Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Highlights of 2010

Oh, the places we've been and the things we have seen over the past year! It has been full of new sights and new experiences, as well as great times with family and friends. Journey with me through some of the wonderful things we have done. If I did a blog post on the highlight, you can click on the highlighted word or phrase to see more information.

January found us back at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, where we volunteered for three months. It rained a lot that month (at least for Arizona) and I captured this sunset in a pool of water.

In February we attended the Gourd Festival and were amazed at the wonderful things artists can do with those rather ugly plants.

We do a lot of hiking and really enjoy the Arizona desert. One of the toughest hikes we have ever done was to the top of Picacho Peak with Ron and Barbara, later in February. Whew, I will never do that again, but I am really glad I did it once.

We left Casa Grande Ruins in early April and started a 3 1/2-month trip around the southern, eastern and northern two-thirds of this marvelous country. Our most interesting stop before we left Arizona was the Chiricahua National Monument in the south-eastern corner of the state. We took a beautiful hike and enjoyed all the wonderful rock formations.

One of our stops in Texas was at Goliad State Park. We visited so many historic sites over the summer, starting with this town, which was founded in 1749 as the site of a Spanish presidio and mission. It was the only Spanish fort on the Gulf Coast between the mouth of the Rio Grande River and the Mississippi River. We visited the Holy Spirit Mission and the Presidio La Bahia, but I didn't blog about it. This is a view of the mission, which is right next to the campground we stayed in.

Cypress trees and this snowy egret were highlights of our stay at Sam Houston Jones State Park in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

By the time we reached Alabama in early May, the Gulf oil spill was the focus of national news coverage. When we visited Dauphin Island at the south end of Mobile Bay, we saw some of the booms placed in the water to protect these spectacular white sand beaches. We don't often find ourselves in the midst of a national event like this.

From Texas through South Carolina, with stops in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, we took in lots of sea shores--something missing in Colorado. We also explored a Civil War fort on Mobile Bay and another near St. Augustine, Florida, where the British and Spanish fought for control of Florida. Later, we toured Civil War battlefields and a fort in New York that was built to keep the British out of French territory and which later saw American Revolutionary forces kick out the British. There was yet another fort on Mackinac Island, Michigan, which the British used to protect the area during the Revolutionary War and there were later two battles during the War of 1812.

Savannah, Georgia, was one of the highlights of the summer. What a beautiful place!

Then we on to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where we visited Brookgreen Gardens. They are spectacular!

In June we started out in Virginia where we visited the Fredricksburg National Military Park, the Chimborazo Civil War Medical Museum, the Richmond Battlefield Park and the Museum of the Confederacy. We were immersed in Civil War history during the 10 days we spent near Richmond.

The absolute highlight of our visit to the East Coast, and the reason we were there, was to see our granddaughters Rachal

and Samantha.

Then we were on to New York City, where we were deeply moved by our visit to the Ground Zero.

We also went to Ellis Island and had a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty. We truly live in a great country.

We had never been in North Dakota before, so we took the northern route back west in July. During a visit to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we got our first look at wild horses

and watched a herd of bison move across the prairie.

Then is was south to Colorado for a family reunion in Estes Park.

We spent several weeks volunteering at Lathrop State Park in Walsenburg, CO, where we had deer in our front yard.

We had great time with our grandchildren Kylie and John, both at Lathrop and visiting Thomas the Tank Engine in Denver.

Of course, there also was our photographers' special trip on the San Luis Rio Grand Railroad. We took lots of photos of trains, and also of photographers. And John was one of the winners of the photography contest, with this picture.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Trains at Christmas

By John, by golly

Sam left a comment (see the previous post) suggesting that we "find a nice small train to play with". We thought that was a great idea. Christmas morning we walked over to the garden railroad in the Valle del Oro Resort...the RV park we have been living in for the past 3 months. We were delighted to find the railroad in operation. This is a short video showing a Canadan National diesel hauling a long freight.

Carol took some pictures of the buildings and some of the cars. Here is a slideshow of some of her photos.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas--NOT

We're looking forward to a 70 degree day on Christmas. We don't share the sentiments of the intro to Irving Berlin's famous song, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."

The sun is shining The grass is green The orange and palm trees sway. I've never seen such a day In Beverly Hills LA. But it's December the 24th.

We, too, see orange and palm trees swaying here in Mesa, AZ.

But this is what we will miss this year. We've only spent Christmas with Rachal (top) and Samantha (bottom) once in their lives. They now live in New Hampshire.

We've spent every Christmas with these two. Kylie (top) and John live in Littleton..

We have no one but ourselves to blame for this situation. We're the ones who left. And we love what we are doing. But all life's choices have both an up side and a down. Being away from family on this holiday, especially, is a down side.

However, I am here with my best friend in all the world and we are surrounded by hundreds of people here at Valle del Oro who also are away from family and we will enjoy joining many of them for a festive dinner on Christmas Day. That will be after we open the many small gifts under our small tree.

We decided that since we weren't going to watch other people open gifts Christmas morning, and we didn't really need or want anything major ourselves, we would buy each other a few small things each. Eric, Liz, Kylie and John sent other gifts. We will have lots of fun this year.

And we have already started enjoying the Hickory Farms foods Doug, Sherry, Rachal and Sami sent us.

Merry Christmas to all of you reading this blog. It's been good to have you share our adventures during the year. We hope you have a blessed holiday and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Photographers, Again

Last week we went on our second photographers' excursion of the year. Volunteers at Tonto National Monument, about 80 miles north of us, offer mid-week photography tours of the Upper Cliff Dwelling. Rex and Peg Lavoie are in their third season as volunteers at the monument. Rex is a retired professional photographer and Peg handled the back office part of their business. She also is a photographer.

The tours are limited to seven people, but there were only four of us last week. The skies were threatening rain, but it didn't materialize until we were on the return leg of the three-mile round-trip hike to the cliff dwellings.

Between our two cameras, we took over 200 pictures. Along the way Rex gave tips about pre-visualizing the picture you want, exposure, using a tripod and a cable shutter release, and settings to get the right amount of your photo in focus. It was very helpful.

This shows the cliff dwelling we hiked to.

Because of the cloud cover, we didn't have deep shadows to contend with. That allowed me to take this photo, Doorways into the Past

We saw lots of soft colors and textures in the desert rocks and vegetation along the trail.

Thanks to my 300 mm telephoto lens, I was able to take this pictures of the upper cliff dwellings from the visitor center parking lot.

The buildings were constructed out of rock from the hillside, covered with caliche. The techniques are easy to see in this photo.

When the Salado people inhabited this cliff dwelling, the Salt River ran through the valley below. Now it is dammed to create Roosevelt lake. Those who lived there really had a room with a view.

This is one of John's pictures of the trail leading up to the cliff dwelling. Seeing leaf-covered ground in this part of Arizona is really unusual. This is such a neat image.

On our way back to the visitor center, we came on this female tarantula. (Apparently, males are black) For a while, we thought she must be dead because she stayed still for so long. Three cameras clicked away for a long time. Rex really worked at getting photos from all angles.

Peg even used a stick to see if she would react, proving she was alive. She didn't react. But then, a minute or so later, she scurried off the trail. Boy were we glad no one had tried to pick her up!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Great Hike

Tuesday we drove to Phoenix's South Mountain Park for a hike. South Mountain is almost 17,000 acres of desert mountains, sometimes said to be the largest municipal park in the world. I wish it was closer to Mesa. We had to drive over 30 miles to reach the trail head, including seven miles in the park. We were right on the edge of central Phoenix.

And the park must contain the highest point anywhere around, judging from all of these antennas.

It contains really beautiful desert vegetation.

Unfortunately, because of all the budget woes faced by Phoenix and Arizona, the visitor center is closed, no one staffs the entrance booth and we couldn't find any trail maps until we happened to run into someone who went inside this great old building and sent out a park ranger.

We were looking for the Buena Vista trail head and Fat Man's Pass trail. Once we learned where we needed to be, we drove to the trail head and started out on the National Trail. This is one section of a hiking trail that goes from the Mexican border to the Arizona-Utah state line, one of a number of trails designated under the National Park System.

Following directions given by the park ranger, we hiked the National Trail till we reached a sign for Hidden Valley. He recommended making the loop through Hidden Valley and Fat Man Pass in a counter-clockwise direction, which we attempted to do. We couldn't see where to go, so we turned around and sat down to eat lunch. Just as we finished, we heard voices and encountered two women hikers. We asked them if they knew were Fat Man's Pass was and they said yes. We followed them right where we had hiked before, then they pointed out a very narrow passageway through the rocks. When I say narrow, I mean narrow.

After we had squeezed through, we hiked with our two "angels" for a little while. We never would have gone the right way if we hadn't encountered Maria and Maria from Gilbert. Thanks, ladies.

The hike continued over and through large boulders.

And through a tunnel.

It required a little scrambling and scooting over the rocks. But it was a great hike. We hope finances improve for the City of Phoenix, so the park can be maintained and services there improved. It adds so much to the ambiance of the city.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Swap Meet

Saturday we went shopping at the Mesa Marketplace Swap Meet. We were only looking for one thing--rubber tips for our hiking sticks. The swap meet is HUGE. It is about one block from a WalMart Supercenter and the swap meet has a larger parking lot and more cars. According to their web site, they have 1- 1/4 miles of covered shopping aisles and 1600 vendor booths. I don't really enjoy this kind of shopping, but it is such a staple of snowbird life here, it is a must at least once each winter. And we had been told we could find what we were looking for there.

Here is a view two directions from one intersection.

I think some vendors rent a booth on each aisle because we passed at least three booths with identical displays of kitchen gadgets and several look-alike booths of tools. As we walked from the truck I saw a sign for Avon products. This past summer at Lathrop State Park, there were lots of mosquitoes. Ah ha! Avon's Skin So Soft somehow repels mosquitoes. So our first stop was at the first Avon booth we passed. (We later saw one or two more. And the one I checked was charging more for what I bought in the first booth.)

I've seen lots of young people with blue or red or green painted hair. But this is the first senior citizen I've seen doing it--and pink!

Lots of Arizona's snowbirds are from Canada, so I wasn't surprised to see this sign.

But on a hot tub? Surely they are sold in Canada for less that this one would cost after you paid for the shipping.

We made a stop at a t-shirt shop and I bought an Arizona shirt to replace the night shirt I just threw away. In the next aisle, we came on a booth with wallets, calling card holders and plastic window inserts for photos and credit cards. Mine was falling apart, so I bought one.

Take a close look at this photo and you will see a teenager lying on her stomach, reading something. We think she came with her grandfather and was really bored.

Finally, we found the shop with rubber tips for our hiking sticks. But they came in three sizes and we weren't sure what we needed. So we will have to come back next weekend. But we did find small screen filters for sink drains. Since we don't have a garbage disposal, I can't put garbage down the drain, but small bits wash down when I am rinsing dishes. This item will really help our gray tank.

If you remember, I said I don't like this kind of shopping. And, we only came looking for one thing. But notice, we didn't buy that item and I bought 4 things. John didn't buy anything.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Tis the Season

For Christmas decorations. Don't think that just because people live in their RV or in a park model house here in Arizona, they don't put up outdoor decorations for Christmas. I've shown you pictures of Joe and Sally before. This week they are decorating the tree and wrapping gifts.

Lots of people have white metal trees with lights--probably because they fold flat and are easy to store. This one even has ornaments on it.

Not everyone is concerned about decorations that are easy to store. This nativity display is quite large.

I really don't know what to think about Santa, here. It looks a little like he has been hung in effigy, though I don't imagine that is what they intended.

I know many of my readers are living where it is cold and snowing. We don't have a white winter wonderland here to make us feel the Christmas spirit. But God has put his own decorations on the citrus trees here in Arizona.

Last year we spent the two weeks leading up to Christmas in a hotel room, so we didn't have a Christmas tree. This year we do.

Here is a short slide show of some other decorations found around Valle del Oro this winter.