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…
Now that we’re pretty much settled, we have time to play with toys (repeat after me: “Toys are good!”) and take day trips.
Not too far from here are the Blythe Intaglios. If you don’t want to click the link, briefly these large desert drawings were created by early indigenous people by scraping aside the dark stone layer at the top of the desert floor, exposing the lighter colored earth below. Also called geoglyphs, these are very hard to date. However scientists believe they appear to be between 2000 and 500 years old.
They’re very hard to see from ground level, so our drone whispered in my ear…
The intaglios were first “discovered” by modern man in 1932 by a pilot flying from Las Vegas to Blythe (CA). The intaglios were fenced in in 1974, after it became clear that off-road vehicles would destroy them. There are visible tire tracks in both pictures above. There are several theories about their original purpose and of course what set of theories wouldn’t be complete without one or more about aliens!
We are constantly in awe of the scenery here. I know that the desert landscapes don’t appeal to everyone, but they really strike a chord in me. See if you can spot the Colorado River.
We’ll go back in the new year (we’ll be camping in another location closer to them), to try to find the remainder of the intaglios.
Back at the ranch (OK, camper), I’m enjoying getting familiar with the drone, and with video editing at which I am a COMPLETE newcomer. Here is a quick view of our current location. We are in the camper near the bottom, just to the left of center.
At some point I’ll post a video with audio, or with multiple scenes composited. I’m not good enough at that yet!
Boondocking. It was a new word for me. Just over a year ago.
We had already purchased our RV — let the planning begin!
While we were dreaming about what might be ahead for us as we neared Al’s retirement, he mentioned (with great excitement) the possibility of boondocking. It sounded like something out of a 60’s sitcom, but I soon learned what it meant.
No hook-ups. What?!?!
So, when you camp with an RV, you can camp in a campground or state park that might have hook-ups, i.e., a spigot that you can attach (with a hose) to your camper, a pedestal with electric power (30 or 50 amps) that you can connect with an electric cord to your camper, and a septic hook-up—you got it! You hook up your sewer hose to the hole in the ground. You get the idea.
In some of the campgrounds we have visited en route to Arizona, we stayed *very* close to our neighbors. It’s not unusual, if the campground is near a tourism hot spot (a National Park, a popular city), to be lined up very close together.
Another name for boondocking is DRY camping. It can also be called dispersed camping—as you are outside of a campground. You bring your own water, provide your own electricity (if you choose to), and have to dispose of your own waste—both black (septic) and grey (shower, kitchen sink) tanks. It’s just you and your “campsite.” And lots of room.
We knew we wanted to be in the Southwest for the winter. We’d visited Arizona several times and loved it. Less than a year ago on our last trip to Arizona (before we took delivery on the RV), we drove around to check out some boondocking sites. I remember my stomach doing a little flip as we drove through some fairly desolate areas. I couldn’t help wondering…will I feel safe? Will I feel isolated and lonely? What if we run out of water? And on and on.
Al assured me it’s something he’s sure I could handle but there was absolutely no pressure. We took delivery of Rhett (our fifth-wheel coach) in April and had lots of fun dreaming about where we’d take him. Occasionally, Al would mention the boondocking “thing” and soon he started investigating solar power for the RV.
For those of you who know Al, you will understand when I say that he researches everything VERY comprehensively. He’s been a regular on the Grand Design Owners’ Forum online for over a year — and has learned SO much from SO many. As he learned more about solar and helped me to understand what it would allow us to do, we soon decided to get a recommendation for an installer.
Al already told you all about that install in an earlier post.
So, here we are now. On the desert. So what’s it like? Here are the good points:
It’s dry, dry, dry. (NO snow!)
There is lots of sunshine, but it never gets too hot. We’ve been averaging in the mid-to-high 60’s and sitting out in the sun is a pleasure. The nights are cool and we sleep with a bedroom window open. Love it.
We have been able to run everything from our eight solar panels, and haven’t run the generators yet. It’s going to be quite overcast for the next couple of days (it’s actually raining right now) so we may end up turning on the generators to keep our batteries topped off.
We have plenty of water and if we need to refill, we either drive the RV just 2/10 of a mile to fill up OR Al puts the large water bladder into the truck bed and takes it to fill.
We have a good deal of space to ourselves; Here, we’ve got several acres of desert to ourselves. It’s nice! And, as you can see, Al can fly the drone here—he’s quite happy about that.
The sunrises and sunsets have been absolutely glorious! (If you follow me on FB, you’ve probably seen my photos — it’s so hard not to share them!)
A magnificent sunrise—I took this pic from bed!
There is lots of space to ride our bikes (although some of it is a bit, um…challenging! More about that below).
The surrounding scenery is magnificent. There is so much to explore—a number of huge wildlife refuges included—yeah!
I’m sewing again—and I seem to have my cooking mojo back, too.
Black bean enchiladas with Hatch chiles. Yum!
And the not-so-good stuff:
Wi-fi has been spotty at best when camping. Luckily, my Messenger and Words with Friends games don’t use much data so I’ve been able to keep up with folks. I’ve even been able to still participate in my Maine church’s Bible Study via Facebook video. And email works, too, but on its own schedule. But forget it if you want to use the Internet—downloading or even just following a link is impossible 90% of the time. (I know—first world problem!). We’re in the public library right now because they are hard-wired for the Internet—it’s like buttah! (And this is a pretty amazing library for such a small town—we need to find out about library cards for snowbirds.)
DUST…DUST…and you guessed it, MORE DUST! I know—we choose the desert.
Biking off-road on the desert can be a bit tricky. I took another spill off my bike this week. When you’re trying to cross the desert (think: bushwacking), you never know when you’re going to hit a patch of deep sand or rocks, and those desert washes can be a challenge!
Off we go! Pretty innocuous. We’re actually on a four-wheeler track here. It’s all fun and games until you decide to cross the wash (it’s where the water collects when there’s rain—and therefore, it’s quite thick with bushes and undergrowth—and steep gulleys). Like this…
I’ve been kinda lonely. Don’t get me wrong; Al is great company! But I am missing my family and friends and this week, the desert grey-brown got to me. It didn’t feel like Advent at all. And being together 24/7…well, we all need some independent time occasionally. So Al encouraged me to take the truck and go off for the day. It was *just* what I needed! I drove 80 miles south to Yuma (just shy of the Mexican border) and it was wonderful. Flowers, large trees, lush green fields of all kinds of crops, beautiful mountains, and a huge shopping area that went on forever. It was great to see lots of Christmas decorations and it really put me more in the mood. And it was simply nice to be around lots of people. It’s a balance.
So, it’s official. We are BOONDOCKERS. And SNOWBIRDS. We’re learning how to live on the desert — and for the most part, it’s awesome!
Early on in our trip planning, White Sands National Monument was on our list. But then we decided that we’d like to see some of Utah “before it got too cold,” so we planned to go west on I-40 all the way into Flagstaff and then north. We decided that we’d do White Sands, NM some other time.
Well, “too cold” seemed to be following us all the way across the country (local temperatures were often 15° to 20° below normal—we started to think that it was our fault!). We decided that we would drop down to a more southerly, i.e., warmer, route—I-10—after Bosque del Apache. Yea! White Sands was back on the route!
We knew that there are basically two “White Sands” things. There is White Sands National Monument, and also White Sands Missile Range, the largest military base in the country in terms of area. The Missile Range is closed to the public (of course), so we focused our imaginations on the Monument, which we thought was completely separate.
It turns out, it isn’t so separate. The Monument is completely inside the missile range; it closes to public access any time the military launches a missile. Phew!
The other thing we didn’t know was that the missile range has a museum open to the public! Did I mention in a previous post that I like space-oriented things?
White Sands Missile Range Museum
The first day, we went to the museum. Since you’re entering a military base (by all of about 100 yards), you must present ID, and they run a quick check with the FBI to see if you’re a baddie. (Sorry, no pics of the entrance station where we had to register. That is apparently a serious no-no.)
We spent most of the time at the museum outside at the rocket display. It was neat to actually see some of the rockets whose names I knew from the ’60s.
The rockets on display here were almost all developed for the military, but they also enabled our manned space program. Until the Apollo program’s use of the Saturn V booster, all of the rockets used for our manned space flights were repurposed military rockets—Redstone, Atlas, and Titan. The Redstone held a special place in my memory because it was used for Alan Shepard’s and Gus Grissom’s sub-orbital flights at the start of Project Mercury, the beginning of the US manned space program.
I didn’t know that the Redstone was designed to be “transportable.” From the information sign in front of the rocket:
As a field-artillery missile, Redstone was mobile and transportable by plane, truck, or train. However, when on the move, it needed a convoy eighteen miles long, with 200 vehicles carrying approximately 10,000 individual pieces of equipment and more than 600 men. The Redstone itself was carried on three trucks—its nose section (warhead), midsection (power plant and fuel tanks), and tail section—to be assembled in the field.
Transportable? Maybe. Stealthy? No way!
There was also a nice indoor portion of the museum. Part of it covered the computing resources used in the early days of the missile age. Here is a “patch panel” used to program a computer in the days before software. This is from a computer used into the ’70s!
One way of gathering data about test flights is to track the rockets visually, with “cinetheodolites.” Each of these required two operators, and many were used around the range.
There are moments that change the course of history forever; one happened here. On June 16, 1945, the world’s first atomic explosion happened on White Sands Missile Range, at the Trinity Site. The Trinity Site is only open to visitors twice a year so we weren’t able to see it first hand, but a good portion of the museum’s indoors display space is devoted to it.
The Trinity bomb was the same design as the second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, to end World War II.
White Sands National Monument
On the second day, we went to the National Monument. Mile after mile of white “sand,” actually gypsum. After having seen the delicate gypsum florets in Mammoth Cave, it was amazing to see this much gypsum, literally piled up. Kathe thought it looked like we were on the moon!
It was interesting to walk on the dunes. I have lived near the water all my life except for our time in New Hampshire, and am used to walking on sand—including the sand dunes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The gypsum packs much more tightly than sand, and is very easy to walk on in comparison.
We went sledding down the dunes on a plastic saucer (like would be used on snow). Despite waxing the bottom of the saucer, other than the color of the dune’s surface, it wasn’t anything like sledding on snow! It was quite sticky, but once you got going, it was fun riding down the dune. Kathe got some good rides, but I fell out of the saucer each time! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good video of me tumbling down the dune. (Sand-sky-sand-sky-sand-sky…)
The dunes are always moving, driven by the wind. Keeping the tourist area road open is a constant problem.
We had a really good day there, walking some trails and seeing the scenery. Al finished with a ranger-led walk just before sunset. The guide is an astronomer by training, working as a paleo-geologist. He described some of the research going on at the whole White Sands site, much of it outside the bounds of the Monument.
On the desert floor (where there isn’t currently a dune), the water table is only a foot or two below the surface. The geology of the area depends on this.
The yucca plant below may be 30 or more feet tall. It is rooted on the desert floor, and as a dune comes along it grows to keep its leaves and flowers above the level of the dune. Unfortunately, when the dune passes, the yucca can’t support its long stem. It collapses and dies.
You didn’t think I’d leave without a sunset shot, did you?
If you get a chance, do plan to go. White Sands National Monument is other-worldly. (Lunar?)
I’ve been a space fan since the late ’50s, when my dad took me out in the yard and showed me one of our first two satellites—Explorer or Vanguard—at this point I don’t remember which. I remember watching all of the Project Mercury launches on TV with him.
I’ve known about the VLA for a long time (yes, even before the movie Contact!), but I had never been there. Now we have! It is even more impressive in person.
The VLA is a radio telescope, one of the most sensitive in the world. From the National Science Foundation website:
Among a broad range of scientific capabilities, the VLA addresses four primary science themes: measuring the strength and topology of cosmic magnetic fields; imaging young stars and massive black holes in dust-enshrouded environments; following the rapid evolution of energetic phenomena; and studying the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies and active galactic nuclei.
The VLA is a long way from anywhere. We approached from the east, from I-25, and it is over 50 miles away—50 miles of passing almost nothing but beautiful scenery!
Located on the Plains of San Augustin, the site is both high at approximately 8,000 feet, and ringed by mountains. The height reduces the amount of atmosphere-induced distortion of the radio waves, something I had never considered. The mountains block most of the man-made radio interference. Any electronic devices you may have with you like cell phones, tablets, fitness trackers, smart watches, etc. must be turned off—completely. Digital cameras are (surprisingly) OK. Needless to say, having your cell phone off doesn’t matter as there is absolutely NO coverage!
The 28 antennas are huge! The dishes are 25 meters (82 feet) across, and they over 200 tons each. When pointed up, they are 90 feet to the apex. You can’t really get an idea of how big until you have something to use for scale.
Twenty seven are in active use; there is always one in maintenance; they rotate through all the antennas to keep them all in good condition.
The VLA has four configurations, called “A” (far Apart), “B”, “C”, and “D” (Darned close together). The configuration is changed every four months, and we were very fortunate to visit when the telescope was in configuration D. In configuration A, each of the three arms of the telescope is thirteen miles long, and photography wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun!
The VLA is laid out in three legs radiating out from the center, spaced at 120°.
To reconfigure the array, and to bring antennas in for maintenance, they use a transporter. Top speed is 5 MPH; however when transporting an antenna, it usually moves about 2 MPH.
The reason for the different configurations is that antenna spacing controls the field of view, how wide a portion of the sky it can view, and resolution, how small a feature it can distinguish. Close spacing (like now) offers a very wide field of view, but relatively poor resolution. The widest spacing, configuration A, views a much smaller portion of the sky, but can distinguish much smaller features.
At its widest spacing, the telescope is about 22 miles across. To allow even finer resolution, the VLA is one component of the VLBA, the Very Long Baseline Array, which has a maximum distance between antennas of 4971 miles (8000 km). The VLBA is controlled from the same building as the VLA, in Socorro, New Mexico; the antennas are spread out from Hawaii to the U.S. Virgin Islands and points in between.
If you want to see the VLA, go soon. Its replacement is currently in the works, called ngVLA, which will increase its power and its resolution at least tenfold. The individual dishes will be smaller, but there will be many, many more! More information is here, and here (FAQ).
Several years ago I heard about a great place for bird photography, especially for sandhill cranes and snow geese. It wasn’t over-hyped! In the two days we spent there, we took on the order of 3,000 pictures!
The peak of the bird population happens during the depth of the winter in December. At that point they have approximately 20,000 sandhill cranes, 50,000 snow geese, and 50,000 ducks of various species.
The refuge is heavily managed. The staff plant several food crops during the summer to feed the birds through the winter—mostly corn. They plan to feed 100 pounds of corn per bird across the winter. That is a LOT of corn! They also flood fields with water from the Rio Grande river to give more shallow water areas so the birds have safe places to spend the night. When we were there, only a few of the fields were flooded; more to come!
Even now in November, there are a phenomenal number of birds here. During the day, the birds are spread out widely across the 58,000 acres of the refuge. Even so dispersed, the density on any of the feeding areas is pretty high!
At night they congregate in a few, relatively small wet areas—being in shallow water protects them from many predators. This congregation into a few areas results in massive “fly-ins” and “fly-outs” at sunset and sunrise. Photographic heaven!
During the second day, we took two (free!) tours with naturalists to find other birds which were located on the Reserve. Many were too far away to get good pictures of, but here are a few of the birds we saw.
In addition to so many birds including quail and turkey, there are many other species of animals on the refuge including mountain lion, bobcat, jackrabbits, and lizards.
It will take us weeks to work through all of our refuge photographs! Based on this fabulous experience, we’ve decided we’d be thrilled to visit as many wildlife refuges around the country as possible. Fortunately, there are quite a few in Arizona where we will spend the winter. Yahoo!
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!
I admit it. I’ve been thinking about this post for several weeks and needed time to let it percolate.
Truthfully, I’ve been procrastinating. I’m not sure I can do this experience the justice it deserves but I’ll try.
While exploring what to see in Memphis, we learned that it is the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is actually on the site of the the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. This destination jumped to the top of our list for our Memphis stay.
We had no idea.
The NCRM has two large buildings— the Lorraine Building (the motel) and the Legacy Building across the street, which was the boarding house from where the assassin James Early Ray took aim. The path of the bullet is depicted in the pavement that runs between the two buildings.
From the moment we stepped inside the museum, it was very clear that it had been designed with incredible precision and purpose.
The museum was incredibly text rich—it took us several hours to read our way through the museum and I’m sure we didn’t read all that was posted. (It did make me wonder how someone who isn’t able to read English well would experience the museum.)
The expanse of coverage was overwhelming both in size and scope—the museum’s floor-to-high-ceiling exhibits span the Civil Rights Movement in the United States beginning in the 1700s with resistance to slavery and continuing into the current day with worldwide events that not only conjure inequality but also call us to work for equality—for all.
We were overwhelmed by the impact the exhibits had on us. I felt a combination of breathlessness, anxiety, regret, and anger. There was so much to take in. So much to learn.
The powerful introductory movie concluded with shadows of people marching across the screen. As the theater was dimly relighted, we were asked to exit by climbing a few stairs onto the stage and exiting behind the screen. We became part of the march. Chills.
It was difficult to witness some of the bone-chilling exhibits. In a large room focused on slavery, an alcove depicted the innards of a slave ship where life-sized bronze statues wrapped in chains were crowded together on the floor. Their agonizing screams and groans played on a continuous loop. It felt disrespectful to even consider taking a photograph. We were there to learn. And we were humbled.
As we tried to take it all in, the displays continued to draw us into each scene as if we were present. The story of school desegregation was displayed in a courtroom and a classroom. Martin Luther King Jr.’s experience in the Birmingham Jail was told in a jail cell.
We agreed that our own public education had been tremendously lacking in U.S. history past the Civil War. The school curriculum in Stamford, CT in the 1960’s did not include anything past the beginning of the Reconstruction era. Current events were glossed over and never put into an historical context.
I felt ashamed as I realized how little I knew. We should all know this history. Why weren’t we taught this?
I won’t presume to be the one to teach others this history that is so new to me; hopefully you already know much of it yourself.
The Rise of Jim Crow began in the late 1800’s and continued well into the 20th century. The 15th amendment and legislation were passed to guarantee rights to African Americans and were then destroyed by a series of new laws and Supreme Court decisions that made “Separate but Equal” the law of the land. Segregated schools. Separate water fountains. Separate. Separate. But never Equal.
The Jim Crow era led to. . .
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Student Sit-ins
The Freedom Riders of 1961
The Sanitation Workers’ Strike in Memphis
Civil Rights Marches
In the afternoon we visited the three-story Legacy Building across the street. On the 3rd floor, a timeline tells the story of the American Civil Right Movement up to the time of MLK’s assassination. The entire second floor is dedicated to the investigation of the crime: the conspiracy theories, extensive evidence , and the actual spot where James Earl Ray took aim.
I felt unsettled. Is this where the museum leaves us? I was glad when the tour ended on the first floor. Here we learned more about how the Civil Rights Movement here in the US has impacted human rights and civil rights throughout the world. We were left with the voices of many who have been called into action and who are making huge impacts globally to work toward equality for all. In the dimly lit room, a mural of silhouetted men, women, and children led us out; again, we became part of the story.