Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2011
We’re back in our winter home on the Guadalupe River, seeing old friends, shopping for the holidays, and visiting our favorite restaurants.  Thanks to all of you for taking the time to follow our travels this past year, and we hope you’ll continue visiting us!  Brenda and I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lone Pine, Part II

Between Lone Pine and the Sierras are the Alabama Hills, a line of rock formations that are unique; we’ve never seen anything like them anywhere else.  Driving along “Movie Flat Road”, you expect to see the Lone Ranger and Tonto around every turn – so many westerns were filmed here.  Surprisingly, there is nothing left of any movie site, since the area is BLM land, everything must be returned to it’s natural state after filming.  It’s a shame in a way, imagine being able to roam the streets of a wild west town, the golden temple of Gunga Din, or the streets of Perfection in the movie Tremors!  But even without the sets, the Alabama Hills are amazing - lots of side roads into the rocks, hiking trails everywhere, and best of all, fabulous views of the rocks with the Sierras and Mount Whitney in the background.  One formation we saw could be called the “heart” of the Alabama Hills (below).Alabama Hills
Alabama Hills & Sierras2

Alabama Hills Heart Rock
We traveled north one afternoon to the small town of Independence and visited the Mount Whitney Historic Fish Hatchery, an interesting  and beautifully maintained state facility built in the 1940’s using 3400 tons of native granite.  Although it’s not active now, it’s maintained for visitors, and like the hatchery we volunteered at this year, had a large pond of “display” trout to view. 
Mt Whitney Fish Hatchery
On another day, we drove east for a day visit to Death Valley.  It’s an interesting day when you can start by looking at the highest point in the continental US (Mt Whitney 14,405’), then drive to the lowest point (-287’).   We visited Death Valley in the late 70s while living in Las Vegas and remember asking ourselves “what’s the attraction"?  After all they don’t call it “nice to look at” valley, or even “moderately pleasant” valley…’s DEATH valley!  And there’s a reason for that.  Miles and miles of rock, sand, and scrub brush, a place where even the snakes carry canteens.  But we made the trip, stopped at the Furnace Creek (another great descriptive name), visitor center, then turned around and headed back home…..asking ourselves why did we drive all that way?  I’m sure there are plenty of people who love Death Valley, but for us, we’ve permanently crossed it off our bucket list. 
Death Valley Overlook
No visit to Lone Pine would be complete without a stop at the Museum of Film History, a wonderful collection of all things filmed in the area.  As “Boomers”, it’s a reminder of our younger years spent waiting for Saturday morning and Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autrey, and of course, Roy Rogers.  Old posters, TV clips, and memorabilia like the “cowboy hat hall of fame” bring back old memories, and there is an extensive collection of props used in newer movies also.   We enjoyed the movie “Tremors” and Brenda made friends with one of the movie’s “Graboids”.  At the entrance, we marveled over the custom Cadillac of Nudie Cohn, the man who put the rhinestones on cowboy suits.  He must have been very successful judging by the “Nudiemobile”, covered with real silver dollars and other uh, stuff.    We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this museum, and recommend it to all.Lone Pine Movie Museum
Shootist Coat and Hat Hall of Fame
Brenda with Graboid

We left Lone Pine with a promise to ourselves that we’d return again, perhaps next time in the spring or early fall when it’s a bit warmer.  Back on Highway 395, we headed south for a stay at Edwards Air Force Base.  I’ve visited Edwards many times in my working life, and it’s a bit easier to take, although not much, visiting it as a retiree.  Edwards is the Flight Test Center for the Air Force, and if you wanted to pick a place where a failed test aircraft could fall out of the sky and not damage anything, this is the perfect place.  Think Death Valley with a runway.  But it has a nice Famcamp, a good commissary, and is the only decent place in the area to spend a night.  We took a tour around the base, past the Test Pilot School and into the NASA area where we saw the two Space Shuttle carriers, now without a mission, parked on the ramp.  From a distance, they look like regular Boeing 747s, but if you look close, you’ll see twin tails that were needed since the Shuttle blocked the airflow over the normal tail.  Next to the aircraft is the shuttle mating facility, where they would lift the shuttle onto the back of the 747.  Test Pilot School
Shuttle Carrier
Shuttle Mating Facility
The base Famcamp has good facilities, and there aren’t many rodents thanks to the pretty camp coyote that paid us a visit:
Campground Coyote
We’re on our way to the San Clemente area for a stay at Camp Pendleton’s San Onofre campground and a Thanksgiving visit with our daughter and her husband.  After that, we’ll be traveling back to Texas for our winter stay.  We may not have anything interesting for a while, but don’t go away, we’ll be back!  For all of our readers, Brenda and I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving Holiday!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lone Pine, California, Part I

Even if you’ve never been to the small town of Lone Pine, you’ve seen the Alabama Hills & Sierrasarea in movies and on television.  From the old classics like “Gunga Din” and “Charge of the Light Brigade”, television shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “The Roy Rogers Show”, up to more recent movies such as “Joe Kidd” and “Tremors”, this area has been a popular filming location due to it’s incredible scenery.  With Mount Whitney, the lower 48’s tallest mountain, and the rock formations of the Alabama Hills, it’s a wonderland of majestic mountains and magical rock formations.    We spent a week here, and could have spent even more time exploring the hills and learning the history of the area.
Our first morning we woke up to a coating of fresh snow on Mount Whitney,  the perfect start to a day of exploring.  I don’t think we’ve ever had a better view from our motorhome. (don’t forget to click on the picture for a larger view)
RV Park View of MountainsWe took the road up to Whitney Portal, a climb well into the mountains and high above the valley.  It was cold at the parking area, and a short hike took us to a frozen stream, transformed into a crystal waterfall.  Along the road back down, there were great views of the Owens Valley, once a fertile area but now desert due to the water needs of Los Angeles.
Road View of Mt Whitney Frozen Waterfall
Owens Valley View
Each Day, as we drove through the area, the mountains changed as weather moved through.  Looking at the mountains, it seems that sometimes you’re looking at a painting on the horizon.  But words can’t describe the beauty -  perhaps these images will help:
Sierra View2
Sierra View
Sierra View3
Sierra Canyon View
There’s also a lot of interesting history in the area.  We visited Manzanar National Historic Site, like Heart Mountain (which we visited earlier this year), a former relocation camp for Japanese during WWII.  Like Heart Mountain, the visitor center and museum were very informative in telling the story of how our government imprisoned it’s own citizens, but unlike Heart Mountain where all of the original structures were removed, here some remain.  Entering the site, you pass by the same guard shacks that the internees passed in 1942.  The visitor center is housed in the same auditorium that was built in 1944 by the camp population.  It was sold and moved after the camp closed, but was located, moved back to the site, and renovated to become today’s main visitor’s site.  An auto route travels through the camp where remains of old structures are visible, and passes by the cemetery,  a poignant reminder of the people who lived and died here.
Manzanar Visitor Center
Manzanar Visitor Center2
Manzanar Cemetary
We’ve got more to share with you on our visit to Lone Pine, so check back soon to see Part II!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Roaming Around Reno

Reno, for us, is one of those cities that has a confused identity.  On the one hand, it is a gaming city, with a somewhat shabby downtown of large casinos, but it also has newer upscale areas to the south and north, and interesting places to explore in the surrounding area. Sparks Marina RV Resort We always stay at the Sparks Marina RV Resort, one of our favorite places because of it’s great amenities and professional staff.  It’s also in a convenient location; close to I-80 and Highway 395, with plenty of shopping, dining, and even a casino or two nearby. 

Tahoe AspenAfter settling in, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and took a drive over the mountains to Lake Tahoe.  It was a beautiful drive, although a bit cool at the top of the pass, and the mountains were covered in golden slashes where the aspen had changed to it’s fall colors.

Lake Tahoe was quiet this time of year, the parks were almost empty and many of the homes and restaurants were closed for the winter.  It was nice to just sit on a bench in the sun and soak in the scenery.  Brenda on the Tahoe Beach

Donner LakeWe also took a drive up to Donner Pass and explored the town of Truckee.  The climb above Donner Lake took us through some beautiful scenery, but the bustle of I-80, heavy construction at every turn, and cold temperatures made for a short day trip.
Viginia City Main StreetOur favorite day trip in the area was to Virginia City, the once-booming mining town now restored.  Of all the “old” mining towns we’ve visited, we like this one best.  Uneven wooden planked sidewalks and buildings carefully restored make you Scrooge Benchfeel that you’ve traveled back in time….except for the prices, which are definitely 2011.  We enjoyed walking the main street, looking through the shops, and learning about the area’s history at the visitor center.  As always, there was a “Christmas Store”, one of those places that women have to explore and men are loathe to enter.  Finally through, a store with a place for the men to sit and wait.  I took full advantage of the “Scrooge Chair” while Brenda shopped. 

Virginia City MineAs you drive through the  town and the surrounding area, it’s a rare view that doesn’t have mine tailings or a still operating mine; apparently there’s still silver in “them thar hills”.  

The route back to Reno took us through the mountains with a long descent back into the valley.  It was a clear day and gave us a great view of Reno and the area.  Downtown looks great from a distance, which in our opinion is the best place to view it from….Reno Area View
Reno DowntownWe’ll be heading down Highway 395 and the eastern side of the Sierras, so stop back and visit!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Buoyed by a Stay in Boise

We’ve never spent time in Boise, but were anxious to visit Idaho’s largest city.  We found a gem of a military campground, the National Guard’s Gowen Field, conveniently located on the back side of the airport and providing concrete pads with full hookups, and settled in for what became a two week stay.  We were surprised at the size of the Boise metropolitan area; over 600,000 and growing.  And no wonder – it’s a wonderful location at the base of the mountains with vibrant downtown, great city park system, and of course, the Boise State Bulldogs and their blue football field.  
We had read about the Downtown Saturday Market, and with the temperatures in the 80s and a blue sky, headed downtown to pay a visit. Unlike so many downtown areas, Boise’s is bustling, especially on a Saturday.  We found the market, a large area of vendors covering almost four blocks.  There was a bit of everything, fresh vegetables and meats, cheeses, spices, flowers, and ohhhh, the baked goods!  We loaded up on a variety of peppers, yellow tomatoes, and fresh baked bread, all at reasonable prices – what a great place!  The tough part was selecting a restaurant for lunch.  We finally settled on the Red Feather Lounge, winner of the “Best of Boise” for three years running.  It’s the kind of place we love to visit, with an innovative menu unlike the typical chain restaurants.  The food was wonderful.  We resisted the intriguing desserts, although we almost broke down when we saw the Upside Down Caramel Corn Cake.Boise Market Booth
Boise Market FlowersThere’s so much to do in Boise – we visited the Idaho State Historical Museum (well done, lots of interesting exhibits), the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge (nice visitor center), and toured the Old Idaho Penitentiary.   It was an interesting place to visit, and reminded us of the old prison we visited in Deer Lodge, Montana.  Same sandstone walls, small, dingy cells, and depressing atmosphere.  Here, though, there were interesting narratives of some of the more famous inmates that helped us understand the lives they lived and the crimes they committed.Old Boise Prison
Boise Prison CellblockWe of course had to explore the surrounding mountains, and drove north to the towns of Idaho City and Lowman.  Idaho city is a rustic and still active town;  Lowman, not so much.  Both were founded by miners looking for gold, and around Idaho City you can see the large piles of rocks left by the dredges.  The Payette River runs through Lowman, another of the crystal-clear, tumbling rivers we’ve seen throughout this beautiful country.  Continuing on past Lowman, we came upon the back side of the Sawtooth Mountains, decorated with the first snow of the year.Sawtooth Mountains with Fresh Snow2
Sawtooth Mountains with Fresh SnowPayette RiverBack in Boise, we visited the World Center for Birds of Prey, an exceptional facility with an extensive collection of raptors, beautiful grounds, and a large visitor center.  Many of the raptors here are not native to the “lower 48”, so it was a treat to see new birds.  We especially liked the Aplomado Falcon and Gyrfalcon, but the Harpy Eagle really captured our attention.  What an amazing face – it’s feathers look like an Indian headdress!  (by the way, these are all live birds!)Aplomado Falcon
GyrfalconHarpy EagleFinally, as we left the center, we saw this bird feeder with an anti-squirrel device above the feeder, and another one below…..and a squirrel sitting in the feeder, happily eating the seed.  Squirrel-proof Feeder
We’re heading for our next stop in Reno/Sparks, so be sure check back and visit!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

There’s More to Idaho Than Potatoes

Powell to New Meadows copyWe’ve spent time in Idaho over the last six years, but hadn’t explored the western side of the state along Highway 95.  We left  Bitterroot Mountains, and  continued on Highway 12 along the Lochsa River, eventually joining the Clearwater River and descending into the valley and the small town of Kooskia (koos-ski).  The drive along the Lochsa River is one of our favorites; rugged mountains, tall trees, beautiful river – AND it’s downhill.  There’s not much out here, a few Forest Service and State Highway facilities; otherwise it’s just miles and miles of unspoiled scenery. 
Lochsa River
Lochsa River2In Kooskia, the scenery changed from forested mountains to grassy hills with a winding, up and down road.  To our East stretched the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, an area of over one million acres, while to our West were the rolling hills and farms of the valley.  We spent a night in Grangeville, at the Bear Den RV Resort, a great Passport America park with the cleanest laundry and recreation room we’ve ever seen.  White Bird Battlefield OverlookWe took a ride down the road to see the White Bird Battlefield, the first of what would become a number of battlefields during the journey of the Nez Perce.  As we stood at the battlefield overlook, we noticed the sign describing the history of White Bird Grade, and we could see the old road in the distance.  White Bird Grade SignIf you click on the picture and  look closely, you can see how the old road goes back and forth, back and forth, as it climbs up the grade.  And yes, we had to try it.  It was an interesting drive and we had to wonder how big rigs must have struggled going both up and down. 

Old White Bird Grade
From Grangeville, we travelled down White Bird Grade (the new one), a slow seven miles of 7% grade.  At the bottom, we once again met the Salmon River, and continued along the valley to the small town of New Meadows.Salmon River Canyon
Salmon River
We got into the utterly forgettable Meadows RV Park early in the day, and drove into the mountains to visit the resort community of McCall.  Located on the South shore of Payette Lake, McCall is a community of condos, marinas, and the typical assortment of galleries and gift shops.  It’s a pretty place, and the lake view, with the mountains in the distance, demanding that we take a break to sit in the shade and relax before heading back to the park.  Payette Lake
Payette Lake MarinaWe’re on the road, heading for Boise – C’mon back and visit with us!