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Monday, January 9, 2017

Hike Up Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon, with a summit elevation of 9,159 feet, is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. It is located in the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson. In the native O'odham language, it is called, "Babad Do ľag," which means "Frog Mountain."  Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, on the mountain's northeastern side, reportedly receives 200 inches of snow annually.  Locals have told us we can't miss a drive up here, and they were right.  We didn't know what to expect.  While a hike was our main goal, we decided to decide on a hike once we surveyed the whole road up.

We gave our new Jeep its initiation by driving the 28 miles up the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) into the Santa Catalina Mountains from the east side of Tucson.  The whole area is embraced by the Coronado National Forest, which includes about 1.78 million acres spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The beautiful, curving Catalina Highway is a favorite drive for tourists, for locals escaping summer's heat and cyclists, and has been recently designated as the Sky Island Parkway, part of the US National Scenic Byway system.

We were completely unprepared for the beauty we encountered.  Essentially, we spent the day in two completely different zones.  Starting in Tucson, at about 2,000 feet elevation, we rose through spectacular arid terrain, sprinkled with hoodoos, between 4,000 and 6,000 feet.

We reached a section where spectacular towers of rock sprung up on each side of us, and we couldn't resist hopping out of the Jeep to take photos and explore the dramatic environment.  Here, Kathy perches on a capstone of one of the hoodoos:

If one hoodoo is good, many hoodoos are much better, so we'll share with you some of our best new friends:

We especially liked the drama and depth of this photo, looking down into a canyon from above one of the hoodoos:

Thoroughly excited, we jumped back in the Jeep and continued up the road, making a stop at the Ranger Station for information and hiking suggestions.  The ranger on duty was friendly and suggested we hike to the top of Mount Lemmon by the Aspen Draw Trail.  While not long (only 5 miles out and back) it is steep, with 1,350 feet elevation gain, most of that in the last mile of the climb.  Our ranger reported to us that fires in the early 2000s burned large areas of the mountain, changing the terrain along sections of nearly every high elevation trail. The Aspen Draw Trail is a beautiful exception; while some small sections had clearly seen small ground fires (probably from lightning strikes), there was no impact from large forest fires along our hike.

By the time we reached our trailhead in Summerhaven, we had reached 7,800 feet, and we were surrounded by an old growth forest of Ponderosa pine and aspen.  Here is the scene that greeted us as we started hiking up from where we parked the Jeep:

Only at the last minute before we left the RV did we remember to bring our microspikes, and just about at this point, we became grateful we had remembered them.  Nearly the entire trail was icy or snowy, with maximum snow depth only 6 inches or so.  But what a bonus:  SNOW!

At the bottom, our trail followed the fetching little Turkey Run, which showed off some little cascades from the melting snow:

Perhaps half a mile up the old forest road, we arrived at the official trailhead, which David cuddles up to in the photo below:

The soft, fresh, powdery snow was a pleasure to hike on, despite some icy spots.  The snow also set off the forest and every little detail with an iridescent glow:

Along the stream, we encountered this unexpected, quirky construction on the top of an old tree stump.  The sign reads, "Welcome to Abigail's Good Luck Fairy Village":

Further along the trail, upslope from the trailhead, we skirted the edge of one of the ski runs on Mount Lemmon.  While the ski runs are not yet open due to lack of snow, daytrippers were able to ride the ski lift up the mountain and enjoy the views and scenery.  We, on the other hand, looked at this scene and imagined ourselves schussing down the gentle, curving trail in deep powder:

In due course, we reached the top, shed our packs, and sat down to a scrumptious lunch of peanut butter and strawberry-and-rhubarb-jelly sandwiches (YUM) with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for dessert (DOUBLE YUM).  While we at, we had a 360 degree view from the top of Mount Lemmon, south toward Tucson and north toward Saddlebrooke, Arizona.

As we started back down, we paused for a selfie at the junction of the ski runs near the top of the ski lift --

-- and took in the gorgeous view this sunny day:

We couldn't have picked a better outing if we had known what we were doing.  The weather was perfect.  The hike through the snow was perfect, the climb was invigorating.  We got breathtaking view of the Catalina Mountains.  It whetted our appetite to come back and try hiking some more of the maybe 50 picturesque hikes in the area around Mount Lemmon.

If you happen to be in the Tucson area, don't miss this wonderful, scenic wonderland.

Christmas in DC

Hi Blog!

We have returned to Tucson from our three week trip to the East Coast. While we still don't have our motor home, we did pick up our Jeep! Before beginning our RV adventures anew, we wanted to share some more of our holiday memories. When last we blogged, we had just completed a trip to the Philadelphia area. When we returned to Arlington, we began the Christmas preparations. Here Bubu (the Host with The Most) shows off the newly trimmed tree.

Matt, Weina and William had a few days of work and school to finish before Christmas vacation. We occupied ourselves with Christmas shopping and a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

We love all the Smithsonian Museums and this newest museum does not disappoint. It is so well curated and very interactive. Your journey starts in the basement where it is very cramped and dark, much like the history of slavery. As you work your way up the different floors, the building opens up and the exhibits take on a much lighter note, celebrating achievement and hope for the future. Do NOT miss the museum restaurant! They have home cooking from all over the country - fried chicken, gumbo, BBQ, buffalo brisket, trout and corn bread - just to name a few. If the timed tickets weren't so hard to come by, we'd go back again just for lunch!

Katie planned to arrive on the red eye and surprise William on his first day of Christmas vacation. As fortune would have it, Katie's flight was delayed about four hours. This gave William enough time to get up and surprise Katie at the airport!  Here is Sir William on his way from the Reston Metro Station to the airport taking time to let his little light shine!

Once we got back from the airport, it was time to get busy baking Christmas cookies and decorating the gingerbread house.

Dave admires the finished product.

One of our favorite places in D.C. is Blues Alley Jazz Club. Every time we are in the area, we check to see who is playing. As it turned out, Jane Monheit was scheduled to perform a holiday concert. We asked the kids if they wanted tickets for Christmas. Chance to go Christmas Clubbing with your kids - priceless!

Back at the home front, William helped Weina make baozi for our Christmas Eve breakfast.

After breakfast, Katie, Matt, Weina and William drove up to Joan and Joe's house in Delaware for their annual Christmas Eve dinner.  Before leaving, William made sure the stockings were hung by the fireplace video with care.

Christmas morning dawned bright and early. Before long, the merry band of Christmas travelers returned to find that Santa Claus had indeed visited while they were away. Here, Weina models the latest in Christmas fashion head gear.

While Matt and Katie cooked up a storm, Mommy, YeYe and NaiNai kept William entertained with Christmas movies, games and books.

A truly amazing feast was laid out before us - fresh green salad, pork shoulder braised in milk and onions, roasted brussell spouts and pumpkin mac and cheese!

Katie had to return to LA right after Christmas. We stayed through the New Year, having amazing adventures. William recently visited an art gallery which inspired him to create his own.

While we were still in town, Weina and Matt scheduled a "date" night which meant that we could also have a "date" night with William. Here we are enjoying one of our favorite Chinese restaurants.

We also scheduled a "play date" with William's cousin Ryan. We all drove to Kathy's brother's house, where Steve and Lea Ann hosted a New Year's Eve taco party! Since Ryan is six years older than William, he likes to share his "younger boy" toys. Here William and Dave are laying out the dozens of matchbox cars Ryan gifted to William.

Here we are getting ready to ring in the New Year!

We had time for one more adventure before it was back to work and school and retirement. Since the Smithsonians are only a metro ride away, Weina suggested we visit the National Air and Space Museum. We are doing our best to teach him to "boldly go where no one has gone before"!

As a final postscript, we have included a photo of the matchbox Jeep Wrangler Sahara that William gave us before we left. Whie it is not the same color as our new Jeep, William thought we should have it since we like Jeeps so much.  Now it sits proudly next to the (about to be historic) model of our truck and 5th wheel:

And so ends another holiday adventure. We are looking forward to trying out the new Jeep. Stay thirsty my friends.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Home for the Holidays

Hi Blog!

On Thursday, December 15, 2016, we flew back to Washington, D.C. to spend the holidays with family. The first big gathering of the season is the annual Pollyanna Party held the Sunday before Christmas. It has come to our attention that folks outside of the Philadelphia area have never heard of a Pollyanna Party. According to World Wide Words the term first appeared in print in 1947, but is not widely used today (except in the Philadelphia area). It is basically a gift exchange or Secret Santa. 

Back in the day, Mom use to organize the gift exchange. Family members wrote their name and three wishes on a piece of paper. Mom would then collect them and hand them out making sure one didn't get their spouse or adult child. As Mom got older, the fam switched over to The exchange is now organized by email, but the fun is still the same.

On Sunday, December 18, 2016, we drove up to the Philadelphia area to Kathy's sister's house. In order to sustain us for the long drive, we started the day with a big breakfast. Here is Sir William helping to prepare baozi - lovely stuffed steamed buns. Ours were stuffed with either sweet nuts and seeds or pork and veggies. Just what we needed to get the day started off right.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Pollyanna Party without Christmas sweaters. Here is Dave sporting his favorite Christmas sweater along with a pair of wolf ears that William got at Great Wolf Lodge.

Presiding over the family gathering is Kathy's Mom's sister. She's really a sister - Sister Jane Hill, S.J. Next to Aunt Jane is brother Steve. He is not a brother brother, but is Kathy's brother and the oldest of the McNee kids.

The newest member of the clan is Holly. At 10 months old, this is her first Christmas. Parents T.O. and Michelle are so excited for Holly to meet the rest of the family. Holly is not so sure. There are some pretty ugly sweaters in the room!

Aunt Barb is helping Nick Morrison, Jr. open his presents.

Matt and William get into the swing of it.

"R" proudly displays his new Harry Potter game.

Jen and Drew did their best to appear merry despite the Eagles loss.

Vicki and Michelle - cookie baking cousins!

It didn't take the boys long to get down to some serious play.

Great Aunt Kathy face-timing with Holly-berry.

While Great Aunt Leenie and Great Uncle Dave keep Little Nick entertained.

Sir William takes a spin around the house riding the Christmas Flamingo!

Matt and Drew commiserate during the Eagles post-game show. There is just not enough eggnog in Wawa to make this season any better.

Uncle Tom entertains "R" and William with math questions on a pocket calculator. (It's an accounting thing.)

Of course, it wouldn't be a Pollyanna Party without presents for the kids.

As for the adults, several family members took the opportunity to designate their favorite charity to receive a monetary gift this season. For it is in giving that we receive.

Stay tuned for more holiday mayhem!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Lawyers, Guns and Money"


No lure is more powerful than running water to a desert dweller, and Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness, snugged up against the Arizona-Mexico border, is one among a handful of perennial streams in Southern Arizona. Located in the Atascosa Mountains, a range wild enough to make the short list as a Mexican gray wolf reintroduction site, the Pajarita Wilderness, although small, is a magical place.  Here is just one view of this amazing area:

Our friends, Dick and Gaila, who were staying at a special boondocking site near Patagonia, Arizona, told us about the hike to Sycamore Canyon and invited us to join them. We offered to drive, and so we picked them up at their campsite and continued south on AZ 82 to Nogales, where we were supposed to turn north on I-19. Somehow, we got turned around and headed south and unwittingly crossed the border. We started getting suspicious when the highway signs said “15” instead of “19,” but we never realized that we had crossed the border into Mexico.

We found what looked like our trailhead, piled out, put on our packs, and headed out into the desert. We had a wonderful hike. Here's a photo of Kathy and Gaila at the trailhead:

We hiked through beautiful, ever-changing scenery.  This is a photo of Dick, Kathy and Gaila on the trail:

Our total hike was about 5 miles, and, as we returned to the truck, we were all agreed that we needed to find a good place for some cold beers and good food.

Just as we started to pull out of the trailhead parking, five Mexican soldiers in a green army truck flagged us down and signaled us to stop, which we did. They came over to the truck, carrying weapons, and told us that our truck was suspicious and matched the description of a truck that had been used recently to transport marijuana across the border into the U.S. They had been given the description of the truck from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and it matched ours perfectly.

They ordered us out of the truck and took us over to sit near their truck while they inspected Great White. Soon, two of them returned to us carrying three packages. Each was about 5 inches high and 20 inches wide. They said the packets of drugs were attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks. They showed us photos they said they had just taken of the underside of the truck seat with the packets attached.

We told them this couldn't be possible, explaining what we had been doing so far today, but they didn't believe us. We told them we wanted a lawyer, and they said that could be arranged. About an hour later, a lawyer drove up, met with us, heard the story, looked at the soldiers' photos, and took us aside to give us some advice. He said that if we wanted to be released today, we had to plead guilty. We protested that we were innocent and would not plead guilty. He told us that if we didn't want to go to jail, one alternative was to bribe the judge. We looked at each other in disbelief. We asked him how much and he said, $1,000.

Neither Dick and Gaila nor we had any money like that handy. We tried to think who we knew that might have access to a bank and might be within a day or two driving distance from us. The only people we could think of were George and Nan, friends of all of us. Gaila tried to call Nan and Kathy tried to call George, but there was no answer. Gaila and Kathy tried to send texts, but we got some sort of message saying that the network wouldn't let us send international texts.

By this time, we were really getting desperate. We had just about given up on any idea how to avoid jail, and the soldiers were getting pretty insistent that it was time to go with them, when a man drove by in a BMW, saw us and our truck and the soldiers. He stopped, backed up, rolled down his window, and asked if there was a problem. He looked vaguely familiar to Dick and Gaila, but we were completely distracted by our problem and none of us had time to think about who this Good Samaritan was. We told him our story and asked if there was any way he might be able to help us get to a U.S. bank to withdraw $1,000.

To our astonishment, he pulled out his wallet, turned to the lawyer, and handed the lawyer 1,000 U.S. Dollars! We couldn't believe our eyes. He said to the lawyer, “Well, if this is what needs to be done, please go do it.”

Our lawyer politely excused himself, hopped in his car, and headed down the dusty road, disappearing around the curve. Only then did we start talking with our kind gentlemen enough to realize that it was actually Adam Sandler – the movie star! He said that he has a home in the Tucson foothills and had been out for a drive this afternoon and happened to see us. We thanked him profusely and swore to him that, as soon as the soldiers let us, we would drive straight back to Tucson, where our RV is camped, and withdraw enough money to repay him. He said that would be quite fine.

About an hour after leaving, the lawyer returned with an official looking paper that he handed to one of the soldiers. After the soldier read it, he waved the lawyer off, the soldiers climbed back into their truck, and they drove off. Our lawyer came over to us and informed us that we were free to go, but that we should not stay in Mexico any longer than absolutely necessary. We told him he didn't have to tell us twice. We climbed into the truck.

We suggested Adam follow us in his car, which he agreed to do. It didn't take us long to find a Bank of America, where Dave ran in and withdrew the money to repay Adam Sandler. Dick and Dave made arrangements for Dick to reimburse David half of the “bail” money when we get to Quartzsite in January.

We were saying our goodbyes to Adam when he suddenly said, “You know, I was planning to head over and have dinner at the Silver Saddle. Why don't you join me? We can have a beer and a couple of laughs over this. My treat!”

David was a bit reluctant, but Gaila insisted, “Come on, you guys! A chance to hang out and share a beer with Adam Sandler. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance!” Kathy and Dick agreed, so David relented. We let Adam lead the way back up Highway 83 into Tucson and over the Benson Highway to the Silver Saddle Steakhouse. We each had a huge steak meal and must have spent several hours learning all about Adam's latest film projects.  We even got a photo of Adam and the Silver Saddle waitress!

As we walked out of the restaurant after dinner, Adam suddenly laughed, and said, “You know, this reminds me of the lyrics to “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” He suddenly broke out in song:

I'm the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck

Now I'm hiding in Nogales
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

We finally waved goodbye and drove our separate ways around 10pm, sure that no one would believe this wild yarn of our outing with Dick and Gaila.

We never did find out why George and Nan didn't pick up their phones.