Destinations · Hawaii

Polynesian Cultural Center – Oahu

A postcard from the Polynesian Cultural Center

Is the Polynesian Cultural Center a tourist trap?

Let me explain first what it is, in the words of the PCC themselves: “The purpose of the Polynesian Cultural Center is three-fold: 1) to protect and promote the beautiful cultures of Polynesia; 2) to support our student workers as they gain a degree that will assist them and their home nations to progress and thrive; and 3) to share the spirit of aloha with the world.” It has been run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since 1963. Brigham Young University – Hawaii is next to the PCC.

Simply put, there are six Polynesian “islands” to move through in the afternoon, a buffet dinner or a luau, and an evening show. The villages are Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, and Hawai’i. There are also tourist shops, food trucks, and restaurants in the front.

The first village we visited was Samoa. We watched a funny guy splitting coconuts (he had a lot of good jokes), another shimmying up a palm tree lickety-split for said coconuts, and another making a dish out of green bananas and coconut milk. It would be like mashed potatoes, he said. It had to cook over a fire. We didn’t get back to Samoa for a sample.

Here’s our tree climber

Each island has a presentation, either on the hour or half hour. You can wander around in between, but you really get a feel for everything by attending as many island presentations as possible. When I started paying attention to the schedule, it was easier to figure out what to do.

In another island we watched a “villager” make poi out of taro. Taro is still a staple on the islands and it is a root vegetable comparable to potatoes. Poi is baked taro pounded to a paste. I had a sample and it’s pretty bland.

Servin’ up the poi
Dishes of poi and taro

On the island of Hawai’i, there were young male hula dancers to watch. As explained, their dance was pre-European contact, which meant no ukeleles. They were accompanied by vigorous drumming.

Also on Hawaii, we looked at the Iosepa (Joseph). It is a 57 foot double hulled sailing canoe, made for the open sean, which was built by two master carvers with assistance by Brigham Young students. The voyage to Hawai’i by ancient Polynesians was 2,400 miles long and was accomplished by canoes such as this, called a wa’a kaulua. The canoe is navigated only by the stars and has been out to sea. It was huge, and I couldn’t stand anywhere to get a picture of the whole thing.

We walked by a chief’s hut and stopped in:

On the wall were pictures of past Hawai’ian kings and the queen:

We hopped on a “canoe” for a ride through the islands.

The yellow flowers are the Hawaiian hibiscus, the state flower
I thought this gentleman walking by looked quite stately and elegant

In Tahiti, we attended a wedding ceremony and renewed our vows. Our own tradition in weddings is to say “Yes, I will take you to be my spouse”. In Tahiti the question is “Will you ever leave this woman you love?” and the answer is “No!” We were in the back of the crowd, so there are no pictures, but I did get one of the band, and the priest after the ceremony.

Tonga is the only island out of the six that was never colonized by any other country. We listened to drumming there, although I was a little disappointed that they used mostly audience participation for their presentation.

We looked at some native Tonga crafts:

We had purchased a package which included entrance to the islands, a buffet dinner, and the evening show. Another option was to attend a luau. We passed on the luau not only because it was so expensive, but also because we were planning to go to a luau elsewhere. I later heard, though, that the PCC’s luau is the one in all the islands that is most culturally authentic. Maybe another time.

I have no idea what was on my buffet plate. I tried everything that I was unfamiliar with along with some macaroni and cheese in case the native foods didn’t pan out. As it happened, I was too full to eat the mac and cheese. I tried some different types of poke. By Merriam Webster’s definition, poke is a Hawaiian salad made typically from cubed pieces of raw seafood (such as tuna) marinated with soy sauce and sesame oil and mixed with onions or other ingredients. I had a fish poke, and a shrimp poke. Along with that, there was some ahi sashimi (raw tuna), a guava roll, and a whole lot of other stuff that I don’t remember the names of. It was all delicious.

The evening show as called “Ha (line over the a) – Breath of Life”. There were no pictures allowed so I have uploaded a picture of the program. The story line of the show follows a young boy from birth through his life. Each stage of life is on one of the six islands. It was a great show. The dancing, songs, and special effects were beautiful. There were fire dancers, fire eaters, and an act where they were jumping and sitting on fire, putting the fires out. How did they do that? The boy was in Tahiti when he married, so there was the Tahitian wedding ceremony. There was hula dancing, of course. 400 different costumes are worn nightly.

Back to my original question: is the PCC a tourist trap? When I was looking for more detail on it, I read just a few negative reviews on Trip Advisor that called it that. Most reviews were overwhelmingly positive. It’s not an inexpensive day, but the buffet and show are, in my opinion, top quality and great entertainment. If you just skim the surface of the various islands, or visit the shops at the front of the complex, you might think it is. I learned a lot, though, and appreciated both the professionalism and the effort to keep these cultures alive in an authentic way. Plus, it was just a lot of fun!

Next time: Diamond Head

Destinations · Hawaii

Circling Oahu’s North Shore

Near Halona Blowhole, Oahu

We did not rent a car in Oahu, figuring that we could easily work out some sort of transportation for wherever we wanted to go. To visit the North Shore of Oahu, we signed up for a tour. Cal likes the ease of not having to drive, and I like having someone point out what we are seeing. We chose a small group tour, less than 20 people, so we were riding around in a van as opposed to a huge bus.

Our very first stop was not far from Waikiki, at the Diamond Head lookout, for a great view over Kuilei Cliffs. Diamond Head was up and behind us here, and it is where throngs of people stood to watch Amelia Earhart be the first person to fly solo from Hawaii on the US mainland in 1935. A marker here commemorates the occasion.

The waters off Kuilei Cliffs are popular for surfing, and people from all over the world come to surf. The spot is also known as “Seven Continents” for that reason.

There were surfers in the water, but they look like tiny dots from this vantage point.

Next stop: Halona Blowhole. If I’ve ever seen a blowhole before, I don’t remember it, and it is pretty fascinating to watch.

A blowhole is a sea cave in which water is forced landwards and upwards by the action of the waves. The water comes up through the hole, and creates a dramatic geyser effect. Above, the hole only has a small puff of water to the right of the bottom-most person that is standing there, like steam through a teakettle, but then the big wave that you see creates the geyser in the picture below.

Whoosh! It was fun to watch how high the water would go!

We had a stop at the “Tropical Farms of Hawaii”. It’s billed as a stop at a macademia nut farm, but their trees aren’t here. This is really just an outlet. I’ve been on tours before where they make these commercial stops and I always see them as a bid to get our tourist dollars. They know us tourists are going to spend money, and usually we oblige. They had many flavors of packaged macadamia nuts with samples for us. I would rather have been able to see the trees, but the nuts were delicious. The honey roasted and the cinnamon sugar were our favorites. They also had some coffee samples.

While waiting for our group, I walked around outside and admired this bird of paradise:

This thicket of greenery was so tall:

Chinaman’s Hat is a basalt island named for its resemblance to the peasants hats worn in rural China. The Hawaiian name is Mokoli’i, which means “little lizard”. I just call it beautiful.

We were at Kualoa Regional Beach Park to see Mokolii

As we rode up the coast we passed beach homes, parks, and gorgeous ocean scenes. We had to remember to look out the other side of the bus, the mountain side, which was just as beautiful:

Lunch on this tour was a stop at a shrimp farm. We received an incredibly huge pile of shrimp, which we had to peel, plus rice, corn, and a wedge of pineapple. This was one of my favorite meals on our trip.

We had a long stop at Hale’iwa beach. We were supposed to snorkel to see turtles, but the waves were deemed to be too high. When we arrived at the beach, it was decided that it was okay, but by that time we had left our suits back in the van. We missed the boat on this one, but we enjoyed the beach anyway. And we did see turtles.

Hale’iwa Beach

Watching the waves, we caught sight of a flipper here, a foot there, and occasionally a head bobbing up. Then – full view!

While driving, we had gone past excellent surfing beaches: Hale’iwa Alii Beach Park, Sunset Beach, and Banzai Pipeline, which was having a competition while we drove by. We also passed Waimea Bay, which put the Beach Boys song “Surfin’ USA” in my head for a while. There were many surfers and paddle boarders on Hale’iwa as well.

We still had plenty of time because this was a long stop. Cal wanted ice cream, so we walked over to a nearby beach town. I enjoyed looking at some of the murals painted on the buildings while we were there.

Last stop: the Dole Plantation. Pineapples used to be a huge cash crop in Hawaii. In 1901, James Dole opened the first pineapple plantation, named the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. The Hawaiian Islands were exclusive producers of pineapple until the 1960’s, when pineapples began to be available in other nations around the globe. It is still grown here in Oahu, but mainly for Hawaiian and US consumption.

I could have learned all this on their train tour, but as I realized when we arrived, there was no time for the train tour. I had wanted to see pineapples growing in a field but our stop here was only 15 minutes. I guess I should have done my homework better on this one, but it was only a minor disappointment. We stood in line to share a Dole Whip, which is the thing to do. They are absolutely, delectably delicious and a cool refreshing treat on a hot day. I found them available everywhere both in Oahu and Maui.

There were some gardens next to the gift shop and treat truck, and we raced through. I was able to see some pineapple plants with a pineapple growing on one of them. Only one, but better than none.

We ate a lot of pineapple in Hawaii, of course, and every bite that I tasted was so sweet and juicy.

In the garden, it was interesting to see what cacao trees look like:

I caught this chicken strutting its stuff in the Dole Garden. I mentioned that we heard roosters crowing from our condo in the previous Oahu post. We saw feral chickens running all over Hawaii. The first chickens were a red jungle fowl brought several hundred years ago by Polynesians colonizing Hawaii. Chickens were also brought to Hawaii from the European colonists, cross bred with the Polynesian chickens, and escaped from coops during hurricanes. They’re fun for the tourists, not so fun for people that own property.

It was a long drive back to Honolulu. We arrived just in time for rush hour traffic, happy that someone else was doing the driving!

Next time: Polynesian Cultural Center

Destinations · Hawaii

First Days – Oahu

Waikiki and Diamond Head

Admittedly, blogging while being in a beautiful destination such as Hawaii was impossible for me. As I’m writing this, we are still here, but the trip is winding down. It’s getting easier to find some time for it.

To reel it all back to the beginning – we started in Oahu and landed smack dab in Tourist Zone Central, in the Waikiki I had always heard about and never been. It was beautiful and I soaked up the scenes that I had only ever seen pictures of.

We heard many times that it was not as crowded as pre-Covid. The Japanese are not visiting right now, and they used to be a big part of the tourist crowds. We moved as we wanted to, but masks were a must for transportation and inside restaurants and stores.

Our condo was a couple of blocks away from most of the hotels and shopping district, and sat to the side of the Ala Wai canal:

The view from the balcony, 19th floor

We liked being high in the air in order to survey our kingdom. Despite the height, we could hear roosters crowing in the dark every morning.

Just down from our condo, we could walk into Fort Derussy Beach Park, with beautiful trees and flowers.

A spider lily

The park opens on to Waikiki beach, and we joined that day’s crowd of people to enjoy the sunset, plus the gift of a rainbow over Diamond Head:

On our first full day, we met with our friends Kathy and John to catch up on plenty of years past, and to go to the Honolulu zoo together.

Photo credit : Kathy Jarvis

We were all hot and tired, so ice cream was in order. At a little ice cream stand, Kathy talked us into an acai bowl. We had seen these the night before on the beach. Cal wanted some ice cream and we saw a sign that said “healthy treats”. Cal and “healthy treats” just don’t go together, so we passed. With Kathy’s recommendation, though, we gave it a try. The bowl that Cal and I shared had organic acai, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, granola, honey, coconut, and peanut butter, and it was delicious.

Cal and Kathy with their acai bowls

A few days later, we met up with their whole family for a whale watch. Whale watching, if you’ve never been, involves a whole lot of waiting for whales to show themselves. And when they do, it is breathlessly exciting. There are many whales in the waters off Hawaii right now. It’s their winter break, and they come to mate, calve, and nurse their young after making the 3,000 mile trip from Alaska. They’ve been gorging themselves in Alaska, and don’t need to eat when in the warmer waters of Hawaii. On a whale watch, the boat is required to maintain a 100-yard radius from the whales when they are seen.

The first indication that a whale is nearby is the puff of water that is coming out of its blowhole. They are above water only briefly unless you are lucky to see them totally jumping full body in the air. I’m a very amateur photographer, and all I have on hand at present is my phone. I try to be prepared for that special moment but what I get is a whole lot of pictures of nothing but water!

See the whale in the water?
I got the whale’s tail this time!

The whales were hanging around not far off of Waikiki Beach and the one we were watching came very close to some kayakers. If a whale is spotted, boats have to stay outside a 100-yard radius to watch it. Nothing can stop the whale from coming closer to the boat, however. We weren’t that lucky this time.

While waiting for whales and enjoying the boat ride, though, it was fun to get pictures of the family, and Kathy and John’s very cute granddaughters, Hanna and Kate.

Hanna and her Dad, Nick. Photo Credit: Kathy Jarvis
Kate, the ship’s captain! Photo credit: Kathy Jarvis
Enjoying our whale watch! Photo credit: Kathy Jarvis
Coming back into port

The Hawaiian word for humpback whale is kohola, with a line over the a. Their culture sees the whale as an ancient being, revered as a physical manifestation of Kanaloa, god of the sea.

Next time – traveling to Oahu’s north shore

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Saguaros in the Desert, and An Announcement

Saguaro National Park West, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro cactuses have been all around us during our stays in both the Phoenix and Tucson areas. They are the sentinels of the desert and I never tire of seeing them. They don’t all grow straight and tall, with two or more arms up. Just as humans do, they all have their personalities, and it began to be fun to look for the “different” ones.

First, I have for you five fun saguaro facts:

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson
  1. Young saguaros can best survive when “nursed” by trees which shelter them. Above, these saguaros in Saguaro National Park East are being sheltered by a palo verde tree.

2. Saguaros only grow an inch or two in their first six to eight years. These “babies” are really older than you would think.

Saguaros and the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix

3. It may be 70 years before they sprout branches, or arms. These saguaros near the Superstitions are very, very old. And, some saguaros never sprout arms.

Saguaro National Park East

4. Saguaros reach full height of about 40-50 feet at about age 150. The tallest can be as high as 75 feet. How old do you think this saguaro, with its many arms, is?

Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson

5. Birds find food and homes in saguaros. Raptors perch on the tallest branches to search for prey. The long beak on this little fellow seems well suited for saguaro drilling!

My favorite saguaros:

Teddy Bear Saguaro
Saguaro Stacks
Saguaro on the Rocks
Bunny Ears Saguaro
Dead Saguaro ( and most of these others don’t have arms. From a distance, they look like telephone poles)
Dead Saguaro 2, with a flair
Confused Saguaro

The best is last. This is a “crested saguaro” which lives at the Desert Museum in Phoenix. It’s a very rare mutation, and there are only about 2,500 of them spread throughout the saguaro habitation zone. I only saw one other during our time here, and it was not nearly this beautiful. I happened to catch it at sunset.

Glam Saguaro

An Announcement

We are leaving the land of the saguaros for awhile and going to Hawaii! Frodo and Sam will be going into storage for a month. This is a long-planned, Covid-delayed retirement celebration. We will be in Hawaii three weeks before going to Denver for some time with our grandchildren.

I am hoping to not go totally dark with this blog during that time, and would like to think that I may blog while I am there. But I’d rather live the journey while I’m there than to be holed up and on a computer, of course! If all else fails, I will be back, and will write about the whole trip then.

Aloha!

Next time – Hawaii!

Destinations · Uncategorized · US Travel · USTravel

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon, Esperero Trail

After spending a month at Gold Canyon, we moved a little further south to Tucson. This is a city we were very familiar with years ago, but time changes things and we didn’t see much that was familiar. Several people we talked to told us to go to Sabino Canyon, which was not a place we had heard of.

The proper name for this place is “Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Coronado National Forest”. It is not far from Tucson so it is a popular place to hike. There is a whole network of trails in here. In an effort to ease congestion, a shuttle service was installed years ago. There’s a one-hour narrated 7.4-mile roundtrip tour into the upper end of the canyon, with nine stops to get off sooner to hike various trails. There is also another shuttle route with service to Bear Canyon which is shorter and not narrated.

It is an error these days to think you can just show up and ride a shuttle. When we arrived at Sabino Canyon, all the shuttles for the day were full. We should have booked ahead on-line. They’ve recently converted the pollution-belching gas shuttles to electric – but several don’t work. However, a volunteer ranger was ready for us. He mapped out a route for us from the visitor’s center with several interconnecting trails – just over two miles, he said. I think it was further than that. I had 12,000 steps on my Fitbit at the end of the day, which is about six miles.

No matter, once we hit the trail we left everyone behind, and mostly had it to ourselves.

This little ledge overlooking a creek was a great spot to have a picnic lunch
An old dam is gone, but has left a pretty waterfall
Another great way to visit the trail!

Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls

We thought our first hike at Sabino Canyon was fun, but we actually missed the one that everyone talks about: the Seven Falls hike. It was a longer trail than we had wanted on our first visit: 8.6 miles. The distance can be reduced down to about 5 miles by taking the Bear Canyon Shuttle. We returned the next week to give it a go. The Bear Canyon Shuttle isn’t as busy as the Sabino Canyon Shuttle, but I still made sure to get tickets this time.

The sun was still coming up over the higher mountain peaks as we walked.

Soon we were following a creek–

And then, we crossed the creek. And then crossed back. And back again. The river got deeper, the rocks farther apart. Finally I consulted our trail map: there are seven creek crossings before reaching Seven Falls! Which means, of course, seven crossings back, since this is an out-and-back trail.

We looked back behind us, and saw an arch in the rocks:

On trails in the Southwest, I’ve learned that a sign like this means switchbacks are coming, which means going up. Shortcutting is going off-trail and climbing straight up, as opposed to the gentler zig-zagging on the trail. We did indeed hike upwards, and then around the edge of the cliffs, and the trail narrowed. It was a little treacherous, so there are no pictures on that part!

Our first glimpse of Seven Falls:

The view is breathtaking. I counted them and indeed there are seven waterfalls. The distance from top to bottom is of considerable length and couldn’t be captured on Cal’s phone or my camera well, especially with the sun in the wrong spot. Trust me…it was worth the hike and all the creek crossings. Looking at the above picture: from here, we climbed down to the right, crossed the creek, and then back up to the first rock in the sun on the left to enjoy the waterfalls and the view. In the picture below, you can see people in the bottom left, and that’s where we sat for awhile.

Coming out of the falls, we passed a group of young college students (judging by their t-shirts and ballcaps). By the time we reached the cliff above the falls, they had stripped down to bathing suits and had jumped into this pool (above) under the waterfall. This was accompanied by much whooping and hollering, as we could hear even from our vantage point! The water must have been cold!

Next time – Saguaros, and an announcement

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Phoenix and Gold Canyon Hodgepodge

Part of a 30-foot long “art fence”

There are other places we visited in Phoenix while we were staying in Gold Canyon. And no, this picture is not more Chihuly glass. It is in the Heard Museum, which features both ancient and contemporary Native American art. We spent an enjoyable morning here on a dismal weather day.

Native Americans were using the symbol at the bottom of this tapestry long before the Nazis gave it a terrible meaning. To the Natives, it was a symbol of the sun, of the four seasons, or the four directions, depending on the tribe.

There are a lot of famous people and icons painted into this picture. See how many you can find!

There was a very sobering exhibit at the end of our visit to this museum about the Indian schools which began at the last half of the 1800’s and into the 1900’s. Children were ripped from their families to be “reeducated” so they would lose their native culture and be “assimilated”. Abuse of all kinds was rampant in these schools, and many children died of disease. Phoenix had a large one. There were success stories, but that was the exception. It made my heart sad to think of the sorrow heaped on these families.

On a sunnier day we also visited Hole-in-the-Rock, which is in Papago City Park. It’s a great place to enjoy the city, the desert, or perhaps just to watch the planes taking off at the airport.

It’s an easy .3-mile hike around the backside and up to the top.

There were surprisingly a lot of people up there enjoying a mid-week afternoon break from the city. I don’t think I’d want to be here on a weekend.

If you’re ever hungry for pizza in Mesa, Arizona, I can tell you where to go: Organ Stop Pizza. There is a Wurlitzer theater-style organ smack dab in the middle of the dining area, and the music is played daily by a revolving schedule of organists.

He played many genres of music while we were there and he took requests. The theme from Star Wars was playing while we came in…awesome!

The lights flash on the different pipes while he plays and there is also some percussion that he can control from the organ. He played the national anthem at one point. A flag came down and everyone stopped eating to stand up and sing. What a pizza joint! Not only that, but the pizza was excellent.

Gold Canyon is located where the freeway ends at the far western edge of Phoenix. Gold Canyon RV Resort truly lives up to the “resort” in its name. It is for people 55 and older only, and only relatively new RV’s can stay. There are also “park models” here, basically RVs that don’t move and that people can buy into. It is a place unlike any other that we have been to so far. We had seen our family for a week over Thanksgiving, but for Christmas we were on our own. I wanted a nice place to celebrate, and it was the place to be.

A street at Gold Canyon RV showing a park model on the right, and RVs mixed in.

The street above was quiet this day, but usually there are people walking their dogs or just walking or jogging, riding bicycles or golf carts, pushing a golf caddy. There is a golf course here and it runs like a pretty green ribbon throughout the resort. The residents here are very active and the resort delivered the activities. If a person doesn’t golf, no worries – there are (very busy) pickleball courts, a fitness room, lots of fitness classes, not to mention workshops for many hobbies and classes that go on all day. The resort was so large that I could get all my daily Fitbit steps in just walking the streets, and I had great fun at a line-dancing class.

Out on the street, when you passed someone, they would nearly always wave and say hello with a big smile. We were invited to join groups of people at various events, and it was interesting to hear their stories. Most people were from the upper Midwest states and came directly here for the winter to stay. Those that tired of pulling an RV after many years bought into the park models.

We enjoyed jazz by the swimming pool and a guitar player at the bistro:

There was a golf cart Christmas parade, and many of the residents of park models had their places decorated.

The lemon tree next door

We could get in some short hikes close by.

One day we stopped at a food truck to purchase tamales. I turned around and there was a woman unloading sacks of oranges from her truck. She’d picked them from her orchard just that morning. They looked so good and the bag was only twelve dollars so we brought one home. Later I had some buyer’s remorse – what was I going to do with all those oranges?? No worries. They were sweet, juicy, and the best oranges I have ever had. I made juice, smoothies, orange chicken, and we just ate them. Aside from four that we gave to our neighbors, we soon had them used up.

We are learning on our journey that there are all kinds of parks to stay at for all kinds of reasons. I’m a state park kind of girl. I love wide spaces and RV spots, and being out in nature. But some times, community is needed, and this community set a gold standard for us.

Cal basking in the sun

Next time – we move on to Tucson

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Frank L. Wright and Dale Chihuly

Bear with me for just a bit of background. Frank Lloyd Wright, who died in 1959, was a famous architect and designer who left us with around 300 buildings, one of them being the Guggenheim museum. His houses taken altogether are UNESCO sites. He’s considered to be one of the the greatest U.S. architects of all time, and his greatest legacy is “organic architecture,” or the idea that buildings harmonize both with their inhabitants and with their environment.

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”

– Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography

Dale Chihuly, currently 80 years old, is an American glass artist whose work is in museum collections worldwide. We were introduced to his work at home in St. Louis when he exhibited in the Missouri Botanical Garden. I loved seeing the exhibition for the year that it was there, and returned often to see it both by day and lit up at night. Some of the art became permanent installations there.

So what do these two men have in common?

I was happy to discover, upon arrival in the Phoenix area, that Chihuly had two exhibitions in town. One was at the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Taliesin West, and the other at the Desert Botanical Garden. We went to both. The picture at the top of this post shows Chihuly’s glass as part of the exhibit at Taliesin West, which is located near Scottsdale, Arizona.

Both Chihuly and Wright were inspired by light, color and nature. Above, the blue glass are saguaros and the low red glass next to them are desert plants; the red glass in the water are reeds. Wright’s house blends with the desert and is made of natural materials. Neutral brown, red, and orange colors match the colors that you see in the desert.

Wright’s office at Taliesin
Chihuly’s glass in Wright’s living room
In the drafting room

Wright is from Wisconsin and his home there is called Taliesin East. He was a snowbird! Taliesin West is where he came in the winter time. He wanted to teach others, so this place was, and still is, a working laboratory. My picture of the drafting room shows only a couple of the many drafting tables here.

He loved music and played the piano, and his was a Steinway which he would drag outside for impromptu concerts. Taliesin also has an acoustically sound cabaret.

The Steinway in the living room
Chihuly’s glass in Wright’s orchard

On another day, we visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. We purchased tickets for late in the afternoon, to catch the setting sun on the glass and to see it lit up.

I hadn’t realized that the setting sun would have its effect on the cactus and other plants in the garden, bathing them in a warm glow.

There was an exquisite indoor display of Chihuly’s work.

More than 1500 pieces of glass are used to make this installation!

The desert plants definitely held their own beauty against Chihuly’s glass. I had to take a second look at these pretty blue flowers; they looked like little pieces of glass in the setting sun.

I thought the cactus above was a saguaro until I read the description of it. It is a cardon, brought from Baja more than 75 years ago when it was less than 5 feet tall. Truly amazing! I was happy to catch the person walking by it for a little perspective.

Toward the end, the Chihuly installations were starting to glow.

Ahhhh…happy sigh.

Next time – More of Phoenix and Gold Canyon

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

The Superstition Mountains

The Superstition Mountains from our RV Park in Gold Canyon, AZ at sunset

We limped into Gold Canyon before Christmas, happy to have a full one-month stay to sit for awhile. It was to be the first time we didn’t move the RV for a full month since we were in Austin last April! Cal sprang into action getting a mobile tech out to our RV to replace Sam’s front left jack leg, which he’d already purchased and had at the ready. He also replaced Frodo’s hitch with one that wouldn’t take up so much battery power every time we need to hook and unhook it from Sam. Meanwhile, I was nursing a bad cold for almost a week and didn’t even want to go out the door.

Once I was starting to get a case of cabin fever, though, we looked for something low-key to do, without a lot of walking, and decided to take a drive on the other side of the Superstitions – the side we can’t see from home. Mountains are always full of surprises. This was our view from the first turnoff:

The rugged other side of the mountain

We were driving the Apache Trail. It is an old stagecoach road and, before that, a footpath through the Superstitions by the Apaches. Ironically, when the road was paved, it was Apache labor, among other construction workers, that built it. They were starving on the new reservations and the income greatly helped them out. The forty-mile road is otherwise known as SR 88.

We were totally surprised to come upon a reservoir, Canyon Lake, as we rounded a corner:

The town of Tortilla Flat, population 6, is the only one on this road. The Apache trail runs right in front of a line of their original Western-style buildings with a boardwalk, and that’s about it. The town began as a stagecoach stop in 1909 and they like to brag that neither flood nor fire can take them down.

The place, and the only place, in town to have lunch is the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant. It was both fun and delicious – street tacos, for me, and a burger for Cal. The walls are papered with dollar bills, the bar stools are saddles, and the wood floors are creaky with age.

Hopefully not the original stagecoach!

Not far past Tortilla Flat, the road turns to dirt for awhile, then it is totally closed. There was a forest fire a couple of years back that caused burn damage to the water table which in turn causes flooding whenever it rains. If you want to see the other end of the road, you have to go way around the other side of the mountain. Cal decided he was up for finishing the drive on our end, dirt road or no, so we went as far as we could. We were glad we did, because the view of the canyon below was astonishing – in our opinion, second only to the big Grand Canyon.

I took the first picture to show the work of the Apaches, which is still holding up well. If you look closely, those are the straight rows of stones to the right of the road sign. When I saw the picture, though, I realized it also shows how narrow and winding the road is here, with no guardrails!

Well…that’s the end of that!

On another day, we took a hike on our side of the mountain on the Hieroglyphic Trail. It’s a popular Phoenix area trail. On our first try ( the day after Christmas) we couldn’t even get into the parking lot. We had better luck waiting a few days and then going fairly early in the morning. We’ve learned that winter desert mornings are chilly, but we soon warm up after hiking a bit.

We were finally able to see our mountain close-up as we wound through saguararos, ocotillos, and teddy bear chollas.

Phoenix behind me
We have arrived!

We were astonished to see this beautiful waterfall. Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve seen nothing but dry washes, gulches and creek beds. We’ve been told about droughts and have seen very little rain. A volunteer ranger out for a hike chatted with me for awhile, and cleared up the mystery. It had poured rain all day and all night on Christmas Eve, along with some short bouts of rain before and after that period. The mountain is porous rock, and all that rain seeps down into the rock. It takes a few days, but then the water starts to run. He has seen whole years where there has been no waterfall. Unbeknownst to us, we had hit this just right, and so we were grateful we had been turned away by the packed parking lot a few days earlier!

The reason I had wanted to hike this trail, though, was that I wanted to see the petroglyphs:

It bothered me that this trail is named Hieroglyphic Trail, and not Petroglyph Trail. I did a Google search later, and yes: the trail is misnamed. Hieroglyphics (boy, I sure do have a hard time spelling that, and I hope this is the last time!) are Egyptian script writings or drawings. Petroglyphs are images made by carving rock by prehistoric peoples. It’s okay, though. Maybe if the trail was correctly named it would draw too many more people to it. The petroglyphs were tucked in and around the rocks around the waterfall. You can see them above in the second waterfall picture that I posted, off to the left.

We took a minute from the beauty around us to look up, and saw a balanced rock way up high:

Here’s the closeup

All too soon, we had to come down off this little mountain paradise, and find our way back to town.

Next time: Wright and Chihuly

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Military Family Camping

Sunset at FE Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming

In the last blog’s look-ahead, I promised that I would be writing about Phoenix. If you were looking forward to that blog, you’ll have to wait for one more. I’d like to tell you about another aspect of our RVing experience before I dive into our Phoenix adventures.

Long ago, both Cal and I were in the Army. I did six years but he went for the whole enchilada – 20 years and retirement. That retirement has been a gift that keeps giving. The latest benefit that we’ve uncovered since we started RVing has been our ability to stay at RV parks, called Family Camps, that are on military bases nationwide. As with normal RV parks, some are jewels – from what I hear, mainly those that are located primarily on the east and west coasts. We’ve stayed at several now, some better than others. Usually we stay for the convenience of their location on the route we’re traveling. They are also a budget-stretcher. Family camps generally cost much less than what regular RV parks do. And like regular RV parks, they are all different.

Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, LA

The funds for each camp are allocated by that base’s commander as part of “Morale, Welfare, and Recreation”, which is why each one is different. Some commanders make the camps a priority, some don’t. The current trend is for parks to be upgraded, or even rebuilt. This section of Barksdale’s family camp is brand-new. We were in the back row on the end, with a huge lawn all our own, very private. Barksdale gets the prize for most spacious site.

A bugler at military bases still sounds reveille in the morning, retreat at 5:00, and taps at the end of the day, but now it comes over a loudspeaker. At some bases at the Family Camp it is faint or not noticeable, but at Barksdale it was definitely attention-getting. 5:00 retreat is accompanied by the playing of the National Anthem. If you are outside, you have to stop what you are doing until the song is over.

Man emptying his trash, walking his dog, and standing at attention (facing the loudspeaker) for the National Anthem.

When we were in the Army, we would always check to see if it was near 5:00 before we would go outside, or else would do a dive for a door if we were outside and could go in. Especially in inclement weather. We are amused to find that on military bases and posts, old habits kick in; we do the same thing!

Air Force Bases are notorious for placing the family camps at the end of the flight runway. On our first day, this B-52 bomber zoomed over us right after the playing of the national anthem. What a show! Lest you think this was an every day occurance, this was a Friday and we were only here for the weekend. On weekends the bugle is silent and the planes don’t fly.

Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, NM

View of Sandia Mountains from the parade field and walking trail at Kirtland AFB

The reservation system is different for each family camp. At some, you can reserve a few months in advance, and usually active duty military have priority. Rightly so, since many of them use the family camps as a residence while they are making a move to or from other bases. It’s a much better place for kids, I think. Kirtland’s family camp, like many, is first come first serve. It makes me nervous, just showing up, but we had no problem getting a site.

I didn’t like our site at Kirtland. Because this is desert, the sites were gravel and close together. But again, we were here for just a couple of nights and weren’t at the site much. We visited our nephew Mike, who is stationed at Kirtland, and his wife. I’ve already blogged about our cable car ride up the Sandia mountains, and there are many other things to do in the city. Kirtland did have a walking track around the parade field within walking distance from our camp, and a great view of the mountains.

F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Squeezed in at Warren

F.E. Warren was the most scenic base with the campground that needs the most updating. I presume it was built back in the 50’s or 60’s, when most people just had a tent or small trailer. It had the feel of a campground from my childhood. We were side-to-side with our neighbors here. There was a green area behind our RV that had a picnic table, but if you sat there, you had a nice view of everyone up and down the row.

This air base was originally built as Ft. Russell in 1867. It has gone from being an outpost on the lonely frontier to its current mission as a missile base, making it the oldest continually operating airbase. There’s a cemetery, and the graves do go all the way back to the 1800’s. What’s crazy is that the old buildings are still here, and any new construction is made to match, except for new housing. It was like staying in a living history museum. Today’s officers are still staying in those original homes. We saw this also at Barksdale and Kirtland, beautiful century homes that reflect the character of the region they are in.

Antelope could be seen at any time, even lounging on the officer quarters’ lawns in the evening:

The old entrance to the family camp

We were visiting nearby Cheyenne while here. In the evenings we enjoyed long walks in which we strolled out in nature or up to the parade field area that had the officers’ quarters and the other old buildings, including the large ones that housed the enlisted mens’ barracks back in the day. It was so peaceful, usually with hardly a soul about, and even the camp was quiet. There are some big meadows next to the camp, so perhaps one day it could be enlarged just a bit.

Only in a Family Camp…this was in the front of someone’s RV

Ft. Bliss, El Paso, Texas

Ft. Bliss was our first Army post stay. When I was still active duty it was considered an “armpit” assignment, not a place you’d want to be. It has 1,700 square miles and is home to the 1st Armored Division. The post is weirdly chopped up, with highways cutting through it. The Family Camp is an example of another one that has been beautifully updated. But – and this was a deal breaker for me – the highway is right in front of it, as you can see by looking carefully at the top picture. See that guardrail? Ummm… yes. I can put up with a lot of strange RV sites but highway noise, no. And it was loud. There were a lot of families living here, with loads of kids running up and down all the time, and that highway didn’t seem to bother anyone but me.

No matter, we were here for well over a week but only physically in the RV for two nights. We left it here while we drove up to Denver for Thanksgiving with our family. It was perfect for that, and we may do it again. We were able to leave it here, plugged in and snoozing, for a paltry $17 per day.

When we returned from Denver, we needed to go over to the commissary (grocery store) and Cal needed a haircut, because it is cheaper on post. We stopped in to the PX shopping area, which generally has two or three lunch choices, and our jaws dropped. This is the Army?? We have never seen an actual “food court” on a post or base, and this one boasted around 18 choices. Outside were many shops in an outdoor “mall”. It was truly amazing. I would surmise that your tax dollars have been poured into this facility not only because of the size of the post but also because of their participation in numerous overseas deployments.

Buckley Space Force Base, Denver, CO

Out on the prairie

Buckley is our “home” park. We can stay here 45 days in a season, which is nice because the two state parks that we normally spend time in make us move every two weeks. Right behind the RVs in the above picture is the airfield. But what are those weird white balls?? Golf balls? Something dropped from outer space? Actually, they house huge satellite dishes used to detect missiles and other space activity, with the white aluminum shell on the outside to protect them from the weather. There are actually ropes hanging down them to aid in brushing off the snow, and they can withstand a powerful tornado.

Cal, and our grandson, love Buckley. They can watch airplanes come and go. Our grandson loves trucks and RVs, and there are no trees at Buckley, so he can see them all at once. Very exciting, along with those big white balls!

As for me, I prefer the state park. Everything is too far away for walking except for the walking path in front of the camp. For a longer stay, I begin to feel isolated and I miss seeing trees. Accountant that I am, though, I can appreciate the savings on our budget, since staying here is half the cost of a stay at the state park. We couldn’t stay here much in 2021 because earlier in the year the camp was closed to retirees due to COVID. We’ll be adding it to our mix in 2022.

US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO

I’ve saved the best for last, my favorite so far. The camp is called Peregrine Pines, aptly named for the pine forest that it is in. The campground roads wind in and around instead of being laid out in straight lines, and the park has the feel of a National Park campground. We were here only for a couple nights and definitely hope to return for a longer stay another time. It’s easy to visit the whole Colorado Springs area from here.

When I was a young soldier, my life didn’t intersect much with retirees. My friends and I would good-naturedly complain about them when we wanted to make a quick run into the commissary or PX. They would take up room in the aisles or be ahead of us in line and we had more important things to do, or so we thought. We would poke fun at retirees who spent years in the military only to take up permanent residence outside the main gates. Cal and I think it’s pretty amusing that we have become that which we once made fun of. It’s a convenience to be able to use military facilities, and a benefit that we are grateful for. We’ve met people who only stay at military camps when they travel. That would certainly be a savings, but we think there are many different places to stay on the road to experience.

Next time – Phoenix, really!

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Rocks, Wine and Pecans in the Southwest

Having spent the last month in Phoenix, Arizona, the Twosna Travelers are now officially snowbirds. Snowbirds are people who spend the warmer months in the upper regions of the United States and “flock” to the Southern states when it becomes cooler. We’ve spent 95% of our lives living in places with cold winters. I realized I didn’t like cold weather around the time I was in high school, while Cal has only recently arrived at this realization.

But if one is going to winter in Arizona, one has to get there first.

A lot of folks will zip from El Paso, Texas on interstate 10 to Tucson or Phoenix without giving anything a second look. We did stop in El Paso, but it was only to leave Sam (our 5th wheel trailer) plugged in and snoozing peacefully there for a week while we drove to Denver for Thanksgiving with our family. We’ll have to give El Paso more of a look another time.

On the way back from our Thanksgiving trip, we stopped off for dinner in a little no-name restaurant in a little no-name town just north of El Paso. This cute little house was right next to where we parked.

Deming, New Mexico

What drew me to Deming was the idea of going to Rockhound State Park, located just southeast of the town. At this park, one can just pick up rocks and keep them, unlike any other state or national park I have been to. Geodes, jasper, onyx, agates, and perlite are some of the rocks that can be found. Upon doing further research, however, I realized that the best rocks are to be found only on the remote trails, and they have already been dug pretty deeply. A person would need to have a pickax slung over their shoulder as they hiked, and some pretty good equipment back at home to split them open. Despite my interest, I have total ignorance on the subject, and would have rocks in my head to think that I should add more heavy rocks (and weight) to Sam’s load. Cal politely pointed none of this out, but let me figure it all out all on my own. So I contented myself with the nature trail in the park, and picked up a few small little rocks that fit in my pocket to add to my growing collection.

Still wanting to learn at least a little more on the subject, we stopped at a rock shop outside of the park. The ancient proprietor of the establishment was more than happy to have someone to talk about rocks with. My rocks are garden variety rhiolytes, formed as the result of (surprise, surprise) volcanic activity. He used to pull out a lot of geodes with his partner, now passed, at his claim somewhere in New Mexico called Baker Egg Mine. He had some beautifully split and polished geodes, but all I wanted was a small one that had only been split – much easier on the budget. I’m not sure that I learned much, but I still like picking up pretty little rocks. I guess I don’t need to know what they are. The small oval one fits nicely in the palm of my hand, and is surprisingly smooth.

Spring Canyon – Rockhound State Park

The funny thing about all this is, while I thought Rockhound would be the highlight of our time in Deming, the highlight for me was actually the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, billed as “New Mexico’s largest free museum”. It is located in their old Armory, built just two months after the famous Pancho Villa Raid in 1916. It became a USO during war time, and then the museum with its repository of many collections. And yes, a large collection of…rocks.

Thundereggs straight from our rock shop proprietor’s mine

The Mimbres people lived in this area as far back as 1000 AD. Their pottery is something Deming is very proud of, as can be seen in this mural and fountain in downtown Deming:

There were pieces just like these in the museum

Whenever I’m under an outcropping of rock just like this, I always like to imagine how the people lived who took shelter there. This painting did a fine job of showing that.

The museum went on and on. There was a huge doll collection, rooms with antique furniture, storefronts showing actual Deming turn-of-the-century establishments and what would have been there, and many other varied collections from area residents over the years.

We passed some time in a couple of local wineries, and restocked our wine cellar. Lescombes Winery was a large establishment and their parking lot was so large that we could have stayed the night there (for the price of a bottle of wine or a tasting, of course). The wine was good, but we preferred the wine at Luna Rossa. They weren’t such a large commercial operation and their wines were cheaper and complementary to our (un)sophisticated wine palate.

Willcox, Arizona

Full-time RVing, fun as it may seem, is still full of the ups and downs of ordinary life. One of the downers for us is the on-going trouble we’ve had with our left front jack erroring out during leveling, and the amount of battery power needed just to get Sam up and down off of Frodo’s (the truck’s) hitch. It got worse with every stop we made. Our stop at the Willcox KOA was supposed to be one overnight, but we canceled some plans and made the decision to stay for five, so that our arrival in Phoenix would be our last until some repairs were made.

KOA parks can be good or bad, depending on who is running them. This is true especially of KOAs located just off the highways of America, usually used for only an overnight stop. The Willcox KOA is indeed off the highway, but when learning of our situation, the kind folks put us in a spot furthest away from it, with a much-coveted tree on the site. It’s pictured at the top of this post. We watched people painting and upkeeping the grounds every day. There is a restaurant (with excellent gyros) and a heated pool on-site. Just this past week, I read a newsletter from the KOA national organization which named this park a “rising star” in the franchise for 2021, and I would definitely agree.

What softened the blow for having to stay in Willcox was being able to visit Chiracahua National Monument, 40 miles away. We lived in Arizona for a couple of years back in the 80’s, and one of our favorite tent-camping stories is from a weekend we spent there. One evening, a pair of skunks wandered through our site while we were sitting in our lawn chairs. We froze in place, not daring to move, as they sniffed around and actually passed right underneath us. We were lucky we didn’t get sprayed! It was fun to drive through the campground again, a wooded oasis right under the tall rock cliffs, but we wouldn’t be able to stay there in our 5th wheel. Chiracahua is an other-worldly, magical place:

The rocks at Chiracahua are in columns, pinnacles, and balanced rock
“Claret Cup” rock, which shows how impossibly a lot of the rocks are balanced.
“Organ Pipes”

We had an audience for our picnic lunch at Chiracahua:

A spotted towhee and a Mexican jay eying our lunch
Three birds, plus one in the bush. At one time we had seven birds all watching us, hoping for a handout. We had some fresh crusty bread so I hope they were happy with the crumbs we left.

Starting in Roswell, New Mexico, but also in southwest Texas, southern New Mexico, and now Arizona, we saw a lot of pecan farms. In Roswell in early November, the leaves were still green on the trees. By the time we got to Texas, the leaves that we saw on the trees were changing color. There was a farm near our KOA, so we had a nice chat with Paul and Jackie Lee. They were happy to take us around. I’m munching on their pecans as I write. In mid-December, they were only three weeks away from harvest. This is a very small operation, so they send the picked nuts out to New Mexico and Texas for processing, then the shelled nuts are returned to them. They are then placed in one of several chest freezers for sale all year round, until the next harvest.

The nuts can’t be harvested until all the trees lose their leaves. Some nuts fall in the process, so when the leaves are raked, Paul puts everything (minus the leaves) into this separator to get the rocks and other debris out. He welded this contraption together himself, like so much of his equipment.
Final result..and the real harvest hasn’t even started
The orchard is the Lee’s retirement project and they planted all the trees themselves in the early 80’s. The trees are now in their prime.
Almost ready for harvest; the outside pods have to be open, like most of these are, and the nuts inside have to be dry. They were expecting a bumper crop.

Like Deming, Willcox also has a healthy amount of wineries, but as we were already extended on our wine budget, we limited our purchases to pecans. By the way, if I have made you hungry for pecans, the Lee’s pecans can be purchased on-line. Who knew this was such a good climate for growing grapes and pecans?

Cal was nursing a cold during our Willcox stay so this was pretty much the extent of our activities. I entertained myself with many enjoyable walks into the desert around our KOA. I’ll leave you for now with some of the pictures from those walks.

What a big, fluffy bush! The un-fluffy part looked like bittersweet, the tiny white “filler flowers” in a bouquet of flowers from the florist.
A very late autumn burst of color

Next time – Phoenix!