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Friday, January 31, 2014

Sledding the Sand Dunes!

This blog entry is brought to you by Eddie and George.  For those of you new to this blog, George is a stuffed panda bear that was in Dave's crib when he came home from the hospital.  Eddie is a stuffed brown bear given to Kathy at a very early age (2 or 3, she can't remember) by her cousin, Eddie Cochran.  After Dave and Kathy married, they have been faithful companions, lo, these many years. They have enjoyed their RVing experience to date, but because of their advanced age, Eddie and George normally only get to explore the campground, but today was the day they broke out of their routine.  They were going to accompany Dave and Kathy on their latest adventure - sledding down sand dunes.  How cool is that!

George took this photo as they approached the White Sands National Monument Visitors Center.

After watching the introductory video about the park, the boys couldn't contain their excitement. They just had to get out and explore.  While not the best day - cloudy and windy - it did cut down on the glare and the dunes seemed alive - blowing and shifting.

We finally picked the perfect dune.  Dave went first to make sure it was safe.

We got our turn next.  Click here to watch us soar down the slope.  You will especially like the spin move we did at the end.

Eddie and George sledding down the sand dune

You know, the hardest part of sledding down sand dunes is the climb back up!  After a few runs, we were tuckered out.  We don't get out much.  After today, we'll have to talk Dave and Kathy to taking us out more often.  We learned a lot of cool stuff.  Did you know that White Sands is a National Monument, not a National Park, which means the President of the United States himself picked it.  He didn't need Congress or anyone else.  He just said, "Save and protect this place," and they did.

We also learned a lot of cool stuff watching the video.  Once upon a time (about 4,000 years ago), there was this big lake called Lake Otero.  Due to climate change, it dried up.  The old lake bed contained lots and lots of gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) which dried into cystaline form as selenite.  This stuff is real fragile. When the winds blew, it just crumbled into sand and blew into dunes.  You can see it taking flight in the photo below.

However, according to Legend of Pavla Blanca (the great white ghost of the Great White Sands), what you are seeing is actually the spirit of Manuela, the fiance of of a young Spanish Conquistador named Hernando de Luna.  Mr. Luna's expedition was ambushed on the edge of Great White Sands and he was presumed killed.  Manuela set out to seek her betrothed and was never heard from again.  It is said that the ghost of this beautiful Spanish maiden still haunts the dunes.  Now, every time the wind blows strongly, her ghost arises from the dunes and wanders the Great White Sands:

Now that you are feeling all creeped out by that ghost story, here is a photo that Eddie took.  He has a very juvenile sense of humor, as do the stupid tourist who felt it was necessary to deface a National Monument with Smiley Faces.

We both agreed that the walk around the Nature Trail was really cool.  The little kit fox that lives in this neighborhood has to work hard for his supper.  Weighing in at only five pounds, he makes us look large.

Here is a photo of the Ecotone.  Don't worry.  I had to look it up, too.  This is where two different ecosystems collide.  Here the dunes are slowly encroaching on the desert.  An ecotone exhibits characteristics of each of the ecological zones that meet there, and hence can be very rich in the variety of flora and fauna present.

What is so cool about White Sands is that you think you are in the dry desert with all this blowing sand, but just a few feet below the surface is a large water table.  In some places, the water lies only 2 or 3 feet below the surface.  The plants just send their roots down to get all the water they need.  As the sand dunes blow over them, they simply grow taller, allowing their leaves to stick out the top of the dune.

We also got a chance to hike out to a playa, which is a small shallow depression that fills with rainwater, and may at one time have been a true lake. This playa was already dry when we got there, so we had a chance to see some of the gypsum up close.

Dave took this picture of Kathy holding a small piece of the gypsum.  It is very light and fragile.

We really enjoyed our outing and hope to go on more in the future.  If you think we (Eddie and George) should get out more, please let Dave and Kathy know by posting comments on their Facebook page.


Eddie & George Wake Up on a Sand Dune...

... in White Sands National Monument.

The wind was blowing, so they had to wear kerchiefs...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Old Planes Don't Die - They Get Regenerated - Pima Air Museum

Hi Blog!  On Tuesday, January 28, 2014, we drove over to the Pima Air & Space Museum located at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  All week, we could hear the fighter jets and big cargo planes taking off down the road.  Several local residents recommended the museum, so we put it on our list of things to do while in Tucson.  It was definitely worth the trip.  As soon as we got there, Kathy couldn't wait to climb aboard one of the planes on display.

Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the largest air and space museums in the world, and the largest non-government funded aviation museum. They have more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft, including many of the most historically significant and technically advanced craft ever produced, both from the United States and throughout the world. Or course, no air museum would be complete without a fighter jet used by the Blue Angels.

This big boy from China Southern was returned to Boeing for a newer model.  Boeing donated it to the museum to be used as a classroom.  Interestingly, the tour guide said that the Chinese kept the inside of this airliner immaculate (we can testify to that - we've flown on China Air and China Southern and their plans are much cleaner and spiffier than American ones).

There are five hangers with various displays, but the bulk of the aircraft are located out in the desert. The hard packed Arizona clay and low humidity make it a perfect parking place for these big birds.  In order to see the entire tarmac and understand what we were looking at, we took a narrated tram ride.  One of the most impressive was this huge bomber:

The museum had the planes grouped according to type:  Attack, Bombers, Cargo, Commercial, Drones, Fighter, Fire Fighting, General Aviation, Helicopters, MiGs, NASA Aircraft, Recon/Patrol, Refueling, Seaplanes, Trainers, VIP Aircraft and Cruise Missles (disarmed, of course).  I found the designed of the Recon planes to be amazing with all their radar gear attached both above and below.

Behind the Recon plane, you can see the tail section of the NASA "vomit comet."  This is the plane the astronauts practiced floating around in zero G's.  Not sure I'd want to tour the inside of that jet. However, NASA's B-377SG "Super Guppy" would be fun to tour.  This monster was designed to transport segments of rockets, and much of the Saturn rocket that powered the Apollo Program was transported in the Super Guppy.

After the museum tram tour, we had a quick lunch and went to board a tour bus that was to take us over to visit the 309th AMARG - Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group and its amazing boneyard and storage fields.  AMARG takes care of more than 4,400 aircraft, which makes it the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world. Planes of similar make and model are parked together.

The engines are removed an stored in air tight containers.  All of the openings are sealed and protected with a high tech film.

These planes are just waiting for the day when they will be brought back to life with new and modern equipment.  Recycling planes saves millions of taxpayer dollars over the cost of constructing new planes from scratch.

They have all types of planes - big ones, small ones, jet ones and prop ones.

Those that can no longer fly, give up their parts so that others can continue their service.  Nothing goes to waste.

After finishing our tour of the "Boneyard."  We went back to take a walk through the various hangers. You've got to love a plane called the "Bumble Bee." It was built for the sole purpose of being the world's smallest piloted plane.

The last hanger we toured was a private museum - 390th Memorial Museum.  Dedicated to the men (and women) who flew the B-17G "Flying Fortress" during World War II.

We definitely would recommend this museum to anyone visiting the Tucson area.

Bicycling Tucson

Today is our last day in Tucson, and we saved for it a long bicycle ride around town, to have lunch at a great beer bar, explore the University of Arizona campus, view some exhibits at the Arizona State Museum, and stop by a local specialty coffee roastery to pick up some scrumptious coffee beans.

Tucson is a pretty bicycle-friendly city.  There are numerous bike trails in various parts of the city, and many, many designated bike routes with dedicated bicycle lanes, even on heavily traveled streets and roads.  While we couldn't always escape cycling in traffic, we rarely had to pedal in a lane of traffic. We felt pretty safe, therefore, and we noticed how considerate, generally, Tucson drivers were.  This is partly due to the prevalence of bicycle riders generally, but also due to the enormous numbers of students at University of Arizona who bicycle around town.

All in all, with the various destinations we explored such as Tucson Mountain State Park, the Saguaro National Park, some historic sites, and the laid back atmosphere and what appears to be reasonable cost of living, we would rate Tucson as a very attractive, liveable city.  We agreed we would put this on a short list, with Santa Fe NM, the Malibu-Ventura CA area, Temecula CA, Saint Helena CA, Kallispell MT, Lander WY, and St. Mary's GA, of places we would really like to re-visit.

The campus of the University of Arizona is a very attractive campus, especially for one located in an urban environment.  The photo below probably doesn't do it justice, but does convey the feeling of green-ness and spaciousness we felt as we bicycled around the university:

Our first destination was The Address at 1702, located right off-campus:

It serves an ever-changing selection of 46 imported beers and domestic micro-brews on draught and many more by the bottle.  There were many beers on their draught list that we didn't recognize.  We won't bore you with the full selection, but we picked the following:

Kathy found a Scotch Ale by Oak Creek called, "Knicker Kicker," and David picked a Widmer barley wine called, "Old Embalmer."  Since we both agreed on two other beers we both wanted to try - Black Diamond's "The Twelve," a Belgian Strong Dark ale, and The Address's "Gentle Persuasion," an Oatmeal Cream Stout with hints of maple and cinnamon - we asked for 5-oz. pours of each so as not to engage in any "drunk bicycling" (which Katie prohibits).  Here is a link to 1702's complete draught beer list.

We discovered EIGHT local Arizona craft beer breweries we hadn't heard about:

Local breweries

The Address (the bar we had lunch at)
Thunder Canyon
Oak Creek

I guess we'll have to bring our rig back through Arizona so we can stop at each of these breweries and get to know them better!

Our tummies happily filled with some beer and some great salad, we caught sight of Tucson's new light rail line, which is still only in testing, but will carry passengers soon in 2014:

We made our way across the University of Arizona campus to the Arizona State Museum:

There, we explored three fascinating exhibits.  The first was titled, "Curtis Reframed - the Arizona Portfolios." In the early decades of the 20th century, famed photographer of the American West Edward S. Curtis created and published a vast photographic record of North American Indians. The exhibit explores Curtis’s work with 13 Arizona tribes from 1903 to 1928. Here is one of his photogravure prints:

The second exhibit was titled, "Paths of Life:  American Indians of the Southwest."  It was a spectacular exhibit describing the origin myths, history and current life of TEN Native American tribes centered in the Arizona region.  The following photo shows the artwork devised for the exhibit, derived from petroglyphs of the various tribes:

The third exhibit is entitled, "The Pottery Project," and highlights 2,000 years of Native pottery-making traditions in the Southwest. The Arizona State Museum holds over 20,000 whole ceramic vessels, and is the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of indigenous pottery:

Having spent the afternoon in the museum, we pedaled our way back to the RV, but had to stop, on our way, at Arbuckles' Coffee Roastery, which was less than half a mile from our campground!  We decided to sample their flagship "Ariosa" coffee and their "European Espresso Roast" coffee.  These are whole beans, and we're really going to enjoy grinding them to slow brew in our Aeropress and Clever coffee contraptions!  We had a chance to chat with Denney Willis and his wife Pat, as well as their son Josh, who own and run the roastery.  We compared notes with them about the experiences we had visiting the Lima, Peru coffee roastery, Tostaduria Bisetti, run by our niece, Hannah Scranton, and her partner, David Torres Bisetti.

Aglow with our chance to share all things coffee with the Willises, we cycled home and set about enjoying our last sunset in Tucson:

Goodnight, Tucson.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Boomerville Bread Bake-Off!

Hi Blog!  This is another one of those catch-up posts.  After returning on January 22, 2014, from the Pink Martini concert in Scottsdale, we decided to attend the Boomerville Bread Bake-Off.  Ok, I guess I have to explain a few things first.

As you know, we are members of a full-time RV club called the Escapees.  There are over 100,000 members, so getting everyone together at one time can be a little daunting.  Folks tend to congregate with like minded folks by joining BOF (Birds of  Feather) groups.  The first BOF we joined was the Medium Duty Truck BOF (now the Heavy Haulers) so Great White would have someone to play with.

While in Quartzsite hanging out with our Heavy Hauler friends, we were introduced to folks from another BOF called the Boomers. The Boomer BOF is an unstructured social group for those with a youthful mindset. They purposefully have no officers, no activity directors, and no published rules. How can you not like a group like this!

The Boomers were also meeting in Quartzsite.  They called their little spot out in the middle of the desert - Boomerville.  While the Heavy Haulers ended up with 12 rigs in their circle-up, the Boomers had over 103.  We attended a couple of the Boomer happy hours, got signed up for the Yahoo Group and "liked" them on Facebook.  We're in.  Some Boomers put together a schedule of activities for Bommerville.  We looked it over and thought the Bread Bake Off would be a great lunchtime outing after returning from Scottsdale.  We drove out to Boomerville just in time to be greeted by the wonderful smell of fresh baked bread.

The breads were divided into categories.  There were two sourdough entries.

And one beer bread.

The far table contained three different entries, each one banana nut bread.  The competition in the fruit bread category was going to be fierce.  The near table had the two sourdoughs, the beer bread and a multi-grain baguette.

Anke Staffenski won the breads division with her multigrain baguette.  John Black won the fruit bread category with his yummy banana nut bread. Karen Cotton won best appearance for her Alaskan Amber Beer Bread. Anke also won for best over all bread.  Stop the presses - there's a late entry!

When Judy St. Croix unwrapped here beautiful challa bread, Karen Cotton immediately turned over her award to Judy.  Not only was the challa bread beautiful, but it tasted great, too.

Those of us who did not bake any bread, were asked to bring toppings.  The condiment table was filled with butter, jelly, jam and peanut butter.  Everyone attending got to participate in the judging.  It wasn't long before all of the entrants were gobbled up.  And so ends this year's Boomerville Bread Bakeoff.  Dave is already getting ideas about entering next time we are in Quartzsite.

Saguaro NP - A Prickly Subject

Saguaro National Park lies just a few miles outside Tucson, Arizona.  It is broken up into two districts:  the Rincon Mountain District to the east of the city, and the Tucson Mountain District to the southwest of the city.  We decided to explore the Rincon Mountain District today.

The main feature of the park in this district is an 8-mile one-way Loop Road, which winds through the desert prairie and foothills, giving a great overview of the Cactus Forest:

As with any other natural wonder, however, there is nothing like getting "out into it," and we did just that.  With a park ranger's help, we mapped out an 8-mile route through the Cactus Forest, emphasizing climbs up into the foothills to give us some grand scenic views of the valley floor.

It didn't take David long to find a spiky friend.  Kathy tried to get David to raise his hands and imitate that Cactus Vulcan Salute, but David was a little shy today:

Saguaro cactus have a classic and immediately recognizable shape.  However, it didn't take us long to realize that there are millions of variations on the theme.  The big plants loomed above us like benign spirits, watching over our journey across the landscape.  Here, two of these fine spirits waved to us from the nearby hill:

Of course, not all saguaros, and certainly not other types of cactus, have the classical shape.  Here are a unique looking group of saguaro, standing at attention behind a flowering barrel cactus:

The landscape was filled with mesquite trees and creosote bushes, and was creased in all directions by dry washes that must have raged with water at some time.  Here, Kathy demonstrates this unique landscape and gives it some scale:

Some of the saguaro looked as if they were about to flower.  They had powdery white nodules on the caps of their arms.  Most of the arms, of course, pointed up, but occasionally we found an arm that was low to the ground and pointing laterally.  The designs were breathtaking:

The National Park Service warns that the desert is filled with an abundance of animals as well as flora.  We saw an eagle circle overhead, noticed many other birds and lizards.  But the only other animal we saw was a VERY BIG jackrabbit, who was kind enough to strike a pose long enough for us to get a good photo of him:

One thinks of the desert as bone-dry, and much of it seems to be.  However, the plant life in the desert must have moisture for sustenance and some water is available, especially just beneath the surface in the washes.  Occasionally, the water pushes through to the surface with striking effect:

The park contains many types of cactus, the most common of which are the cholla --

-- the barrel cactus (here tempting Kathy to give it a spiky kiss) --

-- teddy bear cholla --

-- hedgehog cactus --

-- and other colorful plants we couldn't even name:

We saw some red-leafed prickly pear cactus as well:

As we planned our hike, the ranger who helped us suggested we be alert for the Crested Saguaro we found along Garwood Trail.  It was unique among all the saguaro we saw:

The ranger also suggested we be on the look-out for a family of 10 saguaro, all standing together.  Here, David joins the family and pats Junior on the head:

Most of this section of the park had once been a ranch, and the owner had dammed some of the watersheds to preserve water for his livestock and other ranch uses.  One of the dams, the Garwood Dam, still stands across a deep wash up on the hillside overlooking the desert plain:

As the day grew later, the sun started to sink to the Western horizon, and shadows started to play across the mountains to the northwest of us:

Hiking back out to the trailhead, we encountered perhaps a dozen hikers walking in to climb Pink Hill (so named because of the pink-colored soil, created from white quartz granules and red sand mixing together) to get photographs at sunset.  Our feet were tired but our spirits were light as we passed them.  All we could think about was the wonderful sights we had seen and the gorgeous sunset we were driving into as we wound our way home to a piping hot crockpot dinner of cherry chicken accompanied by a glass of wine.