Things are strange right about now. We’ve come off the road and are back on MDI, long enough to put our house on the market. (Anyone want a house on the Maine Coast, right outside Acadia National Park? Anyone?)
We’ve had a great time this past year and are looking forward to more adventures to come! But it is time for a bit of retrospection and possibly introspection.
How to describe the year? We can put some numbers on it:
359 days, door to door
858 hours of driving
27,851 total miles driven (Kathe has well over 25,000 of our miles!)
20,070 miles with the trailer. It is hard to believe that we roamed over 7,000 miles without the trailer. That was all day trips!
2 wonderful grandchildren for 3 weeks
28 National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Monuments, etc.
30,206 pictures (And you thought we had posted a lot of pics!)
But those don’t really give a flavor of what we have experienced. If you have been following the blog you’ve seen many of the things we’ve seen, but not felt the impact of the openness of the west, nor had the many conversations we’ve had along the way.
The people we have met have been uniformly friendly, helpful, and as willing to share their journey with us as we have with them. Need a tool? Sure! Just put it on the table when you’re done.
Occasionally we’ve run across people who try to get into politics, but it has been very rare. Mostly, conversations have been about travel, enjoying the outdoors, families, rigs, and life experiences.
This country is huge! Having lived our entire lives in the Northeast, we had never known anything but the relatively dense population there. Once across the Mississippi river, you start to be aware that you’re driving for many miles without seeing any structure or other evidence of people.
Our country is beautiful, and varied (witness the 30,206 pictures)! We kept commenting to each other about beautiful scene after beautiful scene as we drove along . We had to be careful not to stop too frequently for photography, or we would have never gotten to our next destination.
When we started, we wondered what it would be like, to be sharing a roughly 300+/- square foot “house” with basically two rooms. We’re happy to report that it hasn’t been a problem at all.
When we started, we said that we’d live full time in our RV for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island. The six-month mark came, and we started to make those plans. Now that we’re at the year point and back on the island, we know that it is still the right answer for us.
We’re rattling around in our “large” (compared to the trailer) house, wondering why we ever thought we need so much space—and stuff. As we get ready to sell our house we have to part with things from our past. Most of that seems to not be a problem, but other things, like about 50 years of pictures… well, that is a bit harder. And as most men who have made this transition will tell you… “My tools!” Yeah, I won’t have all my tools! Being brought up with the viewpoint that it was important to have the right tool for whatever it is you’re trying to do, it is really hard to get rid of my tools.
Hard to get rid of in another way is all of our ham radio equipment. There’s just not much of a market for it. While we (especially Kathe) will still be involved in ham radio on the road, it will be done in a different way. Small radios. Small antennas (a bit of an oxymoron, that). There is no room in our 36′ trailer for a ninety foot plus antenna tower, and antennas that measure over 40′ by 20′ on top of the tower. So a lot to get rid of.
We know that we’ll need to come off the road at some point, determined either by health (no news there!) or by a yearning to settle down. But right now, that seems like a long way off. We’ve absolutely loved our past year and are looking forward to continuing for the foreseeable future. We hope that you’ve enjoyed traveling along with us, and that you’ll continue to share our adventure.
We’re still the Lobsters, but, for a while at least, we’re no longer “on the loose.” So we’ll take a break from the blog and pick it up again when we’re back on the road—probably in early October.
When we started shopping seriously for an RV and a tow vehicle, we knew we wanted something that could accommodate a couple of our grandchildren traveling with us at a time. We chose an RV with a pull-out sofa bed AND a truck with a crew cab and plenty of legroom for growing kids. Even before purchasing Rhett (RV) and Scarlett (our ruby red F350), we started dreaming about when we might be able to have our two oldest grandsons join us for an extended vacation.
We began planning with Graham and Dean more than a year and a half ago and asked them what national parks they’d like to visit. We knew it would be summer of 2019 and by then they’d be 13-1/2 and 11. They first mentioned wanting to see Arches and Canyonland; we put our heads together and planned an amazing itinerary that would include all of the national parks in Utah as well as the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and maybe even the Petrified Forest NP.
At Christmastime, we enlisted the boys’ help to research each of the parks in Utah—what specific places/hikes within the parks would they like to try? We chose dates and we started making reservations at campgrounds along the way — people warned us over and over about how blistering hot it would be in the summer so we made sure that we’d have full hook-ups (and air conditioning) at every stop.
To say that these last three weeks have been everything we hoped for would be a tremendous understatement. Graham and Dean have been the most wonderful traveling companions—incredibly helpful, appreciative, curious, flexible, and hilarious! We have had such a fabulous time laughing and living together—we are REALLY going to miss them!
The most recent blog post (authored by Dean) covered our adventures through July 9th. After that, we spent time in Zion National Park, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest NP (including the Painted Desert). The boys visited Walnut Canyon National Monument with Grandpa on the last day of our adventure.
Al was really excited that we’d be able to spend time at Zion; we had visited it VERY briefly 30 years ago (when our kids were 11 and 7) and Al had really looked forward to returning for a more complete visit.
In contrast to Bryce, Zion was incredibly warm. We topped out at 111 degrees! Our campground was about 14 miles from the entrance to the park. We were able to drive into community of Springdale where we picked up a free shuttle into the park and transferred onto a free park shuttle. When there are shuttles running, no private cars are allowed into most areas of the park.
We got up early in the morning (before the heat of day) to hike the Riverside Walk up to the start of the Narrows. The shuttles were pretty busy(*) and we noticed many folks with special waterproof shoes and walking sticks. These items are available for rent for the brave souls who would actually walk up through the water-filled canyon–we talked to a couple of women who had walked in to where the water was up to their waist. One of them tripped and fell into the water (but luckily didn’t damage her expensive camera).
(*) Pro tip: The shuttles are very busy with 45 minute to one hour waits at the visitor center even as early as 7:00 AM. If you arrive at the park relatively early, drive up to the first stop, the Museum, and board the shuttle there. You’ll have to stand, but you can get on with no line! I don’t know when the museum parking fills, but there was lots of space there when we went by at a bit past 8:00.
We only went to up to the point where the trail moves into the riverbed. Maybe another time we’ll go up the river a bend or two but even going only this far the canyon shows many different faces.
Walking alongside the river was a great time to learn about fast shutter speed photography, to stop the motion of the water!
The land is home for the wildlife; we are just visitors.
The valley section containing the canyon and Narrows is in the west side of the park. Our second day in the park, the boys and Al went to the east side, where the geography is very different.
Al: To go between east and west one must go through a long, narrow, twisty tunnel. Our dually pickup Scarlet was too large to go through with traffic flowing both directions, so we had to wait for westbound traffic to be shut down so that we (and many others) could go east. The Ranger’s last words to us before we entered: “Drive in the middle.” Talk about “it goes without saying!”
We saw so many large vehicles waiting in line both directions that I think it likely the tunnel never sees two-way traffic during the summer. But even so, we couldn’t take Rhett through if we wanted to (we didn’t), because it is too tall!
The geography in the east side of the park is very different. It is pretty much wide open, with sloping sandstone hills showing very distinct layers. Graham, Dean, and I had a great time scrambling on the rocks in a few places. We would have done more, but the heat limited our willingness to be out of the truck’s air conditioning for a longer time!
There are still peaks on the east side, but overall the area is much more open.
From Zion, we went to the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. We camped in Jacob Lake about 42 miles north of the park–it was the closest campground with electric hookups (air conditioning is essential to us in Arizona in the summer). A sign near our campground at the start of AZ-67 said “This road is not plowed in the winter and not patrolled at night.” It quickly became apparent why. This is basically a very long driveway to the North Rim; there is virtually nothing for the whole distance.
Nothing, that is, but some cattle and bison, and one gas station selling gas and diesel at obscene prices. A monopoly!
Brother Graham framing up a picture of the canyon…
We’ll let the grandeur of the canyon speak for itself, as words can’t improve on it.
Unbelievably, after visiting the Grand Canyon it was time for the last National Park of our time together. But first, a quick stop after driving to our next campground.
It is not often that you get to be next to a (dead? dormant?) volcano. Sunset Crater Volcano erupted about 900 years ago, so it is relatively new, geologically speaking. The cone is still covered with lava “pebbles.” (Sorry for not knowing the right term; somebody please fill me in.) Nature hasn’t taken the ground back with vegetation. Also, there are huge chunks of lava jumbled about. It is really quite interesting to walk through.
For many years hiking was allowed on the cone. This resulted in paths that were waist deep through the lava pebbles. Restoration efforts were made by shoveling many tons of pebbles back into the tracks. The scars from this are still slightly visible, but we didn’t get any good pictures of that.
The National Monument was created in response to a movie company wanting to dynamite the cone to create a landslide for a scene! The locals said heck no, and pushed for the creation of the Monument. Phew!
There are secondary outlets from the volcano, and their mounds are called “spatter cones.” They are very fragile, and many of them are no longer complete.
Nature is trying to re-vegetate the land, but it is slow going.
Sunset Crater Volcano was named because later eruptions expelled a reddish, instead of black, rock, covering the rim and lower slopes with red. This reminded some of a sunset. Or so the story goes!
The calling card of Petrified Forest NP is of course the abundance of petrified wood—huge logs of rock. But it offers so much more: the remains of an ancestral Puebloan village, petroglyphs, the Painted Desert, and more.
Petrified wood is formed as mineral laden water migrates into the cellular structure of the wood. Different materials such as iron oxide cause different colors. It is beautiful!
You can still see the tree’s structure preserved in the rock. The park said that there are some logs here where you can count the rings, but we didn’t find them.
All of those pictures were taken walking through a one mile loop behind the visitors’ center. Then we drove through the park stopping at several of the view points.
This was a short stop very near where we were camping, on the morning of our last day together.
Despite heavy looting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many cliff dwellings still remain in this canyon.
The “Island Trail” is a loop trail. When we were here several years ago in a February, the trail was only passable part way because of ice. This year the trail is only passable part way due to trail maintenance. Fortunately, it closed the other half, so across two trips Al was able to see the whole trail.
The side that is now open has much more extensive dwellings right along the trail. Some can be entered, some are posted to keep out
We have such easy lives. Imagine that you had to carry your food, and water up or down a cliff every day—several hundred feet of nearly sheer rock face, either way. How did they get Amazon deliveries? Oh… Wait.
Then we spent the rest of our last day together getting ready for the trip home and playing games. Then Al had to say “goodbye,” and drive us to the airport. It was a great visit with Graham and Dean, everything we’d hoped for and so much more!
On the Fourth of July, we didn’t really do that much. Well, we did go see the new Spider-man movie. (Far From Home) We figured out through “loads of researching” about Moab where the fireworks would be. (In a central area with no trees) We drove up to a organizer/helper person to find where the best spot would be. He told us to “Keep driving up this road, then turn left at ‘Potato Salad Hill'” We told him thanks, then burst out laughing. Potato Salad Hill? But alas, it was a real thing! We found a spot part way up the hill, and set up shop. We set up Grandma’s little Canon G12 that I was using, and Grandpa’s big Canon on tripods. We had the location of the fireworks completely wrong! We thought they were to be to our right, but they ended up on our left! Even though there were high fire precautions, we still saw at least 5. Thankfully, they all got extinguished before they were too big.
On the fifth, Grandma’s shoulder hurt too badly to join us, so we 3 boys went down to the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. On the way to the Needles District, we pulled over to see “Newspaper Rock,” a site of many petroglyphs.
We started at the ‘Cave Spring’ trail, a .6 mile loop going up 2 ladders and going under some mushroom rocks. The mushroom rocks provided some shade from the hot sun.
The ladders were a disappointment. We were expecting some big log ladders. The ‘big’ ladders turned out to be two seven or eight rung ladders.
We did another hike at Pothole Point. It’s a really cool hike, getting its name from the indentations in the rock. After the summer monsoons, the potholes fill up with life. They contain microscopic bacteria that can hibernate during the dry season, then pipe up with life after the monsoons.
On the sixth, we set course for Torrey, UT for Capitol Reef NP. We had gotten a recommendation for Goblin Valley SP. Goblins are small (ish) stone spires that you can climb on. This was the stop I was most excited about. (Thanks Jay Darrin!) It was AWESOME! Graham and I played Hide & Seek among the spires. Grandpa got a $5 permit to fly Butterfly (the drone) around the park, getting some great video.
On the seventh, we went to Capitol Reef NP. We tried to go to the visitor’s center, but the parking lot was so small, it was filled up even though there were only about 15 cars there. So we went on, hoping to come back later. We saw some old farm equipment, including a prehistoric can of WD-40! Not really, but it was pretty old. I guess the old saying’s true! “All you need in life is a can of WD-40 and a roll of duct tape. If something doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If some moves and it shouldn’t, use the duct tape.” We didn’t see any duct tape though.
At an orchard and one room schoolhouse, we did see an elk. It crossed the road, and two others joined it. We went back to the visitor’s center and (finally!) got a spot. The orientation film was in a cool little theater. We had Aunt Lee’s Chicken for dinner. (Yum!)
On the eighth, as we drove into Bryce Canyon City, almost all the stuff was Ruby’s this, Ruby’s that. (General store, Inn, RV Park, etc.) We found out that Ruby’s real name was Rubin Syrett. Ebeneezer Bryce found the canyon after losing a cow in it. Ebeneezer set up his home at the rim of a canyon full of hoodoos. (Tall spires of rock.) The canyon was named after him. Many people lived near him and his family, but didn’t know that a beautiful canyon was a few miles from their house. Ruby Syrett was one of them. Legend has it that one day, a stranger came knocking on Ruby’s door, asking if he had seen “Bryce’s Canyon.” Ruby said no, so the stranger took him to see it. Ruby was amazed. In 1919, Ruby and his wife, Minnie, set up a tent to host visitors to the canyon. This business grew and grew, until it is what it is now. Ruby’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren still run all the businesses today! (Sorry for the story time!) On the second night, we went to “Ebeneezer’s Barn And Grill,” a live country music show with a buffet. The music was really good, but obnoxiously loud. We snuck out after a couple songs.
On the ninth, Grandma’s shoulder hurt too much to join us again. So we three boys headed out to do the Navajo Loop trail. The trail went down, into the hoodoos, providing some great sights! The first part was “Wall Street,” a small canyon with three or four really tall Douglas Firs.
We then went up to Sunrise Point, after hiking about two and a half miles. We went back to the camper, exhausted. A good lunch of I-can’t-remember-what juiced us back up though. We went on a short hike called Mossy Cave. It led to a (Duh!) mossy cave. The info sign said that the icicles that form there over the winter can sometimes last until June!
We went back to the first bridge and found a path down to the waterfall at the stream. Grandpa taught us how to “Stop the water” so you can see each individual droplet of water.
That night, there was an astronomy talk at one of the lodges, and after, there was a telescope demo at the visitor’s center. The ‘Dark Ranger’ who was presenting was really funny. The four telescopes showed: a single point of light that is actually two separate stars, the remains of a ring nebula after it exploded, the moon, and Jupiter with its four biggest moons.
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!