Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bye to Texas, Hello Louisianna!

West Texas desert

Sunday, October 31, 2010
we woke up in Texas hill country - lovely! Drove through the rolling hillsides, enjoying the more 'friendly'-looking countryside.  All along the road, both in the median and on the side, grows some very pretty grass - green on the bottom, beige stalks, and a reddish top.
We drove to Houston and to the house of one of Dan's buddies from the Seal team, 'Doc' Riojas, and his wife, Lulu.  Lovely home, nice conversation, lots of memories for Doc and Dan.  They took us to dinner at a great Tex-Mex place and sent us on our way, after taking a bunch of pictures!
We're camped for the night just inside the Louisianna border - we do have WiFi, but not very strong connection..almost no phone connection.  I think this is what you call 'the boonies'!
I did take some pictures today...!
nice campsite in Texas Hill country

nice view of surrounding hills (west of San Antonio)

I-10 looking west (from whence we  came!)

Dan and Doc

We're ready to hit the road again!

That's Lulu at the truck door...

proud Navy retirees

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Texas, desert to hill country....

Saturday, October 30, 2010
Today, El Paso to near San Antonio, Texas.  For the first part, we still had those wonderful mountains in view.  Then, miles and miles of grass and scrubby bushes.  Went through another Border Patrol check point early on - I-10 runs parallel and close to the border for quite a few miles.  Then, the mountains/high hills changed to more what I would call ridges - all
flat across the top.  One, in the distance, had some type of bush or cactus across the top.  I commented to Dan that it looked like Indians lined up ready to charge the settlers (like in movies we used to see as children).  
You know you're in the middle nowhere when the one billboard you see is advertising a hotel that is over 100 miles away!!
I was just thinking that it seems like there should be windmills out here, like we saw in Montana and Wyoming - and, then, there they were!  All lined up on top of some of those ridges.  Hundreds of them - in the distance and close up.  They're all still right now, but I'll be much of the time that wind blows, with nothing to stop it for miles and miles.
We did have a bummer moment today - we finished our book on CD, and I looked on the Garmin for the next Cracker Barrel - not for another 350 miles!!  That's so wrong!
Since we're just trying to cover as much distance as we can and we're on the interstate, we're running faster - about 70 MPH.  Up until now, our mileage has been running around 12 MPG - not too bad when you consider we're in a big truck with a camper and pulling my car.  But, that was when we were running around 60 MPH.  This extra speed costs about 1 mile for every gallon
- worth it for now.
As we got within 100 miles or so  of San Antonio, the terrain changed again.  Now, we're in the Texas hill country.  Where the road is cut from the side of the hill, we can see that the soil is very thin.  But, as far as you can see, thre are
bushes and small trees, all green, and between them is rocky dirt.
I have underestimated the ground we can cover when we just go faster, and the roads are straighter, and we don't stop for anything but fuel, potty, and food.  We'll be almost to San Antonio tonight, and we may just clear Texas tomorrow - only two days, instead of the three that I had thought!
We finally came to the Cracker Barrel, had a nice dinner and got another book for the road tomorrow.  Yippee!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Arizona, New Mexico...check check - HELLO Texas!!

Friday, October 29, 2010
Driving across the rest of Arizona today.  Amazing terrain - first sight of the saguaro cacti, the distinctive one with the arms.  More of the huge hills of just rock, with mountains in the distance.  The are lovely, with the shadows playing across their faces, interesting shapes.  Some looked like just reddish rock, some have sparce green bushes or cacti.  We are paralleling the Mexican border, and yesterday actually went through two Border Patrol checkpoints - apparently we look like plain old honest (old?) white people who wouldn't think of harboring illegal aliens, so we were just waved through. 
Tonight, we are camped in El Paso, in the nicest campground we have encountered,complete with WIFI, hot tub, pool...aaaahhhh!  I didn't realize how big El Paso is - we arrived after dark, and the lights of the city stretch to forever!  Some of the light, I know, are from Juarez, just over the border.  It will take (are you ready for this?) most of THREE days to get across Texas!  Amazing.  No pictures today - the only places we stopped were at truck stops!  And, those pictures I take while the truck is moving at 65 MPH? - not so good!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bye San Diego, Hello Arizona!

Thursday, October 28, 2010
Dan got some much needed work done in San Diego, but we've saved our touristy activities until our next trip.  We enjoyed spending time with Karen and Barry, had a couple of wonderful dinners, and I thoroughly enjoyed being right on the beach for a couple of days.
Leaving San Diego and the ocean :(   today.  Next time I see the ocean, it'll be in Florida.  This next segment of our trip won't be the meandering, take-it-as-it-comes travel that we've enjoyed so far.  We have 7 days to drive the 2500 miles to Ft. Pierce, Florida, so we have to average 350 miles each day: no staying an extra night here or there, no big detours, no simpler, more interesting 2 lane highways - just I-8and then I-10 across.  But, we've already begun planning our next road trip - the plan goes something like this:  drive like a bat out of you know where to get to this quadrant of the country.  Then, spend 6 weeks or so
really seeing the places and doing the things we really want to do.  Our list grows every day.  Among the places are:  Sedona, Ariz., Santa Fe, NM, Winslow, Ariz. (must stand on the corner!), and any place else that looks interesting on the way!
I'll post entries on the blog daily like I have been doing, but I suspect there won't be lots of pictures - just progress reports!
This morning we have been passing through some pretty impressive mountains or really big hills.  This terrain is different from anything I've ever seen.  For quite a few miles, it was rocks, upon rocks, upon rocks - big ones, too.  It was pretty impressive - Dan has seen it before, and he's still in awe of the sight!  The vegetation along the road (except for the rock section, has a beauty of its own - I love the colors:  rusty red, golds, beiges, brown, and a zillion shades of green.  And, the rocks!  Totally amazing.  Dan said when he sees something like this, he imagines the first settlers arriving with covered wagons and what they must have thought.  I.e. "Ethyl, what in the world are we doing here?!!!"  I imagine that, by this point, the covered wagons would be gone and the settlers would be walking beside their pack animals..
Now, we've gone into entirely different terrain, the low dessert (the rocks and high hills were the high desert).  Now instead of hills and rocks, we see flat land, sand,  small stones, and scrubby bushes that are really sparce - hard to start a forest fire out here. 
We do see mountains in the distance, the "Chocolate Mountains".  Now this is what I imagined a desert would look like!
Then, we crossed a canal filled with water.  Turns out, the Colorado River never reaches the ocean, because a system of canals takes the water to San Diego and surrounding areas, plus irrigates some fields here in the desert.  In those fields, they get 5 cuttings of hay per year - in Michigan, with a more 'normal'climate, we can get 3 at most.  Also, they grow any number of types of vegetables - all because they have the water to irrigate.  The Salton Sea was created by a dyke that broke over 100 years ago.  It's a big lake (not by Michigan standards!), that is very salty and also polluted by the runoff from all the fields in the valley.  It's salty, because it's 274 feet below sea level, and there was a huge salt deposit and mine there.  Being a depression in the earth, it has held the water there, and
it just keeps getting saltier!  The only fish that live there are briny shrimp, and they'll probably be gone at some point.
Now we're passing an area with huge sand dunes.  There are lots and lots of motor homes/trailers with ATVs and dirt bikes riding all over the place.  Looks like a hoot!  They come out here for just that purpose - set up camp anywhere.  Dan used to bring his kids out here and he said you could hear the whine and racing of those engines from dawn until dark. What a paradise for ATV and dirt bike riders!
Suddenly, after seeing no regular settlements or towns for miles and miles, out in the middle of NOwhere, there was a huge casino, complete with palm trees!  Now, as we're approaching the Arizona border, there is a row of billboards! It's a bit of a shock to the system after all that wilderness.  Then, Yuma, AZ.  and our first problem on the road.  A nice man at the red light told us one of the straps that ties down my car to the dolly was loose or broken.  Turns out they were both broken!  So, we took a little detour to 'Wally World' and got replacement parts.  That Dan is amazingly handy!  Back on the road again!
We've decided to try reading a book together - stopped at Cracker Barrel for lunch (no sacrifice for either of us), and picked a book from their collection.  Should make these long straight miles fly!
We've stopped for the night at the junction of I-8 and I-10.  The book is a hit with both of us.  400 miles or so today, and more of the same tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

San Diego

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
This morning, I'm sitting in the camper with the door open to the Pacific, watching the waves come in and some surfers who are on their personal water devices (?).  One actually went into a wave and intentionally flipped the thing!  Landed right side up.   Now that's something you don't see every day! 
We're camped at Del Mar Beach on Camp Pendleton.  The Marines were out in force this morning, group of about 100 guys running up and down the beach.  They disappeared and the next thing to come into view are two APCs (armored personnel carriers).  They roared off down the beach, but didn't oblige me by running into the water.  Maybe later!
Dan has some business in Orange County this morning, so he's taking off for a while.  Thought about going to the base course and knocking some little white balls around, but decided I would enjoy hanging out on the beach more!  I'm going to do some laundry, re-organize my clothes, clean up the 'house' a bit.  In short, a perfect morning, doing a bit of needful things and a whole lot of nothing else!
Had a wonderful prime rib dinner at the 94th Aerosquadron restaurant last night with Dan's friend and business partner, Karen, and her hubby, Barry.  Fun time - I've heard so much about them, it's great to finally get to meet them.
Looks like we may have to stay here until Thursday, which is a good/bad thing.  Good, because the area is beautiful, and there's no end of fun things to do.  Bad, because we're at a difficult stage in this wonderful trip.  We're out of time to meander across the country!  We're to be in Ft. Pierce, Florida, on or before 11/4 for Dan's Navy Seal Reunion, the original purpose for this trip!  Which means we only have 7 days, now, to hie 2,500 miles across the country!  I know, to you working people, 7 days sounds like a lot, but Dan and I are the ones that took 3 days to get out of Michigan!  There's so much we wanted to do between here and Florida, but they'll just have to wait until the next trip.
This afternoon, we're driving down to Imperial Beach, the most southwestern point of the contiguous U.S.  We'll probably go across the border to Tijuana, just because we can, and because we can now say we included two foreign countries on our trip!
Not many pictures today - we've just been busy.  Just now, I took a picture that shows my view out the door of the camper plus one of the beach from the just outside the door of the camper.  The water is about 100 yards away.  Went on a nice walk up and down the beach, watched a couple of surfers then sat and read my book for a while. 
This evening, we drove to the most southwest corner of the contiguous States, Imperial Beach.  You park, then walk down the beach for about another mile to the Tijuana River.  The River is not the border at that point - but, we walked as far as we could go.
Then, we parked at the border gate on the US side and walked over to Tijuana.  Strolled around a bit, with every vendor in the city approaching with a hopeful face.  We just kept saying "No, gracias."  But, we did have a wonderful meal and a nice talk with Fausto, our waiter.  He spoke very good English, and our patchy Spanish got us through.
beach at Del Mar, right outside the camper!

very different beach at San Onofre, just a few miles north

San Onofre beach

from inside the camper....

lovely sandy beach at Del Mar

at the border - helicopters all over the place, practicing landing/takeoff

the round structure to the right of the screen is the bull ring

Gena, as close to the border as we can go without wading the river!

our boys in the heli...

Tijuana River (in US), Tijuana in the background

Saturday, October 23, 2010

PLEEEEEASE get us through Los Angeles!

Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010
This morning, we woke up in the King City campground (San Lorenzo) knowing we had to 'beat feet' to make it into the San Diego area this evening.  But, we got to talking to a very nice couple, originally from Wisconsin and now from the Sacramento area.  Fun talking with them sharing our camping experiences and the differences between their 5th wheel camper and our truck camper.  We pulled out and found that right there adjacent to the campground, there is an extensive agricultural museum, with every iteration of every farm-type machinery for the past 100 years or so.  Interesting to me, and facinating for Dan.  OK, another spot to add to our list of placesme to live here, y we must return to!
We passed through the Salinas Valley, where the "Grapes of Wrath' action took place.  Very wide valley, with all sorts of crops, lettuce, cabbage, celery, sugar beets, and then back to acres and acres of grapes.
Then, beautiful grand mountains, glimpses of the ocean, beautiful Santa Barbara and surroundings, and then....Los Angeles - in order to get me to live here, you would need some heavy cord and a very secure post in the ground!  Ugh - Saturday afternoon, and we've inched along for the two hours.  And, we're not done yet.  Interesting to note that at least 95 percent of the cars here are foreign made.  (Let's not talk about the fact that we're riding in a Dodge Ram truck and pulling a Toyota!)
Our destination tonight is a campground/resort south and east of LA.  Will be good to get out of this truck and relax!  I hear they have a hot tub!!
The only pictures I have taken so far today are (1) several lanes of stopped traffic, and (2) highway sign showing the end of Hwy. 101 - that means we have driving the entire length of that highway, starting in Olympia, Washington, on the Olympic peninsula.  I think I'll spare you those wonderful shots!

Friday, October 22, 2010

From California to California!

this huge redwood is laying down...

cool tree completely covered in moss

sign about how the redwoods grow...from roots, not usually from seeds

hard to convey just how big these guys are...
Friday, October 22, 2010
Last night, we just stayed in the camper parked on the street near David and Lea's apartment in Davis.  As we were settling down for the night, I said "Wow, it almost sounds like we're parked on the street....Oh that's right - we are!"  This morning, we took David and Lea to a great breakfast at a crepe place, then headed out.  We went to a place where we could replace the magnetic brake lights that sat on the rear of my towed car.  The others somehow got knocked off and dragged for a while before Dan noticed! They were toast... 
Next stop:  Muir Woods National Park just north of San Francisco. Unbelieveably, this was the first rainy day since we left home almost a month ago!  Even so, we thoroughly enjoyed walking  through this old growth forest. We were amazed and awed by their beauty. Huge redwoods again - this is the oldest stand on the coast.  To get there, we drove on a very twisty turny and narrow road up Mt. Tamalpais - a popular hiking area.
Next, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge - silly me, I thought it was named that because of its color - nope, the bridge is actually a reddish color, and spans the Golden Gate strait!  We have absolutely no time to stop and explore San Francisco, one of Dan's favorite cities - that'll have to wait until another trip.  I was there once years ago, and just got a sample of the city - this time, we didn't even get a nibble!  We drove through, enjoying the sights.  City Hall, SF Schools building, Veterans Memorial (site of operas and plays), the Symphony building, lots of interesting-looking buildings and people.  Sigh....
This afternoon, we're just going to get as far as we can towards San Diego where we will spend several days.  Dan has business there, and I'm going to get a haircut - if I don't get a professional haircut (and color!) soon, I'm going to start in with my scissors..not a good thing!
Camped for the night in King City, after a long and pretty boring drive through the cities and LOTS of traffic south of San Francisco.  It's still over 300 miles to Los Angeles!  And another 100 after that to San Diego.   Wow, big state!
Most of my pictures in the Muir Woods were not good, blurry or too dark.  So, here are the ones that turned out ok.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Napa Valley!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010
We spent the day today driving through the Napa Valley and sampling wine - tough job, but someone has to do it!  We stopped at 3 vineyards with wine tasting, two with tours of the operation.  Our favorite, for the wine, was Berringer's.  We enjoyed the tour with John, and ended up buying 10 or so bottles plus both signed up for their wine club.  With the wine club, we will both be sent 6 bottles every 3 months.  Some of these wines are not sold in stores.  My favorite was the white Merlot and the sparkling white zinfandel.  Yumm!  John explained about the labor involved in the fields, which requires skilled labor, not migrant workers.
The other tour we took was at the Robert Mondavi vineyards.  Here, we got to taste the various grapes from the vine, and saw and heard more about the commercial operation and creation of wine.  We learned and saw much about wine.
Lovely lovely countryside.  I've always wanted to come here, and now I have another wish to cross off my list!
This evening, we got to go and meet Dan's son, David, and his fiance, Lea, in Davis.  We took them out for dinner at their favorite Mexican place - Yummy!  The salsa bar had everything from the usual hot/medium tomato salsa, to pumpkin (?), pineapple, strawberry, and cactus salsa.  Cool.  Good folks, fun conversation.
vines, everywhere vines!

at the Robert Mondavi vineyard

roses everywhere too - lovely!

at Berringer's

at Mondavi's

inside mansion at Berringer's

rooms and tunnels dug into the mountain at Berringer's

at Mondavi's

inside Mondavi's visitor place

ummmm - where did you say??


old, uprooted vine, now bronzed for display

vines stretch on forever - all the green growth is from this year...!

in the area used for wine tours at Mondavi's


grapes on the vine for the visitors' tour....

at Berringer's, built 1877

either apricots or persimmons??

mansion at Berringer's

east side of the Napa Valley