Tag Archives | Grand Banks

23 March 2017 Little Rock, AR – Memphis, TN

     The Clintons may have put Little Rock on the map, but this charming and historic capital city offers plenty of reasons to keep it there. The Central High Museum tells the painful, powerful story of the city’s racial struggles. For those who love to shop, hours can be spent at the River Market wherein lies a collection of tasty eateries and eclectic stores.
     Arkansas’s capitol city provided us with a lovely visit and our RV park was right on the AR river making all of our destinations very accessible by bike, public transportation, or on foot. We were close enough to the river bank to throw a rock and hit it. There were bass tournaments, barge traffic, and practicing rowing teams for our entertainment. There is a pedestrian bridge beside the park that once was a train trestle lift bridge. The evolution to a pedestrian bridge was quite cleaver and beautified by planters filled with blooming annuals. We made many trips across that bridge both on foot and on our bikes. 
     The pedestrian bridge ends/begins at the Clinton Library and Museum. Our docent kept us thoroughly entertained for 90 minutes. We weren’t ready for her to go home. She’s a retired history professor from the University of Arkansas and was a colorful delight. She was cute, spunky, and full of interesting AR history.

                               The Clinton Presidential Library

     Next door is the Heifer International Museum. We didn’t know a thing about it and only heard about it last week from boating/RV-ing friends who have volunteered with the organization for several summers. Their mission is to work with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the earth. 

     A farmer from the midwest, Dan West, went to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker. His mission was to provide relief but he soon discovered the meager single cup of milk rationed to the weary refugees once a day, wasn’t sufficient. He had a brain storm—“What if they had not a cup but a cow?”  That “teach a man to fish” philosophy is what inspired Mr. West to found Heifer International and now, 70 years later, that philosophy still inspires their work to end world hunger and poverty throughout the world once and for all.

     Families are empowered to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity by linking communities and helping bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Their animals provide the families with both food and a reliable income from products such as milk, eggs, and honey that can be traded or sold at market.

     The core of their model is Passing on the Gift which means that families share the training they received and pass on the first female offspring of their livestock to another family. This extends the impact of the original gift allowing a once impoverished family to become donors and full participants in improving their communities and achieving self-reliance. This is definitely a “must see” when you visit Little Rock.

     The River Trail is paved and perfect for cyclists, skaters, and walkers. It runs 28 miles along the river and was fairly flat which was a great relief after those AZ and NM hills. Needless to say, we throughly enjoyed our visit there.

     Now we’ve moved farther east on I-40 and are parked on the banks of the Mississippi River in Memphis.

Till later—
Bill and Laura

14 March 2017 Williams – Gallup – Albuquerque – Tucumcari, NM – Amarillo, TX

   
         We had quite a picturesque drive as we drove from Williams to Gallup.      






       It is a little complex to attempt to paint a picture of Albuquerque because it’s both time-worn and also cutting-edge with equal parts quaint and cool. We enjoyed strolling Old Town then went ‘downtown’ and were somewhat underwhelmed. Quite a few homeless and too many empty store fronts. Very limited pedestrian activity—other than the homeless who were in the sleeping mode as opposed to looking like pedestrians. We were about the only two out roaming around. We had to step over several sidewalk slumberers which was pretty unsettling. The university campus is quite attractive with adobe pueblos surrounded by the desert landscape. Of the two, Old Town was our fave and we found it quite charming.


     We took the Nine Mile Hill drive along Route 66 as it developed from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. The architecture and signs of several decades showcase the change and innovation that took place during that evolution. Historic buildings of particular interest were indicated on the Nine Mill Hill map by a designation telling the date and purpose of each building’s construction. 
    
   The architectural styles were interesting. Buildings from the heyday of Route 66 reveal some popular styles of the period in the Southwest. The style and their time spans help identify the building’s approximate age.

     The Pueblo Revival began in 1905 and is still a popular design. They are finished with stucco walls, a flat roof and rounded parapets, wood beams that project around the top of the house and porches with rounded posts.

     Another style dates from 1920 to 1950 and is known as the Southwest Vernacular. They’re very similar in that the walls are also stuccoed, flat roofs and often with an irregular parapet. Some own a slight Spanish or California Mission element such as a tiled porch, grouped windows, rounded doors, and iron railings 

     The Moderne style dates from 1930 to 1950, featuring rounded corners and windows, flow lines and zigzags, glass block, cantilevered awnings and pylons, and decorative towers rising from flat roofs. As we drove past these we could almost envision the time capsule that these buildings demonstrated.


Our first night in Albuquerque
ABQ’s Kimo Theatre

               
                          A pretty little church adjacent to the town square in Old Town

                                                            From days of yore!




                                                                     And again!


     Today we arrived in Amarillo just for the evening. Bill’s out on an old car museum excursion leaving me behind to relax and paint.  Oh, happy day.


     From here we’ll cross OK, AR, TN as we point our noses to GA to pick up the boat. Sight seeing is just about over but if something earth-shattering occurs, I’ll be sure and let you know but for now, enjoy a well-deserved break for our blog.


Bill and Laura Bender
Amarillo, TX

9 March 2017 Route 66 Williams, AZ

     This morning we departed Grand Canyon National Park after 5 phenomenal days en route to Williams, AZ, on Route 66. We arrived here noonish and after a quick lunch, I asked Bill if he’d like to go to dinner at Wild West Junctio…

8 March 2017 Our Grand Canyon Adventures

     
     Vast, magnificent, and inarguably beautiful, is the Grand Canyon, and a natural wonder that you simply have to see to believe. Stretching 277 miles from end to end, steep, rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest.  The expanse brought to the fore, how insignificant we really are.

     
     It’s as if a paintbrush, dipped in golds and pinks and oranges and purples, swept over narrows and craggys in an area that’s an average of 10 miles wide (18 miles at its widest) and a mile deep with  layered bands of red rock revealing millions of years of geological history. The unique combinations of color are the result of the earth’s physical structure and forms that have been caused by one of the most spectacular examples of erosion anywhere in the world.. All of these factors to decorate this work of art. 




      We stepped to the edge and still couldn’t take it all in. The immense size of the Grand Canyon is overwhelming our senses.  Snow remains in the park and as the direction of the sun alters the canyons appearance, so are the canyon formations highlighted by snow.


This guy had taken over someone’s car roof and was squawking away.

      

     Pictures and paintings just can’t do it justice—it’s one of those things you have to see to believe. As with all sides of the Canyon, the South Rim features astounding views of what took Mother Nature millions and millions of years to create. That why it has earned the distinction as one of the world’s Seven Wonders

     The Tuscan Pueblo Ruin was interesting to walk the area and try to visualize what life for those people might’ve been like 800 years ago. This ruin is just one of more than 4000 archaeological sites found within the Grand Canyon National Park. The site consists of a small, u-shaped pueblo featuring a living area, storage rooms, and a kiva, which is a room used by Puebloans for religious rituals and political meetings. Kivas are square-walled and underground and used for spiritual ceremonies. 


     Fortunately, the day we visited was a clear day and we were able to see the distant San Francisco Peaks. The Hopi Indians considered these mountains as sacred, believing that the spirits who lived there would bring rain and other blessings in the spring.

                                                San Francisco Peaks
     
     The Desert View Watchtower is a 70 foot tall circular stone building located on the eastern edge of the South Rim where the Colorado River begins to turn north and the Painted Desert is visible as it stretches toward the Navajo and Hopi Reservations. 
                The ceiling of the Watch Tower, 5th floor, looking up from first floor. 






    Each story of the Watchtower has several windows enabling us to gain different views of the Canyon and the surrounding area. The first floor displays a Hopi snake altar right in the center of the room.




      Walls and ceilings are covered in Native American symbols and pictographs. There’s a mural of the Hopi Snake Legend describing their cultural connection to the Grand Canyon. 



     The painting tells the story of a Hopi man who floated down the Colorado River through the canyon in a hollow log. We saw the film of the canyon and river at the IMAX and the river is ferocious. Difficult to fathom what his journey in his USS Hollow Log must’ve been been like after seeing the rambunctious and turbulent current in the river.


      On our final day we hiked the South Rim Trail. We so much wanted to hike the Bright Angel Trail but it was steep and still iced over. We did go part of the way to the 2 holes in the rock but didn’t dare venture any farther. Not a good time in our lives for a broken hip.


                                                         Trails

     We saw so much more on the hike than we could’ve seen from the shuttle buses. Words fail me. Please forgive the endless photos but just can’t bring myself to delete any.

Believe it or not, we’ve beat the spring and summer onslaught of tourists.

                                  This volcano hasn’t erupted in 200,000 years.



                                                              An artist’s palette

                                                                            Trails

A cleft in the rock

                                       Holes in the rock on the Bright Angel Trail

“When mules pass….”

                    Hole in the rock that’s passable on Bright Angel Trail
     
      One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the canyon changes by the hour and by the season. Sunset and sunrise are experiences of a lifetime and the South Rim is the best place to experience the many moods of the canyon.There are museums that feature history, heritage, and geology, the IMAX movie and the National Park Service movie in the Park Visitor Center are very educational before visiting the park. There is so much to do in and around the South Rim. Our 5 day visit was truly memorable and something we’ll always remember and cherish.

Bill and Laura
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

5 March 2017 Sedona – Jerome – Clarkdale – Tuzigott – Cottondale – Sedona, AZ

      Situated in a stunning setting, surrounded by red rock mountains and buttes lies the little village of Sedona where there are fabulous views from the main highway running through the town and almost every street corner. Sedona is known for its energy vortexes and many people consider it to be a highly spiritual place.

     Our first morning in Sedona we took two narrated trolly tours that were immensely educational and provided a great overview of the Sedona area. We became acquainted with our tour guide, Mark, who also gave us some tips of places to go and things to do during our visit there.

      Built into a Sedona Butte is the Chapel of the Holy Cross in a breath-taking location providing an exemplary view of the town by standing by the altar.   Built into a Sedona Butte is the Chapel of the Holy Cross in a breath-taking location providing an exemplary view of the town through the windows behind the altar. 



     Mr. Schnebly, one of the early settlers, petitioned for a post office and that was granted. His wife was named Sedona. Go figure! Schnebly Hill Road is the route from downtown to our campground and it winds above Sedona, rocky and unpaved, to some great hiking trails. We accidentally explored two of those because we got separated but nobody got lost.  


 How could anyone ever become wearied by these magnificent creations!

                                               The Chimney of West Sedona

     This huge formation rises from the top of the low mesa on which it sits. Depending on your vantage point, Chimney Rock looks like a single spire but from a different view, the three spires of the emergance are clearly visible.


The downtown streets are lined with cute shops and interesting restaurants.





     One of the many traffic circles in Sedona. The locals make it flow smoothly but tourists hover, blocking traffic, wondering if they should “go” or continue sitting there.


     Mark suggested that we drive north on a highway with numerous switchbacks of sharp bends and curves that climbed quickly from Sedona up the side of the Mongolian Rim to the top of Highway 89A and the vista of the overlook for Oak Creek Canyon.

 A snow covered mountain side of Oak Creek Canyon
     From the canyon rim, we had a dazzling panoramic view stretching 5-8 miles toward Sedona. Snow remained from a recent snowfall and we found a snowman on one of the walls.

    Four of the circuitous paths that Highway 89A carves into the mountainside to get us to the rim can be seen in the above photo.


             
                              Never did we think we’d ever see snow again in our lives!


                                              At the top of Oak Creek Canyon


    



      Mark strongly recommended adding Jerome, AZ, to our itinerary. When we arrived in that unusual village, we couldn’t believe our eyes! It was founded in the late 19th century, is more than 5,000 feet above sea level and sits on Cleopatra Hill, overlooking the Verde Valley. It’s known by two descriptive names—American’s Most Vertical City and the Largest Ghost Town in America.

     This tiny old mining town, turned ghost town, is located along a mountainside high above the desert floor, and has become a tourist attraction. A steep hill with switchbacks is the main street through town. Views from the streets and through some of the shop windows, are amazing. Many of the old buildings have been renovated but some still stand as ruins, creating a very interesting dynamic.

     This town is unique to say the least, and has many interesting and quirky sites.





     Jerome is a historic copper mining town and was once known as the most wicked town in the west with a population of 15,000 in the 1920’s. Today it is a thriving tourist and artist community boasting a population of 450. It sits above what was the largest copper mine in AZ and produced an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper a month. Today the mines are silent and Jerome has become the largest ghost town in America. 







It is an enchanting town and a photographer’s paradise making it well worth your time to visit. Externally, it hasn’t changed much in nearly 100 years. Most of the buildings in use today were built after the fires of 1894 and 1899. You’ve just got to see it to believe it. 


        This is what’s left of one of Jerome’s finest hotel but today stands in ruins. 








     The town’s built on a 30 degree incline of the mountainside so gravity has pulled a number of buildings down the slope. To the delight of the inmates, one of those buildings was the town’s jail.    





     One area not to miss is the “Cribs District” which is across the street from the English Kitchen, in a back alley where all the buildings were part of Jerome’s ill-famed “prostitution row”.


     

     Mark recommended a visit to the Jerome Grand Hotel, a historic landmark, once a hospital and now a hotel. It is a historic Spanish Mission style building that served as a hospital from 1927 until 1950. Then it sat unused for 44 years until it was purchased in 1994 to start its life as the Jerome Grand Hotel.  Steam heat is still used in many areas and the 1926 Otis Elevator services all 5 floors.  In the windowed garage, we saw their 1928 Springfield Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce. We were intrigued by numerous historic pictures and antiques also displayed throughout the building.

    

          Another little town between Sedona and Jerome is Clarkdale, located at the base of Cleopatra Hill, the location where Jerome is King of the Hill.  William Clark was owner of one of Jerome’s largest copper mines, thus the town’s name. The Verde Canyon Railroad is based there and still takes tourists on a 4 hour train ride with dinner served.

      Tuzigoot National Monument was conveniently on our route that day, historic Highway 89A, and is an old Indian dwelling.  There are two hiking trails that give visitors an up close look at the culture from long ago. The Sinagua people were agriculturalists and they built and lived in the pueblo that consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. They left the area around 1400. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The ruins still exist on this small mound. The site is currently comprised of 42 acres. 




     Tuzigoot is near yet another tiny town on historic 89A wherein all our explorations took us that day, namely Cottonwood. Back in the days of mining, Cottonwood had a reputation for lawlessness. Heavy bootlegging abounded, therefore attracting other non-law abiding citizens. This burg was known to have the best bootlegging booze within hundreds of miles, attracting people from LA, Phoenix, and other closer-to-home folks.

     “The times they are a-changin'” because today, Cottonwood’s the place to go if you’re looking for something different. It’s complete with a vast array of wine tasting rooms, restaurants, a picturesque historic old town complete with high sidewalks and false fronted buildings that lend to the old west atmosphere. It’s surrounded by jagged mountains on the south, east, and west. To the north are mesas and buttes. How did this town come by its name? There are beautiful Cottonwood trees that grow along the beautiful Verde River which flows through this town.


     Before returning home to Sedona, Cottonwood was our last scheduled stop. Mark confessed that he’s a musician and would be entertaining at one of the wine bars that night. We passed up First Friday in Sedona when all the galleries are open late to be able to hear Mark play guitar and sing accompanied by his friend on bass. Mark’s been playing since he was in the 4th grade and it shows. He is extremely talented, writes many of his own lyrics, composes his own music, and has a marvelous voice. Our last night in the Sedona area ended on a sweet sounding note.


Bill and Laura
Sedona, AZ

    

4 March 2017 Mesa – Sedona, Arizona

          Our last evening in Phoenix/Scottsdale/Mesa/Tempe, we spent with our beloved boating friends, Jim and Julie. Now, it’s off to Sedona.

     Sedona, “Red Rock City”, is an Arizona desert town surrounded by red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. It’s noted for its mild climate and vibrant arts community. Uptown Sedona is dense with shops, spas, and art galleries. On the outskirts of town are numerous trailheads with access to Red Rock State Park and numerous trail heads for bird-watching, hiking, and picnicking spots.
     Spectacular sights along our drive from Scottsdale to Sedona. Such a gorgeous area. 

      
                                               I want to stay here forever!

                                                 Snow on the mountaintop.

     Sedona, renowned for its stunning red buttes and monoliths, is located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon and is completely surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. 


     In 1876, Sedona, yet unnamed, began as a small farming and ranching settlement. By 1902, 20 families had settled there. Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912. One of the settlers, Theodore Schnelbly, petitioned for and was granted a postal station that he named in honor of his wife, Sedona. The last name is familiar to us because our campground on Bear Wallow Road, is a spur off Schnelbly Road.




     Sedona is an artsy town  The red rocks are magnificent but it could be more than those vistas that stimulate the creativity of the artists. Many believe that the Sedona region contains a concentration of vortexes which are spots that release psychic energy or power from the earth. We visited the areas pointed out to us as vortexes but try as we might, we never felt the anticipated tingle.

    

      Our campground, Rancho Sedona RV Park on Bear Wallow Lane (love the name) right in the heart of downtown. As we entered initially, there was a steep descent into the park and I thought we were entering into a magical fairyland. The tree branches had been festooned with iridescent silver ribbons pirouetting in the breeze as they reflected the sun. It took my breath and was a magnificent welcome. Our stay there was just that grand. Our site was on Oak Creek with a manicured lawn between our coach and the creek’s berm. 


     There is so much more to see and do so must be out the door. Nature’s splendor is magnetically beckoning. 


Bill and Laura
Sedona, AZ

28 February 2017 Odessa, TX, – Carlsbad, NM, – Tucson, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Mesa, AZ

     Seeing Odessa in our rear view mirror was not a sad sight, although we were pleased with the Cummins mechanic who made headway on our engine issue. We rank Odessa right up there with Carrabelle, FL, and not one of our favorite towns.


     The Guadalupe Mountains National Park in New Mexico protects one of the world’s best examples of a fossil reef and is home to Carlsbad Caverns. Both of these are found in the Chihauhauan Desert.



     Carlsbad was better than our memory served us from our visits there as children.  It has no equal that we’ve experienced and is a domain of gigantic subterranean chambers with fantastic cave formations.  Every step we took elicited gasps of wonder and amazement at these exquisite formations that God has given us to enjoy.  


   We were over 750 feet below the desert’s surface where the year-round temp is 56 so our jackets felt comfy.

     Rangers and exhibits were available to provide in-depth information about the ecology, history, and cave formation. The cave is a complex maze of limestone rock reminding us of Swiss cheese.
  

     There’s a 200,000 ton boulder that fell from the cave ceiling thousands of years ago and is called the Iceberg Rock. Some that we walked beneath didn’t appear to be hanging on too tightly making us want to scurry.

     
     The story of Carlsbad Caverns began 250 million years ago with the creation of a 400 mile long reef in a sea that covered this region. The reef formed from the remains of sponges, algae, seashells, and calcite that precipitated directly from the water. As the reef rose, cracks developed in it. Eventually the sea evaporated and the reef was buried under deposits of salts and gypsum.

                                                          Rock of Ages

     The stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations began over 500,000 years ago after much of the cavern had been carved out.  It happened slowly—drop by drop—at a time when a wetter, cooler climate prevailed.  Creation of each formation depended on water that dripped or seeped down into the limestone bedrock and into the cave. As a raindrop fell to the ground and percolated downward, it absorbed carbon dioxide gas from the air and soil, and a weak acid was formed. As it continued to move down, the drop dissolved a little limestone, absorbing some of the basic ingredients needed to build most cave formations—the mineral, calcite. Once the drop finally emerged in the cave, the carbon dioxide escaped into the cave air. No longer able to hold the dissolved calcite, the drop deposited its tiny mineral load as a crystal of calcite. Billions and billions of drops later, thousands of cave formations had taken shape.

      Then a few million years ago, uplift and erosion began to uncover the buried rock reef. During this uplift that would become the Guadalupe Mountains, rainwater seeped downward through the cracks and faults in the limestone. Simultaneously, hydrogen sulfide-rich water migrated upward from expansive oil and gas fields. When these two waters mixed, that formed sulfuric acid which dissolved the limestone and opened up the fractures and faults into the large chambers that we saw on our tour. As the mountains were pushed up, the level where the rooms and passages in the cave were being formed, moved lower into the ancient reef rock. This process created nearly horizontal levels connected by steep passages in Carlsbad Caverns.

     In the summer, the Mexican or Brazilian free-tailed bats put on a spectacular show at night as they fly from the cave by the thousands to feast on insects. They winter in Mexico so we missed them.  Did you know that they are the only mammal that flies.  They have fur instead of feathers, and they also give birth and nurse their young.

     Bisbee, AZ, once known as “Queen of the Copper Camps,” offers a blend of history, architecture, romance, and adventure all wrapped up in the rugged splendor of a charming Old West mining town. 

                                             Lavender Pit Mine
                                               Abandoned open copper pit mine

     Bisbee had a reputation of sophisticated élan but it was also a rough and tumble mining camp. Their famed red-light district in Brewery Gulch, boasted nearly 50 saloons and almost as many brothels.  During its hey day it was considered the wildest street in North America. Well-know wild women offered their charms to miners, gamblers, and a string of millionaire investors. This tiny village, once a copper mining town, has the first rural Smithsonian Affiliate museum in the nation that showcases the historical influence of mining. The building that houses the museum is a National Historic Landmark and is the cornerstone of Bisbee’s Historic District.






Paintings on risers of steps near old brothel area



     In 1877, a reconnaissance detail of scouts and cavalrymen were sent to the Mule Mountains, a north-south range running through southern Arizona, in search of renegade Apaches. Instead, they found signs of copper. The first mining claim was staked in what would later become the City of Bisbee. This claim sent prospectors scurrying to the Mule Mountains in hopes of striking it rich.  Today, Bisbee has transformed itself into a quirky, artsy town that offers historic lodging, fine dining, museums, art galleries, and antique shops. There’s nearby hiking, biking, and birding opportunities.




       I found the town’s architecture to be quite interesting. The Sheriff’s Office and Justice Court is a Classical Revival-style building with lovely large columns topped with ionic capitals and dented cornice. In Brewery Gulch, there is a building built by a Serbian immigrant in 1906, with Romanesque Revival with Neo-Classical influence. It makes for an impressive entrance to the Brewery Saloon. Strolling down Brewery Ave you can see an ever-changing assortment of architectural styles once home to residences and businesses. The old city Hall has a cut stone facade and Italiante bell tower. Across from the Brewery is a building with rusticated Italianate influences. Although a “Tiny Town”, everywhere I looked, I saw something to grab my interest. Did you know that St. Elmo is the patron saint of mining?

     Our intentions were to stop in Tombstone but it has kind of become ‘nothing’ and after our experience in Deadwood last year, Tombstone would’ve paled in comparison so we drove right through and on to Tucson.




     Tucson’s Pima Air and Space Museum was also a stop recommended by friends.  In recent years, a conservatory group recognized that the historic World War II and 1950s era aircraft stored on the base were rapidly disappearing into smelters and that the flames were consuming not just metal, but the aviation heritage of our country.




     They began to set aside examples of the many types of aircraft stored in yards. These planes were placed along the base’s fence line so that the public could see them through the fence. The display quickly became very popular with the local community, but viewing the aircraft through the fence was somewhat unsatisfying.







     The first acquisition was a B-24 (not the one above) which is housed in a hanger all by itself aside.   


    


     A swimming friend from decades ago, Ted,  lives in Tucson. We met ever so long ago when we were both active in US Masters Swimming and would participate in Masters Short Course Nationals. Had hoped to get together with them–he’s never met Bill and we’ve never met his wife, Lee, but they were side-lined with a bug. Ted and I were able to enjoy a long phone conversation to re-hash ‘old times’.


     We really liked Tucson and most especially its top attraction, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, with is counted in TripAdvisors Top Ten Museums in the country.  Unlike most museums, about 85% of the experience is outdoors. Its 98 acres is a melding of zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium. 

      The walking paths are laid out through various desert habitats exhibiting 230 animal species, 1200 types of plants, and one of the world’s most comprehensive local mineral collections.

     Our docent was remarkable and fortunately, we were the only 2 in his group. His knowledge was exceptional and there wasn’t a question we asked him (which were legion) that he didn’t know the answer. By the way, their docent program is an intense 15 week training period and is one of the top curriculum in the country.

     This museum is beyond belief and flawlessly choreographed with plantings, paths, aviaries, and sectors for rescued wildlife to live in their natural habitat. It would be easy to spend an entire day there. There is a coffee shop and restaurant for a bite and respite.


     Our Valentine’s Day Dinner was enjoyed atop an eclectic and funky little boutique hotel.


                  Cocktails were memorable over-seen by two glowing pink love birds


                                       Views were spectacular 360 degrees

                                View from the top into the square courtyard

     State capitols and their museums fascinate us and Arizona’s was no exception.


     The AZ Capitol museum serves as a symbol of Arizona’s rich and colorful history, featuring four floors with more than 20 exhibition areas.


                                          The dome of the museum.
                        
               Mosaic state seal on the first floor as viewed from the fourth floor.

     From these stainless sculptures, hangs a plaque of each name of lives lost on the USS Arizona and USS Missouri.


     

     There are many memorials in the park and some that we visited were of the Korean War, 9/11, and Desert Storm.  Each plaque describes Arizona’s contributions and were either dedicated to the participating units or the individuals who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.


     One of our favorite boating couple friends live in Scottsdale, just outside of Phoenix. Luckily, we were able to spend 2 evenings with them for dinner-one in their lovely new home and the other aboard our rolling home. Time spent with them just never seems long enough.


     We took a side trip to Indio, CA, to spend time with Geoff, our son, who was last on the visit-the-son-tour, but not least. Isn’t it considerate of the 5 of them to live along Interstate 10 from AL, to CA?  They sure made it easier for us than if there were spread out—NY, WA, OK, HI, etc. Just a straight shot and we were able to spend time with each of them although it took 2 ½ months. We’re retired and in no hurry and we relish every moment and every single mile to have had those opportunities. 

     
     Geoff was our chauffeur and the 3 of us went to Joshua Tree National Park in CA which lies along the San Andreas Fault, one of the world’s most active tectonic boundaries.  The park’s premier attractions are forests of giant branching yuccas known as Joshua trees, massive rock formations, and numerous desert fauna and flora.  The tree has spiky, succulent leaves and although it could be mistaken for a cactus, instead, it’s a member of the agave family.

     The park covers 794,000 acres with a plethora of hiking trails for all fitness and skill levels.  There are two desert systems there—the Mojave and the Colorado, both abutted to Joshua Tree National Park on the east and west sides.  The Colorado is the western reach of the  Sonoran Desert that we visited a couple weeks prior and is considered “low desert”  compared to the taller, wetter, and more vegetated Mojave “high desert”.  The Colorado seems sparse and forbidding. This is helpful in understanding that the key to their differences is their elevation.




     We were more ‘taken’ with the geologic landscape of the park than with its namesake trees.  How did the rocks take on such sensational shapes and what forces sculpted them? “They say” that the landscape was born more than 100 million years ago. Molten liquid, heated by the continuous movement of Earth’s crust, oozed upward and cooled while still below the surface. These plutonic intrusions are a granitic rock called monzogranite.  Geology is one of the several things I’d like to’ve pursued if I had more than one life but we didn’t need to know anything about geology to enjoy the views here. After taking some time to learn about the forces that sculpted the landscape, I was able to see the park with a fresh set of eyes.



     As ground water trickled down through the monzogranite’s joint fractures, it began to transform some hard mineral grains along its path into soft clay, while it loosened and freed grains that were resistant to the solution. Rectangular stones slowly weathered to orbs of hard rock surrounded by soft clay containing loose mineral grains. Imagine holding an ice cube under the faucet. The cube rounds away at the corners first, because that is the part most exposed to the force of the water. A similar thing happened here but over millions of years, on a much larger scale, and during a much wetter climate.

     

     At depths where the temps are extremely hot, water helped melt the rock into granite magma. It was hot, liquid, and lightweight so that it could ooze upward along deep-seated cracks in the crust that had been fractured by the fierce crunching of the charging plates. The liquid granite could’t force itself all the way up to the surface, so the granite stalled and formed huge, ball-shaped masses with the ancient rock.Over a long period of time, the mammoth blobs of granite cooled and hardened.

     The boulder shapes are so strange and we’ve never seen the likes before.  They look like blocks stacked by a child. Some boulders appear to have carved faces, animals shapes, and other forms. Reminded me of lying in the grass as a child and seeing shapes the clouds formed. There are sets of parallel and vertical fractures within the rock from horizontal stresses from the tectonic plates colliding. Later, the mountain building pushed the rocks upward to form sets of X-shaped cracks in the granite. All cracks provide avenues for rain to seep downward through the rocks to etch and shape and round the originally angular blocks into the array of forms seen today.


     As the huge eroded boulders were exposed, they began to settle one on top of another, creating those imposing rock piles that caused our jaws to drop. The scenery is unequivically mythical, hallucinatory and paranormal all at once.   Add a couple of melting watches and Salvador Dali would feel right at home here.

    
                                                     Bill and Geoff

    
     
                                                          Bill and Laura
     Keys View “look out”, in the park at 5185 feet was breath-taking. We were able to overlook a sweeping panorama of an arid desert basin, Coachella Valley and Signal Mountain in Mexico. This was such a visual treat!!! 



 To say that Bill’s a car aficionado would indubitably be an understatement. He had a “Bill Day” and bet you can already guess where he headed! When Barrett-Jackson has televised auctions, he’s glued to the goings-on. B-J has entertained enthusiasts from all over the world for 46 years and are widely regarded as a barometer of the collector car industry. There wasn’t an auction in progress but they have a show room of collectables or eye candy for Bill.
                                                            Barrett-Jackson
                                                            Scottsdale, AZ




                                         Martin’s Auto Museum
                                                 Phoenix, AZ



     We’re back in Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale for a week, giving us time to relax and enjoy the city. We’ve had a blast riding the Light Rail here and talk about a “cultural experience”. Bike/Hike trails are plentiful so we rode our bikes for miles exploring the cities and enjoying the Salt River activities.   

                   



    
  
     Superstition Mountain, 50 miles east of Phoenix, was calling us. As we drove east the massive and stunningly beautiful Superstition Mountain range was in full view during our entire drive. We needed to go there to the museum to dig up the dirt on a couple of tales surrounding the area.We were curious as to how it got its name and why it’s rumored that more hikers disappear there than anywhere else. I asked one of the docents and he had no idea and said no one had ever asked him that before. Strange, thought I, that he’d never even wondered that himself.


     I digress…next to the Grand Canyon, the Superstition Mountain range is the most photographed and painted landmark in AZ.


     So where does the “superstition” portion of its name come from?? There are several different versions of that answer. in the late 1860’s, local farmers gave the mountain it’s final name.


     Through the Pima Indians, the farmers of the Salt River Vally had heard stories about strange sounds, people who vanished, mysterious deaths, and a inclusive fear of the mountain.


     This influenced the farmers to believe the Pimas were superstitious about this particular mountain so thus the name Superstition Mountain was born.


     On the grounds of the museum is Apacheland Movie Ranch dating back to 1959. The founders envisioned it as becoming the Western Movie Capital of the World but the dream was never realized. It did have a long history of being a shooting site for many Western TV series, movies, and commercials. Many famous celebrities and move stars did grace the grounds of Apacheland Movie Ranch.


    Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, an iconic landmark on the museum grounds, is so named because it played a prominent role in the Elvis Presley movie, Charro!  in 1968.





    

     Boot Hill is the museum’s own version of an Old West cemetery where gunfighters who died with their boots on would be laid to rest. This plot is funny with epitaphs written for the likes of gunfighter, Lester Moore and Sheriff Jack.



     Please pardon the many photos which don’t do justice to these beautiful mountains and breath taking landscape. I just couldn’t omit any of them.








     Almost time to head east and swap modes of transportation. Stay tuned.


Bill and Laura Bender
Mesa, AZ





Austin – San Marcus – Denton – Grapevine – Fredericksburg – San Antonio – Terlinguas – Big Bend State and National Parks – Alpine – Fort Davis – Odessa

    

     New Year’s Day we said our goodbyes to son, Matt, our grand daughters and great grandson, and drove to Austin where we stayed in McKinney Falls State Park. The location was about 5 miles outside of Austin but we had easy access to the city. The park is beautiful with different kinds of birds and other wild life—but we saw only deer. A little wren became our friend and each morning, would come and perch on top of our coach’s side mirror where he would peck, then fly down to the mirror’s base and he’d fly “in place” admiring himself. He was there every single morning except for the morning that we were leaving.








     


    We enjoyed quite a few of the hiking trails in the park, leading to 2 water falls. Looks like nothing’s been moved for decades—lots of fallen trees and old limestone walls that look ancient. 







Love the firemen’s creativity!




     Youngest son, Stephen, lives in Austin and we spent almost every evening with him. Cycling there is great and the very first day we rode the 11 mile trail around Lady Bird Lake—but better known from days of yore as Town Lake. Stephen took us to an old established restaurant to satisfy Bill’s hankering for real TX BBQ’d brisket. He said that sadly, chains and new eateries are buying the small mom and pop businesses, dozing the building and building “new, bigger, and better.” As a bachelor, Stephen eats out more than he prepares food at home so we had a varied and exciting palette of cuisines to enjoy. The oldest TX restaurant is Scholtz Garten and other than a sullen server, our evening there was a delight. 



  Grapevine, TX, a charming little village

A lamplighter in Grapevine
An equestrian out for a trot on a street in Denton, TX

     A very thoughtful gesture was a mid afternoon gathering at another Austin icon of 11 of Stephen’s closest friends for “Meet the Parents”. The opportunity to chat with them, all with varied educational and professional backgrounds, was a great learning experience.


     We were very fortunate to be in Austin when Dana, a sculptor and one of Stephen’s “solid core” friends, had an exhibit at the Dimension Gallery. I love the name of the gallery because it really tells you what you’ll find there. His work is awesome and we felt it a real privilege to be present for his showing. His wife, Felice, also a magnificent artist, was shipping some of her work to London for a lecture/teaching opportunity there.

     Food preparation isn’t something that often occurs in our Rolling Home but I broke the spell and we had Stephen out for dinner. Then he reciprocated by delving into his Cajun roots and rustling up some Étouffée that was mouth-watering. I was very impressed with his presentation of hors d’oeuvres that he’d readied in advance and had them waiting for us.

     He lives close enough to down town to ride his bike and/or walk to interesting places—like Town Lake and restaurants. He led Bill and me on a downtown hilly (!), fun, and exciting bicycle excursion onto paved paths that we hadn’t discovered when we were out on our own. Periodically he’d stop and tell us a bit of history of a particular area.



TX Capitol Dome




                                Door hinges in the Texas Capitol


     The 68 degree Barton Springs has always intrigued me. Stephen swims there often. There is a Deep Eddy Pool that has water from the springs fed into an actual swimming pool complete with black lines and lane lines! His fave is to swim in the actual springs itself, watching fish, turtles, and swaying grasses beneath him as he swims. It took a big dose of nerve for me to plunge into that cold water but, surprisingly, took far less than a minute to acclimate. My swim was our last day there but could make that part of my daily routine if I lived in Austin.  Stephen said 150 people are moving to Austin every day. I chatted with a small business person and told him how much I loved his city and would love to live there.  His manner is rather brusk and he kept repeating himself saying, “Don’t!  Don’t! Don’t! New people are ruining our city.” That seems to be an across the board feeling of Austin’s long-time residents. I just love its outdoorsy-ness—to see people cycling, walking, running, SUP-ing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, practicing yoga——you name it and residents are doing it. Austin-ites love their Barton Springs Park and Lady Bird Lake!
                                 Clad only in a newborn’s sock and 2 strings
(Be relieved that I’m sparing you the side and frontal views which would be sights that you cannot un-see!)




     We drove to San Marcus for Bill to visit an exhibit of restored classic cars and he absolutely LOVED it. Then we visited Denton and were agape at the expansive ranches and trillion dollar homes in the area. We’d never been to Grapevine—I’d thought it was just the hailing port of DFW but it’s the most charming little village and they claim the title of being the Christmas Capitol of TX. Even after Christmas, their decorations remained and every little shop along the main street was festooned for the holiday.

                                        One of the things that makes us smile
                                          Afloat on Town Lake

      Sadly, our Austin time came to an end and we moved on to the German town of Fredericksburg, TX, where we stayed in the Lady Bird Municipal RV Park. I’d never even heard of this town but we spent an entire day walking the streets and poking into many of the little shops. Our day ended at Fredericksburg Winery where we had a fun time talking and laughing with 2 of the employees and came away with their “squeezings” and a bag full of corks to complete my wreath—and the corks have the winery’s name on them! We sauntered into a genuine German restaurant, Aüslander’s. Aüslander is the German word for outsider, foreigner, or tourist. Luckily, our server grew up in Berlin, is a cyclist, and has a family connection in Clemson—a neighbor to Greenville, SC, our city of retirement. We each had a different German beer which went wonderfully with our German dinner. 








     LBJ ranch, Stonewall, TX, was on our way west and we don’t want to pass up too many learning opportunities. The ranch is 1600 acres—absolutely enormous and the driveway to the home takes a very long and circuitous route.


     We stopped for one night in Marathon which has the distinction of being a “Class 1 Dark Sky” (as dark as it gets). Its remote geographic location and elevation all contribute to enhancing this resource.



    Terlingua, our next destination, was an 1880’s mining site for cinnabar from which metal mercury was extracted. The only remnants of the mining days are a cost town of the Chisos Mining Company and several capped and abandoned mines. The cinnabar was known to Native Americans who prized its brilliant red color for body pigment.



     Terlingua Ghost Town holds the largest concentration of mining architecture in the area, restored as shops, restaurants, and homes. Favorite stops include the Starlight Theatre and the front porch of the Trading Post.






    We traveled NW to Ft. Davis to visit the McDonald Observatory, a world leader in astronomical research. This is research arm of UT.


     There’s a place in far west TX where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone; a place where hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in the southwestern sun and the diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend with 800,000 acres of rugged mountains, desert badlands, and towering river canyons—our national treasure.




A Love Heart Cactus Leaf



     We’ve heard so many positive stories over the years of Big Bend National Park. Two of our sons rave about it. One, who’s traveled the world, said it’s the most beautiful place he’s ever been. Andy and Stephen get off the beaten path, hike and backpack, sleeping under the stars. There are 5 visitor centers that help to explain the geology, archeology, and human history of the area. There are many exhibits and paleontological displays. We spent a week exploring and could’ve very well spent much longer. Splendid isolation, the Big Bend!  Words cannot convey the strangeness and supreme melancholy of the landscape there..



     Starting 40 million years ago, a series of volcanic episodes created the Chisos Mountains from lava and igneous formations that metamorphosed limestone and clay and eroded canyons, providing habitats that are countless and diverse.


     The massive cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen appear an unyielding wall. The Rio Grande has carved a gorge 1300 feet deep directly through the escarpment. Boquillas Canyon is so narrow that the entrance is almost invisible from a distance. It looks as if President Trump has already built the wall but I think nature beat him to it.


Between 230 and 280 million years ago, Africa and South America collided with North America creating the Appalachian Mountains.  This rugged mountain chain extended through the Big Bend – Mexican Borderlands region.

While on a hike, this little curley-cue caught my eye.

     This was an unusual tree to see in the middle of a desert. We hiked through the ruins of a resort that closed in the 1940’s and was built with the hot springs as the focal point. The springs are a constant 106 degrees and overflows into the Rio Grande.

The Rio Grande was very shallow and dry in places but here beside the hot springs, it’s flowing mightily.
    I’m fascinated by the striations of the rock.
Bill’s dipping his toes into the hot springs with the raging Rio Grande River behind him.
                               Our new president acted very fast to erect a wall!
Unfortunately, we were here on one of the 2 days a week that the border’s closed. Was looking forward to our row boat crossing.

     The austerity of the cliffs is softened by colors which camera nor pen can reproduce. Every other aspect of vegetation, landscape configuration, and rocks is strange and weird and of a type unfamiliar to anything that, in modern civilization, we’re accustomed to seeing.


    


     A drive to the Chisos Basin was a way to experience the transition between arid desert and cooler mountain habitats. The scenic, winding road rises over 2000 feet above the desert floor offering vistas of the mountain peaks and the basin area caused by erosion.

     Our trip to Rio Grande Village took us over ancient limestone and wonderful views of the magnificent Sierra del Carmens. We continued to Boquillas Crossing but they were closed that day. We did see excellent views of the Rio Grande as it enters the canyon.

     2 of our sons had really promoted the Santa Elena Canyon and when we hiked it, we were not disappointed. The limestone cliffs rise 1500 feet above the Rio Grande. We wished for a geologist and/or archeologist to answer our many questions about the geologic splendor that was all around us.

     Big Bend is an oasis of darkness giving those who want to escape the bounds of the city; a place to revert to a time when nature was part of the human existence. This helps preserve not only darkness for the benefit of people, more importantly, they allow flora and fauna to thrive in environments that each and every species evolved to exist in—cycles of light and dark, varying in length only by the seasons, for millions of years.

     Big Bend NP is one of the darkest places in the lower 48 states. It’s a place of solitude, where people can recapture a part of themselves that in many cases has been suppressed by careers, distance, time, or anything the keeps them from being in nature.

     In addition to defining the curve that forms the Big Bend, the Rio Grande also serves as the International boundary between the US and Mexico




            Rio Grande River separating Mexico and the United States

     Our month of January ends with us in Odessa, TX, having the San Antonio repair repaired.



       Odessa’s Stonehenge Replica on the campus of UT of the Permian Basin. 


Bill and Laura
























Superstition

Originally posted on Hilldowdy1.com:
2017 Watercolors on paper, yarn and driftwood

December 2016 Wildwood – Ocala – Orlando – Tops’l Preserve – Ft. Picken’s, FL – Daphne, AL – Biloxi, MS – Alexandria, Shreveport, LA – Longview – Lewisville – Dallas, TX

     
     Our 2nd day in The Villages provided an opportunity to “rest up” so we took our bikes to a local shop to have their periodic checkups. Should be ready Friday which’ll give our ‘sit-upons’ a much needed rest. Also, day 2 of a technician searching for an electrical connect which seems to be elusive. The hourly rate isn’t peanuts, either, so hope it reveals itself soon because it’s gotta be identified.


     We discussed our take on The Villages, population 157,000 of those 55 and older. It is TOO homogenous for me. Of all the people we saw, they were every one white caucasians. Every conversation we heard was only English. There wasn’t a single child or young adult visible. Don’t think I could ever settle in a community where everybody looked the same, spoke the same, acted the same, were the same age and all living in little cookie cutter houses. The property is very well maintained—lawn maintenance folks are working all the time and everywhere we looked was pristine. Despite the recreational facilities available, SO many of them are grossly overweight. In their little golf carts, regardless of gender, their bellies were just flopped over into their laps.

     We’re still in the RV Infirmary and hope we don’t end up in the Big House before we’re sprung. This place has far too many “Thou shalt nots”. The Villages Mafia wear yellow shirts and they’re everywhere AND seems we’re always transgressing. There are 81 pools here. I’ve not seen them all but the ones I have seen have lane lines, back stoke flags and not a soul in them. I’m so tempted to take advantage of one but I think the Yellow Shirts hide in the trees and I’d be nabbed for sure.



     Those who live there apparently love it but, as our vagrant life style attests, we’re free spirits and don’t want our lives choreographed for us. It’s a beautiful place and extremely well maintained. There’s a definite palatable social strata and you can feel it hanging in the air–from the village you live in to the fanciness of the customization of your golf cart. I don’t want to live and play with a bunch of other old folks but among many ages and varied ethnic groups. I’ll step down off my soap box now.

     We’re en route to an Apple Store in Orlando. Last night I plugged a USB into my Mac and it must’ve driven a spike into its heart. It’s deader than a door nail. Thank goodness for AppleCare!!!! Were it not for that, I’d be forking over $500+ for a new logic board.  It’s being shipped tomorrow to the ER and will be back by Friday and good as new. 

     While in Orlando, we took advantage of a little sight seeing. We strolled the park and around Lake Eola where we found these beautiful swans and fountain.


Fountain in the center of Lake Eola


                                  Lake Eola Swans
   
      Bill cycled 55 miles through The Villages and said he still didn’t see it all. The paved paths are wonderfully maintained—no roots poking up through the asphalt to rattle your teeth, plentiful water and potty stops. This is a superb place for bike riding. 

      A Liv bicycle rep was in The Villages offering trial rides on 2 of their new carbon bikes. I first rode the Avail Advanced Pro 1 weighing 13# and with electronic shifting which was a new experience for me. I LOVED it and it absolutely FLIES!!! Then I rode their Envie Advanced Pro 1 at 16#–shorter wheel base and not as sleek and fast as the Avail. When we moved aboard in ’08, I had to sell my road bike  so I just needed to get on one again to remember how good cycling fast feels. Our Bike Fridays are not machines of extraordinary speed. They are fun and do serve their purpose of being our land transportation when we’re on our boat. I love my BF but Liv is pretty dad gum awesome. 


    
      A trip to Silver Springs was a trip down Memory Lane for both of us. 65 years ago Bill came here with his family and for me, ’twas about 70 years ago when I was here with my family. Almost impossible to fathom the speed of those past years. “Life is but a vapor.”




    
      Our coach is repaired and ready to go but not as much as we’re ready to head out. Two weeks in one place is about our limit for being stationary.





     I’ve heard of Santa Rosa Beach all my life but never ventured in an easterly direction. This is our first visit here and I’m even a native!!! The beach is tucked in a stretch between high-rises. Very desolate in a good way. The only noise is the crashing sounds of the surf. Forgot how much I’ve missed this. I knew Destin to Pensacola in detail like the back of my hand.  I’ve heard of Mexico Beach, Grayton Beach, Rosemary Beach, Blue Mountain Beach but until mid December, never visited any of them. We are staying in a state park preserve so there is a stretch of two or 3 miles along the beach where it remains natural with no high-rises or other signs of civilization. A wonderful place to beach walk and cycle and we loved being there.  




       


     The colored leaves represent a north FL mid-December 






     Bill took a nap and I was planning to paint but the melody of a soundly sleeping man was very enticing so was either give in to a nap or go walk the beach. I chose #2 and loved ever step I took. Totally deserted beach. Perfect temp. Found myself laughing out loud, talking to the sand pipers, encouraging the waves to surge a little harder–if anybody had heard me, I’d be in a straight jacket by now. 




                                                           My footprints.
                               

                                 A funny little design made by a receding wave. 



     Just basking in the glow of a dazzling afternoon of dancing through an incoming tide of the Gulf of Mexico.

A sea slug that emits purple ink


     We cycled the Timpoochee Trail that traces the shoreline of the Gulf and Hwy 30A through forests, marshlands, beach side communities, lakes, shops, and restaurants. We had lunch at a great little dive on 30A—Stinky’s Fish Camp and it was delicious. How could you not want to stop and eat at a place with a name like Stinky’s???? 

A shot of Stinky’s bar



     The name caught my attention and it was also recommended by a 60 year old surfer woman who’s lived there in Blue Mountain all her life. Her husband makes surf and paddle boards. She was a very interesting person. Glad we met her. No photos from our excursion but vivid visual memories.

A mystery boat washed up on the shore on Pensacola Beach

     On to Fort Pickens State Park. I DO know that area and I’m looking forward to seeing it from a motor coach vantage point. This is the whitest sand– overcast day but the brilliance of the sand is still blinding. 


Large prop outside Joe Patti’s
     No trip to Pensacola is complete without at least one trip to Joe Patti’s.This is a prop on display in front of the business at Joe Patti’s. My only aunt, Aunt Annie Ruth, and her daughter, my cousin, beautiful Debby came out for a Christmas visit and steamed shrimp—from Joe Patti’s! 





Debby, Aunt Annie Ruth, and Laura
It’s slim pickins’ for relatives in my family, other than my progeny, so it’s always a huge treat to spend time with them.


    
Two little girls playing in Ft.Pickens National Park’s camping area

     While in Pensacola, we were delighted to reconnect with Andy and Tony at the Grand Marlin, Pensacola Beach. We were too busy talking non-stop to remember to take photos. We had a wonderful holiday visit and look forward to our next shared moments.


      
    Continuing westward to Daphne, AL, we were able to catch up with Pam and Billy who live in a neighboring town of Fairhope, AL. They are long time boating friends but it’s been 5 years since we’ve seen them and what a warm reunion we had!



Bill, Billy, Pam, and Laura
     Our eldest son, Chad, and his son, Zac, live in Daphne and we spent the weekend with them.







                                                                  #1 son, Chad




      Every Sunday night, all of their friends know that Chad puts a huge number of chicken quarters on his grill and makes his famous potato salad. Everyone has a standing invitation to come over about 6-ish and chow down. After everyone is quite sated, they all settle down and watch a movie. What a sweet tradition and wonderful way to stay in touch with Zac’s friends and their parents. It was fun to meet their buds in a casual setting like the Sunday night gathering. 


     


     On Monday, Zac had a 16th birthday. He has his wheels and all he needed was a drivers’ license so he and his dad were at the DMV at 7:30 that morning.



Zac and his new truck

     Chad and Zac are back to work and we continue to MS. We stopped at the state’s Welcome Center and found it located in an exquisite Southern home with the most hospitable people working there. Their Christmas decorations were so beautiful!







Biloxi, MS, Light
Biloxi’s Beau Rivage
     


     An Alexandria, LA, reunion with friends, Judy and Sandra, whom I’ve not seen for 40+ years, was very high on my list of ‘anticipations’. When we lived there, they were 2 of my dearest friends. After our happy and endless hugs, conversationally we picked up just where we left off many years ago. Friendships like that are unparalleled treasures. The restaurant more or less ran us out so they could close and it felt as if we didn’t have nearly long enough to catch up but there’ll always be a next time. What an indelible and magnificent  evening.
Judy, Laura, and Sandra
Alexandria, LA



     During a refueling stop, these two guys stopped and asked where are we from in FL. They’re en route to San Diego and began their cycling trip in Tampa. Their bikes were clunkers. Their saddles are those big old folks bike seats. Their attire from the waist down was not conducive to cycling. But good for them for getting this far–to central LA, with less than adequate outfitting.






      Once upon a time, I lived in Shreveport, LA, prior to my move to the Carolinas. I just had an impressive and significant good fortune to reconnect with two long-time dear friends of 43 years and these treasures I’ve not seen for 26 years.  Marion, 95, lives in a Memory Care facility and chatting with her was something I’ll always treasure. The world she lives in is exceptionally fascinating. Her skin is still so beautiful and belies her age. She retains, unique to her, cute facial expressions that I learned to love almost a half century ago as well as her vast and very interesting vocabulary. 

Therapy dogs who live in the Memory Care facility, Shreveport, LA

      The other delight was a visit with Jan, one of the kindest and sweetest women I’ve ever known. She was my rock during some challenging growing pains long ago.




                                                                Jan and Laura
                                                                Shreveport, LA

      We continued westward to Longview, TX. Our first night there we soaked up every second of a 3 hour dinner with our son, Andy and daughter-in-law, Whitney. We are so excited about spending Christmas with them and their precious children.

This lovely and elegant stairway makes the perfect frame for the tree in their new home.

                                        Looks as if Santa may’ve made a stop.







             Joy, the perfect name for this 105# Harlequin Great Dane.



Izzi, our 13 year old and an absolute delight!

                                   A 12 year old entertainer, Joseph.
Precious 7 year old Grayson who’s missing 2 front teeth. What could be cuter?

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                                          #3 son Andy and Izzi

     We said “goodbye” to our Longview, TX, family and traveled on to visit Matt and his family of 4 daughters in the Dallas area. We’re on Lewisville Lake for 5 nights and nothing’s a bike ride away here but we got together for a delicious meal with him, Hailey who’s 26; Morgan, 21, and a student at A&M; Lily, 9; and Kate, 17.

After a delightful dinner, they came out for a visit and to see our rolling home. Hopefully we’ll get to spend more time with them this week.

                                                 #2 son, Matt

         This campground, Lake Lewisville Park, is city owned/maintained and we’re thoroughly enjoying our stay here. We hiked a 4.8 mile cement trail through the park and enjoyed the solitude of nature.


     Sounds kinda corny and hokey but we enjoy an old fashioned bus tour of a city to learn its history and get an overview and orientation so we did that in Dallas. The guide was excellent and he took us back to November 1962

A beautiful fountain on property of First Baptist Church, Dallas, that occupies 5 city blocks.

 The boarding house where Lee Harvey Oswell lived. We were able to go inside to see his bedroom and living room.  Kinda eerie!

Christmas tree downtown decorated with car parts. Bill wanted to adopt it and take it home.
Our 1 and only great grandson, Tristan
Dinner at the Iron Cactus, downtown Dallas
Bill, Laura, Matt, Tristan, Kate, and Lily
Captured this at the risk of looking like a Country Bumpkin and craning my neck!
Old City Hall
Old City Hall

Bronze cattle drive through downtown Dallas
49 bulls and 3 trail riders

Reunion Tower

     New Year’s Eve in Dallas is our last night here before we move on to Austin. We wish each of you a healthy and save New Year!

Bill and Laura
Dallas, TX