A long-planned highlight of our spring was our visit to Beth and Jon’s family in Vancouver, BC. Planned in two parts, it exceeded our already high expectations. We had a wonderful time!
The first part of our visit was a weekend joint camping trip to Alice Lake Provincial Park. We arranged for two adjacent campsites so that we would all be together. An idea that we haven’t seen in US parks is to have a subset of campsites set up as pairs, and reservable only as a pair. It makes family camp outs much easier to arrange.
Our plan was that Kasper and Nyssa sleep with us in the RV, and Jon and Beth would be in their tent. They had primarily camped in the summer before; we all found out that late April was not quite the same. EVERYONE ended up sleeping in the camper, to stay warm!
After our stay at Alice Lake, we all went back to Vancouver; we stayed at the only campground actually in Vancouver proper, just north of the wonderful Stanley Park, and about 20 minutes from Beth and Jon’s apartment via Vancouver’s excellent public transportation system. (We were not about to try to drive our truck, Scarlett, in Vancouver!)
Note to selves: Do NOT put your transit card, loose, in the same pocket with your phone in a sticky Otter case. We each lost a card when we pulled our phone out.
One of the things that we missed living on the coast of Maine was a variety of cuisines, particularly Asian. Vancouver has plenty! We had Japanese (Sushi) (twice!), Afghani, and several others. Unfortunately, we ran out of nights before we could make a dent in the variety.
Kasper and Nyssa spent two more nights with us while in Vancouver. For those who don’t already know it, one of a grandparent’s most important duties is spoiling the grandkids. We take our duties seriously! What better way to do it than by having chocolate ice cream for breakfast!
Kasper and Grandpa also shared some good time together, working on K’s first book of logic puzzles, e.g., “Rita married Joe, but not on Wednesday. Carla was married on Sunday on the village green. Who did Tess marry?” The major learning from this was that Grandpa needs to (re-)start doing these as well! I loved these as a kid, but I’ve lost the knack. We also worked on ways to present data… How to graph seven different aspects of each of 12 chapters in Roald Dahl’s “Danny the Champion of the World.”
We visited Science World, a must-stop on each of our visits. Their current featured exhibit is a hall of mirrors… No, you can’t just walk straight ahead in the picture below!
And Kasper got to be part of the presentation team in a chemistry demonstration!
Vancouver also has many playgrounds scattered around the city…
Kasper had a birthday very near our visit, and Grandma had a VERY special birthday present ready for him. A handmade robot quilt!
One of the (many) highlights of our visit was being able to attend Beth’s concert. Celebrating the director’s twenty years with the choir, it was titled simply, “Donna’s Favorites.”
In a surprise ending, a sextet from the choir gave the premiere performance of a commission using Emily Dickinson’s poem, “It’s All I Have to Bring Today” as the text. Set to music by Donna’s favorite composer, Larry Nickel, it is dedicated to Donna Brown.
Our visit ended all too soon; it was time to head to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Actually, the trick riding was by one woman… and one eight-year-old girl!
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.
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…
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.
After successfully roping the calf, the ropes were immediately slacked and the calf released.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
I haven’t talked about the dinner yet; I hope you’ve been anticipating it as much as we did!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
Our kids and their spouses got really creative this Christmas and gifted us with some unique experiences in the Yuma valley, about 80 miles south of where we are wintering in Quartzsite, Arizona.
Beth and Jon gave us a Field to Feast experience and what a fabulous time we had this past week! We had to be at the Yuma Visitor Center by 7:45 AM so we left our campsite just after 6 AM. It was that time when the dark of night yields to the first trace of dawn; the stars and a few planets were still visible as the eastern sky was just giving way to a hint of light.
We arrived in Yuma and were surprised to see a very large, luxurious tour bus waiting for us in the lot. We signed in and hopped onto the bus just as the sun rose in front of us for another gorgeous desert sunrise.
Mark, our tour guide, explained our itinerary for the day—our first stop would be the University of Arizona Agricultural Center where we would meet with a master gardener and a research scientist before harvesting some vegetables for the local food bank.
When we arrived at the Ag Center, the speakers hopped onto the bus one at a time and explained the gardens. Martha first told us about the variety of crops and how they’re planted in a rotation so that there is always something to harvest. The huge garden includes brussel sprouts, several varieties of lettuce including romaine, broccoli, several kinds of beets, cauliflower, radishes, carrots (including purple ones!), and lots more.
Dr. Paula Rivadeneira then hopped on board and explained that she has her Ph.D. in poop! She is an associate professor who specializes in food safety and wildlife as a cooperative extension specialist. Her main goal is to assist fresh produce growers in excluding wild and domestic animals from their fields and gardens to prevent potential fecal pathogen contamination of fresh produce crops.
Most of us on the bus were aware that the Yuma Valley was the source of the romaine lettuce recalled in the recent e. coli scare. Paula explained the precautions that are taken regularly by all the farmers in the area; food safety is the farmers’ number one priority! All farm workers are required to take safety training which is updated and reviewed regularly.
She is quite certain that the e. coli was introduced farther along the production line (the offending romaine was found in bagged salad sourced from multiple farms) when it was processed in a plant on a variety of machines and handled by a number of people.
Arizona growers can participate in a “Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement” (LGMA), which sets practices and standards for food safety. Participation is not mandatory, but nearly all growers do—competitiveness in the market demands it. If a grower participates, then the LGMA’s requirements become mandatory for the grower. The LGMA received a major update after last year’s e. coli outbreak.
Prior to harvesting, SIXTY soil samples are taken from EACH acre of the crop. Each sample is analyzed for fecal matter and other contaminants in a microbiology lab.
If any animal poop is discovered in a section of the garden, there is a five foot buffer zone established around that section; nothing can be harvested there. Scientifically, it’s proven that five feet is a sufficient buffer but many buyers opt for a 100 or even 200 foot buffer zone! She said that she wishes the buyers would understand the science and not unnecessarily waste so much food.
She pointed out that when driving by the fields, some people will stop and notice a section that the “farmer must have forgotten to harvest!” In fact, the passerby will sometime stop and grab (i.e., steal) some fresh veggies. NOPE. Farmers don’t forget to harvest an area of the garden; it’s money out of their pocket! These unharvested areas are where a fecal sample or some other problem was discovered and a buffer zone (don’t harvest!) section is designated.
Dr. Paula (as she likes to be called) talked about consumer food safety in great detail. EVERYTHING should be washed as soon as you get home from the market—yup, even that ‘triple-washed’ stuff (lettuce, spinach, etc.). She said to fill a CLEAN sink with cold water, a couple of glugs of white vinegar and a squirt or two of lemon juice. Soak everything for two minutes; run it through your salad spinner and you’re good to go! She also recommended that we clean our refrigerator shelves AND crisper drawers with the same solution.
The recommendation that we often hear to ‘wait to wash your fruits and veggies until you’re ready to eat them’ is WRONG. Wash it all as soon as you get home.
And, yes, even wash those bananas, melons, avocados, and pineapples. Whatever lurks on the skin, just travels through the fruit as we cut and slice. Interesting fact: cantelopes in the U.S. are the ONLY cantelopes in the world that do NOT have a smooth skin. The webbed skin can make it easy for ‘things’ to lurk there that you really don’t want on your food. Yuck!
Dr. Paula explained in great detail the variety of ways in which birds are kept out of the huge gardens. A range of acoustic deterrents are used including sound cannons, screamers, and shooters. Falcons and owls are used to deter small rodents; Paula is particularly excited about the falconry program! Counters (people) are used to stand on the edge of a large garden tract to keep track of bird activity and monitor the effectiveness of the deterrents.
It was time to help with the harvest! We had been told ahead of time to wear closed-toe shoes. Once off the bus, we had to wash our hands and put on hairnets and gloves. We were each handed two plastic bags and a knife–we were to write our last name on one bag and the other bag would be filled and placed into large crates for the food pantry. Yup! The bag with our name on it was for us to FILL AND TAKE HOME! And we had TWO!! What a treat!
The rows in the garden were clearly marked — we could choose whatever we wanted. We first went for brussel sprouts (we love to roast them!) and learned that they can be quite difficult to pick. We were warned to not cut off a stalk but to go for individual sprouts. If the stalk is taken the plant will not produce any more sprouts; if only the sprouts are taken it will continue to produce.
Then we found a stupendous head of butter lettuce with large leaves, just perfect for the veggie wraps we’ve been enjoying this winter. We dug up two large golden beets and a gigantic head of cauliflower!
One of the master gardeners handed us some purple carrots. We ended up with two HUGE bags full of fresh veggies that were stored in the luggage compartment under the bus along with the other visitors’ bags; what fun!
Just before we left the U of A site, a local farmer (he calls himself a “grower”) came on board to talk to us as we traveled to one of his farms; he farms more than 4500 acres and that’s considered a small farm. This is a HUGE agricultural metropolis! In fact, nearly 90% of all domestically-grown vegetables found in U.S. supermarkets this time of year come from from the Yuma Valley region.
While en route, we learned more about the irrigation systems and the effects of the petulant weather on the crops in the valley. All of the irrigation is supplied by a canal system sourced by the Colorado River. This particular grower said that fields need to be irrigated the first few days after a new crop is planted so that seed germination can take place. He doesn’t have a particular sensor system to tell him when to water as the crops grow; he goes out into the fields to check on the dryness of the soil.
The soil types in this area vary greatly. This grower’s fields have a large component of clay; it holds the water quite well resulting in less frequent waterings. We visited another (research) farm where the soil was much sandier; they have to irrigate every few days.
Too much water can be as much of a problem as too little. If there happens to be a heavy rain across a couple of days (which happened recently) and lots of wind, entire crops can be lost. Crops that haven’t made it, as well as areas that have been buffered due to fecal contamination, are just tilled back into the ground. Everything breaks down and helps to build up the soil for the next crop.
Crops are grown to order (rather than on speculation). The reason these people refer to themselves as “growers” is that they simply grow the crops; the purchaser is responsible for all of the other steps—harvesting, processing, packaging, shipping, etc.
It was fascinating to learn that broccoli is shipped by boat to Japan on the same day it is harvested. Due to a poor growing season in Europe this year, romaine lettuce from the Yuma Valley is in great demand and shipped by air to Europe.
As with all other parts of our lives, technology has radically changed farming. Tractors and other large equipment are self driving, guided by enhanced GPS (apparently the farmer still has to turn them around at the end of the rows). The irrigation systems used to bring the Colorado river’s water are gravity fed. To make this efficient, all the fields are leveled by laser as the last step in field preparation before each planting.
We arrived at one of the grower’s fields just over the Colorado River in California where romaine lettuce hearts were being harvested. This is an amazing process with the people actually picking the hearts and the people bagging and boxing them working only a few feet apart.
From the time the lettuce leaves the ground to the time it is bagged and in a box ready to be shipped to the supermarket appeared to be well under a minute!
Our guide, Mark, told us that he has been leading this tour at least once a week for three years, and he had never before been as close to the harvesting operation as we were able to get! Score!
After thanking the grower and saying goodbye, we went to Arizona Western College, for a lunch prepared by their culinary department using food from the UofA Ag Center’s garden. Delicious!
Finally, the tour went to AWC’s agricultural center. The college offers an associate degree in agriculture. Their focus is twofold: hands-on learning in the soil to complement the book/classroom learning, and doing research studies in conjunction with industry. Many of their graduates go on to complete a bachelor’s degree with a double major in agriculture and business at the University of Arizona. We were able to talk with AWC students at various stages of progress through the program, as well as one graduate of the program (and of UofA) now employed in the industry and performing research on the college’s fields.
After a very full day, we headed back home (the camper is home!) and washed all our new vegetables as instructed by Dr. Paula. Now… how to fit it all in our refrigerator???
Happy New Year! We’ve been back on the desert for just over a week having spent Christmas in New York with our son, daughter-in-law, and four of our grandkids.
We had a terrific visit — we attended Christmas Eve Candlelight worship (and rang our bells!), marveled at Santa’s generosity, learned some new games, enjoyed some local cuisine, watched some favorite movies, visited the Corning Museum of Glass, and took the kids bowling.
I even taught our 5-year old granddaughter to knit–she’s a natural!
We also visited with our daughter and her family on Facetime and look forward to our upcoming time with them in Vancouver, B.C. this spring. In the meantime, we’ve ordered our own copy of a fabulous new game that our daughter had gifted to our son’s family—5 Minute Dungeon! We’ll certainly learn about many other games when we visit B.C.—board games have become a staple in all branches of our family. Such fun.
While in New York, we found ourselves making a huge shift in our thinking; we started referring to home and ‘going home‘ —To. The. Camper.
It’s hard to believe that I was feeling so isolated early last month. In the last six weeks, we’ve been swept up into the desert lifestyle and this wonderful community. We’ve been busy and it’s hard to decide which things to do!
A friend has asked me a couple of times—what do you do there? There’s nothing. It looks so desolate.
Well, yes, the desert itself is sparsely vegetated but there is a LOT going on here — we just needed to investigate!
We found a LOCAL church (just a couple of miles away) and it’s been so nice to get to meet and worship with some great folks. They have a charity quilting group that meets weekly and I attend.
We have a couple of favorite restaurants in town. A lovely little diner for breakfast and a Mexican restaurant with fabulous fish tacos! We don’t eat out a lot but it’s nice to take a break once a week or so.
There’s a new coffee shop in town that boasts an entire room of fresh produce. It’s terrific and not only do they have fresh fruits and vegetables but dozens of recipes on display each week for the taking. We had a scrumptious vegetable soup and a squash soup, too. It’s a treat to visit the shop each week and see what they’ve stocked.
I joined the local Quartzsite Quilting Guild and it’s great fun to gather at the Sr. Center each Tuesday (we’re not all seniors but most are) for six hours of quilting—lots of chatting and collaborating and a guaranteed show-and-tell each week. Tomorrow, the owner of a quilt shop in Yuma is coming with fabric, threads, etc. for sale. It’s much more fun sewing with a group and making lots of new friends than it is to sew alone.
And, oh, the SHOWS!! We had heard the Quartzsite, AZ boasts about being the Rock Capital of the World. (I’m pretty sure many other places do, too.) It’s a huge destination for rock hounds as there are many places to search and find amazing stones. However, we had NO idea that this was also the destination for so many kinds of shows during the Jan/Feb time frame. Just this week, a huge Rock and Gem Show started at the local “fairgrounds” with more than 2 miles of storefront across hundreds of booths. We had a ball with our cameras taking dozens of shots of gorgeous rocks and gems — a total blast! We’ll go back for sure.
Click on a picture for a full-size slide show.
But beyond that, there are three huge quilt shows, a big Embroidery show in Phoenix, another rock/arts/crafts show here in Q, a bluegrass festival, a hot air balloon festival, etc., etc. Honestly, it’s hard to keep up and to decide which ones we’ll visit in a given week!
This is also a HUGE mecca for ‘tribute bands,’ e.g., groups that perform hits made famous by everyone from The Eagles to Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles to Ricky Nelson, and the Rolling Stones to the Beach Boys! I guess they know they’ve got a captive audience with so many snowbirds of a ‘mature’ age.
AND, we’ve made the decision to get back into ham radio. We purchased an HF radio so that I can get back on the air and talk to people all over the world. We also got two handheld radios for local communication. We’re both licensed but haven’t been active in amateur radio for well over a decade. It’s a very active hobby here; we attended our first local radio club breakfast here this past week. So many friendly and fascinating people, many of whom have been involved in the hobby for upwards of 50 years! Fortunately, this group is also dedicated to bringing young people into the hobby and is working hard to make that happen. Al has already volunteered to help with some repeater maintenance. And yup…there are TWO huge ham radio events coming up this month. We’ll be there.
This afternoon we’ll move our camper a couple of miles down the road for a few days to another stretch of BLM land so that we can participate in another Grand Design RV Rally–much like the rallies we attended in IN and DE, there will be workshops, seminars, and lots of camaraderie.
This morning, the desert smells like spring. We actually had some rain over the weekend and there has been a pollen alert for a couple of weeks. The moisture in the air is apparently working its magic on the desert flora and it’s glorious to enjoy a preview of the spring desert bloom. Our cameras will get a real workout this March and April.
So, that’s how we’re spending our time here in our new home on the desert. We’re learning about new opportunities every day! No rest for the retired (although we are enjoying sleeping in frequently).
When we don’t sleep in, it isn’t hard to start each day when you can see this…
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.
And we had some reminders that we “aren’t in Kansas” (i.e., Maine) anymore!
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!
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!
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.
This is a serious museum of the history of RVing, containing many firsts or only remaining examples of units.
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.
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:
And they mean ALL of it.
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!
Just before the time we’re writing about here (we’re a bit behind the times) Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina and affected so many people in the southeast. We’re very thankful that those we know who were in the area are safe, and are keeping those more seriously affected in our prayers.
We’ve had our first “house guests!” (RV guests?)
We traveled to Watkins Glen, NY, to spend some time with our son Mike, our daughter-in-law Laurelyn, and four of our grandkids in Corning, about 20 minutes away.
The two boys, Dean, 10, and Graham, almost 13, spent Friday night with us. They were the first to use the convertible couch in the RV as a bed. They reported it to be comfortable (phew!).
We had an early birthday for Graham, and then played one of his new games. Graham will soon be a teenager! How did that happen so quickly?
Also Grandpa got a lesson in GoPro from Dean!
Saturday morning, Graham and Dean’s sisters, Mira, 7, and Brynn, 5, joined us—Saturday night was the girls’ night to sleep in the camper and boy, were they excited!
No, they didn’t ride over in the back of the truck!
The plan for the day was to enjoy the features at the campground. But before we headed out, everyone had to try (again and again!) the magic recliners in the camper — they’re powered to recline, heat, and massage and were a BIG hit!
Time to play! Grandma and all four kids took advantage of the campground’s mini-golf course.
Then we all made use of the on-site water park. The big hit was the water slide. Grandpa L. also gave the slide a try! Graham just about wore the slide out…
What’s happening here?
We also made use of bumper boats and the jumping pillow. Grandpa L. tried the jumping pillow, much to the amusement of those watching. By getting back off the pillow very quickly, he avoided permanent injury! (Note to GL: you’re not 14 any more!)
In Corning Sunday night, we saw what we all agreed was the most intense rainbow we had ever seen!
The remnants of Hurricane Florence came through our area on Monday. We were scheduled to leave on Tuesday, but the weather between there and our next destination, French Creek State Park in PA was predicted to be lousy for driving. We delayed our departure by a day and took advantage of the extra day to visit Watkins Glen State Park which we had never been to before.
The heavy rain of the day and night before gave us some spectacular scenery as we walked up the gorge path along Glen Creek.
They claim that there are 19 waterfalls along this mile and a half path. We have no idea how they count. It looked like one continuous cascade to us!
Yes, the trail goes behind several of the waterfalls!
We rounded out our visit to Corning and Watkins Glen with a lovely dinner out overlooking Seneca Lake. It was a sensational visit, albeit all too quick. We’ll be back!
The Pumpkinvine trail is 25 miles long, joining the towns of Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, and Shipshewana. We only took the middle section, about 11 or 12 miles. Some of the trail is through miles of agricultural land with fields on both sides as far as you can see.
Some of the trail is wooded.
Other parts are on sidewalks along the street. I was always told as a kid not to ride on the sidewalk, but on the street. At least where the trail runs along a street, they want us on the sidewalk, not the street!
There is a 1.7 mile section of the trail for which the property was only recently obtained; there the trail is under construction. For this section we had to ride on the side of three county roads, but there were very few cars. It probably isn’t true, but it seemed like we saw more buggies than we did cars. Being a Sunday, we passed several homes where worship was being held, with many buggies parked outside.
In MIddlebury, we wanted to see the Krider Gardens which we had heard about from other rally attendees. As we approached Middlebury we were waiting at a street crossing. We asked another cyclist if he knew the trail here. “Pretty well.” We asked how to get to the gardens and he offered to show us (it was right on the trail). As we parted, he told us he was the chair of the Middlebury Parks Commission, which oversees / maintains both the Middlebury section of the trail and the garden! “Pretty well,” indeed!
We had planned to turn around in Middlebury since this was our first ride of any significant length, but certain protocols must be observed. First we needed to find ice cream. Unfortunately this was Sunday so the only place in range was a Dairy Queen. But it sufficed.
Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of the Dairy Queen to insert here…
On our way back while we were riding on the county road section of the trail we noticed that we were about to be overtaken by a buggy. (Yes, there is something slower than a horse-drawn buggy: tired-people powered bicycles!) But they disappeared! Then we realized that these were people returning home from worship and they were turning into their driveways.
Funny how the miles on the way back seemed longer than those when we were fresh and just starting out!
Much like Acadia National Park, Cuyahoga National Park was built from many individual land acquisitions. As a result its borders are irregular where it sits in Cuyahoga Valley between Cleveland and Akron in the Ohio & Erie Canalway. Because it is situated among existing communities there are many entrances (again like Acadia); because of this, CVNP is a no-fee park.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs the length of the the park through the Canalway, with both it and the canal taking advantage of the valley’s terrain alongside the Cuyahoga River. If you don’t know the recent history of the Cuyahoga River, it is really interesting. Once one of the country’s most polluted rivers (quiz: what happened in 1969?), it was effectively “dead,” with no animal life in the river. It now supports fish, beaver, otters, turtles, eagles, and many more species.
This area had been a car dump before the park. It was cleaned up with the intention of making it a parking lot, but the beavers had a different idea. It is now a marsh supporting many types of wildlife.
We rode the Scenic Railroad on a round trip through the entire length of the park. We rode in a dome car, offering 360° views.
While the ownership and maintenance of the rolling stock and the daily operation of the railroad is the responsibility of the non-profit Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad organization, the right-of-way and railbed is maintained by the National Park.
So what is a towpath? Before motorized vessels, barges were pulled through the canal by mules. The path they took is the towpath. Mule teams were available to rent, but many barges carried their own (two) teams of mules because they found it more economical. We were told that the passenger barges, also called “packet boats,” were often pulled by horses; I guess they were deemed to be more appropriate for the cultured (wealthy) passengers.
Because the tolerances are so tight in the locks, some canals including the Panama Canal still use “mules” in a tow system. The ship uses its own propulsion system for forward motion; the mules are now powerful electric tractors on geared tracks which use cables to maintain the ship in the center of the lock.
Overall, the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath runs 87 miles, approximately 25 miles of which is inside the park. The section in the park has been rehabilitated into a multi-use trail (walking, bicycling, and horse riding—but horses are not allowed on some sections). It is well surfaced with much being paved and the rest being hard packed; it is all suitable for road bikes and was very easy riding on our hybrids.
At times we were riding through woods, some times along the Cuyahoga River, and still others right along the canal.
The canal brought prosperity to the area with many businesses set up along its path. Here are the remains of a mill, the raceway which powered the wheel.
We were told by one of the Scenic Railroad staff that at the time it was constructed, this was the largest concrete bridge in the world, but I’ve been unable to confirm that. Either way, it is quite an impressive structure
We don’t think that this will replace Interpretative Rangers, but it was an interesting method for providing information about the surrounding area to the hikers and bikers. It had a small hand-operated generator powering the player. My arm tired out before the ending of the first recording we listened to!
Being “lapsed” (out of shape) riders, we chose to ride toward the north, following the flow of the river; it is nominally downhill, although a drop of approximately 400′ in about 25 miles is not an overwhelming grade!
Then came the ride back to our starting point…but this time not on our bikes (they actually rode with us!). The Scenic Railway offers a program called Bike Aboard, where bikers can ride the train. This allows many people (including us) to ride the towpath for longer distances, and see more of the valley, than they would be able to if they had to make the return by pedal. The railway has three scheduled stops in its run: at each end and in the town of Peninsula which is about the midpoint. However there are six other “stations” (sometimes simply a widened spot on the right of way with a bench) at which bikers can flag down the train to board, or request the staff to stop the train so they can debark.
We’re certainly looking forward to our coming bike adventures!
Last week, while at the Grand Design Owners’ Rally in Goshen, Indiana, I took an Amish Brown Bag Tour. We would visit a number of different Amish businesses in Elkhart County, mostly in the Middlebury/Shipshewana area. It included a “Thresher’s Dinner”
so I was a bit confused as to why I’d need a brown bag lunch, too. Hmmm. . .
The large group traveled on two large, luxury buses with VERY efficient air-conditioning. Our tour guide, Carlene, is the founder and owner of the tour company and she REALLY knows her stuff! She narrated along the way as we motored through stunning farmland and past home after home with meticulously maintained grass and gardens (they’d never let us live here!).
We passed several “quilt gardens” (too quickly to get a picture but you can see some samples here) and learned that they are a special tradition here. Each garden replicates a different quilt block that is made with annuals — it takes lots of planning and long-lived dedication. To be included on the Quilt Garden Tour, you need to submit your plan for approval in October and then the annuals are ordered. Your garden must be maintained throughout the entire season to remain on the tour.
Our first stop was the Rise ‘n Roll Bakery. Carlene had prepared us well, telling us that their donuts are considered “Amish crack.” She was SO right! As we entered the store, we were greeted by a young woman who handed each of us a piece of freshly baked donut. OH. MY. GOODNESS. It was amazing. We had about 25 minutes or so to shop — all kinds of pastries, cookies, breads, jellies and jams, and crunchy candy (think brittle) made with a variety of nuts, some with a chocolate dip. I chose a package of 6 chocolate chip cookies (my favorite), a double-chocolate muffin (do you sense a theme here?), a package of 3 monster cookies, and a box of donut holes — the same flavor as the sample we got at the door. Yeah, we like sugar.
Well, I soon learned that the “brown bag” was a huge brown shopping bag that Carlene handed us as we approached the bus. AND SHE GAVE EACH OF US A HUGE PIECE OF CAKE from a large rack that had been rolled out to the bus. Uh oh. I wish I’d known what we were getting — I wouldn’t have bought so much inside. Yeah, riiiiight.
My large brown paper bag was already quite full and that was only stop #1. Uh oh.
Along the way to stop #2, we passed several Amish schools. Carlene shared some interesting facts with us, some of them surprising:
Amish children don’t start school until they’re 7 years old.
Pennsylvania Dutch is a language derived from German and is spoken by the Amish in their homes. Children begin to learn to read Pennsylvania Dutch in the third grade; the focus is on reading, NOT writing.
Children finish school at the end of their 8th grade year (age 15).
Sometimes a youngster might want to go on to HS at which point they’d attend an “English” school but it’s not common. If an Amish student is particularly athletic, they might be recruited to attend a local English high school.
Each school has two baseball diamonds; softball is played at every recess including during their hour-long lunch break. One field is used by the younger children, the other for the older kids. ALL the kids play and they love it!
The teacher is also Amish; the only requirement to teach is that they finished the 8th grade in good standing. There is no teacher training.
Some children use their pony carts to get to school. Others come by bicycle. We didn’t see any pony carts; I would assume they have a shed for the ponies and carts just like we saw at Walmart.
Stop #2 was Teaberry Wood Products and it was probably my favorite stop on the whole tour. We were greeted by Lavern; he hopped onto the bus, a beautiful family portrait in hand, and gave us some background about the family business. The long and short of it is that he works for his wife! Rachel is the primary designer of their baskets and puzzles.
They are best known for their beautifully-crafted, wooden, woven baskets—each one is made from a single piece of wood! The pattern is such that a scroll saw cuts the base of the basket and all the ‘weavers.’ The stakes are the upright sticks that are woven in and out of the weavers to hold it all together.
They also make many others items including beautiful cutting boards, handsome pens, amazing puzzles (that can be stood up and will stay altogether), stunning nativities, and wooden seam rippers.
Lavern told us the story of how the seam rippers came to be a part of their business —– they found that men were interested in the pens but when they wanted to come up with something for the “women” in an area where quilting is common, the idea for the seam ripper emerged. They can’t keep them in stock. Lavern told us that since men don’t make mistakes, they don’t NEED seam rippers! No stains are used on any of their products, but each item is dipped into a large vat of oil which brings out all the grain of the wood. They use exotic woods to create the color dimension.
Back on the bus and after a quick stop at a small quilt shop that was going out of business — we were on our way to lunch. My “brown bag” (not my lunch!) now had a bag of “Horse and Buggy” pretzels and a jar of Amish jam — I’m going to need more storage in my kitchen!
We were treated to a hearty Thresher’s Dinner at a large dining hall built and run by a lovely young Amish family. (A Thresher’s Dinner is a family style Amish dinner; it’s similar to a harvest meal.) Seth (in his early 30’s) welcomed us and shepherded us to the pie table before we entered the dining room. FINALLY! Someone ELSE who agrees that you have to know what’s for dessert before you have dinner. I chose a piece of fresh peach pie and took it to my table.
We got to our tables and were served a scrumptious feast of baked chicken, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, amazing “slaw,” and bread — lots and lots of bread. The bread is served with two spreads — a “peanut butter spread” and apple butter. We tried to figure out what made the peanut butter spread so airy — it was almost like it’d been whipped with a little marshmallow fluff. The slaw was actually a cauliflower/broccoli salad, very finely chopped, crunchy, and delicious.
A second wave of serving plates and bowls came around the table — most all of us were too full for seconds! And we still had dessert. Just as we were finishing our pie, Seth announced that homemade vanilla ice cream was coming out in a moment with caramel sauce. Wow!
After lunch, Seth answered lots and lots of questions from our group (both buses – about 120 people in all) — interestingly enough, most of the questions were from the men and nearly all of them were about marriage and church traditions. Seth told us all about how once they’ve completed 8th grade, young people travel quite frequently to other Amish communities (even in other states) and that’s sometimes how they meet their future spouse. He also told us about his young family (a wife and two young children) and how he hadn’t had any schooling beyond 8th grade. Several people on the tour asked questions about whether an Amish person is shunned by their family and/or community if they marry outside of the Amish faith. Seth explained that they could still visit (and would be welcomed by) their family and community but that they just couldn’t attend worship. He doesn’t like the word shunned and thinks that it makes it sound too harsh.
Seth told us that his mother had been a teacher (she was standing right behind him at that moment and chuckled!) and that he was always careful to speak as correctly as possible. Sure enough, she had finished 8th grade in good standing and decided she wanted to teach when it was time for her own kids to attend school.
We were quite struck when Seth explained that in the Amish community, no one has insurance — neither health nor homeowners. They consider buying insurance a form of gambling (and I guess it is). The community IS the insurance — if a family loses their home or barn in a fire, by that evening, community members have plans in place and the new structure is completed within a week! Seth also told us that families in the church communities (usually about 1 mile wide by 2 miles long) each contribute to help each other out. For instance, if a family has a huge medical expense, the community will provide money to cover the expenses. What incredible generosity and commitment!
As we boarded the bus to leave, we saw a large trailer packed tightly with benches (and songbooks were in there, too). Seth’s family was due to host this week’s worship service. The trailer of benches is moved from home to home. They only have church every other Sunday and always meet in homes.
Note: At our next stop, one of our group realized that she’d dropped $20 at the dining hall when she pulled her cellphone from her back pocket. She let our tour guide know. At about the same time, the tour guide received a phone call from Seth that someone had dropped $20 on the floor at lunchtime. Seth told us that he’d ride his bicycle out to the road and meet us as we came by on the bus— and surely he did.
We visited a buggy shop in the afternoon — it was impressive! The owner, Maynard, runs a one-man shop; he builds and repairs Amish buggies. His craftsmanship is in such demand that he has an 18-month waiting list for new buggies. It takes him about two weeks to complete one.
All kinds of special options can be ordered– everything from LED headlights to blinkers, from hand-operated windshield wipers to extra spacious carrying room for groceries, etc. The interiors are stitched on his heavy-duty sewing machine (one of his favorite parts of the process). They were amazing!
Maynard explained that well-built and well-maintained buggies can last forty years or more and are often passed on from one generation to the next. They can sell for about $12,000 new.
And, of course, we were each given a bag of Horse and Buggy Pretzels as we reboarded the bus. My brown bag was heavy!
This incredible journey into the world of the Amish community was my favorite part of our trip to Indiana. It’s a treat to learn so much about an area we’re traveling through. I’m so glad that I am able to share some part of the experience with you.