, past life regression, spirit guide readings, spiritual hypnosis, to balance your aura and chakra system, reactivate your meridian lines and energy points, access your subconscious blocks, and a host of other metaphysical and spiritual services.  What’s not to like?sedona  016

But Hector and I opted for a cost-free option; hiking to some of the vortexes.  What exactly is a vortex?

sedona  047sedona  008sedona  003According to the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, the scientific definition is “an area of enhanced energy flow” which is either “flowing upward out of the earth” or “flowing inward toward the earth”.  The New Age community defines the vortexes as “energy centers” with “remarkable spiritual powers”.

The term was first used to describe Sedona’s four popular meditation sites – Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Airport Mesa and Boynton Canyon. This energy “resonates within a person,” and may offer “spiritual awareness as well as healing experiences”.sedona  041

A few years ago while hiking to the Cathedral Rock vortex, located by Oak Creek at a place called Buddha Beach, Hector definitely felt the energy.  Which is funny, because he is definitely the more skeptical of the two of us.

This time I was intent on visiting several vortexes.  And we started by going to Cathedral Rock / Buddha Beach once again.  On the way there, literally in Oak Creek, there is an amazing view of Cathedral Rock that Hector wanted to photograph.sedona  011

sedona  012This meant wading through extremely cold water twice, which the intrepid photographer did.  To quote some folks picnicking nearby, “hard core”.  As for me, after crossing over one pretty shallow place, I decided to dry out my hiking shoes while sitting across from the rocks where Hector was taking photographs.

sedona  015sedona  017After some photography, we walked over to Buddha Beach to once again see the largest number of cairns we’ve ever seen in our lives.  There were tons of cairns on the ground but more daring folks built cairns on tree branches and other less stable areas.  You must see it to believe it.


sedona  020

And guess what, this time I got a huge surge of energy and joy.  It was pretty cool.  And Hector:  nada.  Interesting.sedona  027

sedona  028In between vortex hiking, we stopped in at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, set in (literally) the Mystic Hills.  Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a sculptress, student of Frank Lloyd Wright, philanthropist and devout Catholic conceived the idea of the church, which was originally going to be built above the Danube River in Budapest.  Because of World War II, she had to give up on those plans.

Years later, after falling in love with Sedona, she re-focused on building the church here.  It was completed in 1956 and less than a year later received the American Institute of Architects National Award for religious structures in 1956.

sedona  029The exterior is striking, looking like it was carved into two rocks, with a large cross as its prominent feature.  The interior is very simple, but looks out onto beautiful Sedona.  The church welcomes travelers from all faiths.sedona  030

sedona  004sedona  006Moving on to more vortexes.  Next we headed to Boynton Canyon.  It was a fairly easy hike, and we took Angel along.  Once near the vortex, you begin to see cairns that people have assembled.  And as we walked to the site, Hector once again had a very strong reaction.  Me:  nada.  Angel:  nada.  Oh, well.sedona  007

sedona  037sedona  034Then we hiked on Airport Mesa.  This was a relatively flat hike with a short climb at the end.  Here the vortex energy is supposed to be around the entire trail.  I felt a little bit of an energy surge.  Hector:  nada, Angel:  a little.sedona  005sedona  038sedona  036sedona  035sedona  039

sedona  040The last vortex we visited was Bell Rock, which is supposed to have very strong upflow energy.  We again had Angel with us, so we hiked around the bottom of the rock, because the climb to the top is very steep.  But the vortex is supposed to be felt throughout the rock.  This time – Hector:  nada, Me:  nada, Angel:  well she walked over four miles, which for her age and after two ACL surgeries is pretty great.

sedona  031sedona  052But later that day we went on another hike, this time, not to a vortex, but to a very cool place called Devil’s Bridge.  We’d hiked over four miles around Bell Rock that morning, and took a midday break.  We started our second hike quite late, around 4, but it was supposed to be a short, though rather steep, hike.sedona  053sedona  054

But we hadn’t read enough about the trail and it turned out that the last portion of the road to the trailhead only allowed high clearance vehicles.  So we had to walk about a mile to the trailhead.  It was  getting pretty late, but now I got a surge of energy and started climbing the trail pretty effortlessly.  At the top, there are a few short but steep climbs, and after two of these, I realized it was 5 p.m.

Hector was wisely saying we should turn around and not risk a tricky descent in the dark.  Even though I had one headlamp, I agreed with him.  So we headed back down while the sun was going down and reached the main road before dark.

Walking down the road at dusk was actually very cool, there was no one else around, we were surrounded by forest and it was really quiet.  And our eyes adapted to the darkness slowly, so I didn’t have to use my headlamp until the very end.

Sometimes it’s just about the journey and not the destination.

~ Brendasedona  055

Missions of Southern Arizona

Missions  002Missions  024Beginning in the 16th century, Spain established missions throughout New Spain, in an area known today as Mexico and the Southwest United States.  This was part of their effort to colonize the region.  These religious outposts didn’t necessarily have a church, but were settlements to establish Spanish presence and convert the Native Americans.Missions  005Missions  025

Many of the remaining missions and remains of missions are some of the oldest structures in this part of the country and represent an important part of the history of the area.Missions  006

The church at Mission San Xavier del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.  The Baroque church is called the White Dove of the Desert. Missions  007

Missions  010As we approached the mission, I found it to be somewhat ostentatious because of the stark contrast between it and the surrounding area.  Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered many beautiful details in its exterior.

Missions  018The interior, thought to have been decorated by artists from Queretero, Mexico is also quite striking.

Missions  035Missions  023Missions  004Missions  022This mission was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. Father Kino, who was born in Italy and joined the Jesuit order in his 20s, went to Mexico at the age of 36 and was “assigned” to the Pima, or O’odham as they called themselves.  He gained the respect of these Native Americans due to his lack of dogmatism and helping them by introducing wheat, livestock and fruit trees into their existing farming practices.

In 1756, a small church was built at the mission.  Then the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain around 1767 for political reasons, and Franciscans were sent to the missions to replace them.  A Franciscan missionary hired an architect and started construction of the existing church in 1783. Many of the O’odham helped in the construction and the church was  completed in 1797.

After Mexico gained independence, Spain withdrew all of its aid to the missions.   The Spanish Franciscans began to leave the mission then, and the last Franciscan left in 1837, almost ten years after Mexico ordered Spanish born residents to leave the country.  In 1854, the mission became part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase and four years later, became part of the Santa Fe diocese.Missions  014

The diocese began repairs on the mission, but an earthquake damaged the structure.  After further repairs were made, the Franciscans returned to the mission in 1913.  The church façade was restored in 1953, and the mission became a National Historic Landmark in 1963.Missions  026Missions  019

Located in the Wa:k village of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation, about nine miles south of Tucson, the church holds regular services and is the parish church for the Native Americans in this area.

Native Americans were selling fry bread just outside the church by the parking lot and of course we had to try some before leaving the area.  We had the fry bread with cinnamon, it was delicious!

Missions  029Missions  030We then continued driving south about 45 miles to the oldest mission in Arizona, Mission San Jose de Tumacacori.

On the way to Tumacacori, we made a brief stop at the village of Tubac, which features over 100 shops and world class galleries.  A very scenic spot.

Missions  033Missions  031Mission San Jose de Tumacacori was also founded by Jesuit Eusebio Francisco Kino, who apparently really got around, in 1691 in a Pima settlement on the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, 18 miles north of present day Nogales.  The mission was moved once after a Pima revolt to its present location.

Missions  036Missions  034A small, modest church was built there in 1757.  Then, in the early 1800s, the Franciscans began to build a large church, one that would match the Baroque glory of San Xavier del Bac.  They had a master mason leading a crew of Indian and Spanish laborers, but didn’t have enough funds to complete it, leaving one bell tower unfinished.   After Mexican independence, and the departure of many of the Spanish born Franciscans, only some native born priests remained.Missions  044Missions  037

In 1848, after an increase in Apache attacks and also after aid from Mexico was cut due to war, the last residents abandoned the mission.  In 1853, the mission became part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase.Missions  041

We took a self-guided walk around the grounds.   The original roof of the church was destroyed, and the interior was subjected to weather and souvenir hunters for many years, so there is very little of the interior remaining.   There is now a replacement roof, but the structure has not been restored.

Missions  028The interior has a nave, altar, remains of a choir loft, a baptistery, sacristy and sanctuary.  Then behind the church are the remains of a granary, mortuary chapel, cemetery and lime kiln.

Missions  043

There is also a reconstructed O’odham house and a mission orchard that has been planted in accordance with the time period when the mission was active.

Missions  049We finished our walk and headed back to Tucson.  Since we were coming from the South, we had to cross yet another immigration checkpoint.  Once again we put on our “game faces” and got ready to answer the question “What country are you citizens of?” with “U.S.”.  Once again, we passed the test.

~ Brenda

Pima Air and Space Museum

F4 Phantom in USAF Thunderbirds markings

McDonnell Douglas F4E Phantom II in USAF Thunderbirds markings

Airplane geek alert!!  Tucson is home to the Pima Air Museum.  This is one of the largest private aviation museums with over 300 planes on over 80 acres and in several enclosed hangars.  Brenda was having a hard time containing her excitement at being dragged to yet another aviation museum. 🙂

Pima  021

They have an extensive collection of military aircraft organized by the branch of the service and the theaters of operation.  Docents are stationed throughout, almost always older gentlemen with obviously personal connections to the artifacts on display.

A docent will drive you around the outdoor exhibits in a tram with a narration of the alphabet soup of naand a tidbit of history along the way.

Boeing B17G Flying Fortress

Boeing B17G Flying Fortress

Boeing B - 29 Superfortress

Boeing B29 Superfortress

Boeing B52

Boeing B52G Stratofortress

pima  002 (1)There are lots of rare and unique planes in the collection.  Including the oldest B52 still in existence and only the third ever built.  This B52A is also interesting in that it was the launch platform for the X-15 spaceplane flights.  Each flight is marked on the side of the fuselage. Way cool.

Boeing B52A Stratofortress

Boeing B52A Stratofortress – with X-15 launch cradle under right wing

Convair B36J Peacemaker.  The last of the piston engine bombers.

Convair B36J Peacemaker. The last of the piston engine bombers.

Lockheed SR71A Blackbird

Lockheed SR71A Blackbird

Convair B58A Hustler

Convair B58A Hustler

Fighters galore – with examples of both “good guy” and “bad guy” contemporaries.
pima  004 (1)

Grumman F14A Tomcat

Grumman F14A Tomcat


Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-21 Fishbed

McDonnell Douglas F/A18A Hornet

McDonnell Douglas F/A18A Hornet

North American F86H Sabre

North American F86H Sabre

Grumman TAF-9J Cougar

Grumman TAF-9J Cougar

Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-15 Fagot

Northrop T38 Talon – a favorite of NASA astronauts

Choppers as well.Pima  032

Some oddball stuff …

This museum is adjacent to 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the “Boneyard.”.  Thousands of planes are stored at this facility taking advantage of the dry desert climate.  Bus tours are given daily but were sold out the day we were there.  Next time …

There are some commercial airliners in both civilian and military versions …

Boeing VC137B in "Jackie Kennedy" paint scheme

Boeing VC137B in “Jackie Kennedy” paint scheme

Boeing VC118A Liftmaster.  This one served as Air Force One for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson

Boeing VC118A Liftmaster. This one served as Air Force One for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and was the last propeller plane used for that purpose

Lockheed C121A Constellation.  This "Connie" was assigned to President Dwight Eisenhower

Lockheed C121A Constellation. This “Connie” was Air Force 1 for President Dwight Eisenhower

Lockheed L-049 Constellation in TWA colors

Lockheed L-049 Constellation in TWA colors

North American P51 Mustang

North American P51D Mustang

These are only a few examples of the amazing collection.  A great place to spend the day for anyone with a love of airplanes.  Wear comfy shoes!

~ Hector

Raptors and Monsters and Snakes – Oh My!

Tucson  073Tucson  059It seemed as if everyone that had ever been to Tucson and everyone that lives in Tucson recommended that we visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  The Desert Museum is actually a combination of a zoo, a natural history museum, an aquarium and a botanical garden.Tucson  061Tucson  065

Tucson  066Tucson  060

We were especially interested in seeing the raptor free flight presentations where multiple handlers get the birds to fly outdoors in nature but up close to the guests.  There are two a day, and we caught all of one and most of the other – they were amazing.

Tucson  080

It was the New Years holiday week so the museum was packed, in fact, one of the  ladies working at the gift shop told us this was the largest crowd she’d seen – yikes!  Fortunately, the only place where it felt super crowded was actually the raptor free flight, as people were packed into two specific areas.  Even so, the way this demonstration was set up, each bird flies back and forth and perches on different trees all around various spots where the crowd is gathered, and so everyone has an opportunity to get multiple good views of each bird – well done!

Tucson  042The Desert Museum is the only zoological park that features plants and animals from one region, the Sonoran Desert, demonstrating their interdependence.   Since a large part of the desert is in Mexico, the museum collaborates with organizations in Mexico to provide educational programs and conduct research.  This place is awesome!Tucson  097

Beep Beep

Beep Beep

Tucson  063

The museum also has lots of very knowledgable docents spread out throughout the exhibits.  All docents complete a rigorous 15 week training, and they are very friendly and informative.

One of our favorite exhibits at the museum was the hummingbird aviary; I never knew there were so many types of hummingbirds! Another was the desert loop trail, which has lots of agaves and palo verde trees, and coyotes and other animals in their natural settings.

Tucson  055And my favorite animal from the desert loop trail was the javelina (pronounced as if in Spanish havelina).  Javelinas are peccaries and they are members of the same suborder as pigs, Suina.  They have tiny dainty legs and big eyelashes and are truly adorable.  We keep hoping to see them in the wild since they are not aggressive.

Tucson  067Tucson  051 (1)Last, but not least, we saw an interesting presentation about gila monsters and rattlesnakes.  Both animals were brought out and placed on a table while the presenters provided fun, interesting and scary facts about them.

Since the audience included kids, part of the presentations was a bit basic, but it was cool to see these very dangerous animals up close.

Tucson  108One basic thing I learned was how to spell gila monster – I always thought it was helimonster!  Ok, the rattlesnake was cool but I found the little gila monster – named Diablo – pretty cute.

We also learned that about 3/4 of the incidents of people getting bitten by gila monsters or rattlesnakes are caused by the person wanting to interact with the animal.  What???!!!  And the three most common characteristics of the majority of those unfortunate people are:  1.Male 2.Young and 3.Intoxicated.  Gila monsters are actually shy and slow moving, but, if threatened, they will clamp on very tight, and, what probably makes them so scary, they have to chew in order to release their venom.  That’s one way to sober up!

Tucson  002 (1)Unbelievably, after about seven hours at the museum we still missed quite a few exhibits.  So, along with tons of others, I highly recommend a visit, but do plan to get there early and stay late!

Update:  We’re currently in Phoenix, having visited Sedona after Tucson, but are catching up on the blog and two more posts on Tucson area visits are coming up – lots to see there!

~ Brenda