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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Alohomora - Unlocking The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hi Blog!

This November we are hanging out in Tucson, Arizona waiting for our new motorhome. This puts us within driving distance of our daughter Katie in Los Angeles. Since we are always looking for new adventures, Katie suggested we visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Never one to miss out on an adventure, our friend, Darla, joined us for a day of magical adventure.

All aboard the Hogwarts Express....

Our "Front of the Line" passes allow us to enter the park an hour early. We were happy to have the extra time to explore. As we approached the entrance, we were amazed at the size and attention to detail of each of the buildings.

Welcome to Hogsmeade.

Before exploring all the shops, we fortify ourselves with a butterbeer. If you are a kid, you will love this drink. (Think vanilla cream soda with whip cream.) For us, we found it way too sweet. Now that we were sufficiently sugared up, it was time to shop.

We stopped at Ollivanders and watched a wand choose a young wizard. Of course, his parents then felt obligated to buy it for him. At $50.00 apiece, the wands are not cheap, but the kids can use them to "cast spells" around the park.

The main ride attraction is "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," located inside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

This way to Hogwarts....

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey uses robocoaster technology, which allows the seats to pivot while being held above the track by a robotic arm. However, the ride is not a roller coaster but a scenic dark ride in 3D. The experience includes a flight around Hogwarts Castle, encounters with the Whomping Willow and a horde of Dementors, and a Quidditch match. The ride drops, spins around, twists and turns, but does not turn upside down, though passengers sometimes lie flat on their backs. 

Sounds awesome!

After checking our bags, we began to work our way through the castle. Even if you don't like motion control rides, the walk through the castle is so worth it. 

While the portraits did talk to us, the stairs remained stationary. 

We used our early admission time to take the Forbidden Journey twice. The ride goes by so fast, we felt we missed stuff. Later in the afternoon, we used our Front of the Line Pass to take one last ride. However, the entrance for the Front of the Line Pass is different, so we got to see props. We were glad we did both because the long entrance line through the castle is almost as much fun as the ride itself.

Our last Harry Potter adventure was a short roller coaster called, "Flight of the Hippogriff." It is a cute family-friendly roller coaster. Again, the line was almost better than the ride. To get to the ride, you walk through the grounds of Hogwarts right past Hagrid's house. If you get too close, Fluffy will bark at you.

Want to go for a ride?

Our last look at the castle before heading out to explore the rest of Universal Studios:

Since we spent most of our time in Harry Potter World, we only had the energy for a few other adventures. We sampled Duff Beer and screamed on the Simpsons 3D ride at Simpson World, took the Backlot Tour, experienced Water World and finished off with some Minions! 

Kathy and Darla styling and profiling their new minion 3D goggles!

Of course, we took home a few souvenirs. The pumpkin juice reminded us more of spiced apple cider than anything pumpkin. Kathy was excited to get a Dumbledore card with her chocolate frog!

And so ends another adventure. Mischief managed!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Where's the Old Prospector?

This is the story of our discovery of an old mine and some other denizens of the desert.  You'll have to read on to see whether we found the old prospector, or his grave, or his descendants.  We won't tell you the answer in advance.

We've been here at Desert Trails RV Park for five weeks now, and, to be honest, we haven't had a lot of adventures worth reporting in this blog.  We planned this stay to deal with the logistics of trading our truck and fifth wheel for a new motorhome and Jeep, but we weren't prepared for all of the other logistical and other issues that have popped up during our stay here.

As a consequence, while we've hiked and biked the trails in Tucson Mountain Park north of our campground, only a couple of them have been noteworthy.  Today's hike, which was along Prospector's Trail to the base of Golden Gate Mountain, had more than the typical share of interesting experiences, so we deemed it blogworthy.

Here's David leaning on the trailhead sign which, as with some other signs along the trail, clearly hasn't seen much repair or maintenance for many years:

Just outside our campground, on the "North Trail," which leads over private land, through the boundary of Tucson Mountain Park, to the Prospector's Trail, we encountered the private version of a trail sign.  We were grateful for it, as we were not sure where we were.  It was pretty clear and very precise:

The private trails leading to Tucson Mountain Park are also graced with painted rocks.  Some of the rocks inform you of the trail you are on.  Others provide (believe it or not) GPS coordinates for their location (this assumes that trail jokers have not moved the stones).  Yet more are merely whimsical interpretations of Native American art:

But the surprises of the North Trail are not exhausted yet.  Further on, we encountered the remains of a Monty Pythonesque hiker who seems to have just given up after losing his way:

On a more serious note, as the North Trail approaches the boundary of Tucson Mountain Park, hikers come across two graves, marked with crosses:

For weeks, we wondered who these poor souls might be, buried here in the harsh sun and dry sand. Then, by chance, we were looking over the campground bulletin board and discovered an explanation.  Written by one M. L. Boyer, it reads:

Old Bill was not as many men, he claimed the right to fill the yen that gripped him from an early age to roam around o'er rock and sage.  And so he took this as his place and roamed these hills until his face was known to us and came to be a part of what we came to see.

You may have seen him, maybe not, as Old Bill sought his earthly lot.  He was a man not hard to know but hard to find, kept on the go.  I hope you sometime met Old Bill as he wandered 'round o'er every hill and valley and ridge this desert owns with his dog, Shep, just them alone.

Bill never talked 'cept once or twice I ever knew, nor broke the ice to make a friend or to confide what made him roam - what was inside his head, or why he'd never leave the desert.  There was no reprieve enticing him to go away.  He reckoned that he'd rather stay.

And stay, he did, Old Shep and him, though pickings here were pretty slim.  He never worked that we could tell and never washed, that we could smell.  But still, we liked Old Bill and knew he'd never leave.  We could construe that when his walking days were past we'd have to plant him where at last he'd have eternally a home in this old desert where he'd roam forever more, Old Shep and him, where he could gaze at every rim he'd loved so faithfully for years.  We knew we must, or shed the tears of the regret we'd never still if we ignored the wish of Bill.

We talked a bit, made up our mind that Bill could not leave Shep behind.  Were sure that Shep would have it so, that where Bill went, he'd have to go.  One winter morn we found him there, all cold and dead.  He didn't care, but poor Old Shep, so faithful still, was lying there beside Old Bill.  Shep wouldn't leave Old Bill, and so where Bill had gone, he had to go.  The dog ignored us as we placed the rocks and stones o'er Old Bill's face.  We piled them up and all round Old Bill, and still the dog was bound to never leave his faithful friend and, so, you know the story's end.

As you go up the northern trail among the cactus and the quail, you'll see a mound of rocks, a cross, to evidence that double loss.  Whenever I walk by that place where last we looked on Old Bill's face, I have to pause, and heave a sigh and tell Old Bill, again, goodbye.  If you should pause beside that mound where Bill and Shep lie on the ground, remember, should you start to sigh, that his whole story is a lie.

Hmmm....We'll those last words make us wonder if we've really uncovered the story of the poor souls buried out there on the desert.  However, the writer of this legend was kind enough to include the following photo of "Old Bill."  The photo is undoubtedly as genuine as Old Bill's story.

But I digress.

We turned onto the Prospector's Trail, wondering as we hiked why it had that name.  After a couple miles, we climbed a small hill, only to find the remains of an old mine.  Here, David looks down into the mine pit - the foundation of a hand-drawn winch in the background, which would have been used for hauling dirt and ore up out of the mine pit:

There is a long history to mining in the area of Tucson Mountain Park.  The following paragraph is taken from "Mines and Minerals in the Tucson Mountains," by David A. Kring and Anna M. Domitrovic:

The Tucson Mountains once were mined extensively for copper, gold, silver, lead and other metallic elements. Scattered through the mountains are remnants of over 120 mines, prospects and quarries. These mining activities, plus the work of academic geologists and private mineral collectors, have produced a dizzying array of over 80 minerals, including some of the world's most spectacular fiery-red vanadinite specimens.  Most of the ores and minerals were produced by volcanism. In the Tucson Mountains there have been three episodes of volcanism, the oldest remnant of which is a 160 million-year-old igneous rock called the Museum Porphyry. Most of the mineralization, however, appears to be related to the second episode of volcanism which swept through the region 70 million years ago near the end of the Cretaceous Period.  At that time, southern Arizona was saturated with a belt of towering volcanic peaks and a sea of volcanic vents. In the Tucson Mountains, a huge 20 x 25 kilometer volcanic caldera was created when a 4- to 5-kilometer thick sequence of hot volcanic ash poured out onto the surface of the surrounding terrain. Toward the end of this caldera-forming series of eruptions, several plumes of subsurface magma rose and began to penetrate the overlying sequence of rocks. These magmas carried the copper-, gold- and silver-bearing siliceous fluids that eventually deposited ore-bearing minerals.

Wow.  And there are only 119 more mines for us to discover as we hike this area!  The idea of so much hiking exhausted David, so he lay down to rest a bit.  Little did he know, but he had stretched out to a rock sculpture of another person - mayhaps a miner.  Kathy snapped this photo so that David could later compare himself to the sculpted miner:

By this time, our trail was heading straight toward Golden Gate Mountain, and led us up the slopes of some foothills toward Kinney Road to the east:

We eventually reached our destination - the foot of Golden Gate Mountain.  We rested, snacked and drank some water.  As we were getting ready to return another 3.3 miles to our campground, we noticed this handsome little barrel cactus cuddling with his nurse tree, a comely palo verde, and we couldn't resist snapping their photo:

This was a great outing!  We met two other couples enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the desert.  One was a hiking couple from Canada, and the other was a trail-biking couple who live locally but who, coincidentally, went to school in Philadelphia, where we hail from.  We chatted with each couple, to the point that our final GPS record of the hike showed 2.5 hours of hiking and 1 hour of stopping. Since we only stopped briefly at the old mine, and maybe only 15 minutes at our turnaround, I guess we paused longer than we thought in conversation with those other desert rats.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Day of Rememberance - Washington, D.C.

On Monday and Tuesday, October 24 and 25, 2016, we were on our own to explore the D.C. area while William was in school and Matt and Weina worked.  We decided on Monday to visit the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, making it a day of remembrance for us.  We hadn't previously visited either site.  Both were a short Metro ride from Arlington where the Birthday Boys live, and it was easy to combine them into a single day's trip.

Our first stop was the Pentagon.  A cell phone audio tour was available, which we found very moving and informative.  It guided us around the memorial, which is shown below in a stock photo we borrowed, because tourist photography is prohibited:

The memorial is sited in the path that American Airlines Flight 77 took - just feet off the ground - just before it exploded on hitting the west wall of the Pentagon.  The memorial contains 184 benches, one for every soul that was lost in the attack on the Pentagon, including a 3-year old girl who was on the airplane.

Our words are not enough to convey the somber feelings the memorial prompted in us.  We can only urge readers to visit it for themselves.  It is well worth the trouble and helps fill in a chapter of the horrible story of September 11, 2001 that many people are not as familiar with as the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City.

We returned up the Metro Line to Arlington Cemetery.  The grounds are huge, so we decided to take a tram-car tour before walking back directly to John F. Kennedy's gravesite and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The tour was a very good overview of the cemetery, its purpose and history, and some of the notable people who are buried there.

After the tour, we started our walk of remembrance.  Of course, the first scene we encountered - most appropriately - were the thousands and thousands of simple white gravestones marking the burial places of persons who served our country in the military:

As we approached John Kennedy's gravesite, we caught a glimpse of Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, formerly the Custis-Lee Mansion.  It was once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee who had to abandon the property when he elected to lead the Confederate Army, because the property was in the control of the Union. It overlooks the Potomac River and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. During the American Civil War, the grounds of the mansion were selected as the site of Arlington National Cemetery.  While one of the less noble reasons the grounds were chosen was in part to ensure that Lee would never again be able to return to his home, the United States has since designated the mansion as a National Memorial to Lee.

When we arrived at the Kennedy family gravesite, and the Eternal Flame flickering over the gravesite of our former President, we saw that it was positioned in front of and below Arlington House, and shared the same spectacular vista of downtown Washington, D.C., including the Lincoln and Washington Memorials:

Robert Kennedy was buried near his brother, and also is looked over by Arlington House and a flag flying at half staff:

The ceremonial changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is carried out every hour on the hour.  We arrived at the tomb in time to watch the full ceremony, including the moment that the participating guards saluted their unknown comrades who died in battle:

On Tuesday, with most of a day available to us before our flight back to Phoenix, we decided to pick one of the Smithsonian Museums to visit.   We have visited a number of the others in prior visits, but this day we chose the museum on American History.  The day was beautiful as we crossed the Washington Mall toward the museum:

Coincidentally, on the previous Monday, October 17, the Smithsonian announced a Kickstarter campaign to raised $300,000 to fund the restoration of Dorothy's ruby slippers from the 1939 movie, "The Wizard of Oz."  Created by the MGM studios prop department, the slippers were never intended to last. Since 1939, their bright ruby hue has faded, some threads attaching sequins have broken and some sequins are losing color altogether.  It was the second such campaign launched by the Smithsonian. In 2015, it exceeded its $500,000 fundraising goal to “Reboot the Suit” and conserve and display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 space suit at the National Air and Space Museum.  The crowdfunding on the project was so popular that the museum was additionally able to conserve the space suit of Alan Shepard from the first American manned space flight in 1961.

We were excited to hear from our tour guide, that in only five days, the museum had raised the entire amount it needed for the restoration, and our first stop was to see the ruby slippers themselves:

The museum only displays a small fraction of its entire collection, and even this small fraction was much, much more than we could hope to absorb in a single visit.  We look forward to visiting perhaps this museum again, along with the National Museum of African American History and Culture when we return to D.C. this December.

Thus filled with new information and footsore, we hopped the Metro and a connecting bus back to Dulles International Airport and our flight home to Phoenix.  When we landed, we still had a 1.5 hour nighttime drive to our campground in Tucson.  Needless to say, we fell right into bed, happy to be back with our cats Baxter and Flip, who were also undoubtedly happy to see us again.

Great Falls National Park

Hi Blog!

It's hard to believe that "Birthday Weekend" has come and gone. We had such a great time with Matt, Weina and William in Arlington, VA. The weekend was full of all kinds of fun activities, great food and, of course, birthday cupcakes!

On Sunday, October 23, 2016, we all visited Great Falls National Park for a hike along the Potomac River.  We were just in time to enjoy some fall color. Here is the obligatory trailhead photo.

Before beginning our hike, we made a stop at the Great Falls Overlook. The falls tumble 76 feet over a series of major cascades. The Great Falls are rated Class 5-6 Whitewater according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. The Falls have always been a popular destination for expert whitewater kayakers in the DC area. While we did see some kayakers on the water, no one came through the Great Falls while we were watching.

Ok, everyone say "cheese-burgers!"

Our Great Falls National Park selfie!

The photo below shows YeYe (David) and NaiNai (Kathy) with their grandson. Here, Sir William proudly holds his favorite hiking stick. He keeps it in the car and takes it on all his hikes.

One last look at the falls before we head off into the woods.

Our trail took us along the path of the old Patowmack Canal. The canal was partially funded by George Washington.  It was a one-mile bypass canal that began operating in 1785 to give small barges the opportunity to skirt around the Great Falls and to distribute manufactured goods upstream and raw materials downstream.

Here William is exploring one of the canal locks.

When we got to the next lock, William and Weina went high, while the rest of us passed through the canal lock.

As we went by, we all sang Low Bridge, Everybody Down.

After exploring the locks, we returned to the Visitor's Center along the River Trail. A group of middle school kids were celebrating a friend's birthday by learning to rock climb! We asked William if he wanted to do that next year for his birthday and Dad said, "NO WAY!"

William never misses an opportunity to style and profile for the camera!  This always entertains Mom.

A hollowed out tree stump is just too tempting a photo op!

After all that hiking, we built up a powerful hunger. Matt and Weina had discover a Pakistani restaurant in their travels called Charcoal Chicken and they wanted to introduce it to us. We are always up for a new eating adventure.

We wanted to try a traditional Pakistani dish called karahi.  The dish is named after the flat bottom wok called karahi. Stews prepared in a karahi use a tomato and green-chili base. Two of our favorite foods! We decided to share a dumba karahi made with lamb. It was delicious!

We would have happily spent the rest of the afternoon in a food coma, but Sir William had other ideas. There were trains to build, races to race and books to read.

Birthday Weekend!

Since Sir William has been born, we've tried to join him and his parents, Weina and Matt, for a "Birthday Weekend" to celebrate the boys' joint birhdays.  This year was no exception.  While are staying in Tucson, Arizona until mid-January, we caught a flight from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. to spend a long weekend with those three world travelers.

We flew out a day early in order to handle some personal business up in Philadelphia, but drove down to Arlington, Virginia in a rental car to join the family on Friday, October 21.

We sent Young William a bunch of birthday balloons on his actual birthday, and Weina had sent us a photo of the young man stylin' and profilin' with his floaty friends:

This just got our juices going even more to see the Young Tyke.  We love his parents dearly, and they got us excited about seeing them, too, by posting a selfy they took at Matt's cousin's wedding earlier in October:

We got to Arlington in time to meet William and Weina at his school and walk home with them.  At dinner (which Matt and Weina kindly prepared for us), we let William open two gifts from Uncle Tom and Aunt Eileen, who had us bring them down from Philly.  They were two large metal model sports cars, which William shows off in the photo below.  Uncle Tom knows his nephew all too well:

The weather was a bit cool but nevertheless very sunny all weekend.  So, on Saturday, we all decided to stroll around Old Town Alexandria.   Matt had never seen it, and we knew there would be lots for William to see and do.  Little did we know how much, because we stumbled on the weekly farmer's market downtown.  Not only did Weina and Matt pick up some produce and other provisions to fulfill part of their grocery shopping - but William also discovered a tent and table where he could decorate his own Halloween pumpkin!  He showed it off proudly to Kathy:

A long walk makes one thirsty and hungry, so we stopped for lunch at Murphy's Grand Irish Pub to wet our whistles and fill our tummies.  While they were waiting to be served, the boys got a bit rambunctious.  When we looked back at this photo, we first thought it was Matt with William, but somehow David got "someone's" sunglasses and, with those, looked all the world like Matt.  This is only a hint of the silliness that ensued:

On Sunday, we all drove over to Great Falls National Park for a glorious Fall outing.  More on that in the next blog.  But, after lunch, Kathy, David and William just hung around the house while Matt and Weina did their grocery shopping.  We had lots to entertain ourselves, including a MARATHON project of constructing a Lego train and station from a kit we bought William for his birthday --

-- and wrapped up after dinner with another MARATHON book reading session.  The feature event was a voiced reading of a Berenstain Bears book, in which Kathy voiced Mama Bear, David voiced Papa Bear, and William handled the voices of Brother and Sister Bear.

This was exhausting, and William went willingly and quickly to his bath and bed.

Monday was a school day for William and a work day for Matt and Weina, so we walked William and Weina to school before heading out on our own adventure, which you'll read about in the next blog entry.  We rejoined the Happy Family for dinner that night after meeting William and Weina at school again.  After a scrumptious pork belly dish and accompanying dinner prepared by Weina, we said our goodbyes to our favorite grandson and our favorite son and daughter-in-law.

We can't wait to see all of them again over the Christmas holidays!