All posts by Al Simons

Big Mountains, Giant Trees

We’ve left our winter home of Quartzsite, AZ, and are headed north—initially to Vancouver, BC, to visit our daughter Beth’s family. Can’t wait! As much as we enjoyed being in the desert in Quartzsite (thank you BLM!), it is good to be on the road again and seeing new things.

Our second stop was in Three Rivers, CA, just outside the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park, the second National Park (what was the first???). Nestled in the western flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the scenery was gorgeous!

There is a downside to being surrounded by mountains… No cell signal. Nada. Zilch. Zip. It made us long for the very slow connectivity in Quartzsite! However, the campsite had a poor WiFi signal—I think through a satellite—so we could occasionally check our mail / Facebook messages. Sigh. We’re addicted to the net.

The restaurant we went to for breakfast was using dial-up to tie into their credit card system. When was the last time you heard the dulcet (!?) tones of a dial-up modem?

The reason for being here was to go into Sequoia NP, so let’s get to it!

The major attraction here is the trees, of course. In terms of volume (mass), the giant sequoias are the largest living trees. Coastal redwoods can grow taller, but they have a smaller diameter, and don’t retain that diameter at higher heights as much as sequoias do. The sequoias are limited in height due to limits on the capillary action which brings water and nutrients up from the root system. The redwoods can take in moisture through their leaves more efficiently, and thus grow higher than capillary action by itself would allow. (The ranger giving the talk accused the redwoods of “cheating!”—he must be a sequoia fan)

Note the building for scale!

We went up into the mountains to see the tree named “General Sherman,” the largest known living tree in the world, in terms of volume. The diameter at the base is greater than 36 feet! And the volume of its trunk is more than 52,000 CUBIC FEET. It is up at around 6,900 feet elevation; getting there was fun. Vehicles over 22 feet long are prohibited from making the drive. Our truck is exactly 22 feet; we can see why longer vehicles are excluded!

Unfortunately, I forgot to dump the dashcam that evening, and the video of the drive got overwritten. However, here are a few pics showing the road.

I don’t want to think about the effort it took to create the road! The designers did an excellent job of siting it; with very few exceptions the road above you is invisible. Looking down (way down), you can occasionally see the path ahead of you.

Yes. That’s road WAAAY down there!
All those sections of road that you can see are one road, back and forth and back and …
A portrait of the artist.

We were particularly taken with this roadside wall construction; it is so different from what we were used to at Acadia!

Smooth, flat walls, with a precise 90° corner to the smooth, flat top.

What were we talking about? Oh, yes. The trees!

General Sherman. World’s largest living tree
Can you find Kathe?

There are 75 known groves of giant sequoias in the world. The adjacent Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks protect “over 30” (NPS statistic) of those groves. (Three more groves are protected in nearby Yosemite NP.) General Sherman is in the grove named Giant Forest, an apt name if ever there was one. It contains 2,161 sequoias with a base diameter of over ten feet.

The sequoias live for a very long time. The ages of General Sherman and “The Sentinel” (near the museum in Giant Forest) are both estimated to be 2,200 years (“plus or minus 600 years,” according to one research article, we were told by a ranger). A page in the Yosemite NP site refers to a sequoia 3,266 years old, but is written in the past tense, so it may not still be living. Yes, you can buy giant sequoia seeds in the gift shop, but you’d better will them to your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren!

The Sentinel—at least, a part of it!
The base of The Sentinel, showing fire damage.

Giant sequoias require fire to reproduce! The fire does two things. It causes the seed cones (should these be called “sequoia cones,” like “pine cones?”) to open and release their seeds, and it removes the debris covering the forest floor so that the seeds can reach the soil and take root. A decades-long policy of complete fire suppression resulted in unhealthy groves with dense underbrush of other trees. That policy has been reversed, allowing some fires to take their natural course; the groves are regaining their health and there are now immature giant sequoias of different ages growing in the forest. There are few trees in the Giant Forest that do not bear signs of fire. Fortunately, they are able to withstand the fires, in part due to a bark that is up to two feet thick.

With a person for scale.
Amazingly, still alive!

A good portion of the park is still closed due to snow. It is hard to believe that only a few days ago we were in the desert, with the temps in the high 80’s. When we drove through the park gate, the ranger told us, “You can’t go through to King’s Canyon. The road is closed due to last night’s avalanche.” Never been told that before!

Speed limit…. BLANK? Let’s go fast!

In addition to the trees, the park has high mountains, deep valleys, and fast flowing streams.

Do they really need to say this?
We’re really both still traveling together!

Before Europeans discovered this area, indigenous people were here. There is at least one site with pictographs; quite possibly more that they don’t tell visitors about.

Pictographs at Hospital Rock

And we found this “community kitchen” fascinating.

Grinding holes worn into the rock in the kitchen
Can you get acorn flower at Whole Foods?

We enjoy visiting parks “out of season;” not only are the crowds thinner (sometimes non-existent), but it also forces you to come back again to see the parts that are currently closed! Lots more to see here.

Our next post will probably be from the Oregon coast… See you there!

More than anywhere else in the world

A short post, for a change…

More than anywhere else in the world is a pretty bold claim. But that is just what Los Algodones, Mexico claims. More dentists in a four-block area (the size of the town center / business district) and more dentists per-capita than anywhere else on the face of the earth. According to one report, more than 350 dentists.

Going from just outside Yuma, AZ to Los Algodones Mexico is fairly simple. You walk through a turnstile. No checks, no passports, no guards (at least no visible guards). We crossed the border just to take a look see; we had nothing in mind that we needed to get there.

I tend to believe the claim about dentists! The montage below is a small sampling of the photos I took of the dental storefronts.

Just SOME of the dentist shop-front signs! Yes, an ad for honey was on one of the dentist signs. Drumming up business?

And it isn’t just dentists. Los Algodones is a mecca for American and Canadian snowbirds, for dentists, drugs (prescription), and glasses (couldn’t think of an alliterative “d” word for vision things). It is said that on a typical winter day, there are more Canadians in Los Algodones than Mexicans. I’m sure that the same could be said for the Americans.

As you can see from the montage, the dentists offer everything from simple cleanings to implants, the optical stores go from vision tests through delivery of the glasses, and in the pharmacies, no prescriptions are apparently needed. We didn’t make use of them (our medicare drug plan is great), but a neighbor here in Quartzsite told us you just tell them what you’re taking. Simply ‘mazing.

The usual caveats apply. Do your homework. Get recommendations. Talk to your doctor about using Mexican drugs. But we know someone who has been using a dentist there for 15 years, and have been told of a retired dentist who goes there (“a friend of a friend,” so apply judgement). Are Mexican cleanings in our future next year? Maybe. Implants? That would take a lot of convincing.

The prices are much, much lower than in the states and Canada, and everything is negotiable. “How much is this?” “Forty dollars.” “Sorry, too much; have a nice afternoon.” “Wait! How much do you want to pay?” And so it begins.

Let me tell you, Kathe is one good bargainer! One item she got was a dollar over half the original price.

Los Algodones has one business: selling to the snowbirds. We happened to go there on the day they were having a “Goodbye and thanks, snowbirds” party. There were tent booths on the streets with free food and booze… and lines… which we didn’t partake of. But they also had a stage with performances by several dance schools. We stayed there for a while.

In addition to the high profile items (dentists, drugs, and glasses), the people of Los Algodones are happy to sell you other things as well! Leather goods, hats, clothes, jewelry, etc. In addition to the stalls on every sidewalk, there are merchants walking the streets and the restaurants offering you items to buy.
“No, thank you.” … “No, thank you.” … “No, thank you.”

“Shoeshine mister? Ten bucks.” “No thanks.” “They need it.” Well, yeah, they did, but I wasn’t in the mood.

Being a geek, one of the things that struck me was the tangle of overhead wires (phone and power). As much as I dislike “telephone” poles and overhead wires in the US, this was overhead wiring of an entirely other order!

We only spent about three hours there; we just wanted to see what all the talk was about. We did have a nice shrimp taco lunch (not all that much cheaper than it would have been in Quartzsite), and then we headed back.

Remember how simple it was to get into Mexico? Well, to come back to the US, we walked across the border, too. But that’s where the similarity ended. Passports, Customs and Border Protection personnel, and a 38-minute line. Can’t complain though. We’re told that later in the day the line can be two hours!

Trivia: Los Algodones is the nickname for Vicente Guerrero. It means “Molar City.”

Sorry, no sunset for this post; we were back in the US and our car by 1:00 PM!

“Paging Dr. Seuss!”

Joshua Tree National Park is a great playground with varied terrain; large portions are covered with myriad granite structures. Some are weathered and rounded, with large smooth (-ish) boulders in the area. Some are jagged with rubble scree at their base instead of the boulders. The geology of the area is complex. From what I’m reading, some of that difference depends on the depth of the magma that was the source. The crystalline structure of much of the granite is quite large and rough; this draws rock climbers from all around the world. We saw many there.

We traveled to Joshua Tree NP with friends James and Gloria, whom we met first at the Grand Design RV Owners’ rally back in January. James is a ham radio operator, so we also went to the Quartzfest gathering together.

The park has two very different ecosystems, the Mojave desert and the Colorado desert; they are distinguished by elevation with the Mojave much higher than the Colorado. Vegetation and animals are different between the two, with the higher Mojave being both wetter and more vegetated, and the Colorado more arid. We spent our first two days in the Mojave desert on the north side of the park, which contains the majority of the Joshua Trees.

The northern part, Mojave desert

The scale of some of the rock formations is hard to get across in pictures, until you see some with people in them. Can you find the four climbers in the picture below? Hint: one of them is the climber in the picture above.

Climbers’ playground! And a nice place for us to pause for lunch and to watch.
No people in this one (to the best of my knowledge!) But trust me; it is big. Larger than the surfaces the climbers were using.
Can you find Kathe?
With rocks like these, who needs a gym???

Joshua trees

Have you ever looked at the trees in Dr. Seuss’ books, such as the cover of The Lorax? It is said that the Joshua trees are the inspiration for his Truffula trees; he lived and worked in the southern California area.

They are oddly shaped! Twisty and gnarly. But oh, so cool to look at.

Kathe and James, both looking for the best picture of this tree.

Technically, Joshua Trees aren’t trees, but related to the agave. They are long lived, typically living several hundred years. The visitor center was selling Joshua Tree seeds and a little, itty-bitty pot to plant them in. Might work, if the person buying them can wait a few hundred years!

We were very lucky to be there while the Joshua Trees were blooming. There are several fairly distinct stages to the bloom cycle.

The lower right picture is a fully formed bloom. Not a usual “flower” structure!
Art in nature!
Joshua tree blooms
Another tree in bloom. It seems to be a young tree, but that’s a guess.

A part of the Mojave desert portion of the park holds a Joshua tree forest. It isn’t a dense forest, but there sure are a lot of Joshua trees!

A view of the forest; the tree in the foreground is blooming.

A few more pictures of scenes from the Mojave part of the park that I just found visually magnetic.

Yes, there is vegetation other than Joshua trees//

Life in the desert is hard. Even for the cholla (CHOY-ah) cacti. The lace-like skeleton of the cholla is interesting.

Do you know the purpose of this mesh-like construction? I don’t. Another year’s free subscription to our blog to whoever dreams up the funniest answer.

But life tries hard to find a foothold! (“roothold”?)

The transition zone

Where the two deserts meet is called the “transition zone.” Overlooking the transition zone is the highest point in the park reachable by vehicle, Keys View.

Looking southwest, toward the Colorado desert. The Coachella Valley in the midground is nearly a mile below us. The dark stripe on the right a little above the midpoint is a section of the San Andreas fault which runs through the valley. Just to the left of the picture is the Salton Sea, at 230 feet below sea level.

Although the transition zone contains animals from both sections, we saw very little wildlife in the park at all, just a few lizards. We’re just as glad that we didn’t see any of the rattlesnakes which are starting to come out as the days grow warmer. (People camping near us in Quartzsite have seen them!)

The Colorado desert

It is possible to drive from the northern part of the park to the southern part through the park but it is an approximately two hour drive due to the speed limit in the park. We opted to pick up our stakes and bring our rigs to the southern entrance, going around the west side of the park. Part of the reason for moving instead of just doing the southern part as a day trip from the north is that this brought us that much closer to “home,” i.e., Quartzsite.

Going around the park that way on I-8 (or, “the 8,” out here) one comes across this.

Think this is a windy stretch of road?

If you’re hauling an RV as we were, you better hope it isn’t a windy day! But we’re really glad to see large wind and solar farms. This one went on for miles; it is the largest we had seen since Texas.

There is a BLM dry camping area immediately outside the park at the southern entrance (the area abuts the park). This turned out to be one of the prettiest places we have ever camped, with desert flowers blooming right alongside our camper and all around us, and mountains in the background. We would go back there in a heartbeat!

Desert lupine, smaller than the kind we have in Maine. Nice campsite!

The southern part of the park has few Joshua Trees. Being more arid, the main vegetation here is various types of cacti. The main draw there, especially this time of year, is the desert bloom—at least it was for us.

This has been an exceptional year for the bloom.  We didn’t go to two highly reported areas, one near Tucson and one in Southern California where the authorities had to close a town of 60,000 people when 100,000 people tried to come photograph the flowers one Sunday.

But Joshua Tree was really pretty!

Fields of flowers in the desert.

The Cholla Garden

“Be careful! They’ll jump out at you and attack you!” Gloria warned us as we were getting out of the car at the Cholla (CHOY-ah) Garden section of the park.

The Cholla Garden

“Yeah. Ha ha ha ha.” That’s me, of course. (You’d think I would have learned by now…)

Cholla are well guarded, but those needles are for transportation, not protection!

Cholla cacti spread by dropping small sections to the ground which then take root. The dropped sections are transported by passing animals, including those of the homo sapiens variety. See all those needles? Barbed!

I was walking through the garden being careful to not brush against cacti. Then the wind blew a small dropped section against my boot. Instantly about twenty needles were stuck in the leather (thank goodness that I wasn’t wearing sandals or even regular low shoes)! Did I mention that the needles are barbed? Trying to pull the needles out of my boot’s heavy leather simply resulted in them breaking off.

The cholla bloom isn’t a typical flower.

We really enjoyed our three days in JTNP. There is much more to do there, including several hikes we’d like to take. We’ll be back.

So closes another portion of our adventure. We wish you the best on your own adventure through life, whatever it may be!

Camping is tough when you have to put up with scenes like this every evening! The view from our BLM campsite south of Joshua Tree NP.

Sunrise, Sunset: swiftly FLY the days

Each sunset marks another day of our adventure together.

Al: “I retired seven months ago today.”

Kathe: “That’s not possible!”

We’ve been living here on the desert for over three months. The time has gone by so quickly. We are now starting to plan our spring and summer travel; it is almost time to leave.

We’ve come to love it here on the desert. At our own choosing, we can be quiet or busy—with friends or on our own.  And, with apologies to all our family and friends still in the colder climes, the weather hasn’t been too bad, either!

Palm Canyon

Last week, we went with some friends to Palm Canyon, in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. According to this, it is the last place in Arizona that California palm trees grow in their native environment. A nice one-mile in-and-out walk, it was our first time up actually near the mountains that surround us.

Entrance to the NWR: Several miles down a dirt road.
We’re walking back in there! The start of the Palm Canyon trail, yet several more miles down the dirt road.
Kathe, on the trail!
Surrounded by the remains of volcanos

A comment I had read on the net said that the viewing point was a half mile up the trail, but that the palms themselves could be reached in an additional third of a mile “up a fairly steep trail.”

Yeah. Got rope?

At the viewing point.
“Up a fairly steep trail.” Yeah.
A closer view. Longer lens; we didn’t go toward the palms past the viewing point!

The desert is greening up. We’ve apparently had an unusually large amount of rain this winter. A person we met on the trail said that in a normal year, this scenery would be brown.

Not lush like in non-desert areas, but there is green there!

And we’re starting to see some flowers blooming. We hope to see more of the “desert bloom” when we go to Joshua Tree National Park in California for a few days this week.

The “ghost flower” (Mohavia Confertiflora). The petals are translucent!

Et cetera

So what else have we been doing these “desert days?” Some of it we’ve written about before, like Kathe’s quilting, the rock and gem shows, and our trip to visit Mike’s family over Christmas.

Out of town

We had been warned that for a few weeks in January Quartzsite is an overcrowded madhouse with long lines, terrible traffic in town and so on due to multiple rock and gem shows, and a big RV show. Additionally, the population on the LTVA (BLM’s Long Term Visitors Area), where we are living, swells. We wanted to avoid all that humanity if we could.

Fortunately in addition to the LTVA, the BLM has six “fourteen day” camping locations in the Quartzsite area. These sites have no services whatsoever, but are free to camp in for 14 days. After that you have to leave for at least fourteen days. If you want to continue to use free BLM land in that time period, you must move at least 25 miles away.

We were fortunate that we had two back-to-back events at a fourteen day area three miles farther out of town than we normally reside: a (yes, another) Grand Design RV owners’ rally, and a ham radio gathering, “Quartzfest.” These allowed us to avoid the worst of the Q-crush. Just to experience the big RV show in town we did ride our bikes there one afternoon; no way we were going to try to drive in and find a parking space. For all the hype surrounding the “big tent” show, we were unimpressed.

Quilt Show!

We had fun helping with the Quartzsite Quilt Show put on by the local quilting group Kathe is part of! I helped set up (and tear down) the exhibit space, and Kathe was busy before, during, and after the show. The quilts were quite impressive.

“Wolf Maiden” by Janet Nieuwenhoff. More than 68,000 1/4-inch squares.
“Hummingbird” by Kathy Chesher
“Running Free” by Kathy Chesher and granddaughter Kaylee Wilcox
“Storm at Sea” by Cara Osmin

Road Trip: Yuma

We spent a week in the Yuma area, staying at BLM’s Imperial Dam LTVA in California with “blast from the past” friends, Henk and Mary.

Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912; Yuma had Arizona’s first prison, in use from 1876 to 1909. A portion of the prison, now called the “Territorial Prison,” is preserved as a state park (part was long ago demolished to make way for a railroad line). There is a museum with many displays about prison life. One showed interesting information about the prisoner demographics; some that stuck out to me were that most of the prisoners were considered to be literate, and virtually all used tobacco of one form or another.

Entrance sally port into the prison.
Some of the timeline stones…
The original cell block. The doors had a second identical grate about 18″ inside; the two were interlocked so that it was impossible to open both at the same time. Only a few of the cells still have this mechanism intact.
The “new” cell block. The interlocked double-gate mechanism seen in the old cell block did not seem to be used here. (Remember, the prison was shut down in 1909.)

The territorial prison had enlightened leadership. From one of the museum displays:

The Prison had more modern amenities than most homes in Yuma, and Yumans resented that.

  • Electricity
  • Forced Ventilation
  • Sanitation, including two bathtubs and three showers
  • A library with 2,000 books, the most in the Territory at the time
  • Enlightened, progressive administration
  • Even a Prison Band!

Some of the cells are open to enter, and, of course, pretend to lock your friend in!

Each cell housed twelve inmates, and was exposed to the weather. Note the steel bunks. Ouch!
Prisoner Al!

From Yuma, Kathe went to Corning to play Grandma Lobster, giving Mike and Laurelyn the opportunity to travel during school vacation week. While Kathe was gone, I went to another ham radio gathering in Yuma.

By the time we got back to Quartzsite it was obvious that the exodus had begun. The desert is emptier again; so is the town. People have started heading north preparing the way for us.

Sunrises and Sunsets

One of the advantages of living on the desert is the essentially unrestricted view of the horizon, especially compared to New England. We have been (usually!) waking up before sunrise, and have gotten in the habit of looking for the sunrise, and again for the sunset every day.

Click on any of the pictures below to see them all as a slideshow of larger versions, and remember you can always right click on any picture in our blog and choose “open image in new tab” or similar, to see the largest resolution that we uploaded..

One other thing…

Drum roll please! When we set out on our adventure, we told ourselves that we would try RV “full-timing” for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island.

Well, it hasn’t been a year, but we’ve made the decision! We want to continue this adventure for the foreseeable future, so we will be putting the house on the market this summer. We’ll fly back to MDI to take care of all that has to be done to get a house ready for new occupants.

That’s about it for now. Life has been fairly quiet so we haven’t been posting frequently. Rest assured that as we start to travel again we’ll be keeping you up to date with the activities of your favorite lobsters!

Did you say “Rodeo?”

I’ll start off with a warning.  Rodeos celebrate western life on the range. Romanticized and stylized, sure. Exaggerated? Maybe. Rodeos are action filled and exciting.

Rodeos are not kind to animals.

However, sanctioned rodeos are subject to regulations about the treatment of their animals, and this was a sanctioned rodeo.  I found this write-up interesting.

This post may not be for all of our readers. There are pictures below of the rodeo we attended.  Some are cute; others may upset some people.  Please use your discretion as to whether you want to continue reading.

The Yuma Silver Spur Rodeo was our first rodeo.  It was entertaining to watch the events and the audience!

I had my good camera with a 400mm telephoto lens with me.  “I’m going to get some GREAT pictures today!”

At the entrance gate was a large sign… cameras and photography prohibited.  Yuck!  Stowed the camera away in a pack.  When we got in, I looked around and people seemed to be following the cameras portion of the rule, but were using their phones to capture some pics.  OK, I guess they can throw us all out if they want to. So I used my phone.  I didn’t get the pictures I had hoped for, but hopefully they’ll give you a sense of what we saw.

First up was tying cattle. This is a timed event; the goal is to grab a calf while it is on the run, get it down on its side, and tie three of its legs together. I can imagine that this was useful when trying to brand the calf, but don’t really know. The calf and the cowboy enter the arena through the same gate at the same time.  The cowboy chases the calf on horseback, jumps off the horse onto the calf and wrestles it to the ground.

Is the cowboy taking the calf down, or the other way around? Looks like the calf will end up on top. Uh-oh!

The second horse and rider are only to bring the  competitor’s horse back; they are not part of the competition.

At least the goal is for the cowboy to end up holding onto the calf when he jumps off his horse.  Doesn’t always work out that way!

Sometimes the cowboy ends up wrestling the dirt…

There were also two events in the rodeo featuring women.  The first of these was trick riding, demonstrated by two women.  Unfortunately, we were sitting across the arena from the grandstand; the tricks were mostly staged there, so I wasn’t able to get very good pictures.

Sing it with me… “I’m out of… the saddle… again.”

Actually, the trick riding was by one woman… and one eight-year-old girl!

A young trickster!

Next up was the bronc riding. I have a bad back.  I can’t imagine the pain these guys must endure getting thrown around like this.

One of the longer rides. The cowboy can only hold on with one hand.

 

Exit, stage left!

So how do the cowboys learn how to ride these animals?  Well, there are schools, but you could also start by riding sheep!

Here is one participant’s ride…

Hold on! Hold on! Hold on! Hold on!

Uh-oh!

I’ve still got a leg on her!

Touchdown!

Aiieeeeee!

They are wearing helmets and flack jackets, but that still has to hurt!  I would not want to be the parent of one of these kids.  Hard to tell because of the helmets, but I’m pretty sure that the riders were both boys and girls.

The kid in the green shirt running alongside was there to console the rider after the inevitable “dismount,” to give words of encouragement etc.

Next up was the calf roping.  This is a two cowboy event, with one putting a lasso on the calf’s head and the other then lassoing the hind legs.  I was impressed that they could time their throws such that the calf’s hind legs would both be in the air.

A “successful” roping.  Kathe couldn’t watch this part.

After successfully roping the calf, the ropes were immediately slacked and the calf released.

Head is roped, about to try for the hind legs!

The penultimate event was barrel racing, the other women’s event. This is a timed event, where the riders go around a triangle of barrels.  They must round each barrel so that they are going more than 180° around each.  The horses are as much the stars of this as the women, with sudden decelerations and changes of direction.  Apparently the horse and rider are allowed to touch the barrel, but not knock it over.  There is a time penalty assessed for each barrel knocked over, effectively moving them out of competition.

Whoa, Nellie! Slowing down to round the barrel.

Braking hard.

After the horses raced the barrels, it was time for mechanical “horses” (motocross cycles)!  And one 4×4.  None of the horses in the barrel race threw their rider.  Can’t say as much  for the motorcycles!

This one managed to stay on the bike. Barely!

The last event of the day was a bit of a disappointment photographically, due to a combination of where we sat and the time of day.  It was the bull “riding.”  Riding is in quotes because several of the riders barely made contact with the bull before they were on the ground.  We chose to sit on the back side of the field because the grandstand was already full when we arrived, and the hour was late in the afternoon. These combined to make me take pictures straight into the sun.  Not optimal.  But at least one came out passably.

“Yer OUT!” (Oops, sorry. Wrong sport.)

All in all, we had a good time, made more enjoyable by attending with our friends Henk and Mary, whom we hadn’t seen in several years.

Will we go to more rodeos in the future?  Don’t know… So much to do, so little time!

Hope you’re enjoying the things you’re doing!

Date night!

“You’re going on a DATE NIGHT!”

Our son and daughter-in-law’s Christmas gift certificate promised us a date night.  Cool!

Then we read a little more closely. This “date night” would be a gourmet dinner in a Medjool date grove, just outside of Yuma AZ (actually just over the state line in CA).  Fodor’s rates it as one of the top 20 unique dining experiences in the world (#9)!

The part of the date grove that we were in.

It lived up to its advertising.

Some background

Since ancient times, date palm trees are propagated from offshoots, not from seeds.  Material I have read on the web indicate that trees grown from seeds produce inferior fruit. Of course, there is the possibility that some would produce superior fruit due to random genetic mutation, but that isn’t being explored—at least not commercially.  So all the Medjool date trees are clones of each other! (That ought to make my friends at JAX happy!)

Dates have been cultivated for over six thousand years, starting in the area of present day Iraq. The claim is made that it is the oldest cultivated crop.  Medjool dates originated in Morocco. In the 1920s, the fungal “bayoud disease” was wiping out the date trees in Morocco; eleven offshoots were shipped to the Coachella Valley area in southern California in 1927, both for preservation of the Medjool date strain and for research into the disease.  All of the Medjool date trees in the US derive from those eleven offshoots—and there are many! In the ’40s, four offshoots were moved to the Bard Valley, north of Yuma.  Those “four sisters” are still producing fruit, and their offshoots are everywhere in the valley!

The dinner, which was organized by the “Visit Yuma” organization, was held at the Imperial Date Gardens, one of the largest Medjool growers in the Bard Valley area.  Last year, Imperial produced many million pounds of Medjool dates; it is an amount I can’t imagine! They are the only grower in this area that packages their own dates; all the other growers send their crop to a co-operative packaging facility.  Even so, Imperial still sends the majority of its crop to the co-op.

The cultivation, care, and harvesting of the dates is very labor intensive. When we were there (February 1), the tree our guide was using for demonstration purposes was just showing the very first signs of budding. The harvesting finishes in late October or early November—so the cycle takes most of the year.

The male trees are kept separate from the female (fruit-producing) trees.  All the pollination is done by hand—and there are thousands of trees! The pollen is produced in pods, which are opened and the pollen collected in jars.  Over the course of weeks, this pollen is spread, tree by tree, over the female trees that make up the bulk of the large grove. Up… Pollinate… Down… Move. Repeat.

One of the major aims of date cultivation is to produce large, high-quality fruit.  But the tree’s survival-based evolution has caused it to produce many fruit… quantity, not quality.  The growers want to focus the tree’s energy into a few fruit. The fruit bearing shoots are like rudimentary brooms, with one stalk coming from the tree which sends out finer branches which bear the fruit. One of the first things the growers do is to cut off most of those finer branches.  Then they remove most of the fruit on each of the remaining branches.  According to our guide, only about 10% of the fruit is allowed to mature. Even so, the stalks will become so heavy that they have to be tied up to keep them from breaking. Small trees will produce 150 to 200 pounds of dates; larger trees will produce 250 pounds or more. Overall, Imperial Date Gardens produces around thirteen thousand pounds of dates a day.

On a plant like a blueberry bush, or even an apple tree, all of this care would be relatively easy (if we forget about the thousands of trees part).  But the dates are 30 to 50 feet up in the air! All of the care is performed from telescoping boom lift trucks.  The work platforms are U-shaped, so that the workers can access all of the tree without repositioning the truck.

When the fruit gets to the point that it would soon be interesting to birds, each stalk is enclosed in a mesh bag, with an openable end. At first the end is left open, to allow the most air possible into the fruit.  However, just like apples, when the fruit nears maturity some will fall from the tree.  Therefore, the bag’s end is closed just before that point, to capture all the dates.  Wonder if the apple growers should start bagging all of their branches?

The harvest per se starts in August, and will extend to late October or early November.  Just from a point of logistics, each tree is harvested once.  That means that there will be some fruit not at the perfect stage of maturity.  Some may still be green, or too moist. These are separated in the first, sorting, stage of production, which also removes twigs and other debris.  These dates will be allowed to ripen or dry off the tree.

So how do you process 12 million pounds of dates, or even the 1.5 million pounds that they package on-site?  With large warehouses, LOTS of trays, and HUGE freezers.  I’ve never before seen a -10° F freezer the size of a warehouse!  Gives “walk in freezer” a whole new meaning.  Imperial Date Gardens uses no chemicals on its trees; the freezing process kills any pests (they are part way through the process of becoming completely organic-certified).  We were told that any dates you eat will have been frozen.  One interesting side note is that dates may be frozen and thawed repeatedly without any loss in quality.  But even if you don’t freeze them, dates will still be good after eight months in your refrigerator, or a month or so at room temperature!

There is a cleaning and secondary sorting and inspection process.  Here the dates are shaken on a clean wet cloth and then dropped onto a conveyor belt where inspectors look for the correct amount of skin wrinkling (a sign of moisture content), ripeness, size, etc.

Our guide showing us the cleaning and inspection area.

Is anyone else thinking about Lucy and Ethel?  I know I did when I saw the conveyor!

Dates which pass this inspection drop off the end of the conveyor, into a tray.  The tray is given a final inspection.  If any dates don’t pass, the entire tray is simply put back into the cleaning and inspection process!

One of the other attendees asked about the people who work in the grove.  Most of the farm’s laborers are seasonal migrant workers, but about 95% of them come back year after year.  They have some workers who have been with them for 30 years or more. Apparently, the date harvest season meshes well with some of the other crops grown in the area.

The dinner!

I haven’t talked about the dinner yet; I hope you’ve been anticipating it as much as we did!

Our “dining room!”

Our meal was prepared by chef Alex Trujillo, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. He also runs the Patio Restaurant in Yuma. One of the aspects of the meal was that all five courses would contain dates in one form or another.

We started with appetizers, which included corn fritters with dates in the mix.  A wonderful twist! They were much more flavorful than usual, and sweeter.  Another appetizer was bacon-wrapped Medjool dates.  I was so disappointed that none of the servers wandering with the appetizers would leave her plate at my place.  I could have very happily eaten the entire plate!

All through the meal, we were serenaded by a string quartet, playing some classical music and some adaptations of popular music.

Fine sound for a fine meal.

Here’s a quick look around, during appetizers.

After the appetizer course, we had our informative tour of the facility. When we got back to the dining tent our places had been set with a green salad.  The greens were wrapped with a perimeter of very thinly sliced long cucumbers.  It almost resembled a large ramekin. Dates in the salad, dates in the dressing!

Salad, with raspberry-date dressing.

There were a variety of salads!

Next, we had a creamy carrot and date soup. Need I say it?  Delicious! Need to find a recipe for that…

The main course included a steak (nicely rare) and a chicken breast, accompanied by mashed potatoes and asparagus. The sauces were date-based, and yummy.

It tasted as good as it looks!

Kathe wasn’t quite able to finish all of the main course, and said she was finished.  No dessert for her!

But the fates laugh at people who make statements like that.

Dessert came out and it was tiramisu!  Her absolute favorite dessert. Oh, well.  “We’ll be good starting tomorrow.” The dates put a nice spin on the traditional dessert.  Even Al, who doesn’t normally like tiramisu, enjoyed it!

Date on top, and date sauce!

One of the great things about travel, and we think especially RV travel, is getting to meet new people and hear their stories.  That was certainly true at this dinner, where we shared a several hour-long visit with a couple from interior British Columbia.

When we left, Imperial Date Gardens gave us each a one-pound box of Medjool dates.  We’re still enjoying that reminder of the evening.

All-in-all, a great night! Thanks so much, Mike and Laurelyn; we loved it!

And from a different point of view…

Now that we’re pretty much settled, we have time to play with toys (repeat after me: “Toys are good!”) and take day trips.

Not too far from here are the Blythe Intaglios.  If you don’t want to click the link, briefly these large desert drawings were created by early indigenous people by scraping aside the dark stone layer at the top of the desert floor, exposing the lighter colored earth below. Also called geoglyphs, these are very hard to date.  However scientists believe they appear to be between 2000 and 500 years old.

They’re very hard to see from ground level, so our drone whispered in my ear…

#1. Considered the best preserved of the intaglios, this human figure is 105′ from head to feet.

#2. Depiction of a man, 102′ from head to feet. The line across the knees is part of what was originally a circle; only the part inside the fence is still easily visible. If the figures were sacred, is it possible the circle is the remnant of a dance ritual?

The intaglios were first “discovered” by modern man in 1932 by a pilot flying from Las Vegas to Blythe (CA).  The intaglios were fenced in in 1974, after it became clear that off-road vehicles would destroy them.  There are visible tire tracks in both pictures above. There are several theories about their original purpose and of course what set of theories wouldn’t be complete without one or more about aliens!

We are constantly in awe of the scenery here.  I know that the desert landscapes don’t appeal to everyone, but they really strike a chord in me.  See if you can spot the Colorado River.

We’ll go back in the new year (we’ll be camping in another location closer to them), to try to find the remainder of the intaglios.

Back at the ranch (OK, camper), I’m enjoying getting familiar with the drone, and with video editing at which I am a COMPLETE newcomer.  Here is a quick view of our current location.  We are in the camper near the bottom, just to the left of center.

At some point I’ll post a video with audio, or with multiple scenes composited. I’m not good enough at that yet!

Hope you have a great day!

On the moon?

Early on in our trip planning, White Sands National Monument was on our list.  But then we decided that we’d like to see some of Utah “before it got too cold,” so we planned to go west on I-40 all the way into Flagstaff and then north.  We decided that we’d do White Sands, NM some other time.

Well, “too cold” seemed to be following us all the way across the country (local temperatures were often 15° to 20° below normal—we started to think that it was our fault!).  We decided that we would drop down to a more southerly, i.e., warmer, route—I-10—after Bosque del Apache.  Yea!  White Sands was back on the route!

White Sands National Monument visitors’ center, built in the 1930s.

We knew that there are basically two “White Sands” things.  There is White Sands National Monument, and also White Sands Missile Range, the largest military base in the country in terms of area. The Missile Range is closed to the public (of course), so we focused our imaginations on the Monument, which we thought was completely separate.

It turns out, it isn’t so separate.  The Monument is completely inside the missile range; it closes to public access any time the military launches a missile. Phew!

The other thing we didn’t know was that the missile range has a museum open to the public! Did I mention in a previous post that I like space-oriented things?

White Sands Missile Range Museum

The first day, we went to the museum.  Since you’re entering a military base (by all of about 100 yards), you must present ID, and they run a quick check with the FBI to see if you’re a baddie. (Sorry, no pics of the entrance station where we had to register.  That is apparently a serious no-no.)

Outdoors display

We spent most of the time at the museum outside at the rocket display.  It was neat to actually see some of the rockets whose names I knew from the ’60s.

The Patriot, launched from a truck

Some of the missiles in the outdoor portion of the museum

 

The OH-50, an unmanned helicopter developed in the 1950s for anti-submarine warfare. Drones aren’t new! Although it is no longer in use in combat, it is still the only unmanned helo to be combat certified.  The OH-50 is still used at the Missile Range to tow targets.

WSMR is an Army base, but used by all branches of the military. This is a Navy guided missile launcher tested here.

The rockets on display here were almost all developed for the military, but they also enabled our manned space program.  Until the Apollo program’s use of the Saturn V booster, all of the rockets used for our manned space flights were repurposed military rockets—Redstone, Atlas, and Titan.  The Redstone held a special place in my memory because it was used for Alan Shepard’s and Gus Grissom’s sub-orbital flights at the start of Project Mercury, the beginning of the US manned space program.

I didn’t know that the Redstone was designed to be “transportable.”  From the information sign in front of the rocket:

As a field-artillery missile, Redstone was mobile and transportable by plane, truck, or train. However, when on the move, it needed a convoy  eighteen miles long, with 200 vehicles carrying approximately 10,000 individual pieces of equipment and more than 600 men.  The Redstone itself was carried on three trucks—its nose section (warhead), midsection (power plant and fuel tanks), and tail section—to be assembled in the field.

Transportable?  Maybe.  Stealthy? No way!

Indoors

There was also a nice indoor portion of the museum. Part of it covered the computing resources used in the early days of the missile age.  Here is a “patch panel” used to program a computer in the days before software.  This is from a computer used into the ’70s!

A quote on the information card: “You had to be a bit crazy to work on the patch panels!”

One way of gathering data about test flights is to track the rockets visually, with “cinetheodolites.”  Each of these required two operators, and many were used around the range.

A cinetheodolite ($75,900 on eBay!  Get yours today!)

Housing for a cinetheodolite

Trinity

There are moments that change the course of history forever; one happened here. On June 16, 1945, the world’s first atomic explosion happened on White Sands Missile Range, at the Trinity Site.  The Trinity Site is only open to visitors twice a year so we weren’t able to see it first hand, but a good portion of the museum’s indoors display space is devoted to it.

A one-third scale model of the bomb that was detonated at the Trinity Site.

The Trinity bomb was the same design as the second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, to end World War II.

White Sands National Monument

On the second day, we went to the National Monument.  Mile after mile of white “sand,” actually gypsum.  After having seen the delicate gypsum florets in Mammoth Cave, it was amazing to see this much gypsum, literally piled up.  Kathe thought it looked like we were on the moon!

This plant’s root system causes these hills to remain even after the dune has moved on.

The leaves of this tree are thick and very waxy

It was interesting to walk on the dunes.  I have lived near the water all my life except for our time in New Hampshire, and am used to walking on sand—including the sand dunes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  The gypsum packs much more tightly than sand,  and is very easy to walk on in comparison.

We went sledding down the dunes on a plastic saucer (like would be used on snow).  Despite waxing the bottom of the saucer, other than the color of the dune’s surface, it wasn’t anything like sledding on snow!  It was quite sticky, but once you got going, it was fun riding down the dune.  Kathe got some good rides, but I fell out of the saucer each time! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good video of me tumbling down the dune. (Sand-sky-sand-sky-sand-sky…)

The dunes are always moving, driven by the wind.  Keeping the tourist area road open is a constant problem.

Harder than plowing snow? I don’t know…

We had a really good day there, walking some trails and seeing the scenery.  Al finished with a ranger-led walk just before sunset.  The guide is an astronomer by training,  working as a paleo-geologist.  He described some of the research going on at the whole White Sands site, much of it outside the bounds of the Monument.

On the desert floor (where there isn’t currently a dune), the water table is only a foot or two below the surface. The geology  of the area depends on this.

A wet stick shows that there is water about 18 inches down this hole. The water table (the level of the water below the ground) is closely monitored.

The yucca plant below may be 30 or more feet tall.  It is rooted on the desert floor, and as a dune comes along it grows to keep its leaves and flowers above the level of the dune.  Unfortunately, when the dune passes, the yucca can’t support its long stem.  It collapses and dies.

You didn’t think I’d leave without a sunset shot, did you?

Blue sands at sunset

If you get a chance, do plan to go.  White Sands National Monument is other-worldly.  (Lunar?)

Bucket list: √ and √

Go get your bucket list. I’ll wait while you go find it.

Now add these two items which are in New Mexico, if they’re not already on your list:

  1. The Very Large Array,  otherwise known as the VLA, and
  2. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

√ and √!  Our bucket lists are now two items shorter!

The Very Large Array

I’ve been a space fan since the late ’50s, when my dad took me out in the yard and showed me one of our first two satellites—Explorer or Vanguard—at this point I don’t remember which.  I remember watching all of the Project Mercury launches on TV with him.

I’ve known about the VLA for a long time (yes, even before the movie Contact!), but I had never been there.  Now we have!  It is even more impressive in person.

The VLA is a radio telescope, one of the most sensitive in the world.  From the National Science Foundation website:

Among a broad range of scientific capabilities, the VLA addresses four primary science themes: measuring the strength and topology of cosmic magnetic fields; imaging young stars and massive black holes in dust-enshrouded environments; following the rapid evolution of energetic phenomena; and studying the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies and active galactic nuclei.

Phew!

The VLA is open to scientists all over the world who must submit research proposals to compete for telescope time.  The proposals are reviewed for scientific worth and feasibility. It is so highly competitive that, “Even highly ranked proposals are not guaranteed to receive observing time.

The VLA is a long way from anywhere.  We approached from the east, from I-25, and it is over 50 miles away—50 miles of passing almost nothing but beautiful scenery!

Typical central New Mexico scenery (not actually on the way to VLA–where I neglected to take pics!)

Located on the Plains of San Augustin, the site is both high at approximately 8,000 feet, and ringed by mountains. The height reduces the amount of atmosphere-induced distortion of the radio waves, something I had never considered.  The mountains block most of the man-made radio interference.  Any electronic devices you may have with you like cell phones, tablets, fitness trackers, smart watches, etc. must be turned off—completely. Digital cameras are (surprisingly) OK.  Needless to say, having your cell phone off doesn’t matter as there is absolutely NO coverage!

Approaching the VLA—still a fair distance away

The 28 antennas are huge!  The dishes are 25 meters (82 feet) across, and they over 200 tons each. When pointed up, they are 90 feet to the apex. You can’t really get an idea of how big until you have something to use for scale.

Four flights of stairs and we’re not even up to the pivot!

Twenty seven are in active use; there is always one in maintenance; they rotate through all the antennas to keep them all in good condition.

The VLA has four configurations, called “A” (far Apart), “B”, “C”, and “D” (Darned close together).  The configuration is changed every four months, and we were very fortunate to visit when the telescope was in configuration D.  In configuration A, each of the three arms of the telescope is thirteen miles long, and photography wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun!

Antennas close together! The beauty of Configuration D.

The VLA is laid out in three legs radiating out from the center, spaced at 120°.

Looking out the north leg, currently comprising 11 of the 27 antennas.

To reconfigure the array, and to bring antennas in for maintenance, they use a transporter. Top speed is 5 MPH; however when transporting an antenna, it usually moves about 2 MPH.

Zero to two in… several minutes.

The reason for the different configurations is that antenna spacing controls the field of view, how wide a portion of the sky it can view, and resolution, how small a feature it can distinguish.  Close spacing (like now) offers a very wide field of view, but relatively poor resolution.  The widest spacing, configuration A, views a much smaller portion of the sky, but can distinguish much smaller features.

At its widest spacing, the telescope is about 22 miles across.  To allow even finer resolution, the VLA is one component of the VLBA, the Very Long Baseline Array, which has a maximum distance between antennas of 4971 miles (8000 km).  The VLBA is controlled from the same building as the VLA, in Socorro, New Mexico; the antennas are spread out from Hawaii to the U.S. Virgin Islands and points in between.

If you want to see the VLA, go soon.  Its replacement is currently in the works, called ngVLA, which will increase its power and its resolution at least tenfold. The individual dishes will be smaller, but there will be many, many more! More information is here, and here (FAQ).

√ The Bosque del Apache NWR

Several years ago I heard about a great place for bird photography, especially for sandhill cranes and snow geese.  It wasn’t over-hyped! In the two days we spent there, we took on the order of 3,000 pictures!

The peak of the bird population happens during the depth of the winter in December. At that point they have approximately 20,000 sandhill cranes, 50,000 snow geese, and 50,000 ducks of various species.

The refuge is heavily managed.  The staff plant several food crops during the summer to feed the birds through the winter—mostly corn.  They plan to feed 100 pounds of corn per bird across the winter.  That is a LOT of corn! They also flood fields with water from the Rio Grande river to give more shallow water areas so the birds have safe places to spend the night. When we were there,  only a few of the fields were flooded; more to come!

Even now in November, there are a phenomenal number of birds here. During the day, the birds are spread out widely across the 58,000 acres of the refuge.  Even so dispersed, the density on any of the feeding areas is pretty high!

Sandhills feeding

Snow geese soaking up the rays.

At night they congregate in a few, relatively small wet areas—being in shallow water protects them from many predators.  This congregation into a few areas results in massive “fly-ins” and “fly-outs” at sunset and sunrise. Photographic heaven!

Go ahead! Count the sandhill cranes. I dare you!

Predator spotted! Snow geese flying out.

Incoming! Sandhills arrived in groups like this continuously for over a half hour.

Three sandhills landing simultaneously.

During the second day, we took two  (free!) tours with naturalists to find other birds which were located on the Reserve. Many were too far away to get good pictures of, but here are a few of the birds we saw.

A trio of cedar waxwings – one of Kathe’s favorites!

Phainopepla, the desert black cardinal.

We think this is an American Kestrel, a small falcon.

A bald eagle, in a snag.

In addition to so many birds including quail and turkey, there are many other species of animals on the refuge including mountain lion, bobcat, jackrabbits, and lizards.

It will take us weeks to work through all of our refuge photographs! Based on this fabulous experience, we’ve decided we’d be thrilled to visit as many wildlife refuges around the country as possible. Fortunately, there are quite a few in Arizona where we will spend the winter. Yahoo!

Canyons, Cadillacs, and Caravans

We spent several days in Amarillo, Texas. There is more to do there than we had thought!

General Texas Thoughts

We enjoyed our time in Texas, starting with our stop at the I-40 Welcome Center as we crossed in from Oklahoma.

Texas does things BIG!

And we had some reminders that we “aren’t in Kansas” (i.e., Maine) anymore!

Well… Maybe we ARE in Kansas, Toto!

Texas is the state with by far the largest wind power capacity, about 22.6 gigawatts, as of 2017.  And they’re still building. There are wind turbine “farms” seemingly everywhere! Go, renewable power!  What you can’t see in any picture is that these farms go on for miles. They are beautiful and quite mesmerizing.

Palo Duro Canyon

When you’re looking at the Palo Duro Canyon, don’t try to compare it to the Grand Canyon.  If you do, you will do yourself a disservice and miss the beauty here.

Palo Duro is the second-largest canyon in the country, and has its own beauty to explore.

The colors in the layers indicate how old the layer is.  The panhandle of Texas was once a seabed, and this stone was laid down across millenia.

Unlike the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro has a road to the bottom of the canyon.  There are campgrounds down there and people bring their large RVs.  We went to the bottom, but I’m very glad that we weren’t pulling Rhett!

Take a look around the canyon!

 

 

The canyon is still being formed by the action of the river.  The day we were there, the river was about 6 feet wide and flowing slowly.

However, flash flooding is a big problem.  Wherever the road crossed the river there were flood gauges at each end of the bridge, measuring road flooding up to 5 feet above grade.  And the bridges were 15 to 20 feet above the river!

They don’t need to shovel snow here (at least very often), but they have a lot of work clearing the road after a flash flood!

“Snow” shoveling after a flood…

Cadillac Ranch

You’ve probably heard about this unusual place, where some artists buried eight Cadillacs nose-down with the backs of the cars sticking up.

It was nearby, so… Why not?

We didn’t realize that it was an ongoing art project, encouraging people to contribute by spray painting the cars!  It was fun to see the cumulative effect—wow!

Some people sprayed expanding foam as well as paint.

RV Museum

We didn’t know about this one ahead of time… Jack Sisemore, the owner of an RV dealership in town, created an RV museum.  It was highly recommended to us by the folks at the next campsite (who happened to be from NH!). I expected a small garage with a few RVs in it.

WRONG!

This is a serious museum of the history of RVing, containing many firsts or only remaining examples of units.

The oldest Airstream, 1935.

One of the first tent trailers. We spent many happy vacations in its descendants!

Another tent-extended camper.

The unit from the Robin Williams movie, “RV”.

Itasca by WInnebago. Serial number 1.

What would an RV museum be without a VW microbus? Al’s family went camping through the Canadian maritime provinces in one of these in the 60’s.

I didn’t know until we were in the museum that Jack had started the Keystone company, one of the behemoths in the RV industry, in 1996.

Jack is a motorcycle fan as well, and has many exhibited through the museum.  Impressive!

Here are two that caught my fancy.

One-half of all the known cycles of this model and year with  a left hand sidecar

The Harley WLA from WW II.  Since most of these were modified for civilian use after the war, very few remain in their wartime configuration.

Big Texan: 72 Ounces of Beef

Near our campground was the Big Texan, a restaurant, kitsch (sorry, “gift”) shop, and hotel. (The company also happened to own the campground we stayed in.)  For nearly 100 miles on I-40 as we were approaching Amarillo, we saw billboards for this restaurant advertising “FREE 72 oz. STEAK!”

The hitch, of course, is that you have to eat it all in an hour.  Not only the steak, but:

  • Shrimp appetizer
  • Salad
  • Potato, and
  • THE STEAK.

And they mean ALL of it.

This is what 72 ounces of beef looks like! Yeah.  Four and a half pounds.

I was told that about 1 in 7 finish in under the time limit.  According to our server, you have to pay first, which is returned to the lucky few.  And you eat it on a stage, so everyone else can watch your valiant efforts!

The fastest time (according to the web) is by a small woman who finished the steak in under 3 minutes! You can find it on You Tube pretty easily, but trust me, you do not want to watch it!  It isn’t pretty.

Want to try? Neither did either of us.

Finally, just want to note that Kathe has driven every single one of our more than 8,000 miles of this adventure!  Way to go!