Monday, February 26, 2007

Air Power

Civilian pilots flying Czech military trainers and.........were they ever good!!!!

I don't think Santa Claus visits here - no good little boys and girls

Yesterday, we took in the Yuma Air Show at MCAS (Marine Corp Air Station) Yuma. Very impressive! Even Brenda, who has sometime been a hesitant pilot’s companion, enjoyed the show and was awed by the piloting skill, particularly the civilian aerobatic pilots. The military pilots were very good. They flew FA-18’s, A-10 (Warthogs) and other elements of the US air might. The civilian pilots were even better. Planes were tumbling through the air all day. The raw fire-power of the US military is unparalleled however, as an Oregonian RV’er seated next to us at the show stated, the Iraqis are still making them look silly. Equipment isn’t all it takes.

We are finding that the dust in the Yuma area is insidious. There is always a breeze blowing, which offers a pleasant offset to the heat however, the wind is continuously picking up dust from the surrounding desert and depositing it wherever it is not wanted. My computer keyboard looks like it’s been in a sandbox. We have given up on maintaining a clean car and/or RV. We’ll get washed up once we get into California and experience water, grass and trees again. Sun and heat are great……..sun, heat and continuous dust….somewhat less great! Sun, heat, dust, and spending time in a primitive prison must have been REAL punishment. We visited the Territorial Prison in Yuma which housed guests at the pleasure of the state from 1876 to 1909. Best to behave!! We’re hitting the road for Escondido (San Diego) California today ending almost a couple of months of desert. It’s been great…..dust excepted.

Friday, February 23, 2007

“A Little Nip & Tuck, Senor?”

A street of Optometrists and Dentists

Never could determine if this guy was a Surgeon or Dentist

All the Spanish I ever learned was acquired during multiple viewings of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and, since “Esto es un robo” (This is a stick-up) and “Los manos arribas” (Put your hands up) would likely not accomplish much of a positive nature during a visit to Mexico, we made a point of sticking to English during our visit “south of the border”. No problem! We expected to be hassled by street vendors and…. we were. BUT, we did not expect to be approached for dental work, plastic surgery, eye glasses and exams, or pharmaceuticals!!

Los Algodonas, Mexico is a Mecca for Americans looking for cheap (very cheap) medical and dental procedures and prescription drugs. Street after street are lined with medical clinics and pharmacies, all with the requisite “smooth talker” outside, extolling the virtues of each particular medical practitioner and, announcing “today’s special”. Many of the clinics are clean and modern looking, occupied by staff in crisp tunics or medical “scrubs”. Others ……..not so much. Remove the large garish signs and, many of these facilities would not look out-of-place in any Canadian community. As for the quality of the services offered………who knows? Somebody must keep them all in business.

Of course, one can also buy Mexican blankets, local silver jewelry, leather goods, and just about anything else you can imagine. (Yesterday, there must have been a special on large, carved, wooden turtles judging by the number coming back across the border????) Which brings us to…….crossing the border. We (and several 1000 others) parked on the US side and walked across into Mexico. We did not show ID and, in fact, no-one even approached us as we entered the country. No border guards of any kind. We could have been walking down any street anywhere. No hassles. HOWEVER, coming back was slightly different!! The queue of people and cars attempting to get back into the US, snaked down a street, around a corner and off into Los Algodonas. We patiently entered the “people lane” and inched our way towards a typical US border entry point. Surprisingly, the whole deal was relatively efficient and, we were back in the “Land of the Free” in about 30 – 40 minutes. We also found out why it is recommended to walk across…….the US Border Guards really search the cars. An interesting experience but….been there….done that (No T shirt)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Up the Creek

Fast and ugly........hmmmmmm....reminds me of an old girl-friend!!!

The desert starts about 6 feet from the river edge

Kilroy was here...........2000 years ago

Today took us 52 river miles (20 miles as the crow flies) north of Yuma on the Colorado River, via jet boat. Now I don’t know about you but, when I hear “jet boat” my mind conjures up an image substantially different from the craft pictured above. However, the boat employed two 50 gallon per second jets powered by large, gas-guzzling engines, which moved it smartly up the swift but shallow Colorado. In this area, at peak flow, the river moves 7 acre/feet of silt past any one spot each hour (that’s seven acres covered to a depth of one foot of silt). I guess we all know where all the material from that big hole at the Grand Canyon went. They say: “the river is too thick to drink and too thin to plow”.

Along the route we visited old mining towns from the late 19’th century, which have been swallowed up by the desert; 2000 year old petroglyphs; a nature preserve housing bighorn mountain sheep, coyotes, wild burros and scores of bird species and; remote State Parks, accessible only by water or overland 4 wheel drive. (The bighorn sheep obviously had the day off). The desert in this area is more in line with the mental image I had of deserts before embarking on this trip……..a whole lot of sun-baked nothing. Very hostile and very unforgiving country and, nowhere near as scenic as the Sonora Desert. You have to wonder if all the gold and silver made living in this desert worthwhile.

But, take a batch of desert; over 300 days of hot sun each year; add a splash of silt filled Colorado River water and….presto, you have the market garden of the US. Over 80% of all the lettuce grown in the US comes from Yuma (Who knew??) They also grow most all vegetables on huge corporate farms stretching for miles. Parsnip anyone? This area is also known for our new addiction……..dates….. Medjool Dates to be precise. They are delicious and nothing like what we buy in Canada that passes for dates. These are like eating a date square, without the square. Dangerous stuff!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Located in the southwestern corner of Arizona, immediately adjacent to both the Mexican and Californian borders, lies the city of Yuma. The metropolitan area has a population of 190,000 people and, 175 huge RV parks. It appears that the main local industry is Canadians!! The RV Park and Golf Resort (where is Gary Becker anyway?) in which we are located has well over 50% Canadian license plates (I was just told it’s 80%). No wonder there are few RV’s in Canada. They’re all here!

On the highway between Phoenix and Yuma the traffic was heavy and composed of at least 25 – 30% RV’s (maybe more) and other mobile habitation. The number of toys being hauled behind these vehicles was amazing. Many RV’s were towing mobile garages which can carry one car and a couple of Harleys (or a whole bunch of Harleys). One such rig had 4 ATV’s on its roof. There were hundreds of big dune buggies with huge supercharged engines being towed. Not one VW bug conversion in the crowd. The desert along the route was criss-crossed with tracks which ran for hundreds of miles from all these off-road vehicles. This is definitely the area for “boys with toys”. Golf shmolf!!

With an average daytime temperature in July of 106.8 F (it’s one degree cooler in August) this place is hot and dry even for a desert. It’s hot enough in February. Get me outta here for the summer. But, it sure makes sitting around the pool in winter enjoyable ;-) We’ve been told that Los Algodones, Mexico is the one Mexican border town that should not be missed (we have systematically missed all the ones along the way so far). It is a few miles south west of us. If there is no new blog posting by this time next week, we had a problem there.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Brenda Does Desert

Water in a waterless land

Brenda gets "framed"

We headed back out in to the Sonora desert yesterday to give Brenda a flavour for the beautiful, rugged landscape. Although she was not interested in the “full meal deal”, driving back over the entire Apache trail, we picked Tortilla Flats as a destination. This former stage coach stop is in the middle of nowhere however, has become a popular lunch stop for those interested in touring the Sonora without committing to the shake, rattle and roll of the rough roads further into the desert. Between Mesa and Tortilla Flats, one passes Superstition Mountain and, the rumoured site of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine (it is still lost). There has even been a museum dedicated to the mine. To this day, treasure hunters are still looking for the “Dutchman’s” (actually German Jacob Waltz’s) secret.

The Superstition Saloon in Tortilla Flats looks as if it is still in the same condition as it might have been back when the 1880’s gold miners were converging on the area. The 100’s of tourists tend to detract from the authenticity of the scene but, put them together with a funny country band, the hot sun, cold beer, and yet another BBQ and it is a winning formula for noon-time fun. Like many “fun and games” restaurants the walls of this saloon are covered, several deep, in dollar bills with messages from their former owners.

I must admit to being captivated by the Sonora Desert. It is a harsh, but beautiful environment which, for some reason, draws people to it. Those who live right in the desert in the summer months must be made of tough stuff.

On a housekeeping note………you may note that the blog looks slightly different as a result of a change to the blog software and web site, forced upon us bloggers by the site management. I am having some problems marrying text and pictures in the new format. If anyone is having troubles with the new site, please let me know by e-mail.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Smog, Mesquite and Brownie Points

Fancy houses and crappy air

Valentine dinner with a Camelback Mountain back ground. Great spot!!

The boss is back. No more slacking. We’re getting ready to head to Yuma on Monday. Until then, I’m told we have to discover every corner of the Valley of the Sun!

Readers who have attained a certain age will remember that, years ago, anyone with asthma or respiratory problems was told to move to Arizona for the dry, pollution free air. That was then. This is now. Currently, residents of “the Valley” are launching major initiatives to curb the rapidly escalating problems of air pollution, smog and dust. It is a very real problem. While taking pictures of hill-top and hill-side homes surrounding Phoenix, we captured a shot with downtown in the distance and the buildings enveloped in “mucky air”. You may have to double click the picture in order to see the detail but, trust me, it’s there! Hold your breath!!

We were up in the hills on our way to a romantic Valentine Day, sunset dinner at an out-of-the way restaurant, located in an historic adobe hacienda ranch house, overlooking Camelback Mountain. By the way, this is the brownie point item!! The restaurant, Lon’s, was once a home built by Alonso (Lon) Megargee, a painter known for having captured the cowboy history of Arizona. We ate on a beautifully landscaped, outdoor courtyard, surrounded with fountains, gardens and numerous fireplaces roaring with mesquite fires. I wonder where that smog comes from?? The aroma of mesquite was everywhere, even in the indoor bar. Wonderful! Chef Michael Rusconi, did a masterful job, justifying, at least to us, his reputation as one of the better chefs in the valley. And, in the “timing is everything” department; after dinner, we finished the last drop in our bottle of wine when we felt the first drop of the advancing rain storm!!! Dessert inside in the bar and ….home (you know the tin can home!). Perfect. Glad we didn’t have the late dinner sitting!!

Monday, February 12, 2007


One of the fellow members of the “B” Team on the annual guys’ ski trip quickly earned the nickname Waldo as a result of his propensity for getting lost, leading to the oft repeated question “where’s Waldo?” Over the years his ability to stay with the group has steadily improved however, we are an unforgiving group and……..the nickname has stuck….bigtime! In fact, a couple of years ago there were a few new guys on the trip. I am sure that they went home never knowing that Waldo’s real name is Bob. Because Bob (Waldo) is a good friend, there is a warm spot in my heart for the name “Waldo”.

The experiences on this RV trip have also created a warm spot in both Brenda and my hearts for real southern BBQ. We have sampled this regional delicacy on many occasions, always looking for the definitive example of the “craft”. Until today, the “hands down” winner by a long margin, was “Jack’s BBQ” on Broadway, in downtown Nashville. And, since we are no longer really in the “south”, I assumed that real southern BBQ was but a fond and distant memory.

Imagine my surprise when, driving down a Mesa, Arizona street, I saw a big neon sign for “Waldo’s BBQ”. Be still my heart!!! I HAD to try it. Greeted outside the front door with a “Sorry But We Are Open” sign, I knew this place was a winner. Upon entering, another large sign exclaimed, "Waldo’s Proudly Announces that We Have Never Been Shut Down By The Health Department”. Could it get any better? The front of the menu advised, “If you can find a better BBQ – Eat there”. My kind of place (the Zagat rating was sadly missing)

Waldo’s is now the undisputed #1 Fraser RV Trip BBQ Restaurant of the Year. (Look out Zagat – this might catch on!). The food was great! It’s homey atmosphere was enhanced with humorous signs all over the walls: (I want to die in my sleep like Grandpa – not yelling and screaming like everyone else in his car). A fun place and wonderful BBQ – the best yet!!! AND……….Bobby………when we get back to Brockville……..I have a present for you!!!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Life with the “Trailer Park Boys”

The "Peacan" under a palm tree

Mesa Spirit's central office and activities area

One of the 3 pools

We have been in great RV parks and not so great parks. “Mesa Spirit RV Resort”, our current location is somewhere in the middle. It has all the amenities you can imagine including “8 heated pools and spas” (translation – 3 pools and 5 hot tubs), fitness centre, tennis courts, putting greens and driving net, 13 pool tables, as well as the usual shuffleboard, bocce and horseshoes. This place even has woodworking, ceramics, lapidary and silversmith shops. However, we find that the RV’s are crammed in with far less “wiggle room” than we like. Great way to meet the neighbours though!

The people who spend the winter in these “resort parks” are a friendly lot and, do get involved in many of the activities offered. Each day there is an activity sheet with dozens of offerings including overnight travel excursions. But, people who “park for the winter” do not necessarily relate to us “roamers”. The roamers tend to be younger, less interested in participating, and more interested in planning the next travel leg. That’s us! (Maybe not the younger bit!!)

Speaking of younger…….a FORMERLY young friend of ours (He’s still a friend…just not young anymore…….GOTCHA) e-mailed the other day, complaining that the blog postings are becoming less frequent. So, in deference to his urgings, I will attempt to share day-to-day life in a trailer park until my bride returns and, we hit the road again. This park seems to be a little microcosm of society anywhere. There’s the nosy neighbour (“So, where did you say your wife was again?”), the helpful neighbour, the crabby neighbour and, all the usual cast of characters. There are no other “roamers” near us in the park so, I have become something of a subject of interest for the nearby winter residents (just what I have always wanted to be!!) I’ve had the RV gone over from end to end, with some minor repairs completed and, am now making sure that we are ready to roam. I wonder if the nosy neighbours will miss us when we leave?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Phoenix and the Sonora

The Sonora Desert is - R-U-G-G-E-D

What's coming around the bend??

Phoenix and its attached municipalities (Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale, Sun City, etc. etc.) form a megalopolis known locally as the Valley of the Sun, occupying a space roughly 40 miles square and, home to over 4,000,000 residents. It’s an area where grass seed and sod companies must be on permanent strike! There’s NO GRASS! ANYWHERE! (Golf courses excepted…but…not always). Must be a great place to be in the “pea gravel” business. No lawn mowing but lots of gravel raking. Interestingly, 50% of the land within the cities is undeveloped making for a huge sprawl and, lots of room to grow. There are more damn “old farts” here than in Florida!! Gotta get outta town fast for fear that we might fit in!!!

One tiny little FACT that the guy who said “you MUST drive Arizona Highway 88 to the Roosevelt Dam” forgot to mention was that many people drive this route in caravans of rented jeep CJs. There is a VERY good reason!!! This “highway” is 42 miles long and is paved for 6 or 7 miles at MOST. The rest is dirt (not gravel). About 30 miles is a single lane!! Oncoming trucks are a bit of a problem. Who blinks first? Backing up around a switchback is REALLY fun! Oh yeah…it also climbs and drops 1000’s of feet through the mountains of the Sonora Desert and there have to be 100’s of switchbacks. I drove it in about 4 ½ hours. Take out lunch at the one (1) restaurant/bar on the route, a few picture stops and a few “fear stops”. 42 miles and say 3 ½ hours of driving. You do the math!! The whole road is washboard, potholes and shear drop-offs. BUT……….the scenery is breathtaking (I know, I know, I use that word FAR too much). The problem was that there was nowhere to stop in order to take pictures. A local tour guide says -

“40 miles of steep, winding and mostly unpaved road past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and ferocactus, and several deep blue lakes. Past the lakes, the trail continues in more traditional fashion to the former copper mining town of Globe, but it is the western half which is the most scenic and well-known; however caution is required when driving and it is not recommended for large RVs or caravans; the largest RV rental company in the US does not allow their vehicles do be taken on this route.”

This road is also known as the Apache Trail since it follows a migration route used by Apaches between their winter and summer homes. It is probably the worst highway I have ever been on and, as soon as Brenda returns, we’re heading right back there. She’s GOT to see it. If you are ever in this area don’t miss it! Maybe rent a jeep. Our Honda 4WD – the “Puny Peacan” kept right up with them ol’ jeeps. The couple in the formerly shiny yellow Ford Mustang (top down) looked like refugees from a “Dust Bowl reunion”. The price of being cool!!!